Mini-bio : Solomon.

Who

One of Israel’s greatest kings

Era

Ancient - Israel
900s-ish B.C.

Why it’s important for you to know him

Because he was a super-wise king, builder of magnificent buildings, and leader of the Israelites through a golden era of peace and prosperity for many.

I. His dad Dave.

Exposition is the backstory to the main story, and we can’t really talk about Solomon’s time on the throne without getting into how he got there. Although his actual reign was peaceful and productive, his path to getting there was filled with blood and intrigue.

Solomon’s mum was Bathsheba. The same Bathsheba that his dad David married after intentionally sending her husband off to die on the front lines. Not cool. So Solomon was David’s second son. The first was killed by the third (Absalom), who was then himself killed because of his long hippy hair. That leaves sons two (Solomon) and four (Adonijah) to argue over the throne.

II. Game of Throne.

They both had influential figures in their corners. Adonijah was supported by Joab (army commander) and Abiathar (high priest). They were very against the idea of their king being the son of a woman who had been married to a Hittite warrior. If you’ve seen Fiddler on the Roof, it’s a little like Tevye being against his daughter Chaka marrying a Russian Orthodox fellow. Sort of like that.

Solomon had Nathan (a prophet), Zadoc (a priest), and most importantly, Bathsheba (Mommy!) in his corner. Her influence was still strong over hubby David, so she talked him into supporting their son as his successor.

A little fighting and then it was over. Adonijah was imprisoned, but then Solomon decided to just get him out of the way and had him executed. Not cool. After getting rid of some potential roadblocks (i.e. people), he was finally able to embark on a legacy of peace and leave the blood behind. Mostly.

III. Friends with Benefits.

One of the smartest things he did was to choose some good friends, such as King Hiram of Tyre.

(Tyre was located on the Mediterranean in what is now Lebanon).

This relationship gave Israel access to the Mediterranean and opened up trade routes all over the world, enabling Solomon to make bank. Mind boggling bank. Fortunately, he had a few projects in mind to fund, so those profits didn’t go to waste.

Solomon loved to build. Not personally. When you’re super rich, you hire other people to do the actual work, but then history gives you the credit later for funding it. Kind of like Executive Producing. Looking at you, Stephen Spielberg. Anyway, Sol built a bunch of cool buildings, but none more magnificent than the Temple; a place so magnificent that we write it with an upper-case ‘T.’

The Temple was in Jerusalem and became a central hub of religious activity and worship for the Jewish people.

IV. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon.

Of course we love flawed heroes because we can identify with them, if Solomon didn’t have a few cracks in his greatness, we wouldn’t like him as much. One of the ways that he screwed up was that...okay, question first: what happens when you’re rich?

Answer: two things. Number one, you get pretty much whatever you want, and number two, a lot of women are attracted to you. Solomon had trouble saying no to a pretty face, and eventually ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines, which makes me tired just thinking about.

Those wives and concs represented a wide variety of religions and faiths and to appease and please, he built different temples to their gods (lower case). This did not make God (upper case) pleased.

V. Smartypants.

In spite of his occasional stupidity, Solomon made it into the history books with a reputation for being wise. Very, very wise. The story most commonly told is about the two women who were brought before him, each claiming to be the mother of an infant. Solomon suggested cutting the baby in half and dividing it between the two women. When one woman protested, Solomon wisely realized this must be the real mama and ordered the baby given to her. Don’t know what happened to the other woman.

There are probably other examples of his wisdom, but every time the topic of wisdom comes up, it seems like that one story (see above) gets recycled. There’s a moral in it: if you want a good legacy, make sure there’s an action-packed anecdote that people can easily remember about each character trait you want people to remember about you.

VI. Ethiopia.

After apparently growing a little weary of the thousand women living around him, Solomon began a relationship with the Queen of Sheba.

Sheba is a country believed to be in present-day Yemen.

Their relationship was more than platonic, because she bore him a son. They gave him the awesome name of Menelik, and this is where it gets really interesting: this name is used by all the emperors of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) from Solomon to present-day. Rad.

VII. Taxes, taxes, taxes.

It’s tough to have it all. For example, if you build a bunch of buildings, you gotta pay for them somehow. Even though Solomon made a bunch of money from his trading, he still enacted very high taxes. And taxes are often not a popular thing for the people paying them.

Many of the people paid their taxes in cattle or produce, and as a result, many became destitute and poor. This sets the stage for what history calls “class struggle.” People with a little become fed up with those who have a lot. Grumbling turns into arguing, which turns into action, and pretty soon, a peaceful country becomes...not so peaceful. This is not necessarily a bad thing (see: American Revolution, French Revolution, Russian Revolution, etc.).

Change can be painful.

VIII. Close friends, enemies, closer?

This disgruntlement led to an attempted rebellion in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a lovely city, but not everyone was happy about Solomon concentrating so much wealth and attention there. Even one of Solomon’s trusted friends and advisors, Jeroboam, began to conspire against him. Jeroboam believed that God was abandoning Solomon because he had accepted so many foreign gods (remember all his wives?) and that he was destined to become leader of Israel.

Fortunately for Solomon, the plot was discovered and Jeroboam had to hightail it to Egypt.

IX. It’s over.

For eighty-six years, the Jewish people lived in freedom. They lived as a separate nation and without being in slavery to anyone.

Eighty-six years, from King Saul to King David to King Solomon.

Solomon finally died, and that all ended. Jeroboam returned from Egypt, which may have been a good thing, because Solomon’s son Rehoboam was not a cool guy. His most memorable quote was:

“My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it. He chastised with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”

This is not the kind of statement that makes your people love you. So a lot of people sided with Jeroboam. The kingdom was torn apart. Rehoboam clung to power with a single tribe (Judah). Jeroboam took over the other ten and set up the northern kingdom of Israel. No more unified Jewish nation.

Eventually, both fell to Assyria. Sad.

X. Summary.

So what was Solomon’s legacy? Well, he wrote a bunch of wise sayings and proverbs, although later research has shown that some of the Books he was believed to have written could not actually have been written by him. So basically, many of the writings he was believed to have written were probably not authored by him.

However, he is still considered a great king because of his largely peaceful reign and his massive building projects. Even though the nation fell after his death, his influence inspired the creation of the modern-day country of Israel.

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Solomon, a flawed hero and wise king.