Deconstructing Solomon

Stephen MarshMormon 10 Comments

We tend to remember Solomon as either magically wise or the one who fell from grace with too many wives.  Of his acts of wisdom, most remember only the “split the baby” story.  Of the wives issue, all people remember is “hundreds.”

But we rarely think about what the text has to say.

Solomon begins his acts of wisdom, as laid out in the text, with the ruthlessness which which he began his reign (which led to internal peace), his early marriages (which reflected political advantage, stability and strength), and his insight in judgment.

The text story, consistent with the Joseph Smith version, is that Solomon  failed as David did.  That is, he failed when his lusts overcame his wisdom. David betrayed his inner circle in his lust for Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, daughter of Eliam and Grand daughter of Ahithopel (note 2 Samuel 23: 34, 39).

That led not only to the obvious, but to Absolom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 15:31).  With Solomon, giving way to lust led to the worship of Astarte (with the cycle of temple prostitutes, sodomites/children, etc.), which is where he offended God.

It is easy to draw the wrong conclusions from the story.  You can take it as a tract against polygamy.  You can see it all as a warning against marrying a non-member.  You can see it as the fall-out from accommodation and kindness.  I’ve seen all of those conclusions.

They all miss the point as does simplifying it down to Solomon worshiped false gods, which false gods do we worship in our lives — that just confounds the why of what he did.

Solomon’s sin, his failure, is that his heart turned towards lust.  In his case, that led to Astarte.  In ours it might lead to affairs, pornography or similar addictions.  Once he had turned to lust, he turned away from God.  That was the sin he left as the end cap to his story, and the lesson we can learn from it.

What do you take from the story of Solomon?

Comments 10

  1. I take the same lesson as I do from the story of David (and Saul)–they prove the truism “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

  2. Concerning King David, Walter Zanger said “the Golden Age of Israel wasn’t so golden.” I think the same can be said of Solomon. David and Solomon are considered the best, most able rulers of Israel. While that may be true, there were a lot of accommodations and wickedness associated with them as well.

  3. My comment from a few days ago on BiV’s post:

    Let’s not forget that Kings and Chronicles are revisionist histories of the people of Israel, written in a period of decline, and exile (ca. 550-450 BC). Given the terrible losses suffered by all the tribes, including the loss of Promised Lands and the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, the writers of these histories sought to present the history of the Israelites in a way that explained exactly why Yahweh had abandoned them. Thus, Solomon’s marriage to non-Israelite women was used as evidence of the corruption of power of a holy and wise king, whereas Boaz’s, Moses’, Samson’s, Joseph’s, and Esther’s marriages to non-Israelites are not given the same condemnation. Indeed, some of these unions helped save the children of Israel from annihilation. Writing about Solomon’s choice to marry those non-Israelite wives as evidence of the beginning of the downfall of the children of Israel would be like holding John Rolfe responsible for America’s decline for having married Pocahontas. No responsible historian or theologian would reach back almost 500 years into the past to explain why something bad has happened in the contemporary socio-political world, so why do we allow the anonymous editors of the books of Kings and Chronicles do that for us? I guess the biggest reason is that there is a dearth of other primary and secondary sources from which to evaluate their claims. In any case, we should remember that what we have in these writings is far from an objective retelling of the story of Solomon, written recently after the events transpired. Rather, we have a post-exile revision of a 500-year old story that had existed largely in the oral tradition. Like the story of Pocahontas, there’s probably more legend than fact in there.

  4. From further reading I’ll just say I’d have much rather lived under Hezekiah or Josiah than David or Solomon.

  5. SteveS — the context though, reflects that Solomon’s specific marriages to those women was a part of his “acts of wisdom” — which I point out here. What do you think about the way later glosses change that from showing he was wise (by making political marriages that strengthened his reign) to he was foolish in the marriages, rather than in the practices he was later led into?

    DaveP — amen.

    Th — what remarks do you intend to make?

    I’ve been reading some ethics texts recently, and they discuss that teaching social ethics rather than value ethics in business school leads to people engaging in ethicaal failures. A focus on teaching social responsibility as the ethics training in business school leads to some rather interesting behaviors — suffice it to say Enron and a number of other groups were models of social responsibility and political correctness and completely lacking in value ethics.

    Mh — yes. First, the “golden age” is really when kings were introduced to the tribal federations. Took awhile before the practice really took hold. Second, kings require and create a number of issues, which are not necessarily what one would want.

    What is interesting is that the typical criticism of kings (polygamy) wasn’t really part of the post-exile criticism, which is strange, though you will note that the later kings have pretty much abandoned the practice.

  6. Remember that Kings and Chronicles are very negative on the Northern Kingdom and were written by people from the Southern Kingdom(Judah).

    This is like the story ( if it is really true or not is irrelevant) about the person who wrote a book about the Civil War entitled , “An Unbiased History of the Civil War, from a Southern Point of View”

  7. BTW, vis a vis Solomon:

    Second, what about getting into the Philistines.

    Where they:

    (a) Phoenicians?
    (b) (i) Hellenic Greeks (including Greek mercenaries serving in Egyptian armies)?
    (b) (ii) Post-Achaean Greeks?
    (c) Native Semitic peoples (including Hyksos and others)?
    (d) Native non-Semitic peoples?
    (e) Other migratory peoples?
    (f) all of the above (depending on the time).

    The fact that the answer appears to be some sort of (f) makes for interesting discussions. Especially when you consider David’s role as a leader of a Philistine war band at one time.

  8. To fill out the rest:

    Canaanite deities like Baal and Astarte were being worshiped from Cyprus to Sardinia, Malta, Sicily, Spain, Portugal, and most notably at Carthage in modern Tunisia, which somewhat complicates the picture as the Biblical text tends to confound, at times, the Philistines with the Canaanites.

    Which is why (f) is the response I suggest.

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