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Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Tradition has it that King Solomon knew everything there was to know-the mysteries of nature, of love, of God himself-but what do we know of him? Esteemed biblical scholar Steven Weitzman reintroduces readers to Solomon's story and its surprising influence in shaping Western culture, and he also examines what Solomon's life, wisdom, and writings have come to mean for Jews, Christians, and Muslims over the past two thousand years.

    Weitzman'sSolomonis populated by a colorful cast of ambitious characters-Byzantine emperors, explorers, rabbis, saints, scientists, poets, archaeologists, trial judges, reggae singers, and moviemakers among them-whose common goal is to unearth the truth about Solomon's life and wisdom. Filled with the Solomonic texts of the Bible, along with lesser-known magical texts and other writings, this book challenges both religious and secular assumptions. Even as it seeks to tell the story of ancient Israel's greatest ruler, this insightful book is also a meditation on the Solomonic desire to know all of life's secrets, and on the role of this desire in world history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17167-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxvi)
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  5. 1 A Life in Letters
    (pp. 1-15)

    If the first impression a person makes is based on physical appearance, then Solomon never really makes a first impression because the Bible doesn’t tell us what he looked like. This is in marked contrast to all of Israel’s previous kings. Saul is said to have been a handsome young man who stood head and shoulders above everyone else. David is described as good looking, ruddy, and having beautiful eyes. Even Solomon’s older brothers merit physical description: no one was as beautiful as Absalom, with his striking long hair, and his younger brother Adonijah is also said to be handsome....

  6. 2 A Lust for Knowledge
    (pp. 16-32)

    In our culture, childhood is understood as a formative period. In the Bible, childhood barely registers as a significant part of a person’s story. For a book read by so many children, it tells remarkably few stories about them other than the exception of a miraculous birth now and then, and when children do show up in its narratives, they are presented as scaled-down grown-ups, smaller, dependent on adult care, with less status, but with their essential traits and destiny already established.

    The biblical story of King Solomon is no exception: the book of Kings says almost nothing about his...

  7. 3 Succession Struggles
    (pp. 33-50)

    Before solomon could become an all-knowing sage, he had to become king of Israel, and that was no easy position to acquire. In Chronicles, his succession to power is seamless— David designates Solomon his heir, and he ascends to the throne without controversy or conflict. Kings presents a different story; there, the young prince is not the first or most likely candidate to succeed David, and he must first win the support of David himself and then overcome the opposition of some dangerous foes before he can take the throne. Not even the greatest leaders in Israelite history had ever...

  8. 4 Solomonic Judgments
    (pp. 51-68)

    Until modern times, Solomon was so closely associated with wisdom that he was often referred to simply as “the wise man.” Readers automatically knew who was being referred to without an author mentioning him by name. But what does it mean to be the supreme wise man in an age that places no special value on wisdom? As Gabriel Marcel and other philosophers have observed, wisdom itself has lost much of its allure and authority in modern times, eclipsed by scientific knowledge and professional expertise even in philosophy departments. Marcel saw this as an unfortunate development. I am not so...

  9. 5 Sacred Books, Satanic Verses
    (pp. 69-82)

    According to 1 kings 5:13, which provides a description of Solomon’s wisdom, the king’s wisdom gave him the ability to speak “about beasts and fowl, creeping things and fish.” The text is probably referring to Solomon’s ability to converse about the natural world, or maybe about his skill at using animals as illustrations—as Aesop was famous for doing—but through a slight reinterpretation of the Hebrew it gave rise to a legend that Solomon knew how to talk to the animals, that he could speaktothe beasts and fowl. Where other people heard only meaningless squeaks and squawks,...

  10. 6 The King of Kings
    (pp. 83-97)

    Wisdom as it was understood in the world that Solomon inhabited encompassed a wide range of knowledge and skills, including not just the ability to judge difficult cases but also what we would call medicine, art, and rhetoric. If there is a common denominator that unites all these skills, it is the ability to order shapeless stuff into well-designed arrangements—to restore the balance of the body, to turn formless stone or wood into well-crafted works of art, to bring sounds together into a compact, catchy proverb. This seems to be the essential power that Solomon acquires from God’s gift...

  11. 7 Building Heaven on Earth
    (pp. 98-112)

    Solomon’s construction of the temple, narrated in 1 Kings 5–8, marked a major turning point in the history not just of his own people but of the world. As Solomon explains at the time of its dedication, the Temple’s most important function was to serve as a point of connection between Israel and God. Before the Temple, God revealed himself to Israel, but only rarely and in an intermittent way. In periods when it lacked a prophet like Moses to intercede for them, Israel had no way to establish contact with God, to seek divine assistance in cases of...

  12. 8 Mining for Solomon’s Gold
    (pp. 113-132)

    Neither kings nor chronicles ever explains how Solomon manages to become so prosperous, but that has not stopped people from trying to discover the source of his wealth. In fact, the assumption that the source of Solomon’s wealth was still findable—that if one knew what he knew, one could become as wealthy as he was—inspired one of the greatest treasure hunts in history, the search for the source of Solomon’s gold. H. Rider Haggard’s KingSolomon’s Mines, one of the most popular adventure novels of the nineteenth century and the inspiration for a dozen or more Hollywood movies...

  13. 9 Difficult Questions from a Dubious Queen
    (pp. 133-148)

    For those readers who wonder whether Solomon really was as wise and as rich as the Bible claims, 1 Kings offers a most authoritative eyewitness: the Queen of Sheba. The Queen has traveled a great distance, arriving with a retinue of camels bearing spices, gold, and precious stones, but the purpose of her visit is not simply to honor the king but to see for herself if what she has heard about Solomon’s wisdom is true by testing him with a series of difficult questions. She is no fool herself—she alone questions the king’s public image—but King Solomon...

  14. 10 A Thousand and One Sex Scandals
    (pp. 149-167)

    Despite the efforts of later interpreters to turn his encounter with the Queen of Sheba into an amorous relationship, Solomon as he is described in 1 Kings 1–10 does not seem to have had much of a sex life. His father David had a very active libido—it is what got him in trouble with Bathsheba—but 1 Kings does not detail any such love stories or sexual scandals for Solomon. The one sexual relationship disclosed to us prior to 1 Kings 11 is his marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh, who, in contrast to Davidic wives like Abigail,...

  15. 11 Afterthoughts
    (pp. 168-182)

    This book has been harsh in its judgment of King Solomon but no harsher than the book of Kings. From the perspective of Kings, the sin that Solomon commits is nothing less than a disaster. God had promised David that his descendants would rule as an eternal dynasty, and since God does not like to break his promises, he could not simply give up on David’s line, but neither could he accept Solomon’s disloyalty, and so he responds with a compromise between punishment and fidelity, stripping most of the kingdom away from Solomon’s successors—ten of the twelve tribes—but...

    (pp. 183-192)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 193-197)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 198-199)