The task of identifying the historical Solomon is complicated not only by the biblical red herrings we have already looked at, but by the fact that we have no historical record of a king of that name. It is only when we match in detail the Old Testament account of his exploits with the reign of Amenhotep III that it becomes clear we are dealing with the same person.
The actual name Solomon derives from the Semitic word salaam and means "safety" or "peace." Other than a minor military operation in northern Sudan during his Year 5 (1401 B.C.), Amenhotep Ill's reign was almost entirely peaceful. He was the first ruler of the Egyptian empire who did not launch any military campaigns in western Asia. Instead, he relied on alliances and exchanges of gifts and diplomatic letters between himself and other leaders of the then-known world to create a climate of international friendship. He also furthered the cause of peace by a series of judicious marriages to "strange women"—two princesses from Syria, Mitanni and Babylonia, and one from Arzawa in southwestern Asia Minor. The extravagance of the age is indicated by the fact that Gilukhepa, one of his Mitannian wives, is said to have arrived in Egypt with a caravan that included more than 300 ladies-in-waiting.
The passage about Solomon's marriage to "strange women" is followed by a warning from the Lord that "surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love" (I Kings 11:2). Shortly afterward we are told that "it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God . . . For Solomon went after Ashtoreth* the goddess of the Zidonians,** and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites" (11:4-5). This sequence of events can hardly ask for greater confirmation than we find in the historical evidence relating to the reign of Amenhotep III. Although there are many indications that he became converted to the worship of Aten, who was to be introduced into Egypt a few decades later as a monotheistic God, he also worshipped other gods. Toward the end of his life he suffered severe dental problems, as shown by his mummy, where his teeth were found to be badly worn and his gums riddled with abscesses. This could be the reason why Tushratta of Mitanni, his brother-in-law, sent him an image of the Mitannian goddess lshtar in Amenhotep Ill's Year 35 (1371 B.C.), hoping—in vain—that her magic would effect a cure.
The possession of a large and secure empire, and not having to fight any wars, are said to have enabled Solomon (Amenhotep III) to embark on a large number of projects and administrative reforms. According to otto Eissfeldt, the German biblical scholar, there were five characteristic features of Solomon's reign:
1) Change in his kingdom's military organization and the introduction of chariotry as an essential arm of war;
2) The creation of new administrative districts;
3) Changes in the taxation system;
4) The refinement of court procedure and the maintenance of diplomatic relations with foreign courts; and
5) Building activity on a large scale, including the royal palace and its adjoining temple, and fortified barracks for his garrisons in the north.
All of these can be related to the life and times of Amenhotep III, as I shall show:
Military organization. Tuthmosis III, who founded the great Egyptian empire in the fifteenth century B.C., did have a strong, well-trained, well-organized army equipped with the best chariots of his age, otherwise he would not have been able to establish his extended empire. However, the
*Or Astarte, the great goddess (and Queen of Heaven) of ancient Phoenicia and the Near East.
**Or Sidonians, the people of the ancient port of Sidon, the oldest Phoenician city, built in the third millennium B.C.
American Egyptologist Alan Richard Schulman has shown that the chari-otry formed only a part of the army at this time. It was not until the early part of the reign of Amenhotep III that the chariotry became identified as a separate entity from the infantry, with Yuya (Joseph), as we saw earlier, the first minister we know to bear the title Deputy of His Majesty in the Chariotry. Thus it was Amenhotep III (Solomon) who organized the chariotry as a separate unit of warfare.
Administrative System. Structure of the administrative system up to the time of Solomon was, according to the Bible, tribal. Solomon did away with tribal divisions and united Israel, together with other parts of the empire, in one political entity: "And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision" (I Kings 4:7). Yet, if we examine the matter closely, we find that this administrative system does not belong to the Palestinian Israel, but to the Egyptian empire.
From as early as 3000 B.C., the Egyptian administration controlled the activities of the Two Lands of Egypt. It organized the royal court as well as the economy in the name of the king, the official owner of all the land. Palace officials were responsible for each administrative region, where there was another high official with a local bureaucracy under his control. During the empire period—and particularly during the time of Tuthmosis III (David)—the administrative system was reorganized to suit the needs of the age, and later further developed by Amenhotep III. It was then that, for the purposes of taxation, the empire was arranged in 12 administrative sections, an arrangement that the biblical narrator drew on for his account of the king the world now knows as Solomon.
Almost all scholars agree* that the taxation system that the Bible says was introduced by Solomon matches precisely the system that was used in Egypt after Tuthmosis III had established the new Egyptian empire. Each of the 12 areas was the responsibility of a high official and was expected to contribute sufficient tax to cover the country's needs for one month of the year.
Administration. Coping with the administrative burdens of a vast empire needed a highly developed administration. The sudden appearance of such a
*For example, the German scholar Otto Eissfeldt, who wrote about this subject in The Cambridge Ancient History, 1975.
supposed administration in Israelite tribal society during the "United Monarchy of David and Solomon" in the tenth century B.C., without any roots in the nation's previous history and followed by its sudden disappearance after Solomon's death, has been a source of puzzlement to scholars. The apparent contradiction is resolved, however, once identification of the historical David (Tuthmosis III) and Solomon (Amenhotep III) makes it clear that the sophisticated administration described in the Old Testament is the administration established by these two monarchs in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. to deal with the day-to-day task of ruling Egypt and its empire.
The Names of Court Officials of Solomon. We find among the list of officials the priests, the scribes, the commander-in-chief of the army, the official in charge of the palace and another in charge of the tribute. All of these new offices are similar to appointments made by Amenhotep III. Even the forced labor pressed into service in Egypt for the king's building projects is said to have been imposed for the first time by Solomon (Amenhotep III) on native Israelites as well as foreigners: "And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men" (I Kings 5:13). The number of senior officials argues for a large number of minor ones. I Kings 9:23 gives a figure of 550 simply to supervise labor.
Empire in Decline. According to the Bible, the empire inherited by Solomon became to some extent weakened during the course of his reign. He faced troubles in Edom (in southern Palestine). His influence in Syria was also weakened when Rezon is said to have seized Damascus and made himself king there.
These rebellions find their echo in the Amarna letters, the foreign archives of the Eighteenth Dynasty, relating to the reign of Amenhotep III. Frederick J. Giles, the Canadian Egyptologist who made a study of them, came to the conclusion that "most of the letters that deal with the alleged collapse of the Egyptian empire during the Amarna period" come from the period of his rule. Thus the biblical account of changes in King David's empire during the time of Solomon can be seen to agree with historical records relating to events during the reign of Amenhotep III. Letters sent by Canaanite kings, especially Abdi-khiba of Jerusalem, speak of continuous trouble in the area of Edom and southern Palestine: "All the king's land is rebellious." These problems in southern Palestine were not so serious that they led to any weakening of the king's control in the area, but the situation in northern Syria was far more critical. Even before Amenhotep III came to the throne, the northern Mesopotamian kingdom of Mitanni, to the east of the Euphrates, defeated by Tuthmosis III, had begun to reassert its influence over city states in northern Syria. Amenhotep III responded to this threat by a peace treaty with the King of Mitanni and marriage to two Mitannian princesses. He also sent the King of Mitanni thirty units of gold each year in return for his protecting the north Syrian section of the empire.
However, Amenhotep Ill's problems in the region were not yet over. Toward the end of his reign, the king's authority over the northern part of the empire, including Damascus, was endangered by the powerful Hittite* king, Suppiluliuma. He also posed a threat to Mitanni, Egypt's ally in the area. Akizzi, ruler of the northern Syrian city of Qatna, a few miles north of Qadesh, spoke of these dangers in letters to Amenhotep III: "To King Annumuria (Amenhotep HI), Son of the Sun, my Lord, thus [says] this thy servant Akizzi... I am afraid . . . men who are destroyers serve the king of the land of the Hittites: he sends them forth ..."
In a following letter, Akizzi informed the king that the land of Ubi, west of Damascus, was under threat: "Just as Damascus ... is terror-stricken at the league of the enemy, and is lifting up its hands in supplication at the feet of the king, so likewise does the city of Qatna lift up its hands."
The Amarna letters also throw some light on the biblical account that states: "King Solomon gave to Hiram (the king of Tyre) twenty cities in the land of Galilee" (I Kings 9:11). The name of Tyre's king in these letters is not Hiram, but Abimilichi. From his letters we know that: "The king, my Lord, hath appointed me the guardian of the city of Tyre ..." In another letter, No. 99, in the Berlin Museum, Abimilichi asked the king to "give the city of Huzu to his servant." In yet another letter, No. 29, which is to be found in the British Museum, the King of Tyre indicated that another of the
*The Hittites were an Asiatic people who settled in Anatolia in the third millennium B.C., and who spoke an Indo-European language. Their capital was at Hattusas, at the site known as Boghazkoy. They invaded Syria and northern Mesopotamia during the sixteenth century B.C. but were driven out by Tuthmosis III in his campaigns during the fifteenth century B.C. From the time oi the Amarna kings in Egypt (fourteenth century B.C.) they conquered northern Syria and threatened Egyptian influence in western Asia. The most famous military confrontation with Egypt took place during the early reign of Ramses II of the Nineteenth Dynasty, which culminated in the celebrated battle of Qadesh in 1274 B.C. This was followed by a peace treaty between Ramses II and the Hittites, which allowed them to keep control of northern Syria. The Hittite kingdom completely disappeared in the twelfth century B.C., when it was invaded by the "Sea People" who came from the Greek islands.
Egyptian cities had been placed under his control: "And now the city Zarbitu is to be guarded by the city of Tyre for the king, my Lord."
The Builder. Solomon is said to have been a master creator of spectacular buildings. He built "the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo (the filling material used to enlarge the surface area of Jerusalem on the top of the mountain), and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer" (I Kings 9:15), and "Beth-horon the nether, And Baalath and Tadmor in the wilderness . . . And all the cities of store that Solomon had, and cities for his chariots, and cities for his horsemen, and that which Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, and in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion" (I Kings 9:17-19). Further reference to this mass of building work, including "store cities, which he built in Hamath," is to be found in II Chronicles 8:4-6. From, these biblical accounts we can conclude that Solomon built: 1) garrisons and fortifications; 2) the Millo; 3) a royal palace; and 4) a temple.
We have archaeological evidence in the case of only three of the places listed— Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. All were among the western Asiatic cities conquered by Tuthmosis III in the middle of the fifteenth century B.C. This has been confirmed by archaeological digging, which has produced evidence of each city's destruction in the right strata for this period. In addition, in all three cases evidence has been found of large-scale reconstruction work half a century later during the reign of Amenhotep III. New royal palaces, temples, ordinary houses and fortifying walls were established. In each case a local ruler was appointed, paying tribute to Pharaoh and enjoying the support of an Egyptian garrison. Egyptian objects, including a cartouche of Amenhotep III, were found in the strata belonging to this period, as was also the case in other excavated cities of Canaan such as Bethshean and Lachish. Evidence of the cities' wealth and trade was found. It was clearly in this period— during the fourteenth century B.C.—that these cities prospered.
The British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon succeeded in uncovering the remains of the Milo, inserted to widen the upper surface of the rock on which the ancient fortress of Jerusalem was built by extending its limits toward the sloping ground to the east. She was also able to date the first construction of the Millo to the fourteenth century B.C., the time of Amenhotep III.
One of the major building achievements attributed to Solomon was the new royal house, reputed to have taken 13 years to complete. This great palace is said to have been constructed to the north of the ancient city of
Jerusalem and south of the temple area, yet no further biblical mention of it is made during the period that is said to have followed the supposed time of Solomon's death. Moreover, although Jerusalem has been extensively excavated, no remains of such a palace have been found. However, when we compare the biblical description of Solomon's royal palace with the great palace of Amenhotep III at Thebes, it becomes clear that this was the royal residence described by the biblical narrator.
From the account in I Kings 7:2-12 we can see that Solomon's palace consisted of five elements: 1) the king's palace; 2) the house of Pharaoh's daughter, "whom he had taken to wife"; 3) the throne room; 4) a hall of columns; and 5) the house of the forest of Lebanon. The foundations were of costly stones while pillars of Lebanon cedarwood supported the roofs.
Up to the time of Amenhotep III, although Thebes was the religious and administrative capital of Egypt, the main royal residence was at Memphis, on the west bank of the Nile a few miles to the south of the Great Pyramid of Giza. With the vast wealth of his empire at his disposal and no wars to fight, Amenhotep III embarked on the construction of a great royal complex at Thebes. His own palace was ready by Year 8 (1398 B.C.) of his reign, but the whole complex was not completed until toward the end of his third decade (1375 B.C.). The area of the palace was excavated between 1910 and 1920 by the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. From the result of these excavations we can see that, although they form part of a much larger complex, the five elements ascribed to Solomon's palace are to be found in Amenhotep Ill's palace at Thebes.
The King's Palace. This was the oldest and most important building, occupying the southeast quarter of the great complex and adjoined on the east by its kitchens, offices and store-rooms. It had also a section for the king's harem and was connected with a smaller palace, the residence of Queen Tiye, daughter of the king's high official, Yuya.
The House of Pharaoh's Daughter. As we saw before, Amenhotep HI married his sister Sitamun, the daughter of Tuthmosis IV, to gain his right to the throne, which was the Egyptian custom. William C. Hayes, the American scholar, commented in an article in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies in 1951: "the great North Palace . . . appears to have been the residence of an extremely important royal lady, quite possibly Queen Sitamun."
The Throne Room. The reception quarters consist of a large squarish hall with many rows of columns in wood and a throne dais set along the axis of the entrance corridor, a second, smaller hypostyle (columned) hall with a throne dais near it, a throne room and a bedroom.
The Hall of Columns. Hayes describes this as "the royal Audience Pavilion, its floor elevated above the surrounding terrain, its northern facade provided with a balconylike projection jutting out into a deep, colonnaded courtyard." ("And he made a porch of pillars . . . and the other pillars and the thick beam were before them" [I Kings 7:6].)
The House of the Forest of Lebanon. This was, according to Hayes, a "Festival Hall, prepared for the celebration of Amenhotep Ill's second sed [rejuvenation] festival," a big colonnaded building that extended at the very north of the palace complex. The complex also included houses for other members of the royal family as well as court officials and servants. Exactly as the Bible says, all the pillars were of cedarwood imported from Lebanon. Alexander Badawy, an Egyptian scholar, gives a detailed description of the hall in his book A History of Egyptian Architecture: "Ceilings were of timber rafters, covered beneath with lath and plaster and painted with a series of protecting Nekhebet vultures* in the official halls and in the bedroom of Pharaoh, or with vines within a frame of rosettes and chequered pattern, spirals and bulls' heads, similar to Aegean ornament. Floors were decorated in the same technique to represent a pool with papyrus, lotus and fowl."
Badawy's description of the floor of the smaller hypostyle ball with a throne dais near it suggests that an incident, described in the Koran, during a visit by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon can only have taken place in this room where "the floor resembles a water basin filled with fish, aquatic plants, swimming ducks, geese and land birds, and bordered by papyrus and plants ..." In describing the Queen of Sheba's visit, the Koran tells how:
She was asked to enter That lofty Palace: but When she saw it, she
*Nekhebet was a vulture-goddess whose iconographic significance was firmly rooted in the dual nature of the Egyptian kingship. She and the cobra-goddess Wazyt represented dominion over the Two Lands of Egypt.
Thought it was a lake Of water, and she (tucked up Her skirts), uncovering her legs. He said: "This is But a palace paved
Smooth with slabs of glass." She said: "O my Lord! I have indeed wronged My soul . . . "
Amenhotep III is known to have built many temples, both in Egypt and in Canaan. He began his building program in his Year 2. The sites of his temples for different deities, including himself, were at Hermopolis, opposite Amarna (the new capital that would be founded by his son, Akhenaten), two temples at Karnak to the north of Thebes, the great Luxor temple in Thebes itself, three temples in Nubia, his mortuary temple north of his palace complex in western Thebes, and temples in almost all the Canaanite cities that had Egyptian garrisons.
According to the Bible, much precious material was used in the construction of Solomon's temple. This is equally true of the mortuary temple that Amenhotep III built at western Thebes. The king himself has given a description of it on the other side of the stele known as the Israel Stele, which came from this temple and was used later by Merenptah, the fourth king of the Nineteenth Dynasty, to give an account of the Libyan war in his Year 5. Amenhotep III describes the temple as:
an everlasting fortress of sandstone, embellished with gold throughout, its floor shining with silver and all its doorways with electrum [alloy of silver and gold]. It is wide and very long, adorned for eternity, and made festive with this exceptionally large stele. It is extended with royal statues of granite, of quartzite and precious stones, fashioned to last for ever. They are higher than the rising of the heavens: their rays are in men's faces like the rising sun ... Its workshops are filled with male and female slaves, the children of chieftains of all the countries which my majesty conquered. Its magazines have stored up uncountable riches. It is surrounded by villages of Syrians, peopled with children of chieftains; its cattle are like the sands of the shore, totalling millions.
On the subject of the riches used by Amenhotep III in his construction of temples, Donald B. Redford of Toronto University says in his book Akhenaten the Heretic King: "The recorded figures of metals and precious stones that went into the Montu temple (one of the Karnak temples) is quite staggering: 3.25 tons of electrum, 2.5 tons of gold, 924 tons of copper, 1,250 pounds of lapis lazuli, 215 pounds of turquoise, 1.5 tons of bronze and over 10 tons of beaten copper. Such was the return on Egypt's investment in an empire!"
To summarize, we have historical and archaeological evidence of buildings during the reign of Amenhotep III that matches the building attributed to Solomon, who ruled four centuries earlier than the present composition of the Old Testament would have us believe. Now we can see why, despite diligent efforts by biblical scholars, historians and archaeologists, no single piece of evidence has been found in Palestine to support what has become known as the period in the tenth century B.C. of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon. The absence of such evidence does not mean that they are not historical characters, but that scholars have been confused by the nature of the biblical account and have been seeking their evidence in the wrong century.
This was a golden age for Egypt. A combination of diplomacy, judicious marriages and equally judicious use of gold had secured a balance of power, at least temporarily, between Egypt and the neighboring Hurrian state of Mitanni, the Hittites, the Assyrians and Babylonians. Palestine and Syria, conquered by Tuthmosis III (David) in the middle of the fifteenth century B.C., posed no threat; the southern frontier had been secured up to and beyond the Nile's Fourth Cataract. Luxuries from the Levant and the Aegean world poured into the country on a greater scale than ever before, more land was brought under cultivation, art flourished,* prosperous state officials and priests enjoyed the pleasures of new town houses and country villas with large estates. How the common people fared is less clear, but they must have benefited from the general prosperity and state projects that offered alternative employment during long summer droughts. Throughout the country, new temples were founded, old ones restored. It was into this peaceful, opulent world that Moses was born—to face the instant threat, we are told, of being murdered on his father's orders.
*The Amarna art renaissance, which started from the time of Amenhotep III, produced great works in both the naturalistic and romantic styles. The objects found in Tutankhamun's tomb, including his mask, are samples of this new art.
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