The Queen of Sheba is a mysterious figure only mentioned in two passages in the Bible (1Kgs 10; 2Chr 9) in which she travels from her country to meet King Solomon in Jerusalem. These brief texts led to the development of many later traditions about this queen, her country, and her relationship to Solomon.
Where was Sheba?
The genealogies of the nations in Gen 10 and 1Chr 1 place Sheba in the general area of Egypt and Ethiopia (known as Cush in some ancient sources). That was probably all the biblical writers knew about the location of Sheba, and for them it was the edge of the world. One purpose of the story in 1Kgs 10 and 2Chr 9 is to show that Solomon’s wisdom was famous even in the most distant lands.
Scholars have tried to connect the gifts the Queen of Sheba brought with the possible location of Sheba. She brought spices, gold, and precious stones, all products of extreme wealth. Spices, in particular frankincense and myrrh, came from the area of modern-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, on the African coast of the Red Sea. Ancient gold mines have been found in the same area. However, the area of modern-day Yemen on the Arabian coast of the Red Sea was also a source of spices and lay on a major trade route. This area of Arabia was known as the kingdom of Saba in the first millennium BCE, and various Sabaean kings are mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions from the period. The debate about the location of Sheba remains unresolved, although there have been some recent efforts to claim that the kingdom of Saba straddled the Red Sea, with power in both Arabia and Africa.
Ancient inscriptions and texts provide the names of many Sabaean rulers going back to the eighth century BCE. However, there are no queens on the list, only kings. A Queen of Sheba, therefore, is historically unlikely.
Did the Queen of Sheba marry Solomon?
There’s nothing in the biblical passages to suggest that the Queen of Sheba married Solomon. However, many later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions tell about a marriage between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church teaches that their son was the first great king of Ethiopia, Menelik I.
Why would traditions develop about a marriage, even when the biblical texts clearly state that the Queen of Sheba returned to her own land after her meeting with Solomon (1Kgs 10:13; 2Chr 9:12)? The key is in the previous verse, in which Solomon is said to have given her
everything she desired (1Kgs 10:12; 2Chr 9:11). Because she had admired his wisdom and praised the happiness of his subjects, early biblical interpreters thought that she must have wanted to marry him and that Solomon had granted her wish. Many works of literature, such as the story of “King Solomon and the Bee,” have been born by people filling in the gaps of this biblical story.