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King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

The Bible gives only a brief, unelaborated description of the royal encounter between King Solomon and the unnamed Queen of Sheba, who, being intrigued by the stories of Solomon's wisdom and wealth, embarked on the 1,400 mile journey from Sheba to Jerusalem to meet him. She had to cross the desert sands of Arabia, and travel along the coast of the Red Sea, up into Moab, and over the Jordan River to Jerusalem. Such a journey required at least six months time round trip each way, since camels could rarely travel more than 20 miles per day.

King Solomon & Queen of ShebaShe arrived in Jerusalem with a large group of attendants and a great caravan of camels loaded with rare spices, large quantities of gold and precious jewels. When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind and tested his wisdom with questions and riddles. Solomon had answers for all her questions, and nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Jerusalem Temple.

"The report I heard in my country about your deeds and your wisdom is true," she told the king. "Though I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes, I have discovered that they were not telling me the half. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard. Happy are your men, happy these servants of yours, who stand before you always and listen to your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord, your God, whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel. In his enduring love for Israel, the Lord has made you king to carry out judgment and justice." Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty gold talents, a very large quantity of spices, and precious stones. Never again did anyone bring such an abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. (1 Kgs 10:4-10)

In the biblical accounts of this royal meeting, both in the book of Kings 1 and in the book of Chronicles 2, there is no hint of any romantic or sexual aspect to the encounter, which is depicted as a monarchial meeting on affairs of state. The only reference, which has sometimes been interpreted as referring to love between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is found in the book of Song of Songs, whose authorship is attributed to Solomon.

King Solomon Seal for ProtectionAlthough the story is not detailed, it has over the ages inspired many legends and stories both in the Jewish and the Islamic traditions. In Islamic literature the queen is known as Bilqis and it is told that she converted from the worship of the sun to the worship of God and thereafter either married Solomon himself or a Hamdani tribesman. In Persian folklore, she is considered the daughter of a Chinese king and a peri - a type of supernatural being. The story of the Queen of Sheba acquired special importance and impact in the Ethiopian tradition and history. There she is referred to as Makeda and it is believed that she bore Solomon a son, who was the founder of the Ethiopian royal dynasty of emperors.

Sheba is identified with Saba, a nation once spanning along the Red Sea, on the coasts of what today are Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen. Some modern Arab academics place the queen not in Yemen, as did older Islamic sources, but rather as a ruler of a trading colony in Northwest Arabia.

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