BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 68, 2020

ISAAC KALIMI, Writing and Rewriting the Story of Solomon in Ancient Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). Pp. xviii + 385. Hardback. AU$163.95.

As the title indicates, the main focus of Writing and Rewriting Solomon is on the story of Solomon as it appears in the written word—first in Samuel-Kings and then how it is adapted to suit the times and purposes of later works. Nevertheless, the history buff will not be disappointed.

The book is divided into two parts with the first containing four chapters. Chapter One is an introduction to the book as a whole. It encompasses the state of research, the purpose of the present work and methods used. Chapter Two deals with the question of sources for Solomon: epigraphical ones are non-existent; archaeological finds have been claimed by some to be Solomonic but by others to be from a later time and current scientific tests for dating, including C14, are not sufficiently exact to decide the question; Biblical writings about or relating to Solomon’s life are mainly in Samuel-Kings and Chronicles but Solomon is also mentioned in Nehemiah, Wisdom and Poetic Literature, apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works. Chapter Three provides a critical and well-grounded examination of the presuppositions and arguments of minimalists. The fourth chapter provides a broad historical evaluation of Solomon’s kingdom as well as more narrowly focused sections on data concerning the Temple, Jerusalem as the capital, the size of the kingdom and the question of Solomon’s harem.

Part Two, comprising ten chapters, concentrates on Solomon in the written word. The approach is literary but there is critical analysis of the text in all its aspects. This includes linguistic matters, literary parallels and the setting within the literary context. Further, there is consideration of Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian data relevant to the story of Solomon and his world as it is relayed in the Bible. Isaac Kalimi calls such an approach the middle or golden way and it is an approach with which this reviewer heartily agrees. The question of historicity then has not been abandoned in Part Two although the subject matter has been limited to three major aspects of the written word: Solomons birth, rise and Temple building. Chapter Five is a close consideration of the story of David and Bathsheba and the birth of Solomon as presented in 2 Samuel. This incorporates a comprehensive critique of the disparate and sometimes fanciful views of scholars and demonstrates that the story is a unity. Chapter Six investigates the names Solomon (Replacement) and Yedidyah (Beloved of the Lord), concluding, by analogy with Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian examples of double names, that Yedidyah was a throne name and that Solomon was a usurper. Chapter Seven considers how the question of Solomon’s birth and names are dealt with in Second Temple literature, demonstrating that his birth is ignored and that his name is linked to “shalom” (peace). Solomon’s placement in the list of David’s sons in Chronicles is shown to have some significance. Chapter Eight points out, despite scholarly conjectures on the matter, that there is no information about Solomon’s pre-monarchic life in Samuel-Kings or Chronicles. Chapter 9 highlights the lack of any physical description of Solomon’s appearance in Samuel-Kings which, instead, emphasises his wisdom, perhaps as a ploy to downplay his usurpation of the throne. Chapter Ten deals with Solomon’s accession, analysing in 1 Kings the narrative of David’s last days; the status of Adonijah; the conspiracy of Nathan and Bathsheba and then the view of Solomon as presented in the text, showing that several apologetic features are at play. Chronicles rewrites the story, missing out anything negative, emphasising that Solomon was chosen by God and his succession announced by David. Chapter Eleven continues the picture of Solomon as portrayed in Chronicles, pointing out that he is said to sit on the throne of the Lord, rather than that of David and that immediately after his anointing he built the Temple rather than four years later as in 1 Kings. Chapter Twelve compares and contrasts the uproar in the city as it appears in 1 Kings and Chronicles. Chapter Thirteen concentrates on the Temple, demonstrating that the Chronicler bases his account on that of 1 Kings but with some omissions and additions. The latter includes the alignment of the Tabernacle and Second Temple which was built on the site of the sacrifice of Isaac. Chapter Fourteen, the final chapter, summarises and synthesises the previous ones, concluding that the picture in Samuel–1 Kings reflects early sources with some embellishments but with no trace of Deuteronomistic influence. Chronicles presents a utopian Solomon reshaped “according to the religious and social conditions of his time (ca. 400–375 B.C.E.).”

Writing and Rewriting Solomon is an important work, demonstrating that the Bible is the most valuable source that we have for both the Solomon of History and the Solomon of the post-exilic period. It is written in a way that makes it accessible to the general educated public as well as being of worth for scholars. It leaves the door open to the possibility of future archaeological and/or epigraphical finds that may moderate our picture of Solomon.

Review by
Anne E. Gardner
Yarra Theological Union
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