Sheba, region, Arabian Peninsula

Sheba, biblical name of a region, called in Arabic Saba, of S Arabia, including present-day Yemen and the Hadhramaut. Its inhabitants were called Sabaeans or Sabeans. According to some passages in Genesis and First Chronicles, Sheba, a grandson of Noah's grandson Joktan, was the ancestor of the Sabaeans. According to other passages in those books, however, Sheba was a descendant of Abraham. The Semitic colonization of Ethiopia was established (10th cent. b.c.) from Sheba. In that century the biblical queen of Sheba (called in Muslim tradition Bilqis; see Sheba, in the Bible) is said to have made her famous visit to Solomon.

Situated along the trade route from India to Africa, Sheba was known as a region of great wealth. Trade between Israel and Sheba is mentioned in First Kings. Elements of Sheba's culture, which was at its height between the 9th and 5th cent. b.c. (after the traditional dates for the reign of Solomon), is evidenced by the dam (since collapsed) near Marib, the capital of Sheba, and by the many inscriptions found there. Written in Himyaritic, a Semitic language, the inscribed characters derive from Phoenician writing. Ethiopia conquered (c.a.d. 525) Sheba. In 572, Sheba became a Persian province and, with the rise of Muhammad, fell under Islamic control and lost its separate identity.

See W. Phillips, Qataban and Sheba (1955); R. Le Baron Bowen et al., Archaeological Discoveries in South Arabia (1958).

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