Known as the wisest man on the planet (I Kings 4:30), King Solomon is a successful ruler. The holdings of Israel’s kingdom reach their apex during his reign (I Kings 10:14-29). The modern adage “Go big or go home” would have been an apt motto for the ancient monarch as he seemingly accrues everything in warehouse club portions. In addition to wisdom and commodities, Solomon amasses an abundance of women: seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (I Kings 11:3).
He [Solomon] had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. (I Kings 11:3 NASB)The number of Solomon’ wives is fantastic. Douglas Sean O’Donnell (b. 1972) relays:
In Mark Twain [1835-1910]’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck says to Jim that Solomon “had about a million wives.” A slight exaggeration—Solomon only had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He had a thousand, not a million (but still large enough!). (O’Donnell, The Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy (Preaching the Word), 130)Not surprisingly, Solomon and his wives have become fodder for humor. A.J. Jacobs (b. 1968) gibes:
Solomon holds the record with seven hundred wives...Solomon’s proverbs warn against adultery [Proverbs 2:16-19, 5:1-23, 6:24-29, 32, 7:5-23, 9:13-18, 22:14, 23:27, 30:20], which I find curious, since I can’t imagine he had any time or energy for other men’s wives. (Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Possible, 135)Andy Stanley (b. 1958) exclaims:
Seven hundred wives! Think about that. Seven hundred mothers-in-law. What was he thinking? Apparently he wasn’t. (Stanley, The Principle of the Path: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, 92)The note itself falls awkwardly into the narrative as it does not fit comfortably into its present context (I Kings 11:3). Percy S. F. Van Keulen (b. 1963) scrutinizes:
The position of the note in I Kings 11:3a is awkward. Materially, this note links up with the remark of I Kings 11:1 that Solomon loved many women. Its belated appearance at I Kings 11:3a is due to the circumstance that first the issue of the alien origin of Solomon’s wives is dealt with in I Kings 11:1b and I Kings 11:2. However, at I Kings 11:3a the note interrupts the logical sequence between I Kings 11:2b and I Kings 11:3b; the latter verse notes the fulfillment of the prediction made at I Kings 11:2b that foreign nations could turn the heart of the Israelites away behind their gods. (Van Keulen, Two Versions Of The Solomon Narrative: An Inquiry Into The Relationship between MT 1 Kgs. 2-11 and LXX 3 Reg. 2-11, 208)The Septuagint reorganizes the passage to accentuate the bevy of marriages. Marvin A. Sweeney (b. 1953) footnotes:
The Septuagint...rearranges I Kings 11:1-3 to emphasize Solomon’s many wives followed by his love for foreign women and apostasy: “And King Solomon was a lover of women. And he had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines. And he took Gentile women, and the daughter of Pharaoh, Moabites, Ammonites, Syrians, and Idumeans, Hittites and Amorites, of the nations concerning which the L-rd said to the sons of Israel ‘You shall not go into them, and they shall not come in to you, lest they turn away your hearts after their idols.’ To them, Solomon clung in love” (see Heinrich Hrozný [1879-1952], Die Abweichungen des Codex Vaticanus vom hebräischen Texte in den Königsbüchern 70-72; Gottfried Vanoni [1948-2006] 24-57). (Sweeney, I & II Kings: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 153)Solomon is said to have seven hundred “wives” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “women” (MSG). These are distinguished from his additional three hundred concubines (I Kings 11:3).
The sheer volume is staggering. Solomon tends to do everything extravagantly and marriage is evidently no different. He has far more wives than anyone else in the Bible.
Gene Rice (b. 1925) compares:
As Solomon’s building program, wealth, and fame were on a grand scale, so was his harem. Seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines are not unprecedented [I Kings 11:3], but never before or after did an Israelite king have so many wives. The next largest harem was Rehoboam’s eighteen wives and sixty concubines (II Chronicles 11:21). David had at least eight wives (II Samuel 3:2-5, 5:13-16, 11:27; I Chronicles 3:1-9) and some ten or more concubines (II Samuel 15:16). Only one of David’s wives in known to have been a foreigner (II Samuel 13:37; I Chronicles 3:2). (Rice, 1 Kings: Nations Under God (International Theological Commentary), 86)Steven Weitzman (b. 1965) illustrates:
It would seem that Solomon conducted his sex life on the same unmatchable scale that he did everything else...In fact, it is scarcely possible to conceive a sex life on this scale. In 1921 the Yiddish writer David Pinski [1872-1959] tried, undertaking an audacious attempt to describe all 1,000 of Solomon’s wives, but though he worked for fifteen years he managed to complete portraits of only 105; there were just too many to handle—and he was merely writing about them. Solomon seems to do everything in multiples of thousands—40,000 stalls for his horses [I Kings 4:26], 180,000 laborers to build the Temple [I Kings 5:13-16]; a sacrifice consisting of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep [I Kings 8:63; II Chronicles 7:5]—but no figure in I Kings has impressed itself on the imagination, or strains it, quite like the king’s 700 wives and 300 concubines. (Weitzman, Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom, 150-51)Given the outlandish figure, many have seen the record as employing hyperbole. Iain W. Provan (b. 1957) considers:
Not for the first time in the Solomon story (cf., e.g., I Kings 4:26), we may suspect that the number (a round 1000) is not meant to be taken literally. The point is that everything Solomon did, he did in a big way! Song of Solomon 6:8-9 contrasts the one true love of the king (Pharaoh’s daughter? cf. Victor Sasson [b.1937], “King Solomon and the Dark Lady in the Song of Songs,” Vetus Testamentum 39 , pp. 407-14) with his 60 queens and 80 concubines—a more modest number, though not in itself unimpressive, particularly when combined with “virgins beyond number [Song of Solomon 6:8].” (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (New International Biblical Commentary), 93)Volkmar Fritz (1938-2007) discounts:
The number of Solomon’s wives is said to be one thousand; as usual, this is probably an exaggeration, and the number has no significance for the course of the narrative. It only matters that his love for the women causes Solomon’s heart to turn away from Yahweh as the only God [I Kings 11:3-8]. The Deuteronomistic Historian firmly roots Solomon’s idolatry in his biography. (Fritz, 1 & 2 Kings (A Continental Commentary), 131)Linda S. Schearing (b. 1947) pronounces:
His alleged marriages to 700 foreign princesses...is considered historical by some in spite of I Kings 11:3’s obvious hyperbole and literary function...John Gray [1913-2000], 1 & 2 Kings, pp. 274-75, for example, asserts that although “historical fact has been magnified and stylized” in I Kings 11:3, there is still a “historical basis” to Solomon’s diverse harem; while John Barclay Burns [b. 1943], “Solomon’s Egyptian Horses and Exotic Wives,” Foundations & Facts Forum 7 (1991) 33, admits that the “exaggerated numbers of wives and concubines would not have appeared in any formal chronicle” yet goes on to argue that “nonetheless, it is conceivable that Solomon wed foreign princesses to weave a strong web of alliances.” (Lowell K. Handy [b. 1949], “A Wealth of Women: Looking Behind, Within and Beyond Solomon’s Story”, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, 436)Not all agree that the number is figurative. Russell H. Dilday (b. 1930) defends:
While the daughter of Pharaoh held a special position as the number one wife of the king, I Kings 11:3 tells us that Solomon also had 699 other wives as well as 300 concubines. The fact that this number far exceeds the typical harems of other contemporary monarchs should not cause a problem with credibility, since Solomon diligently competed to exceed the other nations in every way. He had accumulated greater wealth, wisdom, and power than all others; and since virility was supposed to be an indicator of royal greatness in that day, he wanted to surpass them in this category too. Some interpreters who doubt the accuracy of the number in I Kings 11:3 point out that in the Song of Solomon 6:8 Solomon speaks of only “sixty queens and eighty concubines and virgins without number.” But the supposed discrepancy can be explained by the fact that the “virgins without number” could have brought the total to a thousand. It can also be explained by reckoning that the number listed in the Song of Solomon may have come earlier in Solomon’s reign before he had accumulated the full number in this chapter. (Dilday, 1, 2 Kings (Mastering the Old Testament), 131)There are parallels to Solomon’s polygamy in other cultures. John Monson (b. 1963) correlates:
In addition to being a status symbol, the royal harem maintained close ties to Solomon’s constituents through marriage into families of varying clans, tribes, and social classes, including wives of higher status who were counted among the royalty. Counting royal women by the hundreds was not unusual during the Iron Age. Assyrian wine lists from Nimrud indicate that as many as three hundred women of various ranks lived at that palace. Extensive harems produced a large pool of heirs to ensure the enduring strength of the dynasty. (John H. Walton [b. 1952], 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 50)Solomon is the poster child for polygamy. Surprisingly, polygamy is not explicitly outlawed in the Bible. The Torah does mandate that the king “shall not multiply wives for himself” (Deuteronomy 17:17 NASB) and the rabbis capped the number of marriages at eighteen (Mishnah Sanhedrin 2:4). The marriages themselves, however, are not the source of Solomon’s criticism.
Russell H. Dilday (b. 1930) comments:
Polygamy in ancient Israel was apparently permitted, even though it obviously contradicted God’s ideal of one man for one woman for life. Most of the biblical patriarchs had numerous wives. David had fifteen. Abijah had fourteen [II Chronicles 13:21]. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, had eighteen wives and sixty concubines [II Chronicles 11:21]. So except for the unprecedented number, Solomon’s marital situation was not unusual for the historical period. (Dilday, 1, 2 Kings (Mastering the Old Testament), 131)The harem was likely a source of pride for the king. Steven Weitzman (b. 1965) informs:
If the historical Solomon really did have a large harem, he was probably quite proud of it. Biblical family values allowed a man to have multiple wives and concubines (it was only in the Middle Ages that Jews embraced monogamy as the ideal), and a large family was considered a mark of virility, wealth, blessing—evidence that a man was favored by God. In the Kebra Nagast, the Ethiopian version of Solomon’s story, the king’s motive for marrying so many women is a pious one; he wants to fulfill God’s promise to Israel of many descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky [Genesis 15:5, 26:4; Exodus 32:13], and there seemed to him no better way to bring this about than to have sex with as many women as possible. (Weitzman, Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom, 151)While polygamy is not expressly forbidden, intermarriage with those of other religions is (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). This tenet is also sustained in the New Testament where the apostle Paul instructs, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14 NASB).
Steven Weitzman (b. 1965) notices:
We are told virtually nothing about Solomon’s wives as individuals—only one is given a name, Naamah, the mother of Solomon’s successor Rehoboam, and only because she was the mother of a future king [I Kings 14:21, 31; II Chronicles 12:13]. What I Kings does make a point of revealing, however, is the ethnic background of these women—they were Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites [I Kings 11:1], non-Israelite peoples who lived within or on the borders of the land of Canaan—and that is what doomed Solomon’s marriages from the start. (Weitzman, Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom, 151-52)Terence E. Fretheim (b. 1936) adds:
Solomon’s many foreign wives...provide the focus for the description of his unfaithfulness (I Kings 11:1-8). But it is not Solomon’s polygamy per se that centers the account, but disloyalty to God that follows therefrom. Deuteronomic law had prohibited marriage with the peoples of Canaan because of the danger of being led astray to serve other gods (Deuteronomy 7:3-4; see Exodus 34:16; Joshua 23:12-13). Such intermarriage, in fact, had taken place early in Israel’s life in the land (Judges 3:5-6). That law, paraphrased here (I Kings 11:2), is interpreted to apply to other non-Israelite peoples as well. (Fretheim, First and Second Kings (Westminster Bible Companion), 63)Solomon, it appears, is exercising a loophole in Deuteronomy’s prohibition (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Cameron B.R. Howard (b. 1980) observes:
Throughout Kings, the worship of foreign gods is repeatedly linked with the influence of foreign women. Solomon’s wives’ seductive powers extend outside the matrimonial realm to the religious, where they “turn his heart” to the gods of their homelands [I Kings 11:3, 4, 9]. According to I Kings 11:1, the peoples represented in Solomon’s marriages include Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. Notably, this list does not correspond to the book of Deuteronomy’s injunction against intermarriage (Deuteronomy 7:1-6), even though the narrator seems to be invoking that prohibition. Marvin A. Sweeney [b. 1953] notes that Solomon’s list corresponds instead to alliances and conquests made by David, and that the invocation of Deuteronomic law was probably a later reaction to make Solomon’s actions fit it, rather than having composed Solomon’s list in light of the Deuteronomic prohibitions (Sweeney, 155). (Carol A. Newsom [b. 1950], Sharon H. Ringe [b. 1946] and Jacqueline E. Lapsley [b. 1965], Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated, 169)Solomon certainly has a problem. Philip Graham Ryken (b. 1966) critiques:
How many women did he “love” [I Kings 11:1]? At least a thousand, which was a thousand times too many! The king was living so large that even his sin was super-sized: “He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines” (I Kings 11:3). (Ryken, King Solomon: The Temptations of Money, Sex, and Power, 176)The Message paraphrases, “King Solomon was obsessed with women.” (I Kings 11:1 MSG). Gina Hens-Piazza (b. 1948) condemns:
The number of wives, “seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines” (I Kings 11:3), even among ancient practices and even assuming some hyperbole, is unconscionable. It bespeaks an excess of one who has lost touch with reality and with relationships. Here, no prospect of human relationship or care exists. Women have been reduced to a commodity to exchange and possess. The iteration of his love for foreign women (I Kings 11:1-2) in such numbers does not convey intimate caring but a recalcitrant attachment to these women as possession and obsession. Moreover, the unimaginable number of wives coincides with behavior patterns well established through his lifetime. Excess has defined this king’s ambitions. (Hens-Piazza, 1-2 Kings (Abingdon Old Testament Commentary), 109)Seven hundred wives would produce a logistical nightmare. This is seen in the fact that the wives remain nondescript, nameless and devoid of character. Stuart Lasine (b. 1945) attends:
In spite of his thousand wives and concubines, readers do not witness any illuminating exchanges between the king and his famous loves, as one is allowed to follow David’s interactions with Michal [I Samuel 19:11-17: II Samuel 6:16, 20-23; I Chronicles 15:29], Abigail [I Samuel 25:2-42], and Bathsheba [II Samuel 11:2-27; I Kings 1:11-31]. None of Solomon’s wives is said to love him as David was loved by Michal [I Samuel 18:20]. None pursues and flatters Solomon as did David’s wife-to-be Abigail [I Samuel 25:18-35]...In fact, of Solomon’s one thousand wives and concubines only Pharaoh’s daughter receives any attention at all in I Kings 3-11, and remarkably little is said about her or about Solomon’s alleged love for her [I Kings 3:1, 7:8, 9:16, 24, 11:1]. (Lowell K. Handy [b. 1949], “Solomon and the Wizard of Oz: Power and Invisibility in a Verbal Place”, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, 379-80)Sadly, it is doubtful that Solomon had much more of a relationship with his wives than does the reader.
There is also implicit condemnation of Solomon’s serial polygamy. Adele Reinhartz (b. 1953) surmises:
The negative judgment of the narrator upon Solomon for loving foreign women, expressed explicitly in I Kings 11:1-3, is also conveyed by silence regarding the offspring of these unions. That there were offspring is indicated in the formulaic reference to Naamah the mother of Rehoboam (I Kings 15:21) and the naming of several daughters of Solomon who married his prefects (I Kings 4:11-15). This silence regarding Solomon’s offspring is emphasized by the reference to the son of his archenemy, King Hadad the Edomite (I Kings 11:14). In some respects, Hadad is the mirror image of Solomon. Like Solomon, he married a close relative of the Pharaoh, and an anonymous one at that (I Kings 11:19). But unlike Solomon, Hadad is portrayed as the father of a son, Genubath, borne of the Pharaoh’s sister-in-law and raised in the Pharaoh’s palace (I Kings 11:20). It is a mark of Solomon’s disgrace that his adversary is accorded the kind of conventional treatment by the narrator that Solomon himself is denied. (Reinhartz, ”Why Ask My Name?”: Anonymity and Identity in Biblical Narrative, 26)The text categorically states that “his wives turned his heart away” (I Kings 11:3 NASB). They evidently exercised more influence on him than he them.
David C. Hopkins (b. 1952) accounts:
The narrative of Kings reports Solomon’s seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines (I Kings 11:3) and suggests their influence upon their husband was both considerable and pernicious. Any influence in reverse escapes mention; the disproportionate numbers undoubtedly weighed against Solomon’s potential sway. (Lowell K. Handy [b. 1949], “The Weight of the Bronze Could Not Be Calculated: Solomon and Economic Reconstruction”, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, 301)Seven hundred wives coupled with three hundred concubines is a formula for disaster. With one thousand women of varying religious affiliations it is not surprising that Solomon has divided loyalties. The text notes that the predicament finally gets the better of him in his old age, as if his senescence mitigates his fall (I Kings 11:4). He acquiesces and erects idols to placate his pagan wives (I Kings 11:4-8). In appeasing the women, he alienates God (I Kings 11:6). The king does what many do: he makes the mistake of tending to the interests of the immediate, temporal issues which surround him instead of the transcendent, eternal deity which sustains him.
What does the number of his wives say about Solomon (I Kings 11:3)? Is the mandate against intermarriage primarily a warning against foreign women or foreign gods (Deuteronomy 7:1-6)? Would you pursue a relationship with someone who practiced a different religion? What is the most spouses you have heard of someone having? What did you think of that person? Why does the Bible not expressly condemn polygamy? Are there any biblical instances where polygamy “works”? In addition to marriage partners, when is less more? Does Solomon have any influence on his wives? How much influence does your significant other have on you; how much do you exert over them? Who would it grieve you more to displease, your loved ones or God?
The note regarding King Solomon’s wives is a precursor to the account of the division of Israel’s kingdom in the next chapter (I Kings 12:1-24). I Kings 11:1-13 braces the reader for the fall of Solomon’s empire.
Volkmar Fritz (1938-2007) dissects:
The long narrative preparing the division of the empire is not a unified whole but was assembled from several single pieces to arrive at its current form. After giving the basic reasons for the events in Solomon’s wrong behavior in I Kings 11:1-13, the narrative moves on to depict Jeroboam as a renegade and unlawful usurper in I Kings 11:26, 40. (Fritz, 1 & 2 Kings (A Continental Commentary), 130)August H. Konkel (b. 1948) classifies:
This section [I Kings 11:1-13] has been characterized as a theological review. It contains offenses and judgment statements that evaluate the king according to prophetic orthodoxy. The prophetic indictment is given as a word from Yahweh without any specification as to the occasion or manner in which that word is delivered. (Konkel, 1 & 2 Kings (NIV Application Commentary), 219)Despite elevating Israel to unprecedented heights, the mighty king will fall. The seeds for this demise have long been evident. Lissa M. Wray Beal exposes:
The initial verses (I Kings 11:1-8) reveal Solomon’s heart and the reasons for YHWH’s judgment. With I Kings 3:1-3 they bracket Solomon’s narrative and negatively characterize the king. In Kings 3 Solomon marries Pharaoh’s daughter; the closing bracket now includes other foreign women. In I Kings 3:3 Solomon ‘loves’ YHWH; the only other place where Solomon ‘loves’ is in I Kings 11:1 – but now the ‘love’ is for these foreign women. In I Kings 3:1 the king’s intention to build the temple is mentioned...in I Kings 11:7-8 the temple project is denigrated as Solomon builds temples to foreign gods. Finally, I Kings 3:3 records the king’s positive attitude towards torah obedience, obedience explicitly compromised in I Kings 11:10. (Beal, 1 & 2 Kings (Apollos Old Testament Commentary), 168-69)Terence E. Fretheim (b. 1936) concurs:
The narrative turns from Solomon’s love for the Lord (I Kings 3:3; see Deuteronomy 6:5), as God had loved him (II Samuel 12:24), to his love for his foreign wives (I Kings 11:1-2); these two references bracket the reign of Solomon. This is a love story gone awry. God’s continuing love does not overwhelm Solomon’s decision to turn his love toward that which is not God, to violate his own call for complete devotion to God (I Kings 8:61). (Fretheim, First and Second Kings (Westminster Bible Companion), 62)Solomon’s plight is foreshadowed in the preceding chapter as well (I Kings 10:1-29). Peter J. Leithart (b. 1959) catalogs:
The praise for Solomon is not undiluted, since the narrator records that Solomon violates the laws of kingship by multiplying gold and weapons. Gold is mentioned some ten times in this chapter [I Kings 10:1-29]...Solomon has so much gold that he uses it for drinking vessels [I Kings 10:21] and for ceremonial shields [I Kings 10:16-17], and the abundance of gold drives the value of silver to nothing (I Kings 10:21). This seems a further encomium to Solomon, but Deuteronomy 17:14-17 specifically forbids Israel’s kings from multiplying gold and silver...Solomon also gathers horses and chariots [I Kings 10:25-29], again in violation of the rules of Deuteronomy 17:16, and even imports them from Egypt [I Kings 10:28], the very place that Israel was forbidden to go for horses and chariots. These violations prepare for the climactic violation in I Kings 11, the multiplication of wives, who seduce Solomon into idolatry [I Kings 11:1-13]. (Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 81)In recounting Solomon’s reign, the text saves the worst for last. A. Graeme Auld (b. 1941) reveals:
The most trenchant criticism of Solomon is left to the end of the report. We have sensed at various points in the previous chapters an undertow of critique; but now it is on the surface and in the open. (Auld, I & II Kings (Daily Study Bible), 80)J. Maxwell Miller (b. 1937) detaches:
I Kings 3-11 presents Solomon the faithful ruler who achieved the golden age, then I Kings 11 presents a later Solomon led astray by foreign wives and struggling to maintain the secularity of his kingdom. This is an artificial arrangement; the compilers separated out and placed at the end of Solomon’s reign the items which conflicted with their notion of an ideal Solomonic era. (Lowell K. Handy [b. 1949], “Separating the Solomon of History from the Solomon of Legend”, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, 16)Paul S. Evans concurs:
Beginning in I Kings 10:26 there is a clear bent to present Solomon’s shortcomings. Describing his direct violations of the law regarding chariots (from Egypt no less—explicitly forbidden in Deuteronomy 17:16) and amassing of wealth (forbidden in Deuteronomy 17:17). This undercurrent of negativity in this otherwise lionizing description of Solomon has been noted by many. See Richard D. Nelson [b. 1945], First and Second Kings (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), 66-67; and Jerome T. Walsh [b. 1942], I Kings (editor David W. Cotter; Collegeville, Minnesota; Liturgical, 1996), 137-38. This aspect is surprisingly overlooked by many. E.g., Burke O. Long [b. 1938] (1 Kings, 120) notes this section’s intention as to “glorify Solomon” and does not note the overt (or subtle) critique when read in light of Deuteronomy 17. Curiously, Martin J. Mulder [1923-1994] (1 Kings [Historical Commentary on the Old Testament; translator John Vriend [1925-2002]; Leuven; Belgium: Peeters, 1999], 542) notes the Deuteronomy 17:17 connection only to support the idea that “Egypt was famous for its horses.” (Evans, The Invasion of Sennacherib in the Book of Kings: A Source-Critical and Rhetorical Study of 2 Kings 18-19, 149)Israel Finkelstein (b. 1949) and Neil Asher Silberman (b. 1950) characterize:
The Biblical Solomon is haunted by a great contradiction. In I Kings 3-10, he is the great successor of David, a larger-than-life ruler who builds the Temple in Jerusalem and who provides the standards of wisdom and opulence that countless later kings would attempt to achieve. Yet in I Kings 11:1-13 he is little more than a senile apostate, who is led astray by the charms of his many foreign wives. (Finkelstein and Silberman, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, 179)The downfall of a nation in conjunction with an idolatrous queen will recur in I Kings. Cameron B.R. Howard (b. 1980) studies:
Taking on a sardonic tone, the narrator remarks of Ahab, “And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him.” [I Kings 16:31] The marriage was surely a political move, creating an alliance with the Sidonians, that is, the Phoenicians, whose kingdom was just north of Israel. Solomon had employed the same strategy hundreds of times, to the disdain of YHWH and the Deuteronomists, though with great political effect. In the eyes of the narrator, it is as if Jezebel herself is capable of more harm than Solomon’s seven hundred foreign wives and three hundred concubines put together. (Carol A. Newsom [b. 1950], Sharon H. Ringe [b. 1946] and Jacqueline E. Lapsley [b. 1965], Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated, 172)Despite the influence of his pagan wives, when Solomon’s kingdom falls, Solomon himself is to blame. Gary N. Knoppers (b. 1956) clarifies:
One may observe that the topos of mixed marriages explains a reversal in the course of Solomonic rule, but it does not excuse it. Solomon’s foreign wives catalyze his decline, but YHWH becomes enraged with Solomon and not his wives, “because he turned...his heart from YHWH, the God of Israel” (I Kings 11:9). Similarly, the judgment oracle of I Kings 11:11-13 accuses Solomon and not his wives, of malfeasance. The refusal to excuse Solomon underscores the force of the prohibitions he violates. In his dotage (I Kings 11:4) Solomon flounders because he flouts established divine commands. Under the rule of law even one of Israel’s most distinguished monarchs can be judged and found wanting. (Lowell K. Handy [b. 1949], “Solomon’s Fall and Deuteronomy”, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, 398)John W. Olley (b. 1938) examines:
According to the practices of the ancient Near East all was praiseworthy, showing a mastery of international politics and diplomacy...The biblical writer however saw a sign of weakness and failure for it contradicted the Deuteronomic warning (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). It could be said that Solomon trusted in political alliances, sealed by marriages, rather than wholeheartedly in Yahweh, a negation of “be strong” of I Kings 2:2-3. In fact, the warning became reality as his wives turned his heart after other gods (I Kings 11:4). While this statement has been read as blaming the wives, just as Adam blamed Eve (Genesis 3:12), God places the responsibility squarely with Solomon (I Kings 11:9-10; cf. Genesis 3:17-19). (Olley, The Message of Kings (Bible Speaks Today), 115-16)Solomon is clearly not discriminating in his marriages and various explanations have been posited for his excessive polygamy. Gerhard Langer (b. 1960) recounts:
Rabbi Jose ben Halafta [second century CE] (Canticles Rabbah 1.1.10) is of the opinion that Solomon took these women in order to win them for the Lord, to convert them to the true faith. Other Rabbis opine that Solomon was seduced to sin and sexual deviance. According to Rabbi Eleazer ben Rabbi Jose ha Gelili [second century CE] , Solomon had intercourse with these women during their menstruation period. (Joseph Verheyden [b. 1957], “Solomon in Rabbinic Literature”, The Figure of Solomon in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Tradition: King, Sage and Architect, 130)Though he is said to have “loved many foreign women” (I Kings 11:1 NASB), many assume that there are political motivations behind Solomon’s marriages. Richard D. Patterson (b. 1929) and Hermann J. Austel (1926-2011) suspect:
Though Solomon may originally have taken foreign wives for the cementing of diplomatic alliances, I Kings 11:2 states that he “held fast to them in love.” This speaks of strong emotional attachment, which is normal and desirable in a husband. But because Solomon was attached to the wrong women, he was led astray. The seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, though perhaps adding to the splendor of Solomon’s kingdom, were his downfall. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], 1 Samuel ~2 Kings (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 728-29)Richard D. Nelson (b. 1945) appraises:
What the modern reader may see as the necessary political reality of intermarriage between allied royal families and what the ancient person would have normally interpreted as a witness to Solomon’s glorious potency as a ruler (cf. I Kings 11:4), the narrator evaluates single-mindedly as a violation of the law of God (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). It is not the fantastic number of these wives which is presented as the problem; it is their nationality and religion and Solomon’s accommodation to it. Even though Solomon himself did not worship their gods (I Kings 11:8b, note the plural), it was enough that he had been lured into building places of sacrifice for them. Just as the construction of the temple is presented as the acme of his piety, so these high places are sufficient evidence that “his heart was not wholly true to Yahweh his God” (I Kings 11:4). (Nelson, First and Second Kings (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 69-70)Gina Hens-Piazza (b. 1948) supports:
The choice Solomon made again and again over the course of his life is clear. The final assessment that unfolds in these verses (I Kings 11:1-8) is less about breaking one law of Deuteronomy as it is about his repeated choices that now culminate in comprehensive waywardness. Polygamy itself is not the issue. That was a common and accepted practice in the ancient world. Failure to trust in the Lord is the crime here. The involvement with women from Egyptian, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite kingdoms indicts Solomon. Such intermarriages grew out of international alliances and treaties by which nations secured themselves before enemy threats. Solomon’s guilt lies in placing his trust in the power of others rather than in God. (Hens-Piazza, 1-2 Kings (Abingdon Old Testament Commentary), 108-09)Though Solomon’s many lovers facilitate his downfall, the fact that he enters into these unions is evidence of his proneness. His political allegiances demonstrate a lack of trust in God. Like Adam who is with Eve when partaking of Eden’s forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6), the great king is culpable in his kingdoms demise despite his wives’ influence. The root of the problem lies in Solomon, not the women or their gods. God is to be his true love and as such, all of the women and idols become little more than “the other woman”.
Where is Solomon’s legendary wisdom when consenting to his marriages? When have you seen the worst of a person revealed at the end of her life; when has the worst been saved for last? Who is most to blame for the fall of the united kingdom of Israel? Who do you know whose downfall was closely connected to the opposite sex? Do you most rely upon divine guidance or human ingenuity? Where does God rank among your loves?
“I found out a long time ago
What a woman can do to your soul
Oh, but she can’t take you any way,
You don’t already know how to go.”
- The Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” (1972)