The Queen of Sheba

The Queen of Sheba decided to go see for herself if King Solomon was all he was cracked up to be, and, court etiquette being what it was, she didn't go empty-handed. She brought enough camels to stock six zoos and gold and jewels enough to fill a dozen steamer trunks and so many spices that when the wind blew the wrong way, it almost knocked you off your feet. She also anointed herself from head to toe with Chanel No. 5, fastened on herself as many feathers, ribbons, and diamonds as there were places to fasten them, and when she arrived in Jerusalem, it was like a Mardi Gras parade.

Since part of what Solomon was famous for was his skill at riddles, she brought a number of those along too. "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" and "What goes up a chimney down, but won't go down a chimney up?" were among the easier ones, and the others were real shin-crackers. Solomon knocked them all off one right after another without even batting an eye and said it was like shooting fish in a barrel. He then offered to give her a guided tour of the palace.

He showed her wine cellars that made her feathers tremble with excitement and storerooms full of marvelous things to eat that had her mouth watering all over her upper diamonds. He showed her his personal wardrobe, remarking that most of it was last season's stuff, and the uniforms of all his butlers, bodyguards, chambermaids, and cupbearers, together with an estimate of what it cost per year just to have them dry-cleaned. He showed her a dining-room table that could seat the whole State Department down to the last undersecretary's secretary, plus the gold plates he used when he wanted to put on the dog and the massive silver service he kept for when he wanted just a quiet evening at home with the family. When he took her to the place where he kept burnt offerings for Yahweh, she thought they'd wandered into the Chicago stockyards by mistake. By the time they'd finished, the queen was so undone that she had to excuse herself and go to her room, where she took off her girdle, put her feet up, and had her lady's maids apply cold compresses until the bell rang for supper. As the book of 1 Kings sums it up, "There was no more spirit in her" (1 Kings 10:5).

After supper she rallied enough to make a little speech. Seeing was believing, she said, but she still thought her contact lenses must need readjustment. She'd heard plenty before she came, but she now knew she hadn't heard the half of it. She couldn't say which he was better at, cracking riddles or picking wives, and the fifty of them or so who were present because they weren't pregnant at the time applauded politely. She said Yahweh must be tickled pink to have a king like Solomon on the payroll. Then she sat down, but not before making him a bread-and-butter present of as much of the gold and jewels and spices and camels as she thought she wouldn't be needing herself on the trip home.

Solomon responded by giving her so much in return that it made what she'd given him look like something she'd picked up at a tag sale, and when she got back to Sheba, it was some years before she ventured forth again.

1 Kings 10:1-13


~originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words


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