Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom

Steven Weitz­man
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011
What does it mean to have the God-giv­en gift of wis­dom, to know every­thing? In his biog­ra­phy of King Solomon, Steven Weitz­man, pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish cul­ture and reli­gion at Stan­ford, explores the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this gift as por­trayed in the Bible and extra-bib­li­cal sources, pro­vid­ing a provoca­tive, thought­ful, and unau­tho­rized” account of the king.

The life of Solomon is record­ed in two bib­li­cal accounts — 1 Kings 1 – 11 and 1 – 2 Chron­i­cles in a some­what san­i­tized retelling. Despite many efforts to find the numer­ous build­ing projects Solomon is said to have under­tak­en, arche­ol­o­gy yields no evi­dence that they or the king him­self ever exist­ed. Schol­ars date the three books attrib­uted to Solomon — Proverbs, Eccle­si­astes, and the Song of Songs — to cen­turies after the king’s reput­ed rule. Yet extra­bib­li­cal sources abound, from a fres­co in Pom­pey to the Rasta­far­i­an belief that Solomon and the Queen of She­ba had a child from whom the Ethiopi­an emper­or Haile Selassie was descend­ed to the search, cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly and actu­al­ly, for King Solomon’s mines.

Thus Solomon’s wis­dom, his wealth, and even his wives have left an indeli­ble stamp on West­ern cul­ture. In his explo­ration of the king and his influ­ence, Weitz­man exam­ines all aspects of Solomon’s lega­cy, both the pos­i­tive val­ue of the quest for knowl­edge and the dark side of seek­ing knowl­edge beyond human capac­i­ty — a warn­ing sound­ed by the Tal­mud itself. Draw­ing all these strands togeth­er, Weitz­man presents King Solomon as a para­ble, a mashal, that rec­on­ciles the Solomon of Kings and Chron­i­cles with the Solomon of Proverbs, Eccle­si­astes, the Song of Songs and extra-bib­li­cal sources and offers read­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on the place of wis­dom as a human pusuit. Illus­tra­tions, index, sources.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions