When king David grows old, a tasty virgin is brought in to keep him warm. Sadly, he's beyond "getting heat", so he "knew her not". Adonijah, a brother of the troublesome Absalom, more or less takes over the country without David even noticing (a scene reminiscent of the magnificent "The autumn of the patriarch" by Marquez). Nathan the prophet cooks up a plan: Bath-sheba is to go to David and ask him to appoint her son Solomon (David is his father; remember the story of Uriah) as the next king, at which point Nathan will come in to "prophesy" a bit about king Solomon. Works a treat, obviously: David dies and Solomon is crowned king. Adonijah, Solomon's half-brother, visits Bath-sheba and asks her to ask Solomon to give him Abishag for a wife (the dishy lady brought in to warm David; now his son wants to marry her. Keep it in the family). Solomon, upon hearing the request, is angry and orders Adonijah to be put to death. Various complicated revenge games ensue, with Solomon effectively reducing the number of (half-)brothers - always a good idea, as they tend to be rather over-competitive. He then marries the pharaoh's daughter; a clever political move to ensure stability with their longtime Egyptian enemies. God appears in a dream to Solomon, who expresses doubts about his ability as a ruler. As he is so modest, god grants him wisdom in judgment, along with riches, honour & longevity. To give you an idea of how wise Solomon became, we get the story of the two hookers, who both had a baby at the same time. After three days, one of the babies died, so the evil mother switched babies during the night. Solomon suggests cutting up the remaining baby so that they can both have half. The evil one agrees, but the real mother is afraid for the baby's life. Solomon cleverly deduces who the real mother is and gives her back her baby. Clever, ain't he? I guess in those days this counted as unprecedented psychological insight. His wisdom is great, for "he spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five". Pity they all got lost though - makes you think, right.
Solomon decides to finally build the "house of the lord" and cuts a deal with Hiram king of Tyre (in Lebanon) for a huge quantity of cedar wood. The temple measures about 28x9 m, and is 14 m high (not very impressive, somehow). It's quite an elaborate construction though, with a stone core, paneled with wood, and several chambers/levels including a spiral staircase. It is then decorated by two big statues of cherubims (some 4,5 m in height) and lots of carvings - more cherubims, palm trees and flowers. Everything is then gold-plated; the whole thing takes 7 years to build. Meanwhile, more houses are built: one for Solomon himself, one for the pharaoh's daughter, and one for a courtroom (this one much bigger than god's house, strangely) - all made with costly stones & cedar and olive wood. King Hiram is fetched to fit all with brass ornaments - pillars with pomegranates and lilies and many other devices & gadgets - I'm not sure what they are all for, sorry. A "molten sea" resting on 12 oxen? Ten "bases"? Ten "lavers", each one containing 40 "baths"? We might need a modern translation here. A collection of silver & gold utensils for temple usage completes the collection. The ark (containing Moses' stone tablets, remember) is ceremoniously carried into its new "home" and the "glory of the lord" fills the house in the shape of a great cloud. And since we can't have a party without some gory killings, the occasion is celebrated by a frenzy of ritual slaughter of "sheep and oxen, that could not be told nor numbered for multitude". I'm sure god was pleased.
By the by, in his oration Solomon briefly wonders if the creator of everything really could "live" in a house. Wouldn't heaven be empty then? Smart guy indeed. In an extended prayer he entreats god to always help the Israelites. For a "peace offering", a staggering 22.000 oxen and 120.000 sheep (!) are killed to bless the temple (the number of animals butchered must number in the millions. Pity we can't ask them what they think about their creator, and the interesting ways humans worship him). God gives his promise to assist the Israelites but also points out that should they turn away from him (like they only did about a 100 times before…), he will abandon & punish them (how unexpected). After 20 years, Hiram gets 20 cities as payment for his work; sadly he doesn't like them.
A relatively peaceful time follows (it's worth pointing out here that in the bible, the Hebrew word "shalom" simply means "everybody doing exactly what god wants, with all dissidents either slaughtered or enslaved" - a rather questionable definition of "peace"). The queen of Sheba visits & is mightily impressed by both Solomon's wisdom and riches: he "exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom". All of the earth? Hm… probably another rather local affair, just like that "global" flood nobody ever noticed. But hey, what do you know, it was too good to be true for long: Solomon, getting a bit high on power & riches, collects 700 (!) wives, plus 300 more concubines. Busy little fucker. In his old age, he even starts to worship other gods - and oh horror, even goddesses (what do you expect? A guy screwing a thousand women… no wonder he worships females). Guess what - god is super pissed. Solomon dies and several adversaries "rise up" to compete for the throne.
Note: the bible author mentions a certain "book of the acts of Solomon" here, presumably containing all of his wisdom (3000 proverbs, 1005 songs!). Strangely, this book is not included in the bible - a real pity, since Solomon is always presented as a super clever & wise guy. As it is, the only story we have for "proof" of his wisdom is the one about the two harlots - interesting but hardly breathtaking. Apart from that, there is nothing, just the oft-repeated statement that he *was* wise. Not a very convincing legacy, I'd say.
A new king, Rehoboam (one of Solomon's sons) turns out to be considerably less wise: when confronted with an uprising he neglects the (wise) advice from old men and follows the (hotheaded) advice from young men (absolute folly to a people obsessed by patriarchy). Needless to say, this gets him into hot waters. All the country turns against him, "so Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day" (??). A certain Jeroboam, another contender for the throne, builds 2 golden calves for worship (been there, done that… doesn't work, just pisses off god. He should have known).
Weird intermezzo: A prophet arrives, proclaiming the birth of Josiah, from the house of David (we will probably hear more of him later). Another prophet invites him to his house; prophet #1 accepts, despite a warning from god that he shouldn't - because prophet #2 tells him it's OK (but he's lying). After leaving, P1 is killed by a lion. P2 hears this, is sad, gets the body, buries it & asks to be buried next to it. You tell me.
Abijah, a son of Jeroboam, falls sick. Jeroboam sends over his wife to the prophet Ahijah, but in disguise. God however spies the trick & tells on Ahijah, who duly prophesies disaster. Abijah dies. Once more, there is mention of a "lost" book: the "chronicles of the kings of Israel". Meanwhile in Judah, Rehoboam rules but god is also angry at him, so Egyptians come & spoil/rob the temple of the lord (more adventures of Rehoboam can be found in the "chronicles of the kings of Judah"). When Rehoboam dies, his son Abijam becomes king (not to be confused with Jehoboam's son Abijah, who dies, or the prophet Ahijah… don't know what happened here, this scribe seems to have really enjoyed toying with names). He is succeeded by Asa, his son. Nice detail: both Abijam and his son Asa share the same mother - in other words, Abijam humped his own mother… once more, three cheers for Team Incest.
More kings come & go - some good, some bad. Yawn. Constant mentioning of those "chronicles" for more details. I've got this nagging suspicion our friend the scribe was also getting pretty bored by this point, so he started inventing funny variations on names & thought up non-existing books.
We encounter another well-known figure: the prophet Elijah (continuing the word game, I'd say - that would make him Phooey). God revives a dead child after pleas from Elijah, so he's definitely one of the good guys. He confronts king Ahab, a particularly bad egg, and suggests a "prophet showdown": all 450 Baal-worshiping prophets are to build altars & invoke Baal. Obviously, nothing happens: Baal doesn't show himself. Elijah then builds an altar of his own and invokes god, who promptly appears with lots of fire and special effects (no surprise there). Everybody is convinced/converted & Elijah personally kills his 450 hapless colleagues. Like I said, he's a good guy.
More wars with Syria. King Ahab is troubled: he covets a vineyard belonging to a certain Naboth, who refuses to part with "the inheritance of his fathers" however (that might be symbolic, I guess). Ahab's wife Jezebel (we already had that name some time ago for another evil woman) thinks up a nefarious plan: a fast is proclaimed, Naboth is accused of breaking it (because he wasn't informed about it) and he is piously stoned. Ahab then seizes the vineyard, but god sends Elijah to warn Ahab that dogs will consume him for this murder/theft act. Ahab goes all weepy & contrite, so god decides to forgive him (weird, as he was an evil Baal-worshiping bastard all his life). After three years of peace (see above), the war with the Syrians once more erupts. When Ahab dies, his son Ahaziah becomes king, another Baal-worshiping bastard invoking the wrath of god. I really wonder why everybody insists on worshiping Baal if he's so utterly powerless… it's just possible we get a rather one-sided & biased account of events here; it would be interesting to read the same stories as seen from the Baalites' perspective. If those writings still exist. Which I doubt.