Podcast episode

Episode 150: The Testament of Solomon and the Solomonic Tradition, Part I

The Testament of Solomon is a beautiful Greek telling of Solomon’s story through his own eyes, penned by an unknown Christian hand probably around the third century CE, but based on loads of older Jewish lore about Solomon, the building of his Temple, and the many angels and demons involved in that process. More practically, it also features a wealth of addressative practices for neutralising a host of demons with the names-of-power of a host of angels.

But before we could introduce such a rich text, we felt that we should explore the tradition by which the son of King David came to be regarded as the master of demon-adjurations, founding figure of the art of exorcism, and general esoteric mage par excellence. This episode thus starts with the biblical account in 1 Kings, looks at what Josephus has to say about Solomon, and sets the stage for the wonder-working to begin in Part II.

Works Cited in this Episode (roughly in order cited):

  • Michael D. Swartz. Jewish Magic in Late Antiquity. In Steven T. Katz, editor, The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume Four: The Late Roman–Rabbinic Period, volume 4, pages 699–720. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, we cite p. 700.
  • Solomon’s temple read esoterically by Clement of Alexandria: see Part I of our special episode on Book V of the Stromateis.
  • Michael A. Morgan. Sepher ha-Razim: The Book of the Mysteries, volume 25 of Texts and Translations. Scholars Press, Chico, CA, 1983., we cite p. 19.
  • Duling 2021 (see below).
  • McCown 1922 (see below).
  • Harleian MS 5596, with its wonderful assortment of magical, angelic, and divinatory materials, is available online through the good offices of the British Library.
  • Solomon authored the books of Proverbs (Prov. 1:1), Ecclesiastes (1:1, 12, 16-18), and the Song of Songs (1:1; cf. 1:5;3:7, 9, 11; 8:11).
  • ‘Ark of the Covenant Theme’ by John Williams from Steven Spielberg, Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981.
  • The Gospel of Matthew refers to Solomon: 12:43-45.
  • Josephus on Solomon’s wisdom and magical power: Jewish Antiquities VIII 2.5. We cite the translation of Thackeray and Marcus in vol. 5 of the Loeb Josephus (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934), p. 597.

Recommended Reading:

On the Testament of Solomon, specifically:

  • Dennis C. Duling. Solomon, Exorcism, and the Son of David. Harvard Theological Review, 68(3/4):235–52, 1975.
  • Idem. The Testament of Solomon. In James H. Charlesworth, editor, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume One: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, pages 935–87. Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 2021.
  • Todd E. Klutz. Rewriting The Testament of Solomon: Tradition, Conflict, and Identity in a Late Antique Pseudepigraphon. T&T Clark, London, 2005.
  • Chester Charlton McCown. The Testament of Solomon. J. C. Hinrichs, Leipzig, 1922 [available online! and highly recommended].
  • Sarah L. Schwarz. Reconsidering the Testament of Solomon. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 16:203–237, 2007.

Solomonic lore more generally:

The following is a somewhat-random selection from an enormous scholarly literature on an enormous Solomonic literature. We have tried to aim for generally-useful, synthetic volumes, but there are a few more focused articles here as well. Definitely add McCown 1922 and Duling 2021 to the list below.

  • Jafe Arnold. Esoteric Imperialism: The Solomonic-Theurgic Mystique of John Dee’s British Empire. Endeavour, 43:17–24, 2019.
  • E. M. Butler. Ritual Magic. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1949 [Chapter 1 gives a good summary of the medieval Latinate ‘Solomonic’ tradition].
  • Lester L. Grabbe. Wisdom of Solomon. T&T Clark, London, 1997.
  • Allegra Iafrate. The Long Life of Magical Objects: A Study in the Solomonic Tradition. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 2019 [a study in the material culture and ideas about the material culture associated with Solomon and his magic: rings, seals, flying carpets, &c].
  • Sarah Iles Johnston. The Testament of Solomon from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance. In Jan N. Bremmer and Jan R. Veenstra, editors, The Metamorphosis of Magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, pages 36–49. Peeters, Leuven, 2002.
  • S.L. MacGregor Mathers, editor. The Greater Key of Solomon. De Laurence, Chicago, IL, 1914 and Idem, editor. The Lesser Key of Solomon. De Laurence, Chicago, IL, 1916 [seminal Occultist grimoires of Solomonic magic, translated and repackaged for the early twentieth century].
  • Robert Mathiesen. The Key of Solomon: Toward a Typology of the Manuscripts. Societas Magica Newsletter, 17:1–9, 2007.
  • Paul Kléber Monod. Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT/London, 2013 [in case you thought the Enlightenment did away with all that magic nonsense].
  • P. Perdrizet. Sphragis Solomōnos [”Solomon’s Seal”]. Revue des études grecques, 16: 42–61, 1903 [for Solomonic amulets].
  • Pablo A. Torijano. Solomon the Esoteric King: From King to Magus, Development of a Tradition. Brill, Leiden, 2002 [a fantastic introduction to the legends, lore, and magical texts surrounding the name of Solomon].
  • David Winston. The Wisdom of Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1979.

 

A detail of MS Harleianus 5596, part of a recension of the Testament of Solomon collected and edited by an early-modern practitioner/scribe. Image courtesy of the British Library
A detail of MS Harleianus 5596, part of a recension of the Testament of Solomon collected and edited by an early-modern practitioner/scribe. Image courtesy of the British Library

Themes

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