In This Article Solomon

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biblical Commentaries

Biblical Studies Solomon
by
Mark W. Hamilton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0127

Introduction

According to the Bible, Solomon was the third king of a united Israel, reigning in the latter half of the 10th century BCE. The earliest traditions about his reign, concentrated in 1 Kings and in modified form in 1–2 Chronicles, portray him as a builder and organizer of a state who consolidated the gains of his father David. These texts depict him as a builder, administrator, patron of wisdom, and diplomat. According to the literary traditions about Solomon, these instruments of rule, common to ancient Near Eastern monarchs, allowed him to consolidate the power he inherited, although he was unable to pass it to his son. The inherent contradictions of his rule, at least in the literary account in 1 Kings 1–11, led to the ultimate failure of his program of remaking Israel. As a literary character, Solomon endures, in part because 1 Kings weaves together stories about him that render him a complex figure, capable of profound humility and wisdom, but ultimately susceptible to the blandishments of power and sexual gratification. His reign, according to 1 Kings, was in the final analysis a failure, and indeed the precursor of the failures of many of his successors. Later accounts of his reign are often more generous, with the Chronicler (who wrote during the 5th or 4th century BCE) recasting Solomon’s reign as primarily a religious revolution marked by the building of the glorious Temple in Jerusalem. During the same period, the editors of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs connected their works to Solomon as the royal patron of wisdom. Later traditions, including those in the Qur’an, transformed Solomon from the tyrant in 1 Kings to a sage or even a wizard of great power. The literary Solomon has thus become a vessel into which successive generations can pour its fascination—and frustration—with power.

General Overviews

The biblical stories of Solomon serve as raw materials for several uses, including the reconstruction of Israel’s early history (especially the origins of the monarchy), the later history of ideas about kingship and social life, the evolution of Israelite religion, the literary techniques of narration and historiography, and even the ideological exploration of human nature and behavior. Scholars of the text may focus on one or more of these concerns, using for each different sets of questions, different methods, and thus reaching different results; in other words, what one sees depends, in part, on what one is looking to find. It is helpful, then, to begin with broad overviews of the problems at hand. Thus Brueggemann 2005 offers a character sketch (not quite a biography) of Solomon as portrayed in biblical texts, understanding the story primarily as an ironic depiction of power gone wrong and thus as a parable of sorts. Lasine 2001 takes a similar approach, with a very high degree of suspicion toward political leaders in general and an emphasis on the ruler as head of a police state. A more subtle view of royal power appears in Hamilton 2009, Lux 2005, Stager 2003, and some of the articles in Handy 1997. From a more rigorously historical point of view, Dietrich 2007 argues that the stories of 10th-century BCE monarchs contain a significant historical kernel and are not late fictions. This view, of course, is controversial, and it is difficult to be as confident as many of the authors of a previous generation were (see the essays in Ishida 1982), but Dietrich has made a strong case that must be taken seriously. In many publications, including Finkelstein and Silberman 2006, Finkelstein has argued against such a view, reassessing the archaeological evidence (dating much of the material ascribed to the 10th-century rulers David and Solomon to their 9th-century Omride successors) and calling into question the biblical stories.

  • Brueggemann, Walter. Solomon: Israel’s Ironic Icon of Human Achievement. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005.

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    Traces the stories about Solomon from their pre-Deuteronomistic sources to Second Temple Jewish texts (including the New Testament). Brueggemann argues that the Solomon stories, whatever their historicity, fed Israel’s imagination about what a powerful leader should be. However, according to Brueggemann, the many ironies in Solomon’s story make him a problematic leader.

  • Dietrich, Walter. The Early Monarchy in Israel: The Tenth Century B.C.E. Translated by Joachim Vette. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

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    Tracing the development of the Bible’s stories about kings from the earliest sources (now embedded in 1–2 Samuel) to the biblical books themselves, Dietrich argues that some of the stories are dated close to the time of the events they describe. His approach identifies a series of ideologies within the text, providing evidence for the development of Israelite ideas rather than grounds for dismissing the stories as fiction.

  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Neil Asher Silberman. David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. New York and London: Free Press, 2006.

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    Distinguishes historical from legendary material in the stories of David and Solomon. The “cosmopolitan” Solomon stories portray foreigners favorably while depicting the king’s reign as one of peace, artistic splendor, and prosperity. The authors debunk many erroneous assumptions about the archaeology of the 10th century BCE, arguing for a minimalist approach to the evidence while acknowledging the historicity of Solomon himself.

  • Hamilton, Mark W. “Solomon.” In The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 5. Edited by Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, et al., 317–326. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

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    A survey of the key literary, historical, and religious issues surrounding the reign of Solomon, including a useful comparison of the three extant biblical depictions of his reign (1 Kings, 3 Reigns [the Greek translation and revision of 1 Kings], and 1–2 Chronicles). The main archaeological issues also receive attention.

  • Handy, Lowell K., ed. The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    A major collection of articles by many authors on the historical and literary issues surrounding Solomon’s reign. This work offers a snapshot of the state of the discussion in the late 1990s and should be the beginning point for a consideration of the problems still facing scholarship today.

  • Ishida, Tomoo, ed. Studies in the Period of David and Solomon and Other Essays: Papers Read at the International Symposium for Biblical Studies, Tokyo, 5–7 December, 1979. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1982.

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    Fifteen of the seventeen essays (by as many authors) in this volume study aspects of Israel’s life during the 10th century BCE. Most take the position that the reigns of David and Solomon marked a renaissance period of extensive literary activity. Scholarly confidence in this overall view has eroded, but the essays offer useful analysis of the trade, literature, religion, and politics in the period.

  • Lasine, Stuart. Knowing Kings: Knowledge, Power, and Narcissism in the Hebrew Bible. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.

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    A literary-critical study of the Saul, David, Solomon, and Job stories, emphasizing royal narcissism and unaccountability. Lasine discusses ancient Near Eastern royal stories but primarily focuses on a deconstructivist reading strategy of the Israelite stories. The work raises many interesting questions; however, its understanding of royal gathering and use of knowledge seems anachronistic, and its focus on royal irresponsibility is one-sided.

  • Lux, Rüdiger, ed. Ideales Königtum: Studien zu David und Salomo. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2005.

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    This collection of essays on David and Solomon draws important connections between their reigns, as well as illustrating major differences in the presentations of their biographies by the Literary Presentations: Deuteronomistic History.

  • Stager, Lawrence E. “The Patrimonial Kingdom of Solomon.” In Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel, and Their Neighbors from the Late Bronze Age through Roman Palaestina. Edited by William G. Dever and Seymour Gitin, 63–74. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003.

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    Argues that archaeological and textual evidence points to a patrimonial kingdom centered in Jerusalem during the 10th century BCE, indicating a reality behind the Bible’s portrayal of Solomon’s rule. The kingdom was considered an extension of the royal family’s estate.

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