Solomon: World Class Ruler or Poor King

Lawson Younger Jr. in his article The Figurative Aspect and the Contextual Method in the Evaluation of the Solomonic Empire (1 Kings 1-11), debates the figurative and ideological aspects of the Solomon biblical narrative. Younger finds fault in the claim of biblical scholars, that the story of Solomon in 1 Kings should be accepted as literally as it is written because of its detailed descriptions of officials and other aspects of the reign of Solomon.

He refutes this idea with his belief that the text is loaded with hyperbole and political ideology, and should not be interpreted literally. Younger bases his argument on the language of the ancient Near East of other kingdoms and rulers, and shows that the use of hyperbole was quite frequent and common. On pages 160 and 161 he quotes descriptions of monuments erected by rulers, and phrases like “Nothing like it had ever been made…,” and “the likes of which had not existed since the begginning…” are proven to be common. Younger urges the reader to recognize the texts as a vehicle for political ideology.

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Younger also refutes the idea that the use of hyperbole denotes fallacy in the history of the writing: “Hyperbole is only really effective when there is an element of truth to its claim relative to its basis of comparison” (164). Younger explains that the accuracy of Solomon’s reign is exaggerated so to serve political functions, as he compares it to a US politician proclaiming that the ‘United States is the greatest economic force in the world’ (160). The author of such comments is installing the greatness of their state into the listeners.

The authors of 1 Kings 1-11 are exaggerating the wealth and splendor of Solomon to promote the ideological greatness of Solomon’s rule. “The description of Solomonic trade is related to this symbolic role of the capital as centre. As a microcosm,… it must bring into itself the various elements from the periphery of the empire”(168). The idea of the temple is also seen as a representation of the empire, as exotic gardens and buildings were built in foreign styles, along with the accumulation of foreign treasures.

Younger believes the author of 1 Kings 1-11 had access to sources that described as the praising of Solomon is followed by the demise of Israel. Youngers final point is that Solomon wasn’t as glorious as depicted, but was a successful ancient Irsaelite king and his grandeur description is that to be expected of the ancient Near East. E. A. Knauf in his article King Solomon’s Copper Supply, critiques the writing of 1 Kings 1-11 through a historical lens.

Knauf looks at the historical writing of Solomonic story with the rhetorical question: “What can we responsibly assume to have happened in the area A, at the time T, on the basis of the complete primary documentation that is available concerning A and T”(172). Knauf takes the evidence and considers what is the most logical explanation, while recognizing the manipulation of the authors that Younger describes in his article: “ancient historiographers generally do not report what had happened but rather what they supposed should have happened” (171). Because of this belief he takes a minimalist approach, by dismissing all events that are not backed by evidence.

Knauf tears apart the credibility of the claims of glory made by the author of 1 Kings 1-11, with a well-researched assault. The issue that receives the title of his article, that is the enormous amount of copper used to build his temple, is refuted through his proof that Solomon never actually built a temple. Rather, Solomon faded Yahweh away and introduced El as the true God. “Because the historic Solomon never built a temple, he did not need Phoenician craftsmen and expertise for that purpose” (can’t make out page number). This is the reason Knauf gives for the descriptions of the temple as being Canaanite in design.

He further goes to lengths to disprove completely that 50 tons of copper is unrealistic as well as the 180,000 corvee workers, who Solomon was supposed to have at his disposal. This is done through a historical analysis of the economic and political relationships of the nations in the ancient Near East. In this argument, he discredits the claim that Solomon was wise and well respected by other rulers in the region, as Knauf claims him to be merely a satellite of Egypt.

Knauf also makes important use of the concepts of time and relationships between states in the ancient world. Knauf contends the Solomonic history was a redactionary account, written in the time of Josiah coming back to his belief that the historians of ancient Israel report what they think should have happened. The use of the 40 year period indicates to him that it was a time “of unknown extent, but of human, not mythical measure”(172?), and affirms that were not included prior to the Exile based upon the work of Helga Weippert. The description of the temple solidifies his belief through linguistic proof that it was not one of building, but one of restoration. Knauf sums up his argument with a comparison of the story as an overture:

The story of Solomon as it stands forms in essence the overture for the opera which unfolds though 1-2 Kgs. Like an overture, it presents the main motifs of the following drama, and was, as is usually the case with overtures, composed after the opera was basically completed. J. Maxwell Miller in his article Solomon: International potentate or Local King? writes largely in the form of a criticism of Younger and other writers of the Solomon story. When analyzing the writings of Solomon, Miller sees it as a question of “how to interpret these (biblical) materials” (28). He disregards extra-biblical material except for the physical archaeological artifacts of ancient Israel. Miller’s approach is one of figuring out what is probable, rather than what is possible for that time period.

Miller’s main argument against the glorious claims is the archaeological evidence. The ruins of the cities under Solomons rule were described as modest, on a small scale, and built with materials locally available. Miller questions the fact that not one inscription of Solomons name has been discovered, which is unusual of powerful king especially if they ruled for 40 years, over the land between Egypt and the Euphrates. This is largely contradictory to the writings in 1 Kings 1-11. Miller concludes that “Solomon was probably an unusually wealthy and powerful ruler by the standards of Early Age Palestine…he is to be regarded more as a local ruler over an expanded city-state than as a world-class emperor” (29).

Miller, like Knauf, places the time of the authors of 1 Kings 1-11 at around the Exile. He states that the authors would naturally use “royal language”(31) to describe the glory days of Israel’s existence. He discredit’s Younger’s argument with this statement, and further exemplifies some contradictions in his article. While stating these beliefs, Miller maintains that all these conclusions are probable. Also most of the beliefs in dispute, i.e. how well Solomon was respected, are based upon the opinion of the day and can never be proved through scholarship.

The description of the reign of King Solomon comes under criticism by all three authors discussed, each coming at the argument from a different angle. Younger concentrates on the ideological aspects of the writing, and the writing of other rulers from the time period. Knauf focuses on the historical evidence, believing that it is the ultimate truth in the matter. Miller takes a less definitive approach and discusses the textual and definitive archaeological evidence.

All three conclude that the writings of 1 Kings 1-11 are exaggerated to some degree. Knauf at the extreme believes that it’s totally inaccurate, while Younger and Miller believe it is exaggerated to a point. The three arguments present an intricate look at the truth behind the Solomonic history, and one can conclude that Solomon was no world-class ruler of the ancient Near East, nor was he wealthy in terms of the region. The extent of his prominence is one that neither agree on, and no one will ever know for sure.

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