solomonThe phrase, “cut the baby in half.” is today shorthand for a type of compromise, and refers to one of the most well known, if not well read, passages of the bible.

The thing to know about Solomon is that he was a king in the oriental style, and that he was probably a prick. He was born into royalty, got where he was through his mother’s palace intrigue, obscenely rich, giant palace, eunuchs, slaves, a huge harem, gaudy displays of superiority to his subjects. Much more like an Ottoman sultan than what we think of as the Old Testament. And he was a bad king. He taxed the populace into penury and was the first Hebrew king to require forced labor of free citizens. He put the kingdom deep into debt, largely to fund his extravagance. When he died, the regions outside of the capital revolted. The kingdom split in two and was never really reunited. His queen’s name is an eponym for a shameless, wicked woman to this day: Jezebel. Justice was not really this guy’s strong suit.

Solomon gets treated very well by the guys who wrote the bible 300 or so years later, because he built the temple; and those writers were all about the temple. But even they couldn’t just leave out that he was a fuck-up.

The job of a king in those days consisted to a great extent of sitting in judgment in a way that would compare pretty closely with our experience of Ex Parte, only with no motions to revise.

The passage about his great wisdom as a judge, 1 Kings 3:16-28, begins with the words “Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.” This is almost never referenced, that the litigants were unclean, and the child in question had no father. In the ethics of the day, these were worthless people, the baby most of all. And, I’m guessing their presentation lacked the usual decorum, the disputants being unlettered members of the underclass. Think: Jerry Springer. There is nothing in the passage that suggests other than that Solomon fully intended to dismember the baby. I think he mostly wanted to get these no-name yahoos and their creepy dispute out of his courtroom; and to send a message to similarly situated people to keep their petty arguments to themselves.  That the one woman spoke up and ceded her child to the other was, I think, unforeseen. Anybody could have figured that one out. He was not so much wise as lucky.

I think that it was Solomon whom the author of First Samuel, chapter 8:10-22 had in mind. This is my favorite passage in the Bible, so far. The passage describes one step in what was a transition from a culture based on tribal organization to a centralized state. God, through Samuel, sets out the downside:

And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground°, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.

And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

Saul was made king, succeeded by David, succeeded by Solomon. Bet you never heard of Solomon’s successor. Rehoboam.