Solomon and the Israelite empire (1 Kings 6)

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Illustration: Israel under king Solomon

Solomon inherited a vast empire, extending from the Euphrates to the Gulf of Aqaba and from Tyre to Egypt. He maintained this kingdom during a 40-year reign through diplomacy, industry and effective administration. Although Israel dominated the political scene of his day, the name Solomon is not attested in extra-biblical records discovered to date. Even so, archaeology gives us a better appreciation for the glory of Solomon’s age.

Administration

  • Efficient internal administration facilitated control of the empire. Royal administrators included a chief staff, secretaries, a military commander, a supervisor of forced labour, royal priests, a recorder (for foreign affairs) and a chief over regional districts.
  • Twelve regional governors each furnished a month’s support for the central government. A similar administrative structure may have been in place in Egypt.

Fortified cities

  • An older contemporary, Pharaoh Siamun, may have conquered the Philistine city of Gezer and given it to his daughter, with whom Solomon is thought to have entered a marriage alliance (the identity of this pharaoh has not been authoritatively confirmed). Excavations at Gezer confirms its destruction in the early twelfth century B.C.
  • Archaeological finds confirm the rebuilding of Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor, as described in 1 Kings 9:15.
  • Fortified cities controlled the major trade arteries around and through the Holy Land. More than 40 small, tenth century B.C. fortresses have been discovered in the southern Negev.
  • Storehouses have been excavated at Hazor, Beth Shemesh and other locations. Similar structures at Megiddo, previously identified as “Solomon’s stables”, have more recently been assigned archaeologically to the time of Jeroboam. However, these structures may have been built on foundations from an earlier period.

Trade and wealth

  • Sources of revenue were foreign trade, caravan tolls, the export of refines copper and tribute from vassal nations. Solomon capitalized on a vigorous import-export trade in horses and chariots with Egypt, Anatolia, Syria and Mesopotamia.
  • An alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre, allowed Solomon to develop trade between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Hiram provided experienced seamen and experts in both ship and Harbor construction.
  • The visit of the queen of Sheba to Jerusalem was probably concluded with a trade agreement. Israelite sea trading ventures from Ezion Geber on the Gulf of Aqaba threatened overland trade, previously monopolized by Arabian tribes. The precise location of Ezion Geber is disputed.
  • Subjugation of Ammon, Moab, Edom and Syria gave Solomon control over the major north-south land routes through the region.

The temple and the palace

  • Hiram furnished artisans and architects for Solomon’s construction projects. Nothing remains of the Jerusalem temple, but it is described in detail in 1 Kings 6.
  • Phoenician influence in the temple’s architecture and decoration has been confirmed by comparison with other temples excavated in Syria and Palestine. The Ain Dara Temple near Halab (Aleppo) in northern Syria, roughly contemporary with Solomon’s temple, was remarkably similar in size and style. It featured a portico with two columns, one on each side of the entryway. Within, it was divided into three parts, with an antechamber, main hall and main shrine (“Most Holy Place”). A multi-story corridor enclosed the inner temple on three sides. Ornamentation using both cherubim and palm trees is well attested in Canaanite art of the Iron Age.
  • A twelfth century B.C. ivory panel recovered from Mediggo depicts a throne similar to Solomon’s (see 10:18-19).

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Illustration: The Ain Dara Temple near Aleppo


 

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