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Solomon was a legendary king of Israel and one of the most important figures in the history of the Israelites. Traditionally he was the third king of the united monarchy of Israel and Judah, following Saul and David, and his reign is traditionally dated as 970 to 931 BCE. He is described in the Bible as enormously rich and powerful, but archaeology and historical studies have failed to find evidence of that.
He is known as the architect of the first Temple in Jerusalem, a huge and richly decorated building that was unfortunately destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE. According to legend, he romanced the Queen of Sheba, a powerful and wealthy African woman. He has become an exemplar of great wisdom as well as great riches, an administrator but also a poet and philosopher. He is credited with writing parts of the Bible including the Song of Solomon. Long after the Biblical account, he became the subject of many other myths and legends and has a role in various esoteric traditions.
He is also known as Jedidiah, and in Islamic tradition as Sulayman.
His reign is described in the Books of Samuel, 2 Chronicles, and 1 Kings. He was the son of King David and his second wife Bathsheba, but although David first romanced Bathsheba adulterously, Solomon was conceived and born after they got married. Despite having six older half-brothers, Solomon was able through courtly intrigue to succeed David as king.
He was a very successful king according to the Bible, making a lot of money through trade, and expanding Israel's military power. With his wealth, he had the first Temple built as a home for the Ark of the Covenant. He also had a huge palace built, works to supply the city of Jerusalem with water, and some sort of defensive structure called the Millo.
He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In addition there is a brief mention in 1 Kings 10 of how the Queen of Sheba visited and received lots of gifts and left happy. This has been expanded by later writers into a complex tale, and there are numerous attempts to figure out where Sheba was, with Ethiopia or somewhere in southern Arabia the traditional candidates.
Solomon died aged 60 of natural causes, and there was a dispute over the succession with his son Rehoboam ruling over the small southern part of the kingdom, Judah, while Jereboam, a superintendent of public works, took over the large northern kingdom of Israel.
The mainstream view of Biblical scholars is that the Bible offers a basically truthful version of the history of the kingdom of Israel, based on oral or written sources from the time, even if it was put into its currently-known form well after Solomon's death. However, there are significant problems with the Biblical account, and even if Solomon was real, the Bible doubtlessly greatly exaggerates his wealth and power.
There are three possible sources for knowledge of Solomon: analysis of the Bible itself, other textual accounts, and archaeology. There is no written evidence for the United Kingdom of David and Solomon outside of the Bible; the Tel Dan Stela mentions David but offers no evidence of what he ruled over, and there is no equivalent for Solomon.
There is a shortage of archaeological evidence for Solomon's mighty city and huge temple, in part because of the sensitivities of digging up Jerusalem, but also probably because there is none to be found. What evidence exists suggests that Jerusalem in Solomon's time was a city of a few hundred people and the kingdom of Israel only a small city state. This makes it impossible for him to receive the tributes that the Bible describes or to build a temple as huge as the one described. Some estimates of Jerusalem's size from pro-Solomon academics are slightly larger, perhaps 10 acres and 1000 people, expanded by Solomon to 2500 people with the addition of the Temple Mount. But this is still far from the hugely wealthy city described in the Bible.
Pro-Solomon archaeologists attempt to connect his fortune with copper mines near the Jordan-Israel border, but others suggest these were operated by the Egyptians or by the Edomites or another tribe, dating is uncertain, and there is no evidence directly connecting them to Solomon.
There is a minority view that Solomon never existed at all: Philip R Davies argues that because the archaeology does not support the Biblical story, it is unlikely that Solomon or David existed.
In contrast, defenders of the Biblical narrative are forced into wild and desperate claims, boasting of "lopping anything up to six centuries off the traditional dates".
Jewish tradition says he wrote three books of the Bible: Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon). He is credited with writing 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. With all this you have to wonder how much time he had for building projects and sex with 1000 women.
Song of Songs is attributed to him based on claims in the text, but linguistic evidence suggests a much later origin. Ecclesiastes is considered by most scholars to be post-Exile due to Persian and Aramaic features, hence no earlier than 450 BCE. The Book of Proverbs was written by many people, with many contradictions, but chapters 1-29 are the part most commonly attributed to Solomon. All attributions to Solomon are based on tradition and claims in the text, rather than anything more scientific, but maybe he said something from Proverbs.
1 Kings 11:4-8 describes how in his old age Solomon rejected the Jewish God and built temples to the various gods of his wives. He is often used as a warning by more recent writers as an example of someone who was enormously wise but threw it all away by rejecting the Judeo-Christian God and pursuing sex with hundreds of women. However, it is also possible that Solomon, as a good ruler, built temples to all the gods of his people, without necessarily favouring any of them.
The first Temple is described in 2 Chronicles 3:3-4 as 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 50 feet high, and covered in gold. The highest part, the porch, was 120 cubits tall, about 207 feet. It was used for sacrifices as part of the Jewish religion, until the invading Babylonians destroyed it around 586 BCE.
Today the Temple is viewed as the centre of Judaism, and the only site of worship; however Michael Zank suggests that it may have been just an ordinary chapel or temple, only later elevated in status to justify the position of Jerusalem as a centre of power; the Book of Chronicles was written in the post-Exilic Jewish kingdom and therefore seeks to legitimise it with reference to the pre-Exilic past.
Judgment of Solomon
Solomon is known to many people as an advocate of cutting babies in half, the so-called Judgment of Solomon, in 1 Kings 3:16-28. When two women argued about who was the mother of a child, he suggested cutting the baby in half and giving part to each woman. When one woman agreed to this, Solomon decided she may not have had the infant's best interests at heart.
This is an ancient folk tale, although it is not clear whether it originated in Israel, or if Indian versions are older.
Several later texts are attributed to him: the Wisdom of Solomon, Odes of Solomon, Psalms of Solomon, and various letters to neighbouring rulers. These were almost certainly written much later.
He has come to be viewed as a great magician, whose ring the Seal of Solomon reportedly allowed him to command demons. Works such as the Lesser Key of Solomon, a spell-book compiled in the 17th century, were given his name despite the lack of any obvious connection. The Song of Songs has an important role in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, probably because it naturally offers itself for allegorical interpretation.
King Solomon's Mines were invented in the 19th century by H. Rider Haggard, a writer of adventure stories, but today many people search for their enormous wealth, and the existence of any sort of mines in the Levant is taken as evidence of Solomon's existence. There is no evidence of a half-baby either.
- King Solomon, Jewish Virtual Library
- Who Is the Queen of Sheba in the Bible?, Megan Sauter, Bible History Daily, 04/13/2017
- The Queen of Sheba, Michael Wood, BBC
- First Person: Did the Kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon Actually Exist?, Hershel Shanks, Bible History Daily, From the September/October 2017 Biblical Archaeology Review
- The City of David and Solomon, Michael Zank, Holy City: Jerusalem in time, space and imagination, Boston University
- See the Wikipedia article on Solomon.
- The Search Continues for King Solomon’s Mines, History channel
- King Solomon-era mines discovered in Israel, The Daily Telegraph, 4 Sep 2013
- David and Solomon, Philip R Davies, bibleodyssey.org
- False History — "Out with David and Solomon!", David Down, Answers in Genesis, 2002
- Song of Songs, bible.org
- See the Wikipedia article on Song of Songs.
- See the Wikipedia article on Ecclesiastes.
- See the Wikipedia article on Book of Proverbs.
- Book of Proverbs Overview, biblestudy.org
- Meet King Solomon: The Wisest Man Who Ever Lived, ThoughtCo
- http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-first-temple-solomon-s-temple, Jewish Virtual Library
- See the Wikipedia article on Judgment of Solomon.
- See the Wikipedia article on Lesser Key of Solomon.
- King Solomon's Temple, Universal Co-Masonry