King Solomon’s mighty deeds in Midrashim

The following is a chapter from a book I am working on called “The Authentic King Solomon.”

 

                                                                King Solomon’s mighty deeds in Midrashim

 

Despite the multiple hints and many explicit statements in the Bible showing that Solomon acted improperly and that he was not wise and sought a life of extravagance that mimic the behavior of neighboring pagan nations, building only a diminutive temple that was smaller than his palace, having multiple wives and concubines that worshipping foreign gods, the Talmuds and Midrashim posit that his temple was glorious and he did no wrong other than to fail to restrain his wives.[1]

 

What are Midrashim?

Midrashim (singular, Midrash) are collections of both legal rules and literary commentaries on the Bible which were passed on at first orally, but then began to be recorded in writings around 200 CE in many books. They continued to be written during the Middle Ages. Many scriptural commentaries composed today are midrashic in nature, as are many rabbinic sermons. Many parts of the Talmuds contain Midrashim. We will focus on the narratives in the Midrashim, not the legal sections.

Midrashim are expositions, imaginative commentaries and ideas based on biblical events. They are untrue often exaggerated legends, parables, designed by rabbis to teach lessons. Maimonides explains in his essay Chelek that people who think the stories are true are fools. But, he continues, one should not dismiss them because many are designed, as are other parables, to teach lessons of proper behavior.

For example, The Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 56a imagines that when Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, the angel Gabriel inserted a rod in the Mediterranean Sea. Land grew around the rod and became Rome, which destroyed the second temple in 70 CE. The story is a fable but it teaches that misdeeds have consequences. Similarly, The Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 101b identifies Jeroboam’s father as either Micah of Judges 17 who built an idol, or Sheba who led a rebellion against David in II Samuel 20. Abarbanel explains that the Talmud should not be understood to be saying that either of these men were Jeroboam’s father, it is saying that Jeroboam shared their despicable character.

Most Midrashim were originally composed in Hebrew and have been translated into other languages. Virtually all of it is not stated or even hinted in the Bible, some of the imaginative ideas are impossible. One superb collection is The Legends of the Jews a seven-volume collection by Louis Ginzberg. The following selections are from volume 4.[2]

Solomon became king of Israel when he was twelve years old. His real name was Jedidiah, “the friend of God,” but he was called Solomon, “peace,” on account of the peace that prevailed throughout the realm during his reign.

When Solomon instructed his soldiers to kill Joab, Joab requested a trial because under the then-existing law if a man was killed by the king’s order, he would lose his fortune as well as his life, which would not happen if he was found guilty at a trial, and Joab wanted to provide for his children. Solomon did not grant him a trial, but promised Joab that he would not confiscate his estate.

Shimei ben Gera who had insulted David and whom David instructed Solomon to revenge the insult, was Solomon’s religious teacher. While Shimei was alive, Solomon did not dare marry Pharaoh’s daughter, but after his death he took her as his wife. Solomon married her on the same day as the consecration of the temple. The rejoicing over the marriage was greater than the completion of the temple.

Solomon thought he established lasting peace with Egypt by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. But during the reign of his son Rehoboam, Solomon’s father-in-law attacked Judea, and took many of the riches of the country, including the throne of Solomon about which Solomon was so proud.

Solomon was wiser and greater than Abraham, Moses, Joseph, the generation of the desert, and even Adam. His proverbs that have come down to us are under eight hundred in number. Nevertheless, scripture counts them as equal to three thousand because each has a double and a triple interpretation. He was so smart, he could and did speak to animals and demons. Demons helped him build the temple. He was able to rule not only over people but also over animals. He heard about the wisdom of the Queen of Sheba and the wealth of her kingdom from a hoopoe bird. She was a sorceress. He summoned her to appear before him. She agreed and traveled seven years to come see him. Midrashim tell dozens of riddles that the queen asked Solomon to answer, and he answered all of them. An example is: “What was that which was not born, yet life was given to it?” “The golden calf.”

Solomon was so smart that he was able to build a flying carpet sixty miles square. He could fly through the air so swiftly that he could eat breakfast in Damascus and supper in Media.

The two women who appeared to Solomon in a dispute to whom a live baby belonged were not prostitutes. They were spirits sent by God to make Solomon’s wisdom known. Solomon was able to decide the case because a heavenly voice proclaimed, “This is the mother of the child.”

Solomon was involved in many cases in which he showed remarkable wisdom. In one case, for example, when two litigants claimed an inheritance, Solomon had the body of the deceased exhumed, dyed two bones, each with the blood of one litigant, and gave the inheritance to the man whose blood showed an affinity to the dead man’s bone.  In another case, a two headed man wanted a double portion of an inheritance. Solomon pored hot water on one head, both heads called out in pain, so Solomon decided that the two-headed man was a single individual. Midrashim are filled with many other case. Even animals came to Solomon for him to resolve disputes.

During the seven years that it took to build the temple, not a single workman died or even became sick. After the temple was dedicated the workmen died, lest they use their skill to build temples for idols. King Hiram of Tyre who aided Solomon in building the temple was rewarded by being able to enter Paradise alive.

Solomon had a magic ring that gave him enormous powers. With it he was able to control the king of the demons. One day the king of demons tricked Solomon into giving him the ring. As soon as he had it, the demon snatched Solomon and flung him four hundred parasangs from Jerusalem. He had to wander about as a beggar for three years, as punishment for his violation of three biblical commands – not to multiply horses, wives, and silver and gold.

 

[1] For example: The Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 116a and Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:1 state that King David’s son was as righteous as he was, and the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 56b contends that anyone who thinks that Solomon did wrong is mistaken.

[2] Pages 125-176.

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