The Queen of Sheba and King Solomon

In a previous article I wrote about all of the queens mentioned in the Bible. This article goes into more detail about the Queen of Sheba and her relationship with King Solomon.

The Queen of Sheba in the Bible

The Queen of Sheba heard about King Solomon and decided to visit him in Jerusalem. Her visit to Israel is recorded in 1 Kings 10:1 – 13 and 2 Chronicles 9:1 – 12.

Since there are so few differences between the two accounts, I will only quote the verses from Kings. (This translation is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.)

1 Kings Chapter 10

1. And when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon and what he had done in the name of the Lord, she came to test him with difficult questions.
2. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that carried spices, and much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was in her heart.
3. And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king, which he did not tell her.
4. And when the Queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built,
5. And the food of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their clothing, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up to the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her.
6. And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in my own land of your acts and of your wisdom.
7. But I did not believe the words, until I came, and my eyes saw it; and, behold, the half was not told me; your wisdom and prosperity exceeds the fame which I heard.
8. Happy are your men, happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you, and who hear your wisdom.
9. Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore he made you king, to do judgment and justice.
10. And she gave the king a hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones; there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. …

13. And King Solomon gave to the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatever she asked, besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. And she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.

You will notice that I did not include verses 11 and 12. Those 2 verses are not directly about the Queen of Sheba, but I will discuss them in a little bit.

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Who was the Queen of Sheba?

The Bible does not tell us either the first name or the family name of the Queen of Sheba.

There is a tradition from non-Jewish sources that her name was Balkis.

Where is the Queen of Sheba From?

Clearly, she was from Sheba! But where is Sheba?

According to Jewish tradition, Sheba was a country in the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula. In other words, ancient Sheba was in the area now called Yemen.

home of the Queen of Sheba
Click on the image to enlarge.

There are those who say that the Queen of Sheba was Ethiopian. However, Ethiopia and Sheba are on opposite sides of the Red Sea.

There are others who say that the Queen of Sheba ruled over Sheba, Ethiopia, and Egypt. It’s easy to see how this could lead to the idea of her being Ethiopian.

Why is Her Country Called Sheba?

Eber lived 4 generations after Noach’s flood. The incident of the Tower of Babel happened during the lifetime of his sons, Peleg and Yoktan.

Genesis Chapter 10

25. And to Eber were born two sons; the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Yoktan.
26. And Yoktan fathered Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hatzarmavet, and Jerah,
27. And Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah,
28. And Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba,
29. And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Yoktan.
30. And their dwelling was from Mesha, as you go to Sephar a mount of the east.

The words in Verse 25 “for in his days was the earth divided,” are a reference to how God dispersed the nations after the Tower of Babel.

The sons of Yoktan (including Sheba) originally lived on the east side of the Euphrates River. Later they migrated south and west into what we call the Arabian Peninsula.

Sheba a  Decendant of Yoktan
Click on the image to enlarge.

On the above map, besides Sheba, you can also find Ophir, Havilah, and Hatzarmavet.

How did She Hear about King Solomon?

In verse 10:1 we read that the Queen of Sheba “heard of the fame of Solomon.” However, the verse does not reveal who she heard the news from.

You’ll recall that I skipped 2 verses from 1 Kings Chapter 10. Let’s look at them now:

1 Kings Chapter 10

11. And also the fleet of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir a great amount of almug wood, and precious stones.
12. And the king made of the almug wood pillars for the house of the Lord, and for the king’s house, lyres also and lutes for singers; there came no such almug wood, nor were seen to this day.

These verses are clearly a parenthetical comment about other precious goods that King Solomon received from the area near Sheba.

But, we already read in Chapter 9 about King Solomon importing goods from that area:

1 Kings Chapter 9

26. And King Solomon built a fleet of ships in Ezion-Geber, which is besides Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom.
27. And Hiram sent in the fleet his servants, shipmen who had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon.
28. And they came to Ophir, and brought from there gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to King Solomon.

My suggestion is that the Queen of Sheba heard about King Solomon’s wisdom from the crews of Solomon’s ships. This is hinted at by including verses 10:11 – 12 as an interruption of the narrative about the queen’s visit to Jerusalem.

How did the Queen of Sheba Travel to Jerusalem?

It would appear that the easiest way to travel from Sheba to Jerusalem would be to sail up the Red Sea to Eilat. From it would be possible to hire camels or mules to finish the journey.

However, let’s recall what the second verse states:

1 Kings Chapter 10

2. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that carried spices, and much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was in her heart.

Based on the number of people who came with her and the goods that she brought to King Solomon it’s most likely she made the entire journey on land.

Both of the maps that I’ve included with this article indicate that there are overland routes from Sheba to Israel.

The Queen of Sheba’s Questions

The first verse of our section tells us that the queen wanted “to test him with difficult questions.”

The text also tells us that “Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king, which he did not tell her.”

The Bible does not tell us the content of any of her questions.

According to Jewish tradition, she wanted to test King Solomon with riddles. In other words, she was not interested in having King Solomon merely tell her interesting facts.

She wanted to ask him riddles that could only be answered by a person of intelligence and wisdom who understands hidden connections.

According to tradition here is one of the riddles she asked him:

What is this: 7 go out, 9 come in, 2 prepare, and 1 drinks?

He answered her …

Think about it yourself. You will find King Solomon’s answer at the end of this article.

Did the Queen of Sheba Marry King Solomon?

Let’s look again at the last verse in our text:

1 Kings Chapter 10

13. And King Solomon gave to the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatever she asked, besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. And she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.

The Jewish commentators give various explanations of the phrase he gave her “all her desire.”

One of those explanations is that they had relations and she became pregnant.

Did he marry her?

According to 1 Kings 11:3, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. We only know the names of a few of his wives. It’s certainly possible that the Queen of Sheba was one of them.

The Queen of Sheba and King Solomon’s Son

I could not find any direct reference that the Queen of Sheba’s pregnancy resulted in the birth of a son.

According to the commentary Daat Mikra on verse 10:1, there is an Ethiopian tradition that that their rulers are descended from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Of course, that could be true whether she gave birth to a son or a daughter.

There is a midrash that says she gave birth to a daughter. Not only that, the midrash claims that a descendant of that daughter was Nebuchadnezzar.

There is a similar comment by Rashi on verse 10:13:

1 Kings Chapter 10 – Rashi

13. all her desire. He had relations with her, and there was born from her Nebuchadnezzar, and he destroyed the Temple that stood for 410 years that stood on the land of all 12 tribes.

How is it possible that King Solomon had as one of his descendants Nebuchadnezzar who would later destroy the Temple in Jerusalem?

I think the answer is in 1 Kings 11.

1 Kings Chapter 11

1. And King Solomon loved many foreign women, …

3. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.
4. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. …

9. And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, Who had appeared to him twice.

The Jewish sages explain that King Solomon did not himself worship idols. But, he was too lenient with some of his wives who did.

Because of this, his action or lack of action set in motion events that would result in the destruction of the Temple he built.

King Solomon’s Answer

Here again is the Queen of Sheba’s riddle along with King Solomon’s answer.

What is this: 7 go out, 9 come in, 2 prepare, and 1 drinks?

He answered her:

  • 7 go out – these are the days of niddah (a woman’s menstrual flow)
  • 9 come in – these are the months of pregnancy
  • 2 prepare – these are the mother’s breasts
  • 1 drinks – this is the newborn baby

Did the Queen of Sheba ask this riddle to hint to King Solomon that she wanted to have a child with him? It seems likely to me.

Picture Credits:
1. The map “Descendants of Yoktan” scanned from The Daat Mikra Bible Atlas page 55.
2. The map of the Arabian Peninsula is from the Nations Online Project.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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