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April 19th, 2015

Staff of Solomon – a Throne, not a Termitarium

Staff of Solomon – a Throne, not a Termitarium[1]

Overtime, myths and nonsensical accounts creep into the folklore of religions that sooner or later find their way into their respective Scriptures as well. Quran has a distinct feature that it is incorruptible, both, for its written text and its Message – Verily, it was We, We Ourself Who have revealed this Reminder (- the Qur'an); and it is We Who are, most certainly, its Guardian (15:9).[2] However, that did not prevent leaching of the hearsay into superficial interpretations of the Quran and a kaleidoscope of fairy tales is attributed to it. When Quran is read for its simplicity and for what Quran tells its reader, rather than what is read into Quran from extraneous sources, the myths ascribed to it naturally evaporate. This chapter will clear some of the myths attributed to staff of Solomon that Quran mentions for totally different reasons.

Staff in Arabic Language

The term which has become a source of legends is the Arabic word ‘Asâ, that means – Staff; Nation; Mastery; People; Party; Tongue; Stick; Rod; Supports.

‘Asâa – To strike with a stick. ‘Asiya/Ya‘sa: To take a stick, come together; Collection; Accumulation; Amazing; Gathering; Assemblage; Congregation. Staff is called Asâ as the fingers of a hand come together and are collected and united on its handle. ‘Asâ: Staff; Stick; Rod; Supports; Nation; People; Party; Tongue; Skin; Bone. ‘Asâutu al-Qauma: I gathered the nation. Shaq al-‘Asâ: Divergence; Dissension; Disagreement of the nation or organisation. It is said, Khawârij shaqqû ‘Asâ al-Muslimîn: The Khawârij split the concord, harmony and unity of Islamic nation. Idzrib bi Asâka al-Hajer: Strike with your staff on the rock; Go forth with your people. (L; T; R; LL; Zamkhsharî)[3]

Staff in English Language

The meaning of Asa in Arabic is no different from the sense of Staff in English dictionaries – stick, rod, symbol of office or authority, people, teachers, something that supports or sustains.

7. A rod or wand, of wood or ivory, borne as an ensign of office or authority; spec. as the badge of certain chief officers of the Crown. Usage in history: “1813   King George IV in Duke of Wellington Dispatches (1838) X. 552   You have sent me the Staff of a French Marshal, and I send you in return that of England.”[Oxford English Dictionary][4]

Myth of Solomon’s Staff – terminative of a righteous rule instead of mere food for termites

“Solomon died at the age of fifty-three, having reigned forty years. As the building of the Temple was not finished at his death and he was afraid that the jinn would not continue to work thereon if he were not there to command them, the angel of death took his soul while he was leaning upon his staff, praying. His body remained in that position a year, until the jinn had finished the Temple, when a worm that had been gnawing at the staff caused it to crumble to pieces; Solomon's body fell, and the jinn discovered that he was dead. It is said that Solomon collected the books of magic that were scattered throughout his realm, and locked them in a box, which he put under his throne to prevent their being used. After his death the jinn, so as to make people believe that Solomon had been a sorcerer, declared that these books had been used by him; many believed the statement to be true, but the accusation was a malicious falsehood.”[5]

The legend of Solomon’s death is misattributed to the following verse:

34:14. Then, when We decreed (Solomon's) death, nothing showed them his death except a little worm of the earth [– Arabic: Dâbbatul ardz], which kept (slowly) gnawing away at his staff [– Arabic: ‘minsa`ah’, form of ‘asa’]: so when he fell down, the Jinns saw plainly that if they had known the unseen, they would not have tarried in the humiliating Penalty (of their Task).[6]

This legend goes against the very spirit of Quran and Islam. Solomon was a Muslim and that too a prophet. Neither was he a tyrant nor a slave master. Neither are there any supernatural entities, the genies of Arabian Nights in this world, nor is there any magic that can be found outside Disneyland and neither do they have any place in the leaves of Quran. The Jinn of Quran and magic alleged to Solomon will be dealt in separate chapters. It is an ignominious death of anyone in which a body is laying around for a year, instead of it given immediate attention and a burial. One wonders that Solomon, the king, is missing from his government and nobody even asks as to where he is. Countless scathing questions can be raised, but a myth cannot be further dignified by any more queries. We will stick to the purpose of this chapter to clarify the message of the Quran.

Staff of Solomon – for what it stands in Quran

In Quran, the staff of Solomon stands for his authority as a king, his administration and his nation that was united under him. The staff in terms of its statesmanship, grandeur, technological advancement and the prosperity that it provided for all and sundry, including the employment of even the otherwise rebellious tribes under its domain is mentioned in Quran as follows:

34:10. And certainly We bestowed Our (gracious) favours on David. (We said,) `O (you dwellers of the) mountains, obey him.' And (We assigned) the birds and the swift footed horses (their duty); and We made the iron soft and pliant for him [–the start of Iron age in Israelites, that Solomon’s father, David, earlier borrowed from Hittites of modern day Turkey].

34:11. (We said to him,) `Make full length coats of mail (to cover the whole body) forging links of proper measure (for their smooth working).' (And We also said to him and his followers,) `Do righteous deeds. I am a keen Observer of what you do.'

34:12. And We made such winds serve Solomon the blowing of which in the forenoon (and thus help sailing of his ships) was equal to (a voyage of) a month (by the other ships); similarly its blowing in the afternoon was (also) equal to (a voyage of) a month (by them).

SIDE NOTE: 14: 33. And He has made subservient to you the sun and the moon, both moving constantly (according to some fixed laws), and He has made subservient to you the night and the day.[7]

Similar to modern day harnessing of sun by solar technologies, subservience of the moon by lunar landings and the night by electricity, Solomon probably invented new sailing techniques, maybe the triangular sail and the keel, together which can vector the wind by which the ships could go upwind.[8]

And We made a spring of molten copper to flow for him. Also (given into his service were) some of the jinns (- wild and rebellious mountain tribes known as Amalaqites, who worked under him as trained craftsmen) [similar to modern day imported skilled labor] by the command of his Lord. And (We also told them) whoever of them deviated from and disobeyed Our command (- that they should obey Solomon) We shall make him suffer the agony of burning.

34:13. Those (jinns -handy craftsmen) made for him (- Solomon) whatever he desired, places for worship [–including Solomon’s temple with its modern day ruins around Masjid Aqsa in Jerusalem] and plans and basins (as large) as the tanks [for city water supply] and large and heavy cooking pots well-set (on their trivets due to their large size) [to cater to his large army units and possibly community kitchens]. (And We said,) `Act gratefully, O people of David.' Yet few are My people who are (really) grateful. [9]

The above set of verses give the basis of Asa or Staff of Solomon i.e. his power, authority and the prosperity of his kingdom in which trade, construction; sailing and metallurgical technologies had prospered. His rule had become a source of peace and employment for diverse people, even the eternal enemies of the Jews, the Amalekites addressed as Jinn in Quran.

Staff of Solomon – for what it fell

Despite all prosperity, Solomon had another staff (–administration, people), his inept son and the circle of peers that his son was surrounded by. Perceiving his son to be incompetent, devoid of spiritual and moral values, Solomon prayed against him. The tenet of no virtue in inheritance without the merit of righteousness in Islam is also contained in the prayer of Solomon that excluded his incompetent successors – Jeroboam[10] and his son Rehoboam[11], a flagrant philanderer:

38:34. Behold! We tried Solomon (too) and We placed on his throne (of kingdom) [in his lifetime or in a vision about the future] a (mere) body (without any spirit or faith) [–his son Rehoboam and/or Jeroboam]. Then he turned (to God seeking His mercy).

38:35. He [–Solomon] said (praying), `My Lord! grant me protection and bestow on me a [spiritual] kingdom that belongs to none (by inheritance) after me [in Israelites]. You indeed are the Great Bestower.'[12]

The prayer of Solomon was thus realized – The previous verse [38:34] speaks of the imbecile heir-apparent to Solomon’s throne. Hence we find Solomon praying here [38:35] for a spiritual kingdom, for that is the only kingdom which is not in danger of being spoiled by an heir. The glory of Solomon’s temporal kingdom was not maintained after his death; nor has a king like Solomon appeared in Israel. By anyone after me is meant anyone in Israel, not the whole world.[13]

A king, like any head of an organization, has to rely and lean on his staff. The staff of a king signifies both, the symbols of his authority – his throne, and the people in his administration. Similarly for a prophet, there are companions, spiritually and morally clean, who not only support the prophet during his lifetime, but after his death continue with his mission. If the latter is weak, it will eat away at the former. That’s what happened in the case of Solomon, where his son, Rehoboam who was morally void, ate away at Solomon’s staff of authority, his kingdom and his mission of prophethood. Solomon’s death and decay of his rule, either near the end of his life when he might had let Rehoboam on the throne or he ascended to the throne after his father’s death, is described in the verse quoted earlier and repeated below from a different translation:

34:14. And when We ordained death for him (- Solomon) the people only came to know of his death through a (worthless) creature of earth [–Arabic: Dâbbatul ardz] (- Solomon's son) that was eating away his (father's) staff ( ruling power and glory). So when it fell down the jinn realized then plainly that had they known the secret (of the hollowness of the kingdom) they would have never remained in (a state of) humiliating torment.[14]

The context of the stated verse can be found in Old Testament. The rebellion under Jeroboam took hold soon after death of Solomon. Immediately in his succession, the Northern ten tribes of Israel split away from Judah, thus dismembering the kingdom of Solomon. His son, Rehoboam, an incompetent and materialistic ruler, was left only with the tribe of Judah in his domain. He was under sway of opportunistic advisers, who like many others in history have been a source of ill policies and downfall of kingdoms.[15] He, on the advice of his cronies, will be remembered for his arrogant words with which he addressed his people, who had gathered to listen to him and were asking for reprieve from taxes:

1 Kings 12: 1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. 3 So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: 4 “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

5 Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.

6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. 7 They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

8 But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 9 He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?” 10 The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”

12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.

16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, Israel! Look after your own house, David!” So the Israelites went home. 17 But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.

18 King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to get into his chariot and escape to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

20 When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.[16] [Emphasis added]

The attitude and remarks of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:13 are a reflective meaning of the phrase Dâbbatul ardz, which Quran uses for him:

Dâbbatul ardz: Creature of earth; Insect of earth; Materialistic person whose endeavors are wholly directed to the acquisition of worldly riches and material comforts and who has fallen on the pleasures of this world with all his might and main.[17]

The reference in the creature of the earth that ate away his staff [v. 34:14] is to his son’s weak rule, under whom the kingdom of Solomon went to pieces. It appears that Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam, led a life of luxury and ease, and instead of acting on the advice of the older men, he yielded to the pleasure seeking wishes of his companions (1 Kings 12:13), and it is to his luxurious habits and easy mode of life that the Quran refers when it calls him a creature of the earth. The eating away of his staff signifies the disruption of the kingdom. The jinn, as already remarked, mean the rebellious tribes who had been reduced to subjection by Solomon, and who remained in subjection to the Israelites for a time, until the kingdom was shattered. This instance, as well as the one following, contains a warning for the Muslims as to the result of falling into luxury and ease, by which, however, they benefited little; the ultimate fate of the respective kingdoms of the Umayyads and Abbasides was the same as that of Solomon’s kingdom.[18]

The dissipating end of Solomon’s son and his kingdom is no different than that of Noah’s son who too perished before his father’s eyes:

11:45. And Noah called to his Lord and said , `My Lord! my son belongs to my family and surely Your promise is (also) true; yet You are the Most Just of the judges’.

11:46. (The Lord) said, `He decidedly does not belong to your family as he is given to unrighteous conduct, so do not ask of Me that of which you have no knowledge. I advise you not to be of those wanting in knowledge.'[19]

In conclusion, shortly after death of Solomon his staff crumbled because of Dâbbatul ardzthe creature of earth (v. 34:14), Rehoboam, his son, in the manner that Old Testament testifies to. His kingdom fragmented and his nation became disunited to the extent that the legacy of House of David has tarnished in history for Israelites – “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day (1 Kings 12:19).”


[1] Termitarium – a termites’ nest. Link: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/termitarium
[2] Al-Hijr – The Rock: Nooruddin
[3] Dictionary of The Holy Quran, (c) 2010, Abdul Mannan Omar, p.376.
[4] Link: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/188624?rskey=7iukvR&result=1#eid
[5] From Arabic Literature: Death of Solomon – Jewish Encyclopedia – References quoted: Bibliography: Bokhari, Recueil des Traditions Mahometanes, ed. Krehl, Leyden, 1864; commentaries on the Koran (Baidawi and Zamakhshari); D'Herbelot, in Bibliothèque Orientale, v. 367-375; M. Grünbaum, Neue Beiträge zur Semitischen Sagenkunde, pp. 189-240, Leyden, 1893 (cites Arabic authors); Hughes, Dictionary of Islam; Koran, suras xxi. 81, 82; xxvii. 15-45; xxxiv. 11-13; xxxviii. 29-30; Ṭabari, Annales, ed. De Goeje, i. 572-597 (see also Index); Weil, Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans, pp. 200-248. Link: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13842-solomon
[6] Saba – Sheba: Yusuf Ali
[7] Ibrahim – Abraham: Nooruddin
[8] PhysLink.com. Link: http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae438.cfm
[9] Saba – Sheba: Nooruddin
[10] Wikipedia: Jeroboam. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeroboam
[11] Wikipedia: Rehoboam. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rehoboam
[12] Sad – The Truthful God: Nooruddin
[13] Footnote to verses 38:34-35 – c (35), Sad – Sad: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[14] Saba – Sheba: Nooruddin
[15] Explanation of the verse 34:14 by Nooruddin in his lectures published as “Haqaiqul Furqan”. Link: http://www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=431&region=H3
[16] Bible Gateway. Link: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Kings%2012&version=NIV
[17] Dictionary of The Holy Quran, (c) 2010, Abdul Mannan Omar, p.172.
[18] Footnote to stated verse 34:14 – e (14), Saba – Sheba: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[19] Hud – Hud: Nooruddin

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