Friday, January 31, 2014

1 Kings: Solomon the Wise-ish

Bible bloggin’ some more, and today we’re getting started on the First Book of Kings. As may be unsurprising to you, this is about the kings of Israel under the line of David. Much like the Books of Samuel, it’s heavy on politics and drama and rather light on religious stuff. So again, I may be skipping a lot of details to avoid getting bogged down.

First Kings opens with David as an old man, too frail to keep himself warm or, apparently, to bang his many wives anymore. So his advisors cast about to find the most beautiful woman they can find to warm his bed, and settle on a girl named Abishag the Shunammite. But we’re told that he “knew her not,” which is kind of euphemistic speech for telling us he couldn’t even get it up for this new and beautiful sex object.

You might ask yourself, “why would they go through this silliness?” After all, if the issue was that they just wanted someone to keep him warm, well, he had loads of wives who could have done that for him. And if you were hoping the Bible would explain it, tough. I had to go dig about on the internet for an explanation. It seems that there was this superstition floating around at the time that the fertility of the land was tied to the fertility of the king. Therefore, if the king wasn’t able to have sex, then the land would suffer and he’d have to be replaced to prevent famine. So his advisors were basically throwing Abishag into bed with David in the hopes that having a nubile young hottie would be exciting enough to overcome his decrepitude. But no dice.

Keep in mind that according to the Bible David was only the second king that Israel had ever had, and for hundreds of years they had gotten by without a king. It seems a little early to have developed such a weird superstition about their king. Probably picked it up from one of the kingdoms around them.

Anyway, with David being impotent and all, one of his sons Adonijah decides it's time for daddy to step down and let him have the job. So he starts telling everybody that he is going to be the next king, and manages to win the support of Joab (who, you may remember, is the commander of David’s army). This doesn’t sit well with Bathsheba, since David had supposedly promised her that her son Solomon would be king (but I guess he never got around to telling anyone else). Long story short: Bathsheba complains to David, and David steals a march on Adonijah by rounding up a priest and having Solomon anointed king before Adonijah can cement himself in the position.

After that, David had some final instructions to give Solomon in the form of a “fuck you,” to some of his old enemies and supporters. For example: Joab, the commander of his army. You may recall that Joab had committed a couple murders while serving under David? You may also remember how David never did anything concrete about either of them, and seemed content to let Joab go on being commander. Well, he tells Solomon to go ahead and have Joab killed for them now. Because I guess now that David has retired, he no longer has any use for Joab.

Also, some of the people he’d made up with after Absalom’s rebellion, and promised not to kill? Yeah, he tells Solomon to kill them as well. There’s some hairsplitting for you “I totally kept my oath! I’m not killing you, my successor is (on my instructions)!”

David dies shortly thereafter, riding out of this life on a wave of his own dickishness.

There’s a weird little bit then when Adonijah asks Solomon to let him take Abishag (the hot young thing who’d failed to arouse David’s “interest”) as his wife. In a fit of seeming insanity, Solomon has him put to death for making the request. At least, it seems insane if you only go by the Bible, but the internet comes to the rescue again. It gets back to the weird superstitions about kingly manliness as expressed by putting royal penises in female bodies. Supposedly, nailing Abishag when David had failed to do so could be seen as a symbolic victory over David, and would therefore count as a claim to the kingship. So basically, Solomon had Adonijah killed to prevent him from fucking his way onto the throne.

More politics, more killings, Solomon marries the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh. One night Solomon has a dream in which God asks what Solomon would like to have given to him. Solomon asks for the wisdom and discernment to differentiate good from evil and properly govern Israel. And God gives it to him.

1 Kings 3:12 ‘behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.’”

So bear in mind as the stories play out from here on that (if God and the Bible are to be believed) Solomon is now the wisest man who has ever existed anywhere in the entire history of humanity.

The first evidence of his new wisdom is that classic story of the two prostitutes and the baby (though I don’t recall the version I was told as a kid having the women as prostitutes). They come before the king, and the one claims that the other has stolen her baby to replace one of her own that had died. Solomon declares that since he doesn’t know who the baby’s real mother is, he’ll just cleave the baby in two and let each woman keep half. We all know the result: the baby’s real mother would rather the baby be given to the other woman than killed, while the woman who was apparently so desperate to replace her own dead child that she stole another is for some reason OK with the idea of killing the replacement baby if it means she gets to keep half.

I wonder why no one ever considers how insanely irrational that woman’s reaction is. All we hear about is how clever and wise Solomon was for hitting on that idea for how to figure out who the real mother was.

After that we get a full chapter about who Solomon’s officers were, how great and wonderful a ruler Solomon was, how wealthy he was, and how all the other kings of the world fell over themselves to suck up to him. And from there we get on to Solomon building The Temple.

There are two full chapters dedicated to describing the materials and construction of the temple, followed by a chapter about all the furnishings that went into it. There’s a brief aside about Solomon building himself a palace that was actually a larger building, but the passages really dwell on the temple. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say that metric buttloads of gold, bronze, cedar, cut stone, and other valuable stuff was sunk into it. But there are a few bits that are worth pointing out for the interest value.

One of the main features of the temple is a pair of ten foot high carved cherubim with ten foot wingspans, covered in gold. There are also smaller carvings of cherubim all over the temple, along with carvings of bulls, trees, flowers, fruits, etc. Now, who remembers the Second Commandment? Here’s a refresher:

Ex 20:4  ‘You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

So yeah, the temple dedicated to God, the most holy place in the world which is supposedly his earthly dwelling, is also a giant monument to pissing on one of his central commands. But then, as we mentioned way back in Exodus, those very commands are contained in an ark which is also carved with cherubim in violation of this exact same command. Because God’s law is God’s law, except when he (or the voices in your head, or your “inner conviction,” or your priest) tells you to do something else.

And when the temple is completed, the “glory of God” takes up residence without saying a thing about how the temple mocks his commands, so evidently he approves of it.

The other thing to mention is that the account of the construction of the temple contains the infamous Pi passage. For those who don’t know, it goes like this:

1 Kings 7:23 Then he made the sea of cast metal. It was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference.”

Some people like to make a big deal out of this passage, because anyone who’s passed even the most elementary of geometry classes knows that a circle ten cubits in diameter would have a circumference of 31.4(159265… etc.) cubits. Given hand measurements, maybe thirty-one-and-a-half, or even thirty-one, would have been reasonable estimates. But thirty is just poor. Personally, I don’t think the passage provides enough information to make a precise judgment, since “round” and “circular” are not necessarily the same thing and cubits were kind of imprecise measurements in that time period anyway. About the only real conclusion one can make from passages like this is that only idiots believe the Bible is a science textbook.

And with that, I think we’re about done for today. We’ll work a little more on First Kings in the next post, and until then I do hope you’ll all be well!

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