Was King Solomon dumb?

If Solomon was so wise, it is asked, why did he do so many dumb things?

Actually, no one doubts that Solomon was "a man of excesses" -- as no one doubts that even our wisest sages in history had their vices. Wisdom is no preventative against foolishness; all it means is that we are more capable of seeing that what we did was foolishd. Critics against Solomon seem to be more against an ideal construct of Solomon than against the historical Solomon.

Objection: Stories like these in a book that is supposed to provide mankind with the keys to eternal life and set an example for us to follow is ludicrous in the extreme. One might rather choose to emulate Mahatma Gandhi (whose wisdom, of course, didn't come close to Solomon's) than this immature, egotistical, decadent man to whom God granted supreme wisdom.

"Egotistical" is actually anachronistic; Solomon's era is a few thousand years before modern individualism, and ego as such was not yet known in this time. The comparison is interesting, however, since Gandhi himself has often been charged with indiscretions.

Otherwise this is just the objection of Ingersoll revamped: It is apparently the judgment that an "inspired" work ought to be like some sort of health tonic that makes us feel warm inside -- as opposed to being what the Bible is, a truth-mirror that makes us recognize our own lostness.

Then the king said, The one says, This is my son that lives, and your son is dead: and the other says, No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. Then the woman whose the living child was spoke to the king, for her heart yearned over her son, and she said, Oh, my sovereign, give her the living child, and in no wise kill it. But the other said, It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it. Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise kill it: she is the mother of it. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of Elohim was in him, to do justice (1 Kings 3:23-28, BB).

So a woman who had the chance to get a living child to replace the one she had lost-- exactly what she had come to Solomon for-- was turning it down. She now wanted to see the baby hacked in half! Does this sound like a probable reaction any woman would have made in a situation like this?

Of course it does. Selfishness, envy and jealousy drive us to all manner of extremes. History gives ample testimony to this.

And what would Solomon have done if the second mother had also relinquished claim to the baby?

It can sound very poignant to offer a "what if" like this, but it's mostly a diversion. What of it if both women had said, "No, you take it"? Well, then, why are they disputing in the first place? If there was love and friendship in this shared household to the degree supposed (and not merely the practical necessity of two people leaning on one another for survival), why didn't they get along before they got to Solomon? If they were so friendly, why is there suspicion (or the action) of trying to pull a switch with a dead baby?

And let's not leave out a very important issue: These two women were harlots (3:16) -- not necessarily reputable, caring persons to begin with.

Let's just admit for the sake of argument that Solomon's judgment in this case was clever. Did the cleverness of it warrant the awe-stricken public reaction attributed to it? "And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of Elohim was in him, to do justice." I guess we are supposed to believe that an ordinary man, acting without divine guidance, could not have devised this plan. All the judgment indicates, however, is that Solomon understood something about maternal instincts. A man has to have divine help to know that?

It is just as easy to make this 20/20 hindsight comment as it is for observers of the Blue Angels to watch their aerial acrobatics and claim, "I could do that!" One might point out that in the ancient world, there wasn't a lot of time for sensitivity and there weren't any colleges doing psychological research. I know of few "ordinary men" who have the wit to manage their lives efficiently, much less solve complex moral problems in a level-headed manner. History shows that we can't do this sort of thing well.

In his old age, Solomon turned to idolatry as a result of the influence of his wives (1 Kings 11:4). Isn't it strange to believe that the wisest man on earth could not turn any of his wives from idolatry to worship of the one true god, Yahweh Elohim of Israel? Isn't it strange that a man who, on at least two occasions (1 Kings 3:5-14; 9:2-9), was personally visited by Yahweh would turn to idolatry?

Well, there's nothing strange about any of this at all -- it's just proof that we need grace, not power, or wisdom, or riches, more than anything else. It's no stranger than the fact that schools blessed with all the money and technology they need don't do any better on that basis alone.

But that's a lesson the Skeptical humanists with unlimited confidence in mankind don't want to hear, now isn't it?

-JPH