A ruler of a people called the Sabeans, who occupied a territory in southwest Arabia, approximately where Yemen is today (see Map 6:G6). The Semitic inhabitants of Sheba built up a far‐reaching trade, especially in spices and precious metals and stones; they colonized nearby parts of Africa, including the Ethiopian coast. Sheba was a prosperous land and thus a symbol of wealth (Isa. 43.3; 45.14; Joel 3.8; Ps. 72.10).
In the tenth century BCE, Sheba's queen is said to have visited Solomon, the king of Israel (1 Kings 10.1–13; 2 Chron. 9.1–12). She arrived with extravagant gifts and with questions to test Solomon's wisdom. Her visit reflects several important and interrelated features of Solomonic rule: internationalism, diplomacy, and sagacity. Solomon's peaceful domination of far‐flung territories was sustained through his skill as a diplomat rather than through the repeated show of military force, and his close ties with foreign nations is evident in the numerous relationships he is said to have established with women from outside his native land. Such diplomatic skill, particularly on the international level, is associated throughout the ancient Near East with wisdom. The Queen of Sheba's interaction with Solomon exemplifies that connection. The report of her visit to Jerusalem is a vehicle for the biblical author to extol Solomon's wealth and wisdom. Furthermore, the Queen of Sheba, by transporting some of her nation's wealth to Jerusalem, thus aggrandizes the capital of Solomon's empire and contributes to the assertion of Jerusalem's prominence in the Near East at that time.
According to later legend, the relationship between Solomon and the queen was more intimate, and their son was the founder of the (former) royal house of Ethiopia.
Carol L. Meyers