Today I had the first class on my program (except for the Hebrew classes, but that’s not part of the actual program), “King Solomon’s Hoopoe” (not Hobo, it’s a bird).
The program itself is concerned with comparative studies of medieval traditions of entertainment in Islam and Judaism, and the first focus was, as the title reveals, on King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Basically we focused on the message of and differences in the Biblical and Quranic text, that give the account of the two and their meeting. And it is actually an interesting study, because you do learn something about the motive behind the texts.
The story in the two versions goes (in short):
The Queen hears of Solomon, who apparently should be both wise and rich. She decides to test him, and goes of with a big caravan, full of men and valuables (just to show off). She gets to Jerusalem, meets the king, and begin to ask him questions. He answers all these questions in a more than satisfactory way, and she understands that not only is wise, even more than she was told, but also an incredible rich, influential, and righteous king. She then praises him and G-D of Israel, who gave Israel him as king, to show His love for His people Israel.
King Solomon (and King David), is blessed by G-D. He has received the language of the birds, but can even understand the language of the ants, who fear that he and his army, which doesn’t only consists of men, but also Jinns and birds, will crush them, when they (the army) go through the Valley of the Ant. Not so, Solomon promises not to do such a thing, and then focuses on the birds, of which everyone is found, except the Hoopoe, who – apparently – has been in Sheeba, and seen things that Solomon doesn’t comprehend. Apparently there is a people, ruled by a woman, who worships the sun and not G-D. Hearing this, Solomon decides to test her, sending her a message to come and submit herself to him (and not attempting to raise against him). Upon receiving the message, she turns to her council, which refuses to take a decision, but tells that they will follow her decision. She then sends a gift, which doesn’t satisfies Solomon, who in return sends a gift back, and tells her to come or be invaded. She comes, but while she is away, Solomon sends a Djinn to take her throne, in order to test her wisdom. He and his court dresses it up, so it isn’t totally recognizable. On arriving, they ask her about it, and she confirms that it surely does look like her throne, but still wanting to test her, Solomon brings her to his pavilion of crystal, which she takes for water, and then lifts up in her dress, in order not to wetting it. On realizing that she was wrong, she then submits to Solomon and G-D.
The interesting part her are twofold. 1: The differences in who hears about who and who tests who, as well as the scope of the “mission.”
In the Biblical account the Queen hears about Solomon and decides to come and test him, whereas in the Quranic account, it is Solomon who hears about her, and demands her arrival in order to test her.
The focus of the accounts is also different. In the Bible G-D is G-D of Israel, and it isn’t totally clear whether she accepts Him as her G-D, whereas in the Qur’ân it is the G-D of all creation, to whom she submits in the end. The Bible focuses on Israel’s special status among the nations and strengthen that understanding, whereas the Qur’ân focuses on making people accept G-D as their G-D.
Pretty interesting, but not surprising. And all this after just one class. I’m certainly looking forward to the coming lessons.