King Solomon was King David’s second son with Bathsheba and successor to the throne of Israel. During his reign, Solomon consolidated his power through political marriages and friendly relations with Egypt and Tyre, and he became known for his abiding wisdom and sense of justice.
Solomon’s reign as king was a glorious one, at least initially. It was under his rule that the first temple in Jerusalem was built, in the tenth century BC. The temple was the center of Jewish worship, as well as the home of the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the original Ten Commandments. It stood for nearly 400 years until it was destroyed by the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadrezzar II in the sixth century BC. In addition to the temple, King Solomon brought great wealth to the kingdom of Israel in the form of other ornate structures and stores of gold.
While the temple was perhaps Solomon’s greatest accomplishment, it was also an early cause of his downfall, criticized by some as being pagan. It was known to have reflected Canaanite and Phoenician architecture and was seen by critics as an idolized monument, forbidden in Judaism.
Solomon established peace through alliances and political marriage. In 1 Kings 11:3, it is said that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. For all of the political benefits, Solomon’s polygamy led to significant internal strife as many of the women practiced idol worship and he did little to enforce Jewish traditions upon them. Tensions grew as many doubted his leadership, and after he died, the northern and southern parts of Israel split apart after nearly a century of unification.
Still, King Solomon is remembered for his great wisdom, epitomized by the following biblical story. Two women went before Solomon claiming a baby was theirs. Solomon, in a surprising decision, ordered the baby cut in half. While the false mother was willing to allow this, the true mother—not wanting any harm to come to her child—asked Solomon to let the other woman take the baby. Thus, Solomon, knowing no woman would allow harm to her own child, was able to ascertain the identity of the true mother.
- Solomon’s first temple, which was destroyed in 586 BC, was replaced by the second temple, completed in 515 BC. The second temple was subsequently destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Jews believe that during the coming of the Messiah, a third temple will be built on the same spot as the first two.
- After the Babylonians destroyed the temple, the Ark of the Covenant disappeared. While it is assumed that the Ark was stolen and destroyed, some people believe that it exists and is hidden.