The Queen of Sheba (2/5) [Archives:2005/835/Culture]
Translated and Annotated by David Ben-Abraham
Summary of part 1:
King Solomon checks his army of creatures of all kinds and misses the hoopoe bird, he threatens to punish it for not being present in the parade, when the hoopoe appears coming from Yemen where he had seen a queen that worships not the true God. King Solomon sends the hoopoe bird with a letter back to the Queen of Sheba.
Now since the hoopoe bird was greatly desirous of being sent back to the land of Sheba with a message from the king, he was forthwith released with this message to bring to the queen of Sheba. Whereupon, he spread his wings aloft, chirped as he flew away, and was quickly joined by a large flock of birds incapable of being numbered.
These all lighted upon the castle Qitor, in the land of Sheba, at the time when the queen of Sheba was going out in the morning to make her obeisance to the sun, which was on the rise. But for the multitude of birds, the sun would have put forth its rays. Yet, now, the sky was darkened by the multitude of fluttering creatures. The queen, being astonied by such a sight, immediately rent her garment.
At this token, the hoopoe bird suddenly descended in plain view of the queen, and she took notice that there was an epistle bound to one of its wings. She took up the bird and untied the letter, reading what was written therein. Again, she could not withhold her shock and surprise, and so she raised her hand a second time, and rent her garment.
She then sent and called for the elders and great men of her kingdom, saying unto them, “Have ye not heard what King Solomon has sent unto me?” They answered her, “We do not know such a one as King Solomon, neither will we acknowledge his kingdom.” Yet, the queen was not satisfied with their counsel and advice, and so quickly called and sent for all of her ships at sea, and commanded her sailors to load them with timbers of box-wood, and jewels and precious stones, and that all vessels should be fitted out to the deck's brim with such things as they might stand in need of for a long and protracted voyage at sea.
Camels were also to be carried along, so as to permit hauling the burthens once they had landed and gone ashore. She also commanded that six-thousand youth, some boys and some girls, should accompany her on this jjourney, children who were to make up the main core of her delegation, besides a great entourage of sailors and servants and attendants, and only those children who were born all in the same year, and in the same month, and on the same day, and in the same hour, and all of them must have the exact same height or stature, and all of them must have the same hair trimmings, and all must be clothed in purple tunics, so as to make it hard, at first sight, to distinguish between them, that is, the boys from the girls1.
Meanwhile, the queen of Sheba sent back a message to King Solomon, requesting leave of the king to come unto him in seven years' time, considering the long voyage that had to be taken at sea. For such would be the time needed to fit out an expedition, and to set sail when the winds were favorable, and then to circumnavigate the entire continent,2 docking at the various ports while en route, in order to rest and to replenish their supplies, and again, to avoid traveling the Great Sea (i.e., the Mediterranean) in the midst of winter for fear of being shipwrecked. Yet, she added, if the king should pray to his God, perhaps she could come unto him in only three years' time.
Now the men and sailors of Sheba, though skillful at sea, knew not that had they embarked on their journey by foot, traversing the great and barren wastelands, they would have reached their destination in far less time.
At the end of three years, the queen of Sheba came with her entourage, a great train of servants and attendants, bearing in their camels' baggage precious stones, and gold and silver, and much spices, as well the Balsam of Mecca.3
The king, having intelligence that they had arrived off shore, sent along Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, to greet them and to escort them along their way to Jerusalem. Now this man was of extraordinary beauty and grace, like a flower when it blossoms in the morning, and like the planet Venus which shines out brightly among the stars, and like a rose standing by the rivulets of water.
So when the queen of Sheba saw him, she mistook him for being King Solomon, and so alighted from off her camel. Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, enquired why she had gotten herself down from her camel. She answered, “Art thou not King Solomon?” He returned an answer, saying that he was not the king, but rather one of his attendants who stood before him.
At hearing this answer, she immediately turned away her face, and made this proverb to her great men who came along with her in this journey:
“If you have not seen for yourselves the lion, then come! Observe his resting place! If you have not yet seen King Solomon, then come! Observe the visage of a good man who standeth before him!4”
1- However incredible this might sound, we are admonished to remain faithful to the traditions as they have been reported, without changing or altering what has come down to us.
2- Meaning, the continent of Africa, since the Suez Canal was not yet built.
3- Heb. afarsemon, also falsemon. Believed to be Balsamodendron opobalsamum, but classified by some botanists as Commiphora opobalsamum (which has yet still the other taxonomic name of Commiphora gileadensis), a tree still found in the Dhofar district of Yemen. A similar tree is Commiphora meccanensis.
4- Meaning, if you wish to know the greatness of a king, observe the calibre of men who serve him.