Parashat Shofetim 5768/ September 6, 2008
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
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
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,  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
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
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. 
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,
 See Sarah
Yefet, Emunot ve-De’ot be-Sefer Divrei ha-Yamim,
dichotomy between the chapters is known in scholarship as "the traditional
division". For another division,
see Amos Frisch, Parashat Malkhut Shelomo be-Sefer Melakhim,
 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 ); on the dedication of the Temple: the gates of the Temple would not let him bring in the Ark of the Covenant (Shabbat 30a).
 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).