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I'm reading through Samuel and Kings at the moment (basically the same book, I know). I've just come to the well-known story of Solomon and the two (prostitute) mothers. I was wondering whether this is supposed to be a (literal) historical story? It come immediately after Solomon's asking for wisdom, so I was wondering if alternatively it is in there to demonstrate Solomon's wisdom, but not necessarily historical.

The main reason for thinking this (is a possibility) is that is seems rather unlikely that the fraud-mother would be happy for the child to be cut in half. It's one thing trying to nick someone else's baby, but then to be all up for killing that baby is a very different thing! I know there are other parts of the Bible where the text is there to be illustrative, not historical. I'm blanking on specifics at the moment.*

As I've been going through various bits of the Bible with my commentary, these sorts of things are pointed out by referencing the original text(s) and similar - I can't do this, not being a Biblical scholar, so I have to rely on other people's information (information, not opinion). My commentary doesn't mention anything on this.

*This is most unhelpful, as questions shouldn't just make claims without backing them up! I'll edit this if I remember a specific other than the one we're all thinking of but I don't want to mention! In particular, in Genesis (not the start of!) it's more about how and why the Israelite nation came into existence, not just an history book.

If anyone has any information on this, I'd be most grateful!

  • I'm really not being sexist here but... Anyone who doubts the woman would be willing to let a child that is not hers be cut in half has clearly very little experience with exactly how spiteful and cruel women can be with each other... That's not too say men can't be terrible in their own way, but in my experience women are the worst to other women. To doubt this story based on how evil it sounds is to seriously underestimate human depravity. – Joshua Jan 23 '16 at 1:27
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The answer is provided by Lester L. Grabbe,Professor of the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism at the University of Hull, in his book, Ancient Israel. He says (page 114) he finds it difficult to discover much in the Solomon story that strikes him as likely to be historical, although he does not discount the existence of a king Solomon. On page 121, he says (citing A. Mazar), "It is certain that much of the biblical narrative concerning David and Solomon is mere fiction and embellishment written by later authors."

The story of the two mothers is the only real instance in the biblical account of Solomon that demonstrates, or seeks to demonstrate, his great wisdom gifted by God. The artificiality of the story and its occurrence at just the right place in the story are consistent with it being part of the mere fiction and embellishment mentioned by Grabbe. You are right that a wiser king would realise that he could not really rely on only the real mother being willing to give up the baby rather than have it killed.

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    Thanks, that's an excellent reference, just the sort of thing that I was looking for. I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to say "it is certain that much... is mere fiction...". There is always the danger of going too far, and if you ('one') starts claiming that large proportions of the Bible are fiction when they don't give a clear indication that they are, then you have to start questioning other parts (eg, did Jesus really die, or is this just a story illustrating his love for us?). Anyway, thank you for the reference, I shall check it out at some point. :) - Regards, Sam – Sam T May 23 '15 at 8:12
  • I'll leave the question open for the moment (not marking as accepted) because I'd still be interested to see if anyone else has comments/references, particularly supporting the other position. :) – Sam T May 23 '15 at 8:13
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Perhaps I am naive, but I remember thinking about this many years ago and I arrived at the following conclusions:

a) A malicious woman is malicious, a delusional woman is delusional. I can see a traumatised, delusional woman being happy to have no baby at all, than be exposed. Given her baby had also died, what meaning does the death of the stolen one have to her, none. She took the baby to pacify her grief and loss and for her the living baby represented the dead one, so to kill it was no problem as she had already lost one. Whilst the real mother couldn't bear the thought.

b) We dont know the background. Death didnt seem to matter in this case, as long as the real mother didnt get the baby the false one was happy. Her baby is dead, so who cares about anyone elses. The conflict, trauma and drama seemed more important to her than the baby itself.

c) This particular incident shows the Wisdom of Solomon for sure, but the underlying message of the story 'show-cases' the integrity of Solomon and his absolute ruthlessness toward the guilty party, once he had discerned the deception. The message I see, is if anyone plays around, Solomon wont take any prisoners - everyone loses. Better to be honest, because Solomon in his wisdom, will find out who is playing who, and no one plays the King.

I tend to believe the story is historical - at least to some degree, as I remember Solomon was a young, new King in this story and this was a perfect opportunity to assert himself and expose the masses to some shock-treatment. An opportune message for the Kingdom, this new King although young, was no fool and certainly no push-over. An wise but intimidating King who would not be manipulated for anything and who would kill babies to find the truth.

It's an interesting concept of integrity and intimidation to be associated to the young Solomon, who later in life became very easy to manipulate, for the right price of course. Looking at the over all life of Solomon, I dont believe this incident was fraudulent, but rather a demonstration of how far even King Solomon can fall once corruption sets in.

And the devils were once God's angels who fell from the top

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