Acts of Solomon

"And the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon?" (1 Kings 11:41).

The Old Testament book of Kings makes a single mention of a source containing a detailed history of the deeds and wisdom of King Solomon, which was subsequently lost.

What do we know about this lost text?

Who might have been the author?

Scholars have speculated that this lost book may have been written by the minor biblical prophet Iddo.

Iddo appears to have lived during the reigns of King Solomon and his heirs, Rehoboam and Abijah in the southern Kingdom of Judah. Little is known about him, and he appears only in the Books of Chronicles. Iddo appears to have been prolific in his day, with his prophecies concerning the rival King Jeroboam I of the northern Israel recorded in a lost book of visions.

"As for the other events of Solomon's reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the records of Nathan the prophet, in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat?" (2 Chronicles 9:29).

Other lost works attributed to Iddo are a history of King Rehoboam, known as the "Words of Shemaiah the Prophet and Iddo the Seer" (2 Chronicles 12:15), and of his son King Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:22).

The medieval French rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040–1105), better known by the acronym Rashi, author of the first comprehensive commentary on the Talmud and the Tanakh, identified Iddo with the unidentified "man of God" from 1 Kings 13:1.

What might have been the contents of the Acts of Solomon?

Solomon's Kingdom Map

The sole biblical reference to the book of the Acts of Solomon states that its contents were "the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom," that are not recounted in the book of Kings.

Professor Emeritus Tomoo Ishida of the University of Tsukuba in Japan points out that neither the name Solomon nor allusion to his reign has yet been found in any contemporary extra-biblical source. This means we have to rely solely on the biblical sources for reconstruction of the Solomonic period. Scholars treat some passages in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings 1–11 as primary sources. 1 Chronicles 22:5–23:1, 1 Chronicles 28:1–2, and Chronicles 9:31 are treated as secondary sources.

Wisdom books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, are also associated with Solomon. However, most scholars regard these associations as legendary.

Queen of Sheba, Solomon

Above: Renaissance relief of the Queen of Sheba meeting Solomon; gate of Florence Baptistry by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)

The books of Samuel and Kings are part of the Deuteronomistic History (DH), which consists of the historical narrative books Joshua to Kings. Scholars believe that the final redaction (editing) of the DH was completed during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. In compiling the literary record of Solomon and his reign, the DH redactors used materials from many sources, which scholars have attempted to distinguish by contents, styles, and other criteria. They include:

* The Succession Narrative (most of 2 Samuel and 1 Kings 1–2)

* Official archives of the royal court, such as the lists of Solomon’s senior officials and of the twelve district prefects (1 Kings 4:1–19)

* Temple archives, such as, the description of the architectural structure of the Temple and its furnishings (6:2–36; 7:15–50)

* Folk tales, like the story about Solomon’s arbitration (3:16–28) and story of the visit of the queen of Sheba (10:1–10, 13)

* “The book of the acts of Solomon” (11:41).

Ishida suggests that the Acts of Solomon may have been a collection of annalistic accounts, anecdotes, and legends about Solomon.

Solomon, Queen of Sheba Left: King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, by Piero della Francesca (15th cent.)

According to the Acts of Solomon and other sources, the kingdoms of Judah and Israel enjoyed peace and prosperity throughout Solomon's reign. The legendary tradition of Solomon’s wisdom stemmed from the Solomonic court with its cosmopolitan surroundings. Zealots of Yahwism, however, condemned the religious tolerance and syncretism in Solomonic society. Furthermore, traditionalists rejected the Solomonic “Zion theology,” which theologically legitimized the Judean dynasty ruling over Israel.

The Northern tribes resented the heavy tax and forced labor imposed with a bias in favor of Judah. They revolted under the leadership of Jeroboam ben Nebat. Solomon suppressed the rebellion, but this crisis became a direct cause of the division of the kingdom immediately following his death.

Ishida concludes that Solomon “hardly succeeded in bequeathing the Davidic rule over Israel which he had inherited from David.” He points out, however, that this sober reality fades away in later traditions in which “Solomon in all his glory” (Matt 6:29) remained as his formal epitaph.

Apocryphal Solomonic Texts

Rabbinical tradition attributes the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon to Solomon although this book was probably a pseudopigraphal work written in the 2nd century BCE. In this work Solomon is portrayed as an astronomer. Other books of wisdom poetry such as the Songs of Solomon and the Psalms of Solomon also bear his name. The Jewish historian Eupolemus, who wrote about 157 BCE, included copies of apocryphal letters exchanged between Solomon and the kings of Egypt and Tyre.

The Gnostic Apocalypse of Adam discovered in 1945 as part of the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt may date to the 1st or 2nd century CE. This work refers to a legend in which Solomon sends out an army of demons to seek a virgin who had fled from him, perhaps the earliest surviving mention of the later common tale that Solomon controlled demons and made them his slaves. This tradition of Solomon's control over demons appears fully elaborated in the early Gnostic work called the Testament of Solomon with its elaborate and grotesque demonology.

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