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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Sheba

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SHEBA . 1 . The OT name for the people and country of the Sabæans in S.W. Arabia, the modern Yemen. In Gen. and Chron. the racial relationships of the people are diversely given. Genesis 10:7 (P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ) and 1 Chronicles 1:9 make them Hamites, Genesis 10:28 (J [Note: Jahwist.] ) Semites. Again, whilst Genesis 10:28 has Joktan as the immediate ancestor of Sheba, Genesis 25:3 has Jokshan . These discrepancies are sufficiently accounted for by the extensive commerce of the Sabæans, the number of their settlements in distant regions, and the connexions which they were thus led to form. The language and script of Abyssinia, for instance, prove that a Sabæan colony was established there; hence the genealogy in Genesis 10:7 .

The following are the salient points in the information which the OT gives us. The country was rich in gold (Psalms 72:15 ) and incense ( Jeremiah 6:20 ); the people were great traders ( Ezekiel 27:22 f.), dealing in costly wares ( Ezekiel 38:13 ); their caravans were well known throughout the East ( Job 6:19 ); they were given to raiding ( Job 1:15 ), possibly uniting trade and robbery, when convenient (cf. Odyss . xv. 415 ff.); and they were not averse to the slave-trade ( Joel 3:8 ); eventually, it was hoped, they would become tributaries of Israel ( Isaiah 60:6 , Psalms 72:10 ).

The notices in Greek and Latin authors correspond with the Biblical statements. Strabo, e.g. , mentions myrrh, incense, cinnamon, balsam, amongst the products of the land, and states that their commerce made them exceedingly wealthy; that they had abundant furniture of gold and silver, beds, tables, bowls, cups, in costly houses. The panels, walls, and ceilings were adorned with ivory, gold, silver, mosaics. He affirms that they frequently laid waste the Syrian desert.

The Sabæans are also mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions. Tiglath-pileser iii. (b.c. 745 727) enumerates the articles which he received from them in tribute: ‘gold, silver, camels, female camels, spices of all sorts.’ In an inscription of b.c. 707, Sargon declares that he ‘received the tribute of Pir’u, king of the land of Musuru (Egypt), Samsç, queen of the land of Aribu (Arabia), It’amara, king of the land of the Saba’aa (Sabæans), gold, products of the mountains, horses, camels.’

During the 19th century a few European travellers succeeded in penetrating Yemen and bringing back a moderately full account of its natural features, and a large amount of material for reconstructing its history. It is incomparably superior to the rest of Arabia, both in climate and in soil. The central district is a highland region, with mountains some 8000 ft. above the sea level. Fertile valleys branch out from the hills, ‘well timbered in places, and threaded by silvery streams of dancing waters; sloping fields, gay with crops and wild flowers; terraced or jungle-covered slopes.’ Here are grown the hest vines that Arabia produces. The air is pure and comparatively cool. The present capital is Sana, a town of about 20,000 inhabitants, on the southernmost of three great plateaux. The ancient capital, Marib, N.E. of Sana, lies between the rich valleys of the west and the ‘wadys of Hadramant, which were the sources of Arabian gum.’ Inscriptions relating to the Sabæan kingdom have been found in various parts of the Arabian peninsula. They are written in a dialect which closely resembles Ethiopic, but there are no vowel letters, or modifications of the consonants, to indicate vowel sounds. Many come from the vicinity of Marib, where the ruins are of astonishing extent. The remains of its great dam, in particular, are very striking: a gigantic wall, two miles long and 175 paces wide, was built to connect two hills, and the water was run off for irrigation purposes by dykes which were cut at different levels. The construction of this work lies back in remote antiquity, b.c. 1700 being the date given by one authority, and b.c. 700 by another. About a.d. 100 it seems to have burst, and the streams which it once served to retain are now wasted in the sands. The Koran ( Sura 34) adduces this event as an instance of the punishment of disobedient ingratitude. In addition to the inscriptions, coins have been found and the names of the kings whose monograms they bear have been determined. From these two sources forty-five royal names have become known, six kings having been called It’amara (see Sargon’s list of tributaries). From some of the records it appears that two kings reigned contemporaneously (cf. Psalms 72:10 ), and this has been explained by the fact that the prince next in age to the king was designated as his successor, sometimes to the temporary exclusion of the king’s son.

Experts have differed with respect to the number of periods into which the history of the Sabæan kingdom falls. All recognize three such divisions: (1) That of the mâkarib or priest-kings; (2) that of the kings of Sheba; (3) that of the kings of Sheba and Dhû-Raidân. Glaser ( Skizze der Gesch. Arabiens ) prefixes to the first of these a Minæan empire, and adds a fifth period, during which the dated inscriptions supply a more exact chronology. These five ages cover the time from about b.c. 2000 to the conquest by Abyssinia in the 6th cent. a.d. Many of the statements which have been copied from the rocks and slabs relate to war and agriculture. They bring before us a set of traders disposing of the products of their own country, and also carrying goods from India and Africa to the great emporium Tyre and the powerful empires of Mesopotamia. They give us a glimpse of the life led by a class of powerful nobles who dwelt on their estates in castles and towers. And they furnish a considerable amount of information respecting the Sab¿an religion, its offerings of incense and animals, its pilgrimages to certain shrines, its special month for pilgrimage, Dhu Hijjatân. The heavenly bodies were worshipped, the sun as a female, the moon as a male, deity. Many other divinities were recognized: a male Athtar (cf. the female Ashtoreth), Almakah, Ta’lab, Sami‘, Kawim, Bashir, Haubas. The precise significance of some of these titles is open to doubt. But the cognate Heb. words justify us in saying that Sami‘ is ‘the Hearer,’ Kawim , ‘the Sustainer,’ Bashir , ‘the Tidings-bringer’; and the Arabic word of the same form indicates that Ta’lab is a spirit of the trees. Three other names, Wadd (‘Love’), Jaghuth (‘He helps’), and Nasr (‘Vulture’ or ‘Eagle’), are spoken of in the Koran ( Sura 72) as though they were antedilnvian idols. On inscriptions which date from the 4th and 5th centuries of our era, Rahman (‘the Merciful’) appears. This is due to Jewish influence, and it is interesting to observe that the Jews now living in Yemen have a tradition that their ancestors left Palestine before the Christian era. Cf. also art. Seba.

2 . A worthless adventurer, who snatched at what he thought was a chance of winning the sovereignty of Northern Israel ( 2 Samuel 20:1 ff.). His appeal was addressed to the deep-seated inter-tribal jealousy. David took a serious view of the situation thus created ( 2 Samuel 20:4 ff.), but his rival lacked the personal qualities which might have rendered him formidable. He traversed the entire centre of the country seeking adherents in vain. Knowing that Joab and Abishai were on his heels, he shut himself up in Abel-beth-maacah (modern Abil ), a town in the extreme north. There, according to a probable emendation of the text ( 2 Samuel 20:14 ), he was supported by his clansmen the Bichriles (not Berites , cf. ‘son of Bichri ,’ 2 Samuel 20:1 ). The place would speedily have been carried by assault had not a woman, whose judgment was highly esteemed by the inhabitants, persuaded them to throw Sheba’s head over the wall to Joab ( 2 Samuel 20:16-22 ). 3 . A Gadite, ( 1 Chronicles 5:13 ). 4 . The Sheba of Joshua 19:2 is out of place after Beer-sheba. Joshua 19:6 shows that we ought to find thirteen, not fourteen, names. The LXX [Note: Septuagint.] retains that number by omitting Sharuhen from the list. Sharuhen, however, should not be dropped, for it is identical with the Shilhim of Joshua 15:32 . Some Heb. MSS leave out Sheba, as does also the parallel passage 1 Chronicles 4:28 . The Shema of the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] is from the list of 1 Chronicles 15:26 . There can be little doubt that Shema , inserted by mistake in the Heb. text and transliterated by the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , was subsequently changed to Sheba .

J. Taylor.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sheba'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/s/sheba.html. 1909.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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