At the moment I am working my way through Proverbs in the Bible. I must say that King Solomon sure got himself a sweet deal - not only does he have 700 wives but he also has a huge chunk of the Bible where he gets to tell people exactly how to live to make his life even better. Get this quote:
"Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Maybe her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love." Proverbs 5:18-19
I am glad Solomon wants my wife's breasts to satisfy me at all times, that sounds wonderful. I was completely floored by that comment when I read it since when I started this Bible project I was really expecting more Victorian style prudery and instead I find extreme fascination with menstruation, foreskins and mammary satisfaction. This comes from a section where Solomon basically repeats over and over again the evils of the adulteress. According to him women lie in wait to trap the unwary man with their smiles and their words and those who succumb are ruined utterly.
I can see why Solomon would be so concerned about other people's adultery with married women. When you have 700 wives you can only expect that those wives are going to desperately crave some attention from someone other than Solomon - it must have been a real battle for him to keep them all from straying. Of course he could have helped his people by not marrying *seven hundred* women and practically enforcing abstinence on them but Solomon isn't one for foregoing his own pleasures it would seem.
Solomon is also eager to tell us to forgo riches and to give to the poor. He seems willing to surround himself in utter decadence but wants to be sure he is alone in that - other people should live lives of austerity, fear, obedience and righteousness. This all hammers home an important lesson about the world in which the writers of the Bible lived. Powerful men were closer to God, exempt from many of his rules and often immune to direct punishment. Religion and secular authority were completely entwined to the extent that God himself routinely displays great leniency to men in positions of authority while directing arbitrary violence to the peasants for the smallest crimes.
When I started the section called Proverbs I expected lists of suggestions for living, religious or otherwise. What I found is a powerful king with untold wealth and hundreds of wives telling everyone never to covet or touch his stuff because God will punish them if they do.
It's good to be the King.