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The Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon
Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, October 16, 1999
by VW Bro. Art Scott, Victoria Columbia Lodge No. 1
Upon reading the title of this paper, you may well wonder, "what on earth has the Queen of Sheba got to do with Freemasonry?" As a matter of fact, it was when I asked myself this very same question that I began to pursue the story of the Queen of Sheba and her visit to King Solomon following the completion of his famous temple in Jerusalem. Your next question well might be "where in Freemasonry is there any reference to the Queen of Sheba?" The answer: in the Board of Installed Masters. The Board of Installed Masters is a ceremony, not a degree, so I will plead "not guilty" of divulging any secrets when I tell you that during this ceremony the VOSL is opened at I Kings 10. After witnessing and participating in the Board of Installed Masters, and having listened to the aforementioned scripture read many, many times, I began to wonder what the relevance of this passage was to the ceremony of installation. Why did the Queen of Sheba come to visit Solomon? Was she the only monarch who came? What was so special about her visit that it is afforded such detail in the VOSL? And what is the Masonic significance of I Kings 10? Let us begin by referring to I Kings 10:
1. And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions
2. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him all that was in her heart
3. And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not anything hid from the king, which he told her not
4. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built, 5. And the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cup bearers, and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her
6. And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land, of thy acts and of thy wisdom
7. Howbeit I believed not the words until I came, and mine eyes have seen it: and behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard
8. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom
9. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice
10. And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon
11. And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones
12. And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king’s house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day
13. And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desires, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants
Who was the Queen of Sheba?
I don't want to spoil my story, but before going any further, I should tell you that no archaeological evidence has ever been unearthed or uncovered that suggests or supports that the Queen of Sheba ever visited King Solomon. There are, however, records of the ancient country of Sheba, which date from 715 BCE. Sheba was sometimes called Saba, meaning "Host of Heaven," and "peace," and is thought to be what is now the country of Yemen in the South West corner of Arabia where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean. The people who lived in Sheba were called Sabaeans. The Sabaeans have been described as a tall and commanding people, both woolly-haired and straight-haired. Semitic in origin, they are believed to have been descendants of the land of Cush in the Bible. The Sabaean people inhabited most of NW and SW Arabia, some 483,000 square miles of mountains, valley and deserts. Some historians claim that Ethiopia, on the western end of the Red Sea, was also part of Sheba’s territory. The Sebaeans conquered all of the other South Arabian countries at the start of the Christian era. Sheba was a wealthy country, rich in gold and other precious stones, as well as incense and exotic spices sought by neighboring kingdoms. From ancient times, perfumes and spices were popular commodities in the near East, and the spice trade was a particularly active one. From both the Bible and other classical sources it appears that the valuable plants from which the coveted aromatic resins, incense, spices, and medicinal potions were produced, were grown mainly in the kingdoms of southern Arabia. From this area, major land and sea trade routes branched out to all the great trading centers of the ancient world. The Sabaeans were both extensive traders and bandits and engaged in the slave trade. Sheba engaged in a lucrative caravan trade. By 1000 BCE, camels frequently traveled the 1400 miles up the "Incense Road" and along the Red Sea to Israel. The spices of Sheba were highly prized. Frankincense, an offering to the gods, was heaped on funeral pyres, and given as an antidote for poison, and as a cure for chest pains, hemorrhoids and paralysis. Myrrh, an ingredient in fragrant oils and cosmetics, was used in preparing bodies for burial, for healing ear, eye and nose ailments, and inducing menstruation. Other Sabaean spices were saffron, cummin, aloes and galbanum. The capital of Sheba was the city of Ma'rib. Nearby was a great dam, which may have been as high as 60 feet, which provided enough water to make Sheba an agricultural nation, as well as a land of beautiful gardens. It was a fertile oasis in the desert. There is evidence that this dam burst, and the devastation caused by the ensuing flood, coupled with the loss of water for agriculture, may have led to the demise of several Sabaean cities which no longer exist today. Because of its isolation, Sheba was secure from military invasion for at least 500 years, and was independent and at peace with its neighbors during the 11th and 10th century BC History reveals that at least five kings preceded the Queen of Sheba. Yet Arabian documents portray all of Arabia as matriarchal and ruled by queens for over 1000 years. In Ethiopia, the Kebra Negast refers to a law established in Sheba that only a woman could reign, and that she must be a virgin queen. Rule by queens was not unusual in prehistoric times. Women played a large role in government, especially in the Near East where there is evidence of their prominence in economics, the family, and religion. According to Ethiopian legend, the Queen of Sheba was born in 1020 BCE in Ophir, and educated in Ethiopia. Her mother was Queen Ismenie. Sheba was known to be beautiful, intelligent, understanding, resourceful, and adventurous. A gracious queen, she had a melodious voice and was an eloquent speaker. Excelling in public relations and international diplomacy, she was a also competent ruler. The historian Josephus said of her, "she was inquisitive into philosophy and on that and on other accounts also was to be admired." Since Sheba was a center of astronomical wisdom and the ruling monarch was the chief astronomer/ astrologer, religious life involved worship of the Sun and Moon. Shams was the Sun god. The earliest known Arabian temple was at Ma'rib, the capital of Sheba, and was called Mahram Bilqus, "precincts of the Queen of Sheba." In Arab lore, this queen was named Bilqus or Balkis; in Ethiopia, Makeda (also Magda, Maqda and Makera), meaning "Greatness" or "Great One." Others say Maqda is a short form of Magadhi, and that Magadhi was a long-gone tribal language in which there were sixty-three different ways to say each word. All that can be ascertained now is that it stands for the letter "M" —that’s what Maqda means. Years later, the historian Josephus, referred to her as Nikaulis, Queen of Ethiopia and Egypt
Why did the Queen of Sheba come to visit King Solomon?
We are told in the Holy Bible that when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones. We are also told that she came to prove him with hard questions. And we learn that when the Queen of Sheba had seen and tested Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built, and the splendor of his court, and the number of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord she was overwhelmed. How did Sheba learn of the wisdom of King Solomon? The leader of her trade caravans, Tamrin, owned 73 ships and 787 camels, mules and asses, with which he journeyed as far as India. Having also traded with Israel, he brought gold, ebony and sapphires to Solomon, for use by his 700 carpenters and 800 masons who were building the great temple of Jerusalem. Tamrin told Sheba about the temple, and how Solomon administered just judgement, and how he spake with authority, and how he decided rightly in all matters which he enquired into, and how he returned soft and gracious answers, and how there was nothing false about him. Each morning, Tamrin related to the Queen about all the wisdom of Solomon, how he administered judgement and how he made feasts, and how he taught wisdom, and how he directed his servants and all his affairs and how no man defrauded another—"for in his wisdom he knew those who had done wrong, and he chastised them, and made them afraid, and they did not repeat their evil deeds, but they lived in a state of peace." And the Queen was struck dumb with wonder at the things that she heard, and she thought in her heart that she would go to him. When she pondered upon the long journey she thought that it was too far and too difficult to undertake. But she became very wishful and most desirous to go that she might hear his wisdom, and see his face, and embrace him, and petition his royalty. Sheba’s desire to encounter Solomon was ardent enough for her to embark on a 1400 mile journey, across the desert sands of Arabia, along the coast of the Red Sea, up into Moab, and over the Jordan River to Jerusalem. Such a journey required at least six months time round trip each way, since camels could rarely travel more than 20 miles per day. Arabian camels were tall and hardy, able to store water and fat for three weeks while living only on desert roughage. Wearing saddles of oak padded with colorful fabric, and hung with gold chains and crescents to win the favor of the gods, camels in a caravan were strung together by ropes made of goat hairs. Baby camels born along the way were carried on the back of the camel ahead to assure its mother of its wellbeing. As Sheba prepared for her journey, her own devotion to wisdom fueled her anticipation. Solomon’s commitment to building the Temple reflected not only his love of magnificent architecture, but also his piety. Over 3000 proverbs have been attributed to Solomon, as well as 1005 psalms, the book of Ecclesiastes and in the Christian Apocrypha, The Wisdom of Solomon. Solomon’s wisdom was not only political and theological; he was also an expert on natural history. A gardener, he planted olive, spice and nut trees as well as vineyards; he admired and studied spiders, locusts and harvesting ants. According to the Bible, he could talk about plants from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing on the wall; and he could talk of animals and birds and reptiles and fish
Was it to see the temple?
It is understandable that any monarch might wish to view such a magnificent edifice, the fame of which was spreading across the civilized world. And according to legend, she was indeed given a first hand tour of the temple while it was being constructed. A gracious host, Solomon showed Sheba his gardens of rare flowers ornamented with pools and fountains, and the architectural splendors of his government buildings, temple and palace. She was awed by his work on the temple, by his great lion-throne and sandalwood staircase, and by his enormous brass basin carried by the twelve brass bulls which symbolized the twelve months of the year
Was it to observe his government and the immensity of his court
King Solomon came to the throne of Israel in 965 BCE. Solomon had fleets of Phoenician-built ships on the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean Solomon’s empire was so vast that he found it necessary to divide his kingdom into twelve states, To administer his royal cities, Solomon may have been the first to have a "public service" as we know it today. It was the duty of each state to provide one month’s supply, not only of food, but also of barley and straw for the horses, and even horses themselves if necessary, for the needs of the royal household. This put quite a burden on the farmers and shepherd of the country, and taxation was very high. To give you an idea of how great this burden was, consider the following: The provisions needed in one day for Solomon’s court were: 30 cors (about 188 bushels or 240 gallons) of flour, 60 cors (about 375 bushels or 480 gallons) of meal, 10 fat oxen, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep, plus numerous harts, gazelles, roebucks and fattened fowl
Was it to observe or test his wisdom?
According to the Bible, the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon at Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Not only did Sheba ask Solomon philosophical questions; she also tested him with riddles. Since early Biblical times, it would seem that the posing of riddles was a standard exercise among people of power. For example, in the Book of Judges we read that Samson engaged in riddles with his opponents. (Judges 14:12, 18.)The questions she asked were probably riddles commonly used in Arab polite conversations. During the time of Solomon’s reign, it became fashionable to set and solve riddles, a kind of game, which opens up wide horizons of knowledge and language. Riddles and riddle-like anecdotes appear to have wandered from one town to another and from one country to another. There was a passion for riddles at the courts of Hiram, King of Tyre and of Solomon, King of Israel. It is not inconceivable that the Queen of Sheba also had a passion for riddles, since she "came to prove him with hard questions." The Targum Sheni, Midrash Mischle, and Midrash Hachefez (Arabic books) describe twenty-two of her riddles. The delight in seeing the point where the generality of a riddle coincides with a specific allusion is akin to the delight in the proverb, which in turn raises an actual case in point into the sphere of generality. This is what was regarded at that time as wisdom—the solving of riddles and the formulating of generalizations. On this, the fame of Solomon’s wisdom was originally founded; and when, in later times, wisdom acquired a deeper meaning and was regarded as an insight into the riddle of life and as an attitude of mind that rises above the passionate whirl of life towards the peace of the timeless, Solomon, known to his age as the great solver of riddles and friend of proverbs, remained the model of a man in whom all aspects of wisdom were united. When I first read about this passion for solving riddles, I soon wondered, "what kind of questions would be asked in a riddle?" Upon further investigation, I found some examples of the kinds of riddles Balkis may have asked Solomon. Here are a few:
Balkis: "What is evil?"
Solomon: "The eyes of the Lord in every place monitor good and evil, and in them is the definition."
Balkis: "Are the eyes or the ears superior?"
Solomon: "The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made both. Degrees of deafness and blindness, these are man’s province, and measurable."
Balkis: "What is the most powerful organ of the body, Solomon?"
Solomon: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
Balkis: "How are body and spirit connected?"
Solomon: "The baseness of spirits is derived from their bodies. The nobility of bodies is derived from their spirits."
Balkis: "What is it? An enclosure with ten doors; when one is open, nine are shut, and when nine are open, one is shut?"
Solomon: "The enclosure is the womb, and the ten doors are the ten orifices of man, namely his eyes, his ears, his nostrils, his mouth, the apertures for discharge of excreta and urine, and the navel. When the child is still in its mother’s womb, the navel is open, but all the other apertures are shut, but when the child issues from the womb the navel is closed and the other orifices are open."
Balkis: "Seven leave and nine enter; two pour out the draught and only one drinks."
How did Solomon respond? "Seven are the days of woman’s menstruation, nine the months of her pregnancy; her two breasts nourish the child, and one drinks."
Other riddles concerned with common objects and materials. At one point, Sheba asked, "What when alive does not move, yet when its head cut off, moves?"
Solomon’s answer: "The timber used to build a ship." Another riddle she proposed was: "It is many- headed. In a storm at sea it goes above us all, it raises a loud and bitter wailing and moaning; it bends its head like a reed, is the glory of the rich and the shame of the poor, it honors the dead and dishonors the living; it is a delight to the birds, but a sorrow to the fishes. What is it?"
Solomon replied, "Flax, for it makes sails for ships that moan in the storm. It provides fine linen for the rich and rags for the poor, a burial shroud for the dead, and a rope for hanging the living. As seed it nourishes the birds, and as a net it traps the fish."
Some of Sheba’s questions were related to the Hebrew Bible. For example, "The dead lived, the grave moved, and the dead prayed. What is it?" The answer: "The dead that lived and prayed was Jonah; the fish, the moving grave." In one theological riddle, she asked: "What is the ugliest thing in the world, and what is the most beautiful? What is the most certain, and what is the most uncertain?"
Solomon replied, "The ugliest thing...is the faithful turning unfaithful; the most beautiful is the repentant sinner. The most certain is death; the most uncertain, one’s share in the World to Come."
Solomon is said to have collected over 3,000 proverbs or folk sayings filled with practical advice from around the Near Eastern world. The proverbs dealt with a variety of subjects. The book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible are thought to have originated from Solomon, as are the Song of Solomon and even the book of Ecclesiastes is attributed to some as Solomon’s wisdom in his declining years. In addition to riddles which required a verbal answer, Sheba tested Solomon’s ingenuity in action. Dressing five boys and girls identically, she asked him to detect their sex. When he handed them bowls of water for them to wash their hands, the girls, unlike the boys, rolled up their sleeves. Sheba also brought Solomon two flowers alike in appearance, but one was real while the other was artificial; he distinguished them by noting how bees swarmed to the flower with the genuine fragrance. Then, giving him a large emerald with a curved hole in the middle, she asked him to draw a thread through it; he sent for a silkworm, which crawled through the hole drawing with it a silken thread. The Midrash Hachefez reports still another test of Solomon’s cleverness. Sheba presented Solomon with the sawn trunk of a cedar tree, the ends cut off so that they looked the same; she asked Solomon which end had been the root, and which the branches. Solomon ordered the tree stump to be placed in water. When one end sank while the other floated, he said to her, "The part which sank was the root, and that which floated on the surface was the end containing the branches." According to the Kebra Negast, the questions and tests were mutual; Solomon also challenged Sheba. Sadly, existing legends describe only a few of the artful strategies he used to outwit her. During Sheba’s six month visit with Solomon, she conversed with him daily. The Kebra Negast informs us that "the Queen used to go to Solomon and return continually, and hearken unto his wisdom, and keep it in her heart. And Solomon used to go and visit her, and answer all the questions which she put to him ... and he informed her concerning every matter that she wished to enquire about." Frequently, they roamed Jerusalem together, as she questioned him and watched him at work. She sought astronomical knowledge, for which he was known; Solomon had developed a new calendar that added an extra month every nineteen years. But historians believe there was more to the Queen of Sheba’s motives than simply to see the temple or to satisfy her curiosity about Solomon’s wisdom
The most likely reason for the queen’s visit
According to the ritual of the Masonic ceremony pertaining to the installation of a Worshipful Master into the Chair of King Solomon, we are told that when the temple at Jerusalem had been completed, by the wisdom of King Solomon and assisted by the strength of Hiram, King of Tyre and the beautifying skill of Hiram Abiff, the monarchs of the neighboring countries sent their ambassadors bearing precious gifts to King Solomon to congratulate him upon the completion of his great and holy work. But the sovereign of a more distant country —the Queen of Sheba—was not be content to send an embassage. She, herself, would go up to Jerusalem, so that her own eyes might see the magnificent Temple, and her own ears might hear the wisdom of King Solomon, whose fame was spread abroad throughout the then known world. It is most likely that the Queen of Sheba’s mission was for the purposes of trade and the gifts exchanged were to open up trade relations. One must realize that the kingdom over which Solomon ruled was far more extensive than the Israel we think of in today’s world. King David, Solomon’s father, had won from the Edomites a strategic port and a great tract of surrounding land where the desert stopped at the narrow waterway leading to Arabia and Africa. This port at the head of the gulf of Akabah was called Ezion-geber, and provided access to Ophir, the port of the great Arabian or East African gold land. David ruled from Syria to Egypt. For four hundred miles north to south, and 100 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, David’s sovereignty connected the three continents
When Hiram, King of Tyre, learned of the seaport on the southern gulf, he sent a message of congratulations and friendship to David. This friendship was a boon. Tyre and Sidon and the other Phoenician city-states controlled world trade from India to the Sea of Atlantis. But the island Tyre was incapable of feeding itself, and gladly bought the Hebrew’s grain, oil, honey, and wine. In return, the Phoenician king sent David technical advisors in stone, metal, wood, cloth, and dyes. David sent Hiram oak for his oars, and Hiram sent the Jews hardwoods from the mountains of Lebanon and stone form his quarries, out of which the royal city might be constructed. King Hiram’s friendship extended to King Solomon when he succeeded the throne from his father. He gave Solomon a fleet of Phoenician-built ships, which sailed the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Soon word of Solomon was being carried around the world on Hiram’s ships. News of conquests and culture reached the far outposts and colonies. Caravans form Egypt and Arabia passing through Israel’s toll cities along the Sea Way or King’s Highway picked up information about the monarch and his court and household. When the Sabaeans learned that Solomon had established a merchant ship navy and was stepping up commercial activities in southern part of Red Sea, he caused Sheba to negotiate an agreement preventing competition with her own traders. Sheba had been in touch with all the cities of the world, in a great whirlwind of trade. She was even known to the Chinese
The Sabaeans quickly realized that opening new sea-lanes would decrease use of overland routes and various oases from which Sheba’s court derived revenue. Natural historian Pliny records: "...all along the route they keep on paying, at one place for water, at another for fodder or the charges for lodging... so that expense mount up to 688 denarii per camel before the Mediterranean coast is reached" It was necessary to consolidate commercial ties, thus there was a mutual exchange of presents, which was a well established diplomatic procedure at that time. This is thought to be the real motive of the queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, which was both political and economic. The spices, gold and gems were probably a tribute paid for commercial favours and treaty concessions. Thus, when it says the King gave her "all she desired," this may have included satisfactory political agreements. Balkis brought with her 120 talents of gold to give to Solomon. Given that one talent was equal to 3,000 shekels and that there are 11.5 grams in a shekel, when one does the arithmetic we find that 120 talents of gold are about 360,000 shekels or 4,140 kilograms of gold! For those who are more familiar with Imperial measure, this amounts to just over 146,000 ounces of gold, or 9,120 pounds. Can you imagine—more than 4.5 tons of gold! She also gave Solomon more spices than had even been seen at one time in Israel, no small feat insomuch as spices were almost worth their weight in gold.
The Queen’s journey to Solomon’s royal city
There are 1500 miles of desert and mountains between Sheba and Jerusalem. Although most history books claim Sheba traveled by land, one historian claims she made the voyage by ship. The queen may have employed as many as 75 ships to travel from Sheba to Solomon’s Gulf Harbour, a trip which could have taken as long as three years because of the monsoons. Then she rode on a white camel of prodigious size and exquisite poise into the city of Jerusalem. She observed the gates of the city of Jerusalem. By contrast, she recalled how her cities, palaces, even fortresses had many open doors of access. Sheba’s caravan of 797 camels, mules and asses was laden with provisions and gifts for Solomon. Since a camel’s saddle could carry 300-600 pounds, the wealth she brought was vast—gold, precious stones, furniture and spices. Throughout the day, she rode on an extravagant gold palanquin, like a four-poster bed, richly cushioned, with a roof shielding her from the sun and draperies she could close for privacy. Her handsome white camel was laden with gold and precious stones. Most likely, she was also accompanied by an armed guard to protect her from desert brigands, and by her devoted servants. Imagine the sight as Sheba’s train raised up dust in the distant desert. Around her swayed giraffes that had been transported by way of the west, and hippopotami. Six hundred camels in her entourage each held nearly 500 pounds of goods. Fifty elephants followed, four royal Numidian lions, uncountable mules. In the camel’s heavy waterskin sacks were pots of the gum of the frankincense tree. Myrrh leaves and its red resin. Gold. Pink pearls from the sea of reeds. Ivory tusks. Nard (ointment made from plants) and ambergris. The black resin of rockrose. Moon coriander. Myrtle and oliban (balsam used in medicine and perfumes). The endangered storax. Hops. Smell the scents too sweet to describe. The pungent yet aromatic smoke of her incense
And in return, King Solomon had assembled an array of gifts for her arrival. Great caskets of sticky Nubian millet beer awaited her party. The gifts were staked on mules outside Solomon,s palace, ready for her people to take to their camp and enjoy. Silks and linens from Gaza, Assyria, and Lebanon. Tapestry from Ma-Wara-Mnar. Dresses, sweet fruit from Iraq, Mongolistan winter melons. And basins of water from the spring at Siloe. Following the queen’s arrival, Solomon gave her a luxurious apartment in a palace next to his, and provided her with fruits, rose trees, silks, linens, tapestries, and 11 bewitching garments for each day of her visit. Daily, he sent her (and her 350 servants) 45 sacks of flour, 10 oxen, 5 bulls, 50 sheep (in addition to goats, deer, cows, gazelles, and chicken), wine, honey, fried locusts, rich sweets, and 25 singing men and women
What happened after she arrived?
History has given way to legend and fable. As I mentioned earlier, (1) there is no evidence to support the story that the Queen of Sheba ever visited King Solomon; and (2) according to the Holy Bible, King Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desires, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants. Yet consider the imagery and romance that have been conjured in some of these alternative endings, which come from Arabic and Ethiopian legends and folk tales:
The Marriage of Solomon and Sheba
When she arrived in his court, Sheba found Solomon arrayed in a cloth of gold, so that at first he looked like a statue of gold with hands of ivory. Solomon received her with every sort of festive preparation. He led her to behold the works of his palace and then the grand works of the temple. Balkis was lost in admiration. The king was captivated by her beauty and in a short time offered her his hand. Balkis was pleased to have conquered his proud heart, and she accepted his hand. Their troth was solemnized by the presentation of a ring by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. Sheba took out from inside the plaiting of her black hair, a golden ring and handed it to Solomon. He receives it with a gasp. For it resembles in many ways the breastplate of twelve engraved gems worn by the high priests of Israel for the purpose of divination. But it is more precise, more pristine. Four gems only shine from the four sides of the circle, and these, Sheba explains in a whisper so perfect Solomon hardly recalls her speaking, signify writing and numbering (the blue stone), the equality of male and female (the green stone), blood (the red stone), and light (a dull reflecting metal). This alleged love affair has been captured both in poetry and in the movies (Solomon and Sheba, a 1959 Hollywood spectacular about the famed reign of King Solomon over ancient Israel in which the voluptuous Queen of Sheba plots his overthrow, starring Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida)
Sheba Falls for Hiram Abiff
The Queen of Sheba was overwhelmed by the splendor and beauty of the magnificent edifice created by Solomon. On one of her visits to the temple, Balkis repeatedly requested to meet the architect who had wrought such wondrous things. Solomon delayed this meeting as long as possible, but finally he found it necessary to accede to her request. At the command of the king, Hiram Abiff, the mysterious artificer, was brought into the presence of Balkis, Queen of Sheba. Hiram looked deeply into the soul of Balkis and cast on the queen a look that penetrated her very heart. Upon recovering from this unforeseen occurrence, she regained her composure and questioned as well as defended Hiram from the ill-will and rising jealousy of Solomon. When Balkis requested to see the countless host of workmen that had created the temple, Solomon protested the impossibility of assembling them all at once; (there had been 70,000 involved in his projects) but Hiram, leaping on a stone to make himself more visible, with his right hand described in the air the symbolic Tau, and immediately the men hastened from all parts of the work into the presence of their master. Seeing this, the queen wondered and secretly repented her choice of a husband. She felt that she was in love with the mighty architect. Seeing the affection of Balkis for Hiram Abiff, Solomon set out to destroy it. He prepared for the humiliation and ruin of his rival. To this end, Solomon employed three fellowcrafts who were envious of Hiram. The reason for their envy was that Hiram had refused to raise them to the degree of a master mason due to their lack of knowledge and their idleness. They arranged to sabotage the pouring of the molten bronze for the great brazen sea. When the molten metal was poured in the presence of Solomon and Sheba, the liquid escaped its containment and flowed like lava over the adjoining places. The observers panicked into a terrified crowd. Hiram attempted to arrest the flow with a great quantity of water, but without success. The dishonoured artificer could not remove himself from the scene of the disaster. He was called into the flames by Tubal Cain (the first artificer in metals). After being promised that he would have a son whose descendants would perpetrate his race and rule the world for many centuries, he was given a hammer by Tubal Cain and returned to the earth. Hiram did not hesitate to test the efficacy of the hammer, and the dawn saw the great mass of bronze cast. Hiram was filled with joy and the Queen of Sheba was exulted. The people came running up to admire this secret power which in one night had repaired everything
Sheba Falls For Hiram Abiff (version 2)
One day Balkis and her maids went beyond Jerusalem and there encountered Hiram. The two confessed their love, and deliberated how Balkis could retract the promise she had given to King Solomon to marry him. It was their decision that Hiram would be the first to leave Jerusalem. Balkis would meet him in Arabia after eluding the vigilance of the king. She would accomplish this by removing the ring from his finger when he was overcome by wine. By this means, she could withdraw the troth that had pledged her to him. Solomon, meanwhile, hinted to the three fellow craft that the removal of his rival Hiram Abiff would be acceptable to him. The three fellowcraft assailed him in sequence and the third ruffian killed him with a setting maul. Immediately before his death, Hiram managed to throw the golden triangle about his neck into a deep well. The master architect was dead. In due course the Temple was completed without Hiram Abiff
Yet Another Hiram Abiff Romance
The masons were a breed near invisible to all others. By far the greater number of the sacred builders (some thought to have worked on the pyramids of Egypt) the masons were unbound spirits who fled the unjust and immoral regimes of the Nile delta after building the pyramids. They rowed to all ports of the Great Sea (Mediterranean) They scattered overland with their families in horse carts. They moved like nomads, in small groups resembling tinkers and smiths with their tools and aprons. Sometimes they put a T-shaped cross on their foreheads as a sign for "god" and "iron". They found a more favourable climate for their work in Phoenicia, and laboured on several projects in Tyre. All the time they preserved faithfully the secrets of stone, brick and engraving, and of the care of the dead. They settled in the Holy Land as well. At the time of Solomon, brother masons usually wore beards but no mustaches, and their wives worked along side them. They lived by geometry. They knew their tools and their materials and they knew the uses of silence. Thus, when Solomon was anointed king in 965 BCE, he did not know of the masons until introduced into their order by Hiram, King of Tyre. Now they had gathered again, stonesquarers, hewers of wood, drawers of water, philosophers, sawyers of the underground lime, smelters of bronze, architects, smiths in silver and gold, apprentices, journeymen, astronomers, masters —skilled craftsmen in the thirty-nine kinds of sacred work. They focused their energies on the Temple mountain, feeling that this assignment from Hiram and Solomon was worthy of the brotherhood. They worked a month at a time, then rested for a month, then returned for another month’s labors. The conifers from Lebanon were cut, smoothed and finished far from the temple site because Solomon did not consider it good to have the loud sound of iron tools in the near workings. Iron was the hand of war. In the temple precincts, white stones as heavy as a thousand men were set into immaculate row upon row with an effortlessness known only to the masons. Solomon was called the Grand Master of the work when the temple was being built. Hiram, King of Tyre, controlled the overseas sources of wealth that made the work possible, and at least half of the work force; he was called the Grand Master of the Work. And the "other" Hiram of Tyre, the architect, was the third of the Grand Masters. Hiram had done good work in Tyre. But his preeminence in the building of Solomon’s temple was not due to his reputation. Nor had it been granted by his patron, the King of Tyre. It had come to him by his merit, on a specific day. On the morning that the foundation stone was being laid, Hiram drew a diagram on his trestle board of a certain three sided figure, and he observed that the squares drawn up on the short sides summed up exactly equal to the square drawn down the longest side, and he cried out "Eureka!" And Solomon appreciated this accomplishment, and appointed him Grand Architect of Jerusalem. Some of the masons said that this Hiram, son of the widow, was an artist wiser that the world had ever seen. Others argued that the work of the men of a hundred nationalities was the key, and that unless each one of these men—every last one—felt and continued to feel that his agreement was sacred, they could do nothing, but so long as the decision to cooeperate was made again and again every morning by every man, then the boundaries of their work would continue to amplify. There was, however, certain work that the masons did not do. No free man worked in the iron and copper mines of the Arabah. This wet, dirty and dangerous job was done by slaves, both male and female. One day, there was dissension amongst the workers. Hiram, chief architect and paymaster, felt the stirrings most. The different pay grades of workmen announced to the paymaster at what level they worked, and were paid accordingly. The ranks were specified in code. For example, burden bearers might say "servitude" and the journeymen masons and carpenters might say "worker’s pool," and the overseers said "the way." And in the old Semite tongue, all these three phrases sounded almost exactly alike, but for an accent or an inflection. But the men began to say different words. Hiram King of Tyre recognized immediately that this was the signal of worker unrest, a bad omen. One day, as Hiram stood before three huge drums of gold ingots facing his 150,000 men he motioned them to begin to approach. One by one they stepped forward and pronounced a word according to they hierarchy of their functions and were paid. To Hiram’s shock, one man rudely grabbed for his payment. Suddenly the orderly line gave way and the troops burst into the Temple in a great surge. There was shouting. Three men in an extremity of tension and anger confronted the grand master, demanding money, satisfaction, the truth. Hiram staggered and went down slowly. He was bleeding from the head and side. There was a point of a compasses stuck in his heart. Then there was chaos and riot. Loyal masons fell upon Hiram’s attackers, but the guilty escaped. Finally, at twilight, there fell stillness. Hiram had been left for dead in a rubble of gold. But he was still alive. He rose and left the temple, still bleeding. He knew the blood would never stop. He pressed towards the tents, to Sheba. And he found her, she found him, she loved, they loved, with love as intense as death, passion as incomprehensible as the grave. Sheba mobilized her thousands. The body of the queen’s last love lay buried in a grassy knoll outside Jerusalem, underneath an Egyptian gum acacia with mud around its roots. The long line of men and animals from the land of women gradually disappeared into the horizon. Sheba fled south through the Gulf of Aquaba
The Origin of the Ethiopian Monarchy—Sheba and her son Menyelek
The Bible says nothing about a marriage between Solomon and Sheba, but states simply that she returned to her own land. However, the Abyssinians (the country now known as Ethiopia) have adopted some of the Arab tales and trace the lineage of their royal house to the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopians claim that their rulers are descended from Menilek, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba, thus giving rise to the imperial title "Lion of Judah." The Kebra Negast is regarded as the final authority on the early history of Ethiopia, and its origin in the Solomonic lines of kings, which "descends without interruption from the dynasty of Menelik I, son of Queen of Ethiopia, Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Jerusalem." This idea exists in the folk lore of many Jewish, Moslem and Christian countries .The relationship between Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, and Israel is apparent in Ethiopia’s national emblem, the six pointed star, which corresponds to the Shield (Seal) of David on Israel’s flag Here is the tale of how Solomon’s son became the King of Ethiopia: When her visits to him multiplied, he longed for her greatly and entreated her to yield herself to him. But she would not surrender herself to him, and she said unto him, "I came to thee a maiden, a virgin; shall I go back despoiled of my virginity, and suffer disgrace in my kingdom? Swear to me by thy God, the God of Israel, that thou wilt not take me by force. For if I, who according to the law of men am maiden, be seduced, I should travel on my journey back in sorrow, and affliction and tribulation."
And Solomon said unto her, "I will only take thee to myself in lawful marriage—I am the King, and thou shalt be the Queen. Strike a covenant with me that I am only to take thee to wife of thine own free will. This shall be the condition between us: when thou shalt come to me by night as I am lying on the cushions of my bed, thou shalt become my wife." And behold she struck this covenant with him, determining within herself that she would preserve her virginity from him. But the ingenious King Solomon was not to be deterred by her refusal. After she had visited him for six months, the Queen of Sheba chose to return to her own country. The day before her departure, the palace servants busily prepared a festal banquet in her honor. Solomon arranged a great feast for her, beautifying his tent with purple hangings, carpets, marbles and precious stones, and burning aromatic powers and incense. "Follow me now and seat thyself in my splendor in the tent," he told her, "and I will complete thy instruction, for thou has loved wisdom, and she shall dwell with thee until thine end and for ever." When she agreed, he rejoiced. He prepared highly seasoned meats that would make her thirsty, fish cooked with pepper, and drinks mingled with spices. Then they dined and conversed until late in the night. Makeda attempted to retire to her own quarters. Solomon wouldn't hear of her departing at so late an hour. Wasn't his residence as comfortable as the one he had arranged for her? Makeda was the virgin queen of Ethiopia, her throne pending on that condition. Solomon swore to take nothing from her by force on terms that she would take nothing of his by force. Sheba slept in Solomon’s tent, and awakened in the middle of the night thirsty and craving water. All the water founts accessible to the public were shut off. The queen went to Solomon’s chambers to procure a cup of water, but was only able to find a water in a jar by Solomon’s bed. Solomon had, of course, asked his servants to hide all other sources of water. Believing him to be asleep, she reached across his bed for water, but he opened his eyes, seized her hand and said: "Why hast thou broken the oath that thou hast sworn that thou would not take by force anything that is in my house?" And she answered and said unto him in fear, "Is the oath broken by my drinking water? Be free from thy oath, only let me drink water." Solomon replied: "As you see, nothing is more valuable than water. Release me from my vow and be released from yours and I will give you all that you desire." And he permitted her to drink water, and after she had drunk water she gave herself into his embrace willingly. Sheba may have been Solomon’s lover, but she did not become his wife or remain with him much longer. After she had visited him for six months, she chose to return to her own country. Before she left, she gave Solomon 120 talents of gold (10 million dollars), precious stones and spices in great abundance, and highly prized sandalwood for his temple. In the Biblical story, "Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked...besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty." Likewise, Josephus states, "Solomon also repaid her with many good things...bestowing upon her what she chose of her own inclination, for there was nothing that she desired which he denied her; and as he was very generous and liberal in his own temper, so did he show the greatness of his soul in bestowing on her what she herself desired of him." Unlike the Bible and Josephus, the Kebra Negast provides details of Solomon’s gifts—beautiful apparel, 6000 camels, wagons laden with luxurious goods, and vessels for travel over desert, air, and sea. Because she was now pregnant with his child, he also gave her a ring, for he hoped that she would bear him a son, who might in time visit Jerusalem and prove his identity to Solomon. And the Queen departed and came into the country of Bala Zadisareya nine months and five days after she had separated from King Solomon. And the pains of childbirth laid hold upon her, and she brought forth a man-child, and she gave it to the nurse with great pride and delight. And the child grew and she called his name Bayna-Lehkem (Menelik), which means "son of the wise man."When he was twenty-two years old he was skilled in the art of war and horsemanship, in the hunting and trapping of wild beast, and in every thing that young men desire to learn. And he said unto the Queen: "I will go and look upon the face of my father, and I will come back here by the will of God, the Lord of Israel." When King Solomon saw his son, he rose up and moved forward to welcome him, and he embraced and kissed him, and said unto him: "Behold, my Father David hath renewed his youth and hath risen from the dead." And Solomon the King turned around to those who had announced the arrival of the young man, and said unto them: "Ye said unto me, 'He resembleth thee,' but this is not my stature, but the stature of David my father in the days of his early manhood, and he is handsomer that I am." And Solomon the King rose up and went into his chamber, and he arrayed his son in apparel made of cloth embroidered with gold, and a belt of gold, and he set a crown upon his head, and a ring upon his finger. Having arrayed him in glorious apparel, which bewitched the eyes, he seated him upon his Throne that he might be equal in rank to himself. Then he said unto the nobles and officers of Israel: "O ye who treat me with derision among yourselves and say that I have no son; look ye, this is my son, the fruit from my body, whom God, the Lord of Israel hat given me when I expected it not." And his nobles answered and said unto him: "Blessed be the mother who hath brought forth this young man, and blessed be the day wherein thou hath union with the mother of this young man. For there hath risen upon us from the root of Jessse a shining man who shall be king of the posterity of his seed. And concerning his father none shall ask questions for verily he is a Israelite of the seed of David, fashioned perfectly in the likeness of his father’s form and appearance; we are his servants and he shall be our King." And they brought unto him gifts each according to his greatness. Menelik along with the Elders of Israel took the Ark of the Covenant and established the Kingdom of David in Ethiopia, this Kingdom remained up till the time of Haile Selassie I, the Last Solomonic King of Kings of the Earth
The paper I have presented today is for entertainment and enlightenment. Remember this is a light-hearted compendium of tales, stories and legends from various sources. It may not be factually correct. Nonetheless, I hope it has given you some insight into the life and times of King Solomon, our first Grand Master. It was natural that imaginative stone masons long before speculative masonry should have felt a kinship with the great builders of all ages. It was natural that they should have acknowledged a peculiar attraction to the most famous and glorious of all building enterprises, King Solomon’s temple. Without a doubt, King Solomon’s temple was the grandest most costly structure ever erected. Thus it follows that Solomon’s temple should come to be regarded as the ideal prototype of a spiritual temple, which explains its prominence in our ritual. However, it is better to pattern ourselves after the building than after Solomon himself. After the departure of the Queen of Sheba, the completion of his luxurious Temple became more important to Solomon than the practice of his religion. Then his luxurious Palace "built for personal rather than collective use" took precedence over the Temple. Finally, his writing and preaching of wisdom became increasingly divorced from experience. Solomon no longer lived by the humane principles for which he had become respected and honoured. Some historians even view him as a tyrant who became devoted to his own glory, and whose greed and extravagance led him to build his kingdom on injustice, oppression and misery. All this for the love of a woman?
Bibliography and related reading
Solomon and Sheba. Faye Levine. Richard Marek Publishers, New York, 1980
Colliers Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia Americana
Great People of the Bible and How They Lived. Reader’s Digest Assoc., Inc. Pleasantville, NY, 1979
Deceptions and Myths of the Bible
International standard Bible Encyclopedia
The Geography of the Bible. Denis Ably. Harper and Rowe, New York 1974
King Solomon. Fredric Thinne. East and West Library, New York, 1947
The Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries. Charles William Heckthorn
The First Book of Kings. J. Robinson. Cambridge at the University Press 1972 Holy Bible, Authorized (King James) Version
The story of the Queen of Sheba is recorded in the Old Testament in I Kings 10:1-13; a similar version also appears in II Chronicles 9:1-12. Other references to the Queen of Sheba are: Psalms lxxii, 15, and in the New Testament, Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31
The Queen of Sheba and Her Only Son Menyelek: the Kebra Nagast. Budge, Sir Ernest A. Wallis, translator. Oxford University Press, London, 1932
Solomon and Solomonic Literature. Conway, Moncure Daniel. Haskell House, NY, 1973, pp.59-65 All of the Women of the Bible. Dean, Edith. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1955
The Lore of the Old Testament. Gaer, Joseph. Little-Brown, Boston, 1951, pp. 242-44
Legends of the Bible. Ginzberg, Louis. Simon and Schuster, NY, 1956, pp. 560-64
Although I could not find a detailed account of one of Solomon’s feasts, the following account of King Ashurnasirpal’s Banquet gives some idea of the enormity of preparation and quantity of foodstuffs required for a royal feast: When Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, inaugurated the palace of Calah, a palace of joy and erected with great ingenuity, he invited into it Ashur, the great lord and the gods of his entire country. He prepared a banquet of 1,200 fattened head of cattle, 1,000 calves, 11,000 stable sheep, 16,000 lambs, 1,000 spring lambs, 500 stags, 500 gazelles, 1,000 ducks, 1,000 geese, 2,000 indigenous birds, 20,000 doves, and 10,000 other assorted small birds. Also 10,000 assorted fish, 10,000 jerboa (small, rabbit like rodents) 10,000 assorted eggs, 10,000 loaves of bread, 10,000 jars of beer, 10,000 skins of wine, 10,000 small bottom vessels with seeds in sesame oil, 10,000 small pots of condiments, 1,000 wooded crates with vegetables, 300 containers of oil, 300 containers of salted seeds, 300 containers of grapes, 100 mixed zamru fruits, 1700 pistachio cones, 100 jars with "mixture", 100 with arsuppu grain, ten homer of shelled luddu nuts (one homer = 75 gallons or 11 bushels), ten homer of shelled pistachio, ten homer of the uru tree, ten homer of fruits of the habbaququ tree, ten homer of dates, ten homer of the fruits of the titip tree, ten homer of cumin, ten homer of sahhunu, ten homer of uriana. ten homer of andahsu bulbs, ten homer of sisanibee plants, ten homer of the fruits of the simburu tree, ten homer of thyme, ten homer of perfumed oil, ten homer of sweet smelling matters, ten homer of the fruits of the nasubu tree, ten homer of zimzimmu onions, ten homer of olives. When inaugurated, the palace treated for 10 days with food and drink 47,074 persons, men and women, who were bade to come from across the entire country, also 5,000 important persons, delegates from the country Suhu, from Hindar, Hattina, Hatti, Tyre, Sidon, Gurguma, Malida, Hubuska. Gilzana, Kuma, Musasir, also 10,000 inhabitants from Calah, 1,500 officials of all the royal palaces, altogether 69,574 invited guests from all the mentioned countries including the people of Calah. They were furthermore proved with the means to clean and anoint themselves.


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