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 argument to moderation and that of an impartial judge displaying wisdom in making a ruling.
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, as a true, loving mother would rather surrender her baby to another than hurt him, and gave her the baby. King Solomon's judgment became known throughout all of Israel and was considered an example of profound wisdom.
The story is commonly viewed in scholarship as an instance or a reworking of a folktale. It is classified as Aarne-Thompson tale type 926. Many parallel stories have been found in world folklore. Several suggestions for the genre of the story have been raised, beyond its characterization as a folktale. The story is commonly associated with the wisdom genre. Eli Yassif classifies it as a wisdom novella. Edward Lipinski suggests that the story is an example of "king's bench tales", a subgenre of the wisdom literature to which he finds parallels in Sumerian literature. Stuart Lasine classifies it as a law-court riddle. Some scholars think that the original folk story underwent significant literary reworking, so that in its current form it can no longer be defined as a folktale. Jacob Liver notes the absence of any "local coloring" in the story, and concludes that the story is "not an actual folk tale but a scholarly reworking of a folk tale (apparently from a non-Israelite source) which in some way reached the court circles of Jerusalem in the times of Solomon". Similarly, Jeev Weisman characterizes it as "a wisdom anecdote which originated in the court circles".
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.
"Splitting the baby"
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).
Representations in art
The Pompean "House of the Physician" was discovered to be the location of the first known painting of a Biblical story, the Judgement of Solomon (presently moved to the Museo Nazionale in Naples).
This theme 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:
- Fresco by Raphael
- The Judgement of Solomon by William Blake
- Etching by Gustave Doré
- Woodcut by the school of Michael Wolgemut in the Nuremberg Chronicle
- Paintings by Andrea Mantegna, Poussin and Franz Caucig
- Relief sculpture on the Doge's Palace in Venice by an unknown artist (near the exit into St. Mark's Square)
- Stained glass window by Jean Chastellain in St-Gervais-et-St-Protais church of Paris
The scene has been the subject of television episodes of Dinosaurs, Recess, The Simpsons (where a pie was substituted for the baby), the Seinfeld episode 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 song "Shatter Me With Hope" includes the line "We'll tear this baby apart, wise like Solomon".
- See Hugo Gressmann, "Das salomonische Urteil", Deutsche Rundschau 130 (1907), pp. 212-228
- Eli Yassif, The Hebrew Folktale: History, Genre, Meaning (Folklore Studies in Translation), Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999, pp. 29-30
- Edward Lipinski, "Ancient Types of Wisdom Literature in Biblical Narrative", in Alexander Rofé and Yair Zakovitch (eds.), Isac Leo Seeligmann Volume, Jerusalem: E. Rubenstein, 1983, pp. 51-55
- Stuart Lasine, "The Riddle of Solomon’s Judgment and the Riddle of Human Nature in the Hebrew Bible", Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 45 (1989), p. 61
- Jacob Liver, "The Book of the Acts of Solomon", Biblica 48 (1967), p. 82
- Jeev Weisman, Political Satire in the Bible (The Biblical Encyclopaedia Library 13), Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1996 (Hebrew), p. 213. George W. Coats also characterizes it as an anecdote ("Parable, Fable, and Anecdote: Storytelling in the Succession Narrative", Interpretation 35 , p. 379)
- Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi (eds.). "The Judgment of Solomon, object 1 (Butlin 392) "The Judgment of Solomon"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
- "Jewish Law - Commentary/Opinion - The Brilliant Wisdom of King Solomon". jlaw.com.
- 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
- Slaghekke, F.; Lopriore, E.; Lewi, L.; Middeldorp, J. M.; Van Zwet, E. W.; Weingertner, A. S.; Klumper, F. J.; Dekoninck, P.; Devlieger, R.; Kilby, M. D.; Rustico, M. A.; Deprest, J.; Favre, R.; Oepkes, D. (2014). "Fetoscopic laser coagulation of the vascular equator versus selective coagulation for twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome: An open-label randomised controlled trial". The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62419-8.
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- D. L. Ashliman, Child Custody: folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 926, variants on the tale