His famous judgment
The story is well known. Two prostitutes were carrying out their trade in an inn. Each gave birth to a child. One of them, while asleep, accidentally overlaid her child and stifled it. When she woke up she saw what had happened, and taking advantage of the fact that her companion was still asleep, took her child and substituted her own dead one. But when the other also woke up and realized the horrid deception she cried out, and the two mothers wrangled over the living child. The matter was then brought before the king's court. It was a difficult problem to settle, because neither side could produce proof. Solomon's 'wisdom' was at stake. 'Bring me a sword', he said. Then he ordered the child to be cut in two; each woman was to be given one half. At this, the pretended mother could not conceal her delight. 'Cut him up,' she said, 'he shall belong to neither of us.' But the real mother was horrified and exclaimed: 'Let them give her the child; only do not let them think of killing it.' From these two opposing reactions, Solomon guessed where the truth lay. He ordered the child to be at once restored to the woman who would not have it killed. 'She is his mother', he said.
All Yisrael came to hear of the judgment the king had pronounced, and held the king in awe, recognizing that he possessed divine wisdom for dispensing justice.
The trouble is that ethnologists have discovered many versions of this story in the folklore of India, China and Tibet. Gressmann considers that the Indian version is the most ancient. In most of them it is not proposed to sever the child with a sword; the judge suggests that the women should pull him apart.
From a literary point of view the Scriptural version is a little masterpiece and superior to the others. Its approach to a dramatic climax is the work of an artist, but this perfection does not prove that it is earlier than the others, and the problem of dating is still a matter for discussion among scholars. In any case, for the scribe, the story is an opportunity to provide further proof of Solomon's wisdom.
The kingdom divided into twelve administrative districts
(1 Melechim 4:7-19) See Maps below
The chronicler explains, with obvious approval, why and how Solomon divided his kingdom according to a new plan. Instead of the Twelve Tribes with more or less definite boundaries, there appeared on the map twelve divisions, each headed by an official directly and solely dependent upon the central power in Yerusalem. Administratively, this was a real revolution.
It was a measure motivated by two needs, one financial, the other political.
David had had no need to tax the tribes in order to sustain his modest court. From the proceeds of his domains alone -admittedly extensive, with their vine yards, olive groves, pastures crammed with animals the former shepherd of Bethlehem lived in the style of a great landowner.
With Solomon came a new outlook. For him luxury was a necessity, and he needed increasingly greater revenues if the brilliance of his court was to be maintained. Hence, as the result of this new division, each of the twelve tribes was responsible for providing food for the palace for a month. They had to contribute to the needs of the State in proportion to their respective resources. Even more importantly, each in turn had to supply contingents of forced labour to give Solomon the means to carry out the important building works he had in mind.
The scribe was evidently much impressed by this reform which afforded a guarantee of social order: Yahudah and Yisrael lived in security, each man under his vine and his fig tree -an idyllic image which, in the East, expressed perfect happiness.
This was the view of a scribe of the Tabernacle, seeing things from above, from the rock of Yerusalem. From other passages we learn that the reaction among the various tribes elsewhere was markedly different. These descendants of wary nomads to whom freedom was everything, opposed on principle the forced labour formerly inflicted on their ancestors in the Nile Delta during the reigns of Rameses II and Meneptah. They felt a common threat. A smouldering revolt began among the common people. But Solomon had spoken, and this 'wise' king had means of prompt and total obedience.
But throughout his reign this imposition of forced labour was never forgotten. Particularly among the northern tribes (a former federation with the common name of Yisrael) the memory of their subjection to a man of the south, a prince of Yahudah, burnt with a steady flame. All the more so, because it looked as though Solomon had really divided the kingdom into thirteen districts, not twelve; the thirteenth being Yahudah, with Yerusalem as its capital, which was spared taxation.
The political reason
The nation needed to look to its future, and therefore the antiquated social structure of its tribes had to be revised. While it was still nomadic, from the period of Abraham (c. 1850) until the death of Yahshua Ben Nun (c. 1200), this was a highly satisfactory arrangement, but in about the year 1000 when the people had to all intents adopted settled dwellings, it had become outdated as a system of administration. Any statesman worthy of the name was bound to realize that centralization had become a necessity. Hence it was that when the Yerusalem authorities created the twelve administrative districts, they took care that, with some four or five exceptions, these should not coincide with the ancient tribal boundaries. Solomon's undoubted purpose in this was to overcome the separatist tendencies in tribes which were excessively attached to their local traditions. His ultimate aim was to produce a nation welded together beneath his sceptre. He meant to be its absolute master.
His creation of the twelve administrative districts made Solomon a prototype of a modern head of State, but a little too far ahead of his time. Theoretically, his idea was admirable, and the scribe inevitably ascribed it to his 'wisdom'. But a historian is more inclined to regard this measure as a serious mistake. It was to have serious consequences later.
Solomon's wisdom: his diplomatic activity
From the first years of his reign, Solomon had been successful in establishing friendly relations with two of his powerful neighbours: Egypt, though at that time its expansive power was strikingly diminished, and Phoenicia, an essentially commercial nation whose influence was constantly on the increase.
At this period, in Phoenicia, Hiram I, whose father, Abi- Baal, founded the dynasty of the kings of Tyre, was a figure of the first importance. He had already carried out several transactions with David, for whom he provided building materials for his rather modest palace. He soon became the friend of the young king and his official contractor, and when David died he wrote Solomon a letter expressed in the most moving terms. But we should not be deceived: these moves were simply aspects of business policy, always most ably conducted by the Phoenicians. We shall soon have to discuss Hiram at length; his strange personality is bound up with the architectural history of the Great Tabernacle. For the moment, however, it suffices to note that close relationships had been established between Yerusalem and the Tyrian court.
The position with regard to Egypt was similar. The pharaoh, probably Siamon (975-955), the penultimate monarch of the twenty-first dynasty, gave Solomon the hand of one of his daughters; she was assigned a foremost position in the royal harem. In Yerusalem, the princess was given a welcome with the high honour befitting her birth. As soon as he had completed the Great Tabernacle and could undertake other works, Solomon set about preparing a luxurious suite in his new palace for his noble bride from Egypt.
But there is one curious fact relating to this marriage. Pharaoh is said to have led an expedition against Gezer and massacred the Canaanites living there and then to have given the town as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife, and Solomon rebuilt Gezer (1 Melechim 9:16-17). A glance at the map makes this assertion baffling. Would an Egyptian army from the Delta have crossed southern Palestine in order to attack and obliterate Gezer, a fortified city between Yerusalem and the Mediterranean? (see map). The most probable explanation appears to be as follows:
Reading between the lines, it seems that on several occasions, David had attacked the fortress, but in vain (2 Schmuel 4:25; 1 Divre Hayamim 14:16; 20:14). This was inevitable. The Canaanite city was on the Philistine border, and this meant that, at least for purposes of defense, it contained Philistines within it. At this period the descendants of the 'Peoples of the Sea' were skilled metal workers, familiar with iron and skilled in manipulating it. Their own weapons enabled them to repel the southern Semites of Canaan without difficulty. They settled on the coastline which bore their name. 6
David's forces were only equipped with traditional Semitic weapons: wooden pitchforks, bronze swords and spears, ox goads, mattocks, pikes made from branches of wood hardened in the fire, slings, etc. Their adversaries, armed like the Philistines, and defended by massive fortifications, were in a position to withstand any attack. Gezer was impregnable.
At the beginning of Solomon's reign it had become essential to incorporate Gezer into the Judaean system since this fortress controlled the coastal highway used by the Egyptian caravans on their way to Lebanon and back. It was also a barrier against reaching Yerusalem by sea through the port of Joppa (now Jaffa).
Solomon intended to develop the national exports and he could not tolerate this frustration of his commercial projects, but at the beginning of his reign, at the time of the Egyptian marriage, he was without the formidable war machine which later was to be his strength and pride. Like his father, he lacked weapons of iron, and Gezer continued to be a most disturbing obstacle.
No matter, his Egyptian father-in-law had war chariots and siege weapons, powerful enough to reduce the fortress. He asked his help and the Egyptian sent sufficient armament to take the stronghold which the Semites were unable to capture. Both Solomon and the Egyptian pharaoh wished to see the end of this city: it levied a heavy tax on Egyptian caravans going north through its territory. The financial interests of both were identical. It is most unlikely that Gezer was given to pharaoh's daughter as a dowry; more probably, it was a military arrangement concluded with a view of getting rid of an undesirable customs post.
This brief chapter may be concluded with an incident recorded by the English archaeologist, Macalister. From 1902 to 1905 and from 1907 to 1909, he was engaged in important excavations on a site now called Tel Jazer. In the nearby village the remains of an aqueduct were discovered. The local peasants called it: 'the aqueduct of the pagan girl', and they told Macalister that the girl in question was a daughter of the pagan Pharaoh taken by our Master Solomon as his wife', and that her dowry had been Jeser, a neighbouring town whose name they knew, but not its whereabouts.
Macalister was living at Tel Jazer, formerly Gezer. It is an interesting example of a local tradition surviving for three thousand years.
Returning to Solomon, we note that in the first years of his reign there was a practically universal sense of prosperity. For two and a half centuries the common people had lived in tents as shepherds. Now they were governed by a powerful king, respected in foreign courts, treated on equal diplomatic terms by their two great neighbours, Egypt and Phoenicia. It is no wonder that the scribes keep up their refrain: Solomon is a sage: Solomon is the prince of wisdom.
That was their view. It is possible of course, to differ from it and, on this particular point of Solomon's 'wisdom', to be less enthusiastic than the Scriptural writers about the early years of Solomon's reign. Future events will show which view is justified.
THE TWELVE TRIBES OF YISRAEL
This is the traditional plan of the occupation of the land of Canaan by the Twelve Tribes of Yisrael at the time of the Judges and of David.
Solomon's TWELVE ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICTS
These new administrative divisions were obviously intended to break up the tribal organization by the establishment of twelve districts each having at its head an official depending directly on Solomon .
6 Modern historians have used the following chronology for the iron age - succeeding the bronze age -in the Middle East
Iron Age 1 1200-900. Iron spreads slowly.
Iron Age 2 900-600
Iron Age 3. 600-300 (the Persian period)
In the period of David and Solomon we are at the beginning The undisputed masters of this new metal work were the Philistines, and their backward pupils were the Yisraelites. Hence the significance of the enormous difficulties en countered by Yisrael against their hereditary enemies.
Solomon The Magnificent Index Solomon Sitemap Scripture History Through the Ages Solomon The Historian RADIANT DAWN Solomon's Wisdom SOLOMON IN ALL HIS HONOR David's role in building the Temple Dates of the building of the Temple Division of the Temple The Ark of the Covenant The most Kodesh Place Dedication of the Temple SOLOMON Prince of Peace SOLOMON THE TRADER Solomon's Ophir expedition The queen of Sheba LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS OF SOLOMON First historical works of the Hebrews What did Solomon write THE SHADES OF NIGHT Political and social failure Solomon's spiritual failure The moral failure of Solomon CONCLUSION of Solomon