Troublesome Topic: Solomon Married Pharaoh’s Daughter

Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter is key to understanding the rest of Solomon’s life. In my opinion it sets the tone for Solomon’s other marriages. Several Bible scholars believe that Pharaoh’s daughter was instructed in Judaism and became a proselyte, i.e. a convert to Judaism, which would have made this marriage a lawful one. I take it a step further. I believe that Solomon required all his foreign wives to become proselytes. This line of thinking is based on several facts:

1) Solomon was careful about not letting a foreigner sleep in certain places so he built each one a special place to live (II Chron 8:11),

2) there is a psalm that was written about Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, Psalm 45. It was likely written by a priest or Levite. In it the king’s bride, though a foreigner, is spoken of in glowing terms. This psalm would not have been written if the marriage were not a lawful one,

3) the people did not seem to have a problem with Solomon’s many wives, and even Scripture does not bring up anything negative about it until I Kings 11:1-6, close to the end of Solomon’s life, when it describes how these foreign women had a negative influence on him,

4) when his apostacy and idolatry are described (I Kings 11:1-6), no Egyptian god is mentioned, showing that the assumption about Pharaoh’s daughter becoming a proselyte is a fairly safe assumption, and that she actually did abandon her former religion. In that same passage the gods of several other nations are mentioned. In my opinion that indicates that Solomon’s other foreign wives, when forced to become a convert to Judaism, only added Israel’s God on top of the pile of gods they already had. They made no real attempt to change their thinking and their religious practices.

5) Deuteronomy 21:10-13 explains the process required when a man took a wife from among captives taken in battle. In my discussion of that passage I strive to make the point that, even though it does not say it specifically, it sounds like she was required to become a convert to Judaism. If it was true of some foreign wives, it was probably true of all foreign wives. That is one reason I believe all of Solomon’s wives were proselytes (at least an outward change was made but maybe no inward change).

More Details

The treaty with Pharaoh of Egypt was based on the power of Israel’s army which David had built up. This treaty came early in Solomon’s reign, but the timing was right because Egypt was seen as very weak. This treaty showed that Israel, for once, was the stronger party. The Bible consistently shows Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter as a big deal, and it was a big deal. Solomon had managed to negotiate an informal treaty which proved that Israel was more powerful than Egypt, even though Egypt had always been one of the two power-houses of ancient times. Since the tower of Babel until Solomon’s day, and for a long time after him as well, the greatest empires had always been centered in Mesopotamia or in Egypt. The people of Israel had always been caught in the middle with little they could do about it. But now, because of David’s army and Solomon’s ability to negotiate, Israel was no longer a little dog caught in the middle of a fight between two big dogs. Israel had become a big dog and chased Egypt away (for about 3 or 4 decades).

Historical sources outside the Bible confirm that the 21st Egyptian dynasty saw a significant decline in power, but it was rebuilt during the days of Shishak, called Sheshonk in extra-biblical sources, who was the first Pharaoh of the 22nd dynasty. Shishak was the pharaoh who welcomed Jeroboam when he fled from Solomon at the end of Solomon’s life. This treaty involving Pharaoh’s daughter was made close to 40 years earlier and under a different, much weaker Pharaoh.

Here are the things that the Biblical record tell us about Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter. “Solomon made Pharaoh, king of Egypt his Father-in-law (he made a marriage alliance with him) by taking [in marriage] the daughter of Pharaoh; then he brought her to the City of David until he had fully completed building his house and a house for YHVH and the wall which surrounded Jerusalem (I Kings 3:1-2). Instead of using the word for “covenant,” this passage used a word which means “to make oneself a daughter’s husband,” i.e. “to make someone his father-in-law.” It was not a formal treaty, but it was a very purposeful marriage, one which united the men because both of them would seek the good of this woman and those around her. Marriages tend to bind two families together.

When Solomon received Pharaoh’s daughter as a wife, he built her a separate residence, or palace, just for her. “He also made a house like this for the daughter of Pharaoh, whom he had taken [as a wife]” (I Kings 7:8). Solomon was trying to do the right thing. He said, “My wife must not live in the house of David King of Israel, for the places to which the ark of YHVH has come are holy” (II Chron 8:11). From this we can deduce that her place of residence in the “city of David” was not King David’s palace, but some other house that Solomon likely rented or purchased for her to stay in until her own palace was finished.

In conclusion, Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter is not portrayed as anything negative, which is a strong hint that she became a proselyte. For many of us today, we think of it in a negative light, but that is partially because we know the end of the story.

The next lesson is: Solomon Asks for Wisdom