The story of the Queen of Sheba is an ancient one, dating back to the Old Testament (1 Kgs. 10:1-10 and 2 Chr. 9:1-12). Josephus also makes mention of the Queen of Sheba, as does the Qur'an, which interestingly embellishes the Old Testament account with the episodes of the hoopoe and the Queen of Sheba exposing her legs.
Below is the Quranic account of the story as translated by Hilali & Khan:
He inspected the birds, and said: "What is the matter that I see not the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees?" I will surely punish him with a severe torment, or slaughter him, unless he brings me a clear reason." But the hoopoe stayed not long, he (came up and) said: "I have grasped (the knowledge of a thing) which you have not grasped and I have come to you from Saba (Sheba) with true news." I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given all things that could be possessed by any ruler of the earth, and she has a great throne." I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allah, and Shaitan has made their deeds fair-seeming to them, and has barred them from (Allahs) Way, so they have no guidance," Al-La (this word has two interpretations) (A) (As Shaitan has barred them from Allahs Way) so that they do not worship (prostrate before) Allah, or (B) So that they may worship (prostrate before) Allah, Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you conceal and what you reveal. (Tafsir At-Tabaree, Vol. 19, Page 149)Allah, La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Lord of the Supreme Throne! Sulaiman said: "We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are (one) of the liars." Go you with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them, then draw back from them, and see what (answer) they return." She said: "O chiefs! Verily! Here is delivered to me a noble letter,"Verily! It is from Sulaiman, and verily! It (reads): In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful;" Be you not exalted against me, but come to me as Muslims (true believers who submit to Allah with full submission) "She said: "O chiefs! Advise me in (this) case of mine. I decide no case till you are present with me." They said: "We have great strength, and great ability for war, but it is for you to command; so think over what you will command." She said: "Verily! Kings, when they enter a town (country), they despoil it, and make the most honourable amongst its people low. And thus they do." But verily! I am going to send him a present, and see with what (answer) the messengers return." So when (the messengers with the present) came to Sulaiman, he said: "Will you help me in wealth? What Allah has given me is better than that which He has given you! Nay, you rejoice in your gift!"(Then Sulaiman said to the chief of her messengers who brought the present): "Go back to them. We verily shall come to them with hosts that they cannot resist, and we shall drive them out from there in disgrace, and they will be abased. "He said: "O chiefs! Which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me surrendering themselves in obedience?" An Ifreet (strong) from the jinns said: "I will bring it to you before you rise from your place (council). And verily, I am indeed strong, and trustworthy for such work." One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said: "I will bring it to you within the twinkling of an eye!" then when Sulaiman saw it placed before him, he said: "This is by the Grace of my Lord to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is for (the good of) his ownself, and whoever is ungrateful, (he is ungrateful only for the loss of his ownself). Certainly! My Lord is Rich (Free of all wants), Bountiful." He said: "Disguise her throne for her that we may see whether she will be guided (to recognise her throne), or she will be one of those not guided." So when she came, it was said (to her): "Is your throne like this?" She said: "(It is) as though it were the very same." And (Sulaiman said): "Knowledge was bestowed on us before her, and we were submitted to Allah (in Islam as Muslims before her)."And that which she used to worship besides Allah has prevented her (from Islam), for she was of a disbelieving people. It was said to her: "Enter As-Sarh" ((a glass surface with water underneath it) or a palace), but when she saw it, she thought it was a pool, and she (tucked up her clothes) uncovering her legs, Sulaiman said: "Verily, it is Sarh ((a glass surface with water underneath it) or a palace) paved smooth with slab of glass." She said: "My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, and I submit (in Islam, together with Sulaiman, to Allah, the Lord of the Alameen (mankind, jinns and all that exists)."
This story parallels that which is found in the Second Targum of Esther, or Targum Sheni, and is taken as evidence of the Qur'an’s non-divine source:
“At another time, when the heart of Solomon was gladdened with wine, he gave orders for the beasts of the land, the birds of the air, the creeping things of the earth, the demons from above and the Genii, to be brought, that they might dance around him, in order that all the kings waiting upon him might behold his grandeur. And all the royal scribes summoned by their names before him; in fact, all were there except the captives and prisoners and those in charge of them. Just then the Red-cock, enjoying itself, could not be found; and King Solomon said that they should seize and bring it by force, and indeed he sought to kill it. But just then the cock appeared in presence of the King, and said: O Lord, King of the earth! having applied thine ear, listen to my words. It is hardly three months since I made a firm resolution within me that I would not eat a crumb of bread, nor drink a drop of water until I had seen the whole world, and over it make my flight, saying to myself, I must know the city and the kingdom which is not subject to thee, my Lord King. Then I found the fortified city Qîtôr in the Eastern lands, and around it are stones of gold and silver in the streets plentiful as rubbish, and trees planted from the beginning of the world, and rivers to water it, flowing out of the garden of Eden. Many men are there wearing garlands from the garden close by. They shoot arrows, but cannot use the bow. They are ruled by a woman, called Queen of Sheba. Now if it please my Lord King, thy servant, having bound up my girdle, will set out for the fort Qîtôr in Sheba; and having "bound their Kings with chains and their Nobles with links of iron," will bring them into thy presence. The proposal pleased the King, and the scribes prepared a despatch, which was placed under the bird's wing, and away it flew high up in the sky. It grew strong surrounded by a crowd of birds, and reached the Fort of Sheba. By chance the Queen of Sheba was out in the morning worshipping the sea; and the air being darkened by the multitude of birds, she became so alarmed as to rend her clothes in trouble and distress. Just then the Cock alighted by her, and she seeing the letter under its wing opened and read it as follows: "King Solomon sendeth to thee his salaam, and saith, The high and holy One hath set me over the beasts of the field, etc.; and the kings of the four Quarters send to ask after my welfare. Now if it please thee to come and ask after my welfare, I will set thee high above them all. But if it please thee not, I will send kings and armies against thee; — the beasts of the field are my people, the birds of the air my riders, the demons and genii thine enemies, — to imprison you, to slay and to feed upon you." When the Queen of Sheba heard it, she again rent her garments, and sending for her Nobles asked their advice. They knew not Solomon, but advised her to send vessels by the sea, full of beautiful ornaments and gems, together with 6000 boys and girls in purple garments, who had all been born at the same moment; also to send a letter promising to visit him by the end of the year. It was a journey of seven years but she promised to come in three. When at last she came, Solomon sent a messenger shining in brilliant attire, like the morning dawn, to meet her. As they came together, she stepped from her carriage. "Why dost thou thus?" he asked. "Art thou not Solomon?" she said. "Nay, I am but a servant that standeth in his presence." The queen at once addressed a parable to her followers in compliment to him, and then was led by him to the Court. Solomon hearing she had come, arose and sat down in the Palace of glass. When the Queen of Sheba saw it, she thought that the glass floor was water, and so in crossing over lifted up her garments. When Solomon seeing the hair about her legs, cried out to her: Thy beauty is the beauty of women, but thy hair is as the hair of men; hair is good in man, but in woman it is not becoming. On this she said: My Lord, I have three enigmas to put to thee. If thou canst answer them, I shall know that thou art a wise man: but if not thou art like all around thee. When he had answered all three, she replied, astonished: Blessed be the Lord thy God, who hath placed thee on the throne that thou mightest rule with right and justice. And she gave to Solomon much gold and silver; and he to her whatsoever she desired.”
A counter argument to the idea (raised by the sources referenced above) that Muhammad derived the story from Jewish sources, is produced by Dr Saifullah and the Islamic-Awareness team, which you can find here
The crux of the argument lies with the dating of the Targum of Sheni. It is commonly believed that this targum dates to around the seventh to ninth century, thus making it too late to account for the parallelism with the Qur'an.
According to Saifullah, quoting the Jewish Encyclopedia:
“Targum Sheni (the second [Targum]: date about 800), containing material not germane to the Esther story. This may be characterized as a genuine and exuberant midrash.
In the case of the Targum Sheni, the internal evidence is used to date the final redaction which is put in end of the seventh century or the beginning of the eighth century:”
[Note that the dating is only of the final redaction of the Targum, not of the Midrash enclose therein.]
Saifullah goes on to report, citing Encyclopaedia Judaica:
“The date of the work cannot be determined exactly. The view of S. Gelbhaus that it belongs to the amoraic period, in the fourth century, is disproved by the fact that it contains later material. P. Cassel dates it in the sixth century and explains its mention of Edom to be the rule of Justinian (527-565). However, this view of Edom can also apply to other periods. A basis for dating was also found among the accusations made by Haman: "They come to the synagogue... and curse our king and our ministers." This statement is regarded as an allusion to the suspicion that Jews combine a curse with the prayer said in the synagogue for the welfare of the kingdom. Since this prayer is thought to have been composed in the eighth century it is conjectured that the Targum Sheni postdates that century. L. Munk puts its date still later, in the 11th century, but he gives no proof. It seems that the most acceptable view is that which places its composition at the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century, a view that is strengthened by its relationship to the Pirkei de-R. Eliezer. Regarding its relationship to the Targum Rishon, there are features common to both Targums, but there are also many differences, and there are many aggadot in the Targum Rishon not included in the Targum Sheni. The view of P. Churgin may be accepted that they are two independent compositions.”
Refutation to Muslim Objections
One must remind Dr Saifullah and his supporters that final redaction is not composition. It is merely the date of final compilation and editing of earlier works. Dr Saifullah’s dating of Targum Sheni has been answered by the answering-islam team.
The Targum of Esther is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud and cited in the Tractrate Sopherim (Xlll:6). Thus its existence is in at least Amoraic times. (i.e. 4th Century)
In another place in his introduction Professor Grossfeld states in connection with the origin of the Targum that it: Must have begun before the Christian era.
On the same subject the Jewish Encyclopedia 1925 edition by Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol 12, p 63 states:
In the Masseket Soferim (lc) a quotation from the Targum Sheni to Esther lll is introduced by the words "Tirgem Tab Yosef" (Rabbi Joseph translation)
So the Targum, having been quoted in the Jerusalem Talmud, must have had existence at least before the time the Jerusalem Talmud was finally concluded.
On the subject of the dates of the Jerusalem Talmud the Encyclopedea Judaica 1996 edition, Vol 15, p 772, states:
Jerusalem Talmud was compiled about a century before the Babylonian in 500CE. Its close was entirely due to the situation which prevailed in (Erez) Israel. The activities of the main school, that of Tiberius, came to an end in 421 (CE)
This again supports the claim that the Targum existed in pre-Islamic times and at least early enough for the legend of the Queen of Sheba to have travelled to wherever the Jewish community had dispersed throughout Arabia.”
There is also evidence that the story of the Queen of Sheba’s hairy legs was an ancient Arabian tale:
“Concerning the legend of the queen's hair on her legs, Ginsberg (legends Vol VI p289 n41) links it with an ancient Arabic legend about the story.”
One cannot be too dogmatic about this parallelism, as the dating of Targum Sheni is not beyond doubt. Nevertheless, it is likely that the story of the Queen of Sheba pre-dates the Qur'an as the Targum is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. It is also clear that the post-Quranic dates often ascribed to Targum Sheni are that of the final redaction and not that of the Queen of Sheba myths.