Two Women and a Baby

You probably first heard the story of King Solomon and the two prostitutes in childhood.  It is found in 1 Kings 3:16-28, where it is told as an example of King Solomon’s vast wisdom.  Solomon’s wisdom was God’s gift.  All wisdom and knowledge come from God, as it says in the Book of Proverbs, which is attributed to Solomon, “For the Lord gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6).

Two harlots came to King Solomon for judgment.   Two women living in the same house gave birth to sons.  One woman’s baby died during the night.  On woman claimed that the other  took the other woman’s baby to be her own.  Whose baby was he?  This is a case of “she said-she said,” and it took place in the days before DNA testing.  How was the king to decide?  

The king said, “Get me a sword.” When they brought the sword before him, he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other.” The woman whose son it was, in the anguish she felt for it, said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living child–please do not kill it!” The other, however, said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours. Divide it!” The king then answered, “Give the first one the living child! By no means kill it, for she is the mother.”

In the midrash, the rabbis disagree regarding the identity of the two women.  One view (Cant. Rabbah 1:1:10) is that they were not prostitutes but rather widows.  They each wanted the child in order to be freed of the obligation of levirate marriage.  Another opinion is that they were not human beings but rather spirits.  This view emphasizes divine providence.  Solomon needed to demonstrate his wisdom, since he was still young.  We know this because he says of himself in 1 Kings 3:7: “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.”  Solomon needed to show that he could judge the people fairly.  And he succeeded in this, as the story concludes: “When all Israel heard the judgment the king had given, they were in awe of him, because they saw that the king had in him the wisdom of God for giving judgment” (1 Kings 3:28).

After Solomon threatened to cut the baby into two, in wisdom he began a concluding argument. He asked: “Was it for nothing that the Holy One, blessed be He, created for man two eyes, two ears, two legs, and two hands? The Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that this case was to happen.”  After Solomon delivered his judgment, “Give the first one the living child! By no means kill it, for she is the mother,” the Holy Spirit cried out, “She is the mother thereof, certainly.” (Eccles. Rabbah 10:17).  Thus God confirmed Solomon’s decision.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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