The Aftermath: Solomon's Later Years

The visit of the Queen of Sheba was the culminating point of Solomon's life. After she left, he continued to write and speak words of wisdom, but he and Israel deteriorated. We might speculate that this deterioration was triggered not only by his increasing preoccupation with building a glorious palace and temple, but also by Sheba's return to her country. Never again would Solomon encounter or love a woman he could call her equal.

After she left, Solomon took 700 wives and 300 concubines, many who were foreign women who eventually "turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God." (42)  Although God had commanded that he and the Israelites reject idolatry and the gods of other nations, Solomon built pagan temples for his many wives. In the region south of the Mount of Olives, referred to as the Hall of Shames, he constructed shrines to Ashtoreth, goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, goddess of Moab; and Milcom and Molech, goddesses of the Ammonites. He also honored Astarte, who was worshipped by many cultures, including the Sabaeans.

Although Solomon was known for his internationalism and his openmindedness to foreign cultures and their beliefs, his religious tolerance contributed to his downfall. Not only did he anger God; he also failed to unify his people, who needed their monotheistic practices in order to maintain religious identity and national pride.

The completion of his luxurious Temple became more important to Solomon than the practice of his religion. Then his luxurious Palace - built for personal rather than collective use - took precedence over the Temple. Finally, his writing and preaching of wisdom became increasingly divorced from experience.

Solomon no longer lived by the humane principles for which he had become respected and honored. Some historians even view him as a tyrant who became devoted to his own glory, and whose greed and extravagance led him to build his kingdom on injustice, oppression and misery. (43)

Solomon drew tax lines across the old tribal borders, alienating tribal elders. For his costly architectural projects, he taxed mercilessly, forcing those who could not pay into slavery, and seizing their lands. Many starved and died. Raising a levy of 30,000 men for forced labor from Hebrews and non-Hebrews of his northern kingdoms, rather than his own people of Judah, Solomon divided his country. His people, including his own sons, became increasingly resentful, and began to revolt.

After his death, the northern kingdoms of Israel stopped tolerating the forced labor and high taxes which had fed Judah, and refused to accept Solomon's son Rehoboam as king. Civil war resulted; ten northern tribes set up their own kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam, leaving only the kingdoms of Judah and Benjamin to Rehoboam. Such internal strife only made the Israelites weak, and vulnerable to invasion. Eventually, the Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians conquered them, and carried them off into exile. While the Queen of Sheba's visit was a time of glory, it marked the beginning of the end for Solomon and all of Israel.

The Aftermath: Sheba and Her Son

Sheba's life after Solomon was more fortunate. Upon returning home, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Ibn al-Hakim, "son of the wise man." Some Jewish, Islamic and Persian sources state that this child was Nebuchadnezzar (44); Ethiopians believe him to be David II (the name given him by Solomon), who later called himself Menelek, and who was the first king of the Ethiopian dynasty.

The Kebra Negast states that when Menelek was 12 years old, he began asking his mother about his father, and that when he was 22, he traveled to Jerusalem, bearing the ring which Solomon had given Makeda. Because Menelek's facial features, eyes, legs and gait were similar to his father's, Solomon recognized him instantly. Rejoicing in his firstborn male heir, he wanted Menelek to be his successor, but Menelek refused. Although he remained for a time to study the laws of the Hebrews, Menelek, like his mother, chose to return to Sheba. Solomon was deeply grieved at his departure, and also dreamed of laying with Makeda, experiencing once again the glory that they had known together.

No existing Jewish or Christian documents refer to Sheba giving up her reign as queen, or insisting that only kings descending from Solomon should rule, or converting to Islam. Indeed, in the Bible, she offered respect to the Hebrew god, but returned to her own country and customs. The Kebra Negast presents a different picture. Written to establish the Solomonic kings as the basis of the Ethiopian dynasty, and Islam as the national religion, it emphasizes her decree that "there shall be no more queens in Ethiopia, but only a man." Here she is portrayed telling Solomon, "Henceforward a man who is of thy seed shall reign, and a woman shall nevermore reign; only seed of thine shall reign and his seed after him." (45)

Here too, she is described writing Solomon a letter, requesting that he send her a fringe from the holy Arc of the Covenant, so that the Sabaeans might reverence it. When Solomon demanded that his counselors send their eldest sons to Sheba to spread the religion of the Israelites, his counselors rebelled and arranged for the theft of the Arc, which was then secretly transported to Sheba.

"From this moment I will not worship the sun, but will worship the Creator of the sun, the God of Israel," Sheba had told Solomon. Now, she declared that her people "shall not worship the sun and the magnificence of the heavens, or the mountains and the forests, or the stones and three trees of the wilderness, or the abysses and that which is in the waters... or feathered fowl which fly...and they shall not pay adoration unto them." (46)  Not only did she forbid pagan worship, but she also declared the Hebrew god the national god.

After her visit to Solomon, Sheba continued to earn respect from her people for the wisdom she had gained and continued to gain, as a result of her commitment to learning, spiritual development, and benevolent leadership. She was also revered for her kindness to her people, and her capacity to live by her philosophical and religious principles. In her prayers to her new god, she said:

"Grant unto me that I may follow Wisdom, and may not become a castaway; grant that I may make her a foundation for me, and may never be overthrown; grant that I may stand upon her as firmly as a pillar and may not topple over; grant that I may become vigorous through her, and not suffer from exhaustion; grant that I may grasp her firmly, and may not slide; grant that I may dwell in her in peace....

Through her I have dived down into the great sea and have seized her depths a pearl whereby I am rich. I went down like the great iron anchor whereby men anchor ships for the night on the high seas, and I received a lamp which lighteth me, and I came up by the ropes of the boat of understanding. I went to sleep in the depths of the sea, and not being overwhelmed with the water I dreamed a dream.

And it seemed to me that there was a star in my womb, and I marvelled thereat, and I laid hold upon it and made it strong in the splendour of the sun; I laid hold upon it, and I will never let it go. I went in through the doors of the treasury of wisdom and I drew for myself the waters of understanding. I went into the blaze of the flame of the sun, and it lighted me with the splendor thereof, and I made of it a shield for myself, and I saved myself by confidence therein, and not myself only but all those who travel in the footprints of wisdom, and not myself only country." (47)

GO TO: Solomon and Sheba Poetry
GO TO: Introduction and Index
GO TO: Bibliography
GO TO: Web Links

Read the Old Testament - I Kings 10 or II Chronicles 9


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