The queen of sheba (4/5) [Archives:2005/837/Culture]
Translated and Annotated by David Ben-Abraham
Summary of part 1 -3:
King Solomon checks his army of creatures of all kinds and misses the hoopoe bird, he threatens to punish it for not be 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. The Queen reads the letter and decides to travel from Yemen to the King in Jerusalem. When she meets him there he amazes her with the powers God has bestowed on him and she duels with him in an intelligent conversation.
The queen, not yet convinced of the king's wisdom, answered: “My lord the king, this may have been but a simple trial of character for thee, yet perchance other questions and hard riddles will prove thy wisdom most consummately. Allow me, therefore, to ask thee three questions, which if thou shalt answer correctly, disclosing the secret meanings of my words, I shall know indeed that thou art a wise man of uncommon wisdom. Yet, if thou shalt fail, you shall be esteemed as all other men of regal order.
Tell me, if you can, since we have heard that thou art wise also in the natural sciences, what is like unto a wooden well, the contents of which are drawn up, as it were, by a bucket of iron; that thing taken up no more than stones, which forthwith are irrigated by water?
Answered the king: “The reed container, or vial, which carrieth the black antimony known as stibium, which stone when crushed is used by women in painting their eyelids, and by men as a remedy in eye ailments, and which they apply to themselves by wetting the iron pin with their spittle. 5
Correct! said the queen, and then proceeded to ask the king another question, saying: What is like dust, in that it cometh forth from the earth? Yet, when it comes forth, its food becomes the earth upon which we stand. It is spilt as water, and causes the house to be seen?
Answered the king: Kerosene!6
Correct! said the queen, and then propounded an even harder riddle to ask the king, saying: Whenever there is a strong gale, this thing is always at the forefront. It makes a great and bitter shout, and bows down its head as a bulrush.7 It is a thing lauded by the rich and wealthy, yet deplored by the poor; a thing of praise to the dead, yet strongly detested by the living. It is the happiness of birds, yet the grief of all fishes. What is it?
Answered the king: Flax linen!8 For a strong gale can only mean that it is used in making sails for ships, which same sails are driven by strong winds.
Now these linen stalks, after soaking, are first pounded and beaten in order to expose the good fibers, hence the great and bitter shout it makes. (Like bulrushes, the head of its stalks are split open, appearing to bow down.) The rich laud it, because they are able to afford the softest and most fine quality of linen produced, whilst the poor cannot afford to buy it, and settle for a poorer quality, which causes them great discomfort when first worn by them, until the fabric of the linen cloth is broken in by long wear.
Moreover, when men die, only the rich can afford to buy coloured linen shrouds to bury their dead, whilst the poor cannot afford it.9 A dead man who is wrapped in a burial shroud finds praise from men, but woe unto the living man who wears a burial shroud! Birds eat the flax seeds and make their nests from its fibers, and they are made happy thereby. But fish are caught in nets made of linen cords, and are grieved thereby.
The queen of Sheba, not being able to conceal her amazement at the ease with which the king answered her questions, propensed to ask him yet other questions, saying: Seven are departing. Nine are entering in. Two are giving drink, but only one is drinking. What are they?
Now the king thought within his heart, no man will speak upon a matter except that which is closest to him in his heart. So, too, this woman will ask none other than that which is in her heart, and a woman's heart is mostly on child bearing and children, jewellery, perfumes and cosmetics and clothing. So the king answered her: continued next week
5 Id est, the stibium clings to the spittle on the iron pin.
6 Distilled from petroleum, and used in burning lamps since ancient times.
7 To-day, these plants are more commonly called Cattails.
8 Linum usitatissimum
9 For which reason, Rabban Gamaliel the elder later changed the practice, and made it compulsory that all men, whether poor or rich, buy and make use of only non-coloured burial shrouds to bury their dead, so as not to shame those who were poor.