Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Seba', סְבָא; Sept. Σαβά, occasionally Σοήνη , v. r. in Chronicles Σαβάτ ), the oldest son of Cush (B.C. cir. 2500), and hence a country and people among the Cushites (Genesis 10:7; 1 Chronicles 1:9), named in connection with Egyptians, Cushites, and Arabians (Sabaeans) (Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14 : Psalms 72:10) and in Isaiah 45:14; Ezekiel 23:42, as a rich and proud race. Much confusion has arisen between it and other similar names.
1. Name. Besides the singular form above, there is given the plural סְבָאִים (Sept.. Σαβαέιμ Ζαβαείυμ ; Vulg. Sabaim), incorrectly rendered "Sabeans" a name given in the A. V. with more probability to the שְׁבָאִים (Joel 3:8 [Heb. text, 4:8]); and to Sheba, used for the people (Job 1:15); but it would have been better had the original orthography been followed in both cases by such renderings as "people of Seba," "people of Sheba," where the gentile nouns occur. (See SABAEAN); (See SHEBA).
If Seba be of Hebrew or cognate origin, it may be connected with the root סָבָא , saba, "he drank to excess," which would not be inappropriate to a nation seated, as we shall see was that of Seba, in a well-watered country; but the comparison of two other similar names of Cushites, Sabtah (סַבְתְּכָא ) and Sabtechah (סַבְתְּכָא ), does not favor this supposition, as they were probably seated in Arabia, like the Cushite Sheba (שְׁבָא ), which is not remote from Seba (סְבָא .), the two letters being not unfrequently interchanged. Gesenius has suggested the Ethiopic sabeay, "a man," as the origin of both Seba and Sheba, but this seems unlikely. The ancient Egyptian names of nations or tribes, possibly countries, of Ethiopia, probably mainly, if not wholly, of Nigritian race, Sahaba, Sabara (Brugsch, Geogr Inschr. ii, 9, tav,. 12:1), are more to the point; and it is needless to cite later geographical names of cities, though that of one of the upper confluents of the Nile, Astasobas, compared with Astaboras, and Astapus, seems worthy of notice as perhaps indicating the name of a nation. The proper names of the first and second kings of the Ethiopian 25th dynasty of Egypt, Shebek (סוֹא ) and Shebetek, may also be compared. Gesenius was led by an error of the Egyptologists, to connect Sevechus a Greek transcription of Shebetek, with Sabk or Sbak the crocodile-headed divinity of Ombos (Lex. s.v. סוא ).
2. Biblical Notices. — Besides the mention of Seba as the first in the list of the sons of Cush (Genesis 10:7; 1 Chronicles 1:9), there are but three, or, as some hold, four, notices of the nation. In Psalms 72, which has evidently a first reference to the reign of Solomon, Seba is thus spoken of among the distant nations which should do honor to the king: "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts" (Psalms 72:10). This mention of Sheba and Seba together is to be compared with the occurrence of a Sheba among the descendants of Cush (Genesis 10:7), and its fulfilment is found in the queen of Sheba's coming to Solomon. There can be little doubt that the Arabian kingdom of Sheba was Cushite as well as Joktanite; and this occurrence of Sheba and Seba together certainly lends some support to this view. On the other hand, the connection of Seba with an Asiatic kingdom is important in reference to the race of its people, which, or at least the ruling class, was, no doubt, not Nigritian. In Isaiah 43, Seba is spoken of with Egypt, and more particularly with Cush, apparently with some reference to the Exodus, where we read, "I gave Egypt [for] thy ransom, Cush and Seba for thee" (Isaiah 43:3). Here, to render Cush by Ethiopia, as in the A. V., is perhaps to miss the sense of the passage, which does not allow Us to infer, though it is by no means impossible, that Cush, as a geographical designation, includes Seba, as it would do if here meaning Ethiopia. Later in the book there is a passage parallel in its indications: "The labor of Egypt and merchandise of Cush, and of the people of Seba, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine" (Isaiah 45:14). Here there is the same mention together of the three nations, and the same special association of Gush and Seba. The great stature and beauty of the Ethiopians are mentioned by Herodotus, who speaks of them as by report the tallest and handsomest men in the world (3:20; comp. 114); and in the present day some of the tribes of the dark races of a type intermediate between the Nigritians and the Egyptians, as well as the Caucasian Abyssinians, are remarkable for their fine form, and certain of the former for their height. The doubtful notice is in Ezekiel, in a difficult passage: "and with men of the multitude of Adam [were] brought drunkards [סוֹבָאִים; but the Keri reads סְבָאִים, 'people of Seba'] from the wilderness, which put bracelets upon their hands, and beautiful crowns upon their heads" (Ezekiel 23:42). The reading of the A.V. in the text is, "with the men of the common sort," and in the margin, "with the men of the multitude of men." The first clause would seem to favor the idea that a nation is meant, but the reading of the text is rather supported by what, follows the mention of the "drunkards." Nor is it clear why people of Seba should come from the wilderness.
3. Identification. — The list of the sons of Cush seems to indicate the position of the Cushite nation or country Seba. Nimrod, who is mentioned at the close of the list, ruled at first in Babylonia, and apparently afterwards in Assyria: of the names enumerated between Seba and Nimrod, it is highly probable that some belong to Arabia. We may thus conjecture a curve of Cushite settlements; one extremity which is to be placed in Babylonia; the other, if prolonged far enough in accordance with the mention of the African Gush, in Ethiopia.
The other passages we have examined seem to show (if we omit the last) that Seba was a nation of Africa, bordering on or included in Cush, and in Solomon's time independent and of political importance. We are thus able to conjecture the position of Seba. No ancient Ethiopian kingdom of importance could have excluded the island of Meroe, and therefore this one of Solomon's time may be identified with that which must have arisen in the period of weakness and division of Egypt that followed the empire, and have laid the basis of that power that made Shebek, or Sabaco, able to conquer Egypt and found the Ethiopian dynasty which ruled that country s well as Ethiopia.
Josephus says that Saba (Σαβά ) was the ancient name of the Ethiopian island and city of Meroe (Ant. ii, 10, 2), but he writes Seba, in the notice of the Noachian settle-nents, Sabas (ibid. i, 6, 2). So, too, Strabo and Diodous Siculus (see Mannert, Geogr. p. 199). But the name Meroe is more probably Ethiopic, meaning the watered land (see Tuch, Genesis p. 222; comp. Knobel, lsa. p. 122, who gives Seba a similar meaning). This view of Seba, is identical with Meroe, has been adopted by all the moderns as suited to every passage where it is mentioned (comp. Miehaelis, Spicil. i, 180 sq.). Certainly the kingdom of Meroe succeeded that of Seba; and the ancient city of the same name may have been the capital, or one of the capitals, of Seba, though we do not find any of its monuments to be even as early as the 25th dynasty. There can be no connection between he two names. According to Josephus and others, Meroe was named after a sister of Cambyses; but this is extremely unlikely, and we prefer taking it from the an-lent Egyptian Meru, an island, which occurs in the name of apart Of Ethiopia that can only be this or r similar tract, Meru-pet, "the island of pet (Phut ?) =the now," where the bow may have a geographical refer-nee to a bend of the river, and the word island to the country enclosed by that bend and a tributary. (See PHUT). It may be remarked that it seems certain that, from a remote time, Ethiopia below Meroe could never have formed a separate powerful kingdom, and was probably always dependent upon either Meroe or Egypt.
4. Description. — Meroe was a large island in Ethiopia, formed by the Astaboras, on the east (Atbara, Takazze), and Astapus (Bahr el-Asrak), on the west (alluded to in Zephaniah 3:10; Isaiah 18:1), the two arms that unite to form the Blue Nile (Strabo, 17:821). (See NILE). It is mountainous, but fruitful (Heliod. AEthiop. 10:5), and its chief city is also called Meroe. This has been from antiquity the seat of a priesthood with an oracle of Jupiter Ammon (Herod. it, 29), and a trading-place for the caravans of Africa and Arabia (Strabo, 16:771; 17:786 sq.; Pithy, it, 75; v, 10; 6:35; 37:15; Diod. Sic. i, 33; iii, 5 sq.; Ptolem. 4:8). It is noted by the ancients as remarkable for the fact that here the sun casts shadows part of the year southward and part northward (comp. Strabo, it, 135 sq.; Pliny, it, 75; Lucan, 10:300, 305, etc.: some think this is referred to in Isaiah 18:1; Zephaniah 3:10). The city lay in the northern extremity of the island (seventy thousand paces from the entrance, i.e. the southern extremity — Pliny, 6:35), five thousand stadia from Syene (Strabo, it, 114; comp. Pliny, it, 75), and ten thousand from Alexandria (Strabo, i, 62; it, 114). The city of Meroe had gained control Of the whole island, and sent colonies of priests to Upper Egypt to settle Thebes and Ammonium. In its flourishing period this kingdom was exceedingly powerful (Pliny, 6:35), and was inhabited by farmers, shepherds, and hunters (Strabe, 17:821). Deserts of sand surrounded it (ibid.). The priesthood retained power until the third century before Christ, when it was overthrown by a king Ergamenes (under Ptolemy Philadelphus). Thenceforward the power of the city seems to have declined; it disappears from the view of Western writers, and not until the time of Augustus do we begin to hear sparse, and on some points contradictory, accounts of a city somewhere in that region, under queens who bear the common name of Candace (comp. Pliny, 6:35; Dion Cos. liv, 5; Eusb. H.E. it, 1). But Meroe was deserted, a few houses only remaining.
Modern travellers have striven to find its site, and it is identified with some probability as the ruins almost twenty miles north-east of the Nubian city Skendy, in the Dar el-Atbara, a district near Assur forming a peninsula, between the river Atbara, the Nile (Bahr As-rak), and the river Rahad. (See Russegger's Charte von Nubien, in his Reis., and it, 1,476, 480 sq.; Bruce, Tray-els, 4:542 sq.; Burckhardt, Travels in Nubia, p. 273 sq.; Ruppell, Arab. p. 114, 383, with plate v; Calliaud, Voyage a Meroe au Fleuve Blanc [Paris, 1826], 4 vols. with plates; Hoskins, Travels in Ethiopia, Exhibiting the State of the Country under the Dominion of Meroe [Lond, 1835], with plates.) This supposition is confirmed by the records of distances left by the ancients, for from Syene to Assur the caravan road is 534 English miles by Russegger's account, 560 by Hoskins's, while the ancient reckoning is equivalent to 568 or 590 English miles — an unimportant difference. So the distance from the beginning of the island to the city was 60 miles (see above), and Russegger found the distance from Assur to the mouth of the Atbara 55, Hoskins 60 miles. See Lnudolf, Comment. Hist. AEthiop. p. 88 sq.; Delisle, in the Histoire de l'Academie des Sciences in 1708, p. 365 sq.; Tzsehucke, Ad Mel. III, i, 256 sq.; Mannert, X, i, 182 sq.; Heeren, Ideen II, i, 352; For-biger, Handb, it, 814 sq.; Smith, Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v. "Meroe," (See ETHIOPA).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Seba'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/seba.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.