Solomon was, according to the Hebrew Bible, a King of Israel. The biblical accounts identify Solomon as the son of David. He is also called Jedidiah in 2 Samuel 12:25, and is described as the third king of the United Monarchy, and the final king before the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah split; following the split his patrilineal descendants ruled over Judah alone.
The Hebrew Bible credits Solomon as the builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem, and portrays him as great in wisdom, wealth, and power, but ultimately as a king whose sin, including idolatry and turning away from God, leads to the kingdom being torn in two during the reign of his son Rehoboam Solomon is the subject of many other later references and legends.
Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. The wives are described as foreign princesses, including Pharaoh's daughter and women of Moab, Ammon, Sidon and of the Hittites. These wives are depicted as leading Solomon astray. The only wife that is mentioned by name is Naamah, who is described as the Ammonite. She was the mother of Solomon's successor, Rehoboam.
Solomon became king after the death of his father David. According to the biblical First Book of Kings, when David was “old and advanced in years" "he could not get warm." "So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king."
While David was in this state Adonijah, David's fourth son, acted to have himself declared king, he being heir-apparent to the throne after the death of his elder brothers Amnon and Absalom. But Bathsheba, a wife of David and Solomon's mother, along with the prophet Nathan induced David to proclaim Solomon king. Adonijah fled and took refuge at the altar, and received pardon for his conduct from Solomon on the condition that he shows himself "a worthy man." (1 Kings 1:5-53)
Adonijah asked to marry Abishag the Shunammite, but Solomon denied authorization for such an engagement, although Bathsheba now pleaded on Adonijah's behalf. He was then seized and put to death (1 Kings 2:13-25). As made clear in the earlier story of Absalom's rebellion, to possess the royal harem was in this society tantamount to claiming the throne evidently this applied even to a woman who had shared the bed of a king advanced in age.
David's general Joab was killed, in accord with David's deathbed request to Solomon, because he had killed generals Abner and Amasa during a peace (2 Samuel 20:8-13; 1 Kings 2:5). David's priest Abiathar was exiled by Solomon because he had sided with rival Adonijah. Abiathar is a descendent of Eli, which has important prophetic significance. (1 Kings 2:27) Shimei was confined to Jerusalem and killed three years later, when he went to Gath to retrieve some runaway servants, in part because he had cursed David when Absalom, David's son, rebelled against David. (1 Kings 2:1-46)
One of the qualities most ascribed to Solomon is his wisdom. Solomon prays:
"Give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people and to know good and evil."1 Kings 3:9
"So God said to him, 'Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked...'" (1 Kings 3:11-12) The Hebrew Bible also states that: "The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart." (1 Kings 10:24)
In one account, known as the Judgment of Solomon, two women came before Solomon to resolve a quarrel about which was the true mother of a baby. One mother had her baby die in the night after rolling over it in her sleep and crushing it; each claims the surviving child as her own. When Solomon suggests dividing the living child in two with a sword, the true mother is revealed to him because she is willing to give up her child to the lying woman, as heartbreaking a decision as it is. Solomon then declares the woman who shows compassion to be the true mother, and gives the baby back to her.
Fictional accounts and legends
One Thousand and One Nights
A well-known story in the One Thousand and One Nights describes a genie that had displeased King Solomon and was punished by being locked in a bottle and thrown into the sea. Since the bottle was sealed with Solomon's seal, the genie was helpless to free him, until freed many centuries later by a fisherman who discovered the bottle.
Angels and magic
According to the Rabbinical literature, on account of his modest request for wisdom only, Solomon was rewarded with riches and an unprecedentedly glorious realm, which extended over the upper world inhabited by the angels and over the whole of the terrestrial globe with all its inhabitants, including all the beasts, fowl, and reptiles, as well as the demons and spirits. His control over the demons, spirits, and animals augmented his splendor, the demons bringing him precious stones, besides water from distant countries to irrigate his exotic plants. The beasts and fowl of their own accord entered the kitchen of Solomon's palace, so that they might be used as food for him, and extravagant meals for him were prepared daily by each of his 700 wives and 300 concubines, with the thought that perhaps the king would feast that day in her house.
Seal of Solomon
A magic ring called the “Seal of Solomon” was supposedly given to Solomon, and gave him power over demons. The magical symbol said to have been on the Seal of Solomon which made it work is now better known as the Star of David. Asmodeus, king of demons, was one day, according to the classical Rabbis, captured by Benaiah using the ring, and was forced to remain in Solomon's service. In one tale, Asmodeus brought a man with two heads from under the earth to show Solomon; the man, unable to return, married a woman from Jerusalem and had seven sons, six of whom resembled the mother, while one resembled the father in having two heads. After their father's death, the son with two heads claimed two shares of the inheritance, arguing that he was two men; Solomon, owing to his huge wisdom, decided that the son with two heads was only one man. The Seal of Solomon, in some legends known as the Ring of Aandaleeb, was a highly sought after symbol of power. In several legends, different groups or individuals attempted to steal it or attain it in some manner.
Solomon and Asmodeus
One legend concerning Asmodeus goes on to state that Solomon one day asked Asmodeus what could make demons powerful over man, and Asmodeus asked to be freed and given the ring so that he could demonstrate; Solomon agreed but Asmodeus threw the ring into the sea and it was swallowed by a fish. Asmodeus then swallowed the king, stood up fully with one wing touching heaven and the other earth, and spat out Solomon to a distance of 400 miles. The Rabbis claim this was a divine punishment for Solomon having failed to follow three divine commands, and Solomon was forced to wander from city to city, until he eventually arrived in an Ammonite city where he was forced to work in the king's kitchens. Solomon gained a chance to prepare a meal for the Ammonite king, which the king found so impressive that the previous cook was sacked and Solomon put in his place; the king's daughter, Naamah, subsequently fell in love with Solomon, but the family (thinking Solomon a commoner) disapproved, so the king decided to kill them both by sending them into the desert. Solomon and the king’s daughter wandered the desert until they reached a coastal city, where they bought a fish to eat, which just happened to be the one which had swallowed the magic ring. Solomon was then able to regain his throne and expel Asmodeus. (The element of a ring thrown into the sea and found back in a fish's belly earlier appeared in Herodotus' account of Polycrates of Samos).
In another familiar version of the legend of the Seal of Solomon, Asmodeus disguises himself. In some myths, he's disguised as King Solomon himself, while in more frequently heard versions he's disguised as a falcon, calling himself Gavyn (Gavinn or Gavin), one of King Solomon’s trusted friends. The concealed Asmodeus tells travelers who have ventured up to King Solomon's grand lofty palace that the Seal of Solomon was thrown into the sea. He then convinces them to plunge in an attempt to retrieve it, for if they do they would take the throne as king.
Other magical items attributed to Solomon are his key and his Table. The latter was said to be held in Toledo, Spain during the Visigothic rule and was part of the loot taken by Tarik ibn Ziyad during the Umayyad Conquest of Iberia, according to Ibn Abd-el-Hakem's History of the Conquest of Spain. The former appears in the title of the Lesser Key of Solomon, a grimoire who’s framing tale is Solomon capturing demons using his ring, and forcing them to explain themselves to him.
Other forms of Solomon legend describe Solomon as having had a flying carpet that was 60 miles square, and could travel so fast that it could get from Damascus to Medina within a day. One day, due to Solomon exhibiting pride, the wind shook the carpet and caused 40,000 men to fall from it; Solomon on being told by the wind why this had happened, felt ashamed. Another day Solomon was flying over an ant-infested valley and overheard an ant warning its fellow ants to hide lest Solomon destroy them; Solomon desired to ask the ant a question, but was told it was not becoming for the interrogator to be above and the interrogated below. Solomon then lifted the ant above the valley, but the ant said it was not fitting that Solomon should sit on a throne while the ant remained on the ground, so Solomon placed the ant upon his hand, and asked it whether there was any one in the world greater than he. The ant replied that she was much greater as otherwise God would not have sent him there to place it upon his hand; this offended Solomon and he threw the ant down reminding it who he was, but the ant told him that it knew Solomon was created from a corrupted drop, causing Solomon to feel ashamed.
Angels also help out Solomon in building the Temple; though not by choice. The edifice was, according to rabbinical legend, throughout miraculously constructed, the large, heavy stones rising to and settling in their respective places of themselves. The general opinion of the Rabbis is that Solomon hewed the stones by means of a shamir, a mythical worm whose mere touch cleft rocks. According to Midrash Tehillim, the shamir was brought from paradise by Solomon's eagle; but most of the rabbis state that Solomon was informed of the worm's haunts by Asmodeus. The shamir had been entrusted by the prince of the sea to the mountain cock alone, and the cock had sworn to guard it well, but Solomon's men found the bird's nest, and covered it with glass. When the bird returned, it used the shamir to break the glass, whereupon the men scared the bird, causing it to drop the worm, which the men could then bring to Solomon.
Solomon in the Kabbalah
Early adherents of the Kabbalah portray Solomon as having sailed through the air on a throne of light placed on an eagle, which brought him near the heavenly gates as well as to the dark mountains behind which the fallen angels Uzza and Azzael were chained; the eagle would rest on the chains, and Solomon, using the magic ring, would compel the two angels to reveal every mystery he desired to know. Solomon is also portrayed as forcing demons to take Solomon's friends, including Hiram, on day return trips to hell.
The palace without entrance
According to one legend, while traveling magically, Solomon noticed a magnificent palace to which there appeared to be no entrance. He ordered the demons to climb to the roof and see if they could discover any living being within the building but the demons only found an eagle, which said that it was 700 years old, but that it had never seen an entrance. An elder brother of the eagle, 900 years old, was then found, but it also did not know the entrance. The eldest brother of these two birds, which was 1,300 years old, then declared it had been informed by its father that the door was on the west side, but that it had become hidden by sand drifted by the wind. Having discovered the entrance, Solomon found an idol inside that had in its mouth a silver tablet saying in Greek (a language not thought by modern scholars to have existed 1000 years before the time of Solomon) that the statue was of Shaddad, the son of 'Ad, and that it had reigned over a million cities, rode on a million horses, had under it a million vassals, and slew a million warriors, yet it could not resist the angel of death.
Solomon at his throne, painting by Andreas Brugger, 1777
Solomon's throne is described at length in Targum Sheni, which is compiled from three different sources, and in two later Midrash. According to these, there were on the steps of the throne twelve golden lions, each facing a golden eagle. There were six steps to the throne, on which animals, all of gold, were arranged in the following order: on the first step a lion opposite an ox; on the second, a wolf opposite a sheep; on the third, a tiger opposite a camel; on the fourth, an eagle opposite a peacock, on the fifth, a cat opposite a cock; on the sixth, a sparrow-hawk opposite a dove. On the top of the throne was a dove holding a sparrow-hawk in its claws, symbolizing the dominion of Israel over the Gentiles. The first midrash claims that six steps were constructed because Solomon foresaw that six kings would sit on the throne, namely, Solomon, Rehoboam, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah. There was also on the top of the throne a golden candelabrum, on the seven branches of the one side of which were engraved the names of the seven patriarchs Adam, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job, and on the seven of the other the names of Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses, Aaron, Eldad, Medad, and, in addition, Hur (another version has Haggai). Above the candelabrum was a golden jar filled with olive-oil and beneath it a golden basin which supplied the jar with oil and on which the names of Nadab, Abihu, and Eli and his two sons were engraved. Over the throne, twenty-four vines were fixed to cast a shadow on the king's head.
By a mechanical contrivance the throne followed Solomon wherever he wished to go. Supposedly, due to another mechanical trick, when the king reached the first step, the ox stretched forth its leg, on which Solomon leaned, a similar action taking place in the case of the animals on each of the six steps. From the sixth step the eagles raised the king and placed him in his seat, near which a golden serpent lay coiled. When the king was seated the large eagle placed the crown on his head, the serpent uncoiled itself, and the lions and eagles moved upward to form a shade over him. The dove then descended, took the scroll of the Law from the Ark, and placed it on Solomon's knees. When the king sat, surrounded by the Sanhedrin, to judge the people, the wheels began to turn, and the beasts and fowls began to utter their respective cries, which frightened those who had intended to bear false testimony. Moreover, while Solomon was ascending the throne, the lions scattered all kinds of fragrant spices. After Solomon's death, Pharaoh Shishak, when taking away the treasures of the Temple (I Kings xiv. 26), carried off the throne, which remained in Egypt till Sennacherib conquered that country. After Sennacherib's fall Hezekiah gained possession of it, but when Josiah was slain by Pharaoh Necho, the latter took it away. However, according to rabbinical accounts, Necho did not know how the mechanism worked and so accidentally struck himself with one of the lions causing him to become lame; Nebuchadnezzar, into whose possession the throne subsequently came, shared a similar fate. The throne then passed to the Persians, who their king Darius was the first to sit successfully on Solomon's throne since his death, and after that the throne passed into the possession of the Greeks and Ahasuerus.