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Solomon

In a previous post, I commented:

Kinda reminds me of Solomon and the baby. What we, as kids, have been taught was a demonstration of wisdom, was actually nothing short of a declaration of willingness to wage war.

Think of it: Baby = Israel; the weeping mother = the true successor of David; the brazen mother = Solomon, the usurper.

The message was simple: Solomon (the brazen mother) was willing to split Israel (the baby) in two in a bloody civil war, unless the rightful heir (the weeping mother) gave up his claim to the throne.

It was so simple and brutal that when that story spread, the bible says, all of Israel trembled in fear.

Jeg wrote in response:

That’s the first time Ive every heard of that interpretation of the Solomon judgement, rom. Where’d you get that? Wherever it is, I have to say, ‘Way to read too much into a little story there.’

BTW, the word translated in the KJV as ‘fear’ can also mean ‘revere’ or ‘hold in awe’. The modern translations such as the ESV states, “And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” Makes more sense since the Israeli common folk wouldnt have thought, ‘Holy crap! ‘Tis a threat of war disguised as a wise judgment! Let us therefore be afraid!’. More likely they just went, ‘Wow.’

Way to read too much, eh? LOL. You mean, kinda like how every little thing is a manifestation of presidential malfeasance? Hahaha.

Seriously, though, this interpretation of the judgment of Solomon is really a product of Biblical Criticism – a school of biblical scholarship that holds the bible to be the product of human writers who had human motivations and were influenced by the circumstances – including the politics – of their times.

Putting the story of Solomon into it’s proper context therefore …

Solomon wasn’t David’s rightful heir. That distinction belonged to Adonijah, who was next in line of succession after the deaths of his elder brothers Amnon and Absalom (the one with gorgeous hair). Now when Adonijah heard that certain courtiers were conspiring to have David (who by then was old and sick) get a girl named Abishag preggo, Adonijah moved to be declared King. Bathsheba (the soldier’s wife that David seduced) quickly acted together with the prophet Nathan to have David order that Solomon be crowned King.

Adonijah grabbed the horns of the altar and begged Solomon to spare him. And spared he was, until later, when he asked to marry Abishag. Solomon flipped. He accused of Adonijah of continuing to plot against his crown basically by taking over where David had left off with Abishag (hehe. symbols matter), and so had Adonijah put to death. There followed a series of executions as Solomon tried to consolidate his kingship.

But then, he went and married an Egyptian princess and – going off-Bible now – once again stirred up nationalist feelings. That brought with it a renewed threat of revolt, and prompted Solomon to circulate the story of two prostitutes and a baby, causing fear and trembling throughout his kingdom.

Now Jeg makes much of alternative translations of the word used for ‘fear.’ Well, yeah, lots of words can be translated in lots of ways that effectively obfuscate the original connotation of the word being translated. And I think, this is one of those cases.

The Bible, throughout history, has pretty much been a product of its times – and Biblical criticism teaches that translators are not immune from the influence of an agenda. Now, I’m not saying that the substitution of ‘awe’ for ‘fear’ (as Jeg pointed out) was an error; all I’m saying is that the later adoption of ‘awe’ does not render the earlier use of the word ‘fear’ erroneous.

As for people being awed making more sense than people trembling at the clear threat of civil war, I suppose that’s a matter of opinion. However, considering the incendiary atmosphere – with the memory of blatant political murders still fresh in people’s minds – I find it hard to believe that everyone would simply swallow the fairytale lock, stock, and barrel. The ordinary folk, maybe. But then, as now, they had literati, scholars, and political thinkers (prolly the generals) who surely would not have missed Solomon’s warning.

Oh and, don’t get me wrong. In the sense that he was able to ‘pacify’ Israel without once again taking up arms, Solomon did in fact show great wisdom. I accept that part of the fairy-tale; it’s just that I think there’s a deeper significance than shows on the surface of things.

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8 Responses

  1. Jeg says:

    Comment on previous post is hereby recycled in this one. 😉

    Scholars are a fascinating bunch, but alas, they are not immune, when trying to recreate the realities at the time they are, um, scholarizing, from interpreting the past through the eyes of the present. But let’s look at the Solomon story above.

    First where did said scholars get the information that Solomon circulated (invented?) the story of the judgment of the hookers and the baby as a warning? If Solomon were to scare the populace, isnt it more likely that he just went out and said, ‘To those that seek to divide this kingdom, be warned. I will let no one stand in the way of la la la’ in some sort of SONA equivalent instead of making up a story? Was it the character of the Hebrew kings at the time to veil their threats with stories? What was the likelihood of that?

    Next, Solomon as usurper. Again they are looking at the past with modern eyes since monarchies in recent memory have set rules regarding succession (oldest male heir, for example). The Israelites followed no such convention. They were basically a theocratic monarchy wherein the judge at the time anoints the successor to seal the succession issue. In David’s time, the judge was Nathan. Israelite leaders have always been chosen that way: Ishmael was older than Israel (Jacob) but God chose Israel. Jacob was younger than Esau, but God chose Jacob. Reuben was Jacob’s oldest but Jacob’s blessing and birthright went to Joseph, etc. It was Solomon who was chosen by David and anointed by Nathan and therefore is the rightful king, just as David was anointed by Samuel, the judge at the time . That’s not how it works among royalty now, but that doesnt mean our modern rules apply to the theocratic Israelites.

    And this: all I’m saying is that the later adoption of ‘awe’ does not render the earlier use of the word ‘fear’ erroneous.

    The use of fear in the KJV and the Douay-Rheims, our oldest authorized English translations reflects how those words were used then. ‘Fear’ and ‘awe’ in the 16th century are closer in meaning than they are now in the 21st century, and in Hebrew, they translate to the same word. The ancient world is separated from us by several miles and several centuries and several cultures and languages.

    Im not saying the scholarly interpretation in rom’s post is wrong. Who really knows? I suppose Im appealing to the more likely scenario. As I stated in the other comment, is it more likely, when they heard that story, that the Israelites went, “A threat disguised as a wise judgement; let us therefore be afraid” or is it more likely they went, “Wow!”? Is it more likely, if indeed Solomon wanted to scare the people, generals included, that he just stated his threat plainly? Or is it more likely he veiled his threat with the hooker and the baby story? Solomon is depicted as a man who spoke plainly in 1Kings, and not one given to riddles when communicating, and in the manner of kings at the time, when issuing threats, spoke plainly as the Assyrian kings did. Because, really, when you want to threaten someone such as they won’t dare fight you, you want them to be afraid, not go ‘Huh?’

  2. rom says:

    jeg:

    If Solomon were to scare the populace, isnt it more likely that he just went out and said, ‘To those that seek to divide this kingdom, be warned. I will let no one stand in the way of la la la

    Nope. Not if he wanted to preserve peace. An open declaration of intent to hang on to power despite not being the rightful king would have brought more trouble.

    The Israelites followed no such convention.

    1Kings 2 was pretty clear that Solomon’s accession was due to the machinations of Bathsheba, and that Adonijah was next in line after Absalom.

    In David’s time, the judge was Nathan. Israelite leaders have always been chosen that way: Ishmael was older than Israel (Jacob) but God chose Israel. Jacob was younger than Esau, but God chose Jacob. Reuben was Jacob’s oldest but Jacob’s blessing and birthright went to Joseph, etc. It was Solomon who was chosen by David and anointed by Nathan and therefore is the rightful king, just as David was anointed by Samuel, the judge at the time

    The House of David was dynastic, and the crown passed from King to heir. Among other things, this is the reason why, even though Christ was never annointed by a prophet, he was considered of the House of David, and therefore, rightful King. This is also the reason why Herod was so paranoid about marrying Davidic princesses – he needed to legitimize his kingship by marrying into the dynasty.

    Samuel’s annointing of David effectively annointed David’s descendants, setting them as Kings over the descendants of Abraham.

    ‘Fear’ and ‘awe’ in the 16th century are closer in meaning than they are now in the 21st century,

    Well, then, there you go. Whichever word you use – fear or awe – the end result would have been the same. People were affected deeply by Solomon’s decision. Was it fear, as we understand it? Or was it awe? Even today, one can easily be mistaken for the other. Shock and awe, remember? Again, the net result is the same.

    Solomon is depicted as a man who spoke plainly in 1Kings, and not one given to riddles when communicating

    Solomon is traditionally held to have written Mishlei, which is a Book of Proverbs or a collection of fables and wisdom of life. That doesn’t sound plain-speaking to me. He is also supposed to have written Ecclesiastes – a book of contemplation and his self reflection; quite at odds with the reputation for plain-speaking, don’cha think? Oh, and let’s not forget that potboiler, the erotic Song of Songs.

    So, yeah. I’d say it was perfectly in character for Solomon to use subtle language to convey his true intention; especially when he was not speaking to the hoi polloi who – as now, are just swept up in the currents – but to the true movers and shakers who, more than likely, understood his idiom.

  3. Jeg says:

    Good call on the Proverbs thing. But still not conceding. Could go either way. If Solomon wasnt speaking to the hoi polloi, then why, according to your scholars, was it necessary to spread the story among the hoi polloi? And youre placing too much faith in the movers and shakers, in their ability to interpret Solomon’s veiled threat. (Although they more likely would have been there when Solomon winked. 😉 )

    The net result is the same, namely, the kingdom was united under Solomon, but was it because of the ‘threat’, or simply because David was a popular ruler among the masa and they afforded the same courtesy to his successor? After Solomon died of course, the northern tribes, burdened with Solomon’s heavy taxation, split from the southern tribes. It was taxes that ultimately did it.

    1Kings 2 was pretty clear that Solomon’s accession was due to the machinations of Bathsheba, and that Adonijah was next in line after Absalom.

    Not so fast. Bathsheba merely reminded him that Solomon is the successor. They didnt have the ‘oldest son succeeds as king’ rule. They had the ‘patriarch chooses successor rule’. David chose Solomon. He did so when Solomon was still a young man, telling Solomon that God selected him, chosen him by name in fact (“For his name shall be Solomon…”). That’s in 1Chron 22. Dynastic, sure. But no ‘oldest son is successor’ rule. Sure it all went to pot later when the kings after Solomon, especially in the northern kingdom of Israel after the split, didnt recognize the Israelite theocracy anymore, but instead followed the way of their neighbors, which presumably used the conventional succession system.

  4. rom says:

    Jeg: Reminded nothing.

    15 So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him. 16 Bathsheba bowed low and knelt before the king.
    “What is it you want?” the king asked.

    17 She said to him, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the LORD your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.’ 18

    And Chronicles only says that Solomon would be King someday, not that he would be the immediate successor of David. Or more accurately, that David would not be the one to build the Temple, but Solomon.

    Oh and, it was King to son-as-heir, not King chooses successor. In any case, it was far too early in the dynasty for any sort of succession rule to be settled. Still, you have take into serious consideration that Nathan himself did not invoke annointment, but emphasized rather Solomon’s promise to Bathsheba.

    11 Then Nathan asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah, the son of Haggith, has become king without our lord David’s knowing it? 12 Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in to King David and say to him, ‘My lord the king, did you not swear to me your servant: “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne”?

    and that to ‘save Bathsheba’s life.’

    You asked:

    why, according to your scholars, was it necessary to spread the story among the hoi polloi?

    To build a reputation for uncompromising fairness and keen wisdom. It was a message, you see, that was meant to be understood on two levels. Like I said, I’ve nothing against the fairy-tale. It’s just that we also have to understand that the whole episode wasn’t as vapid as we’ve been taught.

  5. BrianB says:

    ROM,

    Solomon was Israel’s greatest politician. Not quite the Godly man David was, he nevertheless made Israel a true empire and will always be appreciated for that. It was David who was the saintlike king (if there ever is such a thing for the Jewish people).

  6. Jeg says:

    And Chronicles only says that Solomon would be King someday, not that he would be the immediate successor of David.

    David: You know, God said about you, “I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever…” but that doesnt mean Im choosing you as successor because you know, we Israelites are bound by this whole eldest-succeeds rule and I cant do anything about it. It doesnrt matter if it hasnt been our tradition. Scholars said we should abide. They have PhD’s.

    Solomon: Rats.

    Seriously, going by the rule of scholarizing in which we look at the text as written by humans (duh) we see that David handpicks Solomon as his successor, and he promises this to Bathsheba. We can ignore all the God-told-me-youre-next talk and see it for what it is: David picking Solomon to succeed him.

    (By the way, I’d like to correct an error I made in a previous comment: I meant Ishmael was older than Isaac…)

    BrianB: At his deathbed, David was plotting the death of his enemies, Godfather-style. Not exactly saint-like behavior, but I agree with your assessment. David had a more ‘artistic’ temperament. Solomon was more of a worldly philosopher.

  7. rom says:

    Jeg: I’m glad that we’re over the fairty-tale component of the issue of succession. The salient point, I think, is that Solomon’s kingship was not uncontested, hence, the need to send the message that the crown was his and that he was ready to deal with all comers in the same bloody manner that he disposed of Adonijah.

  8. Jeg says:

    Yes. Adonijah and Joab seriously underestimated Solomon. Joab especially, since Adonijah was nothing more than a pretty boy type. Or rather, Joab underestimated the already bed-ridden David’s popularity among both the masses and the royal guard. Both Adonijah and Joab knew that Solomon was the chosen one since 1 Chron 22 says that David’s picking of Solomon was announced publicly to the leaders of Israel. It was Adonijah therefore that was the usurper. What an air-head.

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