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John Howard Reid
King Solomon is often equated with wisdom, but, out of kilter with popular belief, the Bible does not always portray him as wise and good. Quite the contrary!
PROPHET, PRIEST AND KING
Which cover do you prefer? I must admit I prefer the distributor's cover on the NOOK Book and other ebook presentations to the cover I designed myself for the printed and Amazon Kindle editions.
If you click on the NOOK Book link, you can see for yourself. To me, that's an incredibly spooky cover which really brings out the haunting atmosphere of my story!
King Solomon is often equated with wisdom, but, contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not always portray him as wise and good. In fact, the Bible also depicts him as an evil, cruel, hedonistic tyrant.
The truth probably lies between these two Biblical extremes. Here, perhaps, in this novel lies the real Solomon, the real prophet, priest and king.
After all, he was a man whom the Bible fails to praise for his greatest accomplishment -- religious tolerance. Instead the Bible condemns and vilifies Solomon because he allowed the priests of Baal unhindered access to Palestine.
No doubt the king reasoned that if the priests were freely allowed to set up their Baals on many of the high places, they would win very few converts.
On the other hand, if the priests were actively persecuted and thus given heaps of free publicity, they might well attract tens of thousands to their false beliefs.
So perhaps Solomon really was the fountain of Wisdom the Bible presents -- but maybe for the very opposite reasons?
A woman’s love to a thirsty man is like a mouthful of water distilled from a garland of thorns. At first, the water tastes as sweet and refreshing as a spring in the Garden of Eden — but then comes the searing after-taste of the thorns. His mouth puckers, his throat contracts, his belly feels like coals of fire. As the man rolls around on the ground in agony, he wishes to God that he had never tasted the water; never relieved his thirst, for it were better to die thirsty, his throat parched with dust, than have his whole body seared with the fire of the all-embracing thorns.
They say that I am a “great lover” and that I have “loved many women”. It is not true. I have loved only one. One only.
My mother was a Hittite. You did not know that, did you? I am not Jewish at all. I, Solomon, who built the great temple for the great god of the Jews, am not a Jew. Yet I say the god of the Jews appeared to me twice. He is not invisible after all? And did I not also see His Glory, the cloud of His presence, when I dedicated the temple?
What was He like? Well, I started off to tell you of the woman that I loved — the lily among the thorns.
You would rather hear first what God was like? What He said to me is widely known — did I not report it widely? — yet even that is a lie. The first leads to the other — if you would know the other, you must first know the first. If you would know the end, you must first know the beginning.
In the springtime of my youth — if youth can be said to have a springtime, it has all been autumn with me — I fell in love. For the first and only time. The first time is the hardest. You look in the mirror and you think you are as charming in women’s eyes as in your own. Do your muscles not tremble with strength as the wild hart’s? Do your eyes not sparkle as dew upon the terebinth? What woman could look upon the beauty of your youth and not be enthralled? What man would not turn tail as he beheld the power of your arms and legs? The brown bear or the aurochs had not more enemies or inspired more fear!
It is always the way. To youth is given strength — and the folly to mis-use it! To old age is given infirmity — and the wisdom to lament it!
The girl came from Shunem, a town up north in Issachar. Or rather she was brought back from there. She didn’t come too willingly. Without doubt, she was the most beautiful girl in all Israel. She really was. Don’t take my word for it. My father’s courtiers chanced their future on her. They searched the whole kingdom; they sought her in the towns and in the mountains, in the smallest villages, in the most far-flung farms. When they caught sight of this girl, they knew she was one in ten thousand. They brought her back to Jerusalem in triumph, with dancing and singing, feasting and rejoicing. For had they not found the perfect maiden, the one who would gladden the heart and unfreeze the limbs of a king whose eyes were dim, whose heart was surfeited and whose strength was fled?
Her name was Abishah.
The darkness of her skin was as a cluster of grapes on a sun-scorched vine; her eyes the reflection of twin moons skimming in the pools of Eshbonby, the Gate-of-Many-Daughters; her thighs, turned on the craftsman’s lathe that curved the jeweled beads of Sheba’s necklace; her navel — never was the rim of a golden goblet more delicately carved; her belly rounded like a new-mown hay-stack in a field of corn; her breasts like ripe pomegranates, firm to the touch.
A man had no need of wine. He had only to look upon Abishah and his spirits were lifted, his soul set free.
“So you are Solomon,” she said. Her voice was like saffron, dripping on a cone of honey.
I drew myself up proudly. “I am a son of David. And Bathsheba.”
She laughed. Her laughter was a tinkle of little silver bells. “So you are a prince, Prince Solomon. And what prince are you?”
I looked at her, puzzled. What sort of a question is that? I decided to ignore it. “You are beautiful,” I said. “No garden holds a flower more beautiful, more lovely.”
“Am I not?” she said, thrusting out her shoulder and tilting her head at an angle so that the pendant of her earring swung to and fro.
“I wish,” I began. “I wish...” I blushed. I could not finish what I wanted to say. “I wish you would stop and talk to me for a while,” I added quickly.
She laughed again, tinkling gaily. “Talk to you, Prince Solomon! Are you the heir to the kingdom?”
“I am a son of my father,” I answered proudly.
“But is not Adonijah, the heir?” she persisted.
“He may be, he may be not,” I answered evasively. To tell you the truth, up to this point, I hadn’t really given the matter much thought. It was enough for me that I was a son of David, a prince in a royal household. “What if he is the heir?” I added.
Abishah threw back her head, shaking the ringlets and waves of her black, fragrant hair. “Then I would marry the heir,” she laughed.
That night, I said to my mother, “I would be the heir.”
“What is this?” she asked. “Is it not enough to be a prince in the banqueting houses of kings? Must you inherit the kingdom as well?”
“Yes,” I answered. “I would be the heir.”
My mother laughed shortly. “Look at you! You are nothing but a dreamy youth with nothing but songs on your mind and nothing but riddles in your heart. You wander about the palace like a young slave who has forgotten what duties he ever knew, and you creep about the fields, mooning over tufts of grass and butterflies, while your brothers are out disputing or fighting, collecting taxes, counseling their elders, getting drunk or chasing village maidens. Look at you! Have you taken some vow not to trim your beard? And your hair is full of thorns and grass, your clothes are soiled, your girdle half undone, and you have lost the strap of your sandal. You don’t look like a prince so much as a shepherd boy or a goat-herder’s son!” But then she stepped back and looked me up and down even more appraisingly. “Still, why not? Why should not a son of mine be king? You have a head on your shoulders, even though that head be filled with poetry and ‘wisdom’ and other such nonsense! And did not David swear to me, did he not promise me that our son should be king? Else I should have stayed with my husband, else I should rather have plunged a dagger into my breast than yielded to him? Did he not come to me with such sweet entreaties, did he not say that the boy should be king? Did he not swear on his own head? The boy died. But does death cancel the king’s oath? Do we not have another son? You? Solomon? I shall speak to the king.”
My mother sought the help of a prophet named Nathan. Like most of his kind, he was one of those old furies who believed than an oath was an oath — words that were binding forever — that could be canceled neither by death nor dishonor, neither by change of circumstance nor change of heart. My mother was not the least bit frightened of him — though she had every reason to be — but he scared me wall-eyed! He was the very man who had denounced her for adultery and complicity in the murder of her Hittite husband, Uriah. And although he always looked kindly upon me — saying that God Himself named me Jedidiah (“beloved of Yahweh”) — he always filled me with fear and loathing.