The Deuteronomistic Critique of Solomon: A Response to Marvin A. Sweeney

Article excerpt

The portrayal of Solomon in the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH) has occasioned much scholarly attention owing to the tantalizing ambivalence surrounding Solomon's image and the attendant ramifications for the composition of DtrH. In a recent article in this journal, Marvin A. Sweeney has provided a useful outline of the problem, focusing on the apparent discrepancy between Solomon's roles as first heir to the Davidic dynasty, wisest of all kings and founder of the Temple, on the one hand, and a sinner who is held responsible for the division of the united kingdom, on the other hand.1 Before offering his own solution, Sweeney briefly refers to two alternative lines of reasoning on the issue: first, that the dichotomous portrayals of Solomon are to be related to the notion of a double redaction of DtrH; second, that the negative portrayal of Solomon stems from the Deuteronomist's incorporation of northern material following the fall of Samaria. After successfully pointing to the weaknesses of the second approach in particular, Sweeney puts forward his own analysis, namely, that a closer inspection of the Solomon-related material in DtrH reveals signs of an ongoing critique, which purposely presents Solomon "as the foil for Josiah and the antithesis of ideal kingship in the DtrH" (p. 622). Moreover, Sweeney puts his literary analysis within a specific historical context in arguing that the overall critique of Solomon points to a Josianic historiographer who saw "the propagandistic value of condemning Solomon in relation to a policy that was designed to attract the people of the former northern kingdom of Israel back to Davidic rule" (p. 616 n. 33).

In evaluating Sweeney's proposal, it is important to separate its literary and historical aspects. One must first question whether the overall portrayal of Solomon in DtrH can legitimately be read as a veiled critique. As a corollary, one may ask whether the critique, to the extent that it exists, indeed corresponds to the propagandistic purpose Sweeney attributes to it.

On the literary-critical level, Sweeney's analysis represents a departure from those studies which view 1 Kings 11 as standing completely apart from the preceding chapters in its singular criticism of Solomon.2 To the contrary, Sweeney argues that two themesnamely, Solomon's apostasy through foreign marriages and his mistreatment of the northern tribes, the very causes for the breakup of the monarchy according to 1 Kings 11-12-permeate the narrative of 1 Kings 3-10 as well. Sweeney adduces his evidence for the first theme from the scattered notices referring to Pharaoh's daughter (1 Kgs 3:1; 7:8; 9:16, 24) and from the irony inherent in the fact that Jeroboam is given sanctuary by none other than Pharaoh (1 Kgs 11:40). As for Solomon's mistreatment of the northern tribes, Sweeney points to the royal district list in 1 Kgs 4:7-19, the report of a forced levy in 1 Kgs 5:27-32, and Solomon's ceding of twenty Galilean cities to Hiram mentioned in 1 Kgs 9:10-14, all of which appear to discriminate against northern interests.

Methodologically, however, one must question the way in which Sweeney is using the evidence. Can the texts he cites indeed be said to consciously advance a historiographic agenda?3 And, if so, must that agenda necessarily carry negative overtones? Alternatively, might the texts in question, or at least some of them, be better appreciated in terms of their supplying the raw material, however unwittingly, for a modern, historical appreciation of Solomon's kingdom? Regarding these issues, Sweeney fails to distinguish between passages that form part of an editorially conditioned structure and those that do not constitute part of a particular literary patterning. In the first category, one may assign the notices relating to Pharaoh's daughter in 3:1-2(4) and 9:24-25. As noted recently by Marc Brettler, these verses form part of the Deuteronomist's overall literary frame, inasmuch as they define the boundaries of the two opposing portrayals of Solomon in 1 Kings 3-11 (a point we shall return to below). …


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