Writing and Rewriting the Story of Solomon in Ancient Israel

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Isaac Kalimi
  • Cambridge, England: 
    Cambridge University Press
    , November
     2018.
     385 pages.
     $120.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781108471268.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Writing and Rewriting the Story of Solomon in Ancient Israel takes on much more than the subject implied by its title.  This volume principally addresses history, presenting Isaac Kalimi’s views about “what actually happened.” Kalimi, therefore, considers archaeology, epigraphy, and social modeling to glean information about the historical King Solomon. These considerations render very little information, however, and Kalimi acknowledges the absence of non-biblical data about Solomon. Nevertheless he asserts throughout that reports of Solomon in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings are largely historical. 

Writing and Rewriting is comprised of two parts. Part 1 (chapters 1–4) surveys sources and methods that have been used to learn about the historical King Solomon. Kalimi begins by succinctly evaluating the Karnak and Tel Dan inscriptions, and archaeological finds at Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, and Jerusalem—ably demonstrating that such data can neither prove, nor disprove, the existence of Solomon, or the extent of his kingdom. His explanations and footnotes in this section are helpful for readers looking to explore this data, but after chapter 2 Kalimi focuses on the biblical texts.

Chapters 3 and 4 severely criticize recent scholarly work that rejects the historicity of biblical accounts of Solomon. While the received texts bear indications of editorial insertions and changes as they were copied through the centuries, Kalimi argues that “minimalist/revisionist approaches” fail to disprove the traditional consensus that these documents do contain significant historical information. Biblical “maximalists” may be pleased by Kalimi’s polemics here, but many of us would benefit more from a consideration of issues involved in trying to draw history from biblical texts, interacting with “minimalists,” and others as needed. 

Part 2 is entitled “Solomon’s Birth, Rise, and Temple Building.” No less than half of part 2 deals with Solomon before he begins his ascent to the throne. As the only biblical information about Solomon prior to this point comes in two verses (2 Sam 12:24–25), Kalimi examines these verses from every imaginable angle—the index lists more than fifty distinct references to all or part of these verses. Especially significant are the notes that Yahweh loved Solomon, and that Nathan named him “Yedidyah” (NRSV: “Jedidiah”). Kalimi briefly discusses Solomon’s upbringing and appearance, but since the bible is devoid of relevant information about these, Kalimi concludes that we cannot know anything about how Solomon was raised, or what he looked like. 

Kalimi then offers a close reading of Solomon’s ascension in 1 Kgs 1–2, highlighted by his conclusion that the so-called “Testament of David” of 1 Kgs 2:2–9 is not historical, as David’s words here are largely at-odds with his behavior elsewhere. Kalimi also includes a fascinating discussion of a literary technique, whereby a narrator employs a report of a loud noise to shift the reader’s focus. 

Kalimi’s penultimate chapter compares the Kings and Chronicles temple building and “divine approval” accounts. While Kalimi hints all along that Chronicles tends to revise 2 Samuel and 1 Kings to make them more relevant for a Persian Period audience, at this juncture he pushes this idea hard. 

Writing and Rewriting contains much first-rate exegesis from a synchronic perspective. Yet, since Kalimi acknowledges early on that 2 Samuel and 1 Kings contain a significant amount of material that came from a writer who lived long after the time in which Solomon would have lived—principally the “Deuteronomistic historian” (36)—a discussion of how to discern which material is historical, and which is not, is in order. For writers who, like Kalimi, argue that 2 Samuel and 1 Kings are largely historical, it is particularly important to discuss the practices of copyists, as our earliest Hebrew Bible manuscripts are some 800 years younger than the events reported in 1 Kings, so that the original reports would have been copied over at least a dozen times. Given the number of “contradictions, inaccuracies, and exaggerations” which Kalimi attributes to later editors, how can we be sure that there were not others? 

Kalimi does not clearly explain how to determine what is historical, and what is not. For example, he argues that the “Testament of David” (1 Kgs 2:2–9) was invented by a later writer on the grounds that David’s words there—particularly his curses—do not match his character elsewhere. Yet what does ideological consistency have to do with historicity? Real human beings are often masses of inconsistencies and contradictions, so we should expect nothing less from biblical figures.

Most problematic is Kalimi’s heavy attention to the historical implications of 2 Sam 12:24–25. Kalimi makes many masterly observations about these verses, and their implications for Solomon, but given that the rest of the Hebrew Bible does not seem to know that Nathan and Solomon had a special relationship whereby Nathan named him “Yedidyah,” or that it was clear from his birth that Yahweh loved him, we should at least consider the possibility that these verses were added well after the original accounts of Solomon had been completed. 

These methodological issues, however, do not detract from the strengths of this book. Kalimi offers well-reasoned work on the biblical texts, and his examinations of the archaeological and epigraphical data is a delightful bonus. No one who is seriously interested in the texts about King Solomon should overlook this volume.

About the Reviewer(s): 

John W. Herbst is Scholar-in-Residence at the Virginia Peninsula Baptist Association. He is the author of Development of an Icon: Solomon Before and After King David (Pickwick, 2016).

Date of Review: 
August 21, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Isaac Kalimi is Gutenberg-Research University-Professor in Hebrew Bible Studies and Ancient Israelite History, and Fellow of the Gutenberg Forschungskolleg at Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, Foreign Member of the Belgian Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences, and Honorary Member of the Scandinavian Society for Iranian Studies.

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