The Forces of King Solomon

King Solomon is famous for using his wisdom to mediate weighty conflicts. Yet, in his new biography of the Biblical figure, Solomon: The Lure of Wisdom, Steven Weitzman makes it clear that Solomon’s knowledge extended to a wide variety of areas: some Jamaicans credit the king with the discovery of marijuana, the “wisdom weed,” and a Medieval legend describes his invention of a cream to remove the Queen of Sheba’s leg hair.

These tales aside, Solomon is a mysterious figure about whom little is known for certain. The author draws what he can from the Old Testament, but also incorporates a multitude of other sources, looking to stories from the Talmud and rabbinical traditions for their portrayals of the great king.

The mystery of Solomon lies in how a life characterized by such great wisdom ended in such great folly: by the end of his life, Solomon had fallen precipitously into idolatry. In exploring this theme, Weitzman shows how the king is an ancient predecessor to the tale of Faust, who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge.

As such, Solomon is not only a biography; in fact, in Jewish Ideas Daily, Eve Levavi Feinstein called it “a meditation on the pursuit of wisdom and its consequences,” which asks how it is “that the wisest of men could have succumbed to this gravest of follies,” and delves into “what can this teach us about the nature of wisdom itself.”

Weitzman is not the only one to have been intrigued the paradoxes of Solomon’s story. Composer Judd Greenstein has been working on a Solomon symphony since 2008, the first part of which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2009. Greenstein, too, was intrigued by the way in which the fall of Solomon and his empire ran parallel to his reputation as a man of wisdom, and like Weitzman, Greenstein draws on an eclectic range of influences, from Eastern European folk music to the rhythms of hip hop.

King Solomon, with his insatiable thirst for knowledge of all kinds, seems to inspire these kinds of wide-reaching endeavors, proof that, ancient as Solomon’s legend may be, this insatiable thirst has not dried up over the centuries. Wisdom is as alluring to us today as it was to King Solomon, and Weitzman’s book serves as both a celebration of that lure and a warning of its potential consequences.

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