Narratives of Solomon

Solomon spent many hours spent seated in the enormous square-roomed summer loft of his palace, deliberately isolated from human distractions. Only cool flowing winds and the ambient tranquility of chirping birds managed to gentle impose themselves upon the atmosphere of the room. He designed the loft entirely on his own, whereas he delegated certain aspects of Temple construction to the Priests and certain aspects of his Palace to the servants of his Father. Solomon desired a personal sanctuary away from the imminent concerns of the country, where his mind could wander and formulate his thoughts on coming events or meditate on historical ones. He rarely allowed others into this place, nor would anyone have known what to make of it. His personal guard only knew that he was not to be interrupted while in his sanctuary unless the issue was life and death, war and peace.

On the large domed ceiling inside the room was a striking painting of the night sky with the stars arrayed as they are around the time of the festival of atonement, with dazzling, varying shades of indigo and blue, coupled with his own lighter markings and small astrological notes, which could only be seen when the early-midday sun lit up the room through the large balcony to the northeast. Solomon oriented this room like a diamond whose tips perfectly pointed to the North, South, East, and West; the only building in the city to have that orientation (by his own decree). All others were more or less along the directional orientation of the Temple, with their rectangular walls oriented along the cardinal directions as well as the builder was able to make it, or with simple triangular or round designs.

Against one side wall from the entrance was a massive set of shelves stretching the full length of the room, perhaps 20 or 30 stables long, overflowing with scrolls, parchments, and various objects. Affixed to the wall containing the doorway were every weapon of war one could imagine, mostly from foreign lands: halberds, broadswords, spears, bows, quivers filled with arrows, slings, shields, gleaming metal armor, and a few crooked shivs, meant to hide a thigh-sheath or loose outergarment for assassinations. In the midst of this mosaic of the implements of war, one curiously large two-handed sword was affixed – larger than any average man could have easily wielded – with an intricate gold-filigreed handle and hilt, with gleaming tip facing downward right above the doorway, seemingly threatening any human who dared enter. The door itself was expertly crafted cedar, and from the outside of the room the door was engraved with a hot brand in flawless Hebrew script, לב חכם ונבון. “a heart, wise and discerning.” The interior engraving no one saw until very late in his reign, since the door opened to the inside, and that side of the door faced away from whoever entered.

In the center of the room was a large throne facing the outer balcony, with four rectangular cedar tables positioned facing the South, East, North, and West, diagonally oriented with the throne and the rest of the room. The last wall was entirely blank. Nothing but stones and mortar, not even paint. On each of the tables were positioned various drawings, writings, notes, and basically whatever represented Solomon’s current array of projects. One table might have an unstrung bow, a braided bowstring soaking in some concoction, a carving knife, and various arrows. Another might have a number of different alcohols fermented or a mortar and pestle to create pigmented coloring mixtures from the flowers of one of Solomon’s gardens. One of them always had a papyrus map of Egypt to the Euphrates with political lines, strongholds, and distances, although often objects were placed upon it, and Solomon wrote extensive annotations on it.

Solomon preferred long periods of contemplation and solitude. Discussion with his servants and trusted men usually drained him, as he had already arrived at certain facts and analyses while even his more intelligent servants were still formulating the relevant questions. He was not impatient, though he had to wait for them to arrive at those conclusions or himself ask the leading questions, since he needed his servants properly tested and developed to carry out his visions properly. Other than a few expressions of frustration early in his reign, he was very encouraging to his men in leading them. He learned quickly that mens’ confidence could easily be wounded by public embarrassment and he’d lose men who could otherwise have been very useful for the kingdom.

The itching sensation of that wait – for others to trust and understand what you have long since established – never went away. It was the ever-present chasm that reminded him of the gap between him and other people. He recognized men of skill immediately. Recognizing men’s gifts and putting them where they would best develop and prosper was a salve to the angst that drove him most of his life. The angst was the knawing of a hole in his soul as wide as the Dead Sea for just one person with whom he could interact with as an equal. This unsatisfied angst drove him to constantly seek new research or skills. The relief of starting a new pursuit afresh, being less knowledgeable, building comradery with fellow laborers or students, and prying others for their practical experience and intuition of mechanics, or experimenting with the laws of nature was another of few genuine comforts to his internal turmoil. Eventually, this too grew banal and the effect was lost.

During his formative years as king, it seemed every month he had a new obsession. For a time, he had morning discussions of the law with Ahaziah the priest, assistant to Zadok, after Ahaziah had returned from offering the morning oblation. Ahaziah grew to hate those meetings and was relieved when they ended, not merely because Solomon embarrassed him, but because he was grieved at what he believed were the seeds of a sort of self-loathing in Solomon that came when Solomon had learned so far beyond someone that he could be instructing them, at least in the sense of pure knowledge, and later on in the sense of the application of the knowledge. In one instance, Solomon recited the entire timeline of Moses’ life to Ahaziah to prove to him that he was wrong about when Moses had married an Ethiopian woman.

Ever since he had dreamed at Gibeah and heard from Yah, his studies and instruction with the high priest and his best scribes was quickened. The dynamic between Solomon’s teachers and himself shifted fairly quickly. Ahaziah recognized that Solomon’s ability to maintain a friendship or have confidantes was consistently aborted by the otherworldliness of his mind. It was difficult for a person to exercise any discretion with him, or phrase most effectively what they had to say; Solomon saw through it. As a seasoned builder inspecting the work of his men or the cornerstone of a new building, he could intuit the intents, quality, and accuracy of a statement so rapidly that most of the conversation he had with such people was only for their benefit; the necessity of the back and forth of a normal relationship wasn’t there, and couldn’t always be replaced by mere effort on Solomon’s part. Solomon was not inherently unkind or antisocial, but it is as if he knew the person for years within a half hour or so of interaction with them – often better than they knew themselves.

These various pursuits were helpful for him, for a time. Sometimes Solomon would do an intense, three instrument musical session in the evening with Haman and Asaph, and would give them newly written songs and poems. These would be expertly chosen based on the musical traits of various instruments and available talent of the singers and musicians current in Jerusalem, improving upon the technique of David’s musical arrangements (though in a mechanistic way, lacking David’s primal and intuitive artistry). Asaph’s humility was to his benefit, since Solomon began recognizing when his pitch strayed imperceptibly flat or sharp.

He had excelled beyond what the scribes could teach him within a year, and the priests within two. He had practically memorized the entire law and thus playfully dismissed the high priest’s reminders that he was still obligated to write out a copy of the law as prescribed for Israelite kings. He replied via a servant that “I can assure my eminence that the entirety of the law is written on my heart, and I am happy to repeat it back to him whenever he wishes.”

Solomon’s ability to dominate any intellectual or practical endeavor was so stunning that he began to have a crowd of scribes, Levites, merchants, farmers’ hands, and even foreign visitors waiting at the gates to his throneroom, each who had arrived before the sun had fully risen above the Mount of Olives just to ask him his opinion on their trade; sheepherding, proper soil composition and testing methods for grapegrowing and winemaking, architecture best practices, occasional follow up questions about this or that instruction he had given weeks prior, and legal and philosophical questions. Solomon could effortlessly explain the advantages of building with certain types of stones and how varying temperatures across seasons would affect the stability of a structure; this would be interjected with an analogy to the sound resonance that comes from a harp built from flexible palm tree wood which would only last a half-decade or so under heavy use versus the use of harder, more majestic and decay-resistant wood such as cedar which was more suited to furniture or building frames and didn’t have the same richness of sound.

Occasionally foreigners would arrive for audience, and to these men and women Solomon paid particular interest. Solomon’s eyes lit up as he engaged the men on differing customs, tastes, mannerisms, etc of their home lands. It was a deep relief to him to be exposed to such variation as would relieve the bored angst that built up with the governing rhythms of daily palace life. Decadence of intellect has always been a globalizing force.

He could see and hear their region of origin, class, and dispositions in their various characteristics: voice, manner of dress, gait, and facial features. He saw in every man an accumulation of the acts of his will (or those circumstances which imposed themselves upon his will), undisguised by the perceived accidents of the man’s time, place, and privilege; by this process Solomon discerned natural gifts and talents. Solomon had concluded that a man’s potential was largely fixed by his family and tribe and usually only slightly modified by any particular individual talent or unique force of will.

It became known among the people that lying to Solomon was virtually impossible, and within a few questions an offender would be outed. On one occasion, a man and his business associates were asking for a generous subsidy given a recent accident in their storage facilities and their commercial importance to their community to recoup the losses. The man said his ox had broken the support beam for a canopy, spilling a large barrel of corn into the dust of the ground and mixed with the morning dew, creating a muddy mess and wasting half of the corn. Solomon said to the man, “I wish your ox were here so he could answer your slander with your associates present; I imagine he is more honorable than you, and you should be thankful you have such a loyal beast at your side. You have the eyes of one who drinks wine before he has eaten his first meal of the day.” Solomon continued, noting that the wood-colored markings on his tunic and the tremors of his hands told him that the man had a bigger problem than the lost corn. Solomon instructed him to cease spending his family’s sustenance at the vineyards and imperiling them as well as his community. Solomon further instructed that he should be more cautious when he saunters out of bed in a stupor to fill his wineskin. The man was permanently banned from entering Solomon’s court, though the King did ensure that any businesses which relied on him were supported for a time.

Toward the end of his reign, Solomon delivered an exasperated lecture,

“Some of you are impressed by knowledge. And, truly, knowledge is very important. Knowledge is the vision that allows us to discern chaff from wheat, different kinds of fabrics, and whatever else on which our eyes fixate their attention. We notice distinctions and uniqueness and we further test to know the details. But knowledge cannot does not control our will, nor does it control on that which we choose to fixate our attention. If our eyes become corrupted and prefer evil to good, all the knowledge in the world will only make us more effective in our evil, more effective in our error. A blade can become sharper and its wielder more adept, but a sharp blade can be directed towards slaughter or towards justice. The only barrier between the blade and evil is in the mind of the man who carries it. The will and the spirit must always rule all else, including the mind, though the mind is the queen of the will.

“Praise not the man who has a sharp blade or tremendous strength and skill, but the man who, despite having power and capability to do as he wishes, chooses to build and not to destroy, and to execute justice rather than bloodshed for wrong ends.

“Note that the spirit and the will must be trained, no less than the arm or the hand that swings the sword. A man accustomed to weakness of the will, of succumbing to choosing the easy paths of power for gain; these sorts of men make themselves like animals, and the question of controlling them is merely that of finding their weakness and tugging at it. Having become incapable of controlling their will, this corruption flows up from the root as a flower in poisoned soil.

“But, usually, a powerful man whose will is weak is much worse than this, because his strength becomes a tool for other men who are in command of their wills. These spiritually more powerful men correctly recognize them as mere tools to be used to their advantage, and will ensure that their corruption only consumes them after they are disposed of their use. They are like caged lions, kept hungry and unleashed in a rival enemy’s cities. They are summarily slaughtered with the rest when the occupying force arrives. They were beasts, incapable of ruling themselves, so they were ruled by others and used to their ends.”

Solomon’s hegemony over rather particular details of the kingdom was remarkable. Because he was so adept at drawing the relevant facts and issues from the reports of his advisors and surrogates in the various tribes, he was able to provide powerful leadership and vision. This turned out to be a fragilizing force in his kingdom.

Twice or thrice weekly, Solomon would send emissaries with advice and counsel on some range of subjects to the various tribes. Queries would arrive by messenger, and out would go answers, advice, or invitations to visit Solomon after the next feast day to discuss the matter. The information networks among the tribes became inextricably linked to Solomon himself. The teaching Levites in the cities of refuge fell into disuse because of how widely spread Solomon’s words were in his era. As silver was scoffed at in the days of Solomon, so was advice that did not directly or indirectly come from him. The Levites thus became inactive and disconnected from the communities which they used to serve, busying themselves with trivial matters of their insular communities or building their own families and wealth. With the decline in good teaching and Levitical involvement among the tribes came fewer and fewer penitents to offer sacrifices outside the normal feast seasons on the Israelite calendar. The impact of fading Levitical clout was earlier but much less than Solomon’s personal apostasies in the last 20 years of his reign which scandalized the rest of Israel. Having grown dependent upon him at his best, Israel was spiritually and intellectually impoverished by him at his worst.

De-localizing the various Israelite communities from the teaching ministry of the Levites and from community self-reliance, so crucial during the darker eras of Saul, was one of the gravest unanticipated negative consequences of Solomon’s reign. It was his primary frailty: the overpowering presence of his obvious genius, monopolizing the operations of the nation, leaving a void after his death. Solomon’s genius overshadowed the effectiveness of the orders of Levites during his Father’s reign, which gave the kingdom a single point of failure when Jeroboam began formulating plans against Solomon.

Sometimes these were answers to questions that had not been asked, but were soon proven relevant for the time or season. As with all his messages, the king’s customary clarity and brevity were evident. Solomon only ever gave long addresses on a subject in person and in the presence of many witnesses. Early on, he saw how quickly long written formulations would be twisted towards some unintended meaning, so he saved himself the cleanup with brevity.

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