The Queen of Sheba

queen_sheba_poynter_1890The Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon is one of the most famous diplomatic visits in the Bible, but we know very little about this powerful monarch.  Her visit appears in religious texts sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, however, her name was never mentioned.  We are not exactly sure where “Sheba” even is.  She is described as a “Queen from the South”, who came to visit King Solomon to test his great wisdom.  She brings with her a treasure trove of frankincense, myrrh, gold and jewels as well as a head full of riddles.  He answers them to her satisfaction and converts her to worship Yahweh.  Then she returns to her country.  That is the last the Bible mentions her, but there are additional stories about this powerful queen.

One of the candidates for the location of Sheba is the Horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia.  This is one of the two places the trees which produce frankincense grow.  The Queen of Sheba features prominently in the Kebra Nagast, the Ethiopian holy book.  There is a story about how this legendary beauty had one human leg and one leg that was hairy and cloven footed “like a goat”.  Solomon was curious about this and had the floor of his palace polished until it shone like a glass mirror.  Then had the unsuspecting queen walk across it and saw her deformed leg, but it was transformed into a human leg before his eyes.  

There is an additional story about how the queen warns Solomon that as an unmarried woman, she was going to put up with no funny business and he was not to touch her.  Solomon agreed as long as she would not take anything of his.  Solomon then invites the queen to a great banquet full of extremely salty and savory food, but offers nothing to drink.  The queen returns to her chambers and awakens extremely thirsty.  She goes looking for something to drink, and find a pitcher of water next to Solomon’s bed.  She takes a drink and he awakes and informs her she has broken her agreement.  So they end up in bed together.  Solomon has obviously not seen the HR consent video.  Between this story and the upskirt mirror floor, Solomon kind of sounds like a jerk.  Anyway after this night together, the queen returns home pregnant with Solomon’s child.  She bore a son, who she named Menelik, meaning “Son of the Wise”.  Years later, Menelik visited his father in Jerusalem and everyone remarked on the resemblance between father and son.  Solomon offered Menelik the throne of Israel, but Menelik refused returning to his capital in Aksum taking with him the Ark of the Covenant.  According to Ethiopian tradition, the Ark is there to this day in a special chamber in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Church.    However, the ruins at Aksum are a thousand years after the time of Solomon.

Another tradition has the kingdom of Sheba being in the Arabian peninsula, or what is modern day Yemen.  This is near the crossing to Africa and is only a few kilometers from the horn of Africa.  Marib was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Saba, which could easily have been mistranslated or written as Sheba.  In Marib, excavations are underway of a temple known as the Mahram Bilqis or Temple of Bilqis.  In the Islamic tradition, Bilqis is the name given to the Queen of Sheba.  This is not mentioned in the Koran, but in later stories.  These stories include the goat leg legend, but in this story both of her legs are like a goat and they are not healed.  

Because these two places are close together, it is possible that they were both part of the Kingdom of Sheba and that Bilqis ruled both Ethiopia and southern Yemen from Marib.  Louise Schofield believes she has found one of the sources of the Queen of Sheba’s wealth in northern Ethiopia.  She found a temple dedicated to the moon god with Sabaen inscriptions, the language of Sheba.  From there they found the remains of a large battle and mines.  Despite the evidence of Sheba, there is no primary evidence of the existence of its queen.  Perhaps those are revelations that are still waiting for us

ER