Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
Some of the Best Traditions
DAÛD (on whom be peace) was singularly pious and anxious to do his duty to Allah as well as to his neighbour. He therefore used to divide his time into three parts, devoting one day to the worship of Allah and the study of Scripture, the second to matters of State, and the third to domestic duties and the earning of a livelihood. He was led to work with his own hands for the support of his family by the following circumstance.
When he first came to the throne he was anxious to know whether his people were satisfied with his rule, and, knowing how worthless is the praise of courtiers, he resolved to find out for himself. He therefore went about disguised among the common people and heard what was thought of his administration. On one such occasion he was informed by an angel in human form that the great fault of his government was that the king lived at the expense of the public treasury, instead of working with his hands for daily bread. On hearing this, Daûd was greatly troubled, and besought Allah to show him some kind of trade by the proceeds of which both he and his family might be able to live without burdening the nation. Hereupon Gabriel was sent to teach the king the art of making coats of mail. Thenceforth, during his leisure hours, the king was always to be
found at work in his armoury, and there was a great demand for his handiwork, as the armour he made was proof against all weapons. The usual price of a full suit of mail was six thousand dinârs. The king made them at the rate of one a day. One-third of the proceeds went towards the support of his family, one-third in alms, and the remainder to purchase materials for the building of the Temple. Suleymân also had a trade. He knew the art of kneading stone, and moulding it into various shapes, in the same way that a pastry-cook or a baker moulds dough. Some colonnettes with curiously twisted, rope-like marble shafts in the Dome of the Rock of Jerusalem are shown as his work.
Daûd made a pilgrimage to the graves of the patriarchs at Hebron, and, on his return to Jerusalem, expressed in prayer a longing to be as favoured of Allah as they were. He even went so far as to say that he was sure that, if exposed to their temptations, he would overcome them; with the prospect of a like reward. In answer to this prayer Allah told Daûd that his petition would be granted, but that, seeing how the race of Adam had degenerated, the All Merciful, in granting his request, had added a favour with which the patriarchs had not been indulged: that he should be informed of the exact time of his trial.. The date and hour were thus announced to the pious king.
When the day arrived, Daûd, full of confidence, shut himself up in the tower which still bears his name, and gave orders that he was on no account
to be disturbed. He passed the time in reading and meditation. Then, as now, many wild rock-doves flew around the tower, and the king was presently roused from his devotions by a flutter of wings. Looking up, he saw, just outside the window, a most wonderful pigeon, its plumage gleaming with prismatic colours, and looking as if it had feathers of gold and silver studded with precious jewels. The king threw some crumbs on to the floor, and the bird came in and picked them up at his feet, but eluded every attempt at capture. At last it flew to the window and settled on one of the bars. Daûd tried again to catch it, but the creature flew away, and it was then, as he was looking after it, that he saw that which led to his great crimes in the matter of Uriah.
Two angels were some time afterwards sent, in human form, to reprove the fallen monarch. On their arrival at the gate of Daûd's tower they were refused entrance by the guards; but, to the latter's great astonishment, they easily scaled the fortress wall and entered the royal chamber. Surprised at their coming in unannounced and without leave, Daûd demanded to know their business with him. He was thunderstruck when, having related the parable of the one ewe lamb, 1 they denounced his iniquity. When they had fulfilled their mission they departed, leaving the king so full of remorse at his failure to resist the temptation sent in answer to his prayer, that he wept day and night. Mountains and hills, trees and stones, beasts and flying things,
which had been wont to echo his songs of praise to Allah, now joined in his lamentations. There was universal weeping, and the tears of Daûd himself flowed so copiously that they filled both the Birket es Sultan, 1 and the Birket Hammâm el Batrak. 2 At last a prophet was sent to tell the contrite sinner that, in consideration of his penitence, Allah pardoned the sin against Himself, but that, for the crime against his fellow-man, he must obtain forgiveness from the person injured. The king then made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Uriah, and there confessed his sins, when a voice came from the tomb saying: "My Lord the King, since your crime has secured me Paradise, I forgive you with all my heart." "But, Uriah," said Daûd, "I did it to get possession of your wife." To this there was no answer, until Daûd, in despair, prayed Allah to make Uriah forgive him. Then the voice came again from the tomb: "I forgive thee, O King, because for one wife torn from me on earth, Allah has given me a thousand in Heaven."
In the southern wall of the Dome of the Rock, often erroneously called the Mosque of ’Omar, on the right hand side, just outside the door, there are two small slabs of marble which, having been sliced from the same block, show the same veining, and have been fastened side by side in such a way that the vein-lines form a figure which resembles two birds perched on opposite sides of a vase. The picture
is framed in marble of a darker colour. Connected with the picture is the following story.
The great Suleymân el Hakìm was sitting one day near a window of his palace, listening to the love-talk of two pigeons upon the house-top. Said the male bird loftily: "Who is Suleymân the king? And what are all his buildings to be so proud of? Why, I, if I put my mind to it, could kick them down in a minute!"
Hearing this, Suleymân leant out of the window and called the boaster, asking how he could tell such a lie. "Your Majesty," was the cringing reply, "will forgive me when I explain that I was talking to a female. You know one cannot help boasting in such circumstances." The monarch laughed and bade the rogue begone, warning him never to speak in that tone again. The pigeon, after a profound reverence, flew to rejoin his mate.
The female at once asked why the king had called him. "Oh," came the answer, "he had overheard what I was saying to you, and asked me not to do it." So enraged was Suleymân at the irrepressible vanity of the speaker that he turned both birds into stone, as a warning to men not to boast, and to women not to encourage them. 1
Suleymân was well acquainted with the language of plants. Whenever he came across a new plant he asked its name, uses, the soil and cultivation by which it flourished, and also its properties; and the
plant answered. He laid out the first botanical garden.
One day, in the Temple courts, he noticed a young plant of a kind unknown to him. He promptly asked its name. "El Kharrûb," was the answer. Now El Kharrûb means the destroyer. "Of what use art thou?" continued the king. "To destroy thy works," replied the plant. On hearing this Suleymân exclaimed in sorrow, "What! has Allah prepared the cause of the destruction of my works during my lifetime?"
Then he prayed that his decease, whenever it should occur, might be hidden from the Jân till all mankind should be aware of it. His reason for making this petition was his fear that if the Jân should know of his death before mankind knew of it, they would seize the opportunity to do mischief and teach men iniquity. Having prayed thus, the king dug up the Kharrûbeh and planted it close to a wall in his garden, where, to prevent, as far as might be, any harm coming from it, he watched it daily, till it had grown into a strong, stout sapling. He then cut it down and made of it a walking-stick on which he would lean when he sat superintending the labours of the evil spirits he kept slaving for him, to prevent them from exercising their power and ingenuity against mankind.
Now, many years before, Belkis, Queen of Sheba, had come to prove Suleymân with hard questions, one of which was how to pass a silk thread through a bead, the perforation in which was not straight through, but winding like the body of a moving
serpent. It had been a hard task, but it was performed, at the king's request, by a small white worm or maggot which, taking the end of the thread between its teeth, crawled in at one end and out at the other. To reward this insignificant creature for its work, the king granted its request that it might lodge inside the seed-vessels and other parts of plants and feed thereon. Unknown to Suleymân it had found a home under the bark of the young Kharrûb-tree, his staff, and had penetrated to the very centre of the trunk. The time arrived for the king to die, and he happened to be sitting as usual, leaning on his staff, when Azrael came and took away his soul, unknown to the Jân; who worked on steadily for full forty years, not knowing that the king was dead, because the staff upheld his corpse just as if it had been alive. At last, however, the worm hollowed out the staff, which suddenly broke in two, so that the body of Suleymân rolled to the ground and the evil spirits knew that their tyrant was dead. To this day the traveller in the East is shown a huge unfinished stone in the quarries at Ba’albec, and others in different parts of the country, and is informed that they are some of the tasks left unfinished by the Jân, when at last they were sure that Suleymân el Hakìm was dead.
46:1 2 Sam. xii. 1-6.
47:1 Traditionally known as the Lower Pool of Gihon.
47:2 Traditionally known as the Pool of Hezekiah.
48:1 Cf. King Solomon and the Butterflies in Mr Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories."