The son of David and Bathsheba, Solomon ruled over Israel ca. 962–922 BCE. His exploits are detailed in 1 Kings 1–11 and 1 Chronicles 28–2 Chronicles 9. Supported by Bathsheba, Nathan, and Benaiah, he came to power in a coup d'état that sidetracked his older brother Adonijah and Joab. His reign was marked by prosperity and prestige, grandiose building projects, and a cultural transformation.

The prosperity is portrayed in the fulsome description given in 1 Kings 4.20–28 and 10.14–29, in the marriage with Pharaoh's daughter (and there was a considerable harem; 1 Kings 11.3), in the international role indicated by his dealings with Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 9.26–28; 10.11–12) and the visit of the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10.1–10), as well as the extensive international trade (a fleet at Ezion‐geber, 1 Kings 9.26; “Tarshish” ships, 10.22; trading in horses and chariots, 10.26–29).

Solomon's building program consisted principally in the Temple as well as the palace complex (the palace, the “House of the Forest of Lebanon”—a kind of armory—and even a palace for his Egyptian wife). In addition, he built up a corps of chariots and cavalry that functioned out of chariot cities in the realm (1 Kings 10.26). Such opulence was sustained by a revision of the administrative areas in the kingdom (1 Kings 4.7–19), which led to increased revenue for the crown, as well as to a weakening of the old tribal ties and to further assimilation of the Canaanite population. All this was obtained at a price, as is suggested by Solomon's having to cede land to Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 9.10–14; but contrast 2 Chron. 8.2) and by the corvée. Despite 1 Kings 9.20–22, it appears that Israelites as well as Canaanites were involved in forced labor, and this became a major complaint against Solomon (5.13–14; cf. 4.6; 12.18).

The cultural transformation of the population must have been considerable, though it is largely a matter of historical inference. But political centralization won out over the old tribalization; a new wealthy class emerged, and cleavage between rich and poor increased. This aspect of Solomon's reign is not reflected in the tradition. Rather, his reign is acclaimed, and his personal wisdom is underlined. His wisdom is compared to that of the Egyptians (4.29–34), and is illustrated by the famous incident of the two prostitutes (3.16–28). Hence he has come down in the tradition as the wise man par excellence, to whom several works were eventually attributed: Psalms 72 and 127, the book of Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes within the Hebrew Bible; Wisdom of Solomon among the apocrypha; Psalms and Odes among the pseudepigrapha. Scholars have inferred that such compositions as the Yahwist history (J) probably date to the Solomonic period.

The theological judgment passed upon Solomon is mixed. The name Jedidiah (beloved of Yah or the Lord) was given him by the prophet Nathan (“the Lord loved him,” 2 Sam. 12.24–25). The description of his sincerity and simplicity is highlighted in the sacrifice at Gibeon (1 Kings 3). He asks for a “listening heart” (1 Kings 3.9; NRSV: “understanding mind”) whereby to rule the people, and the Lord assures him of this as well as of riches and glory. On the other hand, the typical Deuteronomic judgment on royalty is also passed upon Solomon (1 Kings 11), and notice is taken of the “adversaries” whom the Lord raised up: Hadad the Edomite, Rezon of Damascus, and especially Jeroboam, who was to lead the rebellion against Rehoboam, Solomon's son.

Nothing is known of “the Book of the Acts of Solomon” (1 Kings 11.41), which might have cast a fuller light on the reign of the fabled monarch. But the immediate dissolution of the united monarchy in the lifetime of his son is surely suggestive of the inadequacies of Solomon's reign (1 Kings 12.14).

Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm