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Does the Bible Exaggerate King Solomon’s Golden Wealth?

By Alan R. Millard

Biblical Archaeology Review 15:3, May/June 1989

Those who read the Biblical text and make a subjective judgment as to its reliability often conclude—and
understandably so—that the descriptions of Solomon’s gold are gross exaggerations. The quantity of gold the
Bible claims for King Solomon is simply unbelievable, even unimaginable!

Take, for example, the Jerusalem Temple that Solomon built for Israel’s God, Yahweh. Walk inside, and all you
would see was gold! The walls, the ceiling, even the floors were all covered with gold.

The description in 1 Kings tells us that the interior stone-core walls were covered with cedar boards (1 Kings
6:15). The floor was covered with planks of pine (1 Kings 6:15). “No stone was to be seen” (1 Kings 6:18). The
wood was then completely plated with gold:

“He overlaid the [inner sanctuary] with pure gold … Solomon covered the inside of the Temple with pure
gold … He overlaid the whole interior with gold … He also covered the floors of both the inner and outer rooms
of the Temple with gold” (1 Kings 6:20, 21, 22, 30; see also the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 3:4–7).

Modern Western minds can’t envisage such a thing. J. A. Montgomery, in his standard commentary on Kings in
the International Critical Commentary series, labeled the Biblical account a product “of exuberant imagination!”
Montgomery allowed that perhaps the altar was plated with gold. But the whole thing? Incredible. Other writers
have suggested that in reality only some of the carving on the wooden panels was picked out in gold leaf.1 One
commentator2 opined that perhaps it was only gold paint that was sprayed on the walls—as if aerosol or power
sprays existed 3,000 years ago! In this way, the Bible was supposed to be made believable. In any event, the
description of the gold in Solomon’s Temple, these exegetes contend, obviously grew in the telling. As we read
on in Kings, matters continue in this vein:

“King Solomon made 200 large shields of hammered gold; 600 bekas of gold went into each shield. He also
made 300 small shields of hammered gold, with three minas of gold in each shield … Then the king made a
great throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold … All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the
household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold” (1 Kings 10:16, 17, 18, 21).

We may perhaps forgive modern writers who, relying only on their subjective judgment, dismiss such Biblical
claims as fantastic.

Yet the question needs to be asked: Can we properly dismiss the claims of an ancient text simply because
readers more than 2,000 years later find them incredible? No serious historian would admit to treating a source
this way. Nevertheless, that does seem to be the attitude of many Biblical scholars.

To evaluate the Hebrew narrative properly, shouldn’t we at least investigate the possibility that the Biblical
description is accurate? While admittedly we do not plate our churches and synagogues with gold today, our
customs and our tastes are not necessarily those of the rest of the world even today, let alone of the world in
antiquity. It is worth pointing out that the Golden Temple of Amritsar in India gleams with its coating of gold,3
and pilgrims to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine in Rangoon, press sheets of gold leaf onto the walls.4
True, these are modern instances. So let us look at the situation in ancient times. What can we learn about the
use of gold in the Biblical world? What will this tell us about Israel in the tenth century B.C. when Solomon
ruled (c. 971–931 B.C. or c. 961–922 B.C.)?

Let us begin with some easy cases. For example, take the statement from Kings that “all King Solomon’s
goblets were gold” (1 Kings 10:21). This is the least exceptionable of the claims about Solomon’s splendor.
After all, golden tableware is not unknown even nowadays. From the ancient Near East and Egypt a number of
examples of golden tableware have survived. In the third millennium B.C., golden cups and dishes adorned the
palace of the kings of Ur and some were buried with them; Sir Leonard Woolley, the excavator of Ur, recovered
elegant specimens during his excavation of the Royal Cemetery in 1927–1931.5 Almost 1,500 years after this
tableware was buried, Egyptian pharaohs ate and drank from vessels of gold; in 1906, railway builders near
Bubastis accidentally found an ancient cache that included a small golden cup with the name of Queen Tewosret
on it (c. 1279–1213 B.C.).6 Two famous gold plates from Ugarit (on the Mediterranean coast of modern Syria)
come from about the same time. One is embossed with a picture of a charioteer hunting wild bulls. A number of
gold plates from this period can be found in various museum collections. These are mostly decorated with
geometric patterns. From later periods (sixth to fourth centuries B.C.), we have magnificent examples of the
goldsmith’s craft in the Persian empire. The gold dishes and jugs that can now be seen in London, New York,
Tehran and elsewhere are but a small part of what once existed, though still enough to give an impression of the
wealth of the empire Alexander conquered. At least with regard to golden tableware, there would seem to be no
intrinsic reason to doubt the claim in 1 Kings.

The situation is not far different with respect to golden furniture. Kings and
queens who ate and drank from golden tableware often sat in state on golden
thrones. Tutankhamun’s tomb revealed a particularly splendid specimen. A
carved wooden chair was plated almost entirely with gold. A second chair from
Tutankhamun’s tomb has most of the back and parts of the legs plated with gold.

Tutankhamun was buried about 1331 B.C. Over a thousand years earlier, gold-
plated furniture was buried with Queen Hetepheres, mother of Cheops, builder of
the Great Pyramid (c. 2600 B.C.). Her bed, carrying-chair and canopy were all of
gold-covered woodwork. These Egyptian examples are now in the Cairo
Museum.

Golden furniture was also made and used in Babylonia, although none has
survived. Several Babylonian kings of the earlier part of the second millennium
B.C. record gifts of golden chairs and stools they made to their gods and
goddesses. Other cuneiform documents report similar gifts from one king to
another.

Perhaps the most extensive listing of gold objects is to be found on lists in the el-
Amarna letters (cuneiform letters from the 14th century B.C. found at Tell el-
Amarna in Egypt), which detail gifts exchanged between royalty and the
trousseaux of princesses married to foreign kings.7 There we find references not
only to great quantities of gold jewelry, numerous gold bowls and toilet articles,
but also to pieces of furniture and chariots plated with gold.

King Solomon’s throne, however, was not simply a wooden chair covered with gold sheeting; it was even more
extravagant; between the wood and the gold was a layer of ivory: “King Solomon made a great throne of ivory
[the Hebrew text does not say ‘inlaid with’] and overlaid it with gold” (1 Kings 10:18; cf. 2 Chronicles 9:17–
19). Modern tastes might prefer the creamy elegance of an ivory throne, but ancient royalty showed their wealth
by concealing the ivory beneath gold. The core of the throne was made of wood—in effect, a wooden frame; it
was paneled and covered with ivory plaques, and then plated with gold. In a tomb at Salamis in Cyprus an ivory
throne and bedstead were found smashed but complete.8 They have now been completely restored, with their
decorative carvings. Fragments of ivory-work have also been found at Samaria and in Syria and Assyria. The
restored throne and bedstead from Salamis show how the fragments from Samaria, Syria and Assyria were once
assembled. Although the Salamis specimens and the majority of other examples are from the ninth and eighth
centuries B.C., Late Bronze Age (13th century B.C.) ivories from Megiddo prove that this same type of
decoration was in vogue long before Solomon’s time.a

The greatest collections of ivory carvings have been found in the


Assyrian palaces at Nimrud (ancient Kalah). Thousands upon thousands
of ivory fragments were uncovered there from 1949 to 1963. They are
still being catalogued, drawn and illustrated. A number of these ivory
fragments have small pieces of gold foil sticking to them; even more are
stained with the bituminous glue that was used to hold the gold in
position. When Babylonian and Median soldiers sacked the Assyrian
city, they ripped the gold from the ivory, smashing the furniture as they
did so.9 A single piece of furniture still retains its gold overlay to
illustrate the way in which much of the ivory surface was concealed.

These discoveries illustrate the kind of throne the Hebrew historian was describing in Kings (and in Chronicles).
They make it equally clear that a rich king like Solomon could easily have possessed an ivory throne covered
with gold.

Golden tableware and golden furniture are one thing, but 500 shields of hammered gold, which
Solomon is said to have hung in his palace (1 Kings 10:17; 2 Chronicles 9:16), are quite
another. Shields of gold could serve no useful purpose; a blow from an axe or sword would cut
them in two; a spear or arrow would pass through them. Obviously they could only serve as
decorations, as signs of prestige and wealth. Although such a display may seem unnecessarily
ostentatious today, it is nevertheless entirely consistent with the evidence that has survived from
the ancient Near East.

In the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Sir Leonard Woolley uncovered a golden helmet, beautifully
beaten and engraved to look like a wig. Surely it never had a protective function! Woolley also
discovered daggers with gold blades and a gold axe-head. Another gold axe-head came out of a
tomb at Byblos dating from about 1800 B.C. Again, these golden weapons were not made to be
used; they were signs of rank and wealth.

Now gold weapons and a gold helmet are admittedly not quite the same as shields
of gold, and so far, no gold shield has been found in the ancient Near East.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that they existed. Both a written text and an
illustration of it assure us of that fact.

In 714 B.C. King Sargon II of Assyria mounted a military campaign into the mountains northeast of Assyria. He
conquered part of Urartu (Biblical Ararat), and on his way home marched against the city of Musasir. Musasir
was the center of worship for a major Urartian god, and Sargon’s soldiers looted his temple as well as the palace
of the local king. Sargon’s accounts of his victories were written in cuneiform on clay prisms and then buried in
the foundations of buildings to preserve them so that future generations could read them and tell of Sargon’s
triumphs. Several of those prisms have now been recovered. Other reports were carved into the stone slabs of
the walls and floors in Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad, north of Nineveh. In addition, a very long description of
this campaign exists in another text, a letter from Sargon to his national god Ashur. This letter, written on a large
tablet now in the Louvre, devotes a major section to the capture of Musasir, giving a list of the booty taken.10
The spoil enumerated in these sources is truly enormous. Ordinary weaponry in vast amounts included 25,212
large and small bronze shields, 1,514 large and small lances, and 305,412 heavy and light bronze daggers. The
list also includes numerous vessels of bronze of all sizes and shapes, as well as a profusion of treasure: gold and
silver bullion, silver vessels, ivory furniture and jewel-encrusted robes. Unusual objects were made of, or
perhaps in some cases covered with, gold: a bolt of gold to fasten the door—with a winged dragon on it; two
keys of gold shaped like goddesses. A great golden dagger from the temple weighed 26 1/12 minas (about 27
lbs).b

Near the top of the list of spoil from the god’s temple is a unique item: “six shields of gold that hung to the right
and left in his house (i.e., his temple).” They shone brightly and had heads of snarling dogs projecting from their
centers. The weight of the shields, presumably all six together, was about 700 pounds of shining red gold (5
talents, 12 minas).
Sargon also had pictures of his campaign carved on stone slabs that
lined the walls of his new palace, at Sargonstown (Dur-Sharruken). The
pioneer French excavator Paul-Emile Botta uncovered these pictures in
1843 and 1844 in the first Assyrian palace ever excavated in modern
times. Botta’s artist, Eugène N. Flandin, made careful drawings of these
reliefs, many of which were too fragile to remove. One of Flandin’s
drawings, published in Botta’s monumental report, Monument de
Ninive,11 presents a slab on which the Assyrian sculptor portrayed the
soldiers despoiling the temple of Musasir. On the walls of the building
the shields are clearly carved, some in front view, some in profile. The
latter have the dogs’ heads in the center. Assyrian soldiers carrying
other shields seem to be climbing over the roof, while an officer dictates
an account, perhaps of the booty, to two scribes. This sculpture perfectly illustrates the cuneiform text.

Although no other references to ornamental shields like these have been found in ancient Near Eastern texts, this
case is sufficient to establish the possibility that golden shields also graced Solomon’s palace.

If golden shields once existed, although no actual specimens have been found, what about a gold-plated temple?
Once more, inscriptions give the fullest information, but there is also some physical evidence.

Assyrian and Babylonian kings boasted of their devotion to their gods by building temples for them. Esarhaddon
of Assyria (680–669 B.C.) restored the shrine of Ashur, plated its doors with gold and “coated the walls with
gold as if with plaster.”12 In the next century, Nabonidus of Babylon (555–539 B.C.) recorded his enrichment of
the temple of Sin at Harran: “I clad its walls with gold and silver, and made them shine like the sun.”13

Similar evidence comes from Egypt. Pharaohs of the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1150 B.C.) were particularly
lavish. Amenophis III (c. 1386–1349 B.C.) honored the great god Amun with a temple at Thebes that was
“plated with gold throughout, its floor adorned with silver, [and] all its portals with electrum.14 (Electrum is a
natural alloy of gold and silver.) Later, Ramesses III (c. 1185–1154 B.C.) built a shrine at Medinet Habu with a
pavement of silver and doorposts of fine gold.15 He also used gold in another ostentatious way: He made a
sacred barge to carry a divine statue along the Nile. The timbers of the boat were made of cedar, but the boat
was overlaid with gold to the waterline. The boat was 130 cubits (over 220 feet) long.16

Can such claims about gold-plated temples and even boats be believed? After all, we do not have the evidence
itself. And ancient kings often made claims that were not wholly realistic.

For those who will be satisfied only with actual examples, we cannot provide the proof. For those, however,
willing to credit the royal boasts with some factual foundation, we can point to material remains that strengthen
the ancient kings’ verbal claims.

After years of intensive study of ancient Egyptian


monuments, a French scholar named Pierre Lacau noticed
that the pillars set up by Tuthmosis III (c. 1479–1425 B.C.)
in front of the Temple of the Sacred Boat at Karnak
(Thebes) had unusual slits cut in them. Each pillar was
carved to resemble bundles of papyrus reed set on a flat,
round base. Running horizontally round the edge of the
base, at the top and bottom, are two narrow slits with
vertical slits joining the horizontal slits at fixed intervals. In
the columns themselves, the divisions between the papyrus
stems extend much deeper than usual into the stones,
creating narrow slits. These slits were hardly necessary to
the design or beauty of the columns. Nor could they serve
for drainage or for clamps to hold the column drums
together. The same kind of slits are present in the clustered
stems at the top of the columns. Relating these slits to the
inscription of Tuthmosis speaking about this temple, Lacau
argues that the whole of the stonework of these pillars had been plated with gold.17
The slits were cut into the stones to hold the edges of the gold sheets wrapped around them. From textual
descriptions, Lacau shows that not only the 12 pillars, each about 11.5 feet high, were gold-plated in this way,
but that an additional 14 pillars in another hall, each some 53 feet from base to capital were also carved to hold
gold plates. Elsewhere in the temple, Lacau found that the stones of doorways, shrines and obelisks all have slits
or rows of small nail holes to secure gold sheeting.

Naturally, the gold from these buildings disappeared long ago. The closest
surviving examples of this kind of gold plating are the great golden shrines that
guarded the body of Tutankhamun. These four shrines now stand in the Cairo
Museum. The largest is 16.7 feet long, 10.8 feet wide and 9.1 feet high.

One of the first things a conqueror or a king of a new faith would do would be to
strip off this readily available gold. According to 1 Kings 14:25, 26 (cf. 2
Chronicles 12:9), that is what Pharaoh Shishak did when he marched through Israel on a military campaign a
few years after King Solomon’s death.

No trace of Solomon’s Temple has ever been found. Only the Biblical
account has survived. The testimony of the Biblical world, however,
lends credibility to that account. It is impossible to prove that
Solomon did build a temple overlaid with gold as described in 1
Kings and 2 Chronicles. But the evidence assembled here shows it
would be foolish to deny the possibility.

What about the quantities of gold described in the Biblical account?


Are they in any way realistic? Without knowing the thickness of the
gold plating, no estimate can be made of the amount of gold needed to
cover the inside of Solomon’s Temple.

However, the weight of some of Solomon’s golden possessions is


given in the text. Solomon’s golden shields weighed about 4,000
pounds, more than two tonsc (1 Kings 10:16, 17). The Queen of Sheba
presented Solomon with a gift of an even larger amount: 120 talents or about 9,000 lbs, four and a half tons of
gold (1 Kings 10:10). King Hiram of Tyre gave Solomon a like amount (1 Kings 9:14). It is easy to dismiss such
a huge sum as exaggerated, if not legendary. However, these sums are comparable to the tribute the Assyrian
king Tiglath-pileser III received when he subjugated Tyre in 730 B.C. (150 talents of gold).18 Sargon II of
Assyria gave as large a gift (154 talents of gold) to the gods of Babylon, partly taken from the booty he captured
in his Babylonian campaign.19 From Egypt we are told of an even larger gift: Tuthmosis III presented to the
temple of Amun at Karnak 152,107 debend of gold in lumps and rings, which is about 13.5 tons—and that was
only part of his gift! Carved on the walls of the temple at Karnak is an illustrated catalogue of the objects he
donated.20 Five rows depict things made of gold or ornamented with it. Hieroglyphs specify whether there was
one example of each object or several. In addition to the golden bowls, dishes and ritual equipment, there were
large amounts of silver, lapis lazuli and other materials.

These records are astounding, and the reader may question


their accuracy. Admittedly, they cannot be checked today. On
the other hand, we can point to the fact that Babylonian
accountancy tablets reveal the extreme care taken to trace even
small amounts of gold, and of everything else, coming into
official royal depots or storehouses, and going out from them.
The precision of the figures in Tuthmosis’s donation to the
Amun temple summarized above, as well as the precision of
figures in similar documents, does give an appearance of
accuracy. The Amun temple inscription could be spurious, the
work of clever propagandists, but the inscription was visible to
all those who were permitted to enter the temple, so it might
easily be checked. Moreover, other evidence for hoards of
treasure accumulated in ancient temples is provided by usually careful Greek historians, such as Herodotus and
Pausanias, and this too tends to weigh in favor of the reliability of these figures.

The only ancient text that reports the annual income of a powerful king in Old Testament times is the Hebrew
Bible. In 1 Kings 10:14 the figure of 666 talents of gold (almost 25 U.S. tons) is given for Solomon. This may
refer to a particular year, just as the 420 talents (15.75 U.S. tons) from Ophir refers to a particular source (1
Kings 10:11). Only two figures in ancient records approach the amount of 666 talents: the total of Pharaoh
Osorkon’s gift to the gods and the amounts of treasure Alexander the Great found in Persia. Greek sources tell
of about 1,180 tons of gold Alexander found in Susa (compared to about 25 tons mentioned in connection with
Solomon’s income), and almost 7,000 tons in the whole of Persia.

Sometimes the ancient writers qualify gold as “pure” gold or “red” gold or “alloyed” gold; other times they refer
simply to “gold.” Consequently the modern student cannot be certain what kind of gold is meant. Also, the
weights of golden objects may include the core of wood, ivory or base metal, although it is worth noting that the
ancient scribes could distinguish types of goldwork if they needed to, as in the case of Solomon’s tableware of
“pure gold” (1 Kings 10:21).

The amounts of gold attributed to King Solomon are indeed large, but there is no doubt that large quantities of
gold were held by kings in Biblical times. Where did Solomon’s gold come from? Ancient Israel had no natural
sources of gold, nor was gold to be found in neighboring Transjordan and Syria. Western Turkey produced some
gold, panned from the river gravels of Lydia, the source of the wealth of the famous Croesus. Egyptians mined
gold in the south, in Nubia; some gold has been extracted there even in recent times. Gold from those sources
may have reached Solomon through trade and the tribute his subjects paid. The Queen of Sheba’s gift of gold
was probably drawn from gold mines in western Arabia. Remains of extensive mine works dating back at least
to Roman times have been explored there recently, and there are reports that considerable quantities of gold still
await the miner’s pick.e

Solomon and Hiram’s joint trading venture also brought “gold of Ophir” (1 Kings 10:11), a place of mysterious
locale. The site has been sought in western Arabia, but more commonly a distant location is envisaged, perhaps
past the Horn of Africa or in India. Until new texts give more precise information, the problem cannot be
resolved. The expression “gold of Ophir” occurs not only in the Bible, but also on an eighth-century B.C.
ostraconf found at Tell Qasile in Israel. That ostracon, while showing that the name was current to designate the
origin or type of gold, throws no light on Ophir’s location.

It’s probable that King Solomon’s men took advantage, or even control, of
any newly opened goldfield in areas under Solomon’s hegemony, perhaps
even in Ophir. The history of “gold rushes” during the 19th century in places
like California shows that a new field may yield a great deal of gold in the
years immediately following its discovery; then the flow settles to a small,
regular production, or becomes exhausted. The same conditions may have
prevailed in ancient times.

We have not proved that the details in the Bible regarding Solomon’s gold
are accurate. But, by setting the Biblical texts beside other ancient texts and
archaeological discoveries we have shown that the Biblical narrative is wholly in keeping with the practices of
the ancient world, so far as we can ascertain them, not only in the use of gold but also in its records of
quantities. While this does not demonstrate that the account in the Bible is accurate, it does show that it is
feasible. Commentators may still argue for an exilic date for the composition of the account in Kings; they may
even contend that it is imaginary, that Solomon never sat on a throne of ivory and gold, or that he never
worshipped at a golden Temple in Jerusalem. But they can no longer dismiss the account, or even elements in it,
on the ground that it, or they, are incredible.

Endnotes:
1
For example, Joseph Robinson, The First Book of Kings, Cambridge Bible (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1972), p. 79.
2
John Gray, I and II Kings (London: SCM Press, 1964) p. 160.
3
The gilded copper roof was placed on the Golden Temple at Amritsar in 1802 by King Ranjit Shigh. See
Chambers Encyclopaedia (Oxford and New York: Pergamon Press, 1967) under “Amritsar.”
4
The Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon was built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1841 to its present height of
326 feet (100 meters). See Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., vol. 26, p. 521.
5
Sir Leonard Woolley and P. R. S. Moorey, Ur ‘of the Chaldees’, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press/London:
Hebert Press, 1982).
6
Rita E. Freed, Ramesses the Great (Memphis, TN: The City of Memphis, TN, 1987), plates no. 22, 18.
7
William L. Moran, Les Lettres d’el Amarna (Paris: du Cerf, 1987), letters no. 14, 22, cf. 13, 25.
8
Vassilios Karageorgis, Excavations in the Necropolis of Salamis, III (Nicosia, Cyprus: Dept. of Antiquities,
1973).
9
Max E. L. Mallowan, Nimrud and its Remains (London: Collins, 1966); Ivories from Nimrud I–IV (London:
British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 1967–1986).
10
Ancient Records of Assyria II, transl. D. D. Luckenbill (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1927) p. 172f.
11
Botta thought he was excavating Nineveh, but it was actually Dur-Sharruken, Sargon’s city.
Paul-Emile Botta, Monument de Ninive, 5 vol. (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1849–50). Flandin’s original
drawing has recently been published in Pauline Albenda, The Palace of Sargon, King of Assyria (Paris: Editions
Recherche sur les Civilizations, 1986), pp. 91, 110f, plate 133.
12
Rykle Borger, Die Inschriften Asarhaddons (Graz, Austria: E. W. Weidner, 1956), p. 87.
13
S. Langdon, Die Neubabylonische Königsinschriften (Leipzig: Heinrichs, 1912), p. 222.
14
James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt II (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1907), para. 883.
15
Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt IV, paras. 7, 9.
16
Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt IV, paras. 195, 209.
17
“L’or dans l’architecture egyptienne,” Annales du Service des Antiquites de l’Egypte 53 (1956) pp. 221–250.
18
Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria I, para. 803; see also Ancient Near Eastern Texts, ed. James B.
Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 3rd ed., 1969), p. 282b.
19
Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria II, para. 70.
20
The relief is reproduced and explained in Walter Wreszinski, Atlas Zur altaegyptischen Kulturgeschichte
(Leipzig: Heinrichs, 1935), II Taf. 33.
a
Hershel Shanks, “Ancient Ivory—The Story of Wealth, Decadence and Beauty,” BAR 11:05.
b
Values of Assyrian and Babylonian weights have been calculated by weighing inscribed stone weights found
at various places. The mina was about 17 ounces (480 grams). This sets the talent of 60 minas at 63.5 pounds
(28.8 kilograms). Weights in Israel were slightly different, the mina being estimated at 1 pound, 1.5 ounces to 1
pound, 8 ounces (500 to 600 grams); the talent at 66 to 76 pounds (30 to 36 kilograms); and the shekel at about
0.4 ounce (11.5 grams). With the uncertainty about exact weights, all the figures given in this essay have to be
understood as subject to correction. See Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel I (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961).
c
In the Hebrew text, the denomination of the weight is not given. This is not uncommon, and the reader was
expected to know it would be the most common for the type of object being weighed, and so was usually the
shekel, as assumed here. One might compare the English use of “a half” in ordering drink, when “pint” is
understood but not stated.
d
The deben weight in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.) and later has been computed at 91 grams, from
weighing extant examples. (See Sir A. H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar [Oxford, 1950], ss. 266:4).
e
Lois Berkowitz, “Has the U.S. Geological Survey Found King Solomon’s Gold Mines?” BAR 03:03.
f
An ostracon is a potsherd with an inscription on it.
Where Did Solomon’s Gold Go?
By Kenneth A. Kitchen

In the accompanying article, Alan Millard amply demonstrates that


the gold attributed in the Bible to King Solomon was entirely
consistent, both in use and extent, with what we know about the
ancient Near East. Yet, readers must be led to wonder: If Solomon
had all this gold, why haven’t we found it? Where did it go?

The answer is simple: to Egypt!

Soon after Solomon’s death, his kingdom split in two: Israel in the
north and Judah in the south. Jeroboam ruled in the north and Solomon’s feckless son Rehoboam ruled Judah
from Jerusalem.

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, the formidable Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I (referred to in the Bible as
Shishak) conducted a devastating military campaign in Judah and Israel. According to the Bible, he took with
him as booty the Temple and palace treasures:

“In the fifth year of Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He carried off the treasures of the
Temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the gold shields
Solomon had made” (1 Kings 14:25–26).

This probably occurred in the summer of 925 B.C. Within a year or so of his conquest, the formidable Shishak
(Shoshenq I) was dead. He was followed on the pharaonic throne in 924 B.C. by his son, Osorkon I.

Directly after Shishak’s death, and less than a decade after Solomon’s death, Osorkon proudly recorded on a
granite pillar in a temple at Bubastis, in the eastern Nile Delta, his own breathtakingly munificent gifts to the
gods and goddesses of Egypt. These gifts were for “[all the gods and goddesses of the cities] of Upper and
Lower Egypt, from Year 1 (of Osorkon’s reign) … to Year 4 … , making 3 years, 3 months and 16 days,” that is
for the period from 924 to 921 B.C.

Only fragments of this long and detailed hieroglyphic text of Osorkon have been
found. But these seem to record gifts totaling approximately two million deben of
silver, and 2,300,000 deben of gold and silver—at least 383 tons of precious metal
given by Osorkon to the gods.g

The crowded lines of the main text give us details of rich gifts to each god or goddess:
“What His Majesty gave to the Temple of Aman-re … a standing statue offering
incense, … its body of beaten gold and silver, amounting to: gold, 183 deben, silver,
19,000 deben, black copper . … ”

After the gifts to Re comes: “gold, lapis … 332,000 deben, total, 594,300 deben,” and
so on.

Where could Osorkon have obtained such immense wealth, to spend on such a scale after only three and a third
years of his reign?

Barely five years earlier, Osorkon’s father Shishak had looted the wealth of Jerusalem. It seems unlikely to be a
mere coincidence that almost immediately after that event Osorkon could dispose so freely of so much gold and
silver.h

The vast amounts of Solomon’s golden wealth may have ended up, at least in part, as Osorkon’s gift to the gods
and goddesses of Egypt.
g
The deben weight in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.) and later has been computed at about 91 grams,
from weighing extant examples. (See Sir A. H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar [Oxford, 1950], ss. 266:4).
h
Nor did that spree exhaust Osorkon’s treasury. Before the end of his reign it appears that he had to bury his
coregent son Shoshenq II. In 1939, Professor Pierre Montet found Shoshenq II entombed in a solid silver coffin
at Tanis.
Shishak’s Military Campaign in Israel Confirmed
By Kenneth A. Kitchen

In the previous sidebar, I quote the reference in 1 Kings to Pharaoh


Shishak’s attack on Jerusalem shortly after Solomon’s death. A
similar passage can be found in Chronicles:

“Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of


king Rehoboam. With 1200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen and the
innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came
with him from Egypt, he captured the fortified cities of Judah and
came as far as Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 12:2–4).

Unfortunately, no single Egyptian document gives us a narrative


equivalent to that found in Kings and Chronicles. At the Karnak temple of the god Amun in Thebes, however,
Shishak (Shoshenq I) left a vast triumphal relief—possibly unfinished—to celebrate his military campaign that
brought to Egypt loot from Solomon’s Temple. The Amun temple relief lists many towns in Palestine and gives
both more and less information about this Egyptian military campaign than do the Biblical accounts. Damage to
several sections of the hieroglyphic list regrettably robs us of the mention of a number of place-names,
particularly in Judah, while, on the other hand, the list includes many places in Israel, showing that Shishak also
brought Jeroboam, king of Israel, to heel, a point that did not interest the Jerusalem-based Biblical annalists.

The relief includes rows of heads with hieroglyph-fitted ovals for


bodies which name many places in Judah and Israel. A drawing
(above) and a photo (below) show details of Shoshenq’s relief. The
four ovals in the photo detail appear just below and to the left of
Shoshenq’s right foot (see tinted area in drawing). These four ovals
contain the names of three places in the Negev: The one on the right
reads ’irhrr, which may be Jehallel, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:16;
the two in the middle read p.h\qr Õibrm “Fort of Abram” (?); and the
one at left reads sûbrt, “Shibboleth,” which means stream. No
narrative, however, accompanies this hieroglyphic list.

One smashed stela from Karnak does preserve a few phrases about the
start of Shishak’s campaign:

“Now, My Majesty found that [ … they] were killing [ … ] army-


leaders. His Majesty was upset about them … [His Majesty went forth,] his chariotry accompanying him
without (the enemy’s) knowing it. His Majesty made great slaughter among them, … at the edge of the Bitter
Lakes.” A contemporary, Hori, had been a “real royal scribe, [following] the king at his incursions into the
foreign lands of Retenu [i.e., Palestine]”.

Finally, physical proof of the presence of Shishak in Palestine is


afforded by the corner-fragment of a once great stela found at Megiddo
in Israel. Excavators of Megiddo in the 1920s and ’30s unearthed a 15-
inch-long stone fragment with carved cartouchesa of the king. The
fragment dates to about 925 B.C. Seen clearly in the drawing, Shishak’s
cartouches read:

Hedj-kheper-Re “Bright is the form of (the sun-god) Re”


“Amun’s beloved, Shoshenq (I).”
a
A cartouche is the oval outline (horizontal or vertical), with a cross-tie at the end, within which a pharaoh
usually inscribed the hieroglyphs of either of his two most important names: his throne-name and his personal
name.