she'-ba (shebha'; Saba): (1) Sheba and Dedan are the two sons of Raamah son of Cush (Ge 10:7). (2) Sheba and Dedan are the two sons of Jokshan the son of Abraham and Keturah (Ge 25:3). (3) Sheba is a son of Joktan son of Eber who was a descendant of Shem (Ge 10:28).
From the above statements it would appear that Sheba was the name of an Arab tribe, and consequently of Semitic descent. The fact that Sheba and Dedan are represented as Cushite (Ge 10:7) would point to a migration of part of these tribes to Ethiopia, and similarly their derivation from Abraham (Ge 25:3) would indicate that some families were located in Syria. In point of fact Sheba was a South-Arabian or Joktanite tribe (Ge 10:28), and his own name and that of some of his brothers (e.g. Hazarmaveth = Hadhramaut) are place-names in Southern Arabia.
The Sabeans or people of Saba or Sheba, are referred to as traders in gold and spices, and as inhabiting a country remote from Palestine (1Ki 10:1 f; Isa 60:6; Jer 6:20; Eze 27:22; Ps 72:15; Mt 12:42), also as slave-traders (Joe 3:8), or even desert-rangers (Job 1:15; 6:19; compare CIS 84 3).
By the Arab genealogists Saba is represented as great-grandson of Qachtan (= Joktan) and ancestor of all the South-Arabian tribes. He is the father of Chimyar and Kahlan. He is said to have been named Saba because he was the first to take prisoners (shabhah) in war. He founded the capital of Saba and built its citadel Marib (Mariaba), famous for its mighty barrage.
The authentic history of the Sabeans, so far as known, and the topography of their country are derived from South-Arabian inscriptions, which began to be discovered about the middle of the last century, and from coins dating from about 150 BC to 150 AD, the first collection of which was published in 1880, and from the South-Arabian geographer Hamdani, who was later made known to European scholars. One of the Sabean kings is mentioned on Assyrian inscriptions of the year 715 BC; and he is apparently not the earliest. The native monuments are scattered over the period extending from before that time until the 6th century AD, when the
Sabean state came to an end, being most numerous about the commencement of our era. Saba was the name of the nation of which Marib was the usual capital. The Sabeans at first shared the sovereignty of South Arabia with Himyar and one or two other nations, but gradually absorbed the territories of these some time after the Christian era. The form of government seems to have been that of a republic or oligarchy, the chief magistracy going by a kind of rotation, and more than one "king" holding office simultaneously (similarly De 4:47 and often in the Old Testament). The people seem to have been divided into patricians and plebeians, the former of whom had the right to build castles and to share in the government.
A number of deities are mentioned on the inscriptions, two chief being Il-Maqqih and Ta`lab. Others are Athtar (masculine form of the Biblical `ashtaroth), Rammon (the Biblical Rimmon), the Sun, and others. The Sun and Athtar were further defined by the addition of the name of a place or tribe, just as Baal in the Old Testament. Worship took the form of gifts to the temples, of sacrifices, especially incense, of pilgrimages and prayers. Ceremonial ablution, and abstinence from certain things, as well as formal dedication of the worshipper and his household and goods to the deity, were also religious acts. In return the deity took charge of his worshipper's castle, wells, and belongings, and supplied him with cereals, vegetables and fruits, as well as granted him male issue.
(1) The chief occupations of the Sabeans were raiding and trade. The chief products of their country are enumerated in Isa 60:6, which agrees with the Assyrian inscriptions. The most important of all commodities was incense, and it is significant that the same word which in the other Semitic languages means "gold," in Sabean means "perfume" (and also "gold"). To judge, however, from the number of times they are mentioned upon the inscriptions, agriculture bulked much more largely in the thoughts of the Sabean than commerce, and was of equal importance with religion.
(2) The high position occupied by women among the Sabeans is reflected in the story of the Queen of Sheba and Solomon. In almost all respects women appear to have been considered the equal of men, and to have discharged the same civil, religious and even military functions. Polygamy does not seem to have been practiced. The Sabean inscriptions do not go back far enough to throw any light upon the queen who was contemporary with Solomon, and the Arabic identification of her with Bilqis is merely due to the latter being the only Sabean queen known to them. Bilqis must have lived several centuries later than the Hebrew monarch.
(3) The alphabet used in the Sabean inscriptions is considered by Professor Margoliouth to be the original Semitic alphabet, from which the others are derived. In other respects Sabean art seems to be dependent on that of Assyria, Persia and Greece. The coins are Greek and Roman in style, while the system of weights employed is Persian.
See further SABAEANS.
Rodiger and Osidander in ZDMG, volumes XX and XXI; Halevy in Journal Asiatique, Serie 6, volume IX; Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, pt. IV, edition by J. and H. Derenbourg; Hamdani, edition by D. H. Muller, 1891; Mordtmann, Himyarische Inschriften, 1893; Hommel, Sudarabische Chresthomathie, 1893; Glaser, Abyssinien in Arabien, 1895; D. H. Muller, Sudarabische Alterthumer, 1899; Derenbourg, Les monuments sabeens, 1899. On the coins, Schlumberger, Le tresor de San'a, 1880; Mordtmann in Wiener numismatische Zeitschrift, 1880.
Thomas Hunter Weir