King Solomon & His Kingdom

Solomon the Wise, one of King David's three sons, built a truly organized and centralized monarchy.

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The realm was divided into twelve districts, each regularly paying tribute. The tribe of Judah was apparently exempted from this tax, thus allowing Solomon to strengthen his hold over his own tribe. However, this also deepened the tension between Judah and the other tribes, a tension which would erupt after Solomon's death, during the reign of his son Rehoboam.

King Solomon's reign also enjoyed the fruits of his commercial and political ties with neighboring lands. He entered into an alliance with Hiram, King of Tyre, who provided him with cedar wood for building the Temple, and with the Egyptian pharaoh (presumably Siamun of the twenty‑first dynasty), who gave his daughter as wife to Solomon, and the town of Gezer as part of her dowry. Matrimonial alliances with foreign royal families, together with political treaties and commercial relations bestowed on Jerusalem an international importance, evidenced by the famous visit of the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings, 10). The king also acquired a reputation of sound judgment and great wisdom. It is therefore not surprising that later generations attributed the Biblical wisdom books (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) to Solomon the Wise.

After centuries of endless warring, the people of Israel finally found peace: "Judah and Israel continued at peace, every man under his own vine and fig-tree" (1 Kings, 5:7). But Israelite society paid dearly for this peace. Solomon's enormous projects imposed a heavy yoke on his subjects. In addition to taxes paid in cash and in kind, tens of thousands of men were recruited into forced labor.

Towards the end of Solomon's reign, internal tensions intensified. At the same time the international standing of the kingdom began to decline. Edom tried to revolt in the east; and Egypt--Solomon's former ally--began to give shelter to his enemies. As long as the king lived, unity was maintained; but the seeds of the kingdom division were already sown in the days of Solomon--the greatest king of ancient Israel.

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Yair Hoffman

Yair Hoffman is a Professor of Bible at Tel Aviv University.