Solomon, Hebrew Shelomoh, “peaceful,” was also called Jedidiah, which means “beloved of Israel.” He was the son of King David born of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:24; 1 Chronicles 3:5); he succeeded his father on the throne ruling approximately from 965 to 925 BC.
According to Biblical accounts Solomon was anointed by Nathan, the prophet, and Zadok, the priest. His kingdom extended from the Egyptian boarders to the Euphrates (1 Kings 5:1). The vast area quickly prospered from trade. By this time travel greatly increased as it was then possible for caravans to cross the desert with two and three day supply of water. Ample archeological evidence indicates that there were extensive trade routes between the Fertile Crescent and southern Arabia. Solomon monopolized the entire caravan trade between Arabia and Mesopotamia and from the Red Sea to Palmyra or Tadmor (2 Chronicles 8:4), an oasis 140 miles north east of Damascus that he built (1 Kings 9:18). Controlling the trade routes to both the east and west of the Jordan the Israeli monarch collected enormous sums of revenue from merchants seeking passage through his territories (1 Kings 10:15). Solomon also exploited the incipient iron industry; a result of David’s breaking the Philistine monopoly on iron (1 Samuel 13:19, 20).
Archeological exploration indicates that Solomon possessed deposits of copper. With the help of Phoenician technicians a seaport was built at Ezion-geber. These technicians and craftsmen were experts at setting up copper furnaces and refineries at similar settlements in Sardinia and Spain. Copper refining and exporting was another source of Solomon’s proverbial wealth; and it indicates that he was the first to place the mining industry in the Wadi Arabah on a national scale (Nelson Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan, 1941, p. 98). As the King’s chief export, the royal fleet departed from Ezion-geber carrying raw ore, and returned with valuable imports from Arabian and nearby African ports.
Another lucrative business for Solomon was the trading of horses. He served as the middle-man trading horses from Egypt and Asia Minor. “And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the King’s traders received them from Kue at a price” (1 Kings 10:28, A. R. V.). Assyrian records show Kue was in Cilicia, a country between the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea in Asia Minor. And, according to Herodotus, this region during the Persian period was famous for fine horses. “A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150” (1 Kings 10:29). When there were four horses to a chariot the transactions could become very lucrative.
Solomon reestablished his realm into twelve districts, thus ignoring old tribal boundaries, which served as the nucleus of his highly efficient kingdom. Upon this realm he levied heavy taxation, expected free donations of labor (1 Kings 9:20, 21), and has special levies (1 Kings 5:13-18).
Being a skilled politician, Solomon developed ties of amity with the important maritime nation of Tyre. Besides this, as then was the custom, he cultivated royal marriages. Solomon married an Egyptian princess (1 Kings 3:1, 2), and royal women in surrounding smaller kingdoms. The ancient practice of such marriages is well described in the Amarna Letters in which Egyptian pharaohs married Hittite women and Mitannian princesses.
Among the Phoenicians which constructed the seaport of Ezion-beger for Solomon were seamen or sailors of the Phoenician navy who visited the port about every three years. “Once every three years came the navy of tarshish bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:22).Peacoks here referred to a kind of monkey. The navy had traveled to and from Ophir, modern Yemen, and other points of the African coast collecting these rear and valuable goods that added to the King’s treasury.
According to Biblical legend one of Solomon’s famous visitors was the Queen of Sheba (recorded in 1 Kings 10), who traveled over 1200 miles from her kingdom adjacent to the Red Sea to see him. What was once dismissed as a romantic tale appears possibly to be factual based on archeological findings; both kingdoms were within the boundaries of the famous spice route, so such a journey now seems possible.
Solomon did fulfill his father’s dream and built a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, which is described in the Bible. The Temple like the other buildings Solomon constructed in Jerusalem out performed his father’s rustic style, they were grandiose. The three major projects included his personal house, the house of the forest of Lebanon, and the Temple (1 Kings 7). When this work was finished, Solomon placed within the Temple all of the things which David had dedicated for the house of the Lord including the silver and gold, and the vessels (1 Kings 7:51).
However, Solomon was by no means the keeper of the religion of Israel; for he married many foreign wives, in addition to the daughter of the Pharaoh there were women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonines, and Hittities, when Solomon became old his wives turned his heart away from Jehovah, and he worshipped other gods. This led him to committing idolatry and condoning the idolatry of his wives. One such deity was Ashtoreth, known as “the abomination of the Sidonians” (1 Kings 11:1-8, 33), since her cult was early established among the Phoenicians. This fertility goddess was called Astarte by the Greeks, and Ishtar in Babylonia. She was said to be the protagonist of sexual love and war.
For such idolatry the Lord became angry with Solomon and told him, Forasmuch as you have done this, knowing he should not go after other gods; and have not kept what I have commanded, and not kept my covenant and statutes, I will surely tear your kingdom away from you, and give it to thy servant. (1 Kings 11:10-11).
The Lord became more specific, In your days, life, I will not do it because of your father, my servant, David’s sake, and for the sake of Jerusalem’s sake, which I have chosen; but I will tear it out of your son’s (Reboboam) hand. (1 Kings 11:12-13). Here, many believe, Jehovah tells Solomon that he will not punish him because of the promise that he made to David, that his seed would pass through that family, and the Lord’s light would be seen in Jerusalem, the city which he had chosen (1 Kings 11:36). A.G.H.
Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, pp. 1035-1037
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 912