Comparative Paper: Quranic and Biblical Depictions of Sulayman (Solomon)

The Judeo-Christian religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have several common characteristics.  All three of them originate from what is presently referred to as the Middle East and thus share a common cultural and geographic heritage.  Islam being the most modern of the religions has derived some of its precepts from its immediate predecessor Christianity.  The evidence for this assertion could be found in respective holy books The Koran and The Bible.  It is in this context that we will be comparing the characters of Sulayman (Koran) and Solomon (Bible).  Though the characters of Sulayman and Solomon are essentially the same, although there are a few factual inconsistencies between the two accounts.  This paper will argue that the portrayal of Sulayman in the Holy Koran is more generous and reverential when compared to that of Holy Bible.

Before moving to the central points that support the thesis, a brief overview of the basic differences and similarities is warranted.  When comparing the two texts, some key differences in the depiction of Sulayman/Solomon is revealed.  Firstly, in the Holy Koran, the emphasis was laid on Sulayman’s role as a Prophet, where as in the Holy Bible he is portrayed as a King.  And to go with the notion of a prophet, Sulaiman was endowed with supernatural powers such as the power to move wind.  The following select quotations from Abdul Haleem’s translation of the Holy Koran illustrates this point: “And (We made) the wind subservient to Sulaiman whereof the morning course was a month’s journey and the course a month’s journey.” (54:12) “So We subjected the wind to his power, setting fair by his command withersoever he intended” (38:36) “And unto Sulaiman We subdued the wind in its raging. It flows by his order towards the land which We had blessed And of every thing We are aware.” (21:81)”

Seen from an Islamic point of view, one need not see any contradition in designations such as a Prophet or a King, for in the Islamic tradition, most Prophets happen to be Kings and viceversa, including Prophet Muhammad himself.  Secondly, in the Holy Koran, Sulayman is said to have lived only 53 years; whereas The Bible suggests that he lived longer than that.  Other minor differences in the two versions pertain to minor linguistic differences such as King David (the father of Solomon) being referred as Prophet Daud in the Holy Koran.  As for similarities, the historical/religious character in question is said to have gathered knowledge from his illustrious father.  And Allah, upon noticing the wisdom of the young sire is said to have conferred upon him mythic powers to rule over his kingdom.  The kingdom, rich and sprawling as it was, stretched till Yemen in the South.  And his loyal subjects were in turn thankful for Sulayman’s wisdom and righteousness.  A similar description of Solomon’s powers and riches is found in the Holy Bible as well.  For example, the New International Version of Bible notes that “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules”. (1 Kings 10:23-25)

The most noticeable discrepancy between the two versions lay in the way Sulayman/Solomon’s last days were written about.  Several editions of the Bible hold that Solomon deviated from the righteous path and indulged in practices of idolatory toward the end of his life.  And as a result of this, he fell in disfavor of God and his once prosperous and powerful kingdom ultimately disintegrated under the reign of his heir Rehoboam.  But in the Holy Koran there is no identification of Sulayman with idolatory and sinfulness.  It shows him as an exemplar follower of the preachings of Allah all through his life.  This difference in the account of twilight years of Solomon’s life is what accounts for the persisting legacy of Prophet Sulayman in Islamic discourse of today, as opposed to the lesser stature accorded to King Solomon when compared to other Christian saints and apostles.  There is also ambiguity in the Christian conception of Solomon, as the geneology of Jesus given by Matthew mentions Solomon whereas that given by Luke does not mention it.  In the same vein, we see that certain denominations of the Christian faith such as the Eastern Orthodox Church hold Solomon in higher esteem than other denominations.  The evidence for this comes from the fact the Eastern Orthodox Church confers the title of ‘Righteous King and Prophet’ on Solomon and dedicates a special Sunday as a feast day.

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