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.
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...
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