Solomon (שְׁלֹמֹה, Shlomoh), also called Jedidiah (יְדִידְיָהּ Yedidyah), was, according to the Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, Quran, and Hadiths, a fabulously wealthy and wise king of Israel who succeeded his father, King David. The conventional dates of Solomon’s reign are circa 970 to 931 BCE, normally given in alignment with the dates of David’s reign. He is described as the third king of the United Monarchy, which would break apart into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah shortly after his death. Following the split, his patrilineal descendants ruled over Judah alone.
According to the Talmud, Solomon is one of the 48 prophets. In the Quran, he is considered a major prophet, and Muslims generally refer to him by the Arabic variant Sulayman, son of David.
The Hebrew Bible credits him as the builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem, beginning in the fourth year of his reign, using the vast wealth he and his father had accumulated. He dedicated the temple to Yahweh, the God of Israel. He is portrayed as great in wisdom, wealth and power beyond either of the previous kings of the country, but also as a king who sinned. His sins included idolatry, marrying foreign women and, ultimately, turning away from Yahweh, and they led to the kingdom’s being torn in two during the reign of his son Rehoboam.
Solomon is the subject of many other later references and legends, most notably in the 1st-century apocryphal work known as the Testament of Solomon. In the New Testament, he is portrayed as a teacher of wisdom excelled by Jesus, and as arrayed in glory, but excelled by “the lilies of the field”. In later years, in mostly non-biblical circles, Solomon also came to be known as a magician and an exorcist, with numerous amulets and medallion seals dating from the Hellenistic period invoking his name.
Main article: The Story Of Solomon
The life of Solomon is primarily described in the second Book of Samuel, and by 1 Chronicles and 1 Kings. His two names mean “peaceful” and “friend of God“, both appropriate to the story of his rule.
The conventional dates of Solomon’s reign are derived from biblical chronology and are set from c. 970 to 931 BCE. Regarding the Davidic dynasty, to which King Solomon belongs, its chronology can be checked against datable Babylonian and Assyrian records at a few points, and these correspondences have allowed archaeologists to date its kings in a modern framework. According to the most widely used chronology, based on that by Old Testament professor Edwin R. Thiele, the death of Solomon and the division of his kingdom would have occurred in the spring of 931 BCE.
Solomon was born in Jerusalem, the second born child of David and his wife Bathsheba, widow of Uriah the Hittite. The first child (unnamed in that account), a son conceived adulterously during Uriah’s lifetime, had died as a punishment on account of the death of Uriah by David’s order. Solomon had three named full brothers born to Bathsheba: Nathan, Shammua, and Shobab, besides six known older half-brothers born of as many mothers.
The biblical narrative shows that Solomon served as a peace offering between God and David, due to his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. In an effort to hide this sin, for example, he sent the woman’s husband to battle, hoping that he would be killed there. After he died, David was finally able to marry his wife. As punishment, the first child, who was conceived during the adulterous relationship, died. Solomon was born after David was forgiven. It is this reason why his name, which means peace, was chosen. Some historians cited that Nathan the Prophet brought up Solomon as his father was busy governing the realm. This could also be attributed to the notion that the prophet held great influence over David because he knew of his adultery, which was considered a grievous offense under the Mosaic Law. It was only during Absalom’s rebellion when Solomon started spending more time at David’s side.
Succession and administration
According to the First Book of Kings, when David was old, “he could not get warm”. “So they sought a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunamite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not.”
While David was in this state, court factions were maneuvering for power. David’s heir apparent, Adonijah, acted to have himself declared king, but was outmaneuvered by Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan, who convinced David to proclaim Solomon king according to his earlier promise (not recorded elsewhere in the biblical narrative), despite Solomon being younger than his brothers.
Solomon, as instructed by David, began his reign with an extensive purge, including his father’s chief general, Joab, among others, and further consolidated his position by appointing friends throughout the administration, including in religious positions as well as in civic and military posts. It is said that Solomon ascended to the throne when he was only about fifteen.
Solomon greatly expanded his military strength, especially the cavalry and chariot arms. He founded numerous colonies, some of which doubled as trading posts and military outposts.
Trade relationships were a focus of his administration. In particular he continued his father’s very profitable relationship with the Phoenician king Hiram I of Tyre (see ‘wealth’ below); they sent out joint expeditions to the lands of Tarshish and Ophir to engage in the trade of luxury products, importing gold, silver, sandalwood, pearls, ivory, apes and peacocks. Solomon is considered the most wealthy of the Israelite kings named in the Bible.
Main article: Wisdom Literature: Ben Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon
Solomon was the biblical king most famous for his wisdom. In 1 Kings he sacrificed to God, and God later appeared to him in a dream asking what Solomon wanted from God. Solomon asked for wisdom. Pleased, God personally answered Solomon’s prayer, promising him great wisdom because he did not ask for self-serving rewards like long life or the death of his enemies.
Perhaps the best known story of his wisdom is the Judgment of Solomon; two women each lay claim to being the mother of the same child. Solomon easily resolved the dispute by commanding the child to be cut in half and shared between the two. One woman promptly renounced her claim, proving that she would rather give the child up than see it killed. Solomon declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, entitled to the whole child.
Solomon was traditionally considered the author of several biblical books, “including not only the collections of Proverbs, but also of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon and the later apocryphal book the Wisdom of Solomon.”
See also: Solomon’s Temple
According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelite monarchy gained its highest splendour and wealth during Solomon’s reign of 40 years. In a single year, according to 1 Kings 10:14, Solomon collected tribute amounting to 666 talents (18,125 kilograms) of gold. Solomon is described as surrounding himself with all the luxuries and the grandeur of an Eastern monarch, and his government prospered. He entered into an alliance with Hiram I, king of Tyre, who in many ways greatly assisted him in his numerous undertakings.
For some years before his death, David was engaged in collecting materials for building a temple in Jerusalem as a permanent home for Yahweh and the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon is described as undertaking the construction of the temple, with the help of an architect, also named Hiram, and other materials, sent from King Hiram of Tyre.
After the completion of the temple, Solomon is described in the biblical narrative as erecting many other buildings of importance in Jerusalem. For 13 years, he was engaged in the building of a royal palace on Ophel (a hilly promontory in central Jerusalem). This complex included buildings referred to as:
- The House of the Forest of the Lebanon
- The Hall or Porch of Pillars
- The Hall of the Throne or the Hall of Justice
as well as his own residence and a residence for his wife, Pharaoh’s daughter.
Solomon’s throne is said to have been a spectacle, seeing that it was one of the earliest mechanical devices built by man. Solomon also constructed great works for the purpose of securing a plentiful supply of water for the city, and the Millo (Septuagint, Acra) for the defense of the city. However, excavations of Jerusalem have shown a distinct lack of monumental architecture from the era, and remains of neither the Temple nor Solomon’s palace have been found.
Solomon is also described as rebuilding cities elsewhere in Israel, creating the port of Ezion-Geber, and constructing Palmyra in the wilderness as a commercial depot and military outpost. Although the location of the port of Ezion-Geber is known, no remains have ever been found. More archaeological success has been achieved with the major cities Solomon is said to have strengthened or rebuilt, for example, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. These all have substantial ancient remains, including impressive six-chambered gates, and ashlar palaces; however it is no longer the scholarly consensus that these structures date to the time, according to the Bible, when Solomon ruled.
According to the Bible, during Solomon’s reign, Israel enjoyed great commercial prosperity, with extensive traffic being carried on by land with Tyre, Egypt, and Arabia, and by sea with Tarshish, Ophir, and South India.
Wives and concubines
According to the biblical account, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. The wives were described as foreign princesses, including Pharaoh’s daughter and women of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon and of the Hittites. His marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter appears to have cemented a political alliance with Egypt whereas he clung to his other wives and concubines “in love”.
The only wife mentioned by name is Naamah the Ammonite, mother of Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam. The biblical narrative notes with disapproval that Solomon permitted his foreign wives to import their national deities, building temples to Ashtoreth and Milcom.
In the branch of literary analysis that examines the Bible, called higher criticism, the story of Solomon falling into idolatry by the influence of Pharaoh’s daughter and his other foreign wives is “customarily seen as the handiwork of the ‘deuteronomistic historian(s)'”, who are held to have written, compiled, or edited texts to legitimize the reforms of Hezekiah’s great-grandson, King Josiah who reigned from ca 641 BCE to 609 BCE (over 280 years after Solomon’s death according to Bible scholars). Scholarly consensus in this field holds that “Solomon’s wives/women were introduced in the ‘Josianic’ (customarily Dtr) edition of Kings as a theological construct to blame the schism [between Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel] on his misdeeds”.
Relationship with Queen of Sheba
In a brief, unelaborated, and enigmatic passage, the Hebrew Bible describes how the fame of Solomon’s wisdom and wealth spread far and wide, so much so that the queen of Sheba decided that she should meet him. The queen is described as visiting with a number of gifts including gold, spices and precious stones. When Solomon gave her “all her desire, whatsoever she asked,” she left satisfied (1 Kings 10:10).
Whether the passage is simply to provide a brief token, foreign witness of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom, or whether there is meant to be something more significant to the queen’s visit is unknown; nevertheless the visit of the Queen of Sheba has become the subject of numerous stories.
Sheba is typically identified as Saba, a nation once spanning the Red Sea on the coasts of what are now Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen, in Arabia Felix. In a Rabbinical account (e.g. Targum Sheni), Solomon was accustomed to ordering the living creatures of the world to dance before him (Rabbinical accounts say that Solomon had been given control over all living things by Yahweh), but one day upon discovering that the mountain-cock or hoopoe (Aramaic name: nagar tura) was absent, he summoned it to him, and the bird told him that it had been searching for somewhere new.
The bird had discovered a land in the east, exceedingly rich in gold, silver, and plants, whose capital was called Kitor and whose ruler was the Queen of Sheba, and the bird, on its own advice, was sent by Solomon to request the queen’s immediate attendance at Solomon’s court.
An Ethiopian account from the 14th century (Kebra Nagast) maintains that the Queen of Sheba had sexual relations with King Solomon and gave birth by the Mai Bella stream in the province of Hamasien, Eritrea. The Ethiopian tradition has a detailed account of the affair. The child was a son who went on to become Menelik I, King of Axum, and founded a dynasty that would reign as the first Jewish, then Christian Empire of Ethiopia for 2,900+ years (less one usurpation episode, an interval of c. 133 years until a legitimate male heir regained the crown) until Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974. Menelik was said to be a practicing Jew who was given a replica of the Ark of the Covenant by King Solomon; and, moreover, that the original was switched and went to Axum with him and his mother, and is still there, guarded by a single priest charged with caring for the artifact as his life’s task.
The claim of such a lineage and of possession of the Ark has been an important source of legitimacy and prestige for the Ethiopian monarchy throughout the many centuries of its existence, and had important and lasting effects on Ethiopian culture as a whole. The Ethiopian government and church deny all requests to view the alleged ark.
Some classical-era Rabbis, attacking Solomon’s moral character, have claimed instead that the child was an ancestor of Nebuchadnezzar II, who destroyed Solomon’s temple some 300 years later.
Sins and punishment
According to 1 Kings 11:4 Solomon’s “wives turned his heart after other gods”, their own national deities, to whom Solomon built temples, thus incurring divine anger and retribution in the form of the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s death (1 Kings 11:9–13). 1 Kings 11 describes Solomon’s descent into idolatry, particularly his turning after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites. In Deuteronomy 17:16–17, a king is commanded not to multiply horses or wives, neither greatly multiply to himself gold or silver. Solomon sins in all three of these areas. Solomon collects 666 talents of gold each year (1 Kings 10:14), a huge amount of money for a small nation like Israel. Solomon gathers a large number of horses and chariots and even brings in horses from Egypt. Just as Deuteronomy 17 warns, collecting horses and chariots takes Israel back to Egypt. Finally, Solomon marries foreign women, and these women turn Solomon to other gods.
According to 1 Kings 11:30–34 and 1 Kings 11:9–13, it was because of these sins that the Lord punishes Solomon by removing most of the Tribes of Israel from rule by Solomon’s house.
And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.
Near the end of his life, Solomon was forced to contend with several enemies, including Hadad of Edom, Rezon of Zobah, and one of his officials named Jeroboam who was from the tribe of Ephraim.
Death, succession of Rehoboam, and kingdom division
According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon is the last ruler of a united Kingdom of Israel. He dies of natural causes at around 60 years of age. Upon Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam, succeeds him. However, ten of the Tribes of Israel refuse to accept him as king, splitting the United Monarchy in the northern Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam, while Rehoboam continues to reign over the much smaller southern Kingdom of Judah. Henceforth the two kingdoms are never again united.
King Solomon is one of the central biblical figures in Jewish heritage that have lasting religious, national and political aspects. As the builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem and last ruler of the united Kingdom of Israel before its division into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah, Solomon is associated with the peak “golden age” of the independent Kingdom of Israel as well as a source of judicial and religious wisdom. According to Jewish tradition, King Solomon wrote three books of the Bible:
- Mishlei (Book of Proverbs), a collection of fables and wisdom of life
- Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), a book of contemplation and his self-reflection.
- Shir ha-Shirim (Song of Songs), an unusual collection of poetry interspersed with verse, whose interpretation is either literal (i.e., a romantic and sexual relationship between a man and a woman) or metaphorical (a relationship between God and his people).
The Hebrew word “To Solomon” (which can also be translated as “by Solomon”) appears in the title of two hymns, 72 and 127, in the book of Psalms (Tehillim), suggesting to some that Solomon wrote them.
Rabbinical tradition attributes the Wisdom of Solomon to Solomon, although this book was probably written in the 2nd century BCE. In this work, Solomon is portrayed as an astronomer. Other books of wisdom poetry such as the Odes of Solomon and the Psalms of Solomon also bear his name. The Jewish historian Eupolemus, who wrote about 157 BCE, included copies of apocryphal letters exchanged between Solomon and the kings of Egypt and Tyre.
The Gnostic Apocalypse of Adam, which may date to the 1st or 2nd century, refers to a legend in which Solomon sends out an army of demons to seek a virgin who had fled from him, perhaps the earliest surviving mention of the later common tale that Solomon controlled demons and made them his slaves. This tradition of Solomon’s control over demons appears fully elaborated in the early pseudographical work called the Testament of Solomon with its elaborate and grotesque demonology.
Arguments against biblical description
Historical evidence of King Solomon other than the biblical accounts has been so minimal that some scholars have understood the period of his reign as a ‘Dark Age’ (Muhly 1998). The first-century Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus in Against Apion, citing Tyrian court records and Menander, gives a specific year during which King Hiram I of Tyre sent materials to Solomon for the construction of the Temple. However, no material evidence indisputably of Solomon’s reign has been found. Yigael Yadin’s excavations at Hazor, Megiddo, Beit Shean and Gezer uncovered structures that he and others have argued date from Solomon’s reign, but others, such as Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, argue that they should be dated to the Omride period, more than a century after Solomon.
According to Finkelstein and Silberman, authors of The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, at the time of the kingdoms of David and Solomon, Jerusalem was populated by only a few hundred residents or less, which is insufficient for an empire stretching from the Euphrates to Eilath. According to The Bible Unearthed, archaeological evidence suggests that the kingdom of Israel at the time of Solomon was little more than a small city state, and so it is implausible that Solomon received tribute as large as 666 talents of gold per year. Although both Finkelstein and Silberman accept that David and Solomon were real inhabitants of Judah about the 10th century BCE, they claim that the earliest independent reference to the Kingdom of Israel is about 890 BCE, and for Judah about 750 BCE. They suggest that because of religious prejudice, the authors of the Bible suppressed the achievements of the Omrides (whom the Hebrew Bible describes as being polytheist), and instead pushed them back to a supposed golden age of Judaism and monotheists, and devotees of Yahweh. Some Biblical minimalists like Thomas L. Thompson go further, arguing that Jerusalem became a city and capable of being a state capital only in the mid-7th century. Likewise, Finkelstein and others consider the claimed size of Solomon’s temple implausible.
Arguments in favour of biblical description
These views are criticized by William G. Dever, and André Lemaire, among others. Lemaire states in Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple that the principal points of the biblical tradition of Solomon are generally trustworthy, although elsewhere he writes that he could find no substantiating archaeological evidence that supports the Queen of Sheba’s visit to king Solomon, saying that the earliest records of trans-Arabian caravan voyages from Tayma and Sheba unto the Middle-Euphrates etc. occurred in the mid-8th century BCE, placing a possible visit from the Queen of Sheba to Jerusalem around this time – some 250 years later than the timeframe traditionally given for king Solomon’s reign. Kenneth Kitchen argues that Solomon ruled over a comparatively wealthy “mini-empire”, rather than a small city-state, and considers 666 gold talents a modest amount of money. Kitchen calculates that over 30 years, such a kingdom might have accumulated up to 500 tons of gold, which is small compared to other examples, such as the 1,180 tons of gold that Alexander the Great took from Susa.Similarly, Kitchen and others consider the temple of Solomon a reasonable and typically sized structure for the region at the time. Dever states “that we now have direct Bronze and Iron Age parallels for every feature of the ‘Solomonic temple’ as described in the Hebrew Bible”.
Some scholars have charted a middle path between minimalist scholars like Finkelstein, Silberman, and Philip Davies (who believes that “Solomon is a totally invented character”) on the one hand, and maximalist scholars like Dever, Lemaire, and Kitchen on the other hand. For instance, the archaeologist Avraham Faust has argued that biblical depictions of Solomon date to later periods and do overstate his wealth, buildings, and kingdom, but that Solomon did have an acropolis and ruled over a polity larger than Jerusalem. In particular, his archaeological research in regions near Jerusalem, like Sharon, finds commerce too great not to be supported by a polity and such regions probably were ruled loosely by Jerusalem. Scholars like Lester Grabbe also believe that there must have been a ruler in Jerusalem during this period and that he likely built a temple, although the town was quite small.
The archaeological remains that are considered to date from the time of Solomon are notable for the fact that Canaanite material culture appears to have continued unabated; there is a distinct lack of magnificent empire, or cultural development – indeed comparing pottery from areas traditionally assigned to Israel with that of the Philistines points to the latter having been significantly more sophisticated. However, there is a lack of physical evidence of its existence, despite some archaeological work in the area. This is not unexpected because the area was devastated by the Babylonians, then rebuilt and destroyed several times.
Temple Mount in Jerusalem
Little archaeological excavation has been done around the area known as the Temple Mount, in what is thought to be the foundation of Solomon’s Temple, because attempts to do so are met with protests by the Muslim authorities.
Precious metals from Tarshish
The biblical passages that understand Tarshish as a source of King Solomon’s great wealth in metals – especially silver, but also gold, tin and iron (Ezekiel 27) – were linked to archaeological evidence from silver-hoards found in Phoenicia in 2013. The metals from Tarshish were reportedly obtained by Solomon in partnership with King Hiram of Phoenician Tyre (Isaiah 23), and the fleets of Tarshish-ships that sailed in their service, and the silver-hoards provide the first recognized material evidence that agrees with the ancient texts concerning Solomon’s kingdom and his wealth (see ‘wealth’ below).
Possible evidence for the described wealth of Solomon and his kingdom was discovered in ancient silver-hoards, which were found in Israel and Phoenicia and recognized for their importance in 2003. The evidence from the hoards shows that the Levant was a center of wealth in precious metals during the reign of Solomon and Hiram, and matches the texts that say the trade extended from Asia to the Atlantic Ocean.
Biblical criticism: Solomon’s religiosity
From a critical point of view, Solomon’s building of a temple for Yahweh should not be considered an act of particular devotion to Yahweh because Solomon is also described as building places of worship for a number of other deities. Some scholars and historians argue that Solomon’s apparent initial devotion to Yahweh, described in passages such as his dedication prayer (1 Kings 8:14–66), were written much later, after Jerusalem had become the religious centre of the kingdom, replacing locations such as Shiloh and Bethel. Some scholars believe that passages such as these in the Books of Kings were not written by the same authors who wrote the rest of the text, instead probably by the Deuteronomist. Such views have been challenged by other historians who maintain that there is evidence that these passages in Kings are derived from official court records at the time of Solomon and from other writings of that time that were incorporated into the canonical books of Kings.
King Solomon sinned by acquiring many foreign wives and horses because he thought he knew the reason for the biblical prohibition and thought it did not apply to him. When King Solomon married the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, a sandbank formed which eventually formed the “great nation of Rome” – the nation that destroyed the Second Temple (Herod’s Temple). Solomon gradually lost more and more prestige until he became like a commoner. Some say he regained his status while others say he did not. In the end however, he is regarded as a righteous king and is especially praised for his diligence in building the Temple.
The Seder Olam Rabba holds that Solomon’s reign was not in 1000 BCE, but rather in the 9th century BCE, during which time he built the First Temple in 832 BCE. However, the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia gives the more common date of “971 to 931 B.C.”.
Christianity has traditionally accepted the historical existence of Solomon, though some modern Christian scholars have also questioned at least his authorship of those biblical texts ascribed to him. Such disputes tend to divide Christians into traditionalist and modernist camps.
Of the two genealogies of Jesus given in the Gospels, Matthew mentions Solomon, but Luke does not. Some commentators see this as an issue that can be reconciled while others disagree. For instance, it has been suggested that Luke is using Joseph’s genealogy and Matthew is using Mary’s, but Darrell Bock states that this would be unprecedented, “especially when no other single woman appears in the line”. Other suggestions include the use by one of the royal and the other of the natural line, one using the legal line and the other the physical line, or that Joseph was adopted.
Jesus makes reference to Solomon, using him for comparison purposes in his admonition against worrying about your life. This account is recorded in Matthew 6:29 and the parallel passage in Luke 12:27
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Solomon is commemorated as a saint, with the title of “Righteous Prophet and King”. His feast day is celebrated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (two Sundays before the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord).
The staunchly Catholic King Philip II of Spain sought to model himself after King Solomon. Statues of King David and Solomon stand on either side of the entrance to the basilica of El Escorial, Philip’s palace, and Solomon is also depicted in a great fresco at the center of El Escorial’s library. Philip identified the warrior-king David with his own father Charles V, and himself sought to emulate the thoughtful and logical character which he perceived in Solomon. Moreover, the structure of the Escorial was inspired by that of Solomon’s Temple.
Main article: Solomon in Islam
In Islamic tradition, Solomon is venerated as a Prophet and a Messenger of God, as well as a divinely appointed monarch, who ruled over the Kingdom of Israel. As in Judaism, Islam recognizes Solomon as the son of King David, who is also considered a Prophet and a King but, refuses the claim that Solomon turned to idolatry. One of the enslaved Jinn escaped his enslavement, instead, and took over his kingdom and posed as Solomon, while others thought indeed he became a ruthless king.
And they followed what the devils taught during the reign of Solomon. It was not Solomon who disbelieved, but it was the devils who disbelieved. They taught the people witchcraft and what was revealed in Babil (بَـابِـل, Babylon) to the two angels Harut and Marut. They did not teach anybody until they had said “We are a test, so do not lose faith.” But they learned from them the means to cause separation between man and his wife. But they cannot harm anyone except with God’s permission. And they learned what would harm them and not benefit them. Yet they knew that whoever deals in it will have no share in the Hereafter. Miserable is what they sold their souls for, if they only knew.
The Qur’an ascribes to Solomon a great level of wisdom, knowledge and power. He knew the Mantiq al-tayr (مـنـطـق الـطـيـر, language of the birds). Solomon was also known in Islam to have other supernatural abilities bestowed upon him by Allah, after a special request by Solomon himself, such as controlling the wind, ruling over the Jinn, enslaving demons, and hearing the communication of ants:
“And to Solomon (We made) the wind (obedient): its early morning (stride) was a month’s (journey), and its evening (stride) was a month’s (journey); and We made a font of molten brass to flow for him; and there were Jinns that worked in front of him, by the leave of his Lord, and if any of them turned aside from Our command, We made him taste of the Penalty of the Blazing Fire.” (34: 12) and “At length, when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: ‘O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) without knowing it.’ – So he smiled, amused at her speech; and he said: ‘O my Rabb (رَبّ, Lord)! So order me that I may be grateful for Thy favors, which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may work the righteousness that will please Thee: and admit me, by Thy Grace, to the ranks of Thy righteous Servants.'” (27: 18–19)
The Qur’an mentions Solomon 17 times.
In the Bahá’í Faith, Solomon is regarded as one of the lesser prophets along with David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, along with others. Baha’is see Solomon as a prophet who was sent by God to address the issues of his time. Baha’ullah wrote about Solomon in the Hidden Words. He also mentions Solomon in the Tablet of Wisdom, where he is depicted as a contemporary of Pythagoras.
One Thousand and One Nights
A well-known story in the collection One Thousand and One Nights describes a genie who had displeased King Solomon and was punished by being locked in a bottle and thrown into the sea. Since the bottle was sealed with Solomon’s seal, the genie was helpless to free himself, until freed many centuries later by a fisherman who discovered the bottle. In other stories from the One Thousand and One Nights, protagonists who had to leave their homeland and travel to the unknown places of the world saw signs which proved that Solomon had already been there. Sometimes, protagonists discovered words of Solomon that were intended to help those who were lost and had unluckily reached those forbidden and deserted places.
Angels and magic
According to the Rabbinical literature, on account of his modest request for wisdom only, Solomon was rewarded with riches and an unprecedented glorious realm, which extended over the upper world inhabited by the angels and over the whole of the terrestrial globe with all its inhabitants, including all the beasts, fowl, and reptiles, as well as the demons and spirits. His control over the demons, spirits, and animals augmented his splendor, the demons bringing him precious stones, besides water from distant countries to irrigate his exotic plants. The beasts and fowl of their own accord entered the kitchen of Solomon’s palace, so that they might be used as food for him, and extravagant meals for him were prepared daily by each of his 700 wives and 300 concubines, with the thought that perhaps the king would feast that day in her house.
Seal of Solomon
A magic ring called the “Seal of Solomon” was supposedly given to Solomon and gave him power over demons or Jinn. The magical symbol said to have been on the Seal of Solomon which made it efficacious is often considered to be the Star of David though this emblem (also known as the Shield of David) is known to have been associated with Judaism only as recently as the 11th century CE while the five pointed star (pentagram) can be found on jars and other artifacts from Jerusalem dating back to at least the 2nd and 4th centuries BCE and is more likely to have been the emblem found on the ring purportedly used by King Solomon to control the Jinn or demons. Asmodeus, king of demons, was one day, according to the classical Rabbis, captured by Benaiah using the ring, and was forced to remain in Solomon’s service. In one tale, Asmodeus brought a man with two heads from under the earth to show Solomon; the man, unable to return, married a woman from Jerusalem and had seven sons, six of whom resembled the mother, while one resembled the father in having two heads. After their father’s death, the son with two heads claimed two shares of the inheritance, arguing that he was two men; Solomon decided that the son with two heads was only one man. The Seal of Solomon, in some legends known as the Ring of Aandaleeb, was a highly sought after symbol of power. In several legends, different groups or individuals attempted to steal it or attain it in some manner.
Solomon and Asmodeus
One legend concerning Asmodeus (see: The Story of King Solomon and Ashmedai) goes on to state that Solomon one day asked Asmodeus what could make demons powerful over man, and Asmodeus asked to be freed and given the ring so that he could demonstrate; Solomon agreed but Asmodeus threw the ring into the sea and it was swallowed by a fish. Asmodeus then swallowed the king, stood up fully with one wing touching heaven and the other earth, and spat out Solomon to a distance of 400 miles. The Rabbis claim this was a divine punishment for Solomon’s having failed to follow three divine commands, and Solomon was forced to wander from city to city, until he eventually arrived in an Ammonite city where he was forced to work in the king’s kitchens. Solomon gained a chance to prepare a meal for the Ammonite king, which the king found so impressive that the previous cook was sacked and Solomon put in his place; the king’s daughter, Naamah, subsequently fell in love with Solomon, but the family (thinking Solomon a commoner) disapproved, so the king decided to kill them both by sending them into the desert. Solomon and the king’s daughter wandered the desert until they reached a coastal city, where they bought a fish to eat, which just happened to be the one which had swallowed the magic ring. Solomon was then able to regain his throne and expel Asmodeus. The element of a ring thrown into the sea and found back in a fish’s belly also appeared in Herodotus’ account of Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos from c. 538 BCE to 522 BCE.
In another familiar version of the legend of the Seal of Solomon, Asmodeus disguises himself. In some myths, he’s disguised as King Solomon himself, while in more frequently heard versions he’s disguised as a falcon, calling himself Gavyn (Gavinn or Gavin), one of King Solomon’s trusted friends. The concealed Asmodeus tells travelers who have ventured up to King Solomon’s grand lofty palace that the Seal of Solomon was thrown into the sea. He then convinces them to plunge in and attempt to retrieve it, for if they do they would take the throne as king.
Other magical items attributed to Solomon are his key and his Table. The latter was said to be held in Toledo, Spain during Visigoth rule and was part of the loot taken by Tarik ibn Ziyad during the Umayyad Conquest of Iberia, according to Ibn Abd-el-Hakem’s History of the Conquest of Spain. The former appears in the title of the Lesser Key of Solomon, a grimoire whose framing story is Solomon capturing demons using his ring, and forcing them to explain themselves to him. In The Book of Deadly Names, purportedly translated from Arabic manuscripts found hidden in a building in Spain, the “King of the Jinn” Fiqitush brings 72 Jinn before King Solomon to confess their corruptions and places of residence. Fiqitush tells King Solomon the recipes for curing such corruptions as each evil Jinn confesses.
Angels also helped Solomon in building the Temple; though not by choice. The edifice was, according to rabbinical legend, miraculously constructed throughout, the large heavy stones rising and settling in their respective places of themselves. The general opinion of the Rabbis is that Solomon hewed the stones by means of a shamir, a mythical worm whose mere touch cleft rocks. According to Midrash Tehillim, the shamir was brought from paradise by Solomon’s eagle; but most of the rabbis state that Solomon was informed of the worm’s haunts by Asmodeus. The shamir had been entrusted by the prince of the sea to the mountain rooster alone, and the rooster had sworn to guard it well, but Solomon’s men found the bird’s nest, and covered it with glass. When the bird returned, it used the shamir to break the glass, whereupon the men scared the bird, causing it to drop the worm, which the men could then bring to Solomon.
In the Kabbalah
Early adherents of the Kabbalah portray Solomon as having sailed through the air on a throne of light placed on an eagle, which brought him near the heavenly gates as well as to the dark mountains behind which the fallen angels Uzza and Azzazel were chained; the eagle would rest on the chains, and Solomon, using the magic ring, would compel the two angels to reveal every mystery he desired to know.
The palace without entrance
According to one legend, while traveling magically, Solomon noticed a magnificent palace to which there appeared to be no entrance. He ordered the demons to climb to the roof and see if they could discover any living being within the building but they found only an eagle, which said that it was 700 years old, but that it had never seen an entrance. An elder brother of the eagle, 900 years old, was then found, but it also did not know the entrance. The eldest brother of these two birds, which was 1,300 years old, then declared it had been informed by its father that the door was on the west side, but that it had become hidden by sand drifted by the wind. Having discovered the entrance, Solomon found an idol inside that had in its mouth a silver tablet saying in Greek (a language not thought by modern scholars to have existed 1000 years before the time of Solomon) that the statue was of Shaddad, the son of ‘Ad, and that it had reigned over a million cities, rode on a million horses, had under it a million vassals and slew a million warriors, yet it could not resist the angel of death.
Solomon’s throne is described at length in Targum Sheni, which is compiled from three different sources, and in two later Midrash. According to these, there were on the steps of the throne twelve golden lions, each facing a golden eagle. There were six steps to the throne, on which animals, all of gold, were arranged in the following order: on the first step a lion opposite an ox; on the second, a wolf opposite a sheep; on the third, a tiger opposite a camel; on the fourth, an eagle opposite a peacock, on the fifth, a cat opposite a cock; on the sixth, a sparrow-hawk opposite a dove. On the top of the throne was a dove holding a sparrow-hawk in its claws, symbolizing the dominion of Israel over the Gentiles. The first midrash claims that six steps were constructed because Solomon foresaw that six kings would sit on the throne, namely, Solomon, Rehoboam, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah. There was also on the top of the throne a golden candelabrum, on the seven branches of the one side of which were engraved the names of the seven patriarchs Adam, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job, and on the seven of the other the names of Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses, Aaron, Eldad, Medad, and, in addition, Hur (another version has Haggai). Above the candelabrum was a golden jar filled with olive-oil and beneath it a golden basin which supplied the jar with oil and on which the names of Nadab, Abihu, and Eli and his two sons were engraved. Over the throne, twenty-four vines were fixed to cast a shadow on the king’s head.
By a mechanical contrivance the throne followed Solomon wherever he wished to go. Supposedly, due to another mechanical trick, when the king reached the first step, the ox stretched forth its leg, on which Solomon leaned, a similar action taking place in the case of the animals on each of the six steps. From the sixth step the eagles raised the king and placed him in his seat, near which a golden serpent lay coiled. When the king was seated the large eagle placed the crown on his head, the serpent uncoiled itself, and the lions and eagles moved upward to form a shade over him. The dove then descended, took the scroll of the Law from the Ark, and placed it on Solomon’s knees. When the king sat, surrounded by the Sanhedrin, to judge the people, the wheels began to turn, and the beasts and fowls began to utter their respective cries, which frightened those who had intended to bear false testimony. Moreover, while Solomon was ascending the throne, the lions scattered all kinds of fragrant spices. After Solomon’s death, Pharaoh Shishak, when taking away the treasures of the Temple (I Kings xiv. 26), carried off the throne, which remained in Egypt until Sennacherib conquered that country. After Sennacherib’s fall Hezekiah gained possession of it, but when Josiah was slain by Pharaoh Necho, the latter took it away. However, according to rabbinical accounts, Necho did not know how the mechanism worked and so accidentally struck himself with one of the lions causing him to become lame; Nebuchadnezzar, into whose possession the throne subsequently came, shared a similar fate. The throne then passed to the Persians, whose king Darius was the first to sit successfully on Solomon’s throne after his death; subsequently the throne came into the possession of the Greeks and Ahasuerus.
Masonic rituals refer to King Solomon and the building of his Temple. Masonic Temples, where a Masonic Lodge meets, are an allegorical reference to King Solomon’s Temple.
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Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia