I am plowing through a 1000-page book on the New Testament, so I won’t be writing any book reviews for at least a week. In this post, I want to write about a scene in the Testament of Solomon, which I read sometime back. According to the Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha, the Testament of Solomon dates from the first century C.E. to the third century C.E. D.C. Duling was the translator of the Testament of Solomon for the Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha, and it is from his translation that I will be quoting.
The Testament of Solomon is about King Solomon’s power over demons.
Specifically, Solomon captures demons who are having an adverse effect
on humanity and makes them work on the construction of the Temple. The
idea that Solomon had power against demons is also present in Josephus’
Antiquities 8.2.5, which dates to the first century C.E.
In Testament of Solomon 1:8-13, Solomon gives a boy a signet-ring to
capture a demon. Solomon instructs the boy to thrust the ring into the
demon’s chest and to say to the demon, “Come! Solomon summons you!”
The boy immediately after this is to run away from the demon before the
demon can say anything frightening to him.
The demon Ornias shows up to take away the boy’s pay, as he usually
did, and the boy does as Solomon instructed, thrusting the ring into the
demon’s chest and ordering the demon to come. The boy then runs away,
and the demon calls after him. The demon says that, if the boy removes
the ring from his chest, he will give the boy all the earth’s silver and
The boy responds to the demon: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, I
will never withstand you if I do not deliver you to Solomon.” The boy
then tells Solomon: “King Solomon, I brought the demon to you just as
you commanded me; observe how he is standing bound in front of the gates
outside, crying out with a great voice to give me all the silver and
gold of the earth so that I would not deliver him to you.”
I thought about the TV series LOST when I read this story. In the last season of LOST,
the smoke monster was appearing in the guise of John Locke. Someone
who was being instructed to kill the smoke monster was told to thrust
the knife into the smoke monster’s chest before the smoke monster could
speak. Once the smoke monster speaks, the battle is lost. Why was this
suggested? Because the smoke monster was wily. He could get inside of
a person’s head. He knew what made a person tick, and what he could
appeal to or exploit to get his own way. If allowed to speak, the smoke
monster might end up convincing the person that he, the smoke monster,
is the good guy, whereas the other side is the enemy.
Some Christians have suggested that we should take the same approach
when it comes to Satan, or temptation in general. Do not engage Satan
in conversation! I remember reading one homiletic commentary that said
that Eve in Genesis 3 was wrong to answer the serpent’s question and
attempts to engage her: that gave the serpent an opportunity to get
inside of her head, to get her to doubt God’s word and love for her, and
to encourage her desire for wisdom and Godhood. What did this
commentator think she should have done instead? She could have just
left, I suppose. Or she could have been like Jesus in the temptation
story in Matthew 4: she should have stood by the word of God. Jesus in
Matthew 4 did respond to Satan, but that does not initially strike me as
a give-and-take interaction, in which Jesus evaluated Satan’s arguments
and offered a rebuttal to them. Rather, Jesus stood by the word of
God: “it is written!”
Like the boy in the Testament of Solomon story, I can understand that
I am vulnerable. I can be frightened. There are things that I desire
that a malevolent force can appeal to if he so desires. In those cases,
I think that the approach that Solomon advised is wise: don’t engage
the temptation! Just say “no!” The boy in the story fled to Solomon to
tell Solomon what was going on. The boy probably did not want to be
alone in this troubling, disturbing, challenging situation. Similarly,
we do not have to be alone when we are tempted. Maybe we can talk to
someone who can help us or be there for us. Or we can talk to God.
Where I get a little leery is when some of these insights are applied
to the intellectual arena. “Don’t read or engage that atheist book.
That is from Satan! It will hinder or damage your spiritual life! It
will undermine your faith and trust in God!” I think that is
essentially putting on blinders, closing one’s eyes to what is really
out there. I suppose that Satan conceivably could have put into the
ground the fossils that support evolution, or that God could have done
so to test our faith. But would God operate that way: allowing or
making the world to appear a certain way, when it is actually
different? Isn’t that deceptive? Would a God who appeals to people’s
reason or experience in the Bible do that as part of his M.O.?
Moreover, many scientists have said that there is evidence for evolution
at the DNA level. Satan burying fossils is one thing; Satan tampering
with our DNA is something else. DNA is part of how God himself made us.
Let’s return to the temptation story in Matthew 4. Maybe Jesus, in
saying “It is written,” was not like Matthew Harrison Brady on the
witness stand in Inherit the Wind, offering an empty response
of “I believe the Bible” or “the Bible says” in response to Henry
Drummond’s poignant challenges. Perhaps Jesus actually was engaging
Satan’s points, challenging their assumptions, showing that there was
more to the story. Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread to
assuage his hunger in the desert, and Jesus thought back to the
Deuteronomy story: the Israelites learned in the wilderness that life
was not just about eating but entailed learning to obey, trust, and rely
on God. The story of Scripture, not an empty and mindless appeal to
Scripture, was upholding Jesus when Jesus was faced with temptation.
I’ll stop here.