In an earlier post I told about our studies in the account of King Solomon, and I gave a brief account on the Biblical and the Quranic accounts. Since then we also read a midrash and al-Tabari’s account, and here something interesting is happening.
As was shown in the last post, the Quranic account has some extra information, which is not found in the Biblical account, e.g., the Hoopoe, the request for the Queen to come to his court. I have to admit here that I credited this to some extra creativity from Muslim side, but then I was presented with a midrash, which corrected me. The midrash is more or less giving the same account as the Quranic account, namely telling about King Solomon. I will be quoting from Gintzberg’s “The Legends of the Jews.”
At first we are introduced to King Solomon:
“Solomon, it must be remembered, bore rule not only over men, but also over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, demons, spirits, and the spectres of the night. He knew the language of all of them and they understood his language.”
This is an interesting introduction, especially seen in light of what the Qur’an says about him:
“And We verily gave knowledge unto David and Solomon, and they said: Praise be to Allah, Who hath preferred us above many of His believing slaves! And Solomon was David’s heir. And he said: O mankind! Lo! we have been taught the language of birds, and have been given (abundance) of all things. This surely is evident favour. And there were gathered together unto Solomon his armies of the jinn and humankind, and of the birds, and they were set in battle order;” (27:15-17)
So Muhammad didn’t “make” something up, indeed it was already told in a Jewish legend, that King Solomon did speak the language of the birds, and that he ruled not only men, but also bird and jinns (or as it is in the Jewish version; demons, spirits, and spectres).
Also the relation between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (called Bilqîs by al-Tabari, I’ll return to him later) has similarities. As we (hopefully) remember, the Biblical account tells that the Queen hears about King Solomon and decides to come and test if the rumors indeed are true, whereas it is – more or less – the opposite in the Qur’an, where King Solomon hears about the Queen, and sends for her. So is it also in the midrash at hand, where Solomon, after a good evening with his court (it seems), sends for the Hoopoe, who apparently have gone missing:
“When Solomon was of good cheer by reason of wine, he summoned the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the creeping reptiles, the shades, the spectres, and the ghosts, to perform their dances before the kings, his neighbors, who were invited to witness his power and greatness.The king’s scribes called the animals and the spirits by name, one by one, and they all assembled of their own accord, without fetters or bonds, with no human hand to guide them. On one occasion the hoopoe was missed from among the birds. He could not be found anywhere. The king, full of wrath, ordered him to be produced and chastised for his tardiness.”
In the Quranic account his demand of the Hoopoe didn’t come after a banquet and good wine – which would have seemed weird probably – but after an encounter with the ants in their valley. Also here the Hoopoe is missing, and King Solomon gets rather upset.
But fortunately – for the Hoopoe – it has an excuse, namely that it has been flying around a little, just to check out things for King Solomon, and he – more or less – stumbled on this weird country, ruled by a woman, worshipping the sun.
And also similarly, in both accounts, the midrashic and the Quranic, King Solomon sends for the Queen – or threatening her to come, some would say – whereupon she sends gifts, and then show up herself on a later stage.
On one major thing do they differ though. In the Qur’an it is King Solomon who tests the Queen, whereas in the midrash it is – as in the Bible – the Queen who tests him.
As a last note it could be interesting – also for my coming post on Abu Jarir al-Tabari’s version – to note that there is one more similarity, namely, what in the Qur’an is one of King Solomon’s tests – that both accounts tell of his pavilion, made with a crystal floor, which she takes for being water, where – when she steps on it – she lifts up her skirt (or dress), revealing part of her legs, something not so acceptable. But the coming part in both accounts is interesting. In the Qur’an, where it is presented as a test, she admits her faults and submits to G-D upon realizing that it is not water. But in the midrash it is revealed that she has hairy legs, something King Solomon can’t keep himself from commenting:
“On her bared feet the king noticed hair, and he said to her: ‘Thy beauty is the beauty of a woman, but thy hair is masculine; hair is an ornament to a man, but it disfigures a woman.'”
And with these words I’ll say thank you for your time for this time. I’ll be returning to this subject with some thoughts on the Muslim historian, Abu Jarir al-Tabari’s, version of the meeting.