Why was King Solomon important?

King Solomon did not exist

When the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon's fame, she came to try it out with riddles. She came to Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels who carried spices, gold in abundance and precious stones ... "says the Bible (1 Kings 10). And we love the idea of ​​a mighty queen who is a ruler who is equal to her swarmed with treasure and flattery just because he was so superior in wisdom. Ever since the authors of the Old Testament wrote this encounter - which, according to an extra-biblical legend, would lead to an affair blessed with a son - it has fired our imagination and that the artist Yes, the breath of the imagination leads to real politics, when the Ethiopian rulers up to the last emperor in the 20th century AD derived their origin from this son and dubbed themselves "Lion of Judah".

The only problem is that Solomon, as the Bible describes him in his splendor, his wealth and his globally respected power, did not even exist. And that there could be no political or erotic-romantic liaison between the two rulers. Seen in this way, the cover story of "Spiegel" No. 16 (April 14, 2001) contains something wrong or - to put it more nicely - factually misleading. Because it is in no way supported by argument that 950 BC This summit took place. This encounter is pure speculation, which of course has been made ever more beautiful and uplifting by inspired painters, poets and musicians.

So if you - like me - look for traces of Solomon in Jerusalem, you will be amazed, even horrified, at how ridiculously tiny the dimensions of the old, historical residence of David and Solomon are: the lower city was 400 by 90 meters, the upper city with temple and palace 300 by 250 meters. In Solomon's time there lived here at most 1500-2000 inhabitants! In the lower town, archaeologists found a few isolated shards, a few remains of a retaining wall. So no trace of a residence of the brilliant empire of Solomon!

The Bible historian also asks himself: Why was there not a single inscription that mentions Solomon in Jerusalem, in the whole country, in the neighboring countries where Solomon's fame rose from the Bible and which provided him with immense treasures. Was the residence small but Solomon's influence far-reaching? According to the Bible, he is said to have ruled over the vast space between Egypt and Mesopotamia. How far did his power initially extend in the country itself? The answer has another surprise.

Because, as a researcher, I have to admit that there is no inscription, no archaeological or other historical evidence for the existence of King Solomon outside of the Bible. The Bible alone is not enough for historical reasoning. But maybe you were looking in the wrong place. Maybe you have to look elsewhere, dig.

In Geser, for example, 35 kilometers northwest of Jerusalem. The Bible reports: "Pharaoh, king of Egypt, went up, captured and burned Gezer, and killed the Canaanites who lived in the city. Then he gave the city as a bridal gift to his daughter, Solomon's wife" ( 1 Kings 9). But even here - despite extensive excavations - there is not a single evidence confirming the ownership of the city by Solomon.

There are two more cities in present-day Israel that were politically and economically of national importance two millennia before Solomon: Megiddo on the Carmel Mountains and Hazor, not far from the Golan Heights. So whoever owned it could be considered the ruler of the country. Megiddo is far superior to the small mountain residence of Jerusalem in terms of size, wealth, importance and strategic location; the archaeologists call it "the Troy of Palestine". As a biblical archaeologist, I said to myself: If Solomon was the great ruler, he must be detectable HERE.

So I took part in the Israeli excavation in Megiddo, under the auspices of Tel Aviv University, with money and practical excavation work. My team works in the palace area. If Solomon ruled over Jerusalem and Geiser up to this point, his trace should appear in the area of ​​the palace in the excavation layer that belongs to his epoch. But what was found, the foundations of stately, stately buildings, came from the 9th and 8th centuries BC. BC, 100-200 years too late to belong to Solomon's epoch. Conclusion: Again no historical trace of Solomon! Where did his 1000 women reside, what about his triumphant victories? And his wisdom? According to the Bible, his predecessor David was more of a military character during the development phase of Israel. It seems that Solomon stabilized the country domestically and economically for his contemporaries, which achieved what his throne name programmatically means: Shalom = peace or integrity. The fact that this peaceful local prince is portrayed ever larger in retrospect and advanced to become a scholar is understood from a time that became more restless, warlike and threatening after him.

And what about the Queen of Sheba? In fact, Old Northern Arabia ruled between 738 and 648 BC. Four queens. Its historicity is secured by inscriptions from the Assyrian empire. Did any of them come to see Solomon in Jerusalem? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn't give a name. But maybe it was the old North Arabian tribe Saba, around which further south (in today's Yemen) also around 750 BC. BC formed the kingdom of Saba with the capital Marib, which gave the name to Solomon's visitor. But since it was not before the 8th century BC And a certain Solomon in the 10th century BC. Chr. Lived, their encounter is unlikely.

Solomon and the Queen were never a real couple, but their aftermath is real and effective. When the biblical authors emotionalize the image of the exemplary ancestral king Solomon in color, they act like good rhetoricians or preachers. Who wanted to speak of a fake or a lie? What the fictional theological story is supposed to trigger is highly real in its effects: comfort in critical situations, encouragement, role model effect, ethical and religious orientation.

The author is professor of Old Testament theology and archaeologist at the University of Greifswald.