A Greater Union

The sketchy portraits that we have of Sheba hint at her expression of emotional openness, and intellectual curiosity with Solomon. Even the brief account of her in I Kings, that "she communed with him of all that was in her heart...there was not anything hid from the king which he told her not" (29), suggests that her encounters with Solomon were not only intellectual discussions, but also open and heartfelt dialogues. The Kebra Negast is considerably more effusive:

"And he visited her and was gratified, and she visited him and was gratified... And she marvelled in her heart, and was utterly astonished in her mind, and she recognized how wise he was in understanding, and pleasant in graciousness, and commanding in stature. And she observed the subtlety of his voice, and the discreet utterances of his lips, and that he gave his commands with dignity, and that his replies were made quietly and with the fear of God." (30)

When she expressed her admiration and joy to Solomon directly, he answered with humility, and likewise expressed his admiration for her. The Kebra Negast reports her saying to him:

"O how greatly have pleased me thy answering, and the sweetness of thy voice, and the beauty of thy going, and the graciousness of thy words. Thy voice maketh the heart to rejoice...and giveth goodwill to the lips, and strength to the gait. I look upon thee and I see that thy wisdom is inexhaustible, and that it is like a lamp in the darkness, and like a pomegranate in the garden, and like a pearl in the sea, and like the Morning Star among the stars, and like the light of the moon in the mist, and like a glorious dawn and sunrise in the heavens."

And King Solomon answered and said unto her, "Wisdom and understanding spring from thee thyself. As for me, I only possess them in the measure in which the God of Israel hath given them to me because I asked and entreated them from Him. And thou, although thou dost not know the God of Israel, thou hast this wisdom which thou hast made to grow in thine heart."

...And moreover, Solomon marvelled concerning the Queen, for she was vigorous in strength, and beautiful of form, and undefiled in virginity; and she had reigned for six years in her own country, and notwithstanding her gracious attraction and her splendid form, had preserved her body pure." (31)

Were Solomon and Sheba lovers? Did Sheba lose her virginity to the King? The Bible does not say so directly. However, the Hebrew verb bw', which means "to come", is used to describe Sheba's approach to Solomon; this particular word also means coitus, and frequently in the Bible refers to entering a house for the purpose of sexual relations. The statement that "King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked" (32) (as well as Josephus' explanation, "for there was nothing that she desired which he denied her" (33) might also imply that he not only fulfilled her intellectual and material passions; he also fulfilled her sexual passion.

Ethiopian and Arabian accounts explicitly refer to sexual relations between Solomon and Sheba. The Kebra Negast describes that "he pondered in his heart, `A woman of such splendid beauty hath come to me from the ends of the earth! What do I know? Will God give me seed in her?'"(34) He desired her, and she likewise may have desired him, but because she sought to retain her virginity in order to reign as queen, she refused him. After six months together, when Sheba contemplated leaving, he begged her to stay, and asked her to marry him. But she declined, most likely because she was committed to her own people, and was also unwilling to be a wife to a polygamous man, in a society where women had few rights.

Ingenious Solomon was not to be deterred by her refusal. He tricked her into choosing to give herself to him sexually. An Arabic account tells us:

"And Solomon loved women passionately, and... when her visits to him multiplied, he longed for her greatly and entreated her to yield herself to him. But she would not surrender herself to him, and she said unto him, `I came to thee a maiden, a virgin; shall I go back despoiled of my virginity, and suffer disgrace in my kingdom?'

And Solomon said unto her, "I will only take thee to myself in lawful marriage - I am the King, and thou shalt be the Queen...Strike a covenant with me that I am only to take thee to wife of thine own free will - this shall be the condition between us: when thou shalt come to me by night as I am lying on the cushions of my bed, thou shalt become my wife." And behold she struck this covenant with him, determining within herself that she would preserve her virginity from him." (35)

He then arranged a great feast for her, beautifying his tent with purple hangings, carpets, marbles and precious stones, and burning aromatic powers and incense. "Follow me now and seat thyself in my splendour in the tent,'" he told her, "and I will complete thy instruction, for thou has loved wisdom, and she shall dwell with thee until thine end and for ever." (36) When she agreed, he rejoiced. He prepared meats which would make her thirsty, fish cooked with pepper, and drinks containing vinegar. Then they dined and conversed until late in the night, when he suggested that she sleep there near him, rather than return to her apartment.

The Kebra Negast describes an agreement which Solomon then made with Sheba (in contrast to the Arabic text in which he promises not approach her sexually unless she approaches him first). Here, he swears that he will not "take her by force" as long as she does not "take by force" anything of his:

"And she said unto him, `Swear to me by thy God, the God of Israel, that thou wilt not take me by force. For if I, who according to the law of men am maiden, be seduced, I should travel on my journey back in sorrow, and affliction and tribulation.'

And Solomon answered and said unto her, `I swear unto thee that I will not take thee by force, but thou must swear unto me that thou wilt not take by force anything that is in my house.' And the Queen laughed and said unto him, `Being a wise man, why dost thou speak as a fool? Shall I steal anything, or shall I carry out of the house of the King that which the King hath not given me? Do not imagine that I have come hither through love of riches. Moreoever, my own kingdom is as wealthy as thine, and there is nothing which I wish for that I lack. Assuredly I have only come in quest of thy wisdom.'

... And she said unto him, `Swear to me that thou wilt not take me by force thy, and I on my part will swear not to take by force thy possessions'; and he swore to her and made her swear." (37)

In both accounts, Sheba slept in Solomon's tent, and awakened in the middle of the night thirsty and craving water, but only able find a water in a jar by Solomon's bed. Solomon had, of course, asked his servants to hide all other sources of water. Believing him to be asleep, she reached across his bed for water, but he opened his eyes, seized her hand and said:

"`Why hast thou broken the oath that thou hast sworn that thou wouldn't not take by force anything that is in my house?' And she answered and said unto him in fear, `Is the oath broken by my drinking water?....Be free from thy oath, only let me drink water.' And he permitted her to drink water, and after she had drunk water...they slept together" (38)

In the Arabic text, Solomon reminded her of the agreement they had made if she came to him by night. She then "remembered the covenant that existed between him and her. And she gave herself into his embrace willingly."(39)

Sheba may have been Solomon's lover, but she did not become his wife or remain with him much longer. After she had visited him for six months, she chose to return to her own country. Before she left, she gave Solomon 120 talents of gold (10 million dollars), precious stones and spices in great abundance, and highly prized sandalwood for his temple. In the Biblical story, "Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked...besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty." (40) Likewise, Josephus states, "Solomon also repaid her with many good things...bestowing upon her what she chose of her own inclination, for there was nothing that she desired which he denied her; and as he was very generous and liberal in his own temper, so did he show the greatness of his soul in bestowing on her what she herself desired of him." (41)

Unlike the Bible and Josephus, the Kebra Negast provides details of Solomon's gifts - beautiful apparel, 6000 camels, wagons laden with luxurious goods, and vessels for travel over desert, air, and sea. Because she was now pregnant with his child, he also gave her a ring, for he hoped that she would bear him a son, who might in time visit Jerusalem and prove his identity to Solomon.

continue on page eight
Read I King 10 or II Chronicles 9



(28) Josephus, VIII, 6:5, p. 226.
(29) I Kings 10: 2-3
(30) Budge, chapter 25
(31) Budge, chapters 26 and 30.
(32) I Kings 10:13
(33) Josephus
(34) Budge, chapter 28
(35) From an Arabic text printed by Bezold, discussed in Budge, Introduction, liii.
(36) Budge, chapter 28
(37) Budge, chapters 29, 30
(38) Budge, chapter 30
(39) From an Arabic text printed by Bezold, discussed in Budge,
Introduction, lv.
(40) Kings 10:13
(41) Josephus, VIII, chapter 6:6, p.227.

Copyright 1990 by Tracy Marks
(Torrey Philemon at Ancient Sites)
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