Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Kings 1 to 1 Kings 10
This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
In a similar manner to 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings were at one point a single book (which, as for almost every book of the Bible, was derived from multiple sources, itself). It was the Greek translation that divided the collection into two books, out of convenience to make manageable sized scrolls.
Together with Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, the Book(s) of Kings is part of the Deuteronomistic history, and so continues on with the narrative of 2 Samuel. The first ten chapters contain some well known stories & characters, such as the story of Solomon proposing to cut a baby in half, and a visit from the Queen of Sheba, as well as the construction of the First Temple.
The opening story of 1 Kings had a subtext that I didn't recognize until I read the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB). King David was old, and like many of the elderly, was having a hard time keeping warm. His advisors suggested that he get a young virgin to snuggle up with, but "the king did not know her sexually." According to the NOAB, virility went hand in hand with the authority to rule, so this act of getting David a young virgin was an attempt to restore his virility. But by failing to have sex with her, it was clear that David was no longer fit for the throne.
With David old and decrepit, his oldest son, Adonijah, decided it was time to take the throne for himself. He consolidated his supporters (including Joab and Abiathar), and then threw a feast (with obligatory animal sacrificing) to cement his position. Meanwhile, Bathsheba and Nathan approach David, to let him know what was happening, and remind him of his promise (not mentioned previously) that Solomon would succeed him. David reaffirmed his promise, and gave instructions for Solomon's coronation. He was to ride David's own mule to Gihon, where the priests, Nathan and Zadok, would "anoint him king over Israel". So Solomon was crowned king, and there was much rejoicing in the streets.
When Adonijah and his companions heard the commotion, they learned what had happened, and became afraid for their lives. In what will be a mini theme in coming chapters, "Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar." Apparently, this was a form of asylum. When Solomon heard of this, he sent word that Adonijah would be spared, so long as he was good, "but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die." So for now, at least, Adonijah was safe.
There was a point of discontinuity when Bathsheba and Nathan approached David, regarding whether Bathsheba was in the room or not - just one more instance of a seam left behind from joining multiple prior sources.
David's days were numbered, and he knew it, so he called Solomon to give him his last words of advice and requests. The advice was of the generic sort you'd expect - be good and follow the Lord. And some of his requests were expected as well - to deal well with people who had been good to David. But some of his other requests were surprising. One had to do with Joab. Joab had been portrayed as a ruthless man in 1 and 2 Samuel, but David hadn't punished him at all for it. But now that David was dying, he was putting that responsibility on Solomon, "Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his grey head go down to Sheol in peace." Considering that Joab had supported Adonijah, this may have been simply a justification for Solomon to eliminate a rival. There was also Shimei son of Gera, who had cursed David on his way to Mahanaim, but whom David had pardoned and promised, "I will not put you to death with the sword" (another story that I don't recognize from previously in the Bible). However, David took that promise very literally. David couldn't kill Shimei with the sword, but Solomon could. And so David instructed Solomon, "you must bring his grey head down with blood to Sheol." With his final words spoken, David died a peaceful death.
Adonijah approached Bathsheba, and asked her to ask Solomon for a favor. Adonijah wanted to marry Abishag, the young virgin who had been brought to David in Chapter 1. Bathsheba passed on the request to Solomon, and he was furious. Given the role of concubines in that culture, if Adonijah had married and slept with the previous king's concubine, it would have given him a legitimate claim to rule. So Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada to strike down and kill Adonijah.
Next it was time to deal with Abiathar, the priest who had supported Adonijah. Solomon spared his life, but basically put him on house arrest, never to leave his estate.
When Joab learned of Adonijah's death, "Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and grasped the horns of the altar." But Solomon didn't spare him, and sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada to kill Joab.
With Joab dead and Abiathar banished, Joab replaced them with Benaiah and Zadok, respectively.
Now, it was time to deal with Shimei. Solomon commanded him to build a house for himself in Jerusalem, and to never leave the city. If he ever did, then he would be put to death. Well, a few years later, his slaves ran away, and he chased them down to Gath. Word got out to Solomon, and so he had Benaiah strike down Shimei, as well.
Chapter 3 opened with a story of Solomon marrying the Egyptian Pharaoh's daughter, forming an alliance. The NOAB notes that there's no record of this outside the Bible.
Solomon was good and loved the Lord, but it was pointed out that he committed the sin of "he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places." Still, he had a good relationship with God, and on one of his trips to the principal high place at Gibeon, God visited him in a dream. This is the rather well known story where God offered Solomon a gift, and Solomon asked for wisdom to lead his people. This noble request demonstrated his worth, and was granted by the Lord, along with "both riches and honour all your life". Upon waking up, Solomon returned to Jerusalem and offered up sacrifices before the ark of the covenant.
Next came probably the most famous story involving Solomon. Two prostitutes came to him to settle a dispute. They had both had newborn babies, but one of the babies had died. The one prostitute claimed that the other had laid on her own baby and killed him, and then had swapped the babies in the middle of the night while the other prostitute was asleep, stealing the live baby for her own. Of course, the other prostitute denied this. To settle the dispute, Solomon called for his sword, to cut the baby in half to give each prostitute a half of the baby. One prostitute was fine with that verdict, but the other insisted that the baby go to the other prostitute, so long as it wasn't killed. With that, Solomon knew that the true mother was the one willing to give up the baby to save its life.
The story concluded with a bit of hyperbole, "All Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice." It was a clever story, but nothing that would make people stand "in awe of the king".
The NOAB noted that Solomon's name was never actually mentioned throughout the story - he was referred to merely as "the king". This is an indication that the story may have originated as an independent folk tale, and then later been incorporated into the legend of Solomon.
Chapter 4 was almost a bookkeeping chapter. It started off listing his highest officials. Notably, Abiathar was still listed as a priest (possibly suggesting an alternate source to the story of Abiathar being exiled). There were also 12 officials in charge of the different regions of Israel, almost like governors, though the regions didn't match exactly with the tribes. Next came a listing of Solomon's provisions.
The chapter closed with a bit of hyperbole about Solomon that was so over the top that it seemed more like fawning than anything believable - "Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else..." and a bit later, "People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom."
King Hiram of Tyre had been an ally of David's, so he sent a good-will envoy to Solomon and they reaffirmed their friendship. Solomon said that he intended to finally build a temple for the Lord (which had been denied David), and asked Hiram to provide cedar in exchange for wheat and oil.
There was a phrase I noted in a previous book, but which still sounds barbaric to me, "You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet." It reminds me of images from Mesoamerican art where victors would stand on the heads of their enemies.
Verse 13 stated that "King Solomon conscripted forced labour out of all Israel..." to build the temple, and the remainder of the chapter described the beginnings of the work.
Chapter 6 was all about the construction of the temple. It went into great detail on the dimensions and details, though thankfully, not as repetitiously or in as much detail as Exodus gave for the Tent of Meeting. It took just over seven years to build. It's worth noting that the temple wasn't really a temple in the sense of people going to worship there - it was an earthly abode for the Lord, and so wasn't particularly large.
Verse 7 caught my eye, "The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built." If you recall from Exodus 20:25 and Deuteronomy 27:5, God had already given instructions that iron tools weren't to be used in making altars. Also recall from Judges 1:19 that God couldn't "drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron." It almost makes it seem like iron is God's kryptonite. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. I've seen other interpretations that the ban on tools at the work site was to maintain peace and quiet, to maintain the holiness of the site. I also read that the ban on iron tools in general was to keep people from carving idols.
Chapter 7 contained more construction details, from Solomon's own house, the House of the Forest of the Lebanon, to other buildings on the site, including the Hall of Pillars and the Hall of the Throne. The chapter also detailed many of the adornments, including mentioning the master craftsman by name, Hiram from Tyre (not the king).
There was one passage here that some overzealous skeptics like to use to indicate that the Bible indicates that Pi is equal to three, "Then he made the cast sea; it was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high. A line of thirty cubits would encircle it completely." I've discussed this interpretation before in the entry, Does the Bible Really Say Pi = 3. In short, I think it's one of the weakest arguments against the Bible that somebody could come up with.
With all the buildings completed, Solomon transferred his treasuries to their new locations.
Now it was time to bring the ark of the covenant to the temple. There was great fanfare and ritual, and of course, animal sacrifices, "so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered". There was a verse that stated, "There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb...". This was apparently to counter the belief that God resided in the ark, itself. Once the priests had put the ark in the inner sanctuary and then left the building, "a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." This presence as a cloud is another indication of Yahweh as a storm god.
Solomon gave a speech to all those assembled at the temple, exalting God, instructing the people on how to pray, etc.. He did note that the temple wasn't God's actual dwelling, but merely symbolic, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!" I wonder about the evolution of this belief. Did the Israelites see the temple as an actual dwelling when it was first built, and then modify the story as their religion evolved? Or was their understanding of God already of an incorporeal being by the time the temple was constructed? Given some of the passages I've noted in other portions of the Bible, even in my entry last week on 2 Samuel, I suspect the former.
With Solomon's prayer/speech over, it was time to get to the sacrificing - "twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred and twenty thousand sheep." Just imagine the slaughter if it were true.
The festival lasted for seven days, after which everybody went back home.
God visited Solomon again, reaffirming their covenant, and reminding Solomon that it was conditional on him and the Israelites remaining faithful to God.
In reward for his faithfulness, Solomon gave King Hiram a gift of twenty cities. But Hiram wasn't very impressed with them, "So they are called the land of Cabul to this day," where Cabul means 'a land good for nothing'. Still, Hiram sent gold back to Solomon.
Next came a listing of all the forced labor - the peoples and cities that had been enslaved. In contradiction to Verse 13 of Chapter 5, Verse 22 of this chapter stated that, "But of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves; they were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, and the commanders of his chariotry and cavalry.".
After that listing came a listing of officers, then a note about the house Solomon had built for his daughter, Solomon's practice of offering sacrifices three times a year, and finally a short note about a fleet of sheeps that he had built.
Chapter 10 contains the story of the famous Queen of Sheba. She came to Israel bearing all manner of gifts for Solomon, including around 4 tons of gold. In return, "King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba every desire that she expressed, as well as what he gave her out of Solomon's royal bounty." They discussed various topics that weren't detailed, and the Queen praised Solomon for his wisdom. And when her visit was over, the Queen of Sheba returned to her own land.
Verse 14 noted that Solomon received 666 talents of gold per year. Besides being the mark of the beast, that's a lot of gold. Going by what Wikipedia tells me, the ancient Israelite talent was about 67 lbs, meaning 666 talents would be about 22 tons. With all that gold, Solomon made a variety of items for his palace and the temple, not to mention using it for overlay.
There was some more hyperbole on Solomon, "Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. The whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind."
The chapter closed with a listing of all the horses and chariots he had.
From a skeptical perspective, I find it interesting that there are all these descriptions of Solomon being the wisest and most revered king to have ever lived, with people coming from far and wide just to hear him, while there's just about zero evidence of Solomon outside the Bible. I mean, everybody's heard of Ramses (aka Rameses or Ramesses). That was a famous king, known to people outside his kingdom, and who we can find plenty of evidence for. But Solomon, supposedly the greatest king of all time, left behind just about zero archaeological evidence or historical records. I mean, Josephus cited records for when King Hiram was supposed to have sent materials to Solomon, but Josephus was around almost 1000 years after Solomon's supposed rule. To put that in perspective, that's about the same separation in time as the present day and the Norman invasion of England.
The hyperbole also makes it hard to take these writers too seriously. It's hard to imagine people actually reacting the way the writers describe it.
All in all, though, this book, so far, is very similar to 1 and 2 Samuel (as should probably be expected). It carries on the narrative in much the same way, with enough detail to keep the stories interesting, only getting bogged down a bit by detailed descriptions of the temple complex.
For those interested, the following link contains a great drawing of what the temple might have looked like:
The Knights of Templar - Temple of Solomon
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.