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published: 6/10/13

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ten commandments
The 10 Commandments
Circa 2nd century B.C.

Who was Solomon?

Solomon was the son of David and Bath-sheba, and became the third king of Israel.

1. Name and Meaning:

He was so named by his mother (2 Samuel 12:24 , Ḳerē ; see TEXT ), but by the prophet Nathan, or by his father (Vulgate), he was called Jedidiah - "loved of Yahweh." The name "Solomon" is derived from the root meaning "to be quiet" or "peaceful," and Solomon was certainly the least warlike of all the kings of Israel or Judah, and in that respect a remarkable contrast to his father (so 1 Chronicles 22:9 ). His name in Hebrew compares with Irenaeus in Greek, Friedrich in German, and Selim in Arabic; but it has been suggested that the name should be pronounced shı̄llumah , from the word denoting "compensation," Bath-sheba's second son being given in compensation for the loss of the first (but see 3, below).

2. Sources:

The oldest sources for the biography of Solomon are doubtless the "Annals of Solomon" referred to in 1 Kings 11:41 , the "history of Nathan the prophet," the "prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite" and the "visions of Iddo the seer," mentioned in 2 Chronicles 9:29 , all which may be merely the relative sections of the great book of the "Annals of the Kings" from which our Books of Kings and Chronicles are both derived. These ancient works are, of course, lost to us save in so far as they have been embodied in the Old Testament narrative. There the life of South is contained in 2 Samuel 12:24 f; 1 Ki 1 through 11; 1 Ch 22 through 2 Ch 9. Of these sources 2 Samuel 12:24 f and 1 Ki 1; 2 are much the oldest and in fact form part of one document, 2 Sam 9 through 20; 1 Ki 1; 2 dealing with the domestic affairs of David, which may well be contemporary with the events it describes. The date of the composition of the Books of Chronicles is about 300 BC - 700 years after the time of Solomon - and the date of the Books of Kings, as a completed work, must, of course, be later than the exile. Nothing of importance is gained from citations from early historians in Josephus and later writers. Far and away the best source for, at least, the inner life of Solomon would be the writings ascribed to him in the Old Testament, could we be sure that these were genuine (see below).

3. Birth and Upbringing:

The children of David by Bath-sheba are given in 1 Chronicles 3:5 as Shimea, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. Compare also 2 Samuel 5:14 ; 1 Chronicles 14:4 , where the same persons evidently are named. It would thus appear that Solomon was the 4th son of Bath-sheba, supposing Shimea to be the child that died. Otherwise Solomon would be the 5th son. There are therefore some events omitted in 2 Samuel 12:24 f, or else the names Shobab and Nathan are remains of some clause which has been lost, and not proper names. Like the heir apparent of a Turkish sultan, Solomon seems to have spent his best years in the seclusion of the harem. There he was doubtless more influenced by his mother than by his father, and in close intimacy with his mother was the prophet Nathan, who had given him his by-name of fortunate import ( 2 Samuel 12:25 ).

4. His Accession:

It was not until David lay on his deathbed that Solomon left the women's quarters and made his appearance in public. That he had been selected by David, as the son of the favorite wife, to succeed him, is pre-supposed in the instructions which he received from his father regarding the building of the Temple. But as soon as it appeared that the life of David was nearing its end, it became evident that Solomon was not to have a "walk over." He found a rival in Adonijah the son of Haggith, who was apparently the eldest surviving son of his father, and who had the support of Joab, by far the strongest man of all, of Abiathar, the leading, if not the favorite, priest (compare 2 Samuel 15:24 ff), and of the princes of the royal house. Solomon, on the other hand, had the support of his mother Bath-sheba, David s favorite wife, of Nathan the court prophet, of Zadok who had eclipsed Abiathar, of Benaiah, the son of a priest, but one of the three bravest of David's soldiers, and captain of the bodyguard of Cherethites and Pelethites, and of the principal soldiers. It is especially noted that Shimei and Hushai (so Josephus) took no active part at any rate with Adonijah ( 1 Kings 1:8 ). The conspiracy came to nothing, for, before it developed, Solomon was anointed at Gibeon (not Gihon, 1 Kings 1:33 , 1 Kings 1:38 , 1 Kings 1:45 ), and entered Jerusalem as king.

5. Closing Days of David:

The age of Solomon at his accession is unknown. The expression in 1 Kings 3:7 is not, of course, to be taken literally (otherwise Ant. , VIII, vii, 8). His reign opened, like that of many an oriental monarch, with a settlement in blood of the accounts of the previous reign. Joab, David's nephew, who had brought the house within the bounds of blood revenge, was executed. Adonijah, as soon as his father had breathed his last, was on a nominal charge put to death. Abiathar was relegated to his home at Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26 ). Conditions were imposed on Shimei which he failed to keep and so forfeited his life (1 Kings 2:36 ff). These steps having been taken, Solomon began his reign, as it were, with a clean slate.

II. Reign of Solomon

1. His Vision:

It was apparently at the very beginning of his reign that Solomon made his famous choice of a "hearing heart," i.e. an obedient heart, in preference to riches or long life. The vision took place at Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:7 , but in 1 Kings 3:4 f the ancient versions read "upon the altar that was in Gibeon. And the Lord appeared," etc.). The life of Solomon was a curious commentary on his early resolution. One of the first acts of his reign was apparently, in the style of the true oriental monarch, to build himself a new palace, that of his father being inadequate for his requirements. In regard to politics, however, the events of Solomon's reign may be regarded as an endorsement of his choice. Under him alone was the kingdom of Israel a great world-power, fit almost to rank beside Assyria and Egypt. Never again were the bounds of Israel so wide; never again were north and south united in one great nation. There is no doubt that the credit of this result is due to the wisdom of Solomon.

2. His Policy:

Solomon was by nature an unwarlike person, and his whole policy was in the direction of peace. He disbanded the above-mentioned foreign legion, the Cherethites and Pelethites, who had done such good service as bodyguard to his father. All his officers seem to have been mediocre persons who would not be likely to force his hand, as Joab had done that of David (2 Samuel 3:39 ). Even the fortification of Jerusalem and of the frontier towns was undertaken with a view to repel attack, not for the purposes of offense. Solomon did, no doubt, strengthen the army, especially the cavalry arm (1 Kings 4:26 ; 1 Kings 10:26 ), but he never made any use of this, and perhaps it existed largely on paper. At any rate Solomon seems to have been rather a breeder of and dealer in horse-flesh than a soldier.

He appears also to have had a fine collection of armor (1 Kings 10:25 ), but much of it was made of gold (1 Kings 10:16 f) and was intended for show, not for use. Both in his reputation for wisdom and in his aversion to war Solomon bears a striking resemblance to King James VI of Scotland and I of England, as depicted by the hand of Sir Walter Scott. It was fortunate for him that both the neighboring great powers were for the time in a decadent state, otherwise the history of the kingdom of Israel would have ended almost before it had begun. On the other hand, it has been remarked that if Solomon had had anything like the military genius of David and his enthusiasm for the religion of Yahweh, he might have extended the arms of Israel from the Nile to the Tigris and anticipated the advent of Islam. But his whole idea was to secure himself in peace, to amass wealth and indulge his love of grandeur with more than oriental splendor.

3. Its Results:

Solomon, in fact, was living on the achievements and reputation of his father, who laid the basis of security and peace on which the commercial genius of Solomon could raise the magnificent structure which he did. But he took the clay from the foundations in order to build the walls. The Hebrews were a military people and in that consisted their life. Solomon withdrew their energies from their natural bent and turned them to cornmerce, for which they were not yet ripe. Their soul rebelled under the irksome drudgery of an industry of which they did not reap the fruits. Solomon had in fact reduced a free people to slavery, and concentrated the wealth of the whole country in the capital. As soon as he was out of the way, his country subjects threw off the yoke and laid claim to their ancient freedom. His son found himself left with the city and a territory as small as an English county.

4. Alliance with Tyre:

Solomon's chief ally was Hiram, the king of Tyre, probably the friend and ally of David, who is to be distinguished from Hiram the artificer of 1 Kings 7:13 ff. Hiram the king entered into a treaty with Solomon which was to the advantage of both parties. Hiram supplied Solomon with cedar and pine wood from Lebanon, as well as with skilled artisans for his building. Tyrian sailors were also drafted into the ships of Solomon, the Hebrews not being used to the sea ( 1 Kings 9:26 f), besides which Phoenician ships sailed along with those of Solomon. The advantages which Hiram received in return were that the Red Sea was open to his merchantmen, and he also received large supplies of corn and oil from the land of Israel ( 1 Kings 5:11 corrected by Septuagint and 2 Chronicles 2:10 ). At the conclusion of the building of the palace and Temple, which occupied 20 years, Solomon presented Hiram with 20 villages (1 Kings 9:11 ; the converse, 2 Chronicles 8:2 ), and Hiram made Solomon a return present of gold (1 Kings 9:14 ; omitted in 2 Chronicles).

5. Alliance with Egypt:

Second to Hiram was the Pharaoh of Egypt, whose daughter Solomon married, receiving as her dower the town of Gezer (1 Kings 9:16 ). This Pharaoh is not named in the Old Testament. This alliance with Egypt led to the introduction of horses into Israel (1 Kings 10:28 f), though David had already made a beginning on a small scale ( 2 Samuel 8:4 ). Both these alliances lasted throughout the reign. There is no mention of an alliance with the eastern power, which was then in a decadent state.

6. Domestic Troubles:

It was probably nearer the beginning than the end of Solomon's reign that political trouble broke out within the realm. When David had annexed the territory of the Edomites at the cost of the butchery of the male population (compare 2 Samuel 8:14 ; Psalm 60:1-12 , title) one of the young princes of the reigning house effected his escape, and sought and found an asylum in Egypt, where he rose to occupy a high station. No sooner had he heard of the death of David and Joab than he returned to his native country and there stirred up disaffections against Solomon (1 Kings 11:14 ff; see HADAD ), without, however, restoring independence to Edom (1 Kings 9:26 ).

A second occasion of disaffection arose through a prophet having foretold that the successor of Solomon would have one of the Israelite tribes only and that the other ten clans would be under Solomon's master of works whom he had set over them. This officer also took refuge in Egypt and was protected by Shishak. He remained there until the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:26 ff). A third adversary was Rezon who had fled from his master the king of Zobah ( 1 Kings 11:23 ), and who established himself at Damascus and rounded a dynasty which was long a thorn in the side of Israel. These domestic troubles are regarded as a consequence of the falling away of Solomon from the path of rectitude, but this seems to be but a kind of anticipative consequence, that is, if it was not till the end of his reign that Solomon fell into idolatry and polytheism (1 Kings 11:4 ).

III. His Buildings

1. The Temple:

The great undertaking of the reign of Solomon was, of course, THE TEMPLE (which see), which was at first probably considered as the Chapel Royal and an adjunct of the palace. The Temple was begun in the 4th year of the reign and finished in the 11th, the work of the building occupying 7« years (1 Kings 6 ; 1 Kings 7:13 ff). The delay in beginning is remarkable, if the material were all ready to hand (1 Ch 22). Worship there was inaugurated with fitting ceremony and prayers (1 Ki 8).

2. The Palace:

To Solomon, however, his own palace was perhaps a more interesting undertaking. It at any rate occupied more time, in fact 13 years (1 Kings 7:1-12 ; 1 Kings 9:10 ; 2 Chronicles 8:1 ), the time of building both palace and Temple being 20 years. Possibly the building of the palace occupied the first four years of the reign and was then intermitted and resumed after the completion of the Temple; but of this there is no indication in the text. It was called the House of the Forest of Lebanon from the fact that it was lined with cedar wood (1 Kings 7:2 ). A description of it is given in 1 Kings 7:1-12 .

3. Other Buildings:

Solomon also rebuilt the wall of the city and the citadel (see JERUSALEM ; MILLO ). He likewise erected castles at the vulnerable points of the frontiers - H azor, Megiddo and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15 ), lower Beth-horon and BAALATH (which see). According to the Ḳerē of 1 Kings 9:18 and the ancient versions as well as 2 Chronicles 8:4 , he was the founder of Tadmor (Palmyra); but the Kethı̄bh of 1 Kings 9:18 reads Tamar (compare Ezekiel 47:19 ). Some of the remains of buildings recently discovered at Megiddo and Gezer may go back to the time of Solomon.

4. The Corvee:

Solomon could not have built on the scale he did with the resources ordinarily at the command of a free ruler. Accordingly we find that one of the institutions fostered by him was the corvee, or forced labor. No doubt something of the kind always had existed (Joshua 9:21 ) and still exists in all despotic governments. Thus the people of a village will be called on to repair the neighboring roads, especially when the Pasha is making a progress in the neighborhood. But Solomon made the thing permanent and national (1 Kings 5:13-15 ; 1 Kings 9:15 ). The immediate purpose of the levy was to supply laborers for work in the Lebanon in connection with his building operations.

Thus 30,000 men were raised and drafted, 10,000 at a time, to the Lebanon, where they remained for a month, thus having two months out of every three at home. But even when the immediate cause had ceased, the practice once introduced was kept up and it became one of the chief grievances which levi to the dismemberment of the kingdom (1 Kings 12:18 , Adoram = Adoniram; compare 2 Samuel 20:24 ), for hitherto the corvee had been confined to foreign slaves taken in war (1 Kings 9:21 ). It is said the higher posts were reserved for Israelites, the laborers being foreigners (1 Kings 9:22 ), that is, the Israelites acted as foremen. Some of the foreign slaves seem to have formed a guild in connection with the Temple which lasted down to the time of the exile (Ezra 2:55-57 ; Nehemiah 7:57-59 ). See NETHINIM .

IV. His Character

1. Personal Qualities:

In Solomon we have the type of a Turkish sultan, rather than a king of Israel. The Hebrew kings, whether of Israel or Judah, were, in theory at least, elective monarchs like the kings of Poland. If one happened to be a strong ruler, he managed to establish his family it might be, for three or even four generations. In the case of the Judean dynasty the personality of the first king made such a deep impression upon the heart of the people that the question of a change of dynasty there never became pressing.

But Solomon would probably have usurped the crown if he had not inherited it, and once on the throne he became a thoroughgoing despot. All political power was taken out of the hands of the sheiks, although outward respect was still paid to them (1 Kings 8:1 ), and placed in the hands of officers who were simply creatures of Solomon. The resources of the nation were expended, not on works of public utility, but on the personal aggrandizement of the monarch (1 Kings 10:18 ff). In the means he took to gratify his passions he showed himself to be little better than a savage and if he did not commit such great crimes as David, it was perhaps because he had no occasion, or because he employed greater cunning in working out his ends.

2. His Wisdom:

The wisdom for which Solomon is so celebrated was not of a very high order; it was nothing more than practical shrewdness, or knowledge of the world and of human nature. The common example of it is that given in 1 Kings 3:16 ff, to which there are innumerable parallels in Indian, Greek and other literatures. The same worldly wisdom lies at the back of the Book of Proverbs, and there is no reason why a collection of these should not have been made by Solomon just as it is more likely that he was a composer of verses than that he was not ( 1 Kings 4:32 ). The statement that he had breadth of heart (1 Kings 4:29 ) indicates that there was nothing known which did not come within his ken.

3. His Learning:

The word "wisdom," however, is used also in another connection, namely, in the sense of theoretical knowledge or book leaning, especially in the department of natural history. It is not to be supposed that Solomon had any scientific knowledge of botany or zoology, but he may have collected the facts of observation, a task in which the Oriental, who cannot generalize, excels. The wisdom and understanding (1 Kings 4:29 ) for which Solomon was famous would consist largely in stories about beasts and trees like the well-known Fables of Pilpai. They included also the "wisdom" for which Egypt was famous (1 Kings 4:30 ), that is, occult science. It results from this last statement that Solomon appears in post-Biblical and Arabian literature as a magician.

4. Trade and Commerce:

Solomon was very literally a merchant prince. He not only encouraged and protected commerce, but engaged in it himself. He was in fact the predominant, if not sole, partner in a great trading concern, which was nothing less than the Israelite nation. One of his enterprises was the horse trade with Egypt. His agents bought up horses which were again sold to the kings of the Hittites and the Arameans. The prices paid are mentioned (1 Kings 10:29 ). The best of these Solomon no doubt retained for his own cavalry (1 Kings 10:26 ). Another commodity imported from that country was linen yarn (1 Kings 10:28 the King James Version).

The navy which Solomon built at the head of the Gulf of Akaba was not at all for military, but purely commercial ends. They were ships of Tarshish, that is, merchant ships, not ships to Tarshish, as 2 Chronicles 9:21 . They traded to OPHIR (which see), from which they brought gold; silver, ivory, apes and peacocks, the round voyage lasting 3 years (1 Kings 9:26 ff; 1 Kings 10:22 ). Special mention is made of "almug" (1 Kings 10:11 ) or "algum" (2 Chronicles 9:10 f) trees (which see). The visit of the Queen of Sheba would point to the overland caravan routes from the Yemen being then open ( 1 Kings 10:15 ). What with direct imports and the result of sales, silver and cedar wood became very plentiful in the capital (1 Kings 10:27 ).

5. Officers of State:

The list of Solomon's officers of state is given in 1 Kings 4:2 ff. These included a priest, two secretaries, a recorder, a commander-in-chief, a chief commissariat officer, a chief shepherd (if we may read ro'eh for re'eh ), a master of the household, and the head of the corvee. The list should be compared with those of David's officers (2 Samuel 8:16 ff; 2 Samuel 20:23 ff). There is much resemblance, but we can see that the machine of state was becoming more complicated. The bodyguard of foreign mercenaries was abolished and the captain Benaiah promoted to be commander-in-chief. Two scribes were required instead of one.

Twelve commissariat officers were appointed whose duty it was to forward from their districts the supplies for the royal household and stables. The list of these officials, a very curious one, is given in 1 Kings 4:7 ff. It is to be noted that the 12 districts into which the country was divided did not coincide with the territories of the 12 tribes. It may be remarked that Solomon seems as far as possible to have retained the old servants of his father. It will be noticed also that in all the lists there is mention of more than one priest. These "priests" retained some of their original functions, since they acted as prognosticators and diviners.

6. Wives:

Solomon's principal wife was naturally the daughter of Pharaoh; it was for her that his palace was built (1 Kings 3:1 ; 1 Kings 7:8 ; 1 Kings 9:16 , 1 Kings 9:24 ). But in addition to her he established marriage relations with the neighboring peoples. In some cases the object was no doubt to cement an alliance, as with the Zidonians and Hittites and the other nationalities (1 Kings 11:1 ), some of which were forbidden to Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:3 ). It may be that the daughter of Pharaoh was childless or died a considerable time before Solomon, but his favorite wife was latterly a grand-daughter of Nahash, the Ammonite king (1 Kings 14:21 Septuagint), and it was her son who succeeded to the throne. Many of Solomon's wives were no doubt daughters of wealthy or powerful citizens who wished by an alliance with the king to strengthen their own positions. Yet we do not read of his marrying an Israelite wife. According to the Arabian story Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon ( 1 Kings 10:1 ff),. was also married to him. He appears to have had only one son; we are not told of any other than Rehoboam. His daughters were married to his own officers ( 1 Kings 4:11 , 1 Kings 4:15 ).

7. Revenues:

Solomon is said to have started his reign with a capital sum of 100,000 talents of gold and a million talents of silver, a sum greater than the national debt of Great Britain. Even so, this huge sum was ear-marked for the building of the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:14 ). His income was, for one year, at any rate, 666 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:14 ), or about twenty million dollars. This seems an immense sum, but it probably was not so much as it looks. The great mass of the people were too poor to have any commodities which they could exchange for gold. Its principal use was for the decoration of buildings. Its purchasing power was probably small, because so few could afford to buy it. It was in the same category as the precious stones which are of great rarity, but which are of no value unless there is a demand for them. In the time of Solomon there was no useful purpose to which gold could be put in preference to any other metal.

8. Literary Works:

It is not easy to believe that the age of Solomon, so glorious in other respects, had not a literature to correspond. Yet the reign of the sultan Ismail in Morocco, whom Solomon much resembles, might be cited in favor of such a supposition. Solomon himself is stated to have composed 3,000 animal stories and 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32 ). In the Old Testament the following are ascribed to him: three collections of Proverbs, Proverbs 1:1 ff; Proverbs 10:1 ff; Proverbs 25:1 ff; The Song of Songs; Psalms 72 and Psalm 127:1-5 ; Ecclesiastes (although Solomon is not named). In Proverbs 25:1 the men of Hezekiah are said to have copied out the following proverbs.



IBSE, "Absalom" (in the public domain) with minor edits.