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Queen of Sheba

The origin of the tradition that the Abyssinian royal line is descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is difficult to prove (or disprove!). Certainly Ethiopia was colonized from S Arabia by the Sabaeans. Arabic legends give many details about the queen who married Solomon, and Josephus linked the Queen of Sheba with Ethiopia (Jos. Antiq. II. X. 2., VII. VI. 5, 6).

Detailed Information

(1Ki 10:1-13; 2Ch 9:1-12, called in Mt 12:42; Lu 11:31, "the queen of the south" (basilissa notou))

1. Old Testament Accounts

The two Old Testament accounts of the coming of the queen of Sheba (see Sheba) to Solomon differ slightly from one another, and, of the two, that in 1 Kings is the older. (1) The words "concerning the name of Yahweh" (1Ki 10:1) are lacking in 2 Chronicles; while the Septuagint in 1 Kings has "and the name of Yahweh," apparently a correction of the Massoretic Text. (2) For 1Ki 10:9, "because Yahweh loved Israel for ever," 2Ch 9:8 has "because thy God loved Israel, to establish them for ever"; the Septuagint in 1 Kings has "because Yahweh loved Israel, to establish it forever." (3) In the last verse of each account we find another difference: 2Ch 9:12 says that Solomon gave to the queen all her desire, "besides that which she had brought unto the king." i.e. according to some, besides the equivalent of what she had brought to him; 1Ki 10:13 margin has" besides that which he gave her according to the hand of king Solomon," i.e. besides gifts commensurate with his own wealth and power (SBOT), or be sides gifts which he gave her qua king.

2. The Narrative

The narrative tells of the queen of Sheba, on hearing of Solomon’s great wisdom, coming to test him with perplexing questions or riddles (compare Jud 14:12). She brought presents to the king, and interviewed him: "And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built" (i.e. the palace, not the temple) as well as its arrangements, "and his burnt-offering which he offered in the house of Yahweh (so read and translate with the Revised Version margin in 1Ki 10:5, and also in 2Ch 9:4); there was no more spirit in her": the half of Solomon’s wisdom had not been told her. "Happy," she said to him, "are thy wives (so read with Septuagint, Syriac and Old Latin versions), happy are these thy servants." She then exchanged gifts with him and returned to her own land.

The narrative is a complement of that in 1Ki 3:16-28, where the king’s justice is exemplified; here his wisdom.

3. Employed by Jesus

The narrative is referred to by Jesus in Mt 12:42; Lu 11:31, where He refuses to accede to the request of the scribes and Pharisees for a sign from Him. He tells them that no sign will be given them except that of Jonah, whose sign was his preaching, one that proved sufficient to the Ninevites; and `behold something greater than Jonah is here.’ The men of Nineveh will be a living condemnation of them "in the judgment" (compare Lu 16:31); and so will the "queen of the south" who came from the ends of the earth after hearing of Solomon’s wisdom, `and behold something greater than Solomon is here.’ The only sign to be given is that of the wisdom of Jesus, a wisdom far greater than that of Solomon (see D. Smith, Days of His Flesh, 176 ff).

4. Eastern Literature

Eastern literature has much to say about the queen of Sheba. The Arabs called her Bilqis. Abyssinian legend declares that she came from Ethiopia, her name being Maqeda, and that she had a son by Solomon. See Delitzsch, Iris, 116-27; ZDMG, X, 19 f; J Pr T, VI, 524 ff (1880). Gressmann (in Schriften des Altes Testament, II, 1,203) has further references to Wilhelm Hertz, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, 1905, 413 ff; Bezold, Kebra Nagast, 1905, and also ZDMG, 60, 666 ff. For the Mohammedan story, see Koran xxvii, with notes in Sale’s translation.


W. Phillips, Sheba’s Buried City (1955); G. W. Van Beek, “South Arabian History and Archaeology,” The Bible and the Ancient Near East, essays in honor of W. F. Albright (1961), 229-248; G. W. Van Beek, “Sabeans,” IDB, IV (1962), 144-146.