A KING of many FACETS…..SOLOMON
REVERED FOR HIS LEARNING AND WISDOM, King Solomon is seen as the epitome of a wise and just ruler. But is the biblical account of Solomon misleading? Was the king really an extravagant despot whose rule marked the end of a Jewish golden age?
The tenth of King David's many sons, Solomon came to power after his mother, Bathsheba - David's favourite wife - persuaded the king to keep a vow to grant the succession to Solomon instead of his brother, Adonijah, who had already been anointed in an earlier ceremony.
Solomon's history is recorded in Kings 1-11 and Chronicles 1-9. The name Solomon (Shlomo) means "peaceful" or "complete, from the Hebrew Shelomoh (Arabic Sulaiman).
Queen of Sheba makes a fleeting appearance in biblical history, but she remains a mysterious and exotic figure who has intrigued successive generations of artists and writers. Her legendary appearance at the court of King Solomon has been the subject of numerous pictures, such as this 18th-century painting from the School of Tiepolo.
A RUTHLESS KING
On his father's death in about 961 BC, Solomon swiftly and brutally established his authority. When the thwarted Adonijah seemed to be undermining royal authority over the palace harem, Solomon had him executed and his chief supporters banished or killed. The murder of one, Joab, the army commander, had repercussions for the rest of Solomon's reign, encouraging uprisings in Edom and Aramea. But Solomon never waged a serious military campaign against these or any other adversaries, despite an army of 12,000 horsemen and 1400 charioteers.
No warrior king, Solomon turned instead to domestic matters. Following systems developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia, he divided his kingdom into twelve administrative districts, cutting across tribal boundaries to enhance the power of central government. Each district was headed by a prefect who was responsible for providing the king with a month's worth of food and fodder, offerings for daily worship and workers for his construction projects.
AN ARCHITECT AND TRADER
Solomon's building projects were hugely ambitious, from defensive fortifications throughout the kingdom to the citadel of Zion - which included _ a new royal palace and the magnificent temple of if the Jews. The latter took seven years to complete and housed the hallowed Ark of the Covenant, adorned with exquisite carvings by craftsmen from Syria and Phoenicia. Solomon's architectural endeavours were funded by heavy taxation and took workers away from other projects. Popular resentment was fuelled when Solomon extended the system of forced labour - formerly the preserve of prisoners and foreigners - to include 30,000 Israelites. To obtain the materials for his extravagant buildings, Solomon had to develop skills in both trading and diplomacy. He owned copper and iron mines and refining operations in southern Palestine. A treaty with King Hiram of Tyre gave Israel cypress and cedar trees, along with gold, in exchange for wheat and oil. Hiram and Solomon also made trading agreements centred on the Red Sea, including the creation of a fleet, built by the Phoenicians, financed by Israel and manned by mixed crews. On the African coast near Somaliland, they traded iron and copper for ivory, precious stones, silver, gold, peacocks and monkeys.
(WHAT THE WRITERS DO NOT KNOW IS THAT THE PHOENICIANS INCLUDING TYRE, WERE ISRAELITE PEOPLES - Keith Hunt)
SOLOMON AND THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
Solomon also controlled caravan routes connecting Egypt with Syria and his trade in Anatolian horses and Egyptian chariots was a Tsktoal monopoly. The proceeds were supplemented by tolls on caravan traffic. Merchants were required to pay him tribute in spices and precious metals, horses and fine clothing.
Unification of the Hebrews
Saul unified the Hebrew-speaking tribes, becoming in the process the first King of Israel (c.1020-1004 BC).
Expansion into Palestine
His successor David (c.1004-965 BC) expanded the kingdom to cover all of Palestine up to the border with the lands ruled by the Phoenicians. The Bible claims that David's realm extended as far as the border with Egypt and the River Euphrates.
Loss and division of the kingdoms
During the reign of Solomon (965-926 BC), who succeeded David, several of the conquered territories were lost. On his death, the kingdom split into the two separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
It seems to have been Solomon's increasing control of land routes and sea trade further south to Arabia that inspired the story of the legendary Queen of Sheba's visit to Jerusalem. Although the story focuses on her curiosity about Solomon's wisdom, the queen, who arrived 'with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones' was more likely to have been on a trade mission. The Bible tells of her admiration for Solomon's wisdom and the splendour of his court. 'You possess even greater wisdom and goodness than I was led to believe', she said, giving the king 120 hundredweight of gold, jewels and precious spices. The two monarchs also concluded a mutually beneficial trade treaty. Ethiopian Christianity also includes the story that they conceived a child who came to the throne in Ethiopia, founding a branch of the house of David in Africa.
(HENCE THE ETHIOPIAN JEWS OF TODAY, MANY HAVE NOW MOVED TO LIVE WITH THE JEWS OF THE HOLY LAND - Keith Hunt)
The story draws both on Solomon's reputation as a lover of many women and his renown as the wisest ruler of his day. His royal harem may not have been as extravagant as the 700 wives and 300 concubines claimed by the Bible, but it was substantial. (INCORRECT THE BIBLE WAS INSPIRED, HENCE THE BIBLE IS CORRECT - Keith Hunt). Many of the marriages were made for diplomatic reasons and his wives included Hittites, Moabites, Edomites, Sidonians and Ammonites. The marriages did sometimes cause problems in his own kingdom, mainly because the foreign wives brought their own customs and religions, in contravention of many of the strict regulations governing ritual matters in Israel.
A NEW KIND OF KING
Solomon changed the definition of kingship in ancient Israel. Unlike his warrior father, he offered sacrifices and blessed his people, taking over certain priestly functions. Rather than rely on prophets for divine messages, he communicated directly with God. Determined to weaken tribal society and affirm central control, he established a new bureaucracy that was dependent on his influence, while priests and village elders were also integrated into the government.
He was exceptionally tolerant of pagan religions; elements of style and ritual from other cults were introduced into services at the temple and there was an increase in marriage with foreigners among his people. It has been argued that Solomon's toleration of other religions led to the collapse of the kingdom after his death. When he died and the throne passed to his son Rehoboam, the kingdom split in two. Eventually, both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah fell to foreign invaders.
(THE BIBLE SAYS SOLOMON WAS TAKEN AWAY FROM THE WORSHIP OF THE TRUE GOD….. HIS MARRIAGES TO MANY WIVES FROM PAGAN NATIONS CAUSE HIM TO LEAVE THE CORRECT WORSHIP OF THE TRUE GOD OF ISRAEL - Keith Hunt)
A REPUTATION FOR WISDOM
Shortly after he became king, God said to Solomon in a dream, 'Ask what I shall give you'. He requested an 'understanding mind to govern the people, that I may discern between good and evil'. The reply reflects a particular aspect of his reputation, his ability to give judicious decisions. A famous example is the story of two
(Artists are intrigued by the story of the Judgment of Solomon, and many have attempted to capture the arresting moment of crisis and moral choice. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1666), an artist who was inspired by classical and biblical history, depicted the dramatic scene in 1649)
harlots who gave birth to male children at the same time. When one child died, each woman claimed the living child as her own. Having heard their stories, Solomon asked for a sword. 'Divide the living child in two', he said, 'and give half to the one and half to the other.' One woman agreed, but the other offered to give up the baby rather than see it killed. It was she who was the real mother as she had showed a mother's compassion.
He is also celebrated for his use of proverbs, which drew on the lore of civilisations including Mesopotamia, Egypt and Canaan. He often used examples from the natural world and both in legend and in the Koran. Solomon was shown as having the ability to converse with birds and beasts. He was also a talented solver of riddles - a gift that entranced the Queen of Sheba.
Despite his power and reputation, Solomon continually sought to broaden his mind, seeking insights from all fields of knowledge and studying assiduously. He is said to have written the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon and The Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha.
Solomon created an organised, wealthy and visually magnificent nation-state and was prepared to be ruthless to attain his aims. But it is not his political and architectural achievements that have ultimately endured; it is his reputation as a judge and thinker that has continued in perpetuity.