Naamah is a woman of mystery. She lived through one of the most brilliant periods of Jewish history, was wife of the dazzling King Solomon and mother of a foolish son who squandered his inheritance – yet there is virtually no trace of her. We know her name, where she came from, whom she married and whom she bore – nothing else. Reconstructing her life is a detective game, putting the pieces together to see who she was.
The Bare Facts
Her husband Solomon reigned from about 962-922BC; her son Rehoboam from 922-915BC.
She was from Ammon, a state east of Jerusalem; the Ammonites were traditional enemies of Judah, her husband’s kingdom.
Her birth status is not given. Does this suggest she was a beautiful commoner? Or a princess of Ammon, a disparaged outsider?
She bore Rehoboam (who was inept) to Solomon (who was shrewd), and lived in a comparatively lavish and large harem in Jerusalem.
If she lived past childbirth, she experienced
a luxurious court
the building of the Temple and palaces
social dislocation: David and Solomon were by no means universally popular
an uneasy shift from loose tribal rule to an established monarchy
technological and financial change, with widespread agricultural innovations
The Temple of Dendur, Egypt. Solomon’s Temple was built much earlier than this, but was probably similar in design.
If she lived past Solomon’s death, she saw
her son Rehoboam ascend the throne
a breakway rebellion by the ten northern tribes
Rehoboam mishandling the situation
the United Monarchy disintegrating into two separate kingdoms, Judah and Israel, with the much richer northern kingdom of Israel rejecting her son as king
the Egyptian raid/invasion of Pharaoh Shoshank
loss of the Temple and palace treasures, later replacement with less valuable facsimiles
subsequent building of fortresses on the borders
uneasy co-existence of Jahwist and Canaanite religious practices
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT HER?
Wife of Solomon
A royal woman’s status depended on her ability to bear a son to the king
She was one of the many wives of Solomon – the biblical text says he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, certainly an exaggeration of the real numbers but a graphic indication of how extraordinarily fond he was of women. The biblical text says he loved them and clung to them, implying he was a man who enjoyed the pleasures of women above the duties of his position.
This may have been so, but Solomon also used marriage to cement relations between Israel and the surrounding territories and nations. He had a different vision of what a king should be: a hereditary political monarch rather than a popularly acclaimed leader.
His reign marks the historical mid point between two ways of selecting a leader – from messy, more or less democratic tribal election towards primogeniture, the orderly inheritance by the eldest son of the ruler, whatever his capabilities.
After Solomon’s reign primogeniture became the sometimes disputed but generally accepted principle of succession in Israel.
19th century artists painted Solomon in a lavish palace; in fact, Solomon’s palace in Jerusalem was much more modest in size than this. Above, the fantasy: Visit of the Queen of Sheba, Edward Poynter Below, the more modest reality: Throne Room at Knossos
A Foreign Wife from Ammon
Naamah was from Ammon, a kingdom to the east of Jerusalem (see right center of map).
Presumably she was a princess of the royal house, but this is not mentioned. She is simply referred to as ‘the Ammonite’, in much to same way that Marie Antoinette was referred to as ‘the Austrian’, a disparaging title summing up the hostility of the common people to a marriage between their king and a princess from a country they mistrusted.
Ammon had an on-again, off-again relationship with Israel – it was anything but stable.
Despite this, her marriage was meant to encourage friendly relations between Solomon’s realm and Ammon, and Naamah was expected to use her influence to help the two states live in harmony.
In the Harem
Harem room at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
She stood out from the crowd of women in the royal harem, so she must have had a strong personality, an intelligent mind or a beautiful appearance – or perhaps all three of these.
She lived most of her life in a harem dominated by Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba – if Bathsheba lived into old age. The mother of the king, not his wife (he had many) was the one who ruled the roost in ancient Israel.
Mother of the King Rehoboam
Naaman was mother of Rehoboam, the king who succeeded Solomon. If she lived to see his reign, she would have been the most powerful woman in the realm, the gebira or Queen Mother. She would dominate the harem and the women within it, act as an adviser to her son, exert considerable influence at all levels of society, and possibly become a cult leader, a high priestess, in the worship of deities like Asherah.
Naamah’s World: The City of Jerusalem
If Naamah lived into old age, she saw the building of Solomon’s Temple and the Jerusalem palaces.
The walled fortress of Jerusalem at the time of King David (lower right of the image). The upper area had houses, but was not fortified.
At the beginning of her marriage Jerusalem was not really a city, not like Troy, even though the site Jerusalem stood on had already been occupied for at least a thousand years.
The city started life as little more than a guard house keeping watch over the threshing floors on the large flat areas of rock on what is now the Temple Mount.
But over the years it grew in importance and Solomon transformed it, so that it became the scene of luxury and comfort.
Then as now, luxury and comfort were perks of the rich and highly placed.
Things were not so easy for ordinary people, and Naamah witnessed a period of extraordinary social transition.
Before the consolidation of the Hebrew tribes, there had been few taxes, no forced labor, and no foreign mercenaries. But the population had tripled in the past two centuries, and more land had to be opened up for farming.
This took large amounts of money and careful organisation, which were things only a central administration could provide. Crops like olives and vines generated trade with other countries, again entailing central organisation.
As the land value increased it became more attractive to neighboring kingdoms, and a central leadership had to counter attacks from outside.
To pay for all this, more taxes were necessary. Organizing taxes needed a central political administration, which required officials who had to be supported, so taxes were raised. And so on and so on and so on.
Now the tribes had a permanent king, and the aim of his wars was no longer to save Israel but to control trade routes and subjugate surrounding nations, taking over their land and using their people as forced labor.
Was life now much different from Egypt, where they had been the slaves of Pharaoh?
Naamah, therefore, lived through a period of massive social dislocation, and if she survived the birth of her youngest child and lived into old age, she saw the beginnings of the disintegration of the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
People blamed much of this social upheaval on the power and influence of Solomon’s foreign wives, among whom Naamah was prominent. We suspect she was never a committed worshipper of Yahweh, and that she probably supported and took part in worship of foreign deities from Ammon. This would have caused resentment among the priests of Yahweh, who were extremely powerful.
She and the other wives were blamed for Solomon’s religious laxity. He not only tolerated worship of the foreign deities favoured by his wives, but took part in it. People felt this had resulted in
loss of Yahweh’s protection and
division within the kingdom which would ultimately bring ruin for Israel and Judah.
Women like Naamah were blamed.
‘King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.
They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.
He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.
So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.
On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.
He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.’ 1 Kings 11:1-8
The question still remains: why are we given so little information about Naamah?
Did she die young? Was there a lack of information because her life was cut short in childbirth?
Did her origins as an Ammonite make her so unpopular that it was better to simply gloss over her story, ignore her, pretend she hardly existed?
What was her relationship with her powerful mother-in-law Bathsheba? Did it effect the way her story was told? Many scholars believe Bathsheba had a hand in the writing and editing of the stories about David and Solomon. Could Bathsheba simply have edited her daughter-in-law out of history? Was this the ultimate pay-back of a mother-in-law who blamed Solomon’s foreign women for ruining the kingdom?
Or did later editors of the text decide that the less said about Solomon’s wives the better?
These are the tantalizing questions we cannot answer.
Women in the Bible – the Royal Women of the House of David Naamah – Ammonite princess, wife of King Solomon, mother of King Rehoboam