The Queen of Sheba Prepares for Solomon

How did the Queen of Sheba learn of King Solomon's wisdom? The leader of her trade caravans, Tamrin, owned 73 ships and 787 camels, mules and asses, with which he journeyed as far as India. Having also traded with Israel, he brought gold, ebony and sapphires to Solomon, for use by his 700 carpenters and 800 masons who were building the great temple of Jerusalem. Tamrin told Sheba about the temple, and:

"how Solomon administered just judgement, and how he spake with authority, and how he decided rightly in all matters which he enquired into, and how he returned soft and gracious answers, and how there was nothing false about him.... Each morning, Tamrin related to the Queen about all the wisdom of Solomon, how he administered judgement ... and how he made feasts, and how he taught wisdom, and how he directed his servants and all his affairs... and how no man defrauded another... for in his wisdom he knew those who had done wrong, and he chastised them, and made them afraid, and they did not repeat their evil deeds, but they lived in a state of peace."

"And the Queen was struck dumb with wonder at the things that she heard... and she thought in her heart that she would go to him; and she wept by reason of the greatness of her pleasure in those things that Tamrin had told her.... When she pondered upon the long journey she thought that it was too far and too difficult to undertake. But she became very wishful and most desirous to go that she might hear his wisdom, and see his face, and embrace him, and petition his royalty." (8)

Whereas the Ethiopians emphasize Sheba's infatuation and adoration of the unknown Solomon - perhaps influenced by unfulfilled and sublimated sexual desire - Josephus describes her inquisitive, skeptical and challenging attitude:

"When this queen heard of the virtue and prudence of Solomon, she had a great mind to see him...she being desirous to be satisfied by her own experience, and not by a bare hearing (for reports thus heard are likely enough to comply with a false opinion); she resolved to come to him, in order to have a trial of his wisdom, while she proposed questions of very great difficulty and entreated that he would solve their hidden meaning." (9)

Sheba's desire to encounter Solomon was ardent enough for her to embark on a 1400 mile journey, across the desert sands of Arabia, along the coast of the Red Sea, up into Moab, and over the Jordan River to Jerusalem. Such a journey required at least six months time each way, since camels could rarely travel as much as 20 miles per day.

Arabian camels were tall and hardy, able to store water and fat for three weeks while living only on desert roughage. Wearing saddles of oak padded with colorful fabric, and hung with gold chains and crescents to win the favor of the gods, camels in a caravan were strung together by ropes made of goat hairs. Baby camels born along the way were carried on the back of the camel ahead to assure its mother of its wellbeing.

Sheba's caravan of 797 camels, mules and asses was laden with provisions and gifts for Solomon. Since a camel's saddle could carry 300-600 pounds, the wealth she brought was vast - gold, precious stones, furniture and spices. Throughout the day, she rode on an extravagant gold palanquin, like a four-poster bed, richly cushioned, with a roof shielding her from the sun and draperies she could close for privacy. Her handsome white camel was laden with gold and precious stones. Most likely, she was also accompanied by an armed guard to protect her from desert brigands, and by her devoted servants.

As Sheba prepared for her journey, she yearned deeply for the wisdom which she imparted to Solomon. Although she already had a passion for abstract knowledge, her virgin status in a pagan society, and and her association of wisdom with a young and handsome king most likely fueled her youthful fervor. Yet the response of her servants reveal that she was not merely a lovestruck adolescent, enamored with fantasies of her hero. Sheba's own devotion to wisdom likewise inspired devotion from her people. According to the Kebra Negast, she told them:

"The honouring of wisdom is the honouring of the wise man, and the loving of wisdom is the loving of the wise man. Love the wise man and withdraw not thyself from him... hearken to the utterance of his mouth, so that thou mayest become like him... The whole story of him that hath been told me is to me as the desire of my heart, and like water to the thirsty man."

Her nobles, and her slaves, and her handmaidens and her counsellors answered and said unto her, "O our Lady, as for wisdom, it is not lacking in thee, and it is because of thy wisdom that thou loved wisdom. And as for us, if thou goest we will go with thee, and if thou sittest down we will sit down with thee; our death shall be with thy death, and our life with thy life." (10)

continue to page four
read Bible translations of I Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9


(8) Budge, chapter 23.

(9) Josephus, book VIII, chapter 6:5, page 226.

(10) Budge, chapter 24

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