Challenging the Historicity of Solomon (and David)

If you wanted to make an excellent case that the solomonic narratives of 1 Chronicles 1 -11, and 2 kings 1 – 10 amounted to nothing more than legend and myth, what would it look like?  I would suggest noting the following points for an auspicious beginning:

  1. The Torah requires that the king of Israel read out of the law daily in order to ensure his just judgement over the kingdom and to keep him from wandering into other (forbidden) religions.
  2. Neither Solomon, nor any other king in the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles and 1 and 2 Kings ever does this.  Not one king is said to have read out of the law daily, or is pictured doing this.  There are references throughout Psalm 119 to the Psalmist “meditating on God’s law,” but the narratives do not ever recount this happening — of any king in Israel, EVER.
  3.  Instead of treating the Torah (first 5 books of the OT Bible) as his wisdom (as Deuteronomy 5.4-8 requires), Solomon created some 3000 proverbs to replace this wisdom with something better.  The problem is that the something better treats all nations equally.  For instance, “When the sin of the land is great, its princes are many,” or “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin disgraces any people.”  Here, there is no holy land (Israel), that singles out one nation as chosen or covenantally different, but all nations incur just the same standard, since “differing weights, and differing measures, both alike are an abomination to the Lord.”

Problem: The point of Solomon’s temple-building and praying is that Israel is where God dwells, making this land special and chosen — according to the “wisdom of the Torah,” which is denied by the “wisdom of the (above) Proverbs.”

The plot thickeneth brethren.  According to 2 Chr. 1-3, David’s last advice to Solomon was to lean to the wisdom that God gave him.  But we do not know whether this refers to that of the Torah (which Solomon does not read), that of the Proverbs, or that which is from neither, but is displayed in the wisdom of deciding whose son a child should be when the two mothers (harlots) dispute the point — a verdict that made Solomon famous in Israel and showed that the Lord was with him — but this wisdom was neither from the Proverbs nor the Torah.  Perhaps this is the heavenly wisdom to which King David appealed, received by Solomon from on high by a dream and a petition for wisdom.

The point bogs down even further. We are told that Solomon “turned not away from the ways of his father David, neither to the right nor to the left.”  This is in fact later how the good kings of Israel are measured, and they are said in the kings-chronicles narratives to “have walked after the ways of their father, David,” if good kings, but after the way of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, if an evil king by way of summarizing their kingship at the end of each.

Thus far, then, we have 5 different standards of wisdom suggested in the confused narratives —

  1. Torah
  2. Proverbs
  3. Solomon’s heavenly wisdom
  4. King David’s life as model
  5. Do what the prophets command

King David told Solomon to follow #3 above, but not #’s 4, 2, or 1.  #5 is implied by Torah — follow what the prophets (or God or angels) tell you to do in the name of YHWH.  A man of God failed to do this in the book called “Judges,” and unfortunately was torn to pieces by a lion in the streets.

Each of these can be shown to be incompatible with the others, since each seems to render the others unnecessary, redundant and trivial.

Point #2 against the historicity of Solomon.  Given the biblical narrative, Solomon was not at all like David, and did not walk in his ways, except in a few matters like singing Psalms.  Here is a brief list of differences:

a.  Solomon loved all things Egypt — he married his first wife, the Pharaoh’s daughter, not a Jewish woman, a Gentile.  The proverbs first appear in the ancient world by an Egyptian named “Im-Hotep,” so even the Proverbs are Egyptian in format.  He bought Egyptian horses and chariots (wholesale), and manufactured goods, and sold them locally at a good mark-up (buy low, sell high).

It is fair to say, that under Solomon’s rule, the good land (or holy land) was Egypt, not Israel. This contradicts his building of the Temple (God’s house) in Israel since God dwelling in Israel (according to the Torah) makes it holy.  But this would make the Jewish woman holy for marriage, while Solomon chose an Egyptian. And Israel was no “good land,” but was poverty-stricken with no gold; so Solomon had to leave it for Ophir to mine huge amounts of gold and import it to Israel — since it was flat broke without the import.  Solomon also imported all the cedar from Lebanon for his palace, temple and other buildings.  Israel could supply almost none of the required construction materials.

b. Saul had slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands. And the Psalms say (presumably by david) “You train my hands for war.”   Solomon was no warrior at all, but a sage-king.  David seems to have been prevented from building the Temple because of this training, making him “a man of much blood,” where Solomon was not.

David built no Temple, while Solomon built his palace, the temple complex (dedicated the Temple) and built up much in Israel, according to the k-c narratives.

David had a few wives, and Solomon was slain by a thousand.  David was a national patriot and Solomon an international phenomenon.  David did no mining, or importing of fine manufactured goods from Egypt or anywhere else. David acquired wisdom by trial and tribulation; Solomon did so by prayer and dreams. David was persecuted relentlessly; Solomon was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

David slew the seven nations around him; Solomon enslaved them and put them to the tribute (and then did so to the 12 tribes, each working for 1 month a year to pay for the needs of the Palace and Temple. This hardly seems wise in either case.

Historicity challenge #3 — The Temple Dedication is attended by “Firefall” at the sacrifice of Solomon in 1 Chronicles, but not in the “synoptic”  (to be read alongside of) kings narrative. This confuses the genre of kings for that of the prophets.  Elijah the prophet becomes famous in Israel when two times fire falls from the sky on a military contingent sent from Jezebel to arrest and kill the prophet — and he threatens the firefall again, only to have the commander capitulate to his will (No one wants to be barbecued).

The firefall phenomenon is extremely rare even for prophets, and never happens for any king, ever — making this one exception novel, showing a misplaced theme.  This is why the synoptic-narrative counterpart does not have this feature of the temple dedication.  Nothing like this was ever said to have attended king David.

David was born a shepherd from a poor family; Solomon was raised as a prince.  David consults the priestly “lot;” Solomon never did.  He did not need the lot since he had “Wisdom” — again,  see the conflict in the norms shown above.  David played music on stringed instruments, especially the harp. Solomon never did.  Solomon instead had an entourage of musicians (a fairly extensive rock band like Nebuchadrezzar’s in the Book of Daniel), with their names listed in the Chronicles narrative.

David kept “the Big 3” strictures for kings — do not multiply riches to yourself, wives or horses and chariots (war machines).  Solomon violated all three according to the narratives. Neither one built anything like a school system or college or way of teaching wisdom to all Israel.  They were left uneducated by both.

In many other ways, it would prove easy enough to show that it would have been a better claim to say that Solomon followed his heavenly wisdom and did not imitate David than that he walked in the ways of his father David in everything, not turning to the right or to the left.  This would be obviously not true even IF the narrative were historical.

#4 — neither David nor Solomon proved particularly wise.

Solomon was said to have slaughtered over 22,000 animals at the temple dedication, while the proverbs say that “a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal,” and the Torah bids “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain” (i.e. do not abuse animals).  Solomon wrote that “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown.”  Note that one crown only fits on the head; here, it is “a wife,” not a thousand of them. “Wisdom is found in the counsel of the multitude,” and yet neither David nor Solomon built anything like a library (see Alexandria’s library in the ancient world), nor a hall of records like that of the Medo -Persians (See Esther 10), nor any kind of proto-university.  They left Israel uneducated.

By the end of his ministry, Solomon had run out of funds — he neither retained nor caused the growth of the gold and other wealth he imported, but lost all of it, since he had to put the 12 tribes of Israel to tribute to pay for the upkeep of the Palace and Temple, with each tribe serving to provide them for 1 month each year for each of the 12 tribes.  This shows that for all his strip-mining efforts, Solomon had no idea how to manage money well.  “The wealth of the wise is their crown,” and Solomon had no wealth at the end.  Then his kingdom split in half and never recovered.

Neither David nor Solomon seemed to know anything about investing over the long term. How wise could they be?  I would argue that they had very little wisdom compared to Wall Street (or the Journal).

Was Solomon historical? Most probably not.  The contradictions in the narratives, the lack of practical wisdom we see in the ministry of Solomon — both political (doomed kingdom) and economic (ends in poverty and provides no education for his kingdom) show that his real (and somewhat severe) cognitive limits would have been about the same as those of the ancient world of the rabbinical tradition that constructed those narratives.

This is what we would expect if the narratives were from the ancient imagination.

With the exception of a few historical actors (like Hezekiah in the account of Sennacherib found on the clay prism that bears his name), very few characters of the OT actually have any real claim to existence. If Abram existed, he was not a wandering Aramaean from Ur of the Chaldeans, but rather a wandering Sumerian, from Ur of Sumeria, home of the poet-priestess Enheduanna who lived in a culture with Proverbs (used to teach children, “my son”) and Psalms (well, “Hymns to Inanna” with the same range of emotive expression as the Psalms, sometimes called “Hymns” in their superscriptions).

The OT looks to be about 95%+ fiction, somewhere near that of the NT.  My favorite NT claim is the repeated “eyewitness testimony” claim that Evangelicals harp on, that could never have happened according to Luke, since by him we learn that from noon (6th hour) to the (9th hour) 3 pm — “darkness fell over the land.”  This miracle, not noticed by Matthew and Mark, would have prevented the possibility of any eyewitnesses.  Matthew and Mark assume their eyewitness testimony is valid just BECAUSE they do not include the “darkness at high noon” story.

Here is what Luke 23 actually says:

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened (seeing in the dark is a Roman custom), praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight SAW (for these were Good Romans) what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things (in the dark of high noon, for the Jewish began to be seduced by Roman customs).  Ahem. Something wrong with this picture?

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