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The Queen of Sheba

Updated on February 28, 2015
Queen of Sheba statue on the corner facade of the Cathedral of Reims in Notre Dame.
Queen of Sheba statue on the corner facade of the Cathedral of Reims in Notre Dame. | Source

What does the Christian text say?

1 Kings 10: When the Queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan--with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones--she came to Solomon and talked with him about all she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When Queen of Sheba saw all of the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.

Painting of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba by Konrad Witz Current Location: Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
Painting of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba by Konrad Witz Current Location: Gemaldegalerie, Berlin | Source

Who was the Queen of Sheba?

The Queen of Sheba is the queen regnant (as opposed to a queen consort) who appears in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Queen of Sheba is more than just a mere footnight in Biblical history. The Queen of Sheba has become the subject of a widespread legend throughout Ethiopia and Jewish tradition. Her legendary name was Makeda.

The most elaborate text containing the story of Makeda comes from the "Targum Sheni," the Second Targum. The Targum is a translation of the Book of Esther, which is another story of a great Queen in the Bible. This non-sacred text includes the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon and seeing him commanding a daunting army of animals, birds, and demonic spirits as subjects.

According to some, the Queen of Sheba was part of a male dynasty that ended with her being the last ruler in the family. The first heir to the throne was her brother, but he died and that left Makeda as the queen. She ruled Ethiopia for fifty years.


Where does the story begin?

Where did the Queen of Sheba come from?

Scholars believe that the Queen of Sheba came from Agame, Ethiopia. "Agame" means "fruitful"; it is a former province of Northern Ethiopia, now part of the Tigray Region. Its inhabitants include the Irob people, a region where tradition states that the legendary Makeda (the Queen of Sheba) was born and raised. The aristocratic house had its capital at Adigrat.There are several reasons why scholars say Ethiopia was the home of Makeda. First, she brought "precious stones" to King Solomon, which scholars believe to be frankincense. There are only a few places on earth where frankincense is gathered. She was also described as being a dark-skinned woman.

Frankincense is found in only a few places on earth.
Frankincense is found in only a few places on earth. | Source

Makeda is Important to Ethiopians

The Ethiopians have a special affinity with Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. They believe that Solomon tricked her into sleeping with him, thus causing her to become pregnant. After her son was a young man, she sent him to see King Solomon and tell the king that he was his son. The son obliged, went to see the king, and supposedly returned to his mother with the Ark of the Covenant.

The best version of this legend is included in a text called "Glory of the Kings," which is considered the Ethiopian national legend. In the text, the son is called Menelick I who is the ancester of the Solomonic dynasty that reigned up until the 1970s.

Some historians believe that the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia actually began later when an emperor with the Ethiopian Church overthrew the ruling dynasty. Any link to King Solomon is good for the Ethiopian culture and heritage.

Where does King Solomon come into all of this?

King Solomaon was the son of David and King of Israel from 970 to 931 BC. He was the third King of the United Monarchy, which is the name given to the Israelite Kingdom of Israel and Judah. His patrileneal descendents ruled over Judah, now the site of Jerusalem. He is one of the forty-eight prophets who is credited with building the first temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew Bible portrays Solomon as great in wisdom, wealth, and power. His sins of idolatry and turning away from God are what led to the separation of Irael and Judah.

The stories of Solomon's wisdom and wealth spread throughout the region, and the Queen of Sheba heard about him. Now, Solomon was used to ordering everything around him, and when he heard about a kingdom in the East that was excedingly wealthy, he was intrigued. He was even more intrigued when he found out that the kingdom was ruled by a woman, Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. He immediately sent word demanding that she come see him.

The Ethiopians believe that Solomon wanted to have sexual relations with Makeda, but she refused him. He agreed not to take her by force if she agreed to not take anything of his that was not freely given. The Queen agreed.

Now, Solomon had his cooks deliberately serve the Queen spicy foods, knowing that she would get thirsty during the night. So, he placed a pitcher of water close to her bed. Of course, she woke up thirsty and reached for the water. Solomon was ready and immediately accused her of taking something that was not freely given. He said that because she broke her promise, then he was no longer obligated to restrain himself. Thus, they slept together and she conceived their son, Menelek, who would begin the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia.


Gonder Castle in Ethiopia
Gonder Castle in Ethiopia | Source

The Queen of Sheba in art

The story of Solomon always includes the sub-story of the encounter with the Queen of Sheba. Many artists viewed the story as symbolizing the Christian church. In many pieces of art, Solomon represents Jesus and the the Queen bearing gifts foreshadowed the adoration of the Magi.

There are many sculptures of the Queen in some of the greatest cathedrals throughout the world. Many 12th century cathedrals include stained glass that depicts the queen.

The Queen of Sheba was a popular subject in Italian Renaissance art. Her likeness appears on bronze doors and frescoes.

The Queen of Sheba was an important figure in both religious and secular European art. The impact of her story on European figurative art is tremendous.

After the invention of the printing press, artists reinterpreted the Biblical story of Solomon and Makeda meeting. They were especially intrigued with the story of her bearing gifts for him.

The story of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon on a set of bronze doors.
The story of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon on a set of bronze doors. | Source

Exit Ticket!

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    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 3 years ago from Shimla, India

      This was an interesting post. As a student of literature, i came across this name a lot of times but didn't really do a follow up. After reading your post, i learnt everything about her.

      Voted up :)

    • Sparklea profile image

      Sparklea 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Very interesting, and I am familiar with the Queen in the Bible, but you gave some excellent information here and I LOVE the pictures! Thank you for taking time to research this unique topic. Blessings, Sparklea

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is very interesting and informative. I've never know anything about the Queen of Sheba until now. Thanks for sharing an enjoyable hub.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      I always thought that story in the Bible about The Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon was very interesting. I wondered how she knew about him since the kingdoms were far apart. Thanks for sharing this information. I voted up.

      Have a Blessed Easter.

    • melissae1963 profile image
      Author

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 3 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      T o us she is a legend. To the Ethiopians, she is an ancestor.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Interesting hub, Melissa. The Queen of Sheba is a fascinating biblical character, and I wish more definite information about her was available. But lacking that, even the legends are interesting to know about.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      What great research and writing. Yes, I learned a lot.

    • melissae1963 profile image
      Author

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 3 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      Thank you. I really enjoyed learning about her. I appreciate that you took the time to read and comment.

    • Hannah David Cini profile image

      Hannah David Cini 3 years ago from Nottingham

      A really interesting and well researched piece. Thank you for sharing.

    • melissae1963 profile image
      Author

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 3 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      She's more important to history than folks realize. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      temptor94 3 years ago

      Cool hub! Always heard of her as being the great queen and her link to King Solomon. But did not know all the history behind it. Enjoyed reading :)

    • melissae1963 profile image
      Author

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 3 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      Yes, she was one of the few women queens who wasn't married to a king. I really enjoyed researching her.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well that was interesting. I've heard of her all my life but knew nothing about her. Good info...thank you!

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