Queen of Sheba
The biblical account of the queen of Sheba (I Kings 10:1–10, 13; II Chron. 9:1–9, 12) describes how when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she went to Jerusalem with a great train of camels, bearing spices, gold, and precious stones, "to prove him with hard questions," all of which Solomon answered to her satisfaction. They exchanged gifts, after which she returned to her land. For details, see
In the Aggadah
Talmudic references to the queen of Sheba are sparse. A most elaborate account, however, is given in Targum Sheni to Esther, which can be supplemented by details found in the Alphabet of Ben Sira and Josephus (Ant. 8:165–73). A hoopoe informed Solomon that the kingdom of Sheba was the only kingdom on earth not subject to him and that its queen was a sun worshiper. He thereupon sent it to Kitor in the land of Sheba with a letter attached to its wing commanding its queen to come to him as a subject. She thereupon sent him all the ships of the sea loaded with precious gifts and 6,000 youths of equal size, all born at the same hour and clothed in purple garments. They carried a letter declaring that she could arrive in Jerusalem within three years although the journey normally took seven years. When the queen arrived and came to Solomon's palace, thinking that the shining floor was a pool of water, she lifted the hem of her dress, uncovering her legs. Solomon informed her of her mistake. When she arrived she asked him three (Targ. Sheni to Esther 1:3) or, according to another source, 19 riddles to test his wisdom.
Sheba (Ar. Sabā') was the most important kingdom in ancient southern
with its capital Mārib (in inscriptions: Mayrab, east of Sanʿa), the largest city in that area. This kingdom existed from the beginning of South Arabian civilization, and the oldest stone inscription dates back to the eighth century B.C.E., already referring to the kingdom as quite an established one. Its history is divided into two periods: (a) from its beginning until the first centuries B.C.E., dominated by caravan economy linked with Mesopotamia and the Land of Israel; (b) from the first century B.C.E. until the sixth century C.E., when it was controlled in general by the highland kingdom of Ḥimyar. Owing to the frankincense and many other spices exported to ancient lands, Sheba was quite known in the classical world, and its country was called Arabia Felix. Its disappearance resulted from the destruction of the Great Dam built seven kilometers north of Mārib, by which it had been possible to irrigate up to 10,000 hectares.
The biblical story, unattested by any other source, including hundreds of inscriptions from the Kingdom of Sheba, was adopted by the Ethiopic Church claiming that Ethiopian kings were descendants of the kingly couple King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. The Muslim sources, especially the
, just copy the Bible and other Jewish sources, although they call this queen Bilqīs and add the tradition that the first Jews arrived in Yemen at the time of King Solomon, following the politico-economic alliance between him and Queen of Sheba. However, this tradition is suspected to be an apologetic fabrication of Jews in Yemen later transferred to Islam, just like many other traditions. The ancient Sabaic Awwām Temple, known in folklore as Maḥram (the Sanctuary of) Bilqīs, was recently excavated by archaeologists, but no trace of Queen of Sheba has been discovered so far in the many inscriptions found there.
[Yosef Tobi (2nd ed.)]
IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 3 (1911), 411; 4 (1913), 143–9; (1928), 288–91. IN ISLAM: Thaʿlabī, Qiẓaẓ (1356 A.H.), 262–4; Kisā'ī, Qiẓaẓ (1356 A.H.), 285–92; G. Weil, The Bible, the Koran, and the Talmud… (1846); M. Gruenbaum, Neue Beitraege zur semitischen Sagenkunde (1893), 211–21; H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzaehlungen im Qoran (1931, repr. 1961), 390–9; EIS, S.V. Bilḳis. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. Robin, "Saba and the Sabaens," in: A.C. Gunther (ed.), Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the Ancient Incense Trade (2005), 9–19; M. Phillips Hodgson, "The Awam Temple: Excavations in the Mahram Bilqis Near Marib," in: ibid., 60–66; W. Daum (ed.), Die Königin von Saba: Kunst, Legende und Archäeologie zwischen Morgenland und Abendland (1988).
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