At the youthful age of twelve Solomon succeeded his father David as king. His real name was Jedidiah, the "friend of God," but it was superseded by the name Solomon on account of the peace that prevailed throughout the realm during his reign. He bore three other names besides: Ben, Jakeh, and Ithiel. He was called Ben because he was the builder of the Temple; Jakeh, because he was the ruler of the whole world; and Ithiel, because God was with him.
The rebellion Adonijah intended to lead against the future king was suppressed during David's lifetime, by having Solomon anointed in public. On that occasion Solomon rode upon a remarkable she-mule, remarkable because she was not the product of cross-breeding, but of a special act of creation.
As soon as he ascended the throne, Solomon set about executing the instructions his father had given him on his death-bed. The first of them was the punishment of Joab.
Notwithstanding all his excellent qualities, which fitted him to be not only David's first general, but also the president of the Academy, Joab had committed great crimes, which had to be atoned for. Beside the murder of Abner and Amasa of which he was guilty, he had incurred wrong against David himself. The generals of the army suspected him of having had Uriah the Hittite put out of the way for purposes of his own, whereupon he showed them David's letter dooming Uriah. David might have forgiven Joab, but he wanted him to expiate his sins in this world, so that he might be exempt from punishment in the world to come.
When Joab perceived that Solomon intended to have him executed, he sought the protection of the Temple. He knew full well that he could not save his life in this way, for the arm of justice reaches beyond the doors of the sanctuary, to the altar of God. What he wished was to be accorded a regular trial, and not suffer death by the king's order. In the latter case he would lose fortune as well as life, and he was desirous of leaving his children well provided for. Thereupon Solomon sent word to him that he had no intention of confiscating his estates.
Though he was convinced of Joab's guilt, Solomon nevertheless granted him the privilege of defense. The king questioned him: "Why didst thou kill Abner?"
Joab: "I was the avenger of my brother Asahel, whom Abner had slain."
Solomon: "Why, it was Asahel who sought to kill Abner, and Abner acted in self-defense."
Joab: "Abner might have disabled Asahel without going to extremes."
Solomon: "That Abner could not do."
Joab: "What! Abner aimed directly at Asahel's fifth rib, and thou wouldst say he could not have managed to wound him lightly?"
Solomon: "Very well, then, we shall drop Abner's case. But why didst thou slay Amasa?"
Joab: "He acted rebelliously toward King David. He omitted to execute his order to gather an army within three days; for that offense he deserved to suffer the death penalty."
Solomon: "Amasa failed to obey the king's order, because he had been taught by our sages that even a king's injunctions may be set at defiance if they involve neglect of the study of the Torah, which was the case with the order given to Amasa. And, indeed," continued Solomon, "it was not Amasa but thou thyself who didst rebel against the king, for thou wert about to join Absalom, and if thou didst refrain, it was from fear of David's strong-fisted troops."
When Joab saw that death was inevitable, he said to Benaiah, who was charged with the execution of the king's order: "Tell Solomon he cannot inflict two punishments upon me. If he expects to take my life, he must remove the curse pronounced by David against me and my descendants on account of the slaying of Abner. If not, he cannot put me to death." Solomon realized the justness of the plea. By executing Joab, he transferred David's curse to his own posterity: Rehoboam, his son, was afflicted with an issue; Uzziah suffered with leprosy; Asa had to lean on a staff when he walked; the pious Josiah fell by the sword of Pharaoh, and Jeconiah lived off charity. So the imprecations of David were accomplished on his own family instead of Joab's.
The next to suffer Joab's fate was Shimei ben Gera, whose treatment of David had outraged every feeling of decency. His death was of evil portent for Solomon himself. So long as Shimei, who was Solomon's teacher, was alive, he did not venture to marry the daughter of Pharaoh. When, after Shimei's death, Solomon took her to wife, the archangel Gabriel descended from heaven, and inserted a reed in the sea. About this reed more and more earth was gradually deposited, and, on the day on which Jeroboam erected the golden calves, a little hut was built upon the island. This was the first of the dwelling-places of Rome.
Solomon's wedding-feast in celebration of his marriage with the Egyptian princess came on the same day as the consecration of the Temple. The rejoicing over the king's marriage was greater than over the completion of the Temple. As the proverb has it: "All pay flattery to a king." Then it was that God conceived the plan of destroying Jerusalem. It was as the prophet spoke: "This city hath been to me a provocation of mine anger and of my fury from the day that they built it even unto this day."
In the nuptial night Pharaoh's daughter had her attendants play upon a thousand different musical instruments, which she had brought with her from her home, and as each was used, the name of the idol to which it was dedicated was mentioned aloud. The better to hold the king under the spell of her charms, she spread above his bed a tapestry cover studded with diamonds and pearls, which gleamed and glittered like constellations in the sky. Whenever Solomon wanted to rise, he saw these stars, and thinking it was night still, he slept on until the fourth hour of the morning. The people were plunged in grief, for the daily sacrifice could not be brought on this very morning of the Temple dedication, because the Temple keys lay under Solomon's pillow, and none dared awaken him. Word was sent to Bath-sheba, who forthwith aroused her son, and rebuked him for his sloth. "Thy father," she said, "was known to all as a God-fearing man, and now people will say, 'Solomon is the son of Bath-sheba, it is his mother's fault if he goes wrong.' Whenever thy father's wives were pregnant, they offered vows and prayed that a son worthy to reign might be born unto them. But my prayer was for a learned son worthy of the gift of prophecy. Take care, 'give not thy strength unto women nor thy ways to them that destroy kings,' for licentiousness confounds the reason of man. Keep well in mind the things that are necessary in the life of a king. 'Not kings, Lemuel.' Have naught in common with kings who say: 'What need have we of a God?' It is not meet that thou shouldst do like the kings who drink wine and live in lewdness. Be not like unto them. He to whom the secrets of the world are revealed, should not intoxicate himself with wine."
Apart from having married a Gentile, whose conversion to Judaism was not dictated by pure motives, Solomon transgressed two other Biblical laws. He kept many horses, which a Jewish king ought not to do, and, what the law holds in equal abhorrence, he amassed much silver and gold. Under Solomon's rule silver and gold were so abundant among the people that their utensils were made of them instead of the baser metals. For all this he had to atone painfully later on.
But Solomon's wealth and pomp were as naught in comparison with his wisdom. When God appeared to him in Gibeon, in a dream by night, and gave him leave to ask what he would, a grace accorded to none beside except King Ahaz of Judah, and promised only to the Messiah in time to come, Solomon chose wisdom, knowing that wisdom once in his possession, all else would come of itself. His wisdom, the Scriptures testify, was greater than the wisdom of Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the three sons of Mahol. This means that he was wiser than Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and the generation of the desert. He excelled even Adam. His proverbs which have come down to us are barely eight hundred in number. Nevertheless the Scripture counts them equal to three thousand, for the reason that each verse in his book admits of a double and a triple interpretation. In his wisdom he analyzed the laws revealed to Moses, and he assigned reasons for the ritual and ceremonial ordinances of the Torah, which without his explanation had seemed strange. The "forty-nine gates of wisdom" were open to Solomon as they had been to Moses, but the wise king sought to outdo even the wise legislator. He had such confidence in himself that he would have dispensed judgment without resort to witnesses, had he not been prevented by a heavenly voice.
The first proof of his wisdom was given in his verdict in the case of the child claimed by two mothers as their own. When the women presented their difficulty, the king said that God in His wisdom had foreseen that such a quarrel would arise, and therefore had created the organs of man in pairs, so that neither of the two parties to the dispute might be wronged. on hearing these words from the king, Solomon's counsellors lamented: "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a youth." In a little while they realized the wisdom of the king, and then they exclaimed: "Happy art thou, O land, when thy king is a free man." The quarrel had of set purpose been brought on by God to the end that Solomon's wisdom might be made known. In reality the two litigants were not women at all, but spirits. That all doubt about the fairness of the verdict might be dispelled, a heavenly voice proclaimed: "This is the mother of the child."
During the lifetime of David, when Solomon was still a lad, he had settled another difficult case in an equally brilliant way. A wealthy man had sent his son on a protracted business trip to Africa. On his return he found that his father had died in the meantime, and his treasures had passed into the possession of a crafty slave, who had succeeded in ridding himself of all the other slaves, or intimidating them. In vain the rightful heir urged his claim before King David. As he could not bring witnesses to testify for him, there was no way of dispossessing the slave, who likewise called himself the son of the deceased. The child Solomon heard the case, and he devised a method of arriving at the truth. He had the father's corpse exhumed, and he dyed one of the bones with the blood first of one of the claimants, and then of the other. The blood of the slave showed no affinity with the bone, while the blood of the true heir permeated it. So the real son secured his inheritance.
After his accession to the throne, a peculiar quarrel among heirs was brought before Solomon for adjudication. Asmodeus, the king of demons, once said to Solomon: "Thou art the wisest of men, yet I shall show thee something thou hast never seen." Thereupon Asmodeus stuck his finger in the ground, and up came a double-headed man. He was one of the Cainites, who live underground, and are altogether different in nature and habit from the denizens of the upper world. When the Cainite wanted to descend to his dwelling-place again, it appeared that he could not return thither. Not even Asmodeus could bring the thing about. So he remained on earth, took unto himself a wife, and begot seven sons, one of whom resembled his father in having two heads. When the Cainite died, a dispute broke out among his descendants as to how the property was to be divided. The double-headed son claimed two portions. Both Solomon and the Sanhedrin were at a loss; they could not discover a precedent to guide them. Then Solomon prayed to God: "O Lord of all, when Thou didst appear to me in Gibeon, and didst give me leave to ask a gift of Thee, I desired neither silver nor gold, but only wisdom, that I might be able to judge men in justice."
God heard his prayer. When the sons of the Cainite again came before Solomon, he poured hot water on one of the heads of the double-headed monster, whereupon both heads flinched, and both mouths cried out: "We are dying, we are dying! We are but one, not two." Solomon decided that the double-headed son was after all only a single being.
On another occasion Solomon invented a lawsuit in order to elicit the truth in an involved case. Three men appeared before him, each of whom accused the others of theft. They had been travelling together, and, when the Sabbath approached, they halted and prepared to rest and sought a safe hiding-place for their money, for it is not allowed to carry money on one's person on the Sabbath. They all three together secreted what they had in the same spot, and, when the Sabbath was over, they hastened thither, only to find that it had been stolen. It was clear one of the three must have been the thief, but which one?
Solomon said to them: "I know you to be experienced and thorough business men. I should like you to help me decide a suit which the king of Rome has submitted to me. In the Roman kingdom there lived a maiden and a youth, who promised each other under oath never to enter into a marriage without obtaining each other's permission. The parents of the girl betrothed their daughter to a man whom she loved, but she refused to become his wife until the companion of her youth gave his consent. She took much gold and silver, and sought him out to bribe him. Setting aside his own love for the girl, he offered her and her lover his congratulations, and refused to accept the slightest return for the permission granted. On their homeward way the happy couple were surprised by an old highwayman, who was about to rob the young man of his bride and his money. The girl told the brigand the story of her life, closing with these words: 'If a youth controlled his passion for me, how much more shouldst thou, an old man, be filled with fear of God, and let me go my way.' Her words took effect. The aged highwaymen laid hands neither on the girl nor on the money.
"Now," Solomon continued to the three litigants, "I was asked to decide which of the three persons concerned acted most nobly, the girl, the youth, or the highwayman, and I should like to have your views upon the question."
The first of the three said: "My praise is for the girl, who kept her oath so faithfully." The second: "I should award the palm to the youth, who kept himself in check, and did not permit his passion to prevail." The third said: "Commend me to the brigand, who kept his hands off the money, more especially as he would have been doing all that could be expected of him if he had surrendered the woman he might have taken the money."
The last answer sufficed to put Solomon on the right track. The man who was inspired with admiration of the virtues of the robber, probably was himself filled with greed of money. He had him cross-examined, and finally extorted a confession. He had committed the theft, and he designated the spot where he had hidden the money.
Even animals submitted their controversies to Solomon's wise judgment. A man with a jug of milk came upon a serpent wailing pitifully in a field. To the man's question, the serpent replied that it was tortured with thirst. "And what art thou carrying in the jug?" asked the serpent. When it heard what it was, it begged for the milk, and promised to reward the man by showing him a hidden treasure. The man gave the milk to the serpent, and was then led to a great rock. "Under this rock," said the serpent, "lies the treasure." The man rolled the rock aside, and was about to take the treasure, when suddenly the serpent made a lunge at him, and coiled itself about his neck. "What meanest thou by such conduct?" exclaimed the man. "I am going to kill thee," replied the serpent, "because thou art robbing me of all my money." The man proposed that they put their case to King Solomon, and obtain his decision as to who was in the wrong. So they did. Solomon asked the serpent to state what it demanded of the man. "I want to kill him," answered the serpent, "because the Scriptures command it, saying: 'Thou shalt bruise the heel of man.'" Solomon said: "First release thy hold upon the man's neck and descend; in court neither party to a lawsuit may enjoy an advantage over the other." The serpent glided to the floor, and Solomon repeated his question, and received the same answer as before from the serpent. Then Solomon turned to the man and said: "To thee God's command was to bruise the head of the serpent do it!" And the man crushed the serpent's head.
Sometimes Solomon's assertions and views, though they sprang from profound wisdom, seemed strange to the common run of men. In such cases, the wise king did not disdain to illustrate the correctness of his opinions. For instance, both the learned and the ignorant were stung into opposition by Solomon's saying: "One man among a thousand have I found; but a virtuous woman among all those have I not found." Solomon unhesitatingly pledged himself to prove that he was right. He had his attendants seek out a married couple enjoying a reputation for uprightness and virtue. The husband was cited before him, and Solomon told him that he had decided to appoint him to an exalted office. The king demanded only, as an earnest of his loyalty, that he murder his wife, so that he might be free to marry the king's daughter, a spouse comporting with the dignity of his new station. With a heavy heart the man went home. His despair grew at sight of his fair wife and his little children. Though determined to do the king's bidding, he still lacked courage to kill his wife while she was awake. He waited until she was tight asleep, but then the child enfolded in the mother's arms rekindled his parental and conjugal affection, and he replaced his sword in its sheath, saying to himself: "And if the king were to offer me his whole realm, I would not murder my wife." Thereupon he went to Solomon, and told him his final decision. A month later Solomon sent for the wife, and declared his love for her. He told her that their happiness could be consummated if she would but do away with her husband. Then she should be made the first wife in his harem. Solomon gave her a leaden sword which glittered as though fashioned of steel. The woman returned home resolved to put the sword to its appointed use. Not a quiver of her eyelids betrayed her sinister purpose. On the contrary, by caresses and tender words she sought to disarm any suspicion that might attack to her. In the night she arose, drew forth the sword, and proceeded to kill her husband. The leaden instrument naturally did no harm, except to awaken her husband, to whom she had to confess her evil intent. The next day both man and wife were summoned before the king, who thus convinced his counsellors of the truth of his conviction, that no dependence can be placed on woman.
The fame of Solomon's wisdom spread far and wide. Many entered the service of the king, in the hope of profiting by his wisdom. Three brothers had served under him for thirteen years, and, disappointed at not having learnt anything, they made up their minds to quit his service. Solomon gave them the alternative of receiving one hundred coins each, or being taught three wise saws. They decided to take the money. They had scarcely left the town when the youngest of the three, regardless of the protests of his two brothers, hastened back to Solomon and said to him: "My lord, I did not take service under thee to make money; I wanted to acquire wisdom. Pray, take back thy money, and teach me wisdom instead." Solomon thereupon imparted the following three rules of conduct to him: "When thou travellest abroad, set out on thy journey with the dawn and turn in for the night before darkness falls; do not cross a river that is swollen; and never betray a secret to a woman." The man quickly overtook his brothers, but he confided nothing to them of what he had learned from Solomon. They journeyed on together. At the approach of the ninth hour three hours after noon they reached a suitable spot in which to spend the night. The youngest brother, mindful of Solomon's advice, proposed that they stop there. The others taunted him with his stupidity, which, they said, he had begun to display when he carried his money back to Solomon. The two proceeded on their way, but the youngest arranged his quarters for the night. When darkness came on, and with it nipping cold, he was snug and comfortable, while his brothers were surprised by a snow storm, in which they perished. The following day he continued his journey, and on the road he found the dead bodies of his brothers. Having appropriated their money, he buried them, and went on. When he reached a river that was very much swollen, he bore Solomon's advice in mind, and delayed to cross until the flood subsided. While standing on the bank, he observed how some of the king's servants were attempting to ford the stream with beasts laden with gold, and how they were borne down by the flood. After the waters had abated, he crossed and appropriated the gold strapped to the drowned animals. When he returned home, wealthy and wise, he told nothing of what he had experienced even to his wife, who was very curious to find out where her husband had obtained his wealth. Finally, she plied him so closely with questions that Solomon's advice about confiding a secret to a woman was quite forgotten. Once, when his wife was quarrelling with him, she cried out: "Not enough that thou didst murder thy brothers, thou desirest to kill me, too." Thereupon he was charged with the murder of their husbands by his two sisters-in-law. He was tried, condemned to death, and escaped the hangman only when he told the king the story of his life, and was recognized as his former retainer. It was with reference to this man's adventures that Solomon said: "Acquire wisdom; she is better than gold and much fine gold."
Another of his disciples had a similar experience. Annually a man came from a great distance to pay a visit to the wise king, and when he departed Solomon was in the habit of bestowing a gift upon him. Once the guest refused the gift, and asked the king to teach him the language of the birds and the animals instead. The king was ready to grant his request, but he did not fail to warn him first of the great danger connected with such knowledge. "If thou tellest others a word of what thou hearest from an animal," he said, "thou wilt surely suffer death; thy destruction is inevitable." Nothing daunted, the visitor persisted in his wish, and the king instructed him in the secret art.
Returned home, he overheard a conversation between his ox and his ass. The ass said: "Brother, how farest thou with these people?"
The ox: "As thou livest, brother, I pass day and night in hard and painful toil."
The ass: "I can give thee relief, brother. If thou wilt follow my advice, thou shalt live in comfort, and shalt rid thyself of all hard work."
The ox: "O brother, may thy heart be inclined toward me, to take pity on me and help me. I promise not to depart from thy advice to the right or the left."
The ass: "God knows, I am speaking to thee in the uprightness of my heart and the purity of my thoughts. My advice to thee is not to eat either straw or fodder this night. When our master notices it, he will suppose that thou art sick. He will put no burdensome work upon thee, and thou canst take a good rest. That is the way I did to-day."
The ox followed the advice of his companion. He touched none of the food thrown to him. The master, suspecting a ruse on the part of the ass, arose during the night, went to the stable, and watched the ass eat his fill from the manger belonging to the ox. He could not help laughing out loud, which greatly amazed his wife, who, of course, had noticed nothing out of the way. The master evaded her questions. Something ludicrous had just occurred to him, he said by way of explanation.
For the sly trick played upon the ox, he determined to punish the ass. He ordered the servant to let the ox rest for the day, and make the ass do the work of both animals. At evening the ass trudged into the stable tired and exhausted. The ox greeted him with the words: "Brother, hast thou heard aught of what our heartless masters purpose?" "Yes," replied the ass, "I heard them speak of having thee slaughtered, if thou shouldst refuse to eat this night, too. They want to make sure of thy flesh at least." Scarcely had the ox heard the words of the ass when he threw himself upon his food like a ravenous lion upon his prey. Not a speck did he leave behind, and the master was suddenly moved to uproarious laughter. This time his wife insisted upon knowing the cause. In vain she entreated and supplicated. She swore not to live with him any more if he did not tell her why he laughed. The man loved her so devotedly that he was ready to sacrifice his life to satisfy her whim, but before taking leave of this world he desired to see his friends and relations once more, and he invited them all to his house.
Meantime his dog was made aware of the master's approaching end, and such sadness took possession of the faithful beast that he touched neither food nor drink. The cock, on the other hand, gaily appropriated the food intended for the dog, and he and his wives enjoyed a banquet. Outraged by such unfeeling behavior, the dog said to the cock: "How great is thy impudence, and how insignificant thy modesty! Thy master is but a step from the grave, and thou eatest and makest merry." The cock's reply was: "Is it my fault if our master is a fool and an idiot? I have ten wives, and I rule them as I will. Not one dares oppose me and my commands. Our master has a single wife, and this one he cannot control and manage." "What ought our master to do?" asked the dog. "Let him take a heavy stick and belabor his wife's back thoroughly," advised the cock, "and I warrant thee, she won't plague him any more to reveal his secrets."
The husband had overheard this conversation, too, and the cock's advice seemed good. He followed it, and death was averted.
On many occasions, Solomon brought his acumen and wisdom to bear upon foreign rulers who attempted to concoct mischief against him. Solomon needed help in building the Temple, and he wrote to Pharaoh, asking him to send artists to Jerusalem. Pharaoh complied with his request, but not honestly. He had his astrologers determine which of his men were destined to die within the year. These candidates for the grave he passed over to Solomon. The Jewish king was not slow to discover the trick played upon him. He immediately returned the men to Egypt, each provided with his grave clothes, and wrote: "To Pharaoh! I suppose thou hadst no shrouds for these people. Herewith I send thee the men, and what they were in need of."
Hiram, king of Tyre, the steadfast friend of the dynasty of David, who had done Solomon such valuable services in connection with the building of the Temple, was desirous of testing his wisdom. He was in the habit of sending catch-questions and riddles to Solomon with the request that he solve them and help him out of his embarrassment about them. Solomon, of course, succeeded in answering them all. Later on he made an agreement with Hiram, that they were to exchange conundrums and riddles, and a money fine was to be exacted from the one of them who failed to find the proper answer to a question propounded by the other. Naturally it was Hiram who was always the loser. The Tyrians maintain that finally Solomon found more than his match in one of Hiram's subjects, one Abdamon, who put many a riddle to Solomon that baffled his wit.
Of Solomon's subtlety in riddle guessing only a few instances have come down to us, all of them connected with riddles put to him by the Queen of Sheba. The story of this queen, of her relation to Solomon, and what induced her to leave her distant home and journey to the court at Jerusalem forms an interesting chapter in the eventful life of the wise king.
Solomon, it must be remembered, bore rule not only over men, but also over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, demons, spirits, and the spectres of the night. He knew the language of all of them and they understood his language.
When Solomon was of good cheer by reason of wine, he summoned the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the creeping reptiles, the shades, the spectres, and the ghosts, to perform their dances before the kings, his neighbors, whom he invited to witness his power and greatness. The king's scribes called the animals and the spirits by name, one by one, and they all assembled of their own accord, without fetters or bonds, with no human hand to guide them.
On one occasion the hoopoe was missed from among the birds. He could not be found anywhere. The king, full of wrath, ordered him to be produced and chastised for his tardiness. The hoopoe appeared and said: "O lord, king of the world, incline thine ear and hearken to my words. Three months have gone by since I began to take counsel with myself and resolve upon a course of action. I have eaten no food and drunk no water, in order to fly about in the whole world and see whether there is a domain anywhere which is not subject to my lord the king. and I found a city, the city of Kitor, in the East. Dust is more valuable than gold there, and silver is like the mud of the streets. Its trees are from the beginning of all time, and they suck up water that flows from the Garden of Eden. The city is crowded with men. On their heads they wear garlands wreathed in Paradise. They know not how to fight, nor how to shoot with bow and arrow. Their ruler is a woman, she is called the Queen of Sheba. If, now, it please thee, O lord and king, I shall gird my loins like a hero, and journey to the city of Kitor in the land of Sheba. Its kings I shall fetter with chains and its rulers with iron bands, and bring them all before my lord the king."
The hoopoe's speech pleased the king. The clerks of his land were summoned, and they wrote a letter and bound it to the hoopoe's wing. The bird rose skyward, uttered his cry, and flew away, followed by all the other birds.
And they came to Kitor in the land of Sheba. It was morning, and the queen had gone forth to pay worship to the sun. Suddenly the birds darkened his light. The queen raised her hand, and rent her garment, and was sore astonished. Then the hoopoe alighted near her. Seeing that a letter was tied to his wing, she loosed it and read it. And what was written in the letter? "From me, King Solomon! Peace be with thee, peace with the nobles of thy realm! Know that God has appointed me king over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the demons, the spirits, and the spectres. All the kings of the East and the West come to bring me greetings. If thou wilt come and salute me, I shall show thee great honor, more than to any of the kings that attend me. But if thou wilt not pay homage to me, I shall send out kings, legions, and riders against thee. Thou askest, who are these kings, legions, and riders of King Solomon? The beasts of the field are my kings, the birds my riders, the demons, spirit, and shades of the night my legions. The demons will throttle you in your beds at night, while the beasts will slay you in the field, and the birds will consume your flesh."
When the Queen of Sheba had read the contents of the letter, she again rent her garment, and sent word to her elders and her princes: "Know you not what Solomon has written to me?" They answered: "We know nothing of King Solomon, and his dominion we regard as naught." But their words did not reassure the queen. She assembled all the ships of the sea, and loaded them with the finest kinds of wood, and with pearls and precious stones. Together with these she sent Solomon six thousand youths and maidens, born in the same year, in the same month, on the same day, in the same hour all of equal stature and size, all clothed in purple garments. They bore a letter to King Solomon as follows: "From the city of Kitor to the land of Israel is a journey of seven years. As it is thy wish and behest that I visit thee, I shall hasten and be in Jerusalem at the end of three years."
When the time of her arrival drew nigh, Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada to meet her. Benaiah was like unto the flush in the eastern sky at break of day, like unto the evening star that outshines all other stars, like unto the lily growing by brooks of water. When the queen caught sight of him, she descended from her chariot to do him honor. Benaiah asked her why she left her chariot. "Art thou not King Solomon?" she questioned in turn. Benaiah replied: "Not King Solomon am I, only one of his servants that stand in his presence." Thereupon the queen turned to her nobles and said: "If you have not beheld the lion, at least you have seen his lair, and if you have not beheld King Solomon, at least you have seen the beauty of him that stands in his presence."
Benaiah conducted the queen to Solomon, who had gone to sit in a house of glass to receive her. The queen was deceived by an illusion. She thought the king was sitting in water, and as she stepped across to him she raised her garment to keep it dry. On her bared feet the king noticed hair, and he said to her: "Thy beauty is the beauty of a woman, but thy hair is masculine; hair is an ornament to a man, but it disfigures a woman."
Then the queen began and said: "I have heard of thee and thy wisdom; if now I inquire of thee concerning a matter, wilt thou answer me?" He replied: "The Lord giveth wisdom, out of His mouth cometh knowledge and understanding." She then said to him:
1. "Seven there are that issue and nine that enter; two yield the draught and one drinks." Said he to her: "Seven are the days of a woman's defilement, and nine the months of pregnancy; two are the breasts that yield the draught, and one the child that drinks it." Whereupon she said to him: "Thou art wise."
2. Then she questioned him further: "A woman said to her son, thy father is my father, and thy grandfather my husband; thou art my son, and I am thy sister." "Assuredly," said he, "it was the daughter of Lot who spake thus to her son."
3. She placed a number of males and females of the same stature and garb before him and said: "Distinguish between them." Forthwith he made a sign to the eunuchs, who brought him a quantity of nuts and roasted ears of corn. The males, who were not bashful, seized them with bare hands; the females took them, putting forth their gloved hands from beneath their garments. Whereupon he exclaimed: "Those are the males, these the females."
4. She brought a number of men to him, some circumcised and others uncircumcised, and asked him to distinguish between them. He immediately made a sign to the high priest, who opened the Ark of the covenant, whereupon those that were circumcised bowed their bodies to half their height, while their countenances were filled with the radiance of the Shekinah; the uncircumcised fell prone upon their faces. "Those," said he, "are circumcised, these uncircumcised." "Thou art wise, indeed," she exclaimed.
5. She put other questions to him, to all of which he gave replies. "Who is he who neither was born nor has died?" "It is the Lord of the world, blessed be He."
6. "What land is that which has but once seen the sun?" "The land upon which, after the creation, the waters were gathered, and the bed of the Red Sea on the day when it was divided."
7. "There is an enclosure with ten doors, when one is open, nine are shut; when nine are open, one is shut?" "That enclosure is the womb; the ten doors are the ten orifices of man his eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, the apertures for the discharge of the excreta and the urine, and the navel; when the child is in the embryonic state, the navel is open and the other orifices are closed, but when it issues from the womb, the navel is closed and the others are opened."
8. "There is something which when living moves not, yet when its head is cut off it moves?" "It is the ship in the sea."
9. "Which are the three that neither ate, nor did they drink, nor did they have bread put into them, yet they saved lives from death?" "The signet, the cord, and the staff are those three."
10. "Three entered a cave and five came forth therefrom?" "Lot and his two daughters and their two children."
11. "The dead lived, the grave moved, and the dead prayed: what is that?" "The dead that lived and prayed, Jonah; and the fish, the moving grave."
12. "Who were the three that ate and drank on the earth, and yet were not born of male and female?" "The three angels who visited Abraham."
13. "Four entered a place of death and came forth alive, and two entered a place of life and came forth dead?" "The four were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and the two were Nadab and Abihu."
14. "Who was he that was born and died not?" "Elijah and the Messiah."
15. "What was that which was not born, yet life was given to it?" "The golden calf."
16. "What is that which is produced from the ground, yet man produces it, while its food is the fruit of the ground?" "A wick."
17. "A woman was wedded to two, and bore two sons, yet these four had one father?" "Tamar."
18. "A house full of dead; no dead one came among them, nor did a living come forth from them?" "It is the story of Samson and the Philistines."
19. The queen next ordered the sawn trunk of a cedar tree to be brought, and she asked Solomon to point out at which end the root had been and at which the branches. He bade her cast it into the water, when one end sank and the other floated upon the surface of the water. That part which sank was the root, and that which remained uppermost was the branch end. Then she said to him: "Thou exceedest in wisdom and goodness the fame which I heard, blessed be thy God!"
The last three riddles which the Queen of Sheba put to Solomon were the following:
20. "What is this? A wooden well with iron buckets, which draw stones and pour out water." The king replied: "A rouge-tube."
21. "What is this? It comes as dust from the earth, its food is dust, it is poured out like water, and lights the house." "Naphtha."
22. "What is this? It walks ahead of all; it cries out loud and bitterly; its head is like the reed; it is the glory of the noble, the disgrace of the poor; the glory of the dead, the disgrace of the living; the delight of birds, the distress of fishes." He answered: "Flax."
Never has there lived a man privileged, like Solomon, to make the demons amenable to his will. God endowed him with the ability to turn the vicious power of demons into a power working to the advantage of men. He invented formulas of incantation by which diseases were alleviated, and others by which demons were exorcised so that they were banished forever. As his personal attendants he had spirits and demons whom he could send hither and thither on the instant. He could grow tropical plants in Palestine, because his ministering spirits secured water for him from India.
As the spirits were subservient to him, so also the animals. He had an eagle upon whose back he was transported to the desert and back again in one day, to build there the city called Tadmor in the Bible This city must not be confounded with the later Syrian city of Palmyra, also called Tadmor. It was situated near the "mountains of darkness," the trysting-place of the spirits and demons. Thither the eagle would carry Solomon in the twinkling of an eye, and Solomon would drop a paper inscribed with a verse among the spirits, to ward off evil from himself. Then the eagle would reconnoitre the mountains of darkness, until he had spied out the spot in which the fallen angels 'Azza and 'Azzael lie chained with iron fetters a spot which no one, not even a bird, may visit. When the eagle found the place, he would take Solomon under his left wing, and fly to the two angels. Through the power of the ring having the Holy Name graven upon it, which Solomon put into the eagle's mouth, 'Azza and 'Azzael were forced to reveal the heavenly mysteries to the king.
The demons were of greatest service to Solomon during the erection of the Temple. It came about in this wise: When Solomon began the building of the Temple, it once happened that a malicious spirit snatched away the money and the food of one of the king's favorite pages. This occurred several times, and Solomon was not able to lay hold on the malefactor. The king besought God fervently to deliver the wicked spirit into his hands. His prayer was granted. The archangel Michael appeared to him, and gave him a small ring having a seal consisting of an engraved stone, and he said to him: "Take, O Solomon, king, son of David, the gift which the Lord God, the highest Zebaot, hath sent unto thee. With it thou shalt lock up all the demons of the earth, male and female; and with their help thou shalt build up Jerusalem. But thou must wear this seal of God; and this engraving of the seal of the ring sent thee is a Pentalpha." Armed with it, Solomon called up all the demons before him, and he asked of each in turn his or her name, as well as the name of the star or constellation or zodiacal sign and of the particular angel to the influence of which each is subject. One after another the spirits were vanquished, and compelled by Solomon to aid in the construction of the Temple.
Ornias, the vampire spirit who had maltreated Solomon's servant, was the first demon to appear, and he was set to the task of cutting stones near the Temple. And Solomon bade Ornias come, and he gave him the seal, saying: "Away with thee, and bring me hither the prince of all the demons." Ornias took the finger-ring, and went to Beelzeboul, who has kingship over the demons. He said to him: "Hither! Solomon calls thee." But Beelzeboul, having heard, said to him: "Tell me, who is this Solomon of whom thou speakest to me?" Then Ornias threw the ring at the chest of Beelzeboul, saying: "Solomon the king calls thee." But Beelzeboul cried aloud with a mighty voice, and shot out a great, burning flame of fire; and he arose and followed Ornias, and came to Solomon. Brought before the king, he promised him to gather all the unclean spirits unto him. Beelzeboul proceeded to do so, beginning with Onoskelis, that had a very pretty shape and the skin of a fair-hued woman, and he was followed by Asmodeus; both giving an account of themselves.
Beelzeboul reappeared on the scene, and in his conversation with Solomon declared that he alone survived of the angels who had come down from heaven. He reigned over all who are in Tartarus, and had a child in the Red Sea, which on occasion comes up to Beelzeboul and reveals to him what he has done. Next the demon of the Ashes, Tephros, appeared, and after him a group of seven female spirits, who declared themselves to be of the thirty-six elements of the darkness. Solomon bade them dig the foundation of the temple, for the length of it was two hundred and fifty cubits. And he ordered them to be industrious, and with one united murmur of protest they began to perform the tasks enjoined.
Solomon bade another demon come before him. And there was brought to him a demon having all the limbs of a man, but without a head. The demon said to Solomon: "I am called Envy, for I delight to devour heads, being desirous to secure for myself a head; but I do not eat enough, and I am anxious to have such a head as thou hast." A hound-like spirit, whose name was Rabdos, followed, and he revealed to Solomon a green stone, useful for the adornment of the Temple. A number of other male and female demons appeared, among them the thirty-six world-rulers of the darkness, whom Solomon commanded to fetch water to the Temple. Some of these demons he condemned to do the heavy work on the construction of the Temple, others he shut up in prison, and others, again, he ordered to wrestle with fire in the making of gold and silver, sitting down by lead and spoon, and to make ready places for the other demons, in which they should be confined.
After Solomon with the help of the demons had completed the Temple, the rulers, among them the Queen of Sheba, who was a sorceress, came from far and near to admire the magnificence and art of the building, and no less the wisdom of its builder.
One day an old man appeared before Solomon to complain of his son, whom he accused of having been so impious as to raise his hand against his father and give him a blow. The young man denied the charge, but his father insisted that his life be held forfeit. Suddenly Solomon heard loud laughter. It was the demon Ornias, who was guilty of the disrespectful behavior. Rebuked by Solomon, the demon said: "I pray thee, O king, it was not because of thee I laughed, but because of this ill-starred old man and the wretched youth, his son. For after three days his son will die untimely, and, lo, the old man desires to make away with him foully." Solomon delayed his verdict for several days, and when after five days he summoned the old father to his presence, it appeared that Ornias had spoken the truth.
After some time, Solomon received a letter from Adares, the king of Arabia. He begged the Jewish king to deliver his land from an evil spirit, who was doing great mischief, and who could not be caught and made harmless, because he appeared in the form of wind. Solomon gave his magic ring and a leather bottle to one of his slaves, and sent him into Arabia. The messenger succeeded in confining the spirit in the bottle. A few days later, when Solomon entered the Temple, he was not a little astonished to see a bottle walk toward him, and bow down reverently before him; it was the bottle in which the spirit was shut up. This same spirit once did Solomon a great service. Assisted by demons, he raised a gigantic stone out of the Red Sea. Neither human beings nor demons could move it, but he carried it to the Temple, where it was used as a cornerstone.
Through his own fault Solomon forfeited the power to perform miraculous deed, which the Divine spirit had conferred upon him. He fell in love with the Jebusite woman Sonmanites. The priests of Moloch and Raphan, the false gods she worshiped, advised her to reject his suit, unless he paid homage to these gods. At first Solomon was firm, but, when the woman bade him take five locusts and crush them in his hands in the name of Moloch, he obeyed her. At once he was bereft of the Divine spirit, of his strength and his wisdom, and he sank so low that to please his beloved he built temples to Baal and Raphan.
Among the great achievements of Solomon first place must be assigned to the superb Temple built by him. He was long in doubt as to where he was to build it. A heavenly voice directed him to go to Mount Zion at night, to a field owned by two brothers jointly. One of the brothers was a bachelor and poor, the other was blessed both with wealth and a large family of children. It was harvesting time. Under cover of night, the poor brother kept adding to the other's heap of grain, for, although he was poor, he thought his brother needed more on account of his large family. The rich brother, in the same clandestine way, added to the poor brother's store, thinking that though he had a family to support, the other was without means. This field, Solomon concluded, which had called forth so remarkable a manifestation of brotherly love, was the best site for the Temple, and he bought it.
Every detail of the equipment and ornamentation of the Temple testifies to Solomon's rare wisdom. Next to the required furniture, he planted golden trees, which bore fruit all the time the building stood. When the enemy entered the Temple, the fruit dropped from the trees, but they will put forth blossoms again when it is rebuilt in the days of the Messiah.
Solomon was so assiduous that the erection of the Temple took but seven years, about half the time for the erection of the king's palace, in spite of the greater magnificence of the sanctuary. In this respect, he was the superior of his father David, who first built a house for himself, and then gave thought to a house for God to dwell in. Indeed, it was Solomon's meritorious work in connection with the Temple that saved him from being reckoned by the sages as one of the impious kings, among whom his later actions might properly have put him.
According to the measure of the zeal displayed by Solomon were the help and favor shown him by God. During the seven years it took to build the Temple, not a single workman died who was employed about it, nor even did a single one fall sick. And as the workmen were sound and robust from first to last, so the perfection of their tools remained unimpaired until the building stood complete. Thus the work suffered no sort of interruption. After the dedication of the Temple, however, the workmen died off, lest they build similar structures for the heathen and their gods. Their wages they were to receive from God in the world to come, and the master workman, Hiram, was rewarded by being permitted to reach Paradise alive.
The Temple was finished in the month of Bul, now called Marheshwan, but the edifice stood closed for nearly a whole year, because it was the will of God that the dedication take place in the month of Abraham's birth. Meantime the enemies of Solomon rejoiced maliciously. "Was it not the son of Bath-sheba," they said, "who built the Temple? How, then, could God permit His Shekinah to rest upon it?" When the consecration of the house took place, and "the fire came down from heaven," they recognized their mistake.
The importance of the Temple appeared at once, for the torrential rains which annually since the deluge had fallen for forty days beginning with the month of Marheshwan, for the first time failed to come, and thenceforward appeared no more.
The joy of the people over the sanctuary was so great that they held the consecration ceremonies on the Day of Atonement. It contributed not a little to their ease of mind that a heavenly voice was heard to proclaim: "You all shall have a share in the world to come."
The great house of prayer reflected honor not only on Solomon and the people, but also on King David. The following incident proves it: When the Ark was about to be brought into the Holy of Holies, the door of the sacred chamber locked itself, and it was impossible to open it. Solomon prayed fervently to God, but his entreaties had no effect until he pronounced the words: "Remember the good deeds of David thy servant." The Holy of Holies then opened of itself, and the enemies of David had to admit that God had wholly forgiven his sin.
In the execution of the Temple work a wish cherished by David was fulfilled. He was averse to having the gold which he had taken as booty from the heathen places of worship during his campaigns used for the sanctuary at Jerusalem, because he feared that the heathen would boast, at the destruction of the Temple, that their gods were courageous, and were taking revenge by wrecking the house of the Israelitish God. Fortunately Solomon was so rich that there was no need to resort to the gold inherited from his father, and so David's wish was fulfilled.
Next to the Temple in its magnificence, it is the throne of Solomon that perpetuates the name and fame of the wise king. None before him and none after him could produce a like work of art, and when the kings, his vassals, saw the magnificence of the throne they fell down and praised God. The throne was covered with fine gold from Ophir, studded with beryls, inlaid with marble, and jewelled with emeralds, and rubies, and pearls, and all manner of gems. On each of its six steps there were two golden lions and two golden eagles, a lion and an eagle to the left, and a lion and an eagle to the right, the pairs standing face to face, so that the right paw of the lion was opposite to the left wing of the eagle, and his left paw opposite to the right wing of the eagle. The royal seat was at the top, which was round.
On the first step leading to the seat crouched an ox, and opposite to him a lion; on the second, a wolf and a lamb; on the third, a leopard and a goat; on the fourth perched an eagle and a peacock; on the fifth a falcon and a cock; and on the sixth a hawk and a sparrow; all made of gold. At the very top rested a dove, her claws set upon a hawk, to betoken that the time would come when all peoples and nations shall be delivered into the hands of Israel. Over the seat hung a golden candlestick, with golden lamps, pomegranates, snuff dishes, censers, chains, and lilies. Seven branches extended from each side. On the arms to the right were the images of the seven patriarchs of the world, Adam, Noah, Shem, Job, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and on the arms to the left, the images of the seven pious men of the world, Kohath, Amram, Moses, Aaron, Eldad, Medad, and the prophet Hur. Attached to the top of the candlestick was a golden bowl filled with the purest olive oil, to be used for the candlestick in the Temple, and below, a golden basin, also filled with the purest olive oil, for the candlestick over the throne. The basin bore the image of the high priest Eli; those of his sons Hophni and Phinehas were on the two faucets protruding from the basin, and those of Nadab and Abihu on the tubes connection the faucets with the basin.
On the upper part of the throne stood seventy golden chairs for the members of the Sanhedrin, and two more for the high priest and his vicar. When the high priest came to do homage to the king, the members of the Sanhedrin also appeared, to judge the people, and they took their seats to the right and to the left of the king. At the approach of the witnesses, the machinery of the throne rumbled the wheels turned, the ox lowed, the lion roared, the wolf howled, the lamb bleated, the leopard growled, the goat cried, the falcon screamed, the peacock gobbled, the cock crowed, the hawk screeched, the sparrow chirped all to terrify the witnesses and keep them from giving false testimony.
When Solomon set foot upon the first step to ascend to his seat, its machinery was put into motion. The golden ox arose and led him to the second step, and there passed him over to the care of the beasts guarding it, and so he was conducted from step to step up to the sixth, where the eagles received him and placed him upon his seat. As soon as he was seated, a great eagle set the royal crown upon his head. Thereupon a huge snake rolled itself up against the machinery, forcing the lions and eagles upward until they encircled the head of the king. A golden dove flew down from a pillar, took the sacred scroll out of a casket, and gave it to the king, so that he might obey the injunction of the Scriptures, to have the law with him and read therein all the days of his life. Above the throne twenty-four vines interlaced, forming a shady arbor over the head of the king, and sweet aromatic perfumes exhaled from two golden lions, while Solomon made the ascent to his seat upon the throne.
It was the task of seven heralds to keep Solomon reminded of his duties as king and judge. The first one of the heralds approached him when he set foot on the first step of the throne, and began to recite the law for kings, "He shall not multiply wives to himself." At the second step, the second herald reminded him, "He shall not multiply horses to himself"; at the third, the next one of the heralds said, "Neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold." At the fourth step, he was told by the fourth herald, "Thou shalt not wrest judgment"; at the fifth step, by the fifth herald, "Thou shalt not respect persons," and at the sixth, by the sixth herald, "Neither shalt thou take a gift." Finally, when he was about to seat himself upon the throne, the seventh herald cried out: "Know before whom thou standest."
The throne did not remain long in the possession of the Israelites. During the life of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, it was carried to Egypt. Shishak, the father-in-law of Solomon, appropriated it as indemnity for claims which he urged against the Jewish state in behalf of his widowed daughter. When Sennacherib conquered Egypt, he carried the throne away with him, but, on his homeward march, during the overthrow of his army before the gates of Jerusalem, he had to part with it to Hezekiah. Now it remained in Palestine until the time of Jehoash, when it was once more carried to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho. His possession of the throne brought him little joy. Unacquainted with its wonderful mechanism, he was injured in the side by one of the lions the first time he attempted to mount it, and forever after he limped, wherefore he was given the surname Necho, the hobbler. Nebuchadnezzar was the next possessor of the throne. It fell to his lot at the conquest of Egypt, but when he attempted to use it in Babylonia, he fared no better than his predecessor in Egypt. The lion standing near the throne gave him so severe a blow that he never again dared ascend it. Through Darius the throne reached Elam, but, knowing what its other owners had suffered, he did not venture to seat himself on it, and his example was imitated by Ahasuerus. The latter tried to have his artificers fashion him a like artistic work, but, of course, they failed. The Median rulers parted with the throne to the Greek monarchs, and finally it was carried to Rome.
The throne was not the only remarkable sight at the court of the magnificent king. Solomon attracted visitors to his capital by means of games and shows. In every month of the year the official who was in charge for the month, was expected to arrange for a horse race, and once a year a race took place in which the competitors were ten thousand youths, mainly of the tribes of Gad and Naphtali, who lived at the court of the king year in, year out, and were maintained by him. For the scholars, their disciples, the priests, and the Levites, the races were held on the last of the month; on the first day of the month the residents of Jerusalem were the spectators, and, on the second day, strangers. The hippodrome occupied an area of three parasangs square, with an inner square measuring one parasang on each side, around which the races were run. Within were two grilles ornamented with all sorts of animals. Out of the jaws of four gilded lions, attached to pillars by twos, perfumes and spices flowed for the people. The spectators were divided into four parties distinguished by the color of their garb: the king and his attendants, the scholars and their disciples, and the priests and Levites were attired in light blue garments; all the rest from Jerusalem wore white; the sight-seers from the surrounding towns and villages wore red, and green marked the heathen hailing from afar, who came laden with tribute and presents. The four colors corresponded to the four seasons. In the autumn the sky is brilliantly blue; in winter the white snow falls; the color of spring is green like the ocean, because it is the season favorable to voyages, and red is the color of summer, when the fruits grow red and ripe.
As the public spectacles were executed with pomp and splendor, so the king's table was royally sumptuous. Regardless of season and climate, it was always laden with the delicacies of all parts of the globe. Game and poultry, even of such varieties as were unknown in Palestine, were not lacking, and daily there came a gorgeous bird from Barbary and settled down before the king's seat at the table. The Scriptures tell us of great quantities of food required by Solomon's household, and yet it was not all that was needed. What the Bible mentions, covers only the accessories, such as spices and the minor ingredients. The real needs were far greater, as may be judged from the custom that all of Solomon's thousand wives arranged a banquet daily, each in the hope of having the king dine with her.
Great and powerful as Solomon was, and wise and just, still occasions were not lacking to bring home to him the truth that the wisest and mightiest of mortals may not indulge in pride and arrogance.
Solomon had a precious piece of tapestry, sixty miles square, on which he flew through the air so swiftly that he could eat breakfast in Damascus and supper in Media. To carry out his orders he had at his beck and call Asaph ben Berechiah among men, Ramirat among demons, the lion among beasts, and the eagle among birds. Once it happened that pride possessed Solomon while he was sailing through the air on his carpet, and he said: "There is none like unto me in the world, upon whom God has bestowed sagacity, wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge, besides making me the ruler of the world." The same instant the air stirred, and forty thousand men dropped from the magic carpet. The king ordered the wind to cease from blowing, with the word: "Return!" Whereupon the wind: "If thou wilt return to God, and subdue thy pride, I, too, will return." The king realized his transgression.
On one occasion he strayed into the valley of the ants in the course of his wanderings. He heard one ant order all the others to withdraw, to avoid being crushed by the armies of Solomon. The king halted and summoned the ant that had spoken. She told him that she was the queen of the ants, and she gave her reasons for the order of withdrawal. Solomon wanted to put a question to the ant queen, but she refused to answer unless the king took her up and placed her on his hand. He acquiesced, and then he put his question: "Is there any one greater than I am in all the world?" "Yes," said the ant.
Ant: "I am."
Solomon: "How is that possible?"
Ant: "Were I not greater than thou, God would not have led thee hither to put me on thy hand."
Exasperated, Solomon threw her to the ground, and said: "Thou knowest who I am? I am Solomon, the son of David."
Not at all intimidated, the ant reminded the king of his earthly origin, and admonished him to humility, and the king went off abashed.
Next he came to a magnificent building, into which he sought to enter in vain; he could find no door leading into it. After long search the demons came upon an eagle seven hundred years old, and he, unable to give them any information, sent him to his nine hundred years old brother, whose eyrie was higher than his own, and who would probably be in a position to advise them. But he in turn directed them to go to his still older brother. His age counted thirteen hundred years, and he had more knowledge than himself. This oldest one of the eagles reported that he remembered having heard his father say there was a door on the west side, but it was covered up by the dust of the ages that had passed since it was last used. So it turned out to be. They found an old iron door with the inscription: "We, the dwellers in this palace, for many years lived in comfort and luxury; then, forced by hunger, we ground pearls into flour instead of wheat but to no avail, and so, when we were about to die, we bequeathed this palace to the eagles." A second statement contained a detailed description of the wonderful palace, and mentioned where the keys for the different chambers were to be found. Following the directions on the door, Solomon inspected the remarkable building, whose apartments were made of pearls and precious stones. Inscribed on the doors he found the following three wise proverbs, dealing with the vanity of all earthly things, and admonishing men to be humble:
1. O son of man, let not time deceive thee; thou must wither away, and leave thy place, to rest in the bosom of the earth.
2. Haste thee not, move slowly, for the world is taken from one and bestowed upon another.
3. Furnish thyself with food for the journey, prepare thy meal while daylight lasts, for thou wilt not remain on earth forever, and thou knowest not the day of thy death.
In one of the chambers, Solomon saw a number of statues, among them one that looked as though alive. When he approached it, it called out in a loud voice: "Hither, ye satans, Solomon has come to undo you." Suddenly there arose great noise and tumult among the statues. Solomon pronounced the Name, and quiet was restored. The statues were overthrown, and the sons of the satans ran into the sea and were drowned. From the throat of the lifelike statue he drew a silver plate inscribed with characters which he could not decipher, but a youth from the desert told the king: "These letters are Greek, and the words mean: 'I, Shadad ben Ad, ruled over a thousand thousand provinces, rode on a thousand thousand horses, had a thousand thousand kings under me, and slew a thousand thousand heroes, and when the Angel of Death approached me, I was powerless.'"
When Solomon in his wealth and prosperity grew unmindful of his God, and, contrary to the injunctions laid down for kings in the Torah, multiplied wives unto himself, and craved the possession of many horses and much gold, the Book of Deuteronomy stepped before God and said: "Lo, O Lord of the world, Solomon is seeking to remove a Yod from out of me, for Thou didst write: 'The king shall not multiply horses unto himself, nor shall he multiply wives to himself, neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold'; but Solomon has acquired many horses, many wives, and much silver and gold." Hereupon God said: "As thou livest, Solomon and a hundred of his kind shall be annihilated ere a single one of thy letters shall be obliterated."
The charge made against Solomon was soon followed by consequences. He had to pay heavily for his sins. It came about in this way: While Solomon was occupied with the Temple, he had great difficulty in devising ways of fitting the stone from the quarry into the building, for the Torah explicitly prohibits the use of iron tools in erecting an altar. The scholars told him that Moses had used the shamir, the stone that splits rocks, to engrave the names of the tribes on the precious stones of the ephod worn by the high priest. Solomon's demons could give him no information as to where the shamir could be found. They surmised, however, that Asmodeus, king of demons, was in possession of the secret, and they told Solomon the name of the mountain on which Asmodeus dwelt, and described also his manner of life. On this mountain there was a well from which Asmodeus obtained his drinking water. He closed it up daily with a large rock, and sealed it before going to heaven, whither he went every day, to take part in the discussions in the heavenly academy. Thence he would descend again to earth in order to be present, though invisible, at the debates in the earthly houses of learning. Then, after investigating the seal on the well to ascertain if it had been tampered with, he drank of the water.
Solomon sent his chief man, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, to capture Asmodeus. For this purpose he provided him with a chain, the ring on which the Name of God was engraved, a bundle of wool, and a skin of wine. Benaiah drew the water from the well through a hole bored from below, and, after having stopped up the hole with the wool, he filled the well with wine from above. When Asmodeus descended from heaven, to his astonishment he found wine instead of water in the well, although everything seemed untouched. At first he would not drink of it, and cited the Bible verses that inveigh against wine, to inspire himself with moral courage. At length Asmodeus succumbed to his consuming thirst, and drank till his senses were overpowered, and he fell into a deep sleep. Benaiah, watching him from a tree, then came, and drew the chain about Asmodeus' neck. The demon, on awakening, tried to free himself, but Benaiah called to him: "The Name of thy Lord is upon thee." Though Asmodeus now permitted himself to be led off unresistingly, he acted most peculiarly on the way to Solomon. He brushed against a palm-tree and uprooted it; he knocked against a house and overturned it; and when, at the request of a poor woman, he was turned aside from her hut, he broke a bone. He asked with grim humor: "Is it not written, 'A soft tongue breaketh the bone?'" A blind man going astray he set in the right path, and to a drunkard he did a similar kindness. He wept when a wedding party passed them, and laughed at a man who asked his shoemaker to make him shoes to last for seven years, and at a magician who was publicly showing his skill.
Having finally arrived at the end of the journey, Asmodeus, after several days of waiting, was led before Solomon, who questioned him about his strange conduct on the journey. Asmodeus answered that he judged persons and things according to their real character, and not according to their appearance in the eyes of human beings. He cried when he saw the wedding company, because he knew the bridegroom had not a month to live, and he laughed at him who wanted shoes to last seven years, because the man would not own them for seven days, also at the magician who pretended to disclose secrets, because he did not know that a buried treasure lay under his very feet; the blind man whom he set in the right path was one of the "perfect pious," and he wanted to be kind to him; on the other hand, the drunkard to whom he did a similar kindness was known in heaven as a very wicked man, but he happened to have done a good deed once, and he was rewarded accordingly.
Asmodeus told Solomon that the shamir was given by God to the Angel of the Sea, and that Angel entrusted none with the shamir except the moor-hen, which had taken an oath to watch the shamir carefully. The moor-hen takes the shamir with her to mountains which are not inhabited by men, splits them by means of the shamir, and injects seeds, which grow and cover the naked rocks, and then they can be inhabited. Solomon sent one of his servants to seek the nest of the bird and lay a piece of glass over it. When the moor-hen came and could not reach her young, she flew away and fetched the shamir and placed it on the glass. Then the man shouted, and so terrified the bird that she dropped the shamir and flew away. By this means the man obtained possession of the coveted shamir, and bore it to Solomon. But the moor-hen was so distressed at having broken her oath to the Angel of the Sea that she committed suicide.
Although Asmodeus was captured only for the purpose of getting the shamir, Solomon nevertheless kept him after the completion of the Temple. One day the king told Asmodeus that he did not understand wherein the greatness of the demons lay, if their king could be kept in bonds by a mortal. Asmodeus replied, that if Solomon would remove his chains and lend him the magic ring, he would prove his own greatness. Solomon agreed. The demon stood before him with one wing touching heaven and the other reaching to the earth. Snatching up Solomon, who had parted with his protecting ring, he flung him four hundred parasangs away from Jerusalem, and then palmed himself off as the king.
Banished from his home, deprived of his realm, Solomon wandered about in far-off lands, among strangers, begging his daily bread. Nor did his humiliation end there; people thought him a lunatic, because he never tired of assuring them that he was Solomon, Judah's great and mighty king. Naturally that seemed a preposterous claim to the people. The lowest depth of despair he reached, however, when he met some one who recognized him. The recollections and associations that stirred within him then made his present misery almost unendurable.
It happened that once on his peregrinations he met an old acquaintance, a rich and well-considered man, who gave a sumptuous banquet in honor of Solomon. At the meal his host spoke to Solomon constantly of the magnificence and splendor he had once seen with his own eyes at the court of the king. These reminiscences moved the king to tears, and he wept so bitterly that, when he rose from the banquet, he was satiated, not with the rich food, but with salt tears. The following day it again happened that Solomon met an acquaintance of former days, this time a poor man, who nevertheless entreated Solomon to do him the honor and break bread under his roof. All that the poor man could offer his distinguished guest was a meagre dish of greens. But he tried in every way to assuage the grief that oppressed Solomon. He said: "O my lord and king, God hath sworn unto David He would never let the royal dignity depart from his house, but it is the way of God to reprove those He loves if they sin. Rest assured, He will restore thee in good time to thy kingdom." These words of his poor host were more grateful to Solomon's bruised heart than the banquet the rich man had prepared for him. It was to the contrast between the consolations of the two men that he applied the verse in Proverbs: "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."
For three long years Solomon journeyed about, begging his way from city to city, and from country to country, atoning for the three sins of his life by which he had set aside the commandment laid upon kings in Deuteronomy not to multiply horses, and wives, and silver and gold. At the end of that time, God took mercy upon him for the sake of his father David, and for the sake of the pious princess Naamah, the daughter of the Ammonite king, destined by God to be the ancestress of the Messiah. The time was approaching when she was to become the wife of Solomon and reign as queen in Jerusalem. God therefore led the royal wanderer to the capital city of Ammon. Solomon took service as an underling with the cook in the royal household, and he proved himself so proficient in the culinary art that the king of Ammon raised him to the post of chief cook. Thus he came under the notice of the king's daughter Naamah, who fell in love with her father's cook. In vain her parents endeavored to persuade her to choose a husband befitting her rank. Not even the king's threat to have her and her beloved executed availed to turn her thoughts away from Solomon. The Ammonite king had the lovers taken to a barren desert, in the hope that they would die of starvation there. Solomon and his wife wandered through the desert until they came to a city situated by the sea-shore. They purchased a fish to stave off death. When Naamah prepared the fish, she found in its belly the magic ring belonging to her husband, which he had given to Asmodeus, and which, thrown into the sea by the demon, had been swallowed by a fish. Solomon recognized his ring, put it on his finger, and in the twinkling of an eye he transported himself to Jerusalem. Asmodeus, who had been posing as King Solomon during the three years, he drove out, and himself ascended the throne again.
Later on he cited the king of Ammon before his tribunal, and called him to account for the disappearance of the cook and the cook's wife, accusing him of having killed them. The king of Ammon protested that he had not killed, but only banished them. Then Solomon had the queen appear, and to his great astonishment and still greater joy the king of Ammon recognized his daughter.
Solomon succeeded in regaining his throne only after undergoing many hardships. The people of Jerusalem considered him a lunatic, because he said that he was Solomon. After some time, the members of the Sanhedrin noticed his peculiar behavior, and they investigated the matter. They found that a long time had passed since Benaiah, the confidant of the king, had been permitted to enter the presence of the usurper. Furthermore the wives of Solomon and his mother Bath-sheba informed them that the behavior of the king had completely changed it was not befitting royalty and in no respect like Solomon's former manner. It was also very strange that the king never by any chance allowed his foot to be seen, for fear, of course, of betraying his demon origin. The Sanhedrin, therefore, gave the king's magic ring to the wandering beggar who called himself King Solomon, and had him appear before the pretender on the throne. As soon as Asmodeus caught sight of the true king protected by his magic ring, he flew away precipitately.
Solomon did not escape unscathed. The sight of Asmodeus in all his forbidding ugliness had so terrified him that henceforth he surrounded his couch at night with all the valiant heroes among the people.
As David had been surrounded by great scholars and heroes of repute, so the court of Solomon was the gathering-place of the great of his people. The most important of them all doubtless was Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, who had no peer for learning and piety either in the time of the first or the second Temple. In his capacity as the chancellor of Solomon, he was the object of the king's special favor. He was frequently invited to be the companion of the king in his games of chess. The wise king naturally was always the winner. One day Solomon left the chess-board for a moment, Benaiah used his absence to remove one of the king's chess-men, and the king lost the game. Solomon gave much thought to the occurrence. He came to the conclusion that his chancellor had dealt dishonestly with him, and he was determined to give him a lesson.
Some days later Solomon noticed two suspicious characters hanging about the palace. Acting at once upon an idea that occurred to him, he put on the clothes of one of his servants and joined the two suspects. The three of them, he proposed, should make the attempt to rob the royal palace, and he drew forth a key which would facilitate their entrance. While the thieves were occupied in gathering booty, the king roused his servants, and the malefactors were taken into custody. Next morning Solomon appeared before the Sanhedrin, which was presided over by Benaiah at the time, and he desired to know from the court what punishment was meted out to a thief. Benaiah, seeing no delinquents before him, and unwilling to believe that the king would concern himself about the apprehension of thieves, was convinced that Solomon was bent on punishing him for his dishonest play. He fell at the feet of the king, confessed his guilt, and begged his pardon. Solomon was pleased to have his supposition confirmed, and also to have Benaiah acknowledge his wrong-doing. he assured him he harbored no evil designs against him, and that when he asked this question of the Sanhedrin, he had had real thieves in mind, who had broken into the palace during the night.
Another interesting incident happened, in which Benaiah played a part. The king of Persia was very ill, and his physician told him he could be cured by nothing but the milk of a lioness. The king accordingly sent a deputation bearing rich presents to Solomon, the only being in the world who might in his wisdom discover means to obtain lion's milk. Solomon charged Benaiah to fulfil the Persian king's wish. Benaiah took a number of kids, and repaired to a lion's den. Daily he threw a kid to the lioness, and after some time the beasts became familiar with him, and finally he could approach the lioness close enough to draw milk from her udders.
On the way back to the Persian king the physician who had recommended the milk cure dreamed a dream. All the organs of his body, his hands, feet, eyes, mouth, and tongue, were quarrelling with one another, each claiming the greatest share of credit in procuring the remedy for the Persian monarch. When the tongue set forth its own contribution to the cause of the king's service, the other organs rejected its claim as totally unfounded. The physician did not forget the dream, and when he appeared before the king, he spoke: "Here is the dog's milk which we went to fetch for you." The king, enraged, ordered the physician to be hanged, because he had brought the milk of a bitch instead of the milk of a lion's dam. During the preliminaries to the execution, all the limbs and organs of the physician began to tremble, whereupon the tongue said: "Did I not tell you that you all are of no good? If you will acknowledge my superiority, I shall even now save you from death." They all made the admission it demanded, and the physician requested the executioner to take him to the king. Once in the presence of his master, he begged him as a special favor to drink of the milk he had brought. The king granted his wish, recovered from his sickness, and dismissed the physician in peace. So it came about that all the organs of the body acknowledge the supremacy of the tongue.
Besides Benaiah, Solomon's two scribes, Elihoreph and Ahijah, the sons of Shisha, deserve mention. They both met their death in a most peculiar way. Solomon once upon a time noticed a care-worn expression on the countenance of the Angel of Death. When he asked the reason, he received the answer, that he had been charged with the task of bringing the two scribes to the next world. Solomon was desirous of stealing a march upon the Angel of Death, as well as keeping his secretaries alive. He ordered the demons to carry Elihoreph and Ahijah to Luz, the only spot on earth in which the Angel of Death has no power. In a jiffy, the demons had done his bidding, but the two secretaries expired at the very moment of reaching the gates of Luz. Next day, the Angel of Death appeared before Solomon in very good humor, and said to him: "Thou didst transport those two men to the very spot in which I wanted them." The fate destined for them was to die at the gates of Luz, and the Angel of Death had been at a loss how to get them there.
A most interesting incident in Solomon's own family circle is connected with one of his daughters. She was of extraordinary beauty, and in the stars he read that she was to marry an extremely poor youth. To prevent the undesirable union, Solomon had a high tower erected in the sea, and to this he sent his daughter. Seventy eunuchs were to guard her, and a huge quantity of food was stored in the tower for her use.
The poor youth whom fate had appointed to be her husband was travelling one cold night. He did not know where to rest his head, when he espied the rent carcass of an ox lying in the field. In this he lay down to keep warm. When he was ensconced in it, there came a large bird, which took the carcass, bore it, together with the youth stretched out in it, to the roof of the tower in which the princess lived, and, settling down there, began to devour the flesh of the ox. In the morning, the princess, according to her wont, ascended to the roof to look out upon the sea, and she caught sight of the youth. She asked him who he was, and who had brought him thither? He told her that he was a Jew from Accho, and had been carried to the tower by a bird. She showed him to a chamber, where he could wash and anoint himself, and array himself in a fresh garb. Then it appeared that he possessed unusual beauty. Besides, he was a scholar of great attainments and of acute mind. So it came about that the princess fell in love with him. She asked him whether he would have her to wife, and he assented gladly. He opened one of his veins, and wrote the marriage contract with his own blood. Then he pronounced the formula of betrothal, taking God and the two archangels Michael and Gabriel as witnesses, and she became his wife, legally married to him.
After some time the eunuchs noticed that she was pregnant. Their questions elicited the suspected truth from the princess, and they sent for Solomon. His daughter admitted her marriage, and the king, though he recognized in her husband the poor man predicted in the constellations, yet he thanked God for his son-in-law, distinguished no less for learning than for his handsome person.
Legends of the Jews [Table of Contents]
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