The Bible Says What? ‘Solomon was not just wise – he was also greedy’
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The Bible Says What? ‘Solomon was not just wise – he was also greedy’

Student rabbi Lev Taylor takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and provides a progressive Jewish response

Solomon was a bad king. We are so used to the image of Solomon as the paragon of wisdom and good leadership that many have not heard this version of events. But Solomon’s terrible kingship is the simplest reading of Torah.

In fact, Solomon explicitly does everything a king is not supposed to do. The king, Deuteronomy tells us, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself and he had better not send people to Egypt to increase his number of horses. Solomon did exactly that. Not only did he amass hundreds of horses from Egypt, he sold them on to Israel’s sworn enemies, the Hittites.

Deuteronomy says a king must not take many wives, or his heart will go astray. But according to the book of Kings, Solomon had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. They convinced him to worship all their gods in his Temple.

Finally, and most importantly, a king must not accumulate wealth for himself. Solomon collected thousands of talents of gold; he was richer than any ancient Near Eastern king. He did deals with every despot in the region so he could get as rich as possible!

Progressive Jews read the Torah as a composite work, written over many centuries. We think the laws in Deuteronomy were probably written after Solomon had done all these bad things. 

But even the account in Kings says that what Solomon did was evil in the sight of God. The Bible takes a very sceptical approach to powerful people, even when they are our own great kings. 

Far from the fairytale images of royalty, our tradition presents warnings about what the mighty can do with their wealth and power. We should heed them.

  •  Lev Taylor is a student rabbi at Leo Baeck College

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