King Solomon is probably one of the most mysterious and, simultaneously, one of the most famous historical figures of Israel. In actuality, there are few evidences of his life and work but Biblical evidences, which may be potentially challenged and criticized. Nevertheless, the popularity of the King Solomon and his fame leave little room for doubt that he was a real historical figure and not a product of the ancient mythology and legends, though some of his actions or, to put it more precisely, some actions attributed to him really resemble ancient myths and their historical validity may be argued. However, these actions do not make the contribution of the King Solomon in the development of the Kingdom of Israel less significant. In stark contrast, those legends that are associated with the name of the King Solomon rather prove his importance and significance of his contribution to the development of his Kingdom, than just put under the question the credibility of those resources that convey major information about deeds and achievements of the King Solomon.
On the other hand, there is still certain controversy in relation to the figure of the King Solomon because often it is really difficult to identify exactly the achievements of Solomon and distinguish them from the achievements of his descendants. The difference may be really striking because archeological evidences that are traditionally related to the epoch of the reign of the King Solomon may vary consistently, to the extent that the timeline gap between archeological evidences, including artifacts and buildings, which were created by Solomon and those which were attributed to his rule, may vary up to one hundred years. In such a situation, it is very important to clearly define the chronology of the King Solomon’s rule and find out the truth about his actual contribution and historical significance for his country.
The traditional chronology
Speaking about the life and deeds of the King Solomon, it is important to underline that the major source of his life and his rule is the Bible. The dominance of Biblical evidences has determined the chronology of his life and deeds. In this respect, it should be pointed out that specialists (Halpern, 215) use the Biblical evidences to define the chronology of life and work of the King Solomon. At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that the attention of authors of Biblical texts to the figure of the King Solomon is not occasional and is, to a significant extent, determined by the contribution of Solomon into the development of the religion in ancient Israel.
In fact, the King Solomon is considered to be the builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem that was a very important even in the history of the development of religion in Israel. In actuality, the First Temple in Jerusalem was the fundamental temple which created the basis for the emergence of traditional religious movement in Israel and in the later epochs it continued to play a very important role in the life of Israel. Naturally, such a contribution of the King into the development of religion in the Kingdom could not fail to affect the attitude of authors of Biblical texts, which were traditionally oriented on the religious background. As a result, the King Solomon became one of the prominent historical figures that was honored and highly respected by authors of Biblical texts not only for his wisdom and political achievements but mainly for his attention to religion.
In such a way, the traditional chronology of the life and rule of the King Solomon is based on the Bible, which became the main source of historical evidences for supporters of the traditional chronology and it is in accordance of Biblical stories his life and deeds were reconstructed by historians of later epochs. In this respect, it should be said that, according to the traditional chronology, the King Solomon was a very young man when he was crowned and became the official ruler of Israel. According to the Bible (I King, 11:42) he was about 20 years old when he was crowned. His political achievements are really impressing since, according to traditional chronology, during his 40-year rule, from 970 to 930 BC, he expanded his kingdom until it covered 50,000 square miles and stretched from Egypt in the South and Syria in the North to the borders of Mesopotamia in the East (Dever, 223). This is why he was viewed as the king that united the Kingdom and brought Israel the great power and influence it had never had before in the history.
At the same time, from the beginning of his rule he demonstrated his wisdom and political power. It is even possible to speak about his great gift since he was a talented ruler, according to Biblical texts. It is worth mentioning the fact that Biblical texts, which constitute the basis of the traditional chronology, lay emphasis on the fact that the first thing the King Solomon did as a King was to go to the Gibeon to offer sacrifice to the Lord (Halpern, 276). Obviously, this fact was very important for authors of Biblical texts and they could not ignore it. Moreover, they may intentionally exaggerate the significance of this act because, in such a way, the new King demonstrated his obedience and respect to the God that was extremely important from religious point of view. On the other hand, it was a very wise political move because, in such a way, the King Solomon had gained the support of the religious elite of Israel as well as ordinary people, for whom religion was traditionally of the utmost importance and regulated norms of life, traditions and behavior of people.
However, this episode, which is depicted by authors of Biblical texts as the real fact, is accompanied by apparently legendary and mystic episode. Namely, according to the Bible, the God appeared to Solomon at night and asked him “What shall I give thee?”ť and Solomon asked for an understanding heart to judge people of Israel and the ability to distinguish good from evil (I Kings 3:4-5). Moreover, according to the Bible, the God granted Solomon’s request on the condition that he would continue the policy of his father David.
Naturally, it is impossible to view this evidence as a factual event that really took place. Instead, it is possible to view this episode metaphorically as a kind of the divine sanction given to Solomon to continue the policy of his father and work for the well being of Israeli people. This idea may be proved by the fact that the King Solomon really continued the policy started by his father. To put it more precisely, he organized Israel in the same way as David did before him, but Solomon enlarged and expanded the government. According to Biblical texts, he divided the country into twelve districts, each of which was responsible for providing the court with regular supplies, with a supply officer in charge in each district. As a result, the Israel grew rich and Solomon’s court reached a standard of luxury it had never had before.
Obviously, the political and economic successes stimulated the creation of the image of Solomon as a wise man. In fact, Biblical texts traditionally emphasize wisdom as the major virtue of the King Solomon. His Proverbs and Song of Songs are perfect evidences of the wisdom of the King, while his suggestion to divide a child physically between two women, who claimed being mothers of the child, may be viewed as symbol of his wisdom as well as it also demonstrates the extent to which Solomon was acknowledged of human nature.
However, all these evidences are rather circumstantial than direct evidences of achievements and success of the King Solomon. In actuality, the factual evidences related to numerous buildings and advances of the King Solomon in the field of politics and economy which are supported by archeological evidences other than Biblical texts may be more valuable and convincing. In this respect, it should be said that the major accomplishment of the King Solomon is the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem. It was one of his first major feats and it was a place to worship the God of Israel. Basically, the construction of the building took seven years and a huge number of people was employed and involved in the construction of the temple. To put it more precisely, about 30,000 people were employed to cut timber in Lebanon, while 70,000 ordinary workers and superintendants were directly involved in the construction of the temple. The building was completed within seven years and was renowned for its elaborated workmanship (I Kings 6-7). In such a way, the First Temple in Jerusalem became one of the first and major buildings constructed during the rule of the King Solomon.
However, the construction of the Temple was only a part of the plan of Solomon. After the end of the building, the King Solomon planned an elaborate program of dedication. Furthermore, after completing the Temple, Solomon built the palace complex, a series of five structures that took 13 years to complete. Moreover, during his rule, he also built many cities to assist the development of his trade empire. Among these cities archeologists (Dever, 241) name Tadmor (also known as Palmyra) and Baalath in Syria. In addition, to protect his united Kingdom he built fortresses and lodgings for his army. These fortifications, especially those at Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor, had strong double walls and massive gateways.
Basically, the building of new cities and the construction of fortifications may be viewed as factual evidences of the power Israel had got under the King Solomon’s rule.Â Obviously, all these buildings would be impossible if Israel did not have a strong socio-economic foundation for such a growth. This is why, it is possible to estimate that, in terms of the traditional chronology, it was the King Solomon who was really the creator of the united Kingdom and he was the first King of Israel who created the largest and richest state Israel had never been before.
In such a context, the turbulence typical for the last years of the rule of Solomon seems to be quite unexpected, taking into consideration the power of Israel in that epoch. Nevertheless, the heavy taxation of the people brought unrest and rebellion, which actually put an end to the power of Israel by the end of the life of Solomon and his son inherited only a small part of the huge Kingdom his father used to rule.
The low chronology
Obviously, such the ending of the King Solomon rule seems to be quite strange since there are no obvious reasons for the rapid decline of the progressing and rich state, which Israel was under the King Solomon. At any rate, it was the version of the traditional chronology based on Biblical evidences and texts. In such a situation, it is quite natural that some scientists started to doubt in the reliability of the information and facts depicted in Biblical texts, to the extent that some specialists, such as Finkelstein suggested an alternative chronology, which shifted the achievements of Israel and which actually challenged the traditional chronology. To put it more precisely, the low chronology stood on the ground that many achievements of the King Solomon was wrongfully attributed to this King, though, in actuality, some of the major buildings associated with the King Solomon were built in later epochs.
In this respect, it should be said that Finkelstein, for instance, stands on the ground that much of the evidence for the rule of the King Solomon is based on one ambiguous Biblical verse, I Kings 9:15: “This is the account of forced labor that King Solomon conscripted to build the house of the Lord and his own house, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer”ť. Specialists (Finkelstein, 179) argue that it is impossible to tell for sure whether it is Solomonic in date or whether it describes the supposed events of the tenth century from a later perspective. In such a way, it is possible to doubt whether the traditional chronology is correct at all.
Furthermore, it is also important to take into consideration, scientific findings which support the righteousness of the low chronology which differ from the traditional chronology. For instance, some specialists (Gilboa et al., 1333) support the idea that the traditional chronology is incorrect and suggest to use the low chronology instead because the Carbon dating results support the low chronology. For instance, according to Gilboa et al (1438), the appearance of Phoenician Bichrome pottery does not appear until 974-870 BC. Moreover, there are several examples of sites that David, the father of Solomon, supposedly destroyed that contain this type of pottery, but actually, this date range occurs after David’s reign. Moreover, these sites could not be destroyed by David, but at a later time.
Furthermore, Finkelstein’s study of the sites of Megiddo and Jezreel also supports the low chronology. To put it more precisely, a study of stratigraphic sequence of pottery at Megiddo places stratum VA-IVB to the ninth century. As a result, the scientist concludes that “this requires a meaningful time span between the ceramic horizons of Megiddo VIA and VB, which hardly allows one to place the latter before the late tenth century. This would push Stratum VA-IVB into the early ninth century BC”ť (Finkelstein, 169). Consequently, it is possible to conclude that all these archeological findings refer to the post-Solomon epoch and, therefore, cannot be attributed to Solomon as the traditional chronology does.
Basically, it should be said that the low chronology classifies the archeological findings, including those in Megiddo, to about a century later than the traditional chronology does. In other words, the low chronology, which relies on the results of Carbon dating, stands on the ground that the King Solomon achievements are wrongfully attributed to Solomon since his major achievements are actually dated by the later epoch and, therefore, some buildings and fortifications were created after the death of Solomon.
King Solomon as a historical figure
Obviously, the recent scientific finding, especially results of the Carbon analysis, reveal the fact that the traditional chronology is not absolutely correct and it is hardly possible to fully rely on Biblical evidences. Consequently, it is possible to presuppose that the Biblical texts depicting the achievements of Solomon are not accurate. At the same time, it should be said that, in all probability, the achievements of the King Solomon were rather exaggerated by authors of Biblical texts, but it is impossible to deny pointblank the contribution of King Solomon in the development of Israel.
First of all, it is necessary to remind about the fact that the King Solomon is viewed by the Bible as the builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem. Moreover, from the beginning of his reign he demonstrated great respect to old traditions and religion. Naturally, this policy of the new king became the major reason for the common admiration with Solomon that may be easily traced in Biblical texts. In such a situation, it is quite natural that ancient authors preferred to present Solomon as a builder and a great King that united huge territories and made Israel a powerful state.
However, in actuality, it is more likely that the major political and economic achievements attributed by the Bible to Solomon should refer to the alter epoch about a century later. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that Jeroboam, Solomon’s son inherited only a small part of the Kingdom which Solomon, according to the Bible, created. Such a dramatic downfall of the powerful Kingdom can hardly be logically explained. While, the scientific findings which refer the strengthening of Israel to a later epoch make it possible to presuppose that Solomon rather created the basis for the further expansion and strengthening of Israel. For instance, he could continue the administrative reform, introduce new tax system, strengthen the religion which was the ideological basis of his kingdom and his descendants just used this basis to construct totally new, powerful state.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Solomon still remains quite a controversial figure. His actual contribution to the political and economic strengthening of Israel may be doubtful. At the same time, it is hardly possible to totally deny the traditional chronology and support only the low chronology. Instead, it is necessary to distinguish actual achievements of Solomon from those attributed by Biblical texts.