Recent Posts

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Real King Solomon

He was a youthful king who seems to have enjoyed himself as few people in history ever have. He wrote the Song of Solomon; a startlingly erotic love poem that breaks the commonly understood  mold of the Old Testament as a strictly moralistic tome. It's generally believed he wrote Ecclesiastes, the 21st book of the Bible, whose undisputed wisdom has found its way into popular culture: i.e., The Byrds' hit Turn, Turn, Turn, "To every thing there is a season...", and, "So I commend pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat, drink, and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 8:15.

He had riches and power beyond mortal measure, and women like you wouldn't believe. According to the Bible, 700 wives and 300 concubines. This must be pure imagery for dramatic impact, in truth. The numbers defy logic. No person would have time to even speak to 700 wives. not to mention 300 concubines. The country would be stripped of women, and an epidemic of bachelors would seriously stress the community and threaten national harmony. No man possesses the energy or time needed for a harem a fraction of this size, and where would he find time to rule his kingdom?

All this points to numerology, a quality of the Bible we must learn to understand.  Numbers had sacred value in ancient times. The fourth book of the Old Testament is called Numbers. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a unique numerical value. The numbers three and seven are particularly holy, and should rarely be taken literally. In Isaiah 6:3, the angels praise God before His throne,"Holy, holy, holy..." three times. Seven indicates completion and perfection, as in the seven days of Creation, described in Genesis 2:2.

There's every reason to believe that God gave Solomon all the riches of the earth in superabundance. In 1 Kings 3:5-12, Solomon asks God for wisdom - not mentioning earthly wealth - so, "The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings."

We know the Temple of Solomon was built, because the foundation is still there on the temple mount; and it's astonishing. Huge blocks of stone are dressed to very fine tolerances, and a knife blade won't fit between them in most places. The Romans left a record of the vast treasure they took from the temple when they leveled it in 70 A.D. 

Nevertheless, there are many doubters who maintain that Solomon and David, his father, never really existed.

There's a furious battle going on right now in Israel between two major figures, top archaeological authorities: Israel Finkelstein (who says Solomon never lived, and both Israel and Jerusalem were mere backwaters in the ancient world with no credibility or power); and Eilat Mazar, who has unearthed an important gate at the city of Gezer, exactly where the Old Testament says many Solomonic structures were built. The most credible argument against the existence of a powerful Israel in the ancient world is the lack of structural evidence. But there are two answers to that: One, Israel was conquered by the Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Romans, who all had a strong interest in stamping out Jewish identity. Fancy palaces and temples make wonderful stockpiles of precious materials to be plundered by conquering peoples. No wonder there's barely anything left. Secondly, there have been more than a few artifacts found, and recently; a huge copper mining city in the south that fits perfectly the timeline of King Solomon's Mines of legend. On top of that, Islamists venerate both  Davood  and Suleiman, as they call David and Solomon. They always have, even though both undermine the Arab, Palestinian, and Persian case against Jewish power and identity.

The most fascinating part of the Solomon's story is what rarely is mentioned. King David - "A man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13: 13-14) - was at the height of his power and wealth, but was unhappy. His  wife, Michal, was a real Gorgon, full of resentment for God knows what. Perhaps because her father - King Saul - had gone mad, tried to kill David, and failed. Then Saul committed suicide.

There are several reasons - moral and ethical - why people would want to skim over this; but the main one is it's very much a conundrum. David seduces Bathsheba (but she set him up by bathing naked on her rooftop within sight of his palace), then he gets her pregnant, even though she's married to Uriah the Hittite, one of David's best and most loyal generals. Uriah won't sleep with Bathsheba - thus allowing for a coverup of her pregnancy - so David arranges to have Uriah killed in battle; and he dies. 

Of course God becomes angry, and sends the prophet Nathan to trap David in the famous theoretical legal opinion (the poor man who has his only lamb taken by the rich man) that brings doom on David. But - and this is where it gets really rich - Bathsheba's born-in-sin son is Solomon, the greatest of all kings of Israel; a king that God loves as much as David, and rewards ten times as much. So isn't it obvious God is sending us a message here? One, that great good can come from evil if we remain faithful. And two, our judgments about who is worthy and virtuous, and who isn't, can't be relied upon in many - if not most - cases.

To top off the story, Solomon later in life begins consorting with strange pagan women outside the Law of Israel, and falls out of God's favor just like his dad. Like father like son. But he repents in the end, and God forgives him. He's venerated as Israel's greatest king, even though he didn't engage in any military operations to speak of; unlike David, who was the first special operations commando.