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A Sabaean priestess, who intercedes with the sun goddess on behalf of the donor. Probably 1st century AD

Sheba (; Ge'ez: ሳባ, Saba, Arabic: سبأ, Sabaʾ, South Arabian , Hebrew: שבא, Šəḇā) was a kingdom mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and the Qur'an. 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).

Modern archaeological studies support the view that the biblical kingdom of Sheba was the ancient Semitic civilization of Saba in Southern Arabia,[1][2][3][4][5] in Yemen, between 1200 BC until 275 AD with its capital Marib.[6][7] The Kingdom fell after a long but sporadic civil war between several Yemenite dynasties claiming kingship,[8][9] resulting in the rise of the late Himyarite Kingdom.

Similar description in the Hebrew Bible is found in Strabo's writings and Assyrian annals about the Sabaeans[10] Their civilization stretched as far as Aqaba with small colonies to protect the trade routes, these colonies included Yathrib and the central Arabian kingdom of Kindah[11][12] and northern Ethiopia where archaeologists found an ancient temple dedicated to the Sabaean chief god El-Maqah[13] The study of the history and culture of this kingdom is still patchy, especially the chronology of historical events and kings.[14]


  • Biblical tradition 1
  • Qur'anic tradition 2
  • Ethiopian tradition 3
  • Speculation on location 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8

Biblical tradition

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 Table of Nations[15] 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,[16] Sheba and Dedan are listed as names of sons of Jokshan, son of Abraham Another Sheba is listed in the Table of Nations[17] 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 not necessarily racial[18] Another theory suggests that the Sabaean hailed from Southern Levant and established their kingdom on the ruins of the Minaean Kingdom[19] It remains a theory however and cannot be confirmed.

The most famous claim to fame for the Biblical land of Sheba was the story[20] 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.[21] 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 afterwards named Meroe. 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.[22]

Qur'anic tradition

In the Qur'an, 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.[23] Also in the Qur'an, the people of Sheba are called the people of Tubba' (أهل تبّع) because Tubba' was used as the title for Sheba's kings.[24] The Qur'an mentions this ancient community along with other communities that were destroyed by God.[25] Muslim scholars, including Ibn Kathir, related that the People of Tubba' were Arabs from South Arabia.[26]

Ethiopian tradition

In Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, the Sheba (Saba in Ethiopic) who was Joktan's son is considered the primary ancestor of the original Semitic component in their ethnogenesis, while Sabtah and Sabtechah, sons of Cush, are considered the ancestors of the Cushitic element. 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 Yarab and a great-grandson of Qahtan.

In the medieval Ethiopian cultural work called the Kebra Nagast, Sheba was located in Ethiopia.[27] Some scholars therefore point to a region in the northern Tigray and Eritrea which was once called Saba (later called Meroe), as a possible link with the biblical Sheba.[28] Other scholars link Sheba with Shewa (also written as Shoa, the province where modern Addis Ababa is located) in Ethiopia.[29]

Speculation on location

The location of the kingdom mentioned in the Bible was long disputed.[30] The consensus of archaeologists is that the kingdom was located in southern Arabia.[31]

However, 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); 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.[32]

See also


  1. ^ "The kingdoms of ancient South Arabia". Retrieved 2013-02-22. 
  2. ^ Adolf Grohmann, Arabia Volume 3, Issue 1, Part 3 p. 122
  3. ^ PHILBY, H. ST. John B. THE LAND OF SHEBA London: Royal Geographical Society, 1938 p. 445
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ britannica last retrieved April 18 2013Saba
  6. ^ Kenneth A. Kitchen : The World of Ancient Arabia Series. Documentation for Ancient Arabia. Part I. Chronological Framework and Historical Sources p.110
  7. ^ "Sabaʾ." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 03 Feb. 2013
  8. ^ D. H. Muller, 1891; Mordtmann, Himyarische Inschriften, 1893 p. 53
  9. ^ Javad Ali,The articulate in the history of Arabs before Islam Volume 2 p. 420
  10. ^ arabia felix
  11. ^ Javad Ali ,The articulate in the history of Arabs before Islam Volume 7 p. 241
  12. ^ Javad Ali,The articulate in the history of Arabs before Islam Volume 7 p. 519
  13. ^ David W. Phillipson, Ancient Churches of Ethiopia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 36
  14. ^ Queen of Sheba - Behind the Myth Documentary
  15. ^ Genesis 10:7.
  16. ^ Genesis 25:3.
  17. ^ Genesis 10:28
  18. ^ Javad Ali,The articulate in the history of Arabs before Islam Volume 7 p. 421
  19. ^ HOMMEL, Südarabische Chrestomathie (Munich, 1892) p. 64
  20. ^ 1 Kings 10
  21. ^ Kitab al-Magall
  22. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews II.10
  23. ^ The Qur'an. A New Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem Oxford University Press. ad loc.
  24. ^ Brannon M. Wheeler (2002). Prophets in the Quran: An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166.  
  25. ^ Qur'an 50:14
  26. ^ Brannon M. Wheeler. "People of the Well". A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. 
  27. ^ Edward Ullendorff, Ethiopia and the Bible (Oxford: University Press for the British Academy, 1968), p. 75
  28. ^ The Quest for the Ark of the Covenant: The True History of the Tablets of Moses, by Stuart Munro-Hay
  29. ^ Donald N. Levine, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopia Culture (Chicago: University Press, 1972)
  30. ^ The Queen Of Sheba By Michael Wood BBC News
  31. ^ 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
  32. ^ 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

  • "Queen of Sheba mystifies at the Bowers" – UC Irvine news article on Queen of Sheba exhibit at the Bowers Museum
  • "A Dam at Marib" from the 'Saudi Aramco World' online – March/April 1978
  • Queen of Sheba Temple restored (2000, BBC)
  • "Africa's Golden Past: Queen of Sheba's true identity confounds historical research", William Leo Hansberry, E. Harper Johnson, Ebony Magazine April 1965, p. 136 - thorough discussion of previous scholars associating Biblical Sheba with Ethiopia
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