Saturday, December 17, 2011


I would like to thank Dr. Todd Beall for giving corrections to this paper. Errors are mine alone.


The Queen of Sheba is never named in the Bible. Though her country is named as Sheba, we do not know its geographic location definitively. Three major views of where Sheba is located are: in the northern Arabian Peninsula called Wadi Es-Seba; southern Arabian Peninsula in what is now Yemen; and in Ethiopia.[1] While there are many, some fanciful, proposals for Sheba's location, this paper will confine its discussion to southern Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia. Justification for this approach is that in the NT Jesus calls this queen the "Queen of the South." (Matt 12:42, Luke 11:31) This gives a cardinal direction from the land of Israel: south. The idiom used by Jesus suggests a lengthy distance from which the Queen came. The idiom use support an argument to preclude the northern Arabian Peninsula view.[2] This paper will examine the two primary texts concerning the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kgs 10 and 2 Chr 9, for clues as to the location of the Queen's home country. Also by way of method, this paper will look at other Biblical texts, extra-biblical texts, cultural features, and archeological evidence relevant to identifying the geographic location of Sheba. The evidence points to Sheba being located in what is now Yemen east of Sana'a, but quite possibly certain elements of cultural heritage of Sheba may have been transferred to what is now Ethiopia.

1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9 and Other Passages

The two passages in 1 Kgs 10 and 2 Chr 9 speak of the laudable attributes of Solomon. The first is his wisdom which is recognized internationally by the Queen of Sheba and unnamed parties from other nations (1 Kgs 10: 24; 2 Chr 9: 22, 23). The second laudable attribute was building of wealth from international relations through gifts, tribute, and trade (1 Kgs 9:28; 10:10-12, 14-22, 25-29; 2 Chr 8:18; 9:9-11, 13-21, 24-28). These glories are summarized by the inspired writer, who says: "Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom" (2 Chr 9:22 ESV).

The explicit motivation for the Queen of Sheba to visit Solomon was to learn of his wisdom, but the text also suggests that international trade related to the royal visit. Solomon sent out men on ships that acquired gold, apparently from some sort of international trade (1 Kgs 9:26-28; 2 Chr 8:17,18). The Queen of Sheba brought gold and spices in abundance to give as gifts Solomon (1 Kgs 10: 2, 10; 2 Chr 9: 1, 9). Solomon also gave to the Queen of Sheba whatever she desired (1 Kgs 10: 13; 2 Chr 9: 12).[3] Strictly speaking the Scriptures says that the goods which were transferred were gifts. Werner Keller says that the Queen of Sheba's expedition was to secure access to trade routes. Keller believes that her purpose was ensure that the ascending position of Israel in the international trade scene did not negatively affect her country's trade.[4] As this paper examines 1 Kgs 10 and 2 Chr 9 for clues regarding the location of Sheba it would be compelling to find a land which is involved in international trade of spices, precious gems and gold, had a high regard for wisdom, records a female monarch, and was called Sheba.

Other passages in the Bible discuss Sheba as an area occupied by the descendents of a patriarch called Sheba. Gen 10:7 places Sheba, along with his brother Dedan, as the grandson of Cush and the son of Raamah. The Gen 10:7 reference groups Sheba with Egypt, Cush, and Put, all descendents of Ham. The Allen Ross places the location of these descendent tribes on both sides of the Red Sea, on both the Arabian western coast and in Africa in the areas of southern Egypt, Sudan, and northern Ethiopia.[5] However in Genesis 10:28 a different Sheba is a distant descendent of Shem. This Semitic Sheba lived, along with the other sons of Joktan, in the territory from Mesha extending toward Sephar. Unger's Bible Dictionary places Mesha as a place in Arabia Petraea, on the east side of the Dead Sea and south toward the Arabian Peninsula.[6] Unger's places Sephar on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, on the western part of modern Yemen. The modern name for the site is called Zhafar (ظفار) and is located over sixty miles south of the Yemen capital Sana'a.[7] Genesis 25:3 is a third place where a patriarch is named Sheba, this time the grandson of Abraham and his concubine Keturah. Strangely, Sheba is once again paired with a brother Dedan. Scholars who hold to a late, Babylonian exile period for the composition of the Pentateuch would hold that these are three different traditions that explain the origin of the nation of Sheba. However, it is also possible that the pairing of the names Sheba and Dedan fit together in the ancient world, so that it was common to give brothers or twins these two names. Some have called names that seem to fit together for twins, twin names. The practice of pairing certain names by sound or other cultural features is common in the American culture.[8] The name Sheba in Hebrewשְׁבָ֖א has the same vowels as Dedanדְּדָ֑ן producing assonance.[9] This second set of brothers called Sheba and Dedan, grandsons of Abraham, the Bible Knowledge Commentary places along the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula.[10] All three Genesis references of the three Shebas suggest the Red Sea region is the location of Sheba. The Gen 10:7 leave the option open for either side of the Red Sea, while Gen 10: 28 and Gen 25:3 points to Arabia. More particularly, Gen 10:28 points to the southern Arabian Peninsula as the best location for Sheba.

The book of Job 1:15 mentions the Sabeans שְׁבָא֙ plundering Job's livestock. The Hebrew word is the same, though the English form of Sabea does seem different. Job 6:9 talks about the traveling merchants from Sheba. Job seems to re-enforce the idea that international trade was important to the inhabitants of Sheba via caravans, but also at least some of the time the people of Sheba took to raiding other nations.

Psalm 72 mentions Sheba twice. In Ps 72:10 the kings of Seba and Sheba are discussed. The spelling of Seba and Sheba are easy to distinguish in the Hebrew text though they sound very much the same (שְׁבָ֥א וּ֜סְבָ֗א ). Interestingly, the translators of the LXX chose to use the word Ἀράβων (Arabia) to designate the location of Sheba and used the word Σαβα for Seba. This would suggest that the land of Sheba is on the Arabian Peninsula in the eye of the LXX translator of Ps 72. The HarpersCollins Concise Atlas of the Bible places Seba on the west side of the Red Sea in what is now Sudan, while it places Sheba on the east side of the Red Sea in what is now the Southern Arabian Peninsula.[11] Ps 72:10 suggests that the king from Sheba brought gifts to Solomon. Perhaps Ps 71:10 use of the male form of the word for royalty is to represent both genders, or perhaps the Queen was an emissary for both her and her husband. The poetic language of the passage is probably best understood to mean that the male gender is representing the kingdoms of the two sides of the Red Sea. Ps 72: 15 seems to indicate that Sheba is a source of gold.

Isaiah 60:6 tells of camels coming from several nations including Sheba. It also indicates that camels will bring both gold and frankincense. The scholar seeking to properly locate Sheba should be looking for a land that has these three items: camels, frankincense, and gold. The mention of the camel is in agreement with the Queen of Sheba bringing a camel train with her in 1 Kgs 10:2 and 2 Chr 9:1. Joseph P. Free says that camels had come into use just prior to the time of the Queen of Sheba. The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser (circ. 827 B.C.) shows a camel with a saddle and rider.[12] Keller says that camels changed how trade from the Arabian Peninsula was carried out. Prior to circa 1000 B.C. donkeys had to travel a circuitous route from watering hole to watering hole. Camels could take a more direct route, saving time due to their ability travel greater distances with less watering stops.[13] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman state that the trading relationship with southern Arabia to be an important trading relationship.[14] Though camels' range of habitation includes both locations, Southern Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia, the trading caravans coming to and from southern Arabia are more famous.

Jeremiah 6:20 indicates that frankincense was exported from the land of Sheba. The ancient trade of frankincense came from cities and regions in both what is present day Yemen and Oman. The trade of frankincense went historically east by ship to various ports. However, the trade heading west went via camel train over land.[15] Frankincense can be and is grown in Africa today.[16] Though both sides of the Red Sea are able to grow frankincense, the trade of this aromatic resin is better known from the southern Arabian Peninsula.

Ezekiel 27: 22, 23 characterize Sheba as a trading partner who dealt in all kinds of spices, all kinds of precious stones and gold. Later in Ez 38:13 Sheba is listed among other nations who would accuse Gog and Magog of plundering them. The best information from Ezekiel is that the land of Sheba traded in spices, precious stones, and gold. This characterization points slightly toward Southern Arabian Peninsula being the location of Sheba.

Extra-Biblical Text

The Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC – ca. AD 24) places Sabea in the southern Arabian Peninsula. He calls their capital city Mariaba (Marib). He says that there are four principle tribes of southern Arabia; by the Minaeans, on the side towards the Red Sea, whose largest city is Carna or Carnana; next to these, by the Sabaeans (sic), whose metropolis is Mariaba; third, by Cattabanians, whose territory extends down to the straits and the passage across the Arabian Gulf, and whose royal seat is called Tamna; and, farthest toward the east, the Chatramotitae, whose city is Sabata.[17]

Further he quotes Eratosthenes describing the products of the land of Sabea as being myrrh, frankincense, and balsam. He confirms an abundance of gold and silver in the land. He discusses close the Sabean economic relationship with Ethiopia and how the Sabeans sail across Red Sea to obtain spices from the Ethiopia. Strabo describes Sabean trading relationship with Syria and Mesopotamia.[18]

The Jewish historian Josephus places the kingdom of Sheba as being in Egypt and Ethiopia.[19] Keller says that when the Romans came to Palestine they found a balsam plantation near Jericho. Josephus said that the balsam seeds were a gift to Solomon from the Queen of Sheba. The seeds were then cultivated so that balsam became a product of Judah and Israel (Ez 27:17).[20] While he says Sheba is in Ethiopia, his explanation of the balsam plantation points more to Arabia.

The Qur'an contains a surah (chapter) which mentions directly the story of the Queen of Sheba. In surah 27:22-44 there is a discussion of the Queen and Solomon, however, the story deviates from the Biblical account in many ways. The emphasis is primary about conversion to the true religion. This section does not support a specific location for Sheba; however, the Arabic word Saba (سَبَإٍ) is used in another surah called by Saba (Sheba) (سَبَإٍ). The surah called سَبَإٍ (Saba) describes Allah's judgment on the people of Saba (Sheba) who had enjoyed agricultural production from a dam they used to store seasonal rains. Allah causes the dam to fail and disaster comes on the region. This location is known by historians and archeologists as the Marib Dam in Yemen.[21]

The Ethiopians claim to have their own extra-biblical story of Sheba called The Kebra Nagast. The Kebra Nagast text clearly identifies Queen as being from Ethiopia. The Kebra Nagast also says that she had a son fathered by Solomon. This son, named BAYNA-LEḤKEM, came to his father Solomon. He showed himself by his looks and a ring to be the son of Solomon. It says that custom of Ethiopia was to be ruled by a virgin queen until the son of Solomon.[22] Today Ethiopians count that the royal family of Haile Selassie I to be a descendent of this union.[23] By Ethiopian tradition the city of Axum is the home of the Queen of Sheba and the Ark of the Covenant resides in Axum. A monastery in Lake Tana claims to have artifacts from the Temple from Jerusalem. They believe that Solomon gave these items as gifts to his son.[24] These traditions show present-day cultural artifacts that attempt to connect the Queen of Sheba with Ethiopian history. However, the weakness of these claims is that it seems difficult to understand how Solomon would give items from the Temple in Jerusalem to his son in Ethiopia. The Scripture says that Solomon loved many foreign women but it does not say that he had a liaison with the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 11:1).[25] Lastly, there seems to be no linguistic connection between Axum and the name Sheba.

Archeological Evidence

The Marib area of Yemen has been hostile to archaeological digs. A pioneering work was done in 1950 by Wendell Phillips and W.F. Albright in Marib. They wrote a book called Qataban and Sheba. However, their work did not directly expose ruins of a civilization from the time of Solomon but a later civilization. An assassination plot against the archaeological team cut the work short as they fled for safety.[26] Rather than revealing directly the kingdom of the Queen of Sheba, archeology has been able to establish a connection between ancient Israel and the Sabea and its capital city Marib. André Lemaire discusses in his 2010 article an inscription made on bronze from circa 600 B.C. that has been discovered which show a trading relationship with the "towns of Judea". The words "towns of Judea" is written in the Sabean language. Besides this find from Yemen, he also notes evidence of Sabean (south Arabian) writing on several artifacts found in modern Israel.[27]


The location of Sheba cannot be proven beyond a shadow of doubt. However the most plausible answer is shown to be Sabea kingdom with its capital city of Marib. The name Sabea fits better linguistically to be Sheba than the Ethiopian city of Axum. The trade of frankincense, other spices, precious stones and gold fit better with Saba on the southwest Arabian Peninsula than Ethiopia. Camel trains from the southern Arabian Peninsula are well known, but camels are native to Ethiopia as well. The camel train better fits with Arabia. Though Josephus and The Kebra Nagast clearly state that Sheba is Ethiopia, the evidence from LXX, the Qur'an, and Strabo give strong evidence for southern Arabia. The Kebra Nagast connects a female leader with Ethiopia, but this fact does not preclude the nation in the southern Arabian Peninsula from having a ruling matriarch. No evidence points to either Ethiopia or the southern Arabian Peninsula having a culture that particularly values wisdom. Of course it may be that seeking wisdom was peculiar to the Queen and not her culture. Alternatively, perhaps evidence of a culture valuing wisdom a great deal is yet to be revealed. Historically there was a close association between the two shores of the southern end of the Red Sea. Before Arabic became the language in Sabea after the rise of Islam, there was a linguistic affinity between Sabea and Ethiopia. In some periods of history kingdoms stretched to include land on both sides of the Red Sea. Jewish communities reside in both regions and share many pre-Talmudic features.[28] Ethiopia historically shared cultural tradition with Yemen. The evidence shows that Sheba was in the southern Arabian Peninsula, in what is modern day Yemen.


[1] D. A. Hubbard, "Queen of Sheba," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 9.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Though the word חָפֵץ is used in some places, for instance Gen 34:19, to denote romantic attraction, the phrases "whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon" clarifies that the things given were of economic value vice sexual pleasure.

[4] Werner Keller, The Bible as History (New York: William Morrow, 1969) 211.

[5] Allen Ross "Genesis" The Bible Knowledge Commentary (2 vols.; ed John F. Wolvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1983) 1:43.

[6],Merrill F. Unger, "Mesha", The New Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody, 1988) 837.

[7] Ibid., "Sephar", 1159.

[8] "Popular Names for Twins in 2011" [cited 28 October 2011] October 29, 2011.

[9] In my own family, my brother and I share a common sounding middle name in order to pair us as brothers though we have three years separating us by age. He is Alva Glen while I am Terry Lynn. I have uncles named Max and Rex.

[10] Ross, "Genesis," 1:68.

[11] James B. Pritchard ed., The HarpersCollins Concise Atlas of the Bible (London: HarpersCollins, 1991) 59.

[12] Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton: Van Kampen, 1950) 170.

[13] Keller, Bible as History, 209.

[14] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011) 41.

[15] The History of Frankincense [cited 28 October 2011]

[16] F. Nigel Hepper "Arabian and African Frankincense Trees" The Journal of Egyptian Archeology 55 (1969), 66-72 [cited 28 October 2011]

[17] Strabo, Geography, Book XVI, Chapter 4 par. 2 [cited 28 October 2011]*.html

[18] Ibid., par. 19.

[19] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews - Book VIII, Chapter 6 Paragraph 5 Christian Classics Ethereal Library [cited 28 October 2011]

[20] Keller, Bible as History, 214-215.

[21] Marib Dam - The Greatest Dam of Antiquity [cited 28 October 2011],45.268736&spn=0.011461,0.029311&z=16

[22] E.A. Wallis Budge tran., The Kebra Nagast (1932) [cited 28 October 2011]

[23] Edith Deen, All the Women of the Bible (New York: Harper & Row, 1955) 123.

[24] Josh Bernstein host, Digging for the Truth: Hunt for the Lost Ark. The History Channel. 2005.

[25] Deen, 123.

[26] Howard F. Vos, Archaeology in Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody, 1977) 377-78.

[27] André Lemaire, "Solomon & Sheba, Inc. New inscription confirms trade relations between 'towns of Judah' and South Arabia" BAR 36:01, Jan/Feb 2010 [cited 28 October 2011]

[28] D. A. Hubbard, 9.