This article or section is being renovated.
Lead = 1 / 4
Structure = 4 / 4
Content = 4 / 4
Language = 4 / 4
References = 4 / 4
1 / 4
4 / 4
4 / 4
4 / 4
4 / 4
For the full article with many more examples than are included in this series, see
The story of the Queen of Sheba is an ancient one, dating back to the Old Testament (1 Kgs. 10:1-10 and 2 Chr. 9:1-12). Josephus also makes mention of the Queen of Sheba, as does the Qur'an, which interestingly embellishes the Old Testament account with the episodes of the hoopoe and the Queen of Sheba exposing her legs.
Below is the Quranic account of the story:
And he took attendance of the birds and said, "Why do I not see the hoopoe - or is he among the absent? I will surely punish him with a severe punishment or slaughter him unless he brings me clear authorization." But the hoopoe stayed not long and said, "I have encompassed [in knowledge] that which you have not encompassed, and I have come to you from Sheba with certain news. Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne. I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided, [And] so they do not prostrate to Allah, who brings forth what is hidden within the heavens and the earth and knows what you conceal and what you declare - Allah - there is no deity except Him, Lord of the Great Throne." [Solomon] said, "We will see whether you were truthful or were of the liars. Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them. Then leave them and see what [answer] they will return." She said, "O eminent ones, indeed, to me has been delivered a noble letter. Indeed, it is from Solomon, and indeed, it reads: 'In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Be not haughty with me but come to me in submission [as Muslims].' " She said, "O eminent ones, advise me in my affair. I would not decide a matter until you witness [for] me." They said, "We are men of strength and of great military might, but the command is yours, so see what you will command." She said, "Indeed kings - when they enter a city, they ruin it and render the honored of its people humbled. And thus do they do. But indeed, I will send to them a gift and see with what [reply] the messengers will return." So when they came to Solomon, he said, "Do you provide me with wealth? But what Allah has given me is better than what He has given you. Rather, it is you who rejoice in your gift. Return to them, for we will surely come to them with soldiers that they will be powerless to encounter, and we will surely expel them therefrom in humiliation, and they will be debased." [Solomon] said, "O assembly [of jinn], which of you will bring me her throne before they come to me in submission?" A powerful one from among the jinn said, "I will bring it to you before you rise from your place, and indeed, I am for this [task] strong and trustworthy." Said one who had knowledge from the Scripture, "I will bring it to you before your glance returns to you." And when [Solomon] saw it placed before him, he said, "This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful - his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful - then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous." He said, "Disguise for her her throne; we will see whether she will be guided [to truth] or will be of those who is not guided." So when she arrived, it was said [to her], "Is your throne like this?" She said, "[It is] as though it was it." [Solomon said], "And we were given knowledge before her, and we have been Muslims [in submission to Allah]. And that which she was worshipping other than Allah had averted her [from submission to Him]. Indeed, she was from a disbelieving people." She was told, "Enter the palace." But when she saw it, she thought it was a body of water and uncovered her shins [to wade through]. He said, "Indeed, it is a palace [whose floor is] made smooth with glass." She said, "My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the worlds."
Regarding the above passage, Gabriel Said Reynolds in his 2018 academic commentary on the Quran cites the Targum Sheni 1:1-3 (also known as The Second Targum of Esther). The Targums were translations (in this case, Aramaic) of the Hebrew scriptures, often with significant exegesis, paraphrase, or additional tales interwoven with the text.
A few verses earlier, Quran 27:16-17 also has a parallel at the start of the same Targum Sheni passage. Reynolds remarks that "The Qurʾān's declaration that Solomon was taught the 'speech of the birds' (v. 16) and that his army included 'jinn, humans and birds' (v. 17) reflects the Second Targum of Esther (the date of which is disputed, but may date originally from the fourth century AD; On its relationship with the Qurʾān see BEQ, 390-91; 393-98)." However, it must be cautioned that the date of the Targum Sheni (Second Targum of Esther) is extremely uncertain. It has received various datings from the 4th to 11th centuries AD (as Reynolds also mentions), though certainly in its final redaction includes material which post-dates the lower end of that range.
Dozens of details correspond between this passage and the Quranic verses when they are compared:
At another time, when the heart of Solomon was gladdened with wine, he gave orders for the beasts of the land, the birds of the air, the creeping things of the earth, the demons from above and the Genii, to be brought, that they might dance around him, in order that all the kings waiting upon him might behold his grandeur. And all the royal scribes summoned by their names before him; in fact, all were there except the captives and prisoners and those in charge of them. Just then the Red-cock, enjoying itself, could not be found; and King Solomon said that they should seize and bring it by force, and indeed he sought to kill it. But just then the cock appeared in presence of the King, and said: O Lord, King of the earth! having applied thine ear, listen to my words. It is hardly three months since I made a firm resolution within me that I would not eat a crumb of bread, nor drink a drop of water until I had seen the whole world, and over it make my flight, saying to myself, I must know the city and the kingdom which is not subject to thee, my Lord King. Then I found the fortified city Qîtôr in the Eastern lands, and around it are stones of gold and silver in the streets plentiful as rubbish, and trees planted from the beginning of the world, and rivers to water it, flowing out of the garden of Eden. Many men are there wearing garlands from the garden close by. They shoot arrows, but cannot use the bow. They are ruled by a woman, called Queen of Sheba. Now if it please my Lord King, thy servant, having bound up my girdle, will set out for the fort Qîtôr in Sheba; and having "bound their Kings with chains and their Nobles with links of iron," will bring them into thy presence. The proposal pleased the King, and the scribes prepared a despatch, which was placed under the bird's wing, and away it flew high up in the sky. It grew strong surrounded by a crowd of birds, and reached the Fort of Sheba. By chance the Queen of Sheba was out in the morning worshipping the sea; and the air being darkened by the multitude of birds, she became so alarmed as to rend her clothes in trouble and distress. Just then the Cock alighted by her, and she seeing the letter under its wing opened and read it as follows: "King Solomon sendeth to thee his salaam, and saith, The high and holy One hath set me over the beasts of the field, etc.; and the kings of the four Quarters send to ask after my welfare. Now if it please thee to come and ask after my welfare, I will set thee high above them all. But if it please thee not, I will send kings and armies against thee; — the beasts of the field are my people, the birds of the air my riders, the demons and genii thine enemies, — to imprison you, to slay and to feed upon you." When the Queen of Sheba heard it, she again rent her garments, and sending for her Nobles asked their advice. They knew not Solomon, but advised her to send vessels by the sea, full of beautiful ornaments and gems, together with 6000 boys and girls in purple garments, who had all been born at the same moment; also to send a letter promising to visit him by the end of the year. It was a journey of seven years but she promised to come in three. When at last she came, Solomon sent a messenger shining in brilliant attire, like the morning dawn, to meet her. As they came together, she stepped from her carriage. "Why dost thou thus?" he asked. "Art thou not Solomon?" she said. "Nay, I am but a servant that standeth in his presence." The queen at once addressed a parable to her followers in compliment to him, and then was led by him to the Court. Solomon hearing she had come, arose and sat down in the Palace of glass. When the Queen of Sheba saw it, she thought that the glass floor was water, and so in crossing over lifted up her garments. When Solomon seeing the hair about her legs, cried out to her: Thy beauty is the beauty of women, but thy hair is as the hair of men; hair is good in man, but in woman it is not becoming. On this she said: My Lord, I have three enigmas to put to thee. If thou canst answer them, I shall know that thou art a wise man: but if not thou art like all around thee. When he had answered all three, she replied, astonished: Blessed be the Lord thy God, who hath placed thee on the throne that thou mightest rule with right and justice. And she gave to Solomon much gold and silver; and he to her whatsoever she desired.
One cannot be too dogmatic about this parallelism, as the dating of Targum Sheni is not beyond doubt. Nevertheless, it is likely that the story of the Queen of Sheba pre-dates the Qur'an as the Targum is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. It is also clear that the post-Quranic dates often ascribed to Targum Sheni are that of the final redaction and not necessarily that of the Queen of Sheba myths.
- ↑ Gabriel Said Reynolds, "The Quran and Bible:Text and Commentary", New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018, pp. 585-6
- ↑ Gabriel Said Reynolds, The Qurʾān and Bible p. 524
The BEQ reference in the quote is to H. Speyer Die biblischen Erzahtungen im Qoran 1931, reprint 1961
- ↑ Targum Sheni - Encyclopedia.com (originally from the Encyclopaedia Judaica)
- ↑ William St. Clair Tisdall, The Sources of Islam translated and abridged by William Muir, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901, pp. 26-27