King Solomon the Magician

According to legend, King Solomon was not only the wisest man in the land but he also had magical abilities. By the Renaissance, a number of magical texts (called grimoires) were penned in his name. This series of articles attempts to trace the roots of how King Solomon became a powerful magician.

1 Kings

The Ancestors of Christ: David, Solomon - Michelangelo
The Ancestors of Christ: David, Solomon - Michelangelo

Solomon was the wise son of David and ruler of Israel and Judah in the 10th century BCE. The earliest references we have to a Solomonic folklore come from 1 Kings, where Solomon’s wisdom surpasses all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. The author of 1 Kings lavishly describes Solomon’s vast kingdom and grand knowledge and wisdom. mentioning that Solomon spoke 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs:

Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance; they were eating and drinking and rejoicing. Now Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Phibstines and to the border of Egypt… For he had dominion over everything west of the River, from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings west of the River; and he had peace on all sides around about him. So Judah and Israel bved in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon…

Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, bke the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations. He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish. Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom. – 1 Kings 4: 20-21, 24-25, 29-34

By the 2nd century BCE, the translators of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Bible) wrote of not 1005 but 3000 songs.

There may have also been a movement to estabbsh Solomon as a pre-Socratic philosopher in Jewish circles. The Jewish Peripatetic Aristobulus (150 BCE) claimed Solomon as “one of his philosophical predecessors”. Another Jew, Ben Sira, ascribed a universal wisdom to him.

Wisdom of Solomon

The Wisdom of Solomon - James Tissot
The Wisdom of Solomon - James Tissot

The Apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (220BCE-50CE) mentions Solomon praying & receiving the “spirit of Wisdom”. Through Wisdom, Solomon knows of astrology and the “forces of spirits” or “powers of spirits” in this translation.

For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts, the powers of spirits and the reasonings of men, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.” WisSol 7:17-21

This is thought to be the earliest reference to Solomon’s ability to command demons.

Solomon at Qumran

Within the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a very fragmented Apocryphal Psalms (11Q11[11Q PsAp]) that mentions Solomon in connection with demons.

[Of David. Concerning the words of the spell] in the name of [YHWH...][...] of Solomon, and he will invoke [the name of YHWH] {to set him free from every affliction of the sp]irits, Of the devils. [Liliths,][owls and jackals.] These are the devils, and the pri[nce of emn]ity [is Belial,] who [rules] over the abyss [of dark] ness…

Solomon in the Gospels

Procession of the Queen of Sheba and Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon - Piero della Francesca
Procession of the Queen of Sheba and Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon - Piero della Francesca

In the Gospel of Matthew, which many scholars believe to have been written for a Jewish audience, Jesus claims that

The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. – Matt 12:42

Josephus’ Account of Solomon

Around 70 CE, Josephus compiled his Antiquities and included an excerpt about Solomon. When referring to 1 Kings, Solomon no longer speaks 3000 proverbs and sings 1005 songs, but now he has authored 3000 books of proverbs and 1005 books of odes. Solomon could also compose incantations to heal the sick and perform exorcisms. The belief that the original Temple of Jerusalem was built with supernatural help also emerged with Josephus.

Josephus’ writes of the tradition of Solomon as a magician in his Antiquities 8.2.5 (93-94 CE)

Now the sagacity and wisdom which God had bestowed on Solomon was so great, that he exceeded the ancients; insomuch that he was no way inferior to the Egyptians, who are said to have been beyond all men in understanding; nay, indeed, it is evident that their sagacity was very much inferior to that of the king’s. He also excelled and distinguished himself in wisdom above those who were most eminent among the Hebrews at that time for shrewdness; those I mean were Ethan, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol. He also composed books of odes and songs a thousand and five, of parables and similitudes three thousand; for he spake a parable upon every sort of tree, from the hyssop to the cedar; and in like manner also about beasts, about all sorts of living creatures, whether upon the earth, or in the seas, or in the air; for he was not unacquainted with any of their natures, nor omitted inquiries about them, but described them all like a philosopher, and demonstrated his exquisite knowledge of their several properties.

God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return; and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a Foot of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.

And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man; and when this was done, the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly: for which reason it is, that all men may know the vastness of Solomon’s abilities, and how he was beloved of God, and that the extraordinary virtues of every kind with which this king was endowed may not be unknown to any people under the sun for this reason, I say, it is that we have proceeded to speak so largely of these matters.

Other Early References

During the first half of the second century, more references to Solomon emerged. In Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, David plays a song on his lyre to exorcise a demon from Saul. He ends the song with an allusion to Solomon as a future exorcist:

from which after a time one born from my loins will rule over you – Pseudo-Philo 60:3

Another reference was found in the Paris Magical Papyri entitled Logos Hebraikos, in which also describes Solomon as an exorcist and mentions his magical ring.

Finally, there is the Testament of Solomon (TSol) (2nd century CE), which describes Solomon building the Jerusalem Temple with the aid of demons. The text claims that Solomon wrote the Testament in an attempt to record all his wisdom after he had lost his powers.

Solomon’s Magical Powers Expand

Globe, moon, sun (astronomy) - Giorgione
Globe, moon, sun (astronomy) - Giorgione
The Epistle to Rehoboam (EpReh) contains a passage subtitled ‘Concerning Hygromancy’ in which Solomon instructs his son, Rehoboam, on how to use divination and astrology to secure sexual gratification, health, power, and wealth. The basis of Solomon’s magic lies in a precise understanding of astrology and cosmology. Solomon instructs Rehoboam on which planet rules each day of the week and which good and evil spirits are associated with each hour of the day. Once Rehoboam learns which forces are in control at any time, he can utilize their energies through magical ritual and prayer. This is prefaced by strict monotheistic prayers to God to grant the power to control these celestial forces.

Solomon the Vain

In the Nag Hammadi corpus, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth mocks Solomon:

Solomon was a laughingstock, since he thought that he was Christ, having become vain through the Hebdomad – Treat. Seth 63:11-15

49 Androgynous Demons

On the Origin of the World refers to a Book of Solomon, and the demonology may be derived from the EpReh

Then Death, being androgynous, mingled with his (own) nature and begot seven androgynous offspring. These are the names of the male ones: Jealousy, Wrath, Tears, Sighing, Suffering, Lamentation, Bitter Weeping. And these are the names of the female ones: Wrath, Pain, Lust, Sighing, Curse, Bitterness, Quarrelsomeness. They had intercourse with one another, and each one begot seven, so that they amount to forty-nine androgynous demons. Their names and their effects you will find in the Book of Solomon. – Orig. World 106:20 – 107:10

The Apocalypse of Adam

The Apocalypse of Adam 7: 13-16 makes reference to Solomon commanding an army of demons in a list of 13 false explanations for the origin of the redeemer figure called the Photor. (150 CE)

“The fourth kingdom says of him that he came from a virgin. [...] Solomon sought her, he and Phersalo and Sauel and his armies, which had been sent out. Solomon himself sent his army of demons to seek out the virgin. And they did not find the one whom they sought, but the virgin who was given them. It was she whom they fetched. Solomon took her. The virgin became pregnant and gave birth to the child there. She nourished him on a border of the desert. When he had been nourished, he received glory and power from the seed from which he was begotten. And thus he came to the water.

The Testament of Truth

The Testament of Truth (IX,3) in the Nag Hammadi Codex also talks of Solomon’s commanding of demons to build his temple (2nd-3rd cent. CE):

“They are wicked in their behavior! Some of them fall away to the worship of idols. Others have demons dwelling with them, as did David the king. He is the one who laid the foundation of Jerusalem; and his son Solomon, whom he begat in adultery, is the one who built Jerusalem by means of the demons, because he received power. When he had finished building, he imprisoned the demons in the temple. He placed them into seven waterpots. They remained a long time in the waterpots, abandoned there. When the Romans went up to Jerusalem, they discovered the waterpots, and immediately the demons ran out of the waterpots, as those who escape from prison. And the waterpots remained pure thereafter. And since those days, they dwell with men who are in ignorance, and they have remained upon the earth.

Who, then, is David? And who is Solomon? And what is the foundation? And what is the wall which surrounds Jerusalem? And who are the demons? And what are the waterpots? And who are the Romans? But these are mysteries … ”

* (text becomes very fragmented after this)

Solomon Forces Demons to Help Build the Temple

Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem - James Tissot
Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem - James Tissot
Another manuscript currently at the John Rylands Library tells the ‘Legend of Solomon and Thabor’. The pages date to about the 10th century but the legend is thought to date to this time period. The manuscript (CCM: JrylLib 85) explains how Solomon forced demons to cut stones for and build the Temple. The demons worked during the night, and were so noisy that King Thabor of the Gentiles planned to wage war against Solomon. Once he realized that Solomon commanded demons, he abandoned that plan.

The Mandean Ginza, which is thought to date to the early 2nd century, claims that Solomon had power over both demons and devs (astro-powers). These powers, however, were not involved with the construction of the Jerusalem or the Temple.

Solomon’s Powers Over Demons

Zosimus of Panopolis (300 CE) wrote of Solomon’s fame as an exorcist. He mentions a lost work called Seven Heavens, which explained Solomon’s construction of Magical bottles and formulae for the conjuration of demons. Zosimus notes bottles that were specifically designed to capture demons.

Finally, a text entitled Sepher Ha-Razim asserts that Solomon had access to a ‘Book of Mysteries’ which empowered him to use demons to accomplish tasks such as winning the heart of a wealthy woman, catching and returning fugitives, giving an enemy insomnia, lighting an oven in the cold, reversing a bad court decision, protecting a soldier in battle, winning at horse racing, and to fill a house with fire while at the same time keeping the house from burning down as proof of one’s power.

Reference

Related Articles on DeliriumsRealm:

  1. Ornias
  2. Onoskelis
  3. Lix Tetrax
  4. Crocell
  5. Decarabia