The Queen of Sheba, referred to in the Bible books of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, the Qur'an, and Ethiopian history, was the ruler of Sheba, an ancient kingdom which modern archeology speculates was located in present-day Ethiopia or Yemen . Unnamed in the biblical text, she is called Makeda in the Ethiopian tradition, and in Islamic tradition her name is Bilqis. Alternative names given for her have been Nikaule or Nicaula.

Biblical account

According to the 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 and precious stones, as recorded in First Kings 10.1-13 (largely copied in 2 Chronicles 9.1-12). The queen was awed by Solomon's wisdom and wealth, and pronounced a blessing on Solomon's God. Solomon reciprocated with gifts and "everything she desired," whereupon the queen returned to her country.

The Queen of Sheba appears as the "Queen of the South" in Matthew 12.42 and Luke 11:31, where Jesus indicates that she and the Ninevites will judge the Jews who rejected Jesus. The implication is apparently that righteous gentiles will judge unrighteous Jews.

The Song of Solomon/Song of Songs contain some references which have been at various times interpreted as referring to love between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Thus, the female lover at 1.5 declares "I am black, but comely."

Later Jewish legends

The Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 8.6.2ff) emphasizes her love for learning. He gives her the name "Nikaule," evidently conjecturing a connection with the Nitocris of Herodotus (2.100).

Later Jewish legend fleshed out many of the narrative details. Solomon's gift of "whatever she desired" was made concrete in a sexual relationship, and great efforts were expended in compiling lists of the riddles by which the Queen of Sheba had tested Solomon's wisdom. Another tradition related that when the queen met Solomon he was sitting in a glass house. Thinking he was in water, the queen raised her dress, exposing her hairy legs. Solomon's displeasure became an aetiological story for the origin of depilatories.

Qur'anic account

The Qur'an never mentioned the Queen of Sheba by name, though Arab sources name her Bilqis. The story is similar to the one in the Bible. The Qur'anic narrative has Solomon getting news of a kingdom ruled by a queen and worshipping the sun. He sends a message threatening an invasion. After some gifts are exchanged, the queen arrives at his court, and accepts monotheism and worshipping God alone. See also Similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an.

In Islamic legends, Yasir Yan'am was the husband of Balqis or Balkis, the Queen of Sheba. Balqis was the sister of Shams, the Sun. Her father was al-Hadhad, who rescued her mother, a jinn (spirit).

Modern Arab view

Some modern Arab academics have placed the Queen of Sheba not in Yemen, as older Arab sources did, but rather as a ruler of a trading colony in Northwest Arabia, established by South Arabian kingdoms. Modern archeological finds do indeed confirm the fact that such colonies existed, with south Arabian script and artifacts, although nothing specific to Bilqis has been uncovered so far.

Ethiopian account

The Imperial family of Ethiopia claims its origin directly from the offspring of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who is named Makeda in the Ethiopian account. The Ethiopian epic history of kings, the Kebra Negast, is supposed to record the history of Makeda and her descendants. King Solomon is said in this account to have seduced the Queen, and sired a son by her, who would eventually become Menelik I, the first Emperor of Ethiopia. It is speculated that the ancient communities that evolved into the modern Ethiopian state were formed by the migration across the Red Sea of Semitic southern Arabians who intermarried with local non-Semitic peoples. Indeed, the ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Axum ruled much of Southern Arabia including Yemen until the rise of Islam in the 7th century, and both the indigenous languages of Southern Arabia and the Amharic and Tigrean languages of Ethiopia are South Semitic languages. Evidence of ancient Southern Arabian communities in modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea are widespread and include archeological artifacts and ancient Sabaean inscriptions in the old South Arabian alphabet.

Renaissance depictions

Boccaccio's "On Famous Women" (Lat. De Mulieribus Claris) follows Josephus in calling her Nicaula, and Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies continues the convention.

The Queen of Sheba in popular culture



See also