9th February: I Kings 10.1-10; Psalm 36; Mark 7.14-23
The foreign potentate identified as the Queen of Sheba was probably the queen of one of the Sabaean settlements in North Africa. Saba [cf Psalm 71/72.10] was the most important of their kingdoms. The difficulty is that it only achieved its prominence in the 8th Century Before Christ; Solomon, who reigned in Jerusalem in the 10th Century BC, isn’t likely to have received her. The Biblical account is almost undoubtedly anachronistic; among other difficulties the language of this section of text is far later Hebrew than Solomon would have known.
She arrives with enough camels to stock several zoos and a quantity of gold and jewellery to fill a dozen steamer trunks, along with spices and perfumes that wafted their odours profligately. She salutes Solomon for his wisdom and finds him a bit overwhelming. But when Solomon came to the end of his life, his extravagances had nearly bankrupted the kingdom, his confiscatory taxation and compulsory chain-gangs had shattered his people’s hearts, and it remained only for his son to saw the kingdom in half.