THE QUEEN OF SHEBA VISITING KING SOLOMON
This large and stunning silk embroidered picture inspired from a Joseph H. Seymour engraving (an American active
1791-1822) depicts the Queen of Sheba (now the country of Yemen) visiting King Solomon: circa 1000 BCE. Worked
in Philadelphia around 1820 at the Folwell School, executed in a variety of colored silk threads, gold and silver
braids, jewels, sequins, and multicolored beads, this large silk embroidery (29 1/2" x 34 1/2" sight)
is one of the finest most developed examples of schoolgirl needlework known.
It gives us a window through which to look back two hundred years through another window to ponder life twenty
eight hundred years earlier.
According to the Bible, the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon: in Jerusalem to observe the splendor of his new
temple and test his famed wisdom with hard philosophical questions and riddles. During Solomonís reign this
type of quizzing was fashionable entertainment among the elite. Solomon: was known as the great solver of riddles
and it is likely that the Queen of Sheba also shared his passion. Note the casualness with which the Queen rests
her arm on her attendants shoulder while quizzing the king. Below are some riddles that are said to have been used
by the Queen of Sheba while quizzing King Solomon, and the King's responses.
Queen: "What is it? An enclosure with ten doors; when one is open, nine are shut, and when nine are open,
one is shut?"
Solomon: "The enclosure is the womb, and the ten doors are the ten orifices of man, namely his eyes, his ears,
his nostrils, his mouth, the apertures for discharge of excreta and urine, and the navel. When the child is still
in its motherís womb, the navel is open, but all the other apertures are shut, but when the child issues from the
womb the navel is closed and the other orifices are open."
Queen: "What is evil?"
Solomon: "The eyes of the Lord in every place monitor good and evil, and in them is the definition."
Queen: "Are the eyes or the ears superior?"
Solomon: "The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made both. Degrees of deafness and blindness,
these are manís province, and measurable."
Queen: "What is the most powerful organ of the body?
Solomon: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."
Queen: "How are body and spirit connected?"
Solomon: "The baseness of spirits is derived from their bodies. The nobility of bodies is derived from their
Queen: "Seven leave and nine enter; two pour out the draught and only one drinks."
Solomon: "Seven are the days of womanís menstruation, nine the months of her pregnancy; her two breasts nourish
the child, and one drinks."
Other riddles concerned with common objects and materials. At one point, Sheba asked,
Queen: "What when alive does not move, yet when its head cut off, moves?"
Solomon: "The timber used to build a ship."
Queen: "It is many- headed. In a storm at sea it goes above us all, it raises a loud and bitter wailing and
moaning; it bends its head like a reed, is the glory of the rich and the shame of the poor, it honors the dead
and dishonors the living; it is a delight to the birds, but a sorrow to the fishes. What is it?"
Solomon: "Flax, for it makes sails for ships that moan in the storm. It provides fine linen for the rich and
rags for the poor, a burial shroud for the dead, and a rope for hanging the living. As seed it nourishes the birds,
and as a net it traps the fish."
Some of the Queenís questions were related to the Hebrew Bible. For example,
Queen:"The dead lived, the grave moved, and the dead prayed. What is it?"
Solomon: "The dead that lived and prayed was Jonah; the fish, the moving grave."
Queen: "What is the ugliest thing in the world, and what is the most beautiful? What is the most certain,
and what is the most uncertain?"
Solomon: "The ugliest thing...is the faithful turning unfaithful; the most beautiful is the repentant sinner.
The most certain is death; the most uncertain, oneís share in the World to Come."
STEPHEN & CAROL HUBER
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