Although the biblical diviner Balaam noted in his speech that “there is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9), throughout history the People of Israel have had to contend with the other peoples who inhabited Eretz Israel and its neighboring lands. In many instances, this entailed violent clashes, war and bloodshed. However, the bible also describes times in which the People of Israel were able to create ties of peace, friendship and cooperation with nearby peoples and leaders of foreign countries, both near and far.
King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
“The queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame… She arrived in Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels bearing spices, a great quantity of gold, and precious stones” (I Kings 10:1-2). Thus begins the biblical story of the Queen of Sheba’s magnificent visit from her faraway land to King Solomon’s palace. According to researchers, the kingdom of Sheba was situated in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and its main source of wealth was based on controlling the trade routes between the Far East and the Middle East. King Solomon’s ability to send trade ships to the Red Sea threatened Sheba’s exclusivity over the southern trade routes, thus motivating the Queen of Sheba to visit Jerusalem and formalize relations with the king.
The biblical description of the visit notes that the Queen of Sheba sought to test King Solomon’s wisdom, “and she came to test him with hard questions”. Over the years, commentators have suggested examples of the questions that King Solomon was asked. This led poet Hayim Nahman Bialik to write the tale “King Solomon and the Bee”, which tells of a bee that angered the king because it stung his nose. When the king agreed to forgive the bee, it promised to compensate him. Solomon did not believe that a bee could be of any use to him, but he was convinced otherwise during the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Jerusalem. The queen brought Solomon a large bouquet of flowers and asked him to identify the lone real flower that was hidden among many artificial flowers that were handcrafted by an artist. Thanks to the bee settling on the real flower, Solomon was able to answer the question correctly.