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Nearly two years ago, a correspondent posted a comment on the website for my book, ‘Transformed by Love (The Story of the Song of Solomon)‘, in which they suggested that the true love of Solomon’s life was the Queen of Sheba. It was argued that both were bound by duty to their own countries and so had to part: but that compared to her, Solomon never found real love again.
As the website was in the process of being integrated with the liegeman.org domain, I responded privately, requesting permission to instead post the comment here, together with the correspondent’s name and my response, as below. I never received a reply, so did not feel at liberty to publish it: but I still feel that this comment was worthy of a proper response and of potential interest to others, so here is my answer. …
I certainly believe Solomon was originally very deeply in love with the woman about whom he composed his song; though I do not personally think this was the Queen of Sheba.
When discussing this possibility in my book, I pointed out the discrepancy between the initial character and behaviour of the woman described in the song and that of the Queen of Sheba, who came with great pomp and riches to test Solomon with hard questions (2Chronicles 9:1). But I suspect that the correspondent’s view on this matter also owes much to the Arabian/Ethiopian tradition about King Solomon’s romance with the Queen of Sheba, which comes from the 14th-century ‘Kebra Nagast.’1 This document claims that, on the eve of her return to Sheba, Solomon tricked the Queen into accepting his advances; thereby siring the first of Ethiopia’s ‘Solomonic’ dynasty that finally ended with the overthrow of Haile Salassie in 1974. But, whereas the Song of Solomon clearly describes a marriage (Song 3:6-11 & 4:8-12), leading to an ongoing relationship, neither the biblical accounts of the Queen’s visit nor the ‘Kebra Nagast’ suggest that there was any formal marriage between the two. The biblical accounts of her visit (1Kings 10:1-13 & 2Chronicles 9:1-12) make no mention of any sexual relationship. The ‘Kebra Nagast’ tells us that after their temporary union she departed to Sheba, giving birth to her son en route, and for a long time concealed the identity of the father from her son; apparently never seeing Solomon again.
From a reading of the biblical account, it is certainly possible to suppose that the Queen of Sheba did fall in love with Solomon; and yet placed the call of duty above her own heart. Yet Solomon’s own behaviour is much harder to explain. It is difficult to date exactly when the Queen of Sheba’s visit occurred: but the first wife of Solomon to be mentioned after he became king2 is Pharaoh’s daughter (1Kings 9:16,24 & 2Chronicles 8:11) and the woman in the song was the 60th queen out of 700! (Song 6:8 & 1Kings 11:3).
However, there is another curious aspect of Solomon’s many wives: the Scriptures only mention him having two daughters and one son (1Kings 4:11,15; 14:21). That son, Rehoboam, became Solomon’s successor in spite of being described as the son of ‘Naamah the Ammonitess.’ This is extraordinary, as the Mosaic law stated, ‘An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh; even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of Yahweh forever: because they didn’t meet you with bread and with water in the way, when you came forth out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.’ (Deuteronomy 23:3-4) Yet, in spite of this, the men of Judah accepted him as their king, as did the other Israelites until he threatened them with more taxes (1Kings 12:1-19). The implication seems to be that there was a distinct shortage of alternative candidates.
There are a few possible explanations. Solomon may have had a fertility problem. (It could be argued that this would have been a just reward for his profligacy.) It is also possible that many of his marriages were for political rather than personal reasons: in which case he may seldom have had sexual relations with his wives. (Though even if he had merely done so once per wife, he should still have sired plenty of sons.) It has also been pointed out that the worship of some of his wives’ idols could involve child sacrifice: though it is unlikely that this could have happened to any significant degree without attracting specific mention in the biblical accounts (c.f. 2Kings 16:3, 17:17, 21:6). Or did Rehoboam have some special importance to Solomon? When discussing the apparently bad attitude to the woman of her brothers in the song of Solomon (Song 1:6), I mentioned the possibility that she may have been of mixed race. And in spite of the bar on Ammonites and Moabites, there was a precedent. King David’s own great grandmother was Ruth, the Moabitess (Ruth 4:17).
Again, however, this does not rule out the possibility that Solomon did indeed have a relationship with the Queen of Sheba. Although the story in the ‘Kebra Nagast’ appears to have been embellished and edited to suit particular nationalistic and doctrinal sentiments, it may still carry a significant measure of historical truth.
Kevin King, 23/7/20
Page creation by Kevin King
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