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Archaeological study suggests evidence of link between the kingdoms of Israel and Sheba

New study offers alternate interpretation of disputed finding

Pottery shard dating back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (Photo: Dr. Daniel Vainstub)

A new study published in the Hebrew University’s Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology suggests evidence of a link between the kingdoms of Israel and Sheba in Jerusalem under King Solomon. 

The study suggests that a clay jar, or pithos, found during excavations by Eilat Mazar in the Ophel, south of the southern Temple Mount wall, points to active trade between the biblical kingdoms of Sheba and Israel during the reign of King Solomon. 

The story of the queen of Sheba’s visit to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon is told in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. In the biblical story, the queen was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and the glory of his kingdom. 

In this newly published study, Hebrew University's epigrapher Dr. Daniel Vainstub claims to have reconstructed an ancient South Arabian script used at the time the kingdom of Sheba was active in the southern Arabian Peninsula. The Sabaean language was spoken between the 10th and 6th centuries B.C. in the kingdom of Sheba and the surrounding areas within the Arabian Peninsula. 

Vainstub claims that the inscription discovered on the rim of the pithos jar is an example of the Ancient South Arabian script used to write the Sabaean language used at the time of Solomon. 

The late Eilat Mazar dated the pithos to the 10th century B.C. Since its discovery, several scholars have suggested different interpretations of the inscription, and even different languages for the script. 

Vainstub is the latest scholar to propose an interpretation. While most of the previous scholars propose the text was Canaanite or early Hebrew, he suggests that the jar was engraved in Sabaean and was connected to that region’s incense trade, which was well-known in the ancient world and even mentioned by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. 

“Deciphering the inscription on the urn teaches us not only about the presence of speakers of the language of Sheba in Israel during Solomon’s time, but also about the geopolitical relationship in our region. Mainly in light of the place where the urn was discovered, an area known for being the center of King Solomon’s administrative activity and Jerusalem,” noted Vainstub. 

The Bible describes Solomon’s extensive trade connections, which we now have further evidence to support, according to Vainstub. 

“This is further evidence of the extensive commercial and cultural ties that existed between Israel under King Solomon and the kingdom of Sheba,” Vainstub said. 

Vainstub proposed that one possible interpretation is the name of a type of incense believed to be part of the blend used in Temple worship, “ladananum.” Vainstub’s interpretation, if correct, would point to a clear connection between Jerusalem and Sheba. 

The Ophel, in its proximity to the Temple, was also part of the administrative area of Solomon’s kingdom. 

According to the Bible, trade routes ran from different parts of the Arabian Peninsula to Israel and through the Negev. Today, since the 2020 Abraham Accords and with recently signed trade agreements between Israel and the UAE, there are trade routes once again running from the Arabian Peninsula to Israel. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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