With all the important events occurring in modern geopolitics, I’ve had little opportunity to blog on topics involving the tribes of Israel in ancient history. However, this item should be of interest to those wanting more information on new discoveries that confirm biblical accounts.
In the January-February, 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), there is an article entitled “Solomon and Sheba, Inc.” (see link below) which examines recently-discovered evidence that the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah did conduct regular commerce with ancient Sheba. As readers no doubt realize, it was the Queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon of the United Kingdom of Israel and was overwhelmed by the richness and splendor of Solomon’s kingdom (I Kings 10:1-10).
The BAR article doesn’t actually document the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon, but it does confirm that there was plenty of commerce between the region of the ancient Israelite kingdoms and Sheba (reckoned generally to include southern Saudi Arabia). The discovery of an ancient inscription in southern Arabia confirms the biblically-referenced commerce route did factually exist. This inscription specifically mentions the “towns of Judah” as a location with which the southern Arabian kingdom conducted commerce. Obviously, the “towns of Judah” refers to the biblical kingdom of Judah. This inscription is dated to “about the end of the seventh century BC,” and that would date it to a time when the kingdom of Judah was weakened and near the end of its existence. It would have been centuries after the time of King Solomon and over a century after the northern ten tribes went into captivity.
The BAR article also cites other studies which indicate that this commerce route “very probably existed as early as the latter half of the tenth century B.C.E.–the time of King Solomon.” This makes complete sense as the news of King Solomon’s splendor and wealth would have traveled far and wide on the trade routes of that time, and the Queen of Sheba would have heard about it via merchants traveling to Sheba from Jerusalem and the kingdom of Israel. While the article comments on the cities that would have been located on the overland trade route through Arabia, a look at the map in the article confirms that it would have been far easier and less time-consuming for merchants to travel between Israel and Judah in the north and Sheba in Southern Arabia via the Red Sea. King Solomon and his Phoenician ally, King Hiram, had a fleet of ships based at Ezion-geber at the northernmost part of the Red Sea (where it is near Elath) and this fleet could easily sail southward into the Arabian Sea and on into the Indian Ocean and beyond (I Kings 9:26-27). One of Solomon’s fleets returned to its home base only every third year with animals and cargoes from other continents so it sailed widely into the earth’s oceans and was gone a very long time on each voyage. For such a fleet, a trip between Israel (or later, Judah) and Sheba would have been little more than a local voyage. Time was precious for ancient merchants and monarchs so I believe the Queen of Sheba came to Israel via the Red Sea trading fleets, not the time-consuming overland route through the desert.
Also confirmed in the article are inscriptions from the Southern Arabian kingdom of Sheba which have been found in the Israeli Negev region. This evidence combined with the mention of the “towns of Judah” in the ancient Southern Arabian inscription constitute a “smoking gun” that this Israelite/Jewish trade with Sheba was real. This trade route continued long after the kingdom of Judah collapsed and its inhabitants went into captivity. Acts 8:26-27 records that Philip met with a eunuch who served Queen Candace of Ethiopia as he was traveling between Ethiopia and Jerusalem. Ethiopia was just across the Red Sea from southern Arabia so the Jerusalem-Ethiopian trade route was simply an extension of the same trade route that was utilized by the Queen of Sheba who traveled to Jerusalem and the merchants of southern Arabia who traded with the “towns of Judah.”
Once again, actual archaeological evidence confirms that the information in the biblical narratives is based on real cultural and historic realities. That this happens so often is strong evidence that the Bible is exactly what it claims to be: the Divinely-inspired word of the Creator God who made all things and who has the power to make sure his Word is preserved throughout mankind’s history.