Is Solomon’s Glory Based on the Assyrian Shalmaneser III’s Exploits? – part 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Here we [being to] conclude our overview of Russell Gmirkin’s chapter ‘Solomon’ (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom by addressing his view that the Acts of Solomon that we read about in 1 Kings were sourced from records of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. For context see the previous two posts:

In 1 Kings 11:41 we read a passage that indicates that the author was drawing on a written chronicle of Solomon’s deeds that he had been covering since chapter 3:

As for the other events of Solomon’s reign—all he did and the wisdom he displayed—are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon? (NIV)

(The passage says “other events” and I had always assumed that such passages in 1-2 Kings directed readers to information that was not covered in the biblical narrative. Here the annals/acts are interpreted as a source for the biblical narrative itself.)

Gmirkin informs us that “the identity of Solomon and Shalmaneser III was first suggested by [another scholar whose work we have featured on Vridar] Greg Doudna in private conversation c. 2000.”

Few critical readers of the Bible believe that Solomon’s kingdom stretched from the Euphrates river to Egypt yet that is what we read in 1 Kings 4:21

And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.

The Assyrian empire did rule “from the Euphrates” (Assyrian monarchs spoke of the Euphrates as the border of their kingdom beyond which their eastern empire stretched) to Egypt at its greatest extent in the seventh century BCE. (Shalmaneser III was of the ninth century BCE.)

From Wikimedia Commons

Gmirkin posits three literary strata in 1 Kings 3-11 and writes that the oldest of these that “[describes] campaigns and empire-building in the vicinity of the Euphrates river” is very similar to the genre of Assyrian inscriptions, listing the great deeds of a single king and publishing them in his lifetime. Readers will have questions and so do I and I am sure Russell will help us with responses. My first question is to ask what details in the first stratum of 1 Kings 3-11 suggest “campaigns and empire-building [specifically] in the vicinity of the Euphrates river”?

Below is a table enabling a quick comparison of that “oldest strata” as identified by Gmirkin in I Kings 3-11 and a selection of some portions I have pulled out of royal inscriptions of Shalmaneser III:

1 Kings 4:26 Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses.

27 The district governors, each in his month, supplied provisions for King Solomon and all who came to the king’s table. They saw to it that nothing was lacking. 28 They also brought to the proper place their quotas of barley and straw for the chariot horses and the other horses.

1 Kings 5:13 King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel—thirty thousand men. 14 He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. 15 Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, 16 as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workers. 17 At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. 18 The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple.

From the Kurkh monolith: From of the Hattinites, I received 3 talents of gold, 100 talents of silver, 300 talents of copper, 300 talents of iron, 1,000 copper vessels, 1,000 brightly colored garments (of wool) and linen, his daughter with her large dowry, 20 talents of purple wool, 500 cattle, 5,000 sheep. One talent of silver, 2 talents of purple wool, 200 cedar logs, I imposed upon him as his tribute. Yearly I received it in my city Assur. Haianu, son of Gabbari, (who lived) at the foot of Mount Amanus,—10 talents of silver, 90 talents of copper, 30 talents of iron, 300 brightly colored garments of wool and linen, 300 cattle, 3,000 sheep, 200 cedar logs, 2 homers of cedar resin (lit., blood of the cedar), his daughter with her rich dowry, I received from him. 10 minas of silver, 100 cedar logs, a homer of cedar resin, I laid upon him as his tribute; yearly I received it. Aramu, son of Agusi,—10 minas of gold, 6 talents of silver, 500 cattle, 5,000 sheep, I received from him. Sangara, of Carchemish,—3 talents of gold, 70 talents of silver, 30 talents of copper, 100 talents of iron, 20 talents of purple wool, 500 weapons, his daughter, with dowry, and 100 daughters of his nobles, . . . .

Both Solomon and Shalmaneser collected tribute –horses, chariots, harems, gold, silver, etc.

Gmirkin further points out that the “acts of Solomon” in 1 Kings 3-11 contain “many political references anachronistic prior to c. 840 BCE.” My question: What are some of these anachronisms? (Maybe they are mentioned later in the chapter but if so they have slipped while preparing this post.)

Continuing with a section of that “oldest stratum” is a suggestive common clustering of five kings (of a total of twelve) who allied themselves against Shalmaneser III:

1 Kings 10:28 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. 29 They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.




Shalmaneser III erected a monument at Mount Carmel testifying of his conquests of Syria and her allies, including Israel. (Map from Bible History)
Shalmaneser’s Kurkh monolith inscription: 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, 20,000 soldiers, of Hadad-ezer, of Aram; 700 chariots, 700 cavalry, 10,000 soldiers of Irhuleni of Hamath [a Hittite city] 2,000 chariots, 10,000 soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite, 500 soldiers of the Gueans [Kue] 1,000 soldiers of the Musreans [Egyptians], . . . . —these twelve kings he brought to his support; to offer battle and fight, they came against me.

Compare various inscriptions of Shalmaneser’s campaigns to subdue the Aramean city of Damascus with its allies that are listed together in Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts: I (also) marched as far as the mountains of Ba’li-ra’si [near Mount Carmel] which is a promontory (lit.: at the side of the sea) and erected there a stela with my image as king. At that time I received the tribute of the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon, and of Jehu, son of Omri, Hadadezer, king of Damascus…, together with 12 kings of Hatti-land, rose against me. . . . I conquered Ashtamaku, the royal residence of Irhuleni of Hatti, together with 86 (other towns). . . . The tribute of Jehu…, son of Omri … I received from him silver, gold, a golden saplu-bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king, (and) wooden puruhtu. . . . The tribute of the country Musri; I received from him camels whose backs were doubled, a river ox (hippopotamus), a … (rhinoceros), a susu -antelope, elephants, … – (and) … monkeys. . . . The tribute of Karparunda from Hattina; I received from him silver, gold, tin, bronze, copper … ivory, (and) ebony-wood.

The Kurkh monolith (map from Sutori.com)

 And, of course, we have the similarity of the names:

Shalmaneser appeared as שלמו in the biblical text (Hos. 10:14), very close to the spelling of Solomon as שלמה (LXX Σολομών) in 1 Kings 3-11. 

(Gmirkin, 84)

Continuing the train of thought from the earlier posts in this series, Gmirkin explains:

The appearance of Shalmaneser III in the biblical text as a mighty king who ruled the territories south of the Euphrates is easily accounted for as a local tradition among the Assyrian ruling class in the later province of Samerina [Assyrian Samaria].

Next post we’ll begin with the second literary stratum “of the Acts of Solomon” in 2 Kings 3-11.

Gmirkin, Russell. 2020. “‘Solomon’ (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom.” In Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson, edited by Lukasz Niesiolowski-Spanò and Emanuel Pfoh, 76–90. Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies. New York: T&T Clark.

Luckenbill, Daniel David, ed. 1926. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. Volume I, Historical Records of Assyria from the Earliest Times to Sargon. Ancient Records, First Series. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press. http://archive.org/details/LuckenbillAncientRecordsAssyria01.

Pritchard, James B., ed. 1969. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third edition with Supplement. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. https://archive.org/details/AncientNearEasternTextsRelatingToTheOldTestament

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16 thoughts on “Is Solomon’s Glory Based on the Assyrian Shalmaneser III’s Exploits? – part 1”

  1. As for the other events of Solomon’s reign—all he did and the wisdom he displayed—are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon? (NIV)

    (The passage says “other events” and I had always assumed that such passages in 1-2 Kings directed readers to information that was not covered in the biblical narrative. Here the annals/acts are interpreted as a source for the biblical narrative itself.)

    1 Kgs 11.41 uses a formula similar to excerpts from the Annals of the Kings of Judah and Israel which first quotes regnal data and select events about a given king but then sometimes alludes to other events found recorded in the annals but not quoted in Kings. E.g. 1 Kgs 16.5, “As for the other events of Baasha’s reign, what he did and his achievements, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?” And 1 Kgs 15.31-33, etc.

  2. Neil: Readers will have questions and so do I and I am sure Russell will help us with responses. My first question is to ask what details in the first stratum of 1 Kings 3-11 suggest “campaigns and empire-building [specifically] in the vicinity of the Euphrates river”?

    The suzerainty treaties with subject kings, tribute, etc., which you refer to, all generally speak to empire-building. For control of the vicinity of the Euphrates, see especially the following:

    1 Kgs 4.21, “And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.”
    1 Kgs 4.24, “For he ruled over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and had peace on all sides.”

    The extent of Solomon’s kingdom here doesn’t accurately refer to that of Shalmaneser III, but anachronistically reflects Neo-Assyrian territories ca. 700 BCE, but the references to the Euphrates River and the adjacent kingdoms being subject to Solomon implies empire-building west of the Euphrates. Shalmaneser III was the first Assyrian king to seize territory west of the Euphrates, and the battle of Qarqar in 853 BCE against the South Syrian League is notable in that respect.

    Note that some of “Solomon’s” campaigns near the Euphrates appear to have been transferred to the novelistic account of David as military leader. Nadav Na’aman, “In Search of Reality Behind the Account of David’s Wars with Israel’s Neighbors,” IEJ (2002): 207-210 notes that the stories of David’s war against the Arameans in 2 Sam. 8, 10 also demonstrate acquaintance with Assyrian accounts of the battle of Qarqar. At 2 Sam. 8.3, David defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob of Zobah when the latter was defending his border at the river Euphrates. In 2 Sam. 10, soldiers from Hadadezer and other minor Syrian states, including Hadadezer’s allies from as far as the “other side of the River,” were hired as mercenaries to assist the king of Ammon. Given the similar numbers of troops reported for Hadadezer, it appears these were two versions of the same event. In both stories, Hadadezer of Zobah was portrayed as leader of a powerful coalition of minor Aramean kingdoms extending as far north as the Euphrates. The figure of Hadadezer of Zobah appears to be based on “Adad-’idri of Aram,” the leader of the league of twelve kings who banded together to fight against Shalmaneser III at the battle of Qarqar.

    Of course I was not able to bring in much detail in my article for the Thompson Festscrift due to article length restrictions, but I have a couple chapters on Solomon / Shalmaneser in my book Berossus and Kings that I hope to get to the editors in the next year or two.

  3. Neil: “Gmirkin further points out that the ‘acts of Solomon’ in 1 Kings 3-11 contain ‘many political references anachronistic prior to c. 840 BCE.’ My question: What are some of these anachronisms?”

    One notable anachronism was Solomon’s chariot forces (1 Kgs 4.26; 9.19, 22; 10.26, 29). Redford notes the utter lack of archaeological evidence for chariot forces in the tenth century BCE, while in the ninth century BCE one has the chariot cities of Gezer and Megiddo as well as the Assyrian reference to Ahab’s chariot forces at the battle of Qarqar.

    The mention of acquisition of horses and chariots from Egypt, Aram, the Hittites and Que at 1 Kgs 10.28-29 is equally anachronistic. Quoting from Berossus and Kings, “The Palestinian campaign of Pharaoh Siamun and the later destructions under Shishak bear witness to persisting Egyptian claims to territorial dominion in South Syria in the tenth century BCE. In light of Egypt’s sporadic territorial claims in South Syria during the tenth century BCE, it seems unlikely Egypt would provide weapons of war to a potential enemy. The Neo-Hittite states only rose to prominence in northern Syria during the ninth century BCE. Likewise the Arameans only become a major power in South Syria around the same time. Finally, the mention of horses from Que stands out as an anachronism in the tenth century BCE, as Que in Cilicia was first mentioned in the ninth century BCE as one of the participants at the battle of Qarqar.”

    The troubles of Solomon with the Arameans under Rezon, the successor of Hadadezer of Zobah who established a new capital city at Damascus (1 Kgs 11.23-25) could be taken as reflecting the war between Shalmaneser III and Hadadezer in 843-841 BCE and against his successor Hazael who historically established Damascus as his capital and was besieged there by Shalmaneser. The memorial inscription at Ba’li-ra’si on the Mediterranean coast (possibly at Mount Carmel), the first memorial inscription of the region, describing the Acts of Shalmaneser (a phrase familiar from other inscriptions from his reign), was inscribed in the aftermath of the campaign of 841 BCE and may have been the (cuneiform) source of the Acts of Solomon.

    Of course other details like the harems and vast wealth of Solomon, etc., are highly appropriate to the Assyrian kings who were only present in the Southern Levant starting in the ninth century BCE but are absurd in a tenth century BCE context.

    1. I should note that the inscription at Ba’li-ra’si is not extant, but Shalmanaser III elsewhere is said to have erected an inscription there, and its contents undoubtedly recounted military events of the reqion leading up to his victories in 841 BCE, accounts which do survive mostly intact in other military narratives.

  4. Gosh, the Bible claiming the accomplishments of others were those of prominent Hebrews. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you. It is telling that the authors of Kings had to copy these accomplishments because … they ran out of imagination? They couldn’t dream up even more spectacular accomplishments? Or they wanted them to feel “real”?

  5. Neil – In the boxes above you show 1 Kings 4:26-28; 5:13-18 and 10:28-29 from this stratum but in his additional comments Russell refers to other passages as well, so I presume this isn’t the whole of the first literary stratum. Can you give us a clear references for this stratum (and the other two) so that I can distinguish precisely between the tree?

    And Russell – can you give date for this earliest stratum (and the other strata too in due course)? You give a terminus post quem of 841 BCE, but do you narrow it down any further? In your comments you say that the “extent of Solomon’s kingdom … reflects Neo-Assyrian territories ca. 700 BCE” so presumably that is closer to the date of the stratum’s composition.

    1. In my book I do an extensive redactional analysis on 1 Kgs 4-11 and detect three literary layers. The first is the oldest, original account from the (cuneiform) memorial inscription of Solomon which has elements that are clearly related to Assyrian accounts of the battle of Qarqar (853 BCE) and appears to have echoes of later Assyrian campaigns in the vicinity of Damascus from 843-841 BCE. I conclude that this earliest source was the inscription of Shalmaneser III at Ba’li-ra’si from ca. 840 BCE.

      The second literary layer has various pointers to a Neo-Assyrian origin ca. 700 BCE (now in Aramaic) in which the inscriptional records of Shalmaneser III in the region were amplified by legends of his wisdom, his international relations (with Hiram of Tyre, the Queen of Sheba, Egypt) and his local building activities in which monumental architecture from the time of Ahab of Israel (including Jerusalem) were attributed to Shalmaneser. Some of this material indirectly draws on the cuneiform material but reworks it, e.g. claiming Shalmaneser constructed local chariot cities, or extending the boundaries of his empire to the River of Egypt (the boundary in the later Neo-Assyrian period).

      The third literary layer in which the Neo-Assyrian Acts of Solomon preserved in Samaria was integrated with the surrounding text of Samuel-Kings in the Hellenistic Era (ca. 270 BCE) also draws on and reworks earlier materials, incorporating traditions about his harems, etc. I think these broad strokes should suffice for Vridar without entering into the details of the extensive redactional analysis my book undertakes.

      1. Thanks for the outline, Russell – It probably comes as no surprise to you that I am a bit sceptical with regard to your chronological scheme: Literary activity between 841 and 700… followed by a 430 year literary dark age throughout the Persian period until 270BCE. I have reservations.

        I I was about to raise some points in respect of some textual complications that I think seem to cut across the 3-strata scheme presented in this and Neil’s next post. In other words, I think there are probably more than just three strata, with a variety of successive supplements. But there’s probably no point in discussing that sort of granular detail before the book is published and I’ve seen your redactional analysis in full.

        1. I agree, but you might read Nadav Na’aman’s article “Hiram of Tyre in the Book of Kings and
          in the Tyrian Records” in JNES 78 (2019): 75-85, available on academia.org. His analysis of the materials on Hiram of Tyre, using the same historical methods I do, arrives at the same date as mine (for my second literary stratum in which these Hiram materials appear). (However, I differ somewhat from Na’aman in that I view Hiram I in “Solomon’s” time as a literary fiction based on Hiram II of the late 700s BCE.)

          Also, I don’t think you properly understand my thesis. There is literary activity at ca. 841 BCE (the Ba’li-ra’si inscription of Shalmaneser III) and at ca. 700 BCE (the semi-legendary Acts of Solomon in Neo-Assyrian Samerina, drawing on the earlier inscription) but none in between.

          Lately I have been considering the possibility that in the latter Neo-Assyrian materials the building accounts of ca. 690 BCE (which Neil is posting about now) might represent an addition to the narratives, which could be a bit earlier.

          1. Thanks, Russell, yes I now realise that you are proposing that the key literary “event” was c. 700 BCE, and that account of Shalmaneser drew on the Ba’li-ra’si inscription dated 841.

            But I didn’t really make it clear that it isn’t the 700 BCE date that is bothering me (though other things do… I’ll try and give a brief outline tomorrow). It’s the 430 year literary vacuum between 700 BCE and 270 BCE that I’m finding problematic…. along with your suggestion (if I understand you correctly) that the deportees to Samerina maintained an Assyrian identity (ie unassimilated with the native Israelians) throughout that entire 430 year period.

            1. If you are referring to a lack of changes in the Acts of Solomon of ca. 700 BCE until its incorporation into 1 Kings ca. 270 BCE, I would agree with this. I don’t believe any scholars have detected content (such as geopolitical entities) in 1 Kgs 4-11 suggestive of influences from Babylonian or Persian periods (although the mention of Tiphsah = Thapsacus the Euphrates river crossing [1 Kgs 4.24] doesn’t appear in Assyrian inscriptions).

              If you are speaking of the Assyrian/Babylonian community in Samerina/Samaria, 2 Kgs 17.24-41 indicated they were poorly integrated into the local Israelite culture, and my research indicates these educated elites produced surviving non-Yahwistic Aramaic texts that can be (and have been) firmly dated to the late Persian or early Hellenistic eras. You cannot assume based on the current lack of secondary literature in this new area of research that substantial evidence does not exist.

              1. Fair enough, Russell.

                I am not convinced that there is a compelling reason to date the incorporation into 1 Kings as late as 270 BCE. Apart from your reference to the Berossus quote in 2 Kings 17 – which I contest (though I haven’t addressed it on these pages yet), I don’t see what other reasons there are to date 1 & 2 Kings that late.

                I agree that “2 Kgs 17.24-41 indicated they were poorly integrated into the local Israelite culture” but only perhaps in the Massoretic Text. The LXX is somewhat more ambiguous, and gives rise to the suspicition that the text has been edited to be more negative than the original writer intended. Weirder still, given that Josephus was no fan of the Samaritans – Antiquities 9:288-290 unexpectedly seems to summarise that passage in an entirely positive way, suggesting that the Cuthean transportees “were by them taught the laws, and the holy worship of God, they worshipped him in a respectful manner, and the plague ceased immediately; and indeed they continue to make use of the very same customs to this very time” (Ant:9.290) – in other words that they happily adopted the native Yahwism and remained faithful adherents. Bizarrely, Josephus here seems to have been looking at a version of 2 Kgs 17.24-41 that was not yet critical of the Cutheans (despite himself adding critical comments immediately after).

                I didn’t know anything about the non-Yahwistic Aramaic texts you mention, and they sound very interesting.

                Having said that, the Temple Building narrative certainly appears to be an entirely Yahwistic text, which you date to 700 BCE, so I don’t know how it can really be attributed to the relatively newly arrived Assyrian/Babylonian community in Samerina.

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