Old Melvin Bragg did it again this morning- great discussion on what we know (and don’t know) about King Solomon. You can listen again to this programme (and all sorts of others spanning years and years) here.
Solomon- the archetypal enlightened Oriental monarch, the nearest thing we have in our adoptive western tradition of a Sun King. He is said to have lived in relative peace, accumulated great wealth, a vast harem of wives and concubines, built temples and palaces and a network of ‘chariot towns’ in an expanding Kingdom. He was said to have been visited by great Queens, and to have ‘satisfied’ them. Along the way, he asked God to grant him wisdom, and is accredited with authorship of several books in the Bible- Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Songs. He is revered in Hebrew tradition as presiding over a golden age, and in the Islamic tradition as a prophet.
The truth of all this is in the dust. No certain evidence of his existence, or that of his great building projects, has been found. Authorship of his books in the Bible are almost certainly more complex. Having said that the written record of the minutiae of his life in the Bible are beyond almost any other comparable ancient figure. There is no doubt that Solomon is a dominant Icon in the history of us.
He is also a flawed figure. The Bible story talks about his enslaving of the people, and his descent into the paganism of his many wives. He accumulated vast wealth and thousands of horses- all on the back of slavery. According to scripture, God was not pleased, but rather than destroy his Kingdom in Solomon’s lifetime, God decided that the Kingdom would not stand. Solomon’s sons fought, argued and it all fell apart.
The interesting thing is that despite the obvious flaws that the Hebrew tradition records in this great leader, we remember mostly the wisdom and the glory. We somehow root for Solomon- we envy him his achievements- his wealth, his women, his worldly wisdom.
This led me to wonder what wisdom might these stories communicate to us, here, now? Why are these stories so central to the Bible story? Whatever the historical truth of these stories, what truth do they have to our spirits?
It is all there I think- the pursuit of a nationhood of conquest and empire. The accumulation of wealth and fame. The exploitation of women and sexuality. The enslavement of the powerless individual towards the wealth of the few. The demonisation of those outside the boundaries as less-than-human.
Then there is the rise and inevitable fall. Like boom and bust economics. And at the core of it all, the loss of the core of things- the turning from what is good and pure towards idolatry.
I look at this story through what we know of the journey that was to come, and perhaps most of all through the person of Jesus; who had no stately majesty, no wealth, no interest in power, other than power-to-save. Jesus who came to proclaim that other word that we have heard too much of over the last few days in the UK- Jubilee.
Jubilee not in the sense of a celebration of wealth and pompous privilege. Jubilee that had nothing to do with looking backwards towards an empire now gone, and had nothing to do with jingoism or nationhood. Rather it was about this;
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
(See Luke 4 and Isaiah 61)
The focus shifts to the little people like you and me.
Solomon has had his day. May all Kings and Queens take note.