Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 15 (2015) - Review

Verheyden, Joseph (ed.), The Figure of Solomon in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Tradition: King, Sage and Architect (Themes in Biblical Narrative, 16; Leiden: Brill, 2013). Pp. 274. Hardback. US$156.00. ISBN 978-90-04-24232-6.

Volume 16 in the series Themes in Biblical Narrative is focused on the biblical character of Solomon. As the preceding volumes, the articles are all of a consistent high standard. The volume contains 12 original articles which explore the ways in which the Hebrew Bible and later writings have depicted King Solomon.

The opening article by Isaac Kalimi offers a substantial and learned discussion of the differences and similarities between the DtrH and the Chronist's account in their portrayals of Solomon's succession. According to Kalimi, the differences between the two accounts can best be explained by the divergent goals of the two compilers in their different time periods. Kalimi discusses the five key parts of the narrative: (1) the last days of David and the rise of Solomon; (2) the coronation of Solomon; (3) the establishment of Solomon's reign; (4) the so-called “David's testament”; and (5) the actions of King Solomon. In each instance, Kalimi compares, point by point, the depiction in the DtrH and in the Chronist's account. Kalimi concludes that the DtrH tells a story according to which Solomon was not the legitimate heir to the throne. He received the throne through the manipulations of Nathan and Bathsheba and his subsequent reign was founded on bloodshed and strengthened by political marriage alliances. In contrast, seeking to portray Solomon as the rightful ruler and Temple-builder, the Chronist has omitted all negative elements that he found in his source.

Pekka Särkiö's article opens with a quick survey of the historicity of Solomon as viewed by the so-called minimalists and the maximalists. Särkiö concludes that the Solomon narrative in 1 Kings reflects the time of its composition, i.e., the 7th and the 6th century b.c.e. At the same time, the description of the united monarchy under Solomon is in line with what we know of the Canaanite Bronze Age city-states. The second half of the article explores the biblical portrayal of Solomon in the DtrH. Särkiö maintains that the portrayal of Solomon changes in the different editions of the DtrH. While the earliest edition of the DtrH made use of the pre-Dtr traditions in order to highlight Solomon's crimes, the subsequent edition in DtrN added the stories of Solomon's wisdom with the aim of creating a more positive picture. Särkiö finally examines the Succession narrative (2 Sam 11–1 Kings 2) and argues, somewhat speculatively, that a Canaanite circle in Jerusalem, associated with the earlier Jebusite city-state and consisting of Zadok, Nathan, and Bathsheba, aided Solomon in his ascension to the throne.

Wolfgang Zwickel's article begins with a discussion of the portrayal of Solomon in the Bible and of the historical situation in which he is portrayed to have reigned. Zwickel notes, among other things, that the description of Solomon's domestic and foreign politics does not really warrant the view that the king was particularly wise. On the contrary, he often found himself in situations of rebellion and unrest. What does speak about Solomon's power, however, was the temple. This building was created in order to “give Solomon clothes”, i.e., to grant him prestige. The larger part of Zwickel's article is devoted to the temple. Zwickel begins by dating the first textual layer in 1 Kings 6–7 to a time in the 10th–8th century b.c.e. He then compares the biblical description of the temple with material from Egypt and Tyre, i.e., places which, according to the biblical text, might have influenced the appearance of and also the descriptions of Solomon's temple, yet he ultimately argues that Canaanite iconography shows the strongest similarities. Zwickel concludes that the temple in Jerusalem was fashioned in such a way as to strengthen Solomon's authority and reputation as ruler.

Joseph Verheyden's article focuses on the portrayal of Solomon in the “final form” of Josephus's writings. Verheyden highlights that Josephus's portrayal of Solomon is characterized by dissonance, in the sense that while Josephus clearly portrays the monarch as a model of virtue in Jewish dress, there are seven “black spots,” as Verheyden calls them, which together create a less than perfect character. First, Solomon's behaviour towards Adonijah uncovers a vengeful king who is far from being a paragon of temperance and modesty. Secondly, the material about Eleazar (not attested in the biblical accounts) creates the impression that although Solomon was wise beyond his peers, he also dabbled in magic. Thirdly, Josephus's depiction of Solomon's relationship with his mother shows a king who allowed politics to be more important than piety towards one's parent. Fourthly, Josephus's description of Solomon's execution of Shimei reveals a king who allows vengeance to triumph over his renowned sense of justice. Fifthly, Josephus's account never attempts to turn Solomon into a brave man. Rather, Solomon remains a good diplomat who wins his battles through his political alliances. Sixthly, Josephus depicts Solomon as a wealthy man who does not share his gold with the poor. Josephus ends his account by depicting Solomon as being an idolater who dies an ignominious death. In short, Josephus manages to create a “real” monarch who is not perfect but instead displays a good sense for Realpolitik and ruthlessness.

Pablo A. Torijano surveys those magical texts which evoke the name and the character of Solomon. He begins by looking at the material in Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities and select material in the Gospels. These texts are “outsider texts,” i.e., texts that are not written by people practicing magic but that refer to magicians and their practices. In Bib. Ant. 60, David keeps at bay the demons which torment Saul. Torijano suggests that this is an early echo of a tradition about Solomon as an exorcist. Turning to the NT, Torijano argues that the narratives about Jesus driving out demons testify to a tradition which links the title “Son of David” with Solomon and exorcism. He further compares these texts with Josephus's Jewish Antiquities (AJ 8.45–46) which expands on Solomon's knowledge of exorcism. Turning to “insider texts,” i.e., texts (and artefacts) which magicians manufactured and utilized themselves, Torijano surveys a wide range of texts (11QPs11, the Testament of Solomon, the Questions of Bartholomew) as well as inscriptions on amulets and bowls. He concludes that for people in Late Antiquity, Solomon was probably more famous as an exorcist than for those deeds which are recorded in the Hebrew Bible, such as being the builder of the temple. This transformation of the character of Solomon, in turn, gives us valuable insight into the ways in which people in the ancient Mediterranean world conceptualized the reality around them.

Gerhard Langer's article explores five key aspects of the portrayal of Solomon in rabbinic literature. First, Langer notes that while the name Solomon is often connected to God's acts of peace, it hardly ever denotes Solomon's own promotion of peace. Secondly, rabbinic literature depicts Solomon as the ruler of the world. Through a study of his titles in Prov 1:1; Qoh 1:12; and Cant 3:7–8, the rabbis sought to establish Solomon's character formation. Did he start off wise, then descending into folly, yet finally attaining renewed wisdom shortly before his death, or vice versa? Thirdly, Langer notes that select rabbinic literature, such as Esther Rabbah and Abba Gurion, spends much ink on describing the “throne of God” upon which Solomon sits. Fourthly, rabbinic literature elaborates on Solomon's sins and their negative repercussions upon the building of the temple. Last but not the least, rabbinic literature presents Solomon as a paragon of wisdom. MidrProv 1.2–4, for example, expands on Solomon's encounter with the Queen of Sheba and his ability to solve all her riddles. Langer concludes that Solomon is remembered in rabbinic literature primarily as a good man, yet his reign as king and his marriages with foreign women cast him in a negative light. These last aspects may further be part of the rabbis' polemics against the patriarchs and the exilarchs.

Albert L.A. Hogeterp's article investigates the depictions of Solomon in the New Testament and how contemporaneous Jewish sources can shed light upon these depictions. Hogeterp begins with the statements in John 10:22–23; Acts 3:11; and 5:12 which refer to Solomon as temple-builder. He further compares these statements with Stephen's polemic against the temple in Acts 7:48–53 and argues that the latter can inform on the former. The negative view of Solomon, the builder of the temple, has little to do with the monarch in the Hebrew Bible. Instead it forms a polemic against the Jerusalem temple establishment which identified with the Solomon legacy and, at the same time, sought to repress the Jesus movement. Hogeterp detects a much more positive view of Solomon in other NT texts. In dialogue with the writings of W. Carter,[1] Hogeterp argues that the expression “Solomon in all his glory” in the Sermon of the Mount (Matt 6:28–30 / Luke 12:27–28) reveals a relatively high view of the king. Finally, Hogeterp interprets the fact that Solomon is present in Jesus' genealogy in Matt 1:1–17 (while he is absent from the comparative list in Luke 3:23–38) to be in line with the attempt in Matthew's Gospel to depict Jesus as royal and as worshipped by the wise men from the east (Matt 2:1–12).

Tobias Nicklas explores the portrayal of Solomon in the Odes of Solomon, a collection of 42 odes attributed to Solomon. He begins by discussing its somewhat obscure origin. Given the fact that Jesus is never mentioned by name, scholars used to regard the Odes of Solomon as being a Jewish document originally, yet it is by now clear that it originated as a Christian text. It is however unclear how the Odes came to be linked to Solomon. Nicklas explores the textual relationship between the Odes and the so-called Psalms of Solomon to which it is often attached in the extant manuscripts, and suggests that they were preserved together because of their mutual link with Solomon. He also discusses the thematic affinity between the Odes and the Wisdom of Solomon. The main part of Nicklas's article is devoted to the exegetical tradition, found especially in the writings of select church fathers, which links Solomon with Jesus. The Odes attest to a variant of this tradition. Solomon, in his role as author of the Odes, makes pronunciations about Jesus, although in veiled terminology, as “God's anointed one,” “God's beloved,” and as the one who brings peace. In this way, Odes assigns to Solomon, the historical son of David, the role to prophesy about Jesus, the ultimate son of David.

Peter Busch explores the world of the first “intended” readers of the Testament of Solomon. After summarizing the story line of the Testament, Busch postulates three cultural settings in which the intended readers would have found themselves. They would have been familiar with demons from the iconography of the public baths, they would have known about demons and ghosts from fairy-tales and myths, and finally they would have been familiar with the depictions of demons in the Book of Tobit, as well as with the material in Mark 3:22. These aspects together suggest that the people reading the Testament (1) were Christians, (2) that they read the Testament through the lens of their Christian understanding, and (3) that the Testament is a Christian document from its very beginning. Busch further discusses the finer polemics of the text. He suggests that its claim that Jesus, the new “Son of David,” is the true exorcist must be understood within the cultural context of Christian Jerusalem in the 4th century c.e. The Testament is a “marketing document” which proclaims that the church authorities attached to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—rather than the desert monks—are the only people capable of casting out demons.

Jacques van der Vliet discusses the portrayal of Solomon in the various Egyptian Gnostic sources. He demonstrates that they do not present a uniform picture. Instead, Solomon emerges as (1) a prophet, (2) an expert in demonology, (3) the builder of Jerusalem, (4) a laughing stock, and (5) a rapist. Beginning with the Odes of Solomon, van der Vliet focuses his discussion on the parts which are preserved in the Coptic translation called Pistis Sophia and demonstrates that these odes present Solomon as an inspired prophet who spoke with authority about matters which later came to be revealed by Jesus. Turning to the Gnostic treatise On the Origin of the World which depicts a seven-tiered system of the lower world, van der Vliet argues that the reference to Solomon shows that his wisdom was understood to be practical, i.e., geared at ritually overcoming demons. In contrast, the text The True Testimony portrays Solomon as an “emblematic figure of the demiurgic world” (p. 209) who worshipped demons and built the temple. The so-called Second Treatise of the Great Seth reveals an equally negative view of Solomon who, being so arrogant as to think that he was Christ, is exposed as a laughingstock. Finally, the document titled Apocalypse of Adam depicts Solomon as sending out his army of demons to seek out a virgin and then raping her and making her pregnant. Van der Vliet argues in conclusion that the three latter texts were part of a wider Gnostic polemic against other Christians. He furthermore highlights that the source material for these Gnostic depictions of Solomon draws less from the Hebrew Bible and more from apocryphal and magical literature.

Witold Witakowski and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska explore the portrait of Solomon in Ethiopian texts and artwork. Beginning with the Ethiopian National Epos The Glory of the King, a text which reached its present form in the 13th century c.e., Witakowski and Balicka-Witakowska discuss Solomon's role as the co-founder (together with Makeda, the Queen of Sheba) of the Ethiopian royal dynasty as their son Menelik became the first king of Ethiopia. Solomon is treated as a wise man and as a protector against demons, yet Makeda's wisdom is on par with his own. Other Ethiopian texts also emphasize Solomon's magic ability. The text called The Net of Solomon depicts Solomon as able to utter magical words and thus to annihilate the powers of demons. Along similar lines, The Mirror of Solomon connects Solomon with exorcist practices, although he is ultimately not responsible for expelling the demons. Witakowski and Balicka-Witakowska further highlights the notion of “Solomon's ring,” understood to be a magical device which in the hands of Solomon was powerful to avert the evil eye. The second half of the article looks at the depictions of Solomon in Ethiopian art. Witakowski and Balicka-Witakowska demonstrate that, as in the abovementioned texts, Solomon was understood first and foremost as a magician and only thereafter as a biblical and holy figure.

The final article by Jules Janssens looks at the portrayal of Solomon in the texts stemming from the Muslim group called “the Brethren of Purity” (Ikhwān aṣ-Ṣafā') whose main activity took place in the end of the 10th century c.e. Their main work is called Epistles (Rasā'il). Epistle 45, On the Matter of Social Interrelations between the Brethren of Purity, presents Solomon as both a king and a prophet, i.e., combining both state and spiritual power. Janssens notes that this portrayal is unique; neither Moses nor Jesus is given such powers. In fact, not even Mohammed is portrayed as a king although he appears as a political leader. Epistle 19, On the Origination of Minerals, also features Solomon, this time as a builder of the temple. Yet, rather than being the builder of the temple as in the Bible, Solomon is the builder of a mosque in Jerusalem, possibly the Dome of the Rock. Furthermore, his construction work was aided by demons. In fact, the Brethren specified that Solomon had compiled a book on the art of magic, a thought that is rare in contemporary Jewish and Christian circles. Solomon was understood to have gathered knowledge about magic from foreign cultures and translated them into Hebrew to make this knowledge available to his readers. Finally, the Brethren understood Solomon to have been a pious man—on par with David and Muhammad—who although he was tested by God was always grateful to him. Janssens concludes by stressing the fact that the Brethren's portrayal of Solomon goes beyond what is written in the Hebrew Bible and in the Koran and that it betrays influence from non-Islamic sources.

In conclusion, this is a truly fascinating collection of articles, which can be highly recommended to those interested in the reception history of the character of Solomon.

Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, University of Aberdeen

[1] W. Carter, “ ‘Solomon in All His Glory’: Intertextuality and Matthew 6.29,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 65 (1997): 3–25. reference