BELQĪS, the queen of Sheba (Sabā) whose meetings with Solomon (Solaymān) are a favorite theme in Persian and Arabic literature. Accounts of the meetings appear in the Old Testament and the Koran, but in neither is the queen’s name, Belqīs, mentioned.
The Old Testament account in I Kings 10:1-10 and II Chronicles 9:1-12 is in summary as follows. The queen of Sheba, having heard of Solomon’s fame and wisdom, resolves to test his worth. She travels to Jerusalem, is interviewed by Solomon, and is convinced of his wisdom and greatness. She presents to him the gifts that she has brought and he grants to her all that she requests. She and her companions then return to their own country.
In the Koranic account (27:20-44), Solomon is told by the hoopoe that it has seen people of the land of Sheba who are ruled by a woman possessing great wealth and a mighty throne, but the woman and the people worship the sun instead of the One God. Curious, Solomon sends the hoopoe with a letter to the queen of Sheba, demanding the submission of herself and her people. After conferring with her counselors, she decides to send envoys to Solomon with a gift. Solomon refuses the gift and sends a threatening reply. Then, at Solomon’s command, agents using knowledge and wisdom bring the queen’s throne to him, and he has it altered to find out whether she will still recognize it. After receiving Solomon’s message, the queen quickly sets out to visit him, and, when she arrives, she is asked whether her throne is like that one. She answers that it looks the same. Then she is bidden to enter the palace. The floor of the palace is so highly polished and shiny that she takes it to be an expanse of water and bares her legs. On learning that the palace is floored with glass, she is seized with such wonder that she believes and submits to God.
The Koran commentators, in their explanations and translations of these verses, give the queen of Sheba’s name as Belqīs, and some even give names of her parents and ancestors (e.g., Ṭabarī, Jāmeʿ al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qorʾān, Cairo, 1373/1954, XIX, pp. 152-54; ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿOmar Bayżāwī, Anwār al-tanzīl wa asrār al-taʾwīl, Hyderabad, 1305/1887-88, p. 502; Maqdesī, Badʾ III, p. 108). Some commentators add that Solomon was told by demons (who according to Ṭabarī feared that he might marry Belqīs) that she was an unintelligent woman, had hairy legs, and her feet resembled the hooves of an ass; it was to check her intelligence that he altered her throne (Tafsīr-e Qorʾān-e majīd, anonymous ms. at Cambridge, ed. J. Matīnī, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970, I, p. 359; Bayżāwī, loc. cit.; Abū Esḥāq Nīšābūrī, Qeṣaṣ al-anbīāʾ, ed. Ḥ. Yaḡmāʾī, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961, p. 300). When Belqīs was brought into the palace, Solomon saw her legs and feet and judged them better than most (Cambridge Tafsīr I, pp. 360-61); but Solomon is also said to have ordered the concoction of a depilatory to remove Belqīs’s leg and foot hair (Ṭabarī, XIX, pp. 169-70; Maqdesī, loc. cit.; Nīšābūrī, p. 302). The author of the Qeṣaṣ al-anbīāʾ states (p. 308) that Solomon married Belqīs and was fond of her and that she bore him four children, three daughters and one son, but other authors, including Bayżāwī, Maqdesī, and Yāqūt (Boldān III, p. 115, s.v. Salḥīn) state that Solomon gave her in marriage to one of the Tobbaʿs (the Ḏū Tobbaʿ, king of the Hamdān tribe). Another story is that some Himyarites digging in the royal cemetery found a woman’s corpse, wrapped in robes of gold brocade, in a cavity under a marble slab on which verses showing it to be Belqīs’s tomb were inscribed (Cambridge Tafsīr I, pp. 361-62); according to Zereklī (II, p. 51), the discovery of Belqīs’s mortal remains took place in the reign of the caliph Walīd b. ʿAbd-al-Malek, at whose command they were reinterred in the same grave.
Treatment of the Belqīs legend in Persian literature varies. In the fourth book (daftar) of Rūmī’s Maṯnawī (ed. Nicholson, IV, pp. 311-43) a detailed account is given, but in many other works only a reference to an episode or to her throne appears (see Dehḵodā, s.v. Belqīs). Sometimes words are put into Belqīs’s mouth, e.g., the story of a conversation between her and Solomon about her son’s sickness and the reasons for his recovery in Neẓāmī’s Haft peykar (Neẓāmī Ganjaʾī, Kollīyāt, ed. Ḥ. Waḥīd Dastgerdī, Tehran, 1335 Š./1956, pp. 719-21).
Belqīs is a component of a few Persian compounds and constructs (e.g., Belqīs-e dawrān, Belqīs-e rūzgār, būy-e . . . belqīsī; see, e.g., Ḵāqānī, Dīvān, p. 151; idem, Monšaʾāt, ed. M. Rowšan, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970, pp. 41, 56, 122, 339; Manūčherī Dāmḡānī, Dīvān, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977, p. 201). Among the Arabs the throne of Belqīs has long been proverbial (see Abū Manṣūr ʿAbd-al-Malek Ṯaʿālebī, Ṯemār al-qolūb fi’l-możāf waʾl mansūb, Cairo, 1326/1918, p. 245). Until quite recent times pictures of Solomon and Belqīs were popular in Iran and could often be seen in paintings and textile prints.
Given in the text. See also Abū Esḥāq ʿAbd-Allāh Ṯaʿlabī Nīšābūrī, ʿArāʾes al-majāles known as Qeṣaṣ al-anbīāʾ, Cairo, 1356/1937, pp. 265f.
Ṣ. Balāḡī, Qeṣaṣ-e Qorʾān, Tehran, 1329 Š./1950, pp. 185-89, 377-82.
B. Forūzānfar, Maʾāḵeḏ-e qeṣaṣ o tamṯīlāt-e Maṯnawī, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954, p. 62.
ʿA. Ḥoqūqī, Taḥqīq dar tafsīr-e Abu’l-Fotūḥ Rāzī, Tehran, 1349 Š./1969, III, p. 304.
Ḵᵛāndamīr, Ḥabīb al-sīar I, p. 123.
M. Ḵazāʾelī, Aʿlām-e Qorʾān, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, pp. 343-62.
Y. Mahdawī, Qeṣaṣ-e Qorʾān-e majīd, selected from the Tafsīr of Sūrābādī, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968.
Abu’l-Fażl Meybodī, Kašf al-asrār, ed. ʿA.-A. Ḥekmat, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960, VII, pp. 209-10.
Mīrḵᵛānd (Tehran), I, p. 275.
ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb Najjār, Qeṣaṣ al-anbīāʾ, 3rd ed., Beirut, 1353/1934, p. 333.
Šehāb-al-Dīn Aḥmad Nowayrī, Nehāyat al-arab fī fonūn al-adab, Cairo, 1374/1955, XIV, p. 134.
Serāj-al-Dīn Maḥmūd Ormavī, Laṭāʾef al-ḥekma, ed. Ḡ.-Ḥ. Yūsofī, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 39, 264, 316-17, 466.
G. Rösch, “Die Königin von Saba als Königin Bilqīs,” Jahrbuch für protestantische Theologie, 1880, pp. 524-72.
E. Ullendorff, “Bilḳīs,” in EI2.
M.-J. Yāḥaqqī, Farhang-e ešārāt-e dāstānī dar adabīyāt-e fārsī, Ph.D. thesis, University of Tehran, 1359 Š./1980, I, pp. 235-37.
Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ I, pp. 60-64, 222.
Baḷʿamī, ed. M.-T. Bahār, p. 565.
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
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