AFTER King Solomon had ascended his father's throne, he called all his counsellors together one day and addressed them as follows: 'As the wise and distinguished men of the people, you cannot but recognize that the time has now come when I have to discharge a deferred debt, which has been left to me as a legacy by my illustrious father, King David. It is the building of a Temple to the glory and worship of the Most High God, which would gladly have been undertaken by my father were it not for the message he received through Nathan the Prophet, that it was not to be he himself but his son and successor who should undertake the work.
'I now desire to discharge that holy duty and to erect a structure worthy of its exalted purpose, and consecrate it to Almighty God. The condition of things is propitious; peace rules supreme, there is no lack of ways and means, and Hiram of Tyre has, in fact, already received instructions to fell cedars in Labonon, and marble and stone is also ready in abundance. But it requires your wise counsel to enable the building to proceed without the use of any iron. It would not be proper to employ an element of destruction in the erection of a structure which is to be dedicated to peace and harmony.' At the end of the king's speech, the members of the Court looked at one another in perplexity for a while; then they began:--
'Wise King and Ruler! Moses, our teacher of blessed memory, found himself in similar perplexity when he
wanted to engrave the names on the Ephod, but the Spirit of God enlightened him, and he soon found the marvellous worm called "Shomir," which possesses the wonderful power of cutting the hardest object known by a touch. If, O Glorious King! you succeed in obtaining that wonderful insect, you will have no need of iron or any element of destruction in the erection of the house which you wish to consecrate to the Most High God, and dedicate as the emblem of peace and harmony.
The king's countenance brightened at this information, and, lifting up his eyes heavenwards, he said, 'Verily, O God of Israel, thou hast granted wisdom and knowledge to my people Israel! You, my friends, have given me new life and fresh spirit. Now, can you tell me where the wonderful insect is to be found, so that I may have it brought and may utilize its power?' 'That, mighty ruler,' replied the wise men, 'is beyond our ken, and we doubt whether it is within the knowledge of any mortal man. It is supposed that the "Shomir" has its home in wild and desolate places which have never been traversed by human foot. We are therefore not able to comply with your wish, but if you have the advice of a male and female demon who traverse those wastes, we doubt not that they will be able to throw more light on this dark mystery.'
Solomon then sent to Sichon, the rendezvous of demons, had a male and female demon brought before him, and addressed them as follows: 'It is said of you that you have a knowledge of mysteries which we do not possess. Tell me, therefore, where I could obtain that wonderful insect known as "Shomir"?'
They replied, 'We are aware of the existence of the marvellous "Shomir," but are unable to give anything like a near description of its abode; that is only known to our king and great master, Ashmedai. He alone would be able to gratify your wish.' 'And,' said
Solomon, 'where is the abode of your king and great master? 'His home,' was the answer, 'is on a high mountain, far, very far, from Jerusalem, in a lovely and beautiful spot. There he has a well filled with cold clear water, covered with a wooden slab, sealed with his seal. Every day he leaves his terrestrial abode and flies heavenwards to hear the songs of the angels, who sing praises to the Great God.
'Being refreshed with the heavenly hymns, he searches through the heavens, and casts his eyes on the various spheres within his view, and towards evening he returns to his abode. Arriving there, he looks carefully at the seal of his well to see that it has not been tampered with, and, finding it all right, he lifts the slab and refreshes himself with the cooling and refreshing liquid.
'More than this, O mighty king, we are not permitted to impart to you concerning our king and master.' For a long time King Solomon allowed his eyes to wander about his great room, and at last fixed them on a youth amongst the assembly--a youth of powerful frame and lovely appearance, and with an expression of the most resolute and keenest spirit in his countenance.
'Benaihu, son of Jehoiada,' exclaimed the king, 'long have I known you as the most courageous in all my legions! See now what a magnificent opportunity there is offered to you to prove the truth of the opinion I have formed of you. Will you venture to bring Ashmedai as a captive to me, and by such heroic deed not only to make yourself a hero amongst your people, but to do a great service to the holy cause of your religion?' 'I will venture,' cried the youth, 'any task your majesty may honour me with,' his eyes shining brightly with delight. 'God be with you,' said the king; 'He knows that we do all this to glorify His name; may He guide you and bless your undertaking.' Benaihu left the assembly, and at his orders a chain
was given to him upon every link of which was engraved the unspeakable name of God in the Chaldean language. He also ordered for his journey a large quantity of lambs' wool, spades and shovels, and a pipe of the most exquisite wine of the vines of 'Bal Hamon,' a famous vineyard, the property of King Solomon.
Thus equipped, Benaihu started with a few followers on the perilous expedition. After a long and adventurous journey through the desert, he reached the lovely spot on the mountain which was the home of Ashmedai. On the top of the mountain grew a cluster of lovely palms, on which an eternal summer seemed to rest. At its foot ran a clear brook, teeming with fish of all sorts; on the slope of the mountain could be seen the well of the great Ashmedai, as described by the two demons.
Benaihu mused a long while, then he said to his followers: 'My friends, we have now reached our destination, but not our aim. Now let us bear in mind that muscular power is now of no use to us when we have to deal with the master of demons, but God has granted us discernment and understanding, and with these divine gifts it should not be impossible to prevail over the mighty king of the demons. If only we contrive to empty his well of the water and fill it with the wine we have brought with us, then our task is an easy one; but to effect this is a formidable difficulty, because we must not lift the slab and break the seal, or we defeat our purpose.'
He then commenced, during Ashmedai's absence, to dig a pit under the well, and connected the two by boring a small tunnel, so that the water from Ashmedai's well ran into the newly made pit, then stopped up the small tunnel completely with the lamb's wool; then a similar pit was dug above the well, and also connected with Ashmedai's well. The wine was poured in here, and found its way into the well. After this he had
every possible trace of the fresh digging removed, and ordered his companions to go away from the place, but he climbed up one of the many palm trees, and sat there to watch events. When the shadows of the evening lengthened there was a fiery flush through the skies, and there came with it a monstrous creature with black wings, which gradually let itself down to the earth.
Ashmedai, for he it was, looked long on the seal of the well, and finding it untouched, broke it, lifted up the slab, and was about to refresh himself with the contents of the well. When he detected that it contained wine instead of the refreshing liquid which he had husbanded, he turned in disgust from it, exclaiming, 'Wine is a mocker, and every intoxicant confuses the senses. No! your flattering sweetness shall not lead me astray; as well would I suffer the tortures of unquenched thirst as have your exquisite taste upon my palate.' But after a while Ashmedai could not any longer withstand his craving for some liquid, if only to moisten his lips, and he said to himself, 'If I only sip at the accursed stuff it will have no power over me. I will touch of it no more than is sufficient to moisten my burning tongue.' He drank at first very sparingly, but it was very, very sweet, and it seemed to give him a brightness and freshness he had never experienced before. 'Only a little, a very little more,' he said, ( not sufficient to overmaster me.' But this very little was followed by few more 'very littles,' till he became quite intoxicated, and fell asleep. This was quite satisfactory to the concealed young hero, who, climbing down from his biding place, went cautiously forward until he reached the sleeping demon, over whose neck he threw the chain with the name of God engraved on every link.
Ashmedai slept till the early hours of the morning, when he found himself heavily fettered, scarcely able
to firm round on his bed. He looked for heavy manacles, but found only a fragile chain round his neck, which he could not credit with such immense power. He tried his utmost to snap the frail thing, but without success.
He roared terribly, so that the very air was filled with the violent noise. 'O set me free; who will set me free from this hellish burden?' 'No one,' came the answer from the hitherto hidden Benaihu; 'all your efforts are fruitless; you are fettered, not indeed with iron manacles, only with a chain of softer metals, but that has the name of God engraved on it, and in the name of God you are my captive.' Ashmedai, on hearing Benaihu's words, became quiet and resigned to his situation. One of Benaihu's men was ordered to take charge of him, and like a tamed lion he was led forth. Ashmedai's concealed courage exhibited itself now and then on the journey towards Jerusalem. As they passed one day a gigantic palm tree, he asked for a rest under its shade, and when this was granted, he rubbed himself so violently against it that it was uprooted. Thereupon he passed a hut, the property of a poor widow, and was about to demolish it, when the woman, seeing the giant about to lean against the frail walls of her home, prevailed upon him to spare her hut.
One day they met a blind man who became entangled amongst some bushes and could not find his way out. Ashmedai took the man by the hand, and led him out of his perplexed situation into the highway. So also they met a man in his cups, who was nearing a precipice into which he was about to fall, when his demoniac majesty hastened to get him out of danger's way and placed him in a safe road. They passed one day through a town where he heard a man calling out to a shoemaker, 'Heda, friend, can you make me a pair of boots to last me seven years?' Ashmedai burst out laughing at this. They met also a wedding party, with music
accompanying them. Ashmedai wept. They saw a wizard sitting on a large stone telling a patronizing clientèle their future fate, and again Ashmedai laughed. Benaihu was curious to know the motives of the demon's conduct, but he could not be persuaded to explain himself, and said he reserved the explanation for King Solomon himself. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Benaihu brought his captive triumphantly before Solomon, who was sitting on his throne surrounded by his counsellors and elders. At the entrance of Ashmedai they rose from their magnificent divans. Ashmedai, however, in great excitement and anger took a long staff, and marking round himself a space of four yards in circumference, and pointing to King Solomon, exclaimed, 'Look at this man, a king of dust and ashes! When he dies, nothing will be his beyond a space of earth the size of which I have just marked out, yet he is not satisfied to have subjected all his neighbours and all the kingdoms as his tributaries, but he must needs try to wrench the sceptre from the king of the spirits. Otherwise, why have you, O great king, brought such contempt and dismay upon me?' 'Be not angry with me,' returned Solomon, 'king of spirits, and be assured that conquest is not the object of your captivity. It is a matter appertaining to the glory of my God, who is also your God. Tell me, then, where I can obtain the marvellous "Shomir," of which I have need to cleave the marble and stones for the House of God.' 'If that is the object,' returned Ashmedai, pacified and reassured by Solomon's reconciling words, 'then I willingly submit to my hard fate, and will also tell you where and how to obtain the much-sought "Shomir." The "Shomir" belongs to the lord over all seas and waters, but he has entrusted it for safe keeping to a mountain-bird in the desert. This bird is to be found in the desert on a very steep, barren hill there in a cliff it has bored out a hole, and keeps the "Shomir," which was created in the evening
of the sixth day of creation, before the Sabbath was proclaimed.'
The services of the young hero Benaihu were again called into requisition. Solomon addressed the youth with his wonted eloquence, referring to the services he had rendered in the past, and entertaining no doubt of the hero's willingness to render this consummate national service of obtaining the 'Shomir,' the reward for which his royal master would not bestow niggardly or grudgingly.
Benaihu replied by a profound bow before his majesty, and left the palace to prepare at once for his hazardous journey. There is no need for details of the hardships the young hero had to encounter on his journey, where there was not a blade of grass, a drop of water, or a shade for shelter from the merciless rays of the scorching sun, nor is it necessary to relate all his adventures, and all the subtle designs adopted to wrest the 'Shomir' from its guard. Suffice it to say that the hardships and adventures of our hero were rewarded by success, and the 'Shomir' was at last in Jerusalem. Needless to say, there was great joy and festivity in the Holy City, and the work (which lasted seven years) now began in earnest, that of erecting, without iron or any other metal, a structure for the worship of the God of Israel--a structure which was the admiration of the world, and which has never been equalled in majesty and splendour.
Ashmedai, the mighty king of demons, was all these years held captive by Solomon in Jerusalem. He was very desirous to be informed by the chief of the demons concerning the mystic spheres, but during the building of the Temple he was too much occupied with the sacred business to be able to spare time for anything else. After the consecration of the holy edifice, Solomon had Ashmedai brought before him, and explained the reason of his prolonged captivity, requesting him at the
same time, first of all, to explain to him his inexplicable conduct whilst on the way to Jerusalem. 'What, for instance, prompted you to guide the blind man into safety, when he was entangled in a bush? Surely it could not have been compassion, a virtue to which a demon is a stranger?' Ashmedai replied, 'That blind man is a most pious and righteous man, and I heard it proclaimed in the higher spheres that great reward should be his who should render that man a service.'
'And why did you lead the drunken man into the road away from the precipice into which he was walking?' 'That man,' said Ashmedai, 'is very wicked, and if he deserves any reward for ever having done anything but evil, he should receive it here on earth.' 'And what provoked your laughter when you heard a man inquire for boots to last him seven years?' 'Simply,' said the master of demons, 'that the man had but seven days more on earth.' 'Why did you weep on meeting a bridal party with their music?' 'Mighty King of Israel,' exclaimed Ashmedai, 'this very moment the last shred of flesh is gnawed off the bones of that bridegroom; he died five days after I met the wedding party.' 'Last of all,' demanded Solomon, 'what was the cause of your laughter on seeing the wizard with the people who consulted him?' 'Why should I not laugh when I saw a stupid person who professed to remove the veil of the hidden future, whilst he knew not that under the stone on which he was sitting there was hidden a kingly treasure?' 1
King Solomon now intimated by a gesture that he wished to be left alone with the king of the demons, and all his counsellors, ministers, and high officials surrounding his throne left the palatial room. When the king was alone with Ashmedai he addressed him as follows: 'The fact that I carefully excluded all my advisers from hearing what there is between us will have shown you that I have an important matter upon which I crave information from you. I therefore want you, O Ashmedai, whose power is infinitely above mine, because you know what is going on in the higher as well as in the lower spheres, to tell me my own future.' Ashmedai betrayed a satirical smile and said, 'It is perhaps not to be wondered at that a monarch as wise and mighty on earth as you are, who has acquired almost all the knowledge that it is possible for a mortal man to possess, should long for knowledge of the supernatural from the region of the unseen; but I must advise you to desist from this ambition: it will not be of any use or pleasure to you.' 'No,' insisted Solomon, 'nothing will induce me to abstain from increasing my knowledge, for it is that, and not silver or gold, that I have set my heart upon.' 'If my advice is to no purpose,' said Ashmedai, 'I will proceed to open for you the hidden secrets, but it will be necessary to release me from the chain I had put round me when I was made captive, and you will, instead, have to give me the chain that adorns your majesty's neck, and the ring with the name of God on it, which lies on the table before you.'
Solomon did as suggested, took off his chain and put it on Ashmedai's neck, and placed the ring on his hand. Scarcely had the master of the demons closed his hand on the ring handed him by Solomon when a thunder clap passed through the room which made the whole place vibrate. At the same moment Ashmedai seemed to have grown into a terrible giant, his eyes looked
like two great gleaming fires, his arms extended to enormous proportions, and looked as though they would catch hold of the extreme ends of the earth. Solomon trembled at the sight, his heart seemed to stand still from terror, and he was about to call for help; but his whole body was paralysed, his tongue refused its duty, and in the midst of this he was seized by Ashmedai by arm and neck and thrown into the air, and he became senseless. The men who had quitted the throne room at King Solomon's bidding were all the time impatiently awaiting the summons back to their king and master, but they remained in the ante-room longer than they ever had to wait, when at last they received the glad tidings, and the monarch summoned them to his presence. They found, on entering the throne room, King Solomon sitting as usual on his throne. They expressed their surprise at the absence of Ashmedai, whom they had left in the room on retiring, but no answer was vouchsafed to them. The king, however, took up the thread of conversation on the subject upon which he was consulting when they retired from the room. Yet they detected a marked change in the tone of the king's words, which lacked that mildness and gentleness for which the wise Solomon was so renowned.
Some of the ministers ventured to ask his majesty for the reason of this change, but, instead of a reply, they received a sardonic laugh. It occurred to some of the wise men that this might not be King Solomon, but Ashmedai, the king of demons, who usurped their monarch's position; but who could give expression to that dreadful thought?
King Solomon had been thrown by Ashmedai no less a distance than four hundred miles from Jerusalem. For a long time he lay in the open field, unconscious; as consciousness returned and he opened his eyes, he took in the situation, but happily his wisdom had not failed, amongst his other great qualities, to bestow on
him the habit of practising abstinence in the midst of his splendour, and he occasionally used to subject himself to actual hunger, and deprive himself of the necessaries of life, so as to cultivate the habit of wanting things and not having them.
He now made up his mind to face his great calamity in the best way possible, and resolved that, if need were, he would be bent, but not broken totally by it. As a beggar he traversed the land over which he had ruled with such splendour and power, and he was often thrown on the mercy of one of his humblest subjects. Yet in the midst of this great sorrow he proclaimed himself, wherever he came, the great 'Koheleth,' King of Jerusalem.
No wonder that he was everywhere looked upon as insane! But he struggled hard to make his way to Jerusalem, which he eventually reached, and on his arrival at his metropolis he asked to be brought before the Sanhedrin. He repeated to the Sanhedrin his assertion that he was King Solomon, and related to them all the events that had happened to him. His statement was received by the Sanhedrin, if not with derision, still, with great mistrust and incredulity, and they were about to declare him insane, when one of the Sanhedrin, wiser and bolder than the others, rose and spoke as follows: 'Friends and worthy colleagues, whom the Lord has graced with wisdom and understanding, it will not be difficult for you to comprehend that any one afflicted with insanity would not be able to make so coherent a statement as we have now heard, but would wander about in his assertions incoherently from one subject to another. Now, this man who asserts himself to be King Solomon, has not spoken one incoherent word, and has given no indication of his insanity, except his assertion in general that he is the great king our master, and that assertion he made coherently enough. Besides this, there is no reason
whatever, either in his demeanour, gesture or speech, to condemn him as insane. Would it be consistent with justice, as shown to us by our Great Lawgiver, to conclude that this man is insane, simply because he claims the throne as his own, without further investigation as to who is the one who now occupies the throne as King Solomon? Moreover, can we overlook the fact that when we left the throne room there were two individuals, and when we returned one had disappeared, without our being able to comprehend how that happened? My advice is, that we request Topos, one of King Solomon's many wives, that when the present king pays her a visit, she may notice his feet, 1 and then on her report on this you can form your judgment in this matter.' The Sanhedrin fell in with this suggestion, and when they appealed to Topos, she reported that the king, her husband, never entered her chamber without a cover over his feet. The Sanhedrin requested her to try and remove the covering from her husband's feet at the next opportunity. Topos did as requested by the Sanhedrin, and reported that, to her amazement and disgust, she found her husband's feet to resemble those of a cock.
The Sanhedrin were now concerned to have Ashmedai stripped of the chain and the ring by which he had subtly obtained the throne from King Solomon. In this they succeeded through a confidential servant of the demon, and these precious and holy things were handed over to the rightful owner, the real King Solomon, who now re-entered upon his glorious throne. The wise king had the chief of the demons brought before him, and exhibited to him the chain and the ring. The demon, amidst a peal of thunder, made his escape from the palace, and was seen no more.
Solomon was again in his former greatness, but was
till the end of his days in terror of demons; hence he had sixty of the most valiant men of his army surrounding his bed.--Midr. Rabba Gen. 7 and 36; Exod. 30; Num. 5 and 11; Lament. 3; Ruth, Eccles., and Song of Songs, and Midr. Tanchuma Emmor and Midr. Psalms, 78.
36:1 Demons resemble man in these respects, they eat and drink, are fruitful and multiply, and die. But they also somewhat resemble angels in so far as they have wings, flying to and fro all the world over like angels, and knowing a little of the secrets of the higher spheres--not quite as much as angels, but generally the fate of men is known to them. Talmud. Chagiga 15/11. Hence Ashmedai knew the late of those he met on his way to Jerusalem.
40:1 The Rabbis say that the feet of demons resemble those of a cock.