Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 38




AFTER Solomon had executed the last offices for his father, he rested in a dale betwixt Hebron and Jerusalem, and fell asleep. As he returned to himself, there stood before him eight angels, each with countless wings, diverse in kinds and colours; and the angels bowed themselves before him three times.

"Who are ye?" asked Solomon, with eyes still closed.

"We are the angels ruling over the eight winds of heaven," was their reply. "God hath sent us to give thee dominion over ourselves and over the winds subject to us. They will storm and bluster, or breathe softly, at thy pleasure. At thy command they will swoop down on earth, and bear thee over the highest mountains."

The greatest of the angels gave him a jewel inscribed with "God is Power and Greatness," and said, "When thou hast a command for us, then raise this stone towards heaven, and we shall appear before thee as thy servants."

When these angels had taken their departure, there appeared four more, of whom each was unlike the other. One was in fashion as a great whale, another as an eagle, the third as a lion, and the fourth as a serpent. And they said, "We are they who rule over all the creatures that move in the earth, and air, and water; and God hath sent us to give thee dominion over all creatures, that they may serve thee and thy friends with all good, and fight against thine enemies with all their force."

The angel who ruled over the winged fowls extended to Solomon a precious stone, with the inscription, "Let all creatures praise the Lord!" and said, "By virtue of this stone, raised above thy head, canst thou call us to thy assistance, and to fulfil thy desire."

Solomon immediately ordered the angels to bring before him a pair of every living creature that moves in the water, flies in the air, and walks or glides or creeps on the earth.

The angels vanished, and in an instant they were before Solomon once more, and there were assembled in his sight pairs of every creature, from the elephant to the smallest fly.

Solomon conversed with the angels, and was instructed by them in the habits, virtues, and names of all living creatures; he listened to the complaints of the beasts, birds, and fishes, and by his wisdom he rectified many evil customs amongst them.

He entertained himself longest with the birds, both on account of their beautiful speech, which he understood, and also because of the wise sentences which they uttered.

This is the signification of the cry of the peacock: "With what measure thou judgest others, thou shalt thyself be judged."

This is the song of the nightingale: "Contentment is the greatest happiness."

The turtle dove calls, "Better were it for some created things that they had never been created."

The peewit pipes, "He that hath no mercy, will not find mercy himself."

The bird syrdar cries, "Turn to the Lord, ye sinners!"

The swallow screams, "Do good, and ye shall receive a reward."

This is the pelican's note: "Praise the Lord in heaven and earth."

The dove chants, "The fashion of this world passeth away, but God remaineth eternal."

The kata says, "Silence is the best safeguard."

The cry of the eagle is, "However long life may be, yet its inevitable term is death." The croak of the raven is, "The further from man, the happier I."

The cock crows before the dawn and in the day, "Remember thy Creator, O thoughtless man!"

Solomon chose the cock and the peewit to be his constant companions—the first because of its cry, and the second because it can see through the earth as through glass, and could therefore tell him where fountains of water were to be found.

After he had stroked the dove, he bade her dwell with her young in the temple he was about to build to the honour of the Most High. This pair of doves, in a few years, multiplied to such an extent, that all who sought the temple moved through the quarter of the town it occupied under the shadow of the wings of doves.

When Solomon was again alone, an angel appeared to him, whose upper half was like to earth, and whose lower half was like to water. He bowed himself before the king and said, "I am created by God to do His will on the dry land and in the watery sea. Now, God has sent me to serve thee, and thou canst rule over earth and water. At thy command the highest mountains will be made plain, and the level land will rise into steep heights. Rivers and seas will dry up, and the desert will stream with water at thy command." Then he gave to him a precious stone, with the legend engraved thereon, "Heaven and earth serve God."

Finally, an angel presented to him another stone, whereon was cut, "There is no God save God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God."

"By means of this stone," said the angel, "thou shalt have dominion over the whole world of spirits, which is far greater than that of men and beasts, and occupies the space between earth and heaven. One portion of the spirits is faithful, and praises the One only God; the other portion is unfaithful: some adore fire, others the sun, others worship the planets, many revere winter. The good spirits surround the true believers among men, and protect them from all evil; the evil spirits seek to injure them and deceive them."

Solomon asked to see the Jinns in their natural and original shape. The angel shot like a column of flame into heaven, and shortly returned with the Satans and Jinns in great hosts: and Solomon, though he had power over them, shuddered with disgust at their loathsome appearance. He saw men's heads attached to the necks of horses, whose feet were those of an ass; the wings of an eagle attached to the hump of a dromedary; the horns of a gazelle on the head of a peacock.[2]


When Solomon returned home, he placed the four stones, which the angels had given him, in a ring, so that he might at any moment exercise his authority over the realms of spirits and beasts, the earth, the winds, and the sea.

His first care was to subject the Jinns. He made them all appear before him, with the exception of the mighty Sachr, who kept himself in concealment on an unknown island in the ocean, and the great Eblis, the master of all evil spirits, to whom God had promised complete liberty till the day of the last Judgment.

When all the demons were assembled, Solomon pressed his seal upon their necks, to mark them as his slaves. Then he commanded all the male Jinns to collect every sort of material for the construction of the temple he was about to build. He bade also the female Jinns cook, bake, wash, weave, and carry water; and what they made he distributed amongst the poor. The meats they cooked were placed on tables, which covered an area of four square miles; and daily thirty thousand portions of beef, as many portions of mutton, and very many birds and fishes were devoured. The Jinns and devils sat at iron tables, the poor at tables of wood, the heads of the people at silver tables, the wise and pious at tables of gold; and these latter were served by Solomon in person.

One day, when all spirits, men, beasts, and birds rose satisfied from the tables, Solomon besought God to permit him to feed to the full all created animals at once. God replied that he demanded an impossibility. "But," said he, "try, to-morrow, what thou canst do to satisfy the dwellers in the sea."

On the morrow, accordingly, Solomon bade the Jinns lade a hundred thousand camels and the same number of mules with corn, and lead them to the sea-shore. He then cried to the fishes and said: "Come, ye dwellers in the water, eat and be satisfied!"

Then came all manner of fishes to the surface of the water, and Solomon cast the corn to them, and they ate and were satisfied, and dived out of sight. But all at once a whale lifted his head above the surface, and it was like a mountain. Solomon bade the spirits pour one sack of corn after another down the throat of the monster, till all the store was exhausted, there remained not a single grain. But the whale cried, "Feed me, Solomon! feed me! never have I suffered from hunger as I have this day!"

Solomon asked the whale if there were any more in the deep like him. The fish answered: "There are of my race as many as a thousand kinds, and the smallest is so large that thou wouldst seem in its belly to be but a sand-grain in the desert."

Solomon cast himself upon the earth, and began to weep, and prayed to God to pardon him for his presumption.

"My kingdom," called to him the Most High, "is far greater than thine. Stand up, and behold one creature over which no man has yet obtained the mastery."

Then the sea began to foam and toss, as though churned by the eight winds raging against it, and out of the tumbling brine rose the Leviathan, so great that it could easily have swallowed seven thousand whales such as that which Solomon had attempted to feed; and the Leviathan cried, with a voice like the roar of thunder: "Praised be God, who by His mighty power preserves me from perishing by hunger."[3]


When Solomon returned from the sea-shore to Jerusalem, he heard the noise of the hammers, and saws, and axes of the Jinns who were engaged in the building of the temple; and the noise was so great that the inhabitants of Jerusalem could not hear one another speak. Therefore he commanded the Jinns to cease from their work, and he asked them if there was no means whereby the metals and stones could be shaped and cut without making so much noise.

Then one of the spirits stepped forth and said: "The means is known only to the mighty Sachr, who has hitherto escaped your authority."

"Is it impossible to capture this Sachr?" asked Solomon.

"Sachr," replied the Jinn, "is stronger than all the rest of us together, and he excels us in speed as he does in strength. However, I know that once every month he goes to drink of a fountain in the land of Hidjr; by this, O king, thou mayest be able to bring him under thy sceptre."

Solomon, thereupon, commanded a Jinn to fly to Hidjr, and to empty the well of water, and to fill it up with strong wine. He bade other Jinns remain in ambush beside the well and watch the result.[5]

After some weeks, when Solomon was pacing his terrace before his palace, he saw a Jinn flying, swifter than the wind, from the direction of Hidjr, and he asked, "What news of Sachr?"

"Sachr lies drunk on the edge of the fountain," said the Jinn; "and we have bound him with chains as thick as the pillars of the temple; nevertheless, he will snap them as the hair of a maiden, when he wakes from his drunken sleep."

Solomon instantly mounted the winged Jinn and bade him transport him to the well at Hidjr. In less than an hour he stood beside the intoxicated demon. He was not a moment too soon, for the fumes of the wine were passing off, and, if Sachr had opened his eyes, Solomon would have been unable to constrain him. But now he pressed his signet upon the nape of his neck: Sachr uttered a cry so that the earth rocked on its foundations.

"Fear not," said Solomon, "mighty Jinn; I will restore thee to liberty if thou wilt tell me how I may without noise cut and shape the hardest metals."

"I myself know no means," answered the demon; "but the raven can tell thee how to do this. Take the eggs out of the raven's nest and place a crystal cover upon them, and thou shalt see how the raven will break it."

Solomon followed the advice of Sachr. A raven came, and fluttered some time round the cover, and seeing that she could not reach her eggs, she vanished, and returned shortly with a stone in her beak, named Samur or Schamir; and no sooner had she touched the crystal therewith, than it clave asunder.

"Whence hast thou this stone?" asked Solomon of the raven.

"It comes from a mountain in the far west," replied the bird.

Solomon commanded a Jinn to follow the raven to the mountain, and to bring him more of these stones. Then he released Sachr as he had promised. When the chains were taken off him, he uttered a loud cry of joy, which, in Solomon's ears, bore an ominous sound as of mocking laughter.

When the Jinn returned with the stone Schamir, Solomon mounted a Jinn and was borne back to Jerusalem, where he distributed the stones amongst the Jinns, and they were able to cut the rocks for the temple without noise.[6]

Solomon also made an ark of the covenant ten ells square, and he sought to bring it into the Holy of Holies that he had made; and when he sought to bring the ark through the door of the temple, the door was ten ells wide. Now, that was the width of the ark, and ten ells will not go through ten ells. Then, when Solomon saw that the ark would not pass through the door, he was ashamed and cried, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and the King of Glory shall come in!" Then the gates tottered, and would have fallen on his head to punish what they supposed to be a blasphemy, for the doors thought that by "the King of Glory" he meant himself; and they cried to him in anger, "Who is the King of Glory?" and he answered, "It is the Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory." And because the doors were so zealous for the honour of God, the Lord promised them that they should never fall into the hands of the enemies of Israel. Therefore, when the temple was burnt and the treasures were carried into Babylon, the gates sank into the earth and vanished. And to this the prophet Jeremiah refers (Lament, ii. 9).[7]

Solomon also built him a palace, with great riches in gold, and silver, and precious stones, like no king that was before him. Many of the halls had crystal floors and crystal roofs. He had a fountain of liquid brass.[8] He had also a carpet five hundred parasangs in length; and whenever the carpet was spread, three hundred thrones of gold and silver were placed on it, and Solomon bade the birds of the air spread their wings over them for a shade.[9] He built a throne for himself of sandal wood, encrusted with gold and precious stones.


Whilst the palace was being built, Solomon made a journey to Damascus. The Jinn, on whose back he flew, carried him directly over the valley of ants, which is surrounded by such crags and precipices, that no man had hitherto seen it. The king was much astonished to see such a host of ants under him, which were as big as wolves, and which, on account of their grey eyes and grey feet, looked from a distance like a cloud. The queen of the ants, who, till this moment, had not seen a man, was filled with fear when she beheld Solomon, and she cried to her host, "Hie to your holes, fly!"

But God commanded her not to fear, and to summon all her subjects, and to anoint Solomon king of all insects. Solomon, who heard the words of God, and the answer of the queen from a distance of many miles, borne to him upon the wind, descended into the valley beside the queen. Immediately the whole valley was filled with ants, as far as the eye could see.

Solomon asked the queen, "Why didst thou fear me, being surrounded with such a countless and mighty host?"

"I fear God alone," answered the queen; "if any danger were to threaten my subjects, at a sign from me seven times as many would instantly appear."

"Wherefore then didst thou command the ants to fly to their holes when I appeared?"

"Because I feared they would look with wonder and reverence on thee, and thereby for a moment forget their Creator."

"I am greater than thou," added the queen of the ants.

"How so?" asked Solomon in surprise.

"Because thou hast a metal throne, but my throne is thy hand, on which I now repose," said the ant.

"Before I leave thee, hast thou no word to say to me?"

"I ask nothing of thee, but I give thee a piece of advice. As long as thou livest, give not occasion to be ashamed of thy name, which signifies The Blameless. Beware also never to give the ring from thy finger, without saying first, 'In the name of the God of all mercy.'"

Solomon exclaimed, "Lord! Thy kingdom exceeds and excels mine!" and he bade farewell to the queen of the ants.[10]

After Solomon had visited Damascus, he returned another way, so as not to disturb the ants in their pious contemplation. As he returned, he heard a cry on the wind, "O God of Abraham, release me from life!" Solomon hastened in the direction of the voice, and found a very aged man, who said he was more than three hundred years old, and that he had asked God to suffer him to live, till there arose a mighty prophet in the land.

"I am that prophet," said Solomon. Then the Angel of Death caught away the old man's soul.

Solomon exclaimed, "Thou must have been beside me, to have acted with such speed, thou Angel of Death."

But the angel answered, "Great is thy mistake. Know that I stand on the shoulders of an angel, whose head reaches ten thousand years' journey above the seventh heaven, and whose feet are five hundred years' journey beneath the earth. He it is who tells me when I am to fetch a soul. His eyes are ever fixed on the tree Sidrat Almuntaha, which bears as many leaves as there are living men in the world; when a man is born, a new leaf buds out; when a man is about to die, the leaf fades, and, at his death, falls off; and, when the leaf withers, I fly to fetch the soul, the name of which is inscribed upon the leaf."

"And what doest thou then?"

"Gabriel accompanies me, as often as one of the believers dies; his soul is wrapped in a green silk cloth, and is breathed into a green bird, which feeds in Paradise till the end of time. But the soul of the sinner is carried by me in a tarred cloth to the gates of hell, where it wanders in misery till the last day."

Then Solomon washed the body of the dead man, buried him, and prayed for his soul, that it might be eased of the pains it would have to undergo during its purgation by the angels Ankir and Munkir.[11]

This journey had so exhausted Solomon, that on his return to Jerusalem he ordered the Jinns to weave him stout silk carpets on which he and all his servants, his throne, tables, and kitchen could be accommodated. When he wanted to go a journey, he ordered the winds to blow, and raise the carpet with all that was on it, and waft it whither he desired to travel.

One night, Abraham appeared to the king in a dream, and said to him: "God has given thee wisdom and power above every other child of man; He has given thee dominion over the earth and over the winds; He has suffered thee to build a house to His honour; thou hast power to speed on the backs of Jinns or on the wings of the winds where thou listest; now employ the gift of God, and visit the city of Jathrib (Medina), which will one day give shelter to the greatest of prophets; also the city Mecca, in which he will be born, and the temple which I and my son Ishmael—peace be with him!—rebuilt after the flood."

Next morning Solomon announced his intention to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, and bade every Israelite join in the expedition. The number of pilgrims was so great, that Solomon was obliged to have a new carpet woven by the Jinns of such vast size that it could serve the whole caravan, with the camels and oxen and sheep they destined for sacrifice. When ready to start, Solomon bade the Jinns and demons fly before the carpet; his confidence in their integrity was so small, that he would not trust them out of his sight: for this reason also he drank invariably out of crystal goblets, that even when drinking he might keep his eyes upon them. The birds he ordered to fly in ranks above the carpet, to give shadow to the pilgrims with their wings.

When all was in readiness, and men, Jinns, beasts, and birds were assembled together, Solomon ordered the winds to descend and bear the carpet, with all upon it, into the air, and waft it to Medina.

When they approached this town, Solomon made a sign, and the birds depressed their wings, and the winds abated, and the carpet sank lightly to the earth. But he suffered no man to step off the carpet, as Medina was then in the hands of idolaters. He alone went to the spot where afterwards Mohammed was to erect the first mosque—it was then a cemetery—and there he offered up his noon-day prayer. Then he returned to the carpet; at a sign the birds spread their wings, the winds gathered force and lifted the carpet, and the whole caravan sailed through the air to Mecca, which was then under the power of the Djorhamides, who were worshippers of the One God, and preserved the Kaaba from desecration by idols.

Solomon, with all his company, entered the city, went in procession round the temple, performed the requisite ceremonies, and offered the sacrifices brought for the purpose from Jerusalem. Then he preached a long sermon in the Kaaba, in which he prophesied the birth of Mohammed and the future glory of Mecca.

After three days, Solomon desired to return to Jerusalem, and he remounted his throne on the carpet, and all the pilgrims resumed their places. When the birds spread their wings, and the carpet was again in motion, the king perceived one ray of sun which pierced the canopy of birds, and this proved to him that one of the birds had deserted its place.

He called to the eagle, and bade it go through the roll-call of the birds, and ascertain which was absent.

The eagle obeyed, and found that the peewit was missing. Solomon was inflamed with anger, especially as he needed the peewit during his journey over the desert, to discover for him the hidden wells and fountains.

"Soar aloft!" exclaimed Solomon to the eagle, "and seek me this runaway, that I may strip him of his feathers and send him naked forth into the sun, to become the prey of the insects."

The eagle mounted aloft, till the earth was beneath him like a revolving bowl, and he looked in all directions, and at length he spied the peewit coming from the south. The eagle would have grasped him in his talons, but the little bird implored him, by Solomon, to spare him till he had related his history to the king.

"Trust not in the protection of Solomon," said the eagle; "thy mother shall bewail thee." Then the eagle brought the culprit before the king, whose countenance was inflamed with anger, and who, with a frown, signed the runagate to be brought before his throne.[12]

The peewit trembled in every limb, and, in token of submission, let wings and tail droop to the ground. As Solomon's face still expressed great anger, the bird exclaimed, "O king and prophet of God! remember that thou also shalt stand before the judgment-throne of God!"

"How canst thou excuse thine absence without my consent?" asked the king.

"Sire, I bring thee news of a land and a queen of which thou hast not even heard the name—the land of Sheba, and the queen, Balkis."

"These names are indeed strange to me. Who told thee of them?"

"A lapwing of that country whom I met in my course, to whom I spoke of thy majesty, and the greatness of thy dominion, and wisdom, and power. Then he was astonished, and he related to me that thy name was unknown in his native land; and he spake to me of his home and the wonders that are there, and he persuaded me to accompany him thither. And on the way he related to me the history of the Queen of Sheba, who commands an army generalled by twelve thousand officers."

Solomon bade the eagle release the peewit, and bade him relate what he had heard of Sheba and its queen.


"Sheba," said the peewit, "is the name of the king who founded the kingdom; it is also the name of the capital. Sheba was a worshipper of the sun, Eblis having drawn him from the true God, who sends rain from heaven, and covers the earth with plenty, and who reads the thoughts of men's hearts.

"A succession of kings followed Sheba: the last of the dynasty was Scharabel, a tyrant of such dissolute habits that every husband and father feared him. He had a vizir of such singular beauty that the daughters of the Jinns took pleasure in contemplating him, and frequently transformed themselves into gazelles that they might trot alongside of him as he walked, and gaze with admiration on his exquisite beauty. One of these Jinn damsels, Umeira by name, conceived for the vizir a violent passion, and forgetting the great distance which separates the race of the Jinns from that of mortals, she appeared to him one day as he was hunting, and offered him her hand, on condition that he should fly with her into her own land, and that he should never ask her origin. The vizir, dazzled by the marvellous beauty of Umeira, gladly yielded, and she transported him to an island in the midst of the ocean, where she married him. At the end of nine months she gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Balkis. The vizir, all this while, was ignorant of the nature of his bride, and one day forgot himself so far as to ask her to what race she belonged. No sooner had he asked the fatal question, than, with a wail of sorrow, she vanished for ever from his sight.

"The vizir now left the island, and, regaining his native country, retired with his babe to a valley far from the capital, and there lived in seclusion.

"As Balkis grew up, her beauty became more striking, and was of such a superhuman nature, that her father became uneasy lest the fame of it should reach the dissolute monster then seated on the throne of Sheba, and lest his daughter should be ravished from his arms. He therefore redoubled his precautions to guard Balkis, keeping her much at home, and only allowing her to appear veiled in public. But these precautions were vain. Scharabel was in the habit of travelling about his empire in disguise, and making himself, by this means, personally acquainted with the condition of his estates.

"On one of these expeditions he appeared, dressed in rags, as a mendicant, at the door of the ex-vizir, and obtained a glimpse of Balkis, then thirteen years old, lovely as a houri; she stepped out to give the beggar alms. At the same moment, the father hurried out towards his daughter. The eyes of the two men met; a mutual recognition ensued. The vizir fell at the feet of his king, and entreated pardon, telling him all that had happened and Scharabel, who had fallen in love at first glance with Balkis, readily pardoned him, restored him to his place as grand vizir, and lodged him in a magnificent palace near Sheba.

"Installed there, the vizir was full of disquiet. His daughter observing this, inquired the cause, and received from her father the answer that he dreaded lest the tyrant should carry her off to his harem; and,' said the unhappy man, 'I had rather see thee dead, Balkis, than in the power of this licentious monster.'

"'Do not fear for me, my father,' replied Balkis; 'what thou dreadest shall not take place. Appear cheerful before the king. If he wishes to marry me, then ask him to give me a splendid wedding.'

"A few days after, Scharabel sent to ask the hand of Balkis. The virgin replied that it should be his if he would solemnize the marriage with great pomp. To this the king agreed, and a magnificent banquet was prepared.

"After dinner, the vizir and all the company retired, leaving Balkis alone with the king. There were, however, four female slaves present, one singing, another harping, a third dancing, and a fourth pouring out wine for the king. Balkis took the goblet, and plied her royal bridegroom well, till he fell drunk upon the floor, and then, with a dagger, she stabbed him to the heart.

"She at once communicated with her father, and bade him send orders throughout the town that all the citizens were to bring their daughters before the king, that he might add the comely ones to his already extensive list of wives and concubines. He obeyed her, and the commotion in the town was prodigious. Parents gathered their friends, those who were officers in the army agitated amongst their soldiers, and the whole town rose up in revolt, and rushed furiously to the palace, determined on the death of the tyrant.

"Then Balkis cut off the head of the king, and showed it to the excited multitude from a window. A cry of joy rang through Sheba. The palace gates were thrown open, and Balkis was unanimously elected queen in the room of the murdered tyrant.

"From that hour she has governed Sheba with prudence, and has made the country prosperous. She sits to hear suits, and gives judgment on a throne of gold, robed in splendour. All prospers under her wise administration: but, alas! like her predecessors, she too is a worshipper of the sun."

When Solomon heard the story of the peewit, he wrote a letter and sealed it with his ring, gave it to the bird, and bade him carry it immediately to the Queen of Sheba.

The peewit flew like an arrow, and on the morrow appeared before Balkis, and gave her the missive. The queen broke the seal and read: "Solomon, son of David, and servant of the Most High God, to Balkis, queen of Sheba, sendeth greeting. In the name of the merciful and gracious God, peace be to those who walk in His ways. Do what I bid thee: submit immediately to my sceptre."[13]

The queen, startled at the abrupt and peremptory command, read the letter to her council, and asked their advice.

They urged her to follow her own devices, and promised to agree to whatever she thought fit. She then said: "You know what disasters follow on war. The letter of Solomon is threatening; I will send him a messenger, and propitiate him with gifts. If he accepts them, he is not above other kings; if he rejects them, he is a prophet, and we must yield to his sway."

She then dressed five hundred boys as girls, and five hundred girls she equipped in boys' clothes. She collected, for presents, a thousand carpets of gold and silver tissue, a crown adorned with pearls and diamonds, and a great quantity of perfumes.

She also placed a pearl, a diamond cut through in zigzags, and a crystal goblet, in a box, and gave it to her chief ambassador.

Finally, she wrote a letter to Solomon, telling him that, if he was a prophet, he would be able to distinguish boys from girls in the train of the ambassadors, that he would be able to guess the contents of the box, pierce the pearl, thread the diamond, and fill the goblet with water which came neither from earth nor heaven. The chief nobles of Sheba were sent to bear the letter. Before they left, she said to them: "If Solomon receives you with arrogance, fear nothing; pride is a sure token of weakness. If he receives you graciously, be careful—he is a prophet." The peewit, who had watched all these proceedings, and listened to the message and advice, now flew to Solomon and told him all.

The great king immediately ordered his Jinns to spread his carpet seven leagues long, leading from his throne towards Sheba. He then surrounded himself with gold and gems, and gathered all his courtiers and officers together, and prepared for the audience.

When the ambassadors of Sheba set their feet on the carpet—the end of which was beyond the range of vision—they were full of astonishment. This astonishment increased, and became terror, when they passed between ranks of demons, and Jinns, and nobles, and princes, and soldiers, extending for many miles.

When the leaders of the embassy reached the foot of the throne, Solomon received them with a gracious smile. Then they presented the letter of the queen. Solomon, without opening it, told them its contents, for it had been read by the peewit. They offered the box, and he said that in it were a pearl, a diamond, and a goblet. He next ordered his servants to bring silver ewers before the train of the ambassadors, that they might wash their hands after their journey. Solomon watched intently, and he picked out the boys from the girls at once; for the boys dipped their hands only in the water, whilst the girls tucked up their sleeves to their shoulders and washed arms as well as hands.

Then the box was opened and the pearl produced. Solomon unclasped his pouch and drew forth Schamir, applied it to the pearl, and a hole was drilled through it immediately. Next he took the diamond. The hole pierced in it wound about, and a thread inserted in one end would not pass through to the other end. Solomon took a piece of silk, called to him a worm, put one end of the thread in its mouth and inserted it in the diamond. The worm crawled down the winding passage, and appeared at the other opening with the silk. In gratitude to the little creature, Solomon gave it for its food for ever the mulberry-tree. Then he took the crystal goblet. He summoned to him a huge negro slave, bade him mount a wild horse and gallop it about the plain till it streamed with sweat. Then, with ease, the monarch filled the chalice with water that came neither from earth nor heaven.

Solomon, having accomplished these tasks, said to the ambassadors: "Take back your presents, I do not want them. Tell the queen what you have seen, and bid her submit to my rule."

When Balkis had heard the report of her servants, she saw that it was in vain for her to resist.

"Solomon," said she, "is a great prophet, and I must myself do him homage."

She accordingly hasted to prepare for her journey, and marched to King Solomon at the head of her twelve thousand generals, and all the armies they commanded. When she was a league from Solomon, the king hit upon a scheme. He called to him a demon, and bade him transport immediately from Sheba the throne of the queen and set it beside his own. The Jinn replied that he would bring it before noon, but the king could not wait, for the queen would soon be there; then Asaph, his vizir, said, "Raise thine eyes, sire, to heaven, and before thou canst lower them the throne of Balkis will be here."

Asaph knew the ineffable name of God, and therefore was able to do what he said.

Solomon looked up, and before he looked down Asaph had brought the throne.

As soon as Balkis appeared, Solomon asked her if she recognized the seat. She replied, "It is mine, if it is that which it was." A reply which, we are told, charmed Solomon.

Now the Jinns were envious of Balkis, and they sought to turn away the heart of Solomon from her; so they told him that she had hairy legs.[14]

Solomon, accordingly, was particularly curious to inspect her legs. He therefore directed the Jinns to lay down in front of the throne a pavement of crystal one hundred cubits square. Upon this pavement he ordered them to pour water, so that it might appear to be water.

In order to approach Solomon, Queen Balkis raised her petticoats, lest they should be wet in passing through what she supposed to be water of considerable depth. The first step, however, convinced her that the bottom was nearer the surface than she anticipated, and so she dropped her petticoats, but not before the great king had seen that the Jinns had maligned her, and that the only blemish to her legs was three goat's hairs; and these he was enabled to remove by a composition of arsenic and lime, which was the first depilatory preparation ever employed. This was one of the five arts introduced by Solomon into the world. The others were, the art of taking warm baths, the art of piercing pearls, the art of diving, and the art of melting copper.

The queen stepped gracefully towards the king, and bowing, offered him two wreaths of flowers, whereof one was natural, the other artificial, asking him which he preferred. The sagacious Solomon seemed perplexed; he who had written treatises on the herbs, "from the cedar to the hyssop," was nearly outwitted. A swarm of bees was fluttering outside a window. Solomon ordered the window to be opened, and the insects flew in, and settled immediately on the wreath of natural flowers, not one approaching the artificial wreath.

"I will have the wreath the bees have chosen," said the king, triumphantly.

Solomon took Balkis to be his wife, and she worshipped the true God. She gave him all her realm, but he returned it to her; and when she went into her own land, she bore with her the fruit of her union with Solomon, and in the course of time bore a son, who is the ancestor of the kings of Abyssinia.[15]


On one of his journeys, Solomon passed through a valley which was inhabited by apes which dressed themselves like men, and lived in houses, and ate their food in a way wholly superior to other apes.

Solomon descended from his carpet and marched at the head of his soldiers into the valley. The apes assembled to resist him, but one of their elders stepped into the midst of them and said, "Let us rather submit and lay down our arms, for he who comes against us is a holy prophet."

Then three apes were chosen ambassadors, and were sent to Solomon with overtures of peace.

Solomon asked them to what race they belonged. The envoys replied, "We are of human origin, and of the race of Israel, and we are descended from those who, in spite of all warnings, have violated the Sabbath, and who have therefore, in punishment, been transformed by God into monkeys."

Solomon had compassion on the apes, and he gave them a letter on parchment, assuring to them undisturbed possession of their valley against all assault by men.

And in after days, in the time of the Calif Omar, some of his troops invaded this valley, and, with great amazement, beheld the apes stone a female which had been taken in adultery. And when they would conquer the valley, an aged ape came before them bearing a parchment letter. This they were unable to read; so they sent it to the Calif Omar, who was also unable to decipher the writing; but a Jew at his court read it, and it was an assurance given to the apes against invasion by King Solomon.

Therefore Omar sent orders that they were to be left unmolested, and returned to them their parchment.[16]


The throne of Solomon had four feet. It was of red ruby, and of the ruby were made four lions. None but Solomon could sit upon the throne. When Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and sought to ascend the throne, the lions rose and struck at him, and broke his legs. He was given remedies, and his legs were reset. No one after that ventured to sit on the throne.[17]

Djarada was the daughter of King Nubara, of an island in the Indian Sea, according to the Arabs; of King Pharaoh of Egypt, say the Jews.

Solomon marched against the king, on his carpet, with as many soldiers as it would accommodate; defeated him, and slew him with his own hand. In the palace of King Nubara Solomon found the Princess Djarada, who was more beautiful than all the ladies in Solomon's harem, surpassing even the beautiful Balkis.

Solomon made her mount the carpet, and he forced her, by threats of death, to share his faith and his couch. But Djarada saw in Solomon only the murderer of her father, and she recoiled from his embrace with loathing, and spent her nights and days in tears and sighs. Solomon hoped that time would heal these wounds and reconcile her to her fate; but as, after the expiration of a year, her sorrow showed no signs of abating, he asked her what he could do which might give her comfort. She replied that at home was a statue of her father, and that she desired greatly to have it in her chamber as a reminder of him whom she had lost. Solomon, moved with compassion, sent a Jinn for the statue, and it was set up in the apartment of Djarada. Djarada immediately prostrated herself before it, and offered incense and worship to the image; and this continued for forty days.

Then Asaph heard of it, and he ascended the pulpit in the temple and preached before the king and all the people. He declared how holy and pure had been the ancient prophets from Adam to David, how they had been preserved clean from all idolatry. Then he turned to Solomon, and praised his wisdom and piety during the first years of his reign; but he regretted that his latter conduct had not been as full of integrity as at first.

When Solomon heard this, he called Asaph to him, and asked him wherefore he had rebuked him thus before all the people. Asaph answered, "Thou hast suffered thy passions to blind thee, so that idolatry is practised in thy palace."

Solomon hastened to the room of Djarada, and found her in prayer before the image of her departed father. Then he cried out, "We are the servants of God, and to Him shall we return." Then he broke the image and punished Djarada.

After that he put on him garments which had been woven and sewn by virgins, strewed ashes on his head, and went into the wilderness to bewail his sin. God forgave him, after that he had fasted and wept for forty days.[18]

Another sin that Solomon committed was this. He was very fond of horses. One day, when the hour of prayer approached, the horses of Saul were brought before him; and when nine hundred had passed, Solomon looked up and saw that the hour of prayer was passed, and he had forgotten to give glory to God. Then said Solomon, "I have cared for the things of this world, instead of thinking of my Lord;" and he said, "Bring back the horses;" and when they were brought back, he cut their throats.[19]

Some commentators on the Koran object that this was an act of injustice, for Solomon had sinned, not the horses; and they explain away the passage by saying that he dedicated the horses to God, and that he did not kill them.[20]


One day that Solomon retired to perform the necessary functions of nature, he placed his ring in the hand of Djarada; for on such occasions he was wont to remove the ring from his finger. For the first time he forgot the advice of the queen of the ants, and gave no praise to God as he committed the signet to other hands.

Sachr, the mighty Jinn,[21] took advantage of this act of forgetfulness, and, assuming the form of Solomon, came to the Egyptian princess and asked her for the ring. She, nothing doubting, restored it to him and Sachr went to the hall of audience, and ascended the throne.

When Solomon returned, he asked Djarada for the signet.

"I have already given it thee," said she; and then, contemplating him with attention, she exclaimed, "This is not the king! Solomon is in the judgment-hall; thou art an impostor, an evil spirit who has assumed his shape for evil purposes."

Then Solomon was driven, at her cry, from the palace, and every one treated him as a fool or rogue. He begged from door to door, saying, "I, Solomon, was king in Jerusalem!" but the people mocked him. For three years he was an outcast, because he had transgressed three precepts of the Law—"The king set over thee . . . shall not multiply horses to himself . . . neither shall he multiply wives to himself; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold."[22] And this is what befell him in that time. He went into the land of the Ammonites, and there he fell into great want; but the master cook of the king's house took him to serve as scullion in the kitchen. After he had served for some time, he one day cooked some meats for the king; and when the king tasted the meats Solomon had baked, he was well pleased, and sent for Solomon and asked him if he would be his head cook.

Then Solomon consented, and the king of the Ammonites dismissed the master cook, and placed Solomon in his room, and Solomon excelled greatly in cooking, and pleased the king more and more with the variety and excellence of his dishes every day.

Now it fell out that Naama, daughter of the king, saw Solomon from day to day, and she conceived an ardent passion for him, and she went to her mother and said, "I shall die of love, unless I am given the head cook to husband."

The queen was astonished and ashamed, and said, "There are kings and princes and nobles in Ammon; take to you which you will." But Naama answered, "I will have none save the head cook."

Then the queen went and told the king, and he was exceeding wrath, and would have slain both Solomon and Naama; but when the first fury of his anger was cooled down, he bade one of his servants take them, both Solomon and Naama, and conduct them into the desert, and there leave them to perish.[23] The command of the king was executed, and Solomon and Naama were left in the wilderness without food. Then they wandered on till they came to the borders of the sea, and Solomon found some fishers, and he laboured for them, and every day they gave him, in payment for his services, two fish.

Thus passed the time, till one day Solomon's wife, Naama, on cleaning one of the fishes, found in its belly a ring, and she brought it to her husband; and, behold! it was his signet which he had put in the hands of Djarada, and which had been taken from her by subtlety by the evil spirit. And this was how he recovered it: on the ring was engraved the Incommunicable Name, and this the Jinn could not endure; therefore he could not wear the signet, and he had cast it into the sea, where the fish had swallowed it.

Now when Solomon recovered his ring, he was filled with joy, and the light returned to his eyes; he went back to Jerusalem with great haste, and all the people recognized him, and bowed before him; and when the Evil Spirit saw Solomon, and that he had the signet upon his hand, he uttered a loud cry and fled. Solomon refused to see again Djarada, the author of his misfortune; but he visited Queen Balkis every month, till the day of her death.[24]

When Balkis died, he had her body conveyed to Tadmor in the desert, the city she had built; but her grave was known to none till the reign of the Calif Walid, when, in consequence of a heavy rain, the walls of Tadmor fell. Then was found an iron sarcophagus which was sixty ells long and forty ells wide, which bore this inscription:—"Here lies the pious Balkis, queen of Sheba, wife of the prophet Solomon, son of David. She was converted to the true faith in the thirteenth year of the reign of Solomon; she married him in the fourteenth, and died in the three-and-twentieth year of his reign."

The son of the Calif raised the lid of the coffin, and beheld a woman, as fresh as if she had only been lately buried.

He announced the fact to his father, and asked what should be done with the sarcophagus. Walid ordered him to leave it where it had been found, and to pile blocks of marble over it, so that it might not again be disturbed by the hand of man.[25]

Solomon, when he was again on the throne, placed a crown on the head of Naama, and seated her beside him, and sent for the king of Ammon. And when the king came, he was filled with astonishment, and wondered how his daughter had escaped from the desert and had found favour with the greatest of monarchs. Then said Solomon, "See! I was thy head-cook, and this is thy daughter; bid her come to thee and kiss thee." Then the king of Ammon kissed his daughter, and returned, glad of heart, to his own land.[26]


When Solomon had recovered his throne, he reigned twenty years. His whole reign was forty years, and he lived in all fifty-five years.[27] He spent these years in prosecuting the building of the temple. Towards the end of his life he often visited the temple, and remained there one or two months plunged in prayer, without leaving it. He took his nourishments in the temple. He even remained a year thus; and when he was standing, with bowed head, in a humble attitude before God, no one ventured to approach him, man or Jinn; if a Jinn drew near, fire fell from heaven and consumed him.

In the garden of Solomon grew every day an unknown tree. Solomon asked it, "What is thy name, and what are thy virtues?" And the tree answered him, "I am called such and such, and I serve such a purpose, either by my fruits, or by my shadow, or by my fragrance."

Then Solomon transplanted it elsewhere; and if it were a tree with medicinal properties, he wrote in books the kinds of remedies for which it served. One day Solomon saw in his garden a new tree, and he asked it, "What is thy name, and what purpose dost thou serve?"

The tree replied, "I serve for the destruction of the temple. Make of me a staff, whereon to lean."

Solomon said, "None can destroy the temple as long as I am alive." Then he understood that the tree warned him that he must shortly die. He pulled up the tree, and of it he made a staff, and, when he prayed, he leaned on this staff to keep himself upright.

Solomon knew that the temple was not completed, and that if he died, and the Jinns knew of it, they would leave off building; therefore he prayed, "O Lord! grant that the event of my death may be hidden from the Jinns, that they may finish this temple."

God heard his prayer, that the temple might be completed, and that the Jinns might be humbled. Solomon died in the temple, standing, leaning on his staff, with his head bowed in adoration. And his soul was taken so gently from him by the Angel of Death, that the body remained standing; and so it remained for a whole year, and those who saw him thought he was absorbed in prayer, and they ventured not to approach.

The Jinns worked night and day till the temple was finished. Now, God had ordered, the same day that the soul left Solomon, a little white ant, which devours wood, to come up out of the earth under the staff, and to gnaw the inside of the staff. She ate a little every day; and as the staff was very strong and stout, she had not finished it till the end of the year. Then, when the temple was finished, at the same time the staff was eaten up, and it crumbled under the weight of Solomon, and the body fell. Thus the Jinns knew that Solomon was dead. Now, wherever the white ant eats wood, the void is filled up with clay and water by the Jinns; and this they will continue to do till the day of the Resurrection, in gratitude to the little ant which announced to them the death of him who held them in bondage. If the clay and the water are not inserted by the Jinns, whence can they come?

The sages assembled and enclosed an ant in a box, with a piece of wood, for a night and a day; then they compared the amount devoured in that time with the length of the staff, and thus they ascertained how long a time Solomon had been dead.[28]

  1. Solomon was twelve years old when he succeeded David. (Abulfeda, p. 43; Bartolocci, iv. p. 371.)
  2. Weil, pp. 225-231; Eisenmenger, p. 440, &c.
  3. Weil, pp. 231-4.
  4. The story of the building of the temple, with the assistance of Schamir, has been already related by me in my "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages."
  5. The Rabbinic story and the Mussulman are precisely the same, with "the difference that Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, instead of the Jinns, lies in ambush and captures Sachr or Aschmedai (Asmodeus). (Eisenmenger, i. 351-8.) As I have given the Jewish version in my "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages," I give the Arab story here.
  6. Weil, pp. 234-7; Talmud, Tract. Gittin. fol. 68, cols. 1, 2.
  7. Jalkut Schimoni, fol. 90, col. 4.
  8. Tabari, i. p. 435.
  9. Tabari, i. p. 436.
  10. Koran, Sura xxvii.; Tabari, i. c. xcviii.; Weil, pp. 237-9.
  11. The Jews also believed in a purgatory; see Bartolocci, i. 342.
  12. Targum Scheni Esther, fol. 401, tells the same of the moorcock.
  13. This is the letter according to Rabbinic authors: "Greeting to thee and to thine; from me, King Solomon. It is known to thee that the holy, ever-blessed God has made me lord and king over the wild beasts and birds of heaven, and over the devils, and spirits, and ghosts of the night, and that all kings, from the rising to the down-setting of the sun, come and greet me. If thou also wilt come and salute me, then will I show thee great honour above all the kings that lie prostrate before me. But if thou wilt not come, and wilt not salute me, then will I send kings, and soldiers, and horsemen against thee. And if thou sayest in thine heart, 'Hath King Solomon kings, and soldiers, and horsemen?' then know that the wild beasts are his kings, and soldiers, and horsemen. And if thou sayest, 'What, then, are his horsemen?' know that the birds of heaven are his horsemen. His army are ghosts, and devils, and spectres of the night; and they shall torment and slay you at night in your beds, and the wild beasts will rend you in the fields, and the birds will tear the flesh off you." This letter, the Jews say, was sent to the Queen of Sheba by a moorcock. (Targum Scheni Esther, fol. 401, 440.)
  14. According to another account, "that she had ass's legs" (Weil, p. 267). Tabari says, "hairy legs" (i. p. 441).
  15. Weil, pp. 246-267; Tabari, i. cc. 94, 95.
  16. Weil, pp. 267-9
  17. Tabari, i. c. xcvi. p. 448.
  18. Weil, pp. 269-271; Tabari, pp. 450, 451.
  19. Koran, Sura xxxviii.
  20. Tabari, pp. 460, 461.
  21. In the Jewish legend, Asmodeus. In "Curiosities of Olden Times" I have pointed out the connection between the story of the disgrace of Solomon and that of Nebuchadnezzar, Jovinian, Robert of Sicily, &c.
  22. Deut. xvii. 16, 17.
  23. Emek Nammelek, fol. 14; Gittin, fol. 68, col. 2; Eisenmenger, i. pp. 358-60. The Anglo-Saxon story of Havelock the Dane bears a strong resemblance to this part of the story of Solomon.
  24. Eisenmenger, i. pp. 358-60; Weil, pp. 271-4; Tabari, c. 96.
  25. Weil, p. 274.
  26. Eisenmenger, i. 361.
  27. Tabari, p. 454.
  28. Koran, Sura xxxiv.; Tabari, c. 97; Weil, p. 279.