King Solomon in his Ancient Context -- By: Alan R. Millard

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 15:3 (Summer 2002)
Article: King Solomon in his Ancient Context
Author: Alan R. Millard


King Solomon in his Ancient Context

Alan R. Millard

A book known from fragmentary copies to be at least 2000 years old, reports the history of kings of Israel whose rule began 1000 years earlier. Although the Book of Kings was certainly written before ca. 200 BC, when it was translated into Greek, its actual age cannot be determined. The last event recorded, the elevation of Jehoiachin of Judah from prison to the table of King Awel-Marduk in Babylon, can be set soon after that king’s accession in 562 BC. Whether the work was completed shortly after that time or during the following two or three centuries, the historian needs to know what reliance he can place on those reports since there are no other accounts of most of the events they portray from elsewhere in the ancient Near East. In particular, do the chapters about Solomon, 2 Kgs 1–11, which we shall call the Solomon Narrative, reflect situations of the tenth century BC or do they represent concepts about that era which only became current hundreds of years later? Was there a splendid ruler in Jerusalem about 950 BC? Do the reports embroider a more modest kernel, or are they the fables of folklore, or the wistful concoctions of exiled Jews who imagined their past in the light of Nebuchadnezzar’s magnificence, or the fictions of theological propagandists? Although the texts are literary compositions, they plainly have a theological purpose and are part of a religious compilation, the Hebrew Bible. They are not thereby rendered worthless as factual sources, for the most artistic literary composition and the most tendentious concoction may portray circumstances and events with great accuracy while arranging them or interpreting them for aesthetic ends or according to a philosophy the reader recognizes as unacceptably biased. While the literary and theological aspects of the Solomon Narrative and their analyses may have value in themselves, the first purpose of this essay is to examine the Narrative in the light of knowledge about the ancient Near East to discover whether it may tell of a tenth century BC king ruling magnificently in Jerusalem or not. Were the Solomon Narrative a hitherto unknown writing embodied in a recently excavated manuscript some 2000 years old, a primary mode of evaluation would be contextual, so that will occupy the major part of this essay.

The Cultural Context

The Solomon Narrative describes a greater range of material culture than other parts of Kings. It therefore allows greater possibility for assessment in the context of the ancient world: can the creations attributed to Solomon’s craftsmen be set comfortably in the tenth century, or do they belong only to later years? Arguments brought against a tenth century reality often rest on what modern scholar...

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