Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

Who Was The Queen of Sheba

Posted by foryourfaith on January 8, 2010

 

The queen of Sheba exists in history and legend almost entirely in relation to King Solomon.  Through the centuries, their story has been celebrated.  But what really happened between Solomon and the queen of Sheba?  Scholars are divided on the subject.  While some hold that the story is a later legend, written to glorify the period of the united monarchy, others believe in the historical accuracy of the story as it stands in the biblical texts.

According to the biblical account, the queen of Sheba came, after hearing of Solomon’s wisdom, “to test him with hard questions.”  The geographical location of Sheba, the homeland of the Sabean people was probably in southwestern Arabia, in the region of present-day Yemen.  Thus the queen’s journey to Jerusalem would have covered some 1,300 miles.  Others, however, located Sheba elsewhere.  The ancient Jewish historian Josephus, for example, described Ethiopia and Egypt as the realm of this mysterious woman.

Although Sheba was not a large nation, archaeological findings have shown that it enjoyed a sophisticated culture, financed in large part by a brisk trade in frankincense and myrrh.  It was situated at an intersection of trade routes that linked East Africa and southern Arabia to the markets of Palestine and Mesopotamia.  Solomon controlled the northern legs, and in some cases the terminus, of many of these routes.  Moreover, in conjunction with their Phoenician allies, the Israelites under Solomon had built an impressive fleet of ships at the port city of Ezion-Geber (near present-day Elath) that made regular trade voyages enriching the kingdom, and the king, with “gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.”  Thus, it is not unlikely that the queen’s visit was in fact nothing more romantic than a trade mission.  She may have traveled overland by caravan or perhaps made most of the journey on one of the vessels in Solomon’s fleet, which normally negotiated the Red Sea.

The Bible account describes how the queen tested Solomon’s wisdom with questions and riddles.  She witnessed the manifestations of his great wealth, and was profoundly impressed by all she saw — “there was no more spirit in her.”

Sheba gave Solomon lavish gifts – spices, gold, precious stones – and Solomon gave her in return “all that she desired.”  This phrase has given rise to many romantic interpretations of the Sheba-Solomon relationship.  “All that she desired” has been interpreted as meaning that the queen wanted a child by Solomon.

The belief that the queen of Sheba had a child by Solomon may be the basis of one of the most durable of the tales to emerge from the original story.  According to Ethiopian tradition, the son of Solomon and Sheba was Menelik I, or Ibn al-Hakim, “son of the wise man.”  As a young man, he visited Solomon, studied the Israelite religion, and returned to his own land to found a dynasty.  This version of the tradition was certified by the authority of the revised Ethiopian constitution as recently as 1955.  It stated that the royal line “descends without interruption from the dynasty of Menelik I, son of the Queen of Ethiopia, the Queen of Sheba, and King Solomon of Jerusalem.”

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