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Queen of Sheba

As on 26 July 2013

Taken from: Wikipedia - Queen of Sheba


The Queen of Sheba (Hebrew: מלכת שבא‎, Malkaṯ Šəḇâ in Biblical Hebrew; Malkat Sh'va in Modern Hebrew; Ge'ez: ንግሥተ ሳባ, Nigiste Saba (Nəgəstä Saba); Arabic: ملكة سبأ‎, Malikat Sabaʾ) was a monarch of the ancient kingdom of Sheba and is referred to in Yemeni and Ethiopian history, the Bible, the Qur'an, Yoruba customary tradition, and Josephus. She is widely assumed to have been a queen regnant, but, since there is no historical proof of this, she may have been a queen consort.[1] The location of her kingdom is believed to have been in Ethiopia [2] and Yemen.

Diverse references

The queen of Sheba has been called a variety of names by different peoples in different times. To King Solomon of Israel she was the Queen of Sheba. In Islamic tradition she was called Bilqis or Balqis by the Arabs, who say she came from the city of Sheba, also called Mareb, in Yemen or Arabia Felix. The Roman historian Josephus calls her Nicaule. The Luhya of Kenya call her Nakuti while the Ethiopian people claim her as Makeda or Maqueda. She is said to have been born some time in the 10th century BC. Traditionally her lineage was part of the Ethiopian dynasty established in 1370 BC by Za Besi Angabo, which lasted 350 years; her grandfather and father were the last two rulers of this dynasty. According to the Kebra Negast her mother was known as Queen Ismeni and in 1005 BC, Makeda's father appointed her as his successor from his deathbed.[3]

To the early ancient Greeks, Ethiopia referred to an empire that encompassed a vast territory, extending to Arabia, Syria, Armenia and the territory between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. This is the empire that the Queen of Sheba was said to have reigned over. In the Ethiopian Book of Aksum, she is described as establishing a new capital city at Azeba, while the Kebra Negast refers to her building a capital at Debra Makeda, or "Mount Makeda". The Yemenite kingdom of Himyar refers to her in its histories as well.

In the Hebrew Bible, a tradition of the history of nations is preserved in Genesis 10. In Genesis 10:7 there is a reference to Sheba, the son of Raamah, the son of Cush, the son of Ham, son of Noah. In Genesis 10:26-29 there is a reference to another person named Sheba, listed along with Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Ophir, Havilah and Jobab as the descendants of Joktan, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Arphaxad, the descendant of Shem, another son of Noah.

Aharoni, Avi-Yonah, Rainey and Safrai placed the Semitic Sheba in Southern Arabia in geographic proximity to the location of the tribes descended from their ancestor, Joktan. In addition to Sheba, Hazarmaveth and Ophir were identified. Semitic Havilah was located in Eastern Africa, modern day Ethiopia. Semitic Havilah (Beresh't 10:29) is to be distinguished from Cushite Havilah (Beresh't 10:7), the descendant of Cush, descendant of Ham; both locations for Havilah are thought by these scholars to have been located in present day Ethiopia.[4]

Narratives concerning the Queen of Sheba

Hebrew biblical accounts

According to the Hebrew Bible, the unnamed queen of the land of Sheba heard of the great wisdom of King Solomon of Israel and journeyed there with gifts of spices, gold, precious stones and beautiful wood and to test him with questions, as recorded in First Kings 10:1-13 (largely copied in 2 Chronicles 9:1–12).

It is related further that the queen was awed by Solomon's great wisdom and wealth and pronounced a blessing on Solomon's God. Solomon reciprocated with gifts and "everything she desired." Solomon offered to give her everything she desired and asked for "besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty." Then, according to the Bible, "she turned and went to her country, she and her servants." The queen apparently was quite rich, however, as she brought four and a half tons of gold with her to give to Solomon (1 Kings 10:10).

In the biblical passages which refer explicitly to the Queen of Sheba there are no hints of love or sexual attraction between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The two are depicted merely as fellow monarchs engaged in the affairs of state.

Account in the New Testament

The Queen of Sheba is commonly believed to be the Queen of the South referenced in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31 in the New Testament, where Jesus indicates that she and the Ninevites will judge the generation of Jesus' contemporaries who rejected him. In Ge'ez and other Ethio-Semitic languages, she also bears the additional title Nəgəstä 'Azeb (Queen of the South), in reference to the cardinal compass point South ( 'äzeb).

Qur'anic and other Middle Eastern accounts

The Qur'an, the central religious text of Islam, mentions the kingdom of the Queen by name (Sheba) in the 34th Chapter. Arab sources name her Balqis, Bilqis or Bilquis. The Qur'anic narrative, from sura 27 (An-Naml),[5] has Suleiman (Solomon) getting reports from the Hoopoe bird about the kingdom of Saba (Sheba), ruled by a queen whose people worship the sun instead of God. Suleiman (Solomon) sends a letter inviting her to submit fully to the One God, Allah, Lord of the Worlds according to the Islamic text. The Queen of Sheba is unsure how to respond and asks her advisors for counsel. They reply by reminding her that they are "of great toughness" in a reference to their willingness to go to war should she choose to. She replies that she fears if they were to lose, Suleiman may behave as any other king would: 'entering a country, despoiling it and making the most honorable of its people its lowest'. She decides to meet with Suleiman in order to find out more. Suleiman receives her response to meet him and asks if anyone can bring him her throne before she arrives. A jinn under the control of Suleiman proposed that he will bring it before Suleiman rises from his seat. One who had knowledge of the "Book" proposed to bring him the throne of Bilqis 'in the twinkling of an eye' and accomplished that immediately.[6] The queen arrives at his court, is shown her throne and asked: does your throne look like this? She replied: (It is) as though it were it. When she enters his crystal palace she accepts Abrahamic monotheism and the worship of one God alone, Allah.

Ethiopian accounts

The imperial family of Ethiopia claims its origin directly from the offspring of the Queen of Sheba by King Solomon.[7] The Queen of Sheba (ንግሥተ ሣብአ nəgəśtã Śāb'ã), is named Makeda (ማክዳ Mākədā) in the Ethiopian account.

An ancient compilation of Ethiopian legends, Kebra Negast ('the Glory of Kings'), is dated to seven hundred years ago and relates a history of Makeda and her descendants. In this account King Solomon is said to have seduced the Queen of Sheba and sired her son, Menelik I, who would become the first Emperor of Ethiopia.

The narrative given in the Kebra Negast - which has no parallel in the Hebrew Biblical story - is that King Solomon invited the Queen of Sheba to a banquet, serving spicy food to induce her thirst, and inviting her to stay in his palace overnight. The Queen asked him to swear that he would not take her by force. He accepted upon the condition that she, in turn, would not take anything from his house by force. The Queen assured that she would not, slightly offended by the implication that she, a rich and powerful monarch, would engage in stealing. However, as she woke up in the middle of the night, she was very thirsty. Just as she reached for a jar of water placed close to her bed, King Solomon appeared, warning her that she was breaking her oath, water being the most valuable of all material possessions. Thus, while quenching her thirst, she set the king free from his promise and they spent the night together.

Other Ethiopian accounts make her the daughter of a king named Agabo or Agabos, in some legends said to have become king after slaying the mythological serpent Arwe; in others, to have been the 28th ruler of the Agazyan tribe. In either event, he is said to have extended his Empire to both sides of the Red Sea.

The tradition that the Biblical Queen of Sheba was a ruler of Ethiopia who visited King Solomon in Jerusalem, in ancient Israel, is supported by the first century AD. Roman (of Jewish origin) historian Flavius Josephus, who identified Solomon’s visitor as a "Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia".[8]

While there are no known traditions of matriarchal rule in Yemen during the early first millennium BC, the earliest inscriptions of the rulers of Dʿmt in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea mention queens of very high status, possibly equal to their kings.[9]

Etymology of Makeda
The etymology of her name is uncertain, but there are two principal opinions about its Ethiopian source. One group, which includes the British scholar Edward Ullendorff, holds that it is a corruption of "Candace", the Ethiopian queen mentioned in the New Testament Acts; the other group[who?] connects the name Makeda with the Ethiopic version of the Alexander romance, which, like other translations, holds that 'Iskinder' (Alexander the Great) of Macedonia (Ethiopic Meqédon) met with Queen Candace (Kandake) of Nubia (c. 332 BC) and that she dissuaded him from invading her realm.

The Italian scholar Carlo Conti Rossini, however, was unconvinced by either of these theories and in 1954 stated that he believed the matter unresolved.[10]

Other traditions

In addition to the above cited accounts, at least one other traditional reference to the queen exists. The Yoruba Ijebu clan of Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria, claim that she was actually a noblewoman of theirs known as Oloye Bilikisu Sungbo, which is similar to the name mentioned in the Qur'an, Balqis. They also assert that a medieval system of walls and ditches, known as the eredo, that was built by their ancestors over the course of the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, was a monument to the greatness of this personage, built by her people. After excavations in 1999 the archaeologist Patrick Darling was quoted as saying, "I don't want to overplay the Sheba theory, but it cannot be discounted... The local people believe it and that's what is important... The most cogent argument against it at the moment is the dating"[11]

Later receptions

Christian interpretations

Christian interpretations of the scriptures mentioning the Queen of Sheba in the Hebrew Bible, typically have emphasized both the historical and metaphorical values in the story. The account of the Queen of Sheba is thereby interpreted by Christians as being both a metaphor and an analogy: the Queen's visit to Solomon has been compared to the metaphorical marriage of the Church to Christ where Solomon is the anointed one or the messiah and Sheba represents a Gentile population submitting to the messiah; the Queen of Sheba's chastity has also been depicted as a foreshadowing of the Virgin Mary; and the three gifts that she brought (gold, spices and stones) have been seen as analogous to the gifts of the Magi (gold, frankincense and myrrh). The latter is emphasized as being consistent with a passage from Isaiah 60:6; And they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring forth gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.[12] This last connection is interpreted as relating to the Magi, the learned astronomers of Sheba who saw a new star and set off on a journey to find a new ruler connected to the new star, that led them to Bethlehem.

Medieval depictions

Art in the Middle Ages depicting the visit of the Queen of Sheba includes the Portal of the Mother of God at the 13th century Amiens Cathedral, which is included as an analogy as part of a larger depiction of the gifts of the Magi.[13] The 12th century cathedrals at Strasbourg, Chartres, Rochester and Canterbury include artistic renditions in such elements as stained glass windows and door jamb decorations.[12]

Renaissance account

Boccaccio's On Famous Women (Latin: De Mulieribus Claris) follows Josephus in calling the Queen of Sheba, Nicaula. Boccaccio goes on to explain that not only was she the Queen of Ethiopia and Egypt, but also the queen of Arabia. She also is related to have had a grand palace on "a very large island" called Meroe, located someplace near the Nile river, "practically on the other side of the world." From there Nicaula crossed the deserts of Arabia, through Ethiopia and Egypt and up the coast of the Red Sea, to come to Jerusalem to see "the great King Solomon".[14]

Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies continues the convention of calling the Queen of Sheba, Nicaula. Piero della Francesca's frescoes in Arezzo (ca 1466) on the Legend of the True Cross, contain two panels on the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. The legend links the beams of Solomon's palace (adored by Queen of Sheba) to the wood of the crucifixion. The Renaissance continuation of the metaphorical view of the Queen of Sheba as an analogy to the gifts of the Magi also is clearly evident in the Triptych of the Adoration of the Magi (c. 1510), by Hieronymus Bosch. Bosch chooses to depict a scene of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon in an ornately decorated collar worn by one of the Magi.[15]

Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus refers to the Queen of Sheba as Saba, when Mephistopheles is trying to persuade Faustus of the wisdom of the women with whom he supposedly shall be presented every morning.[16]

Recent scholarship

A team of researchers funded by the American Foundation for the Study of Man (AFSM) and led by University of Calgary archaeology professor, Dr. Bill Glanzman, has been working to "unlock the secrets of a 3,000-year-old temple in Yemen." "We have an enormous job ahead of us," said Glanzman in 2007. "Our first task is to wrest the sanctuary from the desert sands, documenting our findings as we go. We're trying to determine how the temple was associated with the Queen of Sheba, how the sanctuary was used throughout history and how it came to play such an important role in Arab folklore."[17]

Recent genome research by Luca Pagani of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute suggests that a non-African component of present-day Ethiopian people has much in common with people of the area around Syria, and that the introduction of that Syrian genetic component took place approximately 3,000 years ago. reported "The meeting between the queen and Solomon remains a story, but the populations they came from did meet around that time, says Pagani" (the main researcher).[18]


1. K. A. Kitchen, 2003, p. 11
2. Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son Menyelek: Being the History of the Departure of God and His Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, and the Establishment of the Religion of the Hebrews and the Solomonic Line of Kings in That Country. London: Medici Society Limited, 1922.
3. Kofoed, Jens Bruun (2005). Text and History: Historiography and Study of the Biblical Text. Eisenbrauns. p. 178. ISBN 978-1575060941.
4. Yohanan Aharoni, Michael Avi-Yonah, Anson F. Rainey, and Ze'ev Safrai, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1993) 21.
5. Quran 27:23–44
6. Quran 27:40
7. Comay, Joan; Ronald Brownrigg (1993). Who's Who in the Bible:The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament (in English). New York: Wing Books. pp. Old Testament, 351. ISBN 0-517-32170-X.
8. Flavius Josephus, Paul L. Maier Josephus, the Essential Works: A Condensation of "Jewish Antiquities", and "the Jewish War" Kregel Publications,U.S. (31 Mar 1995)ISBN 978-0825432606 p.140 [1]
9. Rodolfo Fattovich, "The 'Pre-Aksumite' State in Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea Reconsidered" in Paul Lunde and Alexandra Porter ed., Trade and Travel in the Red Sea Region, in D. Kennet & St J. Simpson ed., Society for Arabian Studies Monographs No. 2. BAR International Series 1269. Archaeopress, Oxford: 2004, p. 73.
10. David Allen Hubbard, "The Literary Sources of the Kebra Nagast", doctoral thesis (St. Andrews, 1954), pp. 303f.
11. Archaeologists find clues to Queen of Sheba in Nigeria, Find May Rival Egypt's Pyramids
12. a b Byrd, Vickie, editor; Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality, (Santa Ana, California: The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, 2004), p. 17.
13. Murray, Stephen, The Portals: Access to Redemption,, webpage, accessed August 6, 2006.
14. Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women translated by Virginia Brown 2001, p. 90; Cambridge and London, Harvard University Press; ISBN 0-674-01130-9;
15. Web Gallery of Art,, website accessed August 2, 2006
16. Marlowe, Christopher; Doctor Faustus and other plays: Oxford World Classics, p. 155.
17. University of Calgary,, website accessed November 18, 2007