Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Reign of King Solomon: Diplomatic and Economic Perspectives

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Reign of King Solomon: Diplomatic and Economic Perspectives

Article excerpt

Solomon, the son of King David and Bathsheba, became king of Judah and Israel in the year 967 BCE at age twenty and reigned until his death in 928 BCE. While Solomon's wisdom is generally perceived as being focused on his parables and poetry (I Kgs. 5:12) or his insights into human nature (I Kgs. 3:28), his political and economic acumen is often overlooked. The rapid expansion of Israel's commerce, trade and industry during his reign was due to a number of reasons, foremost being the political. Either by treaties of friendship or subjugation, David had extended the sphere of Israel's influence so that by the time Solomon succeeded to the throne the nation possessed a vast potential for expanding trade and the inflow of tribute. Displaying political and administrative wisdom, Solomon proved equal to taking full advantage of the unparalleled opportunity for economic growth and development. Still another reason was the freedom from armed conflict during Solomon's reign, a rare phenomenon in antiquity. (1)

For the first time in Jewish history, international commercial ties were established and developed to a very advanced degree. Roads were built to meet the new needs of world trade as well as a merchant fleet. Natural resources in mines and stone quarries were exploited and put to use. Foreign trade also brought about a significant change in Israel's domestic economy. From that time onward there emerged a professional merchant class engaged not only in negotiating trade agreements with foreign states, but also in procuring foreign goods for the home market and selling domestic products abroad. It has been said that not until Solomon's reign did the mercantile talents of the Jewish people display such scope and favorable results. (2)

Above all, however, centralized and magnificent expression was given to the monotheistic religion of Israel through the erection of the Solomonic Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple complex also enabled Solomon to achieve legitimacy according to Near Eastern cultural expectations. The Temple's sacred precincts facilitated international trade agreements and helped broker commercial transactions, because an oath before the gods in the ancient Near East cemented political treaties as well as the terms of exchange. Moreover, it provided a sense of shared trust between partners. (3)


Cognizant of both political and economic realities, Solomon realized that it was impossible to compete with the Phoenicians, who possessed the fleet, the resources, the experience and old-established connections on land and on the Mediterranean Sea. Only in collaboration with Tyre, the leading city and capital of Phoenicia, could his own economic plans be brought to fruition. The Phoenicians could not dictate the terms of this relationship, since the Israelite contribution to the partnership was Tyre's access to the inland routes as well as the manpower it provided for joint ventures. This was certainly the case when Phoenician maritime voyages originated at the Red Sea port of Eziongeber.

In the south, Solomon's kingdom did in fact extend as far as the Red Sea, described in the Bible as Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds), which in all likelihood was the reason Solomon chose Ezion-geber as his seaport, in addition to the one at Joppa (Jaffa) on the Mediterranean coast. A wall about 26 feet high and in places 13 feet wide surrounded Ezion-geber, which had acquired both strategic and commercial importance. Nelson Glueck, who directed the excavations there, noted "the tremendous achievement that Ezion-geber represents, owing to the one man, namely Solomon, who possessed the vision, the strength, the authority, the organizing ability, and the resources for a project of such dimensions." (4)

The Phoenicians were experienced in the business of setting up copper furnaces and refineries. Their smelting mines in Sardinia and Spain were called Tarshish after the ships specially equipped for transporting ore and metal cargoes. …

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