Damien F. Mackey
“Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh:
Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women …”.
I Kings 11:1
In an intriguing article, “The Song of Songs Revealed — Chapter 6”, found at:
the author refers to four supposedly individual women associated with King Solomon, “Abishag the Shulamite” whom he later refers to, confusingly, as “Abishag the Shunammite”; “Pharaoh’s daughter”; “the Queen of Sheba”; and “Shulamith”:
- “King Solomon” in the Song of Songs
Solomon is called king several times in the Song — which has led to endless confusion as to its dating, authorship and subject matter. This is largely because the romance in the Song itself seems taken out of context. Solomon’s romantic interests are never mentioned in the royal chronicles. His implied right to Abishag the Shulamite (technically his father’s concubine), his political marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, his reception of the Queen of Sheba, and his royal harem (according to one source, the third largest in recorded history) are all mentioned — but never his attachment in true Love to any of these women. Shulamith, overtly, seems to fits nowhere into Solomon’s regal sexuality.
Of course (as we will see), this does not stop commentators from trying to attach Shulamith’s name to Abishag, Pharaoh’s daughter, the Queen of Sheba, or even to an otherwise unknown member of Solomon’s harem. This effort is based on a false assumption — one disproved by the Song’s original melos, in the context of the full biblical background to Solomon’s reign.
[End of quote]
How many women are really involved here?
My proposal is that only one woman is actually intended amongst all of these various biblical designations. The reader will find my full account of this in the following revised series for Academia.edu:
This new series, most heavily reliant upon the use of alter egos, will explore Abishag pairings with the “Shunammite” of the “Song of Solomon” and Tamar, daughter of King David; with “the Queen of the South”/“Queen of Sheba”; and also with – now including the Egyptian link – “Pharaoh’s daughter” as Queen (and Pharaoh) Hatshepsut.
Abishag: “… a beautiful young woman … a Shunammite” (I Kings 1:3).
Tamar: “Now David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar” (2 Samuel 13:1).
Shunammite: “… fairest among women” (Song of Solomon 1:8).
2 Samuel 13:37, 38: “Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur … he stayed there three years”. This Part Three (iii) will be a bridge, connecting Tamar – a princess of Israel – (and Absalom) to other royal connections in “the south”, to be considered fully in Part Four.
Pharaoh’s Daughter: ” Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter ” (I Kings 3:1).
Queen of Sheba: “King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for …” (I Kings 10:13).
Hatshepsut: Whose name means “foremost of noble women”.
* * *
When I Kings 1:3 tells, in relation to King David’s affliction in old age: “So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel”, I take this to mean that only beautiful girls of royal blood would be intended here. Thus I have further argued that Abishag (Hatshepsut/Sheba) was the virginal beauty, Tamar, daughter of King David and sister of Absalom.
King David, ever so indulgent towards his sons, may have proved, in his apparent senility, to have been a poor guardian of Abishag, if she were also the virginal Tamar, sister of Absalom; the girl having been raped by David’s oldest son, Amnon, whilst David was still alive.
Young Abishag (Tamar) was, as we read above, “technically [Solomon’s] father’s concubine”.
The Egyptian element may recur here again, for what might be done in Egypt, ‘such a thing’, the girl Tamar says, ‘is not done in Israel’ (2 Samuel 13: 10, 11-12):
Then Amnon said to Tamar, ‘Come, lie with me, my sister’.
She answered him, ‘No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this wanton folly. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the wanton fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you’.
The intriguing thing here, needing explanation, is that such a thing as is not done is Israel might nonetheless receive David’s approval if asked for. And this girl would have known intimately (so to speak) the mind of King David her father.
There is a lot to be read between the lines in this drama.
Hatshepsut (pharaoh’s daughter)/Sheba/Abishag/Tamar, hailing from Shunem, had been wooed by the young Solomon even whilst David and the king’s older sons were still alive. But, after Absalom’s rebellion and death, she, his sister, may have gone to the kingdom of Geshur, from whence she would later return, to marry king Solomon.
With this scenario in mind, the Song of Songs may reflect two distinct phases, pre-marriage and marital, in the lives of the two lovers.
Later, again, she would leave Jerusalem to dwell in Egypt/Ethiopia in order to rule there as Pharaoh Hatshepsut Maatkare.
The “Song of Songs Revealed” article continues, complicating matters by apparently splitting Abishag the Shunammite (i.e., from Shunem) from the Shunammite (still Abishag) of the Song of Songs, who is also rendered as Shulammite (or Shulamith) which is sometimes translated as Solomon-ite:
When Did Solomon Marry Shulamith?
If Proverbs represents Solomon the middle-aged father, and Ecclesiastes represents Solomon the disillusioned elder, the Song of Songs represents Solomon the young man. Its perfect balance between intense sexuality and idealistic spirituality suggests a median age between 20 and 30. It is not for nothing that the years between 24 and 26 are often recommended (for men) as the best age for marriage.
Solomon made a political marriage with Pharaoh’s daughter soon after he ruled in David’s stead, after his kingdom was “firmly established” and some time before his fourth year (1 Kings 2:46; 3:1; 6:1). ….
Indeed, this was a young Solomon.
However, the acute tension of the Song of Songs in places, with the young man being unable at first to gain proper access to the girl, and her being beaten and persecuted by her brothers, and being made to labour, perhaps recalling her plea to Amnon: ‘As for me, where could I carry my shame?’, gives a lie to any scenario of pure unfettered idyll.
The article continues now in quite reasonable fashion:
Solomon the Young Lover
…. Barring proof to the contrary, then, we think that Solomon married Shulamith in his early to mid-twenties. We think too that Solomon wrote the Song itself before he was thirty years old; like the music of the young Mozart, the Song has the stamp of youthful genius. Such qualities are not found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the sagacious Psalm 127 (the latter probably written when Solomon had become a father of several children). Like these other works, though, the Song of Songs has the flavor of being written “on the spot” — shortly after Solomon experienced the events he describes. ….
In the next passage the author re-presents, all as potentially separate individuals, who I believe to be just the one young female lover:
Who Did Solomon Marry?
Who then is the Dear One? Even those who hold that the Song is a unified work differ among themselves. Some few suggest Pharaoh’s daughter, citing Shulamith’s “black” skin and dark hair as proof (Song 1:5-6; 7:5). Some suggest the Queen of Sheba, who alone seems (to some) a mental and social “match” for Solomon; others, the lovely Abishag the Shunammite (1 Kings 1:3-4). Still others say that Shulamith was none of these, but a country shepherdess not elsewhere mentioned in the Bible.
The ‘Dear One’ cannot be the Queen of Sheba according to the article:
A Queen, a Princess, and a Concubine
The oft-alleged, oft-celebrated love between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba seems to us apocryphal. 1 Kings 10:13 and 2 Chronicles 9:12 tell us the Queen returned to Sheba, something she would not have done were she wedded to Solomon.
Dr. Ed (Ewald) Metzler, however, argues that this “returned” constituted a divorce after about a ten-year period of marriage.
The article continues, ruling out Pharaoh’s daughter. Though the Egyptian element continues to linger with the comparison of the ‘Dear One’ to a “a mare of Pharaoh’s chariots”:
Pharaoh’s daughter became Solomon’s wife (via a political alliance) after Solomon became sole regent, a time which does not fit the freedom from royal responsibility which the Song implies. Again, Pharaoh’s daughter would know little or nothing of Israelite country life, especially since she lived in the city of David (1 Kings 3:1). Certainly she would not require Israelite artisans to make jewels for her (cf. Song 1:10-11)!
Moreover, Pharaoh’s daughter is not cited with approval by the Chronicler, who writes from the perspective of true religion (1 Kings 11:1). Moreover, such a woman (more because of her unconversion than her Gentile heritage) would not be a fitting type of God’s people, the kehal ha’Elohim.
And so the reference to “a mare of Pharaoh’s chariots” (Song 1:9) is no proof of Shulamith’s Egyptian origin (though it confirms young Solomon was a well-traveled man, or at least a well-heeled one).
Solomon’s politically “wise” (but spiritually foolish) marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter began the long series of marriages which netted him 700 wives and 300 concubines — the women who eventually turned Solomon’s heart from YehaVeh (1 Kings 11:14; cf. Ecclesiastes 7:26-28). All these marriages had a political background (it is generally conceded), however much “Solomon clung to these in love” (le’ahava, “to love” in the sense of sexual infatuation; cf. 1 Kings 11:2; Ecclesiastes 2:8, NIV)…. All of these women were non-Israelites (and pagans); none of them are possible candidates as the Dear One.
A somewhat more favourable candidate for the ‘Dear One’, according to the article, is Abishag:
Abishag the Shunammite has much in her favor, beginning with the similarity between “the Shulamith” (haShulamit) and “the Shunammite” (haShunamit). Yet a closer similarity lies between the names of Solomon (shelomo) and Shulamith, both taken from shalom (“peace”).
Abishag, chosen out of all Israel for her youthful beauty, was the “Miss Israel” of her day. As she was King David’s concubine (even if the king “knew her not”), a claim to her by one of David’s sons would imply that this son was the rightful heir to the throne. It was just such a request to marry Abishag by Adonijah that cost him his life at Solomon’s command (1 Kings 2:13-25).
Roberta Kells Dorr has written a very beautiful historical novel, Solomon’s Song, based on the assumption that Shulamith was Abishag the Shunammite. …. In Dorr’s rendition of events, Solomon married Abishag after he slew Adonijah. As plausible as the idea may seem, we must reject it — for it leads the commentator contrary to the indications of the Bible itself.
It is for this apparent reason that the author, favouring a total idyll, will proceed to reject Abishag as well:
Why Abishag is Not Shulamith
First, the time immediately after David’s death (when Solomon was forced to confirm his throne with strong political action) simply does not fit the relaxed [sic] circumstances described in the Song of Songs. The Song implies Solomon was still looking forward to his full kingship when he married Shulamith (Song 6:12). (To be fair, only the original melody could prove that this verse is spoken by Solomon, not Shulamith, or that it shows him looking forward to anything.)
Moreover, Solomon could reasonably have married Abishag shortly after David’s death (even before he slew Adonijah) out of political wisdom if not personal interest. Yet such a marriage is nowhere mentioned by the Chronicler, not even as an afterthought. Were Abishag the same as Shulamith, she would surely have been at least as important a personage as Pharaoh’s daughter or the Queen of Sheba (and loved far more than either). [sic] Instead, she is but a pawn in a political chess game (for which one can only pity her).
“Shunammite” means “an inhabitant of Shunem”, a town at the foot of Mt. Moreh on the northern edge of the Valley of Jezreel in northern Israel. The area would certainly fit some of the Song’s descriptions …. Moreover, Shunem was a regionally important town, an appropriate place for Solomon to meet his future bride.
The different geography that the author rightly goes on to note between Shunem and a more southerly desert is to be accounted for, according to my explanation above (“Abishag Rising”, by different phases and situations in the life of the royal princess:
Yet we find that Solomon’s wedding procession (after his visit to Shulamith’s “home town”) comes toward Jerusalem from the desert (haMidbar, Song 3:6): according to local usage, from the area east, not north of Jerusalem. (The same term is used in Song 8:5.) A procession from the Jezreel Valley would have come either over the main road in the hill country, or via Megiddo, then up the ascent from the coastal plains. A trip from Shunem eastward, then south through the Jordan Valley [sic], would needlessly expose the party to the hottest and most difficult possible journey.
Most important: Abishag was taken into the royal court before Solomon was made king; Shulamith, after (cf. 1 Kings 1:4, 15-17, 28-39 with Song 1:4). It cannot be King David who is taking Shulamith into his courts (where she would see Solomon for the first time) in Song 1:4; the “king” (in the musical context) is the Loved One. “The king has taken me into his chambers” marks a transition between Shulamith’s reactions upon first meeting Solomon and upon seeing him in his royal splendor “at home”. It certainly does not mark a “flash-forward” to the Lovers’ wedding night, as so many commentators have assumed.
She was a genuine princess, but was deeply humiliated by the incident with Amnon:
Shulamith is called a “prince’s daughter” by her admirers (Song 7:2, Hebrew versification). Though this was after her marriage as Solomon’s “queen”, the compliment no doubt was meant to reflect her beauty and bearing rather than her descent or original social status [sic]. Still, since Shulamith was made “keeper of the vineyards” by her brothers (Song 1:6), we may surmise her family owned a prosperous farm and vineyard near Mahanaim. Beyond that, the family no doubt “feared God, and kept His commandments”, and obtained blessings thereby (cf. Psalm 112).
As Queen of Sheba, though, her religious beliefs were somewhat ambivalent, it seems, at least by comparison with pure Davidic worship. Thus she would say to the now famous and much-glorified King Solomon (I Kings 10:9): “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on his throne as king to rule for the LORD your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel and his desire to uphold them forever, he has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.”
“Your God”. Not My God?