Our sources for the study of the life, reign, and character of Solomon are 1 Kings 1-9; and 2 Chronicles 1-9. Solomon (Heb. "peaceful"), also called Jedidiah, i.e., "beloved of Yahweh", was the second son of David by his wife Bathsheba, and the acknowledged favourite of his father. This may have been due partly to the fact that he, as a late offspring, considerably younger than David's other sons, was born in his father's old age, and partly to the intense love of David for Bathsheba and the beautiful qualities of Solomon himself. Solomon was not the logical heir to the throne, but David conferred it upon him instead of his older brothers, and in doing so he committed no wrong according to Israelitish ideas. Solomon was eighteen years old when he ascended the throne, or at least no older than this, and his successful reign of forty years speaks well for his intelligence, ability, and statesmanship. His reign offers a striking contrast to that of his father. It was almost entirely devoid of incident, and was marked by none of the vicissitudes of fortune which were so notable a feature in the career of David. Enjoying for the most part peaceful relations with foreign powers, and set free from the troubles that menaced him at home, Solomon was enabled to devote himself fully to the internal organization of his kingdom and the embellishment of his Court. In particular he gave much attention to the defence of the country (including the construction of fortresses), the administration of justice, the development of trade, and the erection of a national temple to the Almighty.
The territory over which sovereignty is claimed for Solomon by the historian of 1 Kings extended from the Euphrates to the River of Egypt (el Arish), or, to name the cities at the limits of his realms, from Tiphsah (Thapsacus) to Gaza (1 Kings 4:24). The account of his reign shows that even his fathers dominions were not retained by him unimpaired. But if some of the outlying portions ofDavid's empire, such as Damascus and Edom, were lost by Solomon, the integrity of the actual soil of Israel was secured alike by the erection of fortresses in strong positions (including Hazor, Megiddo, one or both of the Beth-horons, and Baalath) and by the maintenance of a large force of war-chariots. Of the cities selected for fortification Hazor guarded the northern frontier, Megiddo protected the plain of Esdraelon, whilst the Beth-horons, with Baalath, commanded the Valley of Aijalon, thus defending the capitol against an attack from the maritime plain. Additional security in this direction was obtained by the acquisition ofGezer. This city had hitherto been left in the hand of the Canaanites, and came into Solomon's power by a marriage alliance with Egypt. Under David, Israel had become a factor to be reckoned with in Eastern politics, and the Pharaoh found it prudent to secure its friendship. The Pharoah was probably Psieukhannit (Psebkhan) II, the last king of the 21st dynasty, who had his capitol at Zoan (Tanis), and ruled over the Delta. Solomon wedded his daughter; and the Egyptian sovereign, having attacked and burnt Gezer and destroyed the Canaanites inhabitants, bestowed it as a dowry upon the princess. It was now rebuilt and made a fortified city of Solomon. In Jerusalem itself additional defences were constructed, and the capitol was further adorned by the erection of the temple and the royal palaces described below. In view of the trade route to the Red Sea, which the possession of the ports of Edom gave to Israel, Tamara (perhaps Tamar) was likewise fortified. Cities had also to be built for the reception and support of the force of chariots and cavalry which the king maintained, and which he seems to have been the first to introduce into the armies of Israel. This force is stated to have consisted of 1400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen (1 Kings 10:26). The numbers of the foot-soldiery are not given, perhaps because, being a militia and not a standing army, it was only mustered when there was occasion for its services; but the levies available were, probably, not inferior to those which the nation could raise at the close ofDavid's reign.
Solomon's foreign policy was one of international friendship and peace. His relation with the Pharaoh of Egypt has already been alluded to, and the same may be said of his relation with his other great neighbour, Hiram, King of Tyre, and lord of the Phoenician Riviera which lies between Lebanon and the sea. To him belonged the famous Cedar forests, and the no less famous artisans of Gabal were his subjects. Solomon formed with him a commercial treaty, surrendering certain towns on the northern frontier (1 Kings 9:11) in exchange for floats of timber conveyed to Jappa and skilled workmen lent him for wood-carving, stone-fashioning, and bronze-casting. What Solomon gained by the alliance was knowledge of the Phoenician manner of trading. As ruler of Edom he had possession of the port of Eloth, at the head of the Gulf of Akaba. Here he built ships and sent his own servants, under Phoenician masters, to trade with Arabia. The profits went into the king's coffers. As Arabia was a gold-producing country, we need not suppose that South Africa was reached by these fleets. Whether the commerce of India reached him by this route is not certain. The list of products imported has sometimes been interpreted in this sense. But one or two obscure words in a comparatively late text can hardly establish the conclusion. The money value of the importations, four hundred and twenty talents in a single voyage, must be viewed with suspicion.
Solomon's internal policy was one of justice and concentration of power and authority. In the administration of justice David's policy and reign of remissness and incoherence was improved upon by Solomon's stern administration and equanimity. He also took steps to make the royal authority stronger, more efficient, and more far-reaching, chiefly, as far as out records go, with a view to the collection ofrevenue and the maintenance of an army, which latter, apparently, he did not know how to use. We have a longer list of ministers. David's government included a commander-in-chief, a captain of the mercenary guard, a superintendent of forced labour, a recorder, a scribe and priests, and a "king's friend". In addition to these, Solomon had a superintendent of prefects and a master of the household. A more striking innovation was the division of the country into twelve districts, each under a royal representative orprefect, charged with the duty of provisioning the Court month by month. This division largely ignored the ancient tribes, and seems to show that the tribal system was passing away. Like most powerful rulers, Solomon signalized his reign by numerous splendid buildings, and for this purpose made extensive use of the corvee or forced labour. This again led to increased exertion of authority by the central government; and, incidentally, the complete subjugation of the Canaanites was shown by the fact that they had to bear the main portion of this burden. According to our present biblical data, Solomon went beyond any ancient monarch in the luxury of the harem. The enormous number of wives (700) and concubines (300) attributed to him must be made up by counting all the female slaves of the palace among the concubines. Even then the figure must be grossly exaggerated. Klostermann has wisely remarked that the two items are not in the right proportion, and he is inclined, and we think with good reason, to suspect that 70 wives and 300 concubines was the original statement of the sacred narrator.
The building operations of Solomon were on a large scale and of a remarkable magnitude and splendour. Besides the erection of a magnificent temple he succeeded in emulating the great kings of Western Asia and Egypt by building for himself in the city of Jerusalem, palaces, houses, and gardens. (See TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM.) In the erection of these, thirteen years were spent as well as a large sum of money, while thousands of labourers and craftsmen were employed. The royal residence embraced several distinct structures:
1. the house of the forest of Lebanon (so named from the quantity of cedar-wood used in it), which measured 100x50x30 cubits, and rested upon three rows (so Sept.) of pillars (each row being composed of fifteen columns) in addition to the external walls; 2. the porch of pillars, 50x30 cubits; 3. the porch of the throne (to which the last-mentioned may have served as an ante-chamber), forming a judgment hall where the king's throne of ivory and gold (1 Kings 10:18-20) was placed when he dispensed justice; 4. the palace of Pharaoh's daughter, probably included within the court just named.
All these were built of costly hewn stone, the wood employed being cedar. Of Solomon's closing years nothing further is recorded. His reign is stated to have lasted forty years; but it is probable that this is merely a round number employed to indicate a considerable period (perhaps a full generation) and the actual duration of his rule is unknown. The year of his death may be approximately fixed between 938 and 916 B. C., adate arrived at from a consideration of the number of years assigned by the Bible to his successors, corrected by the chronology of certain Assyrian inscriptions.
In the view of the Hebrew historian, Solomon was unsurpassed for sagacity and knowledge. On his accession to the throne, it is related that Jehovah appeared to him at Gibeon in a dream, and bade him choose a boon; and the young king, instead of asking for long life or riches or success in war, prayed to be endowed with an understanding heart that he might judge the people committed to him. His request was granted; ;and riches and honour were added thereto, with a promise of length of days if he kept Jehovah's commandments. In consequence of this endowment, he was reputed to be wiser than all men; people flocked from all quarters to hear his wisdom; and the Queen of Sheba, in particular, came to prove him with hard questions. He was at once a philosopher and a poet. He spake 3000 proverbs; his songs were 1005; and his utterances embraced references alike to the vegetable and the animal kingdoms. So great, indeed, was his reputation for practical insight that in later times the bulk of the Hebrew Gnomic literature was ascribed to him. In the light of after-events, it is impossible fully to endorse the historian's estimate of his sagacity, or even to clear his memory from imputations of criminal folly. To his oppressive exactions, in furtherance of his schemes of luxury and magnificence, was due the discontent which in the reign of his son broke hiskingdom in two, and ultimately led to the destruction in detail of the Hebrew nation by the power of Assyria and Babylon. It is clear likewise that, besides being fond of display, he was voluptuous and sensual, and that he was led by his wives and concubines to worship strange gods.
The fact that Solomon's reign was passed in tranquillity, except for the attempts of Edom and Damascus to regain their independence, testifies to the care he displayed for the defence of the realm. That he showed no ambition to undertake foreign conquests redounds to his credit; after the exhausting wars of David the nation needed repose. And if he spent his people's wealth lavishly, his commercial policy may have helped to produce that wealth, and perhaps even given to the Jewish people that impulse towards trade which has been for centuries so marked a trait in their character. Nor can the indirect effects of the commerce he fostered be overlooked, inasmuch as it brought the people into closer contact with the outside world and so enlarged their intellectual horizon. And in two other respects he profoundly influenced his nation's after-history, and thereby mankind in general. In the first place, whatever the burdens which the construction of the temple entailed upon the generation that saw it erected, it eventually became the chief glory of the Jewish race. To it, its ritual, and its associations, was largely due the stronger hold which, after the disruption, the religion of Jehovah had upon Judah as contrasted with Northern Israel; and when Judah ceased to be a nation, the reconstructed temple became in a still higher degree the guardian of the Hebrew faith and hope. And secondly, the Book of Proverbs, though parts are expressly ascribed to other authors than Solomon, and even those sections which are attributed to him may be complex of origin, is nevertheless the product of Solomon's spirit and example, and much that it contains may actually have proceeded from him. And as Proverbs served as a model for many works of a similar character in later times, some of which, as has been said, were popularly ascribed to him (Ecclesiastes, Wisdom), the debt which the world of literature indirectly owes to the Hebrew king is considerable. The works named do not exhaust the list of productions with which Solomon's name is connected. The Song of Songs is attributed to him; two of the Canonical psalms are entitled his; and a book of Psalms of quite late date also goes by his name.
The History of Solomon.
After David, reigned Solomon his son, which was in the beginning a good man and walked in the ways and laws of God. And all the kings about him made peace with him and was king confirmed, obeyed and peaceable in his possession, and according to his father's commandment did justice. First on Joab that had been prince of his father's host, because he slew two good men by treason slay him not, and contrary said that other woman: Let it not be given to me ne to thee, but let it be divided. The king then answered and said: Give the living child to this woman, and let it not be slain; this is verily the mother. All Israel heard how wisely the king had given this sentence and dreaded him, seeing that the wisdom of God was in him in deeming of rightful dooms.
After this Solomon sent his messengers to divers kings for cedar trees and for workmen, for to make and build a temple unto our Lord. Solomon was rich and glorious, and all the realms from the river of the ends of the Philistines unto the end of Egypt were accorded with him, and offered to him gifts and to serve him all the days of his life. Solomon had daily for the meat of his household thirty measures, named chores, of corn, and sixty of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen of pasture and an hundred wethers, without venison that was taken, as harts, goats, bubals, and other flying fowls and birds. He obtained all the region that was from Tiphsa unto Azza, and had peace with all the kings of all the realms that were in every part round about him. In that time Israel and Judah dwelled without fear and dread, every each under his vine and fig tree from Dan unto Beersheba. And Solomon had forty thousand racks for the horses of his carts, chariots and cars, and twelve thousand for horses to ride on, by which prefects brought necessary things for the table of king Solomon, with great diligence in their time. God gave to Solomon much wisdom and prudence in his heart, like to the gravel that is in the sea-side, and the sapience and wisdom of Solomon passed and went tofore the sapience of all them of the Orient and of Egypt, and he was the wisest of all men, and so he was named. He spake three thousand parables, and five thousand songs, and disputed upon all manner trees and virtue of them, from the cedar that is in Lebanon unto the hyssop that groweth on the wall, and discerned the properties of beasts, fowls, reptiles and fishes, and there came people from all regions of the world for to hear the wisdom of Solomon.
And Solomon sent letters to Hiram, king of Tyre, for to have his men to cut cedar trees with his servants, and he would yield to them their hire and meed, and let him wit how that he would build and edify a temple to our Lord. And Hiram sent to him that he should have all that he desired, and sent to him cedar trees and other wood. And Solomon sent to him corn in great number, and Solomon and Hiram confederated them together in love and friendship. Solomon chose out workmen of all Israel the number of thirty thousand men of whom he sent to Lebanon ten thousand every month, and when ten thousand went the others came home, and so two months were they at home, and Adonias was overseer and commander on them. Solomon had seventy thousand men that did nothing but bear stone and mortar and other things to the edifying of the temple, and were bearers of burdens only, and he had eighty thousand of hewers of stone and masons in the mountain, without the prefects and masters, which were three thousand three hundred that did nothing but command and oversee them that wrought.
Solomon commanded the workmen to make square stones, great and precious, for to lay in the foundament, which the masons of Israel and masons of Hiram hewed, and the carpenters made ready the timber. Then began Solomon the temple to our Lord, in the fourth year of his reign he began to build the temple. The house that he builded had seventy cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and thirty in height, and the porch tofore the temple was twenty cubits long after the measure of the breadth of the temple, and had ten cubits of breadth tofore the face of the temple, and for to write the curiosity and work of the temple, and the necessaries, the tables and cost that was done in gold, silver and latten, it passeth my cunning to express and English them. Ye that be clerks may see it in the Second Book of Kings and the Second Book of Paralipomenon. It is wonder to hear the costs and expenses that was made in that temple, but I pass over. It was on making seven years, and his palace was thirteen years ere it was finished. He made in the temple an altar of pure gold, and a table to set on the loaves of proposition of gold, five candlesticks of gold on the right side and five on the left side, and many other things, and took all the vessels of gold and silver that his father David had sanctified and hallowed, and brought them into the treasury of the house of our Lord. After this he assembled all the noblest and greatest of birth of them of Israel, with the princes of the tribes and dukes of the families, for to bring the Ark of God from the city of David, Sion, into the temple. And the priests and Levites took the Ark and bare it and all the vessels of the sanctuary that were in the tabernacle. King Solomon, with all the multitude of the children that were there, went tofore the Ark and offered sheep and oxen without estimation and number.
And the priests set the Ark in the house of our Lord in the oracle of the temple, in sancta sanctorum, under the wings of cherubim. In the ark was nothing but the two tables of Moses of stone which Moses had put in. And then Solomon blessed our Lord tofore all the people, and thanked him that he had suffered him to make an house unto his name, and besought our Lord that he whosomever prayed our Lord for any petition in that temple, that he of his mercy would hear him and be merciful to him. And our Lord appeared to him when the edifice was accomplished perfectly, and said to Solomon: I have heard thy prayer and thine oration that thou hast prayed tofore me. I have sanctified and hallowed this house that thou hast edified for to put my name therein for evermore, and my eyes and heart shall be thereon always. And if thou walk before me like as thy father walked in the simplicity of heart and in equity, and wilt do all that I have commanded thee, and keep my judgments and laws, I shall set the throne of thy reign upon Israel evermore, like as I have said to thy father David, saying: There shall not be taken away a man of thy generation from the reign and seat of Israel.
If ye avert and turn from me, ye and your sons, not following ne keeping my commandments and ceremonies that I have showed tofore you, but go and worship strange gods, and honour them, I shall cast away Israel from the face of the earth that I have given to them, and the temple that I have hallowed to my name, l shall cast it away from my sight. And it shall be a fable and proverb, and thy house an example shall be to all people; every man that shall go thereby shall be abashed and astonied, and shall say: Why hath God done thus to this land and to thy house? And they shall answer: For they have forsaken their Lord God that brought them out of the land of Egypt, and have followed strange gods, and them adored and worshipped, and therefore God hath brought on them all this evil: here may every man take ensample how perilous and dreadful it is to break the commandment of God.
Twenty year after that Solomon had edified the temple of God and his house, and finished it perfectly, Hiram the king of Tyre went for to see towns that Solomon had given to him, and they pleased him not. Hiram had sent to king Solomon an hundred and twenty besants of gold, which he had spent on the temple and his house, and on the wall of Jerusalem and other towns and places that he had made. Solomon was rich and glorious that the fame ran, of his sapience and wisdom and of his building and dispence in his house, through the world, in so much that the queen of Sheba came from far countries to see him and to tempt him in demands and questions. And she came into Jerusalem with much people and riches, with camels charged with aromatics and gold infinite. And she came and spake to king Solomon all that ever she had in her heart. And Solomon taught her in all that ever she purposed tofore him. She could say nothing but that the king answered to her, there was nothing hid from him.
The queen of Sheba then seeing all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had builded, and the meat and service of his table, the habitacles of his servants, the order of the ministers, their clothing and array, his butlers and officers, and the sacrifices that he offered in the house of our Lord, when she saw all these things, she had no spirit to answer, but she said to king Solomon: The word is true that I heard in my land, of thy words and thy wisdom, and I believed not them that told it to me, unto the time that I myself came and have seen it with mine eyes, and I have now well seen and proved that the half was not told to me. Thy sapience is more, and thy works also, than the tidings that I heard. Blessed be thy servants, and blessed be these that stand always tofore thee and hear thy sapience and wisdom, and thy Lord God be blessed whom thou hast pleased, and hath set thee upon the throne of Israel, for so much as God of Israel loveth thee and hath ordained thee a king for to do righteousness and justice. She gave then to the king an hundred and twenty besants of gold, many aromatics, and gems precious. There were never seen tofore so many aromatics ne so sweet odours smelling as the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon.
King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that ever she desired and demanded of him, and after returned into her country and land. The weight of pure gold that was offered every year to Solomon was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, except that that the merchants offered, and all they that sold, and all the kings of Arabia and dukes of that land. Solomon made two hundred shields of the purest gold and set them in the house of Lebanon; he made him also a throne of ivory which was great and was clad with gold, which had six grees or steps, which was richly wrought with two lions of gold holding the seat above, and twelve small lions standing upon the steps, on every each twain, here and there. There was never such a work in no realm. And all the vessels that king Solomon drank of were of gold, and the ceiling of the house of Lebanon in which his shields of gold were in was of the most pure gold. Silver was of no price in the days of king Solomon, for the navy of the king, with the navy of Hiram went in three years once into Tarsis and brought them thence gold and silver, teeth of elephants and great riches. The king Solomon was magnified above all the kings of the world in riches and wisdom, and all the world desired to see the cheer and visage of Solomon, and to hear his wisdom that God had given to him. Every man brought to him gifts, vessels of gold and silver, clothes and armour for war, aromatics, horses and mules every year. Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen; he had a thousand four hundred chariots and cars, and twelve thousand horsemen, and were lodged in small cities and towns about Jerusalem by the king.
There was as great abundance and plenty of gold and silver in those days in Jerusalem as stones or sycamores that grow in the field, and horses were brought to him from Egypt and Chao. What shall I all day write of the riches, glory and magnificence of king Solomon? It was so great that it cannot be expressed, for there was never none like to him, ne never shall none come after him like unto him. He made the book of the parables containing thirty-one chapters, the book of the Canticles, the book of Ecclesiastes, containing twelve chapters, and the book of Sapience containing nineteen chapters. This king Solomon loved overmuch women, and specially strange women of other sects; as king Pharaoh's daughters and many other of the gentiles, of whom God had commanded to the children of Israel that they should not have to do with them, ne they with their daughters, for God said certainly they should turn your hearts to serve their gods. To such women Solomon was coupled with most burning love. He had seven hundred wives which were as queens, and three hundred concubines, and these women turned his heart. For when he was old he so doted and loved them that they made him honour their strange gods, and worshipped Ashtareth, Chemosh and Moloch, idols of Zidonia, of Moabites, and Ammonites, and made to them Tabernacles for to please his wives and concubines, wherefore God was wroth with him, and said to him: Because thou hast not observed my precepts and my commandments that I commanded thee, I shall cut thy kingdom and divide it and give it to thy servant but not in thy day, I shall not do it for love that I had to David thy father; but from the hand of thy son I shall cut it but not all, I shall reserve to him one tribe for David's love, and Jerusalem that I have chosen. And after this divers kings became adversaries to Solomon, and was never in peace after.