The story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is one of the more intriguing accounts found within the narrative of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 10). Yet the lack of clear evidence for early trade or political connections between ancient Judah and South Arabia has led many scholars to question the account’s reliability. Now, one scholar believes a small inscription from the Ophel excavations in Jerusalem may provide the missing proof.
Discovered in 2012, the small inscription, which includes just seven letters, has puzzled scholars for years. Although most have assumed the inscription is written in Canaanite, Daniel Vainstub of Ben-Gurion University believes it is written in an ancient South Arabian script known as Sabaic, the language of the ancient kingdom of Saba (biblical Sheba) in the area of modern Yemen.
Dated to the tenth century BCE—the time of the biblical King Solomon—the inscription could provide evidence of trade connections between ancient South Arabia and Jerusalem during this early period. According to Vainstub, the inscription contains three full or partially preserved words: [ ]šy ldn 5. (Vainstub believes the South Arabian letter ḫ was used to designate the number 5.) Intriguingly, the second word, which Vainstub reads as ladanum, is a type of resin possibly to be identified with onycha, one of the ingredients used to create incense burned at the tabernacle (Exodus 30:34).