So I am slowly moving through the Deuteronomic Histories, into now ‘Kings’, and the lives of the successors to David. Most importantly his immediate successor, the Great King Solomon. A cultural touch-stone and idiomatic for his wisdom, The first book of kings presents a rather complex character in Solomon, which continues the themes of the previous books in the cycle of ‘divine obedience’.
Solomon’s initial presentation seems to align with what I would consider the ‘popular’ mythology. He is wise. He makes decisions which are fair. Here is told an example of his wisdom used by parents the world over; two men have herds they keep close to each other. There is a dispute on which one owns a prime bull. Solomon says to mix the herds together and let one man divide them, while the other choses. Another example is when two women come claiming that a child is theirs. Solomon rules to cut the child is half and give each a half, judging that the one who is willing to forgo this process even if it means the other woman gets the child must be the true mother. These strike me, in their presentation as ‘culture hero’ narratives. The sort of myths that exist in the popular consciousness and so are ascribed to some ancient hero or god. It’s interesting in what it tells us the authors of this book wanted us to think about the king, rather than any insights into the king himself.
Of course Solomon’s greatest act of historical importance, is his erection of the Temple on the temple mount, the ‘First Temple’. Like the ark in earlier books Kings gives a fairly graphic description of the thing. This act is seen as his most divine, his most in keeping with the intended purpose of being the king of Israel, at least as the likely priestly authors of the text are concerned; the exaltation of God.
As the book progresses Solomon is confronted by a host of problems, most of which he deals with fairly. Than, as time goes on, we are told he ‘turns away from God’. He builds alters to other gods, and idols, and their worship spreads. This is partly blamed to Solomon’s foreign wives, revisiting tensions exhibited in Ruth and with Samson. Here the text finds a punishment from God not on Solomon, but on his children, which is interesting. It presents us with a clear case of the sins of the father being visited upon the son, a theme we’ve seen a bit and that will be recurring. More interestingly I think, is that it seems to be adjusting a religious narrative(Obey God-Reward, Disobey God-Punishment) to fit a historical set of events. That is, as we shall see in 2 Kings, the kingdom becomes split into two, and this event will be blamed on Solomon’s break with God. But since this event doesn’t happen in Solomon’s life-time, it is interesting to have it seen as such an event. As a consequence for Solomon’s actions rather than for his Sons. The tension there allows us to have some sense of the space in which the author is writing; wanting perhaps to preserve and accord with what is known of the king, but to his own particular purpose. We continue thus to look at, like in all historical texts, how the who, when and where or the author are as important, if not sometimes more-so, than the actual ‘what’ of the text.
Solomon is a very popular figure, both in history, and to a whole host of figures. The ‘wisdom of solomon’ is proverbial. The wealth of solomon likewise. Writers attach fabled lost treasures to his name. In various folk and occult traditions he is the binder or defeater of demons, Djinni or other supernatural creatures. A sort of master Sorcerer. Trying to suss out the historical figure from the popular accounts, or from the biblical accounts is difficult, though there are aspects that one can recognize as you read between the lines, but I’ll cover more of that in my next entry.
Next Time:2 Kings, more crowns, more clashes…