Queen of Sheba by Christine Mitchell

The Queen of Sheba is a mysterious figure only mentioned in two passages in the Bible (1Kgs 10; 2Chr 9) in which she travels from her country to meet King Solomon in Jerusalem. These brief texts led to the development of many later traditions about this queen, her country, and her relationship to Solomon.

Where was Sheba?

The genealogies of the nations in Gen 10 and 1Chr 1 place Sheba in the general area of Egypt and Ethiopia (known as Cush in some ancient sources). That was probably all the biblical writers knew about the location of Sheba, and for them it was the edge of the world. One purpose of the story in 1Kgs 10 and 2Chr 9 is to show that Solomon’s wisdom was famous even in the most distant lands.

Scholars have tried to connect the gifts the Queen of Sheba brought with the possible location of Sheba. She brought spices, gold, and precious stones, all products of extreme wealth. Spices, in particular frankincense and myrrh, came from the area of modern-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, on the African coast of the Red Sea. Ancient gold mines have been found in the same area. However, the area of modern-day Yemen on the Arabian coast of the Red Sea was also a source of spices and lay on a major trade route. This area of Arabia was known as the kingdom of Saba in the first millennium BCE, and various Sabaean kings are mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions from the period. The debate about the location of Sheba remains unresolved, although there have been some recent efforts to claim that the kingdom of Saba straddled the Red Sea, with power in both Arabia and Africa.

Ancient inscriptions and texts provide the names of many Sabaean rulers going back to the eighth century BCE. However, there are no queens on the list, only kings. A Queen of Sheba, therefore, is historically unlikely.

Did the Queen of Sheba marry Solomon?

There’s nothing in the biblical passages to suggest that the Queen of Sheba married Solomon. However, many later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions tell about a marriage between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church teaches that their son was the first great king of Ethiopia, Menelik I.

Why would traditions develop about a marriage, even when the biblical texts clearly state that the Queen of Sheba returned to her own land after her meeting with Solomon (1Kgs 10:13; 2Chr 9:12)? The key is in the previous verse, in which Solomon is said to have given her everything she desired (1Kgs 10:12; 2Chr 9:11). Because she had admired his wisdom and praised the happiness of his subjects, early biblical interpreters thought that she must have wanted to marry him and that Solomon had granted her wish. Many works of literature, such as the story of “King Solomon and the Bee,” have been born by people filling in the gaps of this biblical story.

Christine Mitchell, "Queen of Sheba", n.p. [cited 18 Oct 2018]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/queen-of-sheba

Contributors

mitchell-christine

Christine Mitchell
Professor of Hebrew Scriptures, St. Andrew’s College, University of Saskatchewan

Christine Mitchell is Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at St. Andrew’s College, University of Saskatchewan, Canada. She regularly teaches and writes about women and gender issues in the Hebrew Bible. Her other interests include religion in the Persian Empire and the books of Chronicles, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Christian denomination founded in ancient Ethiopia

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

People who study a text from historical, literary, theological and other angles.

A resin or oil from certain small trees found in many regions of the world that is used as a perfume or incense and also medicinally.

Of or belonging to any of several branches of Christianity, especially from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, whose adherents trace their tradition back to the earliest Christian communities. Lowercase ("orthodox"), this term means conforming with the dominant, sanctioned ideas or belief system.

ancient kingdom in southern Arabia

ancient people living in southern Arabia

An alternate spelling for "tel" meaning a mound or hill-shaped site containing several occupational layers one on top of the other over milennia.

1Kgs 10

Visit of the Queen of Sheba
1When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, (fame due to the name of the Lord), she came to test him with hard questions. ... View more

2Chr 9

Visit of the Queen of Sheba
1When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, having a very great re ... View more

Gen 10

Nations Descended from Noah
1These are the descendants of Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; children were born to them after the flood.2The descendants of Ja ... View more

1Chr 1

From Adam to Abraham
1Adam, Seth, Enosh;2Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared;3Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech;4Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.5The descendants of Japheth: Gomer, Ma ... View more

1Kgs 10

Visit of the Queen of Sheba
1When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, (fame due to the name of the Lord), she came to test him with hard questions. ... View more

2Chr 9

Visit of the Queen of Sheba
1When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, having a very great re ... View more

1Kgs 10:13

13Meanwhile King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba every desire that she expressed, as well as what he gave her out of Solomon's royal bounty. Then she returne ... View more

2Chr 9:12

12Meanwhile King Solomon granted the queen of Sheba every desire that she expressed, well beyond what she had brought to the king. Then she returned to her own ... View more

1Kgs 10:12

12From the almug wood the king made supports for the house of the Lord, and for the king's house, lyres also and harps for the singers; no such almug wood has c ... View more

2Chr 9:11

11From the algum wood, the king made steps for the house of the Lord and for the king's house, lyres also and harps for the singers; there never was seen the li ... View more

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