Queen of Sheba

An account of the Queen of Sheba's story can be found in the Ethiopian Kebra Negast (The Glory of Kings). See www.sacred-texts.com/chr/kn. other references to the Queen of Sheba are found in the Qur'an. Hers is one of the most popular of all of the biblical stories about women, although it is also quite a short account. The Old Testament devotes thirteen verses to her in 1 Kings 10:1–13 (which is repeated in 2 Chronicles 9:1'12). Various names she has been called include Bilqis (Islamic), Nikaule, and Makeda (Ethiopian).

In the tenth century, the Queen of Sheba ruled over an ancient kingdom along the Red Sea, known as Abyssinia. It is found today in modern Ethiopia or Yemen. Archeologists have been digging in the Nigerian rainforest at Eredo, near what may have been her gravesite.

The Queen of Sheba had heard many tales of the greatness of Solomon, and decided to make a trip from Sheba to Jerusalem to visit the king and test him with “…hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1). The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during Jesus' lifetime, noted the Queen of Sheba's intense love of knowledge.

The Queen Arrives in Grand Style

The Bible says she arrived in Jerusalem with a “very great train,” suggestive of a caravan, loaded with gifts and an entourage to serve her during her stay. She must have been very rich, because she had brought along precious stones and spices (1 Kings 10:1–11), and 120 talents of gold that she intended to give to Solomon (1 Kings 10:10).

The Queen Observes Solomon and His Surroundings

The Queen of Sheba noticed every detail of King Solomon and his house: the feast spread upon his table and the number of servants he kept (and their well-being), as well as the clothing worn by his ministers and cupbearers. In short, nothing about the king and his life escaped her notice. She asked him many riddles, and Solomon must have answered them to her satisfaction, for she told him that all that she had heard about him was true.

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba Commune

She may have been quite beautiful. The biblical account states that the Queen “…communed with him of all that was in her heart” (1 Kings 10:2–3). He also held nothing back. She lavished him with gifts. In turn, he gave her “…all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty” (1 Kings 10:13). Some sources assert that this could be a euphemistic phrase for a physical relationship. Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, who lived from 1892 to 1975, purportedly claimed to be a descendent of the Queen of Sheba by way of Menelik I, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Menelik I began the Ethiopian royal dynasty.

Did Solomon Love the Queen of Sheba?

Solomon, who kept many wives and concubines, may have fallen in love with the Queen of Sheba. She worshipped the Sun, but some modern scholars have suggested that her relationship with Solomon might account for the introduction of Judaism into Ethiopia. Some sources suggest that she may have been the female lover in The Song of Songs (meaning the greatest of songs), attributed to Solomon. In the opening of that lyrical work of poetry, which describes the courtship and marriage traditions of the author's time, the female lover makes a declaration.

The Queen of Sheba

The Song of Songs, according to many scholars, is not about one man's love for a woman, but really about the mutual love of God and his people. The author simply uses the device of human love to describe the relationship between the two entities.

Of all the ancient queens, the Queen of Sheba (or the Queen of the South as she is called in Matthew 12:42) managed to capture popular interest through the ages. Images of her appeared in twelfth- and thirteenth-century cathedral art at Canterbury, Strasbourg, Chartres, Rochester, and Amiens. She was the subject of numerous books, fine art, a ballet, and no less than three operas: Solomon (Georg Friederic Händel), Reine de Saba (Charles Gounod), and Die Konigin von Saba (Karl Goldmark).

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine… the king hath brought me into his chambers…I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jersusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. (The Song of Solomon 1:2, 4–5)

Vashti

King Ahasueras put aside his wife Vashti, daughter of Belshazzar, to marry Esther after Vashti refused to parade herself naked except for her crown. The king had been drinking and feasting with his subjects for seven days, the Bible says, before he decided to have Queen Vashti demonstrate her beautiful attributes. When Vashti refused to be paraded about as a sex object through the drunken crowd, the king became furious.

Ahasueras Banished Her

The king called together his advisors to ask what he should do. They told him to put her away and to never allow her in his sight again (which possibly meant to banish or behead her). Vashti's banishment was dwarfed by the emergence of Esther in the king's life. Esther became empowered and saved the Jewish people from certain massacre.

The Plot Thickened

The king and Haman behaved badly toward both Vashti and Esther. The king acted foolishly in wanting to parade his wife naked in front of his court. Haman behaved evilly for wanting to kill Mordecai and all of the Jews. In terms of power, Vashti, a nonJewish woman, became powerless when her husband took the counsel of his advisors. He then became enamored of Esther. When the king saw Esther's beauty, and heard her heartfelt plea on behalf of the Hebrew people, he ordered the death of Haman.

How Did the Talmudic Writers Portray Vasthti?

The Talmud states that Queen Vashti made Jewish women remove their clothes and work for her on Shabbat (the Hebrew Sabbath). Further, she refused to comply with the king's summons because she was afflicted with tzaraat (a skin disease). She was cruel to Jewish women who served her, and was arrogant, putting down the king with sharp words when he had summoned her. Those two factors sealed her fate.

Was Vashti cursed?

Midrashic literature (texts written by learned rabbis to explain discrepancies in the Bible) asserts that Vashti was cursed. She acquired the curse through the actions of her Babylonian grandfather, King Nebuchadnezzar, when he destroyed Solomon's Temple and forced the Jews into exile. In many places in the Old Testament, the sins of the parent are borne by later generations.

The Legacy of Vashti for Modern Women

Modern feminists say that Vashti was not a villain, but a valiant heroine and model of virtue. Although Queen Esther is considered the important biblical character to remember during Purim, some Jewish scholars suggest studying both women's roles to understand how both could be celebrated as heroines of the festival.

For Vashti and other queens in biblical times, a glorious and privileged life could shift in a heartbeat: a wife who was a queen might suddenly discover that she had fallen out of favor with the king because of something she had done (or refused to do). She then faced dire consequences, even death.

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