Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Judgment of Solomon

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

In the book of the ancient Hebrew scriptures generally known today as the First Book of the Kings or simply 1 Kings, we find the account of the following famous incident:
16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19 And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
22 And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus spake they before the king.
23 Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other said, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.*
This scene, of course, is referred to as "The Judgment of Solomon," and is usually viewed as the premier example of his famous wisdom and discernment. It is recounted immediately after a passage in which Solomon has a dream after sacrificing upon the great high place of Gibeon, in which the LORD appears to him, and asks Solomon what Solomon desires to be given from God; Solomon asks for wisdom, saying:
7 [. . .] I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.
8 And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou has chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.
9 Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?

This scene directly parallels the famous Judgment of Paris in the Greek myths, in which Paris did not choose wisdom, and the result was the Trojan War and tremendous grief, loss of life, and ensuing tragedy for the survivors and their families. In this dream sequence, Solomon does ask for wisdom, and is told: 
11 [. . .] Because thou has asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; 
12 Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.
13 And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.
After hearing this, we are told that Solomon awoke, and made offerings (verse 15). Immediately after that verse comes the scene of the judgment between the two harlots described above, which begins with verse 16. Clearly, the judgment between the two harlots directly following the dream and the granted request for discernment are meant to be considered together in the scripture passage, and the judgment scene is given as the powerful illustration of the discernment granted to the king.

I believe there are many indications in this passage that, like nearly all of the sacred stories of the ancient wisdom found all the way around our planet, the accounts of King Solomon found in ancient scripture are intended to be understood esoterically and not literally or historically. The celestial foundation of many other stories in the scriptures of what we today call the Bible, as well as the celestial story of many stories from the sacred myths and traditions of many other cultures, has been demonstrated repeatedly in previous posts listed here -- and can be demonstrated for many, many more. 

There are strong clues that this story of the Judgment of Solomon is also part of this ancient worldwide pattern.

First, it is notable that in the passage of the dream-encounter at Gibeon in which he asks for wisdom that Solomon says "thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude" (verse 8). This in spite of the fact that the children of Israel are often described as being outnumbered by their enemies and usually prevail in battle only by divine favor and against all that one would expect from a merely human or physical consideration. 

In other words, if the scriptures of the Old Testament are supposed to be literal history, then Solomon's description would seem to be somewhat contradictory to the situation as usually described. However, the description itself gives us a hint to ask whether this passage is really talking about historical people. The language in this verse distinctly invokes the stars of the sky: if these passages are actually describing events which take place in the heavens, then it is appropriate to say that Solomon stands "in the midst" of a people who "cannot be numbered or counted for multitude." Of course, this passage also hearkens directly back to the promise given to Abraham, that his descendants would be as the stars in the heavens -- if it is even possible to number them (Genesis 15:5, and many subsequent verses throughout the Hebrew scriptures after that).

Also, immediately after the passage describing the Judgment of Solomon, we are told that "Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision" (1 Kings 4:7). It can be amply demonstrated that the "twelve disciples of Jesus" and the "twelve tribes of Israel" are connected to the twelve signs of the zodiac in the wheel of the year. However, most people may not know that Solomon also has his own group of twelve: in this case, his "twelve officers over all Israel." As an added clue that these "twelve officers" are of a league with the twelve disciples and the twelve tribes, the verse informs us that each of the twelve "made provision" in his own moth of the year.

Thus, the famous Judgment itself is "sandwiched" between passages which contain clues indicating that we are dealing with celestial realities here, and not necessarily with literal history.

Examining the passage itself, the presence of a swordsman in this story might cause us to think back to another story in which a king is depicted raising a sword up -- the story from the Arabian Nights which was examined in two previous posts, here and here (spoiler alert: those two posts were presented as a kind of "puzzle" for the reader to figure out -- if you want to analyze the story from the Arabian Nights, you might want to go read those two posts in the order linked here before you read further in this post, since the discussion below will probably "give away" the celestial connections found in that story from the Arabian Nights, or at least give away my own particular interpretation of those connections).

Let's examine a portion of the night sky in which we find a figure raising a menacing weapon of some sort -- a weapon which is often interpreted as a club, but which could just as easily be seen as a sword: the constellation Hercules. Not far away from this looming figure with his upraised sword, we find a constellation whose connection with a mother and an infant is very well-established, in numerous ancient myths: the constellation Virgo. Between these two, we find the constant companion of Virgo, the "seated figure" of Bootes the Herdsman, as well as the arc-shaped crescent of stars known as the Northern Crown, or Corona Borealis.

I believe these constellations could very well correspond to the players in the Judgment of Solomon. 

First, the constellation Virgo is almost certainly the mother (either one of them or both of them). We have seen evidence that the distinctive outstretched arm of Virgo, marked by the star Vindemiatrix, was anciently envisioned as a mother nursing a newborn infant -- including in artwork from ancient Egypt depicting Isis and the infant Horus, as well as the accounts of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus (and see the discussion of the Manger or Nativity scene from the New Testament in this video).

At first, I thought that the figure with the upraised sword might correspond to Solomon himself, and that would mean that the large-headed figure of Bootes might be the baby, since babies have fairly large heads in relationship to their bodies. However, if you read the passage closely, you will see that the king is clearly giving commands to someone, first to "Divide the living child in two," and then to stop and not slay the child after all -- and from this we can conclude that he is not the one wielding the sword (unless Solomon was given to talking to himself, which would render the scene somewhat more frightening than it already is). 

So, the figure of Hercules probably does not correspond to the king, but rather to the swordsman to whom Solomon is speaking in the passage. This means that Bootes is most likely King Solomon in this star myth -- and we have to then figure out who is the baby.

Interestingly enough, there is a clear tradition in artwork down through the centuries which depicts characters in these stories as having the distinctive characteristics associated with the constellations. This fact is extremely remarkable, and worthy of deep study by art historians. Who has been passing on these esoteric traditions to artists down through the centuries? 

We can see evidence of the clear correspondence between artistic renditions and the outlines of constellations in some of the previous discussions of star myths, such as the art shown in the discussion of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac, the depiction of the daughter with outstretched arm and her timbrel in the horrible story of Jepthah's daughter, the depictions down through the centuries of the episode of the drunken Noah and his three sons, some of the depictions of the beheading of John the Baptist (see the one at the bottom of this post, in which aspects of the constellations Aquarius, Perseus, and Virgo are all clearly depicted in the three figures in the painting), and many others. 

In artwork depicting the Judgment of Solomon down through the centuries, Solomon is very commonly depicted as seated, with one arm extended -- a clear parallel to the outline of Bootes, who is seated and who has a long "pipe" coming out of his mouth, which could also be envisioned as his arm extended and pointing forward. 

The living infant is often depicted as being held firmly by the swordsman who is menacing it, and as it is held (often by the ankle), it is arching its back strongly (as infants often do) -- see for instance the depiction of the scene at the top of this post. This arched aspect of the living child in the artistic depictions of the story is the clue that tells us that, at least according to the traditions apparently present in sacred artwork down through the centuries, the living infant was associated with the constellation of the Northern Crown, which is arching strongly just beneath the upraised sword of Hercules and which can easily be envisioned as being dangled by Hercules from his extended forward hand (the hand that isn't holding the upraised sword):

The celestial aspects of the figures in the artwork shown at the top of this post should be fairly clear to the viewer -- the Hercules figure of the swordsman, the Bootes characteristics of the king on his throne, the mother with outstretched arm, and the arching infant:

The actual outline of the arc of the constellation Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown) has here been superimposed upon the artist's depiction of the living baby dangled by the swordsman, in order to show the remarkable correlation between the child and the starry outline.

In order to show that these distinctive "constellation characteristics" are present in the artwork depicting this famous judgment scene down through the centuries, below are a few more examples of artists' depictions of the episode from this passage of scripture (look especially for the arching baby, the outstretched arm of the mother, and the pointing arm of the seated king, as well as the upraised sword of the swordsman):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The above images should pretty well establish the fact that at least someone down through the ages has seen this episode of the Judgment of Solomon as representative of the celestial events played out by the constellations Hercules, Bootes, Virgo, and Corona Borealis! Together, they are powerful evidence that the larger thesis described in this blog and in the book The Undying Stars -- that the stories of the Bible (together with the myths of nearly every other culture on earth) -- actually describe the actions of heavenly players upon the stage of the celestial dome of the sky.

But we would be remiss if we discussed this incredibly powerful story without at least meditating briefly upon the meaning that these precious texts were actually trying to convey to us. If they were not actually intended to record an event that happened in literal history, then what were they intended to record?

I believe that the quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn, cited at the end of this previous post and discussed again in this previous post, may help to guide our consideration of these profound ancient writings. 

There, an address entitled "The Stable and the Manger" is cited, in which Kuhn asserts:
The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it! The Bible is about the mystery of human life. Instead of relating to the incidents of a remote epoch in temporal history, it deals with the reality of the living present in the life of every soul on earth.
In other words, Solomon is a representation of each and every soul on earth, as are the other circling celestial players who daily enact their drama of rising into the heavens and the plunging down below the horizon, over and over in endless succession. The plunge (or the Fall) was seen as representative of our own plunge from the realm of spirit into the realm of matter -- depicted by the star's journey "between the horizons," in the realm of matter which each star and constellation encounters when it sets in the west and toils down here in "the underworld" before ascending again into the unencumbered realm of the sky (and pure spirit). 

And what is our task here in this difficult journey through "the underworld" of incarnation, in which we each find ourselves? 

Well, Solomon's dream, recounted above and placed immediately prior to the famous judgment scene, tells us quite plainly: it is not to "ask for ourself long life," neither for riches nor for power over our enemies, but rather "for understanding to discern judgment." We come here, the ancient scriptures seem to be saying, in order to seek wisdom (see previous posts regarding the famous ancient Oracle at Delphi, which was traditionally held to bear the inscription commanding "Know thyself"). If we seek after that, the other good things might well be added, but (as the disastrous Judgment of Paris warns us), to seek them first instead of pursuing wisdom is not recommended.

Lest some astute reader point out that this post's assertion that the ancient traditions tell us that seeking wisdom is our central mission seems to contradict other posts which argue that the ancient traditions tell us that blessing is our central mission, that apparent contradiction is easily reconciled. As the posts discussing the injunction "Know thyself" make clear, the ancient traditions seem to imply that seeking wisdom has to do with recognizing our true nature as spirit plunged into matter, and then in elevating spirit in ourselves and the world around us -- in other words, the very thing that the concept of blessing entails.

The wisdom we are talking about, in fact, is not necessarily wisdom for solving problems, despite the fact that the example of Solomon's Judgment seems to be a "problem-solving" example. But this episode is metaphorical, meant to convey higher truths and not simply recount a literal historical event. In the Judgment of Solomon, one mother wants to impart and preserve life -- even if it means giving up her child to another woman who is not the child's mother. The other harlot is happy to have the child cut in two -- even after the actual mother of the child screams out to give the baby to the other harlot (which doesn't actually make much sense, if you think about it: the real mother has just conceded the child, in verse 26, which is what the deceitful mother apparently wanted in the first place, and before the king even says anything, the deceitful mother says, "Forget that -- I didn't really want the child -- cut it up instead -- even though a minute ago I was trying to get custody of the same child, and the mother just said I could have it"). 

At one level, these two mothers can be seen as representative of the constant tension we face between life-giving blessing, and all that it entails, and the constant temptation to deny the divine spark in ourself and others, to give in to the physical, to objectify and to deaden -- in the words of Simone Weil in her famous 1940 essay, the impulse which, "exercised to its limit, [. . .] turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him" (6). 

This story seems to be saying that, if each sacred myth is really the story of each and every soul here in this physical incarnation, we are supposed to be somehow elevating that life-giving impulse -- bringing out and lifting up the "true mother" within our own personal domain (within ourselves, that is): the one who is giving, and selfless. We should also be trying to lift up and elevate this principle in the world around us, but without violating the proper "kingdoms" of all the other individuals around us, each of whom is his or her own Solomon (or, we might say, his or her own "Solomon-Sheba," since Solomon is paired up with the Queen of Sheba in a type of alchemical wedding that is beyond the scope of this particular essay; Sheba herself represents Wisdom, and her name "Sheba" [or "Seba"] invokes the number seven, which is directly related to Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1).

I believe it is very important to realize that, while each of us are supposed to see in Solomon-Sheba our own condition in this life ("I am but a little child: I known not how to go out or come in [. . .] Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart"), we must also recognize that everyone around us is also properly a Solomon-Sheba in charge of his or her own personal Temple of body, mind and spirit. Thus, it is appropriate to present evidence to others in order to give them as much good information to help them in their judgments as possible, but their judgments must be up to them (as long as they do not decide to go violate the temple of our body through violence, that is).

As a very practical example, I believe that the evidence that I myself have found regarding the celestial foundation of the Biblical scriptures and the other sacred traditions around the world is appropriate to present to those who are seeking this information, as they "make judgments" within the palace of their own minds, but it is absolutely not appropriate for me to tell them how they should ultimately judge. 

And I believe this principle applies in just about every other matter: we can offer evidence and arguments, especially if asked for our counsel, but to insist that another "judge" or "rule" on any matter in a way that we dictate is to violate their "kingdom" (again, the main exception would be cases in which someone's judgments lead them to acts of violence which violate natural or universal law -- we have every right to insist that others must not do physical violence to others or to ourselves, and while we can debate the extent of this prohibition, I believe it extends to prohibiting violence done to animals and to the natural world as well).

But, to the extent that others do not "invade," I think we must recognize them as their own King Solomon (and Queen of Sheba), just as we ourselves should recognize ourselves in this story, and the profound messages it has for us. It urges us to recognize the real nature of this physical existence: one that includes a spirit component, and that is not just lifeless matter. And it urges not just to recognize the life-giving force exemplified by the loving mother, the selfless mother, the compassionate mother, but to elevate that principle, to bring it out when it is hidden or obscured, to lift it up and exalt it in our own "court" and -- as much as is in our power, without violating the rights of others -- in the world around us as well. 

* 1 Kings 3: 16 - 28 (italics in the translation to indicate words not found in the original Hebrew text but added by the translators in order to soften the idiom or express it in a way more amendable to the way it would commonly be expressed in English).