Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Shofetim 5768/ September 6, 2008

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

Did Solomon Break the Law of Kings?*

 

Dr. Gilead Sasson

 

Department of Talmud

 

This week’s reading contains the laws regarding kings, including three prohibitions that pertain to them (Deut. 17:16-17):

Moreover, he shall not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses, since the Lord has warned you, “You must not go back that way again.”   And he shall not have many wives, lest his heart go astray; nor shall he amass silver and gold to excess.

The amora, Rav Aha, relates to the description given of King Solomon in the book of Kings and expresses the view that King Solomon did indeed violate the three proscriptions listed above.   We quote (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 2.6):

Rav Aha said:   Solomon said, three things I violated for which I was punished:  “He shall not have many wives,” for it says, “King Solomon loved may foreign women” (I Kings 11:1), … “He shall not keep many horses,” for it says, “King Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen” (II Chron. 9:25), … and “nor shall he amass silver and gold to excess,” for it is written, “the king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones” (I Kings 10:27).

Despite what Rav Aha said, if we examine the book of Kings we see that it does not censure all the king’s actions, rather only his taking many wives (I Kings 11:1-13), and regarding his having many horses and amassing much silver it makes no criticism (I Kings 10:14-29).   Also II Chronicles, which takes an apologetic stand towards King Solomon, [1] omits only his taking many wives but sees no difficulty in mentioning his multitude of horses and silver.  Quite the contrary, it sees this multiplicity as a mark of great praise for Solomon.

Why No Censure in the Bible?

Therefore we must ask whether Solomon indeed violated these two proscriptions, and if so, why does the book of Kings pass over this in silence?

In order to answer this question we must examine the attitude of the book of Kings towards Solomon’s reign, as described in chapter 1 through chapter 11. In these chapters there is a clear division between chapters 1 through 10 and chapter 11. In the first part (chapters 1-10), Solomon’s reign is described as a golden era in which he achieved great heights, the crowning glory of his reign being the building of the Temple (chapters 6-9).  But chapter 11 describes the depths to which Solomon plummeted in his old age, after taking many foreign wives. [2]   The message that emerges from this division is that when Solomon behaved properly and followed the ways of the Lord, he achieved great things; however, when he sinned, towards the end of his life, his kingdom was divided (in the days of his son Rehoboam).   In order to sharpen the contrast between reward and punishment, the book of Kings ignores Solomon’s improper behavior during his golden era and does not censure him for it.   Therefore, even though Solomon sinned when he amassed many horses and silver, transgressing  proscriptions in the Torah, he was not criticized for this.

Another illustration of this bias is the way Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter is treated in the book of Kings.   This marriage is first mentioned at the beginning of Solomon’s reign (I Kings 3:1), and Scripture there makes no criticism of his act.  But in chapter 11 it becomes clear that this marriage contravened the Lord’s commandments (11:1-2):

King Solomon loved many foreign women in additions to Pharaoh’s daughter – Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Phoenician, and Hittite women, from the nations of which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “None of you shall join them and none of them shall join you, lest they turn your heart away to follow their gods.   Such Solomon clung to and loved.

Why does the book of Kings refrain from criticizing Solomon for this marriage when the event took place?  As we said, such criticism would have marred the dichotomous division and the message of reward and punishment.

The View of the Rabbis

The interpretation by Rav Aha, presented above, according to which Solomon also transgressed the proscription against having many horses and amassing much silver and gold, illustrates the objective of several of the Sages to break the dichotomy in the book of Kings and to emphasize Solomon’s sins also in his days of glory.  While Rav Aha only stressed that Solomon violated the explicit prohibitions placed on kings by the Torah, other Sages even criticized Solomon’s behavior in incidents that involved no prohibition and that were viewed by the book of Kings as being greatly to Solomon’s credit.  Examples can be found in the critical homilies relating to Solomon’s request in Gibeon that he be granted wisdom, the trial of the two mothers and the dedication of the Temple. [3]

Why do these Sages mar the dichotomous structure of the book of Kings and present Solomon as being a sinner even in his time of glory?  Apparently the answer lies in the difficulty in understanding the dramatic change that took place in King Solomon.  How did a righteous king, who achieved such heights, unequalled by any king before or after him, at the end of his life turn in a king who was a sinner, participating in the idolatry practiced by his wives?  The Sages’ criticism of Solomon serves to show that there was no turning point in his life, since he never was entirely righteous and had flaws in his reign from the outset.  He ends up appearing as a unified figure, and his end as a sinner (as presented by the book of Kings) attests to his beginning. [4]

                                                                                                                                        



* I have dealt with this subject at greater length in my dissertation:   Melekh ve-Hedyot – Yahasam shel Haz”al le-Shelomo ha-Melekh, Doctoral dissertation, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan 2004.

[1] See Sarah Yefet, Emunot ve-De’ot be-Sefer Divrei ha-Yamim, Jerusalem 1971, pp. 180, 402.

[2] The dichotomy between the chapters is known in scholarship as "the traditional division".  For another division, see Amos Frisch, Parashat Malkhut Shelomo be-Sefer Melakhim, Doctoral dissertation, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan 1986, pp. 38, 295.

[3] Criticism of his request for wisdom:  Solomon sought wisdom in order to obtain material profit and honor (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:9); of the trial of the mothers:   Solomon actually wished to cut the live baby in half (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 10:11 [16]); on the dedication of the Temple:  the gates of the Temple would not let him bring in the Ark of the Covenant (Shabbat 30a).

[4] See the discussion of whether a good person can become bad in Berakhot 28b.   It should be noted that there is also an opposing trend of presenting King Solomon as lily white throughout his entire reign, even at the end of his days; see the famous homily, “Whoever says that Solomon sinned is simply mistaken” (Shabbat 56b).