A Meeting of Minds

Although an Ethiopian tale portrays the Queen of Sheba and her prime minister dressed in man's clothes as they meet Solomon, most accounts describe her arriving bejewelled and draped in dazzling robes. Immediately, Solomon gave her a luxurious apartment in a palace next to his, and provided her with fruits, rose trees, silks, linens, tapestries, and 11 bewitching garments for each day of her visit. Daily, he sent her (and her 350 servants) 45 sacks of flour, 10 oxen, 5 bulls, 50 sheep (in addition to goats, deer, cows, gazelles, and chicken), wine, honey, fried locusts, rich sweets, and 25 singing men and women.

A gracious host, Solomon showed Sheba his gardens of rare flowers ornamented with pools and fountains, and the architectural splendors of his government buildings, temple and palace. She was awed by his work on the temple, by his great lion-throne and sandalwood staircase, and by his enormous brass basin carried by the twelve brass bulls which symbolized the twelve months of the year. She sought astronomical knowledge, for which he was known; Solomon had developed a new calendar which added an extra month every nineteen years.

Although impressed by Solomon's wealth, Sheba was more interested in his wisdom. Some scholars suggest that her visit was also economically and politically motivated, "the conclusion of a trade agreement governing both land and sea routes, rather than a meeting of mutual admiration."(15) But she came, according to the Kebra Negast, to learn from him, and according to the Old Testament, "to prove him with hard questions." (16)

What were these "hard questions?" Theologians throughout the ages have speculated on their nature, believing them to pertain to: peace and war, the meaning of life, evil, secrets of death and immortality, the relationship between spirit and body, sexuality, male/female differences, the role of women, the reliability of paternity as a basis for an economic system, the cycles of the moon and tides, and the name and nature of God. Whatever the questions, most sources refer to lengthy discussions occurring between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

According to Josephus, "upon the king's kind reception of her, he both showed a great desire to please her, and easily comprehending in his mind the meaning of the curious questions she propounded to him, he resolved them." (17) Not only did Sheba ask Solomon philosophical questions; she also tested him with riddles. The Targum Sheni, Midrash Mischle, and Midrash Hachefez describe twenty two of her riddles:

"What is it? An enclosure with ten doors; when one is open, nine are shut, and when nine are open, one is shut," Sheba asked Solomon. Solomon answered, "The enclosure is the womb, and the ten doors are the ten orifices of man, namely his eyes, his ears, his nostrils, his mouth, the apertures for discharge of excreta and urine, and the navel. When the child is still in its mother's womb, the navel is open, but all the other apertures are shut, but when the child issues from the womb the navel is closed and the other orifices are open." (18)

In another riddle pertaining to the body, Sheba posed to Solomon, "Seven leave and nine enter; two pour out the draught and only one drinks." How did Solomon respond? "Seven are the days of woman's menstruation, nine the months of her pregnancy; her two breasts nourish the child, and one drinks." (19)

Other riddles concerned with common objects and materials. At one point, Sheba asked, "What when alive does not move, yet when its head cut off, moves?" Solomon's answer: "the timber used to build a ship." (20) Another riddle she proposed was: "It is many- headed. In a storm at sea it goes above us all, it raises a loud and bitter wailing and moaning; it bends its head like a reed, is the glory of the rich and the shame of the poor, it honors the dead and dishonors the living; it is a delight to the birds, but a sorrow to the fishes. What is it?" Solomon replied, "Flax, for it makes sails for ships that moan in the storm. It provides fine linen for the rich and rags for the poor, a burial shroud for the dead, and a rope for hanging the living. As seed it nourishes the birds, and as a net it traps the fish." (21)

continue to page six
read the Old Testament - I King 10 or II Chronicles 9

Copyright 1990 by Tracy Marks
(Torrey Philemon at Ancient Sites)
Queen of Sheba Index Tracy/Torrey's Web Index
Webwinds  Skating Photography,
WebCards and Personal Pages
Torrey's Ebay Sales
Windweaver Web and Windows Training Contact Tracy Marks   

Since April 3, 1997,  you are visitor  Pergatory_II_Counter