Queen- 1. a: the wife or widow of a king b: the wife or widow of a tribal chief
2. a: A female monarch b: a female chieftain
3. a: a woman eminent in rank, power, or attraction b: a goddess or a thing personified as female and having supremacy in a realm c: an attractive girl or womanA partial definition from Merriam Webster
6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 7 But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. 8 How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”
10 And she gave the king 120 talents[b] of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
11 (Hiram’s ships brought gold from Ophir; and from there they brought great cargoes of almugwood[c] and precious stones. 12 The king used the almugwood to make supports[d] for the temple of the LORD and for the royal palace, and to make harps and lyres for the musicians. So much almugwood has never been imported or seen since that day.)
13 King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country.
(The Arabic interpretation of King Solomon)When I came across the story last week, my curiosity was renewed. That led me to head to the library, and I will share with you what I learned.
The Queen of Sheba (Saba in Hebrew) shows up in the holy texts of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Rastafarians. She is mentioned in the histories of several countries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, and even Nigeria. Makeda, Bilqia, and Nikaulis are some of the names that have been attributed to her. She is the inspiration for stories spanning a great romance with Solomon, her possible heritage as half djinn (genie), and even as a demon. The story in the Bible was written down by an anonymous scribe of King Solomon, the sixteenth son of King David. It is the only direct evidence of her existence that has been discovered to date.
(the ruins of the temple at Marib, called Bilqis Temple)
Claimed by many countries, the Queen of Sheba has long been a source of fascination to historians who wanted proof of her existance and heritage. What do we know for sure? Her name was not Sheba. That is the name of her kingdom in southern Arabia. She must have lived and ruled sometime around the 10th century B.C. because that is when Solomon ruled. Her country was known for trading. It was wealthy in gold, incense, and spices which were much in demand in the known world. Most accounts show she was strong, confident, and wise. Here is where the rest becomes speculation.
In recent years, archaeologists have begun to explore previously untouched areas. In Yemen, where it is believed the Queen of Sheba ruled, they are beginning to excavate the ancient city of Mirab, and a temple there is promising. There are also records from Ethiopia of a queen named Makeda from Ophir. Scholars believe this was the name for Saba. The dates are close as well. In Ethiopian history, Makeda became a queen when her father died. She is said to have had a child with Solomon named Menelik. This child became king, and his descendants ruled until the Italians took over Ethiopia.
There is a great deal of debate surrounding the queen's appearance as well. While she clearly wasn't European as many paintings depict, it isn't certain if she was Arabic or African. Many accounts describe her as beautiful. Some describe very hairy legs. There are some more outrageous stories that say she had a donkey's hoof or goat's hoof. Aside from that, little is mentioned about her appearance.
The next question many scholars ask is, would it have been possible for the queen to have learned of Solomon, and then to travel to Jerusalem? Even at that time, traders and travelers moved throughout the Middle East and North Africa. A trader or messenger could well have brought the news of Solomon. Some even think a man named Timran could have been that messenger. The queen would have had the means to travel to Jerusalem. She may have been motivated by curiosity, the prospect of trade, or reasons of her own. The journey would have been long, dangerous, and difficult, but not impossible.
Her caravan likely followed the Incense Road some 1500 miles through the desert. It would have taken at least 75 days one way, with a long rest in between. Her arrival in Jerusalem at the time was probably not impressive. It was a small city of about 2000 people sitting on top of a hot, dry hill. Solomon's palace was impressive, but Jerusalem wasn't.
(An artist's rendering of King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem based on excavations)
And what of the questions she asked Solomon when they met? The Biblical account doesn't say. Hebrew legends give a variety of riddles, often numbered at 22. Most likely, the questions were trade related, but we will probably never know.
What about the great romance? This is based on the last verse of the story. "King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty." Many felt this was code for intimate relations. It is possible that they sealed trade deals with intimacy, as that was not uncommon at the time, but it's just as possible that his bounty was in the form of food or other goods. Some later accounts try to make the queen into a schemer, a gold-digger, or even a tempting demoness. Those accounts probably come as a result of a woman who traveled alone such a long distance to have intelligent conversation with a man.
At this point it seems like a lot of speculation and very little fact. Unfortunately, that is what I have learned about this ancient queen. Much of what we "know" about the Queen of Sheba is based on oral history, legend, and those 25 verses. My research left me with more questions than answers. My next stop is to read Sheba by Nicholas Clapp. Maybe I will revisit this topic with more information some day. It's always possible that a big discovery could happen in Yemen or Ethiopia. In the meantime, this legendary queen will remain a mystery.