The Legend of King Solomon
Few sovereigns have left such a deep imprint in legends and folktales as King Solomon. A historical figure who built the Temple of Jerusalem and founded cities and fortresses, the son of David was God’s chosen prophet who had dominion over demons and owned many magical objects. This king, known for his wisdom, was the subject of a thousand stories and has found a place in the pantheon of men who left their mark on history. The Hebrews called him Schlomo; the Arabs, Sulayman; the Greeks and Romans, Salomo--a family name that carries the notion of peace for his reign, and he was according to all the traditions, quite peaceful. His memory has traveled through the centuries and can be found among the Arabs and Persians, as well as in the work of the church father Origenes. His name can also be found among the Bulgarians, the Byzantines, the Russians, the Ukranians, the Egyptian Copts, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians.
The primary sources of his legend are the books of Kings of the Bible, as well as Flavius Josephus, the Qu’ran, and the Talmud. Over the course of time, these elements have been embellished, developed, and enriched with outside contributions, and, little by little, came together to form the history of a monarch whose notoriety is equaled only by that of Alexander the Great--both kings serving as model monarchs for rulers throughout history. Furthermore, we can find certain episodes from the life of the Macedonian conqueror in the Solomonic history, for example, his descent to the bottom of the sea and his flight into the heavens.
The legend of the son of David has been the subject of countless studies, such as that of René Basset, who investigated the traces he left in Arabic literature, followed by the research of Pierre Saintyves. Eugene Hins collected the Ukrainian traditions, Lidia Shishmanova, those of Bulgaria, Vuk Stefanovic those of Serbia, and Isabel Florence Hapgood those of Russia. The echoes of his legend resound as far as Indonesia and Mongolia.
Novelists were also inspired by this figure. As examples, I can mention Henry Rider Haggard with King Solomon’s Mines (1885), Romain Gary’s L’angoisse du roi Salomon (The Anguish of King Solomon, 1979), and José Rodriguez Dos Santos’s A Chave de Salomäo (King Solomon’s Key, 2014).
Scriptwriters and producers followed on their heels: King Vidor offered us Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (1958), Jack Lee Thompson, Quartermain and King Solomon’s Mines (1993), and Iranian filmmaker Iranien Shahriar Bahrani, The Kingdom of Solomon in 2009.
In turn, graphic novels took on this subject: Catherine Zarcate gave us The Dream of Solomon, Eric Heuvel and Martin Lodewijk, King Solomon’s Treasure, and Vassaux and Facon, The Pillars of Solomon (1991).
Video games were also not immune to the appeal of this subject and among them we have Baphomet’s Knights: The Guardians of the Temple (2006) and Hidden Expedition: The Crown of Solomon (2014).
So just what could be the reason for this persistent infatuation with the son of David? Could it be his power over the genies and demons, referred to as djinns, divs, and peri, thanks to a ring the angel Gabriel gave him? This object is at the heart of his legend; it is what gives this king a supernatural, or even what we could call a wizardly, power. It draws its power from the carving of a divine name in the shape of a pentalpha that forms the name of YAHVE. This ring is an emblem of election justifying royal duties and provides a mediating role between the godhead and human beings. Without it, there would be no Solomonic gestures, no enslavement of the demons and genies, which the stories of Aladdin and the fisherman from The Thousand and One Nights bring onto the stage.
And that is not all! Ruling over the winds and the animals, understanding the language of the birds, and owning an assortment of marvelous objects and weapons, Solomon was regarded from very early on as a magician responsible for a vast array of magic works. A number of scholars in the medieval West, for example, Michael Scott and Roger Bacon, drew up a list of them. But today the Clavicles (the “little keys”), copies of which can easily be found in occult bookstores, still enjoy the widest renown.
Solomon’s legend did not develop out of whole cloth; it is based on pre-Islamic beliefs and Indian and Persian tales. For example, today we know that the prototype for Solomon’s throne is that of Vikramaditya, the mythical sovereign of Ujjain, India, who, like Solomon, was renowned for his wisdom.
We have barely inventoried everything that the son of David was able to accomplish. The number of buildings he constructed is impressive, and quite often these edifices became the support for new etiological legends to explain their components. Solomon, like Alexander the Great, was also an explorer who sprang into the heavens and descended to the bottom of the sea.
Folktales were engendered by his legend, not only in Europe, but in the Maghreb and Indonesia as well. Solomon’s presence can be found as far away as Malaysia where, in the seventeenth century, Bukhari of Johore discovered several anecdotes about him. In Ukraine, for example, several stories revolve around Solomon’s mother, a mother who has no hesitation when it comes to trying to slay her son. Other tales illustrate the wisdom of the son of David but also his lust. These stories give us a kaleidoscope whose images enchant and astound us in turn, and sometimes make us smile. The readers will judge for themselves.
This great king thereby appears not only as a historical figure but also one of folk traditions, and his celebrity is not confined to the Bible, Talmud, or Qu’ran. A figure who mirrors the dreams of humanity, Solomon has left a deep impression in our minds. The attempt to trace his story requires a great deal of work in sourcing the texts, scrutinizing them, and, most importantly, cross-checking all the accounts. We must gather all the widely scattered material together and learn to discern the variables and the constants, with the latter giving us the guiding thread to his legend. In short, we need to base our investigation on the clues in our possession.
My plan is to reconstruct his legend using the largest number of documents possible while classifying and, if necessary, annotating each of them. Each text is followed by its source, and if that is lacking, bibliographical references. I have also sought to enrich this study with illustrations from ancient books and manuscripts in order to show how our ancestors depicted those they looked upon as legends.
From Chapter 2, Solomon and the Animals
While the previous chapter examined the main source texts, this chapter collects folktales from around the world to illustrate that King Solomon’s special relationship with animals is central to his legend. Among the many clues that suggest Solomon possessed the features of a shaman, we should look at his privileged relationships with animals. He was the master of animals and understood their language. We will examine that which prompted me to form this hypothesis in Part Three.
2. SOLOMON AND THE ANTS (ARABIA)
This legend echoes the eighteenth verse of the twenty-seventh surah of the Qu’ran, “The Ants”, which says: “When they came to the Valley of the Ants, an ant said: “O ants! Go into your homes lest Solomon and his troops crush you [beneath their feet] without realizing it.”
While building one of his palaces, Solomon made a journey to Damascus in order to visit that city whose territory is irrigated by the four rivers that emerge from the earthly paradise. The djinn, on whose back he was making this journey, flew there in a straight line over the Valley of the Ants, which is surrounded by mountains so steep and precipices so sharp that no man before Solomon had ever been able to see it. The king was astounded when he saw beneath him a crowd of ants as large as wolves whose eyes and feet were green in color.
The queen of the ants, who, for her part, had never seen a human, was also gripped by a powerful emotion when she caught sight of Solomon and she yelled to her subjects: “Return to your caves as quick as you can!” But God commanded her to gather all her people together to pay homage to Solomon, the lord of all the animals. When the king had come within three miles, he could hear the words of God as well as those of the queen. He descended and saw the valley completely covered with ants for as far as his eyes could see, and he said to the queen: “Why are you scared of me when you have so many troops that they could conquer the entire world?”
“I fear nothing but God,” the queen replied, “for if any danger whatsoever threatens my subjects, at my first sign, seventy times as many as those you see gathered here will appear.”
“Why did you order the ants to retreat when I was passing over this valley?”
“Because I was scared that they would follow you with their eyes and thereby end up forgetting their Creator for a moment.”
“Have you no recommendation to make to me before I make my departure?”
“I shall give you but one piece of advice, which is to never allow your ring to come off your hand before you have said: ‘In the name of God filled with mercy.’”
“Lord,” shouted Solomon, “your empire is greater than mine!” and he took his leave of the queen of ants.
3. THE KING OF THE ANTS (ARABIA)
One day when Solomon was passing through the countryside, he encountered the king of the ants, who he picked up and placed in his hand. The king shouted to his entire band: “Ants, move away lest the throne of the prophet king crush you!” After asking the ant many questions, Solomon asked him if he acknowledged his greatness. The ant king replied: “No, I am greater than you because you have only a material throne and your hand is my throne.”