Tuesday, February 11, 2014

First Kings: Smells Like Misattribution

Alright, so, Solomon has built the Temple, where the name of Yahweh will dwell on earth. When the construction was done, he had the Ark of the Covenant brought to the temple, where it was placed under the giant carvings of cherubim in the most holy inner chamber. Afterwards, Solomon holds this big dedication ceremony that included interminable speeches and prayers. I mean, it just goes on, and on, and on with the usual requests for blessings, and yammering about how every bad thing that might happen is because of curses for turning away from God, and verbally stroking God’s… ego. The whole thing culminates, we are told, with the sacrifice of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep in the temple courtyard over the course of a week. I suspect the decimal point got misplaced a little there, but I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to speculate on how many places.

Immediately after all of this, God appears to Solomon personally (so add Solomon to the people who’ve seen God in person in spite of claims elsewhere in the Bible that nobody ever has) to tell him how pleased he is that Solomon built him a temple. Of course, the encounter is laden with the usual stuff about how as long as Solomon keeps worshiping Yahweh and no other gods, then Israel will prosper and Solomon’s line will rule forever. But if he ever starts worshipping other gods, then God will fuck him up something fierce along with Israel.

It bears repeating: God appeared to Solomon in person and told him that bad shit would happen to him and to Israel if he ever starts chasing after other gods. Got it? Because…

Later in life, that’s exactly what Solomon does. Because of his foreign wives, of course.

Before the Bible gets to that, it spends some time raving about how incredibly wise and rich and famous Solomon was, and how every king in all the world sought him out for his wisdom and sent him lavish gifts. But by the time we get to the last years of his life we find Solomon with 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of whom are from people that Israelites are forbidden to marry. And of course, Solomon starts serving the various gods of his various wives, and having temples built for them.

So just to summarize. The Bible claims that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived in all of history (which is questionable to begin with just on the basis of having a thousand wives and concubines). Further, that he was given this wisdom for the express purpose of governing Israel properly. It further claims that God visited Solomon and personally warned him not to muck around with foreign gods or it would result in the destruction of his kingdom. So, in theory, Solomon has actual evidence of his god’s existence, explicit instructions from that god about an action that will destroy Israel, and the explicit mental faculties to avoid taking that action. But he does it anyway. That’s not even remotely credible.


All the supernatural aspects here are bullshit, Solomon actually had no reason to believe Yahweh is any more or less real than Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, or Molech (the gods he’s accused of building temples to), and all of it was just added to the story after the fact to explain why the nation fell apart (for purely human political reasons that the Bible describes in detail and then attributes to God anyway) in a way that let the writers reinforce a religious dogma.

But anyway, back to the Bible story. God has an interesting way of enforcing his dictates.

1 Kings 11:9 And Yahweh was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from Yahweh, the god of Israel, who had appeared to him twice 10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what Yahweh commanded. 11 Therefore Yahweh said to Solomon, ‘Since you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. 12 Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.’”

There he goes again, punishing the son because he’s pissed at the dad. Yay, justice!

Although to be fair, the son who loses the kingdom is kind of a dick.

The Bible goes on for awhile about the politics of who plots to break up the kingdom and why (which are all initiated by human beings, though sometimes human beings claiming to speak on behalf of God). Interestingly, among these descriptions is not one instance of Solomon attempting to make up to Yahweh and/or get rid of the temples to other gods. Almost as if God’s warning never actually took place, or at least wasn’t regarded seriously. And after a reign of forty years, Solomon eventually dies and leaves the kingdom to his son Rehoboam.

Early in Rehoboam’s reign, some of the elders of Israel (led by a guy named Jeroboam, who’s been hiding out in Egypt ever since a priest named Ahijah had promised him that God would give him most of the tribes of Israel to rule after Solomon’s death) come to complain that Solomon had been too harsh and demanding a ruler, and to ask that Rehoboam take a lighter hand. Rehoboam responded that since he was a bigger man than his father (and depending on how well you trust the internet when it comes to Biblical euphemisms, may have been making a joke about penis sizes when he said it), he would be even more harsh than Solomon had been. And…

1 Kings 12:15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by Yahweh that he might fulfill his word, which Yahweh spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

Once again implying that God controls people’s actions when he feels like it.

So all the tribes of Israel except Benjamin and Judah rebel against Rehoboam and make Jeroboam their king. Rehoboam wants to make a fight of it (supposedly gathering an army of 180,000 men), but God (speaking through a “man of god” named Shemaiah) forbids the people from fighting and they go home instead.

Ironically Jeroboam, whom God supposedly picked to rule Israel to make up for Solomon’s respect to foreign gods, also can’t seem to follow God’s rules or refrain from putting up idols. Yahweh, it appears, is pretty shite when it comes to picking kings who’ll do his bidding.

Anyhow, I think we’ll call this a stopping point for now. It’s going to take some thought to cull the worthwhile stories from the mind-numbing political meanderings of the next portion of First Kings. So until then, everybody be well!


  1. This is great. It's like a "Heretics Notes" version of the bible.