1 Kings 10:1-13 Solomon’s Egyptian queen dies in c.946BC. The following year, Solomon is visited by the Queen of Sheba, who brings gifts of gold, frankincense and many spices (see 8 on Map 57).
The Queen of Sheba
King Solomon of Israel was courted by foreign dignataries from all over the Middle East (see 1 Kings 4:21 & 34). His most celebrated visitor was the Queen of Sheba (see 1 Kings 10:1-13).
Sheba (or Saba) was a southern kingdom centred on Yemen or Ethiopia (and possibly including both). Eritreans believe the Saba region of northern Tigray province in Eritrea is the true site of Sheba. Ethiopian traditions suggest that it was from Axum, in Ethiopia, that the Queen of Sheba journeyed to visit King Solomon.
Ark of the Covenant church at Axum, Ethiopia (Adam Cohn)
In the Biblical ‘Table of Nations’ (see Genesis10:7), the people of Sheba are listed as descendants of Raamah, the great-grandson of Noah, while later, Shebans are said to be descended from Jokshan, the son of Abraham’s wife Keturah (see Genesis 25:3).
The Jewish historian Josephus describes Saba as a royal city of Ethiopia, and claims that it was the defeat of the armies of Cush (Upper Egypt) and Saba that first brought fame to the young Egyptian Prince Moses (see section on Exodus 2:4-10). The Ethiopian Orthodox church traditionally ascribes the Semitic component of Ethiopian ethnicity to Abraham’s son Jokshan, and claims that the Ethiopian kings of Aksum are direct descendants of the Queen of Sheba (called ‘Makeda’ in Ethiopian tradition) and her son Menelik I, whose father is believed to be King Solomon.
The Queen of Sheba also features strongly in Islamic and Yemeni traditions (where she is called ‘Bilquis’). Linguistic research has shown that the southern Semitic languages of Yemen, Oman, Eritrea and Ethiopia are closely linked, while many scholars identify the kingdom of Sheba with the Sabaeans of Yemen in southern Arabia.
Ancient Ma'rib, capital of the Sabaean kingdom of Yemen (Bernard Gagnon)
Significantly, frankincense, one of the gifts brought to Jerusalem by the Queen of Sheba, was produced in the Yemen in Biblical times. The cultivation of this desert area was made possible by building a huge dam to catch the water from flash floods, and a system of channels that irrigated over 20,000 acres / 8,000 hectares of farm land. The remains of this great dam (which was built in c.1500BC and collapsed in 543AD) can still be seen near the ancient Sheban capital of Marib. A 5 mile / 8 km sacred way links Marib with a temple known as the Throne of Bilquis, dating from the tenth century BC, whose excavated remains can be visited today.
The Queen of Sheba is also mentioned in the New Testament, where Jesus claims that the Jews who have rejected him will be judged in comparison to the “Queen of the South” who “came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom” (see Matthew 12:42 & Luke 11:31).