Solomon, King of Israel (reigned c. 971-931 BC) is a semi-legendary monarch who figures prominently in the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles (both included in the Biblical Canon) and plays a significant role in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religion. His historical existence is a matter of debate. Archaeologists have failed to find sufficient evidence for his existence, unlike some better known monarchs such as Ahab (c. 869-850) whose building and military activities are recorded in detail in sources other than the Bible.
Solomon was reportedly a son of David, King of Israel (reigned c. 1010-970 BC) and Bathsheba, one of his most prominent wives. The marriage of his parents was apparently controversial. The Book of Kings claims that Bathsheba was at first married to Uriah the Hittite, a loyal soldier of David. David first slept with the married woman. Then arranged for Uriah to die in battle, allowing him to marry the young widow.
Solomon was not the official heir to his father. David had many wives and several of his sons were senior to Solomon in the succession line. When the elderly David was dying, his eldest surviving son Adonijah proclaimed himself king. Gaining the support of High Priest Abiathar, General Joab and Shimei, a descendant of King Saul and chief of the former royal family. However, Bathsheba strived to see her own son rise to the throne. She allied herself to prophet Nathan and managed to have David name Solomon his new heir, in what was apparently a deathbed decision from a near-senile man.
Solomon proceeded to take over the throne in a coup d'etat. Promising howeverr to spare the lives of Adonijah and his supporters if they surrendered. They did. Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei were soon killed with Solomon citing various pretexts. Abiathar was spared, stripped of his titles and send into exile. With his throne secure, Solonon now had to resolve his relationship with his God. He reportedly prayed and requested " Give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people and to know good and evil."
God was reportedly pleased and offered him more than he had asked. He promised to grant Solomon wisdom, the ability to administer justice (a quality David didn't have), long life and wealth. The Book of Kings continues elaborating in his famed wisdom, reporting a few brilliant uses of it in passing judgement. Followed by a visit of the Queen of Sheba who presented Solomon with difficult riddles, wanting to put his wisdom to the test. Sheba was probably Saba, an ancient state considered to have held areas of what are now the countries of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. The Bible does not expand on the relations between the two monarchs, but later accounts extrapolate that they were lovers or consorts to each other. With several descendants attributed to them.
Solomon supposedly reigned for 40 years and many building works are attributed to him. The most famous being the "Temple of Solomon" in Jerusalem, a splendid building to house the Ark of the Covenant. He also build the Royal Palace of Ophel, the port of Ezion-Geber, the military fort of Tadmor (Palmyra) and additional forctifications for the cities of Jerusalem, Gezer, Hazor, and Meggido. However the Book of King criticizes him for building temples dedicated to several other deities, including Ashtoreth and Milcom. He is even reported to have urned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods.
Solomon reportedly derived much of his wealth from building an extensive trading network and close alliance with both Sidon and Egypt. One of his wives was reported to be daughter to a Pharaoh.However, he is blamed for heavily taxing his own people and forcing them to labor to construct his building process. Shortly after his death, the Kingdom was split in two. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin crowned Rehoboam, a son of Solomon, as their King. The rest of the Israelite tribes revolted against the House of David and offered the throne to Jeroboam, an old enemy of Solomon. The Kingdom of Rehoboam became known as Kingdom of Judah, that of Jeroboam as Kingdom of Israel. Descendants of Solomon continued ruling the Kingdom of Judah until 586 BC.
Legends and legacy
Solomon is depicted rather negatively in the Bible and offers a prominent example of idol worship. Judaism traditionally attributes both the division of Israel into two rival kingdom and various subsequent tragedies to devine punishment for the "Sins of Solomon". However there is some admiration in texts describing his extensive wealth and enormous harem. He reportedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Christianity has always claimed that Jesus, its founding figure, was a descendant of Solomon. That is specifically claimed in the genealogy offered in the Gospel of Matthew. The Sins of Solomon have been largely overlooked. Eastern Orthodoxy commemorates Solomon as a Saint and "Righteous Prophet and King". Catholicism also depicts Solomon as a model for kings. Philip II of Spain, a staunchly Catholic king, is considered to have used Solomon as a model for his own religious and building activities.
Islam considers Solomon as a major prophet but the Qur'an also attributes magical powers to Solomon. He reportedly could understand the language of certain animals (mainly ants and birds), controlled the power of the wind and ruled over the magical race of the Jinn (genies). The account has influenced the depiction of Solomon in the "One Thousand and One Nights" . He is featured prominently in various tales of the collection. He reportedly punished a disobedient genie by locking into a bottle and throwing said bottle into the sea. The magical creature could not escape the magical seal of Solomon and needed someone to release it. In other tales, the protagonists discover words of Solomon in forbidden and deserted places, left there to help those able to comprehend them.
In Rabbinic legends, Solomon is reported able to control angels and demons through magic. Other tales report him having control over animals ("beasts, fowls, and reptiles"). Medieval tales of aeak of the Seal of Solomon, a magical signet ring which allowed Solomon to control all these creatures. A prominent legend even has him enslaving Asmodeus, King of demons. Though Asmodeus is then depicted scheming against Solomon to regain his freedom.