Solomon Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)
0111205886-Solomon.jpg Solomon (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.


Biblical literature (I Kings 1-11; I Chronicles 22-II Chronicles 9) relates that Solomon (SAHL-uh-muhn) was a son of King David by Bathsheba. Solomon acceded to Israel’s throne after David. Few biblical characters are as intriguing as Solomon, reputedly the richest king in history and wisest man in the world from biblical perspectives, receiving tribute from Egypt and Phoenicia and the testimony of the Queen of Sheba. Many implausible legends surround Solomon—such as being a great sorcerer and one who possessed a ring enabling him to understand animal languages—but he was politically canny, making trade alliances with nearby kings, including Hiram of Tyre, and marriage alliances with many others. He preferred peace to war, building the first temple in Jerusalem and embellishing it and his palace with Phoenician art and cedars and great luxury. He is perhaps best known today as the legendary wise ruler who solved the dispute between two women’s claim to a child by offering to divide the child physically in half, thereby evoking the grief of the real mother and hence identifying which woman was telling the truth.

His reign marked the zenith of Israelite history, occurring in a power vacuum between weak Egyptian and Mesopotamian empires. He was reputed author of the biblical books Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon), although this last attribution is unlikely. His wisdom appears in observations of nature, especially plants, animals, and human behavior, in three thousand proverbs and more than one thousand songs. A man of legendary superlatives, he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines according to I Kings, but his excesses led to division of his kingdom into northern and southern realms at his death.


Solomonic legend continued through ancient history, even appearing in Pompeian wall painting, and into Judeo-Christian tradition in medieval as well as Islamic worlds as the most remarkable biblical potentate of the Near East.

Further Reading:

Barker, Kenneth, ed. The Full Life Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1990. In this edition, each book is preceded by a detailed introduction, and there are verse-by-verse explanations on each page. There are also indexes, essays, notes, time lines, maps, and charts. For an excellent archaeological supplement, see the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, also published by Zondervan.

Beers, V. Gilbert. The Nation Divides. Vol. 12 in The Book of Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1980. Beers combines the accounts of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles to provide a cogent picture of Solomon and his times. Includes excellent photographs and...

(The entire section is 1140 words.)

Solomon Biography

(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Israeli king (r. c. 961-930 b.c.e.){$I[g]Israel;Solomon} Through the application of his famous wisdom and the construction of the Temple, Solomon not only made a major contribution to the Judeo-Christian tradition but also forged the twelve tribes of Israel into a true nation, giving them an identity that would survive succeeding dispersions and persecutions.

Early Life

Solomon (SAHL-oh-muhn) was the second child born to King David and Bathsheba and the fifth of David’s sons. Although the sources are silent about Solomon’s childhood, it is known that the prophet Nathan, who had enormous court influence, was his tutor. Accordingly, Solomon would have received a very thorough grounding in Jewish civil and religious teachings. His position at the court was enhanced by his mother, a remarkably intelligent figure with influence over the king.

Although David had promised the throne to Solomon, David’s eldest surviving son, Adonijah, harbored the ambition to be king, an ambition that to him seemed perfectly justifiable. His older brothers, Amnon, Absalom, and Chileab, had died, so should not the throne naturally devolve to the next oldest son? In order for him to secure the throne for himself, however, Adonijah needed allies. Through intrigue, he gained the support of his other brothers; of Joab, the commander of the army; and of Abiathar, the high priest in Jerusalem. These were powerful people, but Solomon had an even more potent group backing his claim. These included Zadok, the high priest at Gilbeah, Benaiah, commander of David’s mercenaries (David’s “Mighty Men,” who had fought with him since the king’s early days and had never lost a campaign), Nathan, and Bathsheba.

To have any hope of success, Adonijah, then, had to act boldly before Solomon was consecrated king. As David lay on his sickbed, Adonijah, with an escort of fifty men and his supporters, had himself anointed king in the royal gardens at Enrogel. Nathan quickly learned of this and, alarmed, informed Bathsheba. It was vital that David reaffirm his oath concerning Solomon and have him anointed king immediately, or Solomon and his supporters would be killed. Confronted by Nathan and Bathsheba with Adonijah’s acts, David ordered Benaiah and the royal troops to escort Solomon on the king’s donkey and to have him anointed king by Zadok. When Adonijah and his followers realized that this had occurred, their coup attempt collapsed. His guests scattered, and Adonijah fled to the sanctuary altar and would not leave until Solomon promised not to harm him.

Solomon was now king. Shortly before David died, he advised Solomon on how to deal with his enemies, counseling him to stay true to the Lord’s commandments. It was useful advice, for Adonijah quickly tried another tactic. Through Bathsheba, he asked Solomon’s permission to marry Abishag, who was a member of David’s harem. If this marriage were permitted, it would establish Adonijah’s rightful claim to the throne. Solomon reacted swiftly. Adonijah was immediately executed, as was Joab. Abiathar was removed from his priestly office and exiled to Anathoth, fulfilling the prophecy regarding Eli’s descendants (1 Sam. 2:27-37). Three years later, Shimei, an opponent whom Solomon had confined to Jerusalem, violated the terms of his punishment and was executed.

Life’s Work

With his throne now secure, Solomon could concentrate on consolidating his kingdom, in order to secure the empire that his father had created. To achieve this end, Solomon initiated a sophisticated program based on three policies: There would be no further territorial conquests for the Israelite empire, he would take advantage of the economic opportunities presented by Israel’s strategic location, and he would build the Temple in Jerusalem to provide a unifying political and spiritual focal point for his people.

Although there were no significant foreign threats during his reign, Solomon realized that to attain his goals he needed to secure his borders through a combination of peaceful dealings with his neighbors and a modernized army at home. Accordingly, he launched a bold foreign policy initiative: an alliance with Egypt. After some difficult negotiations, the alliance was confirmed by Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh Siamon’s daughter—a clear indication of the importance Egypt gave to the alliance, for Egyptian princesses were rarely given in marriage to foreign potentates. Solomon received the fortified city of Gezer as a dowry after the pharaoh had plundered it. The land route for the transport of goods from Phoenicia to Egypt thus secured was mutually beneficial for Egypt and Israel. The main advantage with which this alliance provided Solomon, however, was that it gave him access to Egypt’s building expertise and military technology: chariots, horses, and technical advisers to train the Israelites in their proper use.

Solomon could now proceed to modernize his army. This involved creating a large chariot force of fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen and constructing forts with stables at strategic points around the kingdom. For example, excavations at the thirteen-acre site at Megiddo, which controlled the vital highway running through the Plain of Esdraelon between Egypt and Syria, show that this fortress could house 450 horses and 150 chariots. Similar fortresses were apparently built at Beth-horon, Baalath, Hamath-zobah, and Tadmor.

Solomon also cemented relations with Hiram of Tyre. Tyre was a vital maritime city with colonies in Cyprus, Sicily, Sardinia, and southern Spain. Hemmed in by the Lebanon Mountains, Tyre had to depend on commerce for survival. Solomon needed cedar lumber as well as skilled artisans and architects from Tyre for his building projects; in return, Hiram received food and protection for his city.

Solomon’s political program required not only safe borders backed by a military force capable of protecting important trade routes but also a firm revenue base. To meet this need, Solomon divided the nation into twelve districts. The official in...

(The entire section is 2521 words.)