From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Sheba (disambiguation).
See also: Sabaeans
A Sabaean priestess, who intercedes with the sun goddess on behalf of the donor. Probably first century.

Sheba (/ˈʃbə/; Ge'ez: ሳባ, Saba, Arabic: سبأ‎‎, Sabaʾ, South Arabian Himjar alif.PNGHimjar ba.PNGHimjar sin.PNG, שבא, Šəḇā) was a kingdom mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Quran. Sheba features in Ethiopian, Hebrew and Qur'anic traditions. Among other things it was the home of the biblical "Queen of Sheba" (named Makeda in Ethiopian tradition and Bilqīs in Arabic tradition).

The view that the biblical kingdom of Sheba was the ancient civilization of Saba in South Arabia is controversial. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman write that "the Sabaean kingdom began to flourish only from the eighth century BCE onward" and that the story of Solomon and Sheba is "an anachronistic seventh-century set piece meant to legitimize the participation of Judah in the lucrative Arabian trade."[1]The British Museum states that there is no archaeological evidence for such a queen but that the kingdom described as hers was Saba, "the oldest and most important of the South Arabian kingdoms" [2] Kenneth Kitchen dates the kingdom to between 1200 BCE until 275 CE with its capital, Ma'rib.[3] The Kingdom fell after a long but sporadic civil war between several Yemenite dynasties claiming kingship,[4][5] resulting in the rise of the late Himyarite Kingdom.

Biblical tradition[edit]

The two names Sheba (spelled in Hebrew with shin) and Seba (spelled with samekh) are mentioned several times in the Bible with different genealogy. For instance, in the Generations of Noah[6] Seba, along with Dedan, is listed as a descendant of Noah's son Ham (as sons of Raamah, son of Cush). Later on in Genesis,[7] Sheba and Dedan are listed as names of sons of Jokshan, son of Abraham Another Sheba is listed in the Table of Nations[8] as a son of Joktan. Another descendant of Noah's son Shem.

There are several possible reasons for this confusion. One theory is that the Sabaean established many colonies to control the trade routes and the variety of their caravan stations confused the ancient Israelites, as their ethnology was based on geographical and political grounds and not necessarily racial.[9] Another theory suggests that the Sabaeans hailed from the southern Levant and established their kingdom on the ruins of the Minaeans.[10] It remains a theory however and cannot be confirmed.

The most famous claim to fame for the Biblical land of Sheba was the story[11] of the Queen of Sheba, who travelled to Jerusalem to question King Solomon, arriving in a large caravan with precious stones, spices and gold. The apocryphal Christian Arabic text Kitāb al-Magall ("Book of the Rolls", Kitāb al-Magāll.[12] considered part of Clementine literature) and the Syriac Cave of Treasures mention a tradition that after being founded by the children of Saba (son of Joktan), there was a succession of sixty female rulers up until the time of Solomon.

The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus describes a place called Saba as a walled, royal city of Ethiopia, which Cambyses II afterwards named Meroë. He says "it was both encompassed by the Nile quite round, and the other rivers, Astapus and Astaboras" offering protection from both foreign armies and river floods. According to Josephus it was the conquering of Saba that brought great fame to a young Egyptian Prince, simultaneously exposing his personal background as a slave child named Moses.[13]

Qur'anic tradition[edit]

In the Quran, Sheba is mentioned by name at 27:22 in a section that speaks of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon Qur'an 27:20-44.[14][15] The Qur'an mentions this ancient community along with other communities that were destroyed by God.[16] Muslim scholars, including Ibn Kathir, related that the People of Sheba were Arabs from South Arabia.[17]

Ethiopian tradition[edit]

In Orthodox Tewahedo, the Sheba (Saba in Ethiopic) who was Joktan's son is considered their primary ancestor, while Sabtah and Sabtechah, sons of Cush, are considered the ancestors of the Cushitic peoples. Traditional Yemenite genealogies also mention Saba, son of Qahtan (Joktan), however they claim Sabaean descent not from him, but from yet another Saba not mentioned in scripture, who was said to be a grandson of Ya'rub and a great-grandson of Qahtan.

In the medieval Ethiopian Kebra Nagast, Sheba was located in Ethiopia.[18] Some scholars therefore point to a region in the northern Tigray Region and Eritrea, which was once called Saba (later called Meroë), as a possible link with the biblical Sheba.[19] Donald N. Levine linka Sheba with Shewa (also written as Shoa, the province where modern Addis Ababa is located) in Ethiopia.[20]

Speculation on location[edit]

The location of the kingdom mentioned in the Bible was long disputed.[21] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman suggest that the kingdom was located in southern Arabia.[22]

Owing to the connection with the Queen of Sheba, the location has become closely linked with national prestige, and various royal houses claimed descent from the Queen of Sheba and Solomon. According to the medieval Ethiopian work Kebra Nagast, Sheba was located in Ethiopia. Ruins in many other countries, including Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Iran have been credited as being Sheba, but with only minimal evidence. There has even been a suggestion of a link between the name "Sheba" and that of Zanzibar (Shan Sheba)[citation needed]; and even a massive earthen monument of the Yoruba people in Nigeria known as Sungbo's Eredo is held by tribal tradition to have been built in honour of the powerful queen Oloye Bilikis Sungbo, who is often equated with the Bilqis of Arabic legend.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman,David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition p. 171
  2. ^ "The kingdoms of ancient South Arabia". Archived from the original on May 4, 2015. Retrieved 2013-02-22. 
  3. ^ Kenneth A. Kitchen : The World of Ancient Arabia Series. Documentation for Ancient Arabia. Part I. Chronological Framework and Historical Sources p.110
  4. ^ D. H. Muller, 1891; Mordtmann, Himyarische Inschriften, 1893 p. 53
  5. ^ Javad Ali,The articulate in the history of Arabs before Islam Volume 2 p. 420
  6. ^ Genesis 10:7.
  7. ^ Genesis 25:3.
  8. ^ Genesis 10:28
  9. ^ Javad Ali,The articulate in the history of Arabs before Islam Volume 7 p. 421
  10. ^ HOMMEL, Südarabische Chrestomathie (Munich, 1892) p. 64
  11. ^ 1 Kings 10
  12. ^ Kitab al-Magall
  13. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews II.10
  14. ^ The Qur'an. A New Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem Oxford University Press. ad loc.
  15. ^ Brannon M. Wheeler (2002). Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166. ISBN 0-8264-4956-5. 
  16. ^ Qur'an 50:14
  17. ^ Brannon M. Wheeler. "People of the Well". A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. 
  18. ^ Edward Ullendorff, Ethiopia and the Bible (Oxford: University Press for the British Academy, 1968), p. 75
  19. ^ The Quest for the Ark of the Covenant: The True History of the Tablets of Moses, by Stuart Munro-Hay
  20. ^ Donald N. Levine, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopia Culture (Chicago: University Press, 1972)
  21. ^ The Queen Of Sheba By Michael Wood BBC News
  22. ^ Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman,David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition p. 167
  23. ^ Nigeria News, 4 June 1999, "Archaeologists find clues to Queen of Sheba in Nigeria"


  • Alessandro de Maigret. Arabia Felix, translated Rebecca Thompson. London: Stacey International, 2002. ISBN 1-900988-07-0
  • Andrey Korotayev. Ancient Yemen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-922237-1.
  • Andrey Korotayev. Pre-Islamic Yemen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1996. ISBN 3-447-03679-6.
  • Kenneth A. Kitchen: The World of Ancient Arabia Series. Documentation for Ancient Arabia. Part I. Chronological Framework & Historical Sources. Liverpool 1994.
  • Andrey Korotayev. Pre-Islamic Yemen. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 1996, ISBN 3-447-03679-6.
  • Walter W. Müller: Skizze der Geschichte Altsüdarabiens. In: Werner Daum (ed.): Jemen. Pinguin-Verlag, Innsbruck / Umschau-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1987, OCLC 17785905, S. 50–56.
  • Walter W. Müller (Hrsg.), Hermann von Wissmann: Die Geschichte von Sabaʾ II. Das Grossreich der Sabäer bis zu seinem Ende im frühen 4. Jh. v. Chr. (= Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften,Philosophisch-historische Klasse. Sitzungsberichte. Vol. 402). Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 1982, ISBN 3-7001-0516-9.
  • Jaroslav Tkáč: Saba 1. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (RE). Band I A,2, Stuttgart 1920, Pp. 1298–1511.
  • Hermann von Wissmann: Zur Geschichte und Landeskunde von Alt-Südarabien (Sammlung Eduard Glaser. Nr. III = Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, philosophisch-historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte. Band 246). Böhlaus, Vienna 1964.
  • Hermann von Wissmann: Die Geschichte des Sabäerreiches und der Feldzug des Aelius Gallus. In: Hildegard Temporini: Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt. II. Principat. Ninth volume, First halfvolume. De Gruyter, Berlin/New York 1976, ISBN 3-11-006876-1, p. 308
  • Pietsch, Dana, Peter Kuhn, Thomas Scholten, Ueli Brunner, Holger Hitgen, and Iris Gerlach. "Holocene Soils and Sediments around Ma’rib Oasis, Yemen, Further Sabaean Treasures." The Holocene 20.5 (2010): 785-99. Print.
  • "Saba'" Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.

External links[edit]