What do we know about the queens in the Bible?

(Photo: Unsplash/Nathan Mcgregor)

In the Bible, it was not just men who ruled as kings, but also some women reigned as queens in their own right. This is their story...

Types of queens in the Old Testament

In the Bible there are five different types of queens. In English we have one word for 'queen' to cover the roles of what are sometimes words in Hebrew. The Hebrew word for a reigning queen was "malkah", being the female form of "mlek" for king, which is used to describe the Queen of Sheba. A "shegal" was a queen consort, and a "gebirah" was a queen mother.

In the Old Testament there are examples of some queens regnant who ruled in their own right as monarch, or female king. Most of the queens were queen consorts, who were married to the king. Some kings had more than one wife, but they would not all be called queen. Queen mothers were the mother of the reigning king, who was usually the previous queen consort.

A queen consort might become a dowager queen when she was widowed, and retain the title of queen when a new king came, which may or not may be her son. Queen mothers might be queen regents who were the actual ruler, ruling on behalf of their young son, or occasionally grandson, who was the official king in name only, but not old enough to reign. Some of these roles overlapped and a dowager queen might be a queen mother and a queen regent.

Queen consorts

Queen consorts were women married to the king, or Emperor or Pharaoh. Bathsheba was married to King David (2 Samuel 11 and 12; 1 Kings 1 and 2) and was the mother of King Solomon. Some kings had many wives in a harem, and these women were not all considered as queens, such as King Solomon's harem in 1 Kings 11:3. There are some well-known queen consorts in the Bible such as Queen Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab of Israel, who was notorious for introducing pagan worship (1 Kings 16 – 2 Kings 9).


The most famous queen consort in the Bible is Queen Esther, who was married to the Emperor of Persia, who replaced Queen Vashti in his affections. The biblical book of Esther tells her story, which is recalled each year in the Jewish festival of Purim.

Queen mothers in in the Bible

Many queen mothers are specifically named in the Old Testament. In the books of 1 Kings, 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, when the text introduces a new king of Judah, it nearly always mentions the name of the king's mother, who was the queen mother. Often, she was the most powerful woman in the court. The queen mother would sometimes intercede on behalf of others. In 1 Kings 2: 13-21 we read of Adonijah who went to the queen mother, Queen Bathsheba, to intercede with King Solomon for his request.

The role of queen mother could be removed. In 1 Kings 15:9-13 we read that king Jeroboam of Israel removed Maacah from being queen mother because she made an idol to Asherah. In Proverbs we read about King Lemuel's mother, who was probably a queen mother. Her name is not recorded, although she gives her son excellent advice and wisdom in his leadership role in Proverbs 31:1-9.

Queen regents

When kings were very young, the queen mother was often the actual ruler, ruling as regent in the name of her son, until he was old enough to rule. In 2 Kings 21:1 it says that Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king, and his mother was Hephzibah. In 2 Kings 22:1 we read that King Josiah was 8 years old when he became king and his mother was Jedidah. In 2 Chronicles 24:1 we read that King Jehoash (also called Joash) of Judah was 7 years old when he became king, and his mother was Zibiah.

The queen regent was not always the mother, but sometimes the grandmother. In 1 Kings 15:9-15 we read of the queen regent, Queen Maacah who was actually King Asa of Judah's grandmother.

Queens regnant

As well as queen consorts and queen mothers, the Bible records a number of queens regnant who ruled in their own right. These are the Queen of Sheba and Queen Athaliah of Judah.

Queen of Sheba

The Queen of Sheba is the first ruling queen mentioned in the Bible. The story of her visiting King Solomon of Israel can be read in 1 Kings 10:1-13 and 2 Chronicles 9:1-12. She is unnamed but the narrative indicates that she was ruler in her own right.

In the New Testament in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31, she is called the Queen of the South, which most scholars believe was southern Arabia, around modern-day Yemen and maybe across the Red Sea into modern-day Ethiopia. As often happens the lack of detailed information in the Bible is filled in by tradition. The Queen of Sheba plays a prominent role in the Ethiopian "Kebra Nagast" ancient narratives. According to this tradition, the Queen of Sheba was called Makeda, and she had a son by King Solomon who became King Menilek I, founder of the royal house of Ethiopia.

Queen Athaliah

People sometimes think that Judah and Israel only had kings, but this is not quite true. The Old Testament describes one queen regnant of Judah. Queen Athaliah ruled Judah in her own right for six years. Her story is recorded in 2 Kings 8:16-11:16 and 2 Chronicles 22:10 to 23:1. It used to be much better known, and she was made famous by an oratorio called "Athalia", which was written by Handel in 1733.

Queen Alexandra

Queen Athaliah was not the last queen regnant of Judea, but the last one is not mentioned in the Bible, but is worth mentioning. Queen Alexandra was from the Hasmonean dynasty. She is described by Josephus and is mentioned in the Talmud and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. She supported the Pharisees over the Sadducees. She was a ruler of Judea and died four years before the Roman conquest, and a few decades before the birth of Jesus.

Queen Candace

In Acts 8:27-39, we read the story of Philip the Evangelist who met the treasurer to the court of Queen Candace. Candace in fact was a title, like Pharaoh or Caesar, rather than the name of a specific person, and referred to a queen. The Candaces were a line of queens who ruled in Cush, which is in modern-day Sudan, in an area then known as Ethiopia in Greek. It is not clear which category of queen she was, but may have been a queen mother.

The Books of Kings

The Bible does not have any specific law that only men can reign or be rulers. Before the monarchy, Israel was ruled by the Judges and one of the most famous of these was Deborah. In the Septuagint translation of the Bible, from which our name of the books of Kings comes, the name of the books can better be translated as "Reigns". By calling them the book of Kings, we can be misled into forgetting that these books also tell the stories of queens.


Some queens were good, and some are portrayed as bad. Others are just mentioned by name, and some are not named at all. The Queen of Sheba who comes across as a good queen is never named. The only ruling queen of Judah was Queen Athaliah who is not a good queen. Some people have argued that because she was not a good queen, that is a reason why women should not be rulers, but considering that there are more examples of bad kings, by that logic men should not be rulers either.

The monarch was usually a man but sometimes a woman, and the monarch had ultimate authority. However, it seems that the queen mother came second in authority, and if she was the regent, she held the actual authority until her son was old enough. There is nothing in the Bible which says that women could not take the role of king, and it seems that many did.

Republished from Chrisitan Today UK.