Sacred Texts  Africa  Index  Previous  Next 

The Kebra Nagast, by E.A.W. Budge, [1922], at

III.—Legends of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in the Kur’ân and in Muhammadan Literature

The author, or editor, of the Kur’ân devoted a considerable section of Surah XXVII to the correspondence that passed between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, and to their interviews. Among the many gifts that God bestowed upon Solomon were the understanding of the speech of birds, and knowledge of every kind. He was the lord of men, genii and birds. When he travelled through the air on his magical carpet of green silk, which was borne aloft by the wind according to the King's direction, the men stood on the right of it, and the spirits on the left, and a vast army of birds of every kind kept flying over the carpet to protect its occupants from the heat of the sun. One day when he was reviewing the birds he perceived that the lapwing was absent, and he asked why she was absent, and threatened to punish her for not making her appearance with the other birds. Very soon after he had spoken the lapwing appeared, and she excused herself for her absence by saying that she had been looking upon a

p. lvii

country that the king had never seen, and that she had seen Sâba, which was ruled over by a queen called "Balḳîs," who was very rich, and who sat upon a throne made of gold and silver and set with precious stones, eighty cubits long, forty cubits broad, and thirty cubits high. The queen and her people were idolaters and worshipped the sun, and they were under the influence of Satan, who had turned them from the right way. Thereupon Solomon wrote the following letter to the Queen of Sheba: "From the servant of God, Solomon, the son of David, unto Balḳîs ( ), Queen of Sheba. In the Name of the most merciful God. Peace be unto him who followeth the true direction. Rise not up against me, but come and render yourselves unto me." Having perfumed this letter with musk and sealed it with his wonderful seal, Solomon gave it to the lapwing and told the bird to go and drop it in Sâba, and to turn aside afterwards and wait for the Queen's answer. The lapwing departed and delivered the letter, some saying that she flew into the Queen's private apartment through the window, and others that she dropped the letter into the Queen's bosom 1 as she was standing surrounded by her army. Having read the letter the Queen called upon her nobles to advise her what to do, but they reminded her that they were soldiers, who were ready to march against Solomon if she ordered them to do so, and that the letter was addressed to her and she must make the decision. Wishing to avoid invasion and the evils that would follow in its train, the Queen decided to send gifts to Solomon, and she despatched forthwith five hundred male and five hundred female slaves, five hundred ingots of gold, a crown studded with precious stones, and a large quantity of musk, amber, spices,

p. lviii

precious woods, etc. The lapwing returned quickly to Solomon and told him what had happened, and that an embassy from the Queen bearing gifts was on its way. When the men of Sâba arrived they were received by Solomon in a large square surrounded by a wall, the bricks of which were made of gold and silver. Solomon spoke slightingly of the Queen's gifts and sent the embassy back, bidding them tell their mistress that he would send invincible troops against her city, and that they would capture it and expel its inhabitants in disgrace. When Balḳîs received this message, she determined to go to Solomon and to tender her submission to him, and having locked up her throne in a certain strong fortress, and set a guard over it to protect it, she set out for Jerusalem, accompanied by a large army. Whilst she was on her way Solomon said one day to his nobles, Which of you will bring the Queen's throne here to me before she and her company arrive? And an ‘Ifrît, one of the genii, whose aspect was most terrible, and who was called Dhakwân, ; or , said, I will bring it to thee before thou hast finished thy session. Now Solomon used to sit in judgment until noon daily. 1 Some one who had knowledge of books and who was present seemed to think that the ‘Ifrît was demanding too much time in which to fulfil the King's urgent wish, and he said, I will bring thee the throne before thou canst cast thine eyes on an object and remove them again. The commentators are in doubt about the identity of the person who made this offer to Solomon, for some say he was Âṣaf, the son of Barkhîyâ, the wazîr of Solomon, and others that he was Khidhr (Elijah), or Gabriel, or some other angel, or even Solomon himself. 2 It is generally thought that the person was Âṣaf, for he knew the ineffable Name of God. Be this as it may, Solomon accepted the offer,

p. lix

and raising his eyes to heaven brought them down quickly to earth again, and when his eyes rested on the earth he saw the throne of Balḳîs standing before him. Then Solomon had the throne altered, with the view of preventing her knowing her own throne when she arrived. When Balḳîs came into his presence, he pointed to the throne, saying, Is thy throne like unto this? And she replied, It is all one with this. Then Balḳîs was invited to go into the palace which Solomon had built specially for her reception. The walls were made of blocks of white glass, and the floor was made also of glass, over which water flowed, and in the running water fishes swam. When Balḳîs turned to enter the palace and saw the water, thinking that it was deep, she drew up the skirts of her garments before attempting to walk through it. By this act she uncovered her legs, and Solomon had proof that the rumour that the feet and legs of Balḳîs were covered with hair like the coat of an ass, was true. The sight of the glass building with its floor of glass amazed Balḳîs, who said, O Lord, verily I have dealt unjustly with my own soul, and I resign myself, together with Solomon, unto God, the Lord of all creatures. Some commentators think that the Queen uttered these words partly in repentance for having worshipped the sun, and partly through fear of being drowned in the water which she saw before her. Jalâl ad-Dîn says that Solomon thought of marrying Balḳîs, but could not bring himself to do so because of the hair on her feet and legs. The devils who were always in attendance on Solomon removed the hair by the use of some infernal depilatory, 1 but it is doubtful if even then Solomon married her. Al-Beidhawî says that it is very doubtful who married Balḳîs, but is inclined to think that it was one of the chiefs of the Hamdân tribe. 2


lvii:1 Ali Beidhawî's Commentary on the Kur’ân (ed. Fleischer, pt. 3, p. 67).

lviii:1 Al-Beidhawî, op. cit., p. 68.

lviii:2 Ibid., p. 69.

lix:1 Commentary of Jalâl ad-Dîn Muḥammad bin Aḥmad, Cairo edit. A.H. 1311, pt. 2, p. 60.

lix:2 Ibid., p. 70.

Next: IV. Modern Legends of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba