Judgment of Solomon

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Fresco of the Judgment of Solomon

The Judgment of Solomon refers to a story from the Hebrew Bible in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child by tricking the parties into revealing their true feelings. It has become an archetypal example of a judge displaying wisdom in making a ruling.

Biblical narrative[edit]

The story is recounted in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Two young women who lived in the same house and who both had an infant son came to Solomon for a judgment. One of the women claimed that the other, after accidentally smothering her own son while sleeping, had exchanged the two children to make it appear that the living child was hers. The other woman denied this and so both women claimed to be the mother of the living son and said that the dead boy belonged to the other.

After some deliberation, King Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him. He declared that there was only one fair solution: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. Upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy's true mother cried out, "Oh Lord, give the baby to her, just don't kill him!" The liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaimed, "It shall be neither mine nor yours—divide it!"

The king declared the first mother as the true mother and gave her the baby. King Solomon's judgment became known throughout all of Israel and was considered an example of profound wisdom.

Jewish interpretation[edit]

According to the Midrash, the two women were mother- and daughter-in-law, both of whom had borne sons and whose husbands had died. The lying daughter-in-law was obligated by the laws of Yibbum to marry her brother-in-law unless released from the arrangement through a formal ceremony. As her brother-in-law was the living child, she was required to marry him when he came of age, or wait the same amount of time to be released and remarry. When Solomon suggested that the infant be split in half, the lying woman, wishing to escape the constraints of Yibbum in the eyes of God, agreed. Thus was Solomon able to know who the real mother was.[1]

The Judgment of Solomon by William Blake in Tempura. Currently, the object is held at the Fitzwilliam Museum.[2]

"Splitting the baby"[edit]

The expressions "splitting the baby" or "cutting the baby in half" are sometimes used in the legal profession for a form of simple compromise: solutions which "split the difference" in terms of damage awards or other remedies (e.g. a judge dividing fault between the two parties in a comparative negligence case).[3]

Representations in art[edit]

Sculpture given either to Pietro Lamberti or to Nanni di Bartolo (it). It stands at the corner of the Doge's Palace in Venice (Italy), next to Porta della Carta

The Judgment of Solomon has long been a popular subject for artists and is often chosen for decoration of courthouses. In the Netherlands, many 17th century courthouses (Vierschaar rooms) contain a painting or relief of this scene. Elsewhere in Europe, celebrated examples include:

Other media[edit]

The scene has been the subject of television episodes of Dinosaurs, Recess, The Simpsons (where a pie was substituted for the baby), Seinfeld (see The Seven), and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It has influenced other artistic disciplines, e.g. Bertolt Brecht's play The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Ronnie snatching Kat's baby in EastEnders.

The HIM (Finnish band) song "Shatter Me With Hope" includes the line "We'll tear this baby apart, wise like Solomon".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.jlaw.com/Commentary/solomon.html
  2. ^ Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi (ed.). "The Judgment of Solomon, object 1 (Butlin 392) "The Judgment of Solomon"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved January 2, 2014. 
  3. ^ Stephanie E. Keer and Richard W. Naimark, Arbitrators Do Not “Split-the-Baby”: Empirical Evidence from International Business Arbitrations from the Energy Bar Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee

External links[edit]