(Review of) Pablo A. Torijano, Solomon the Esoteric King: From King to Magus, Development of a Tradition, Leiden – Boston – Koeln: Brill, 2002

Review of Rabbinic Judaism, 7 (2004), pp. 247-255  Meir Bar-Ilan


The scope of this work, based on a 1999 Ph.D. thesis, is to collect all sorts of traditions concerning King Solomon (hereafter = KS) from the Hebrew Bible through Hellenistic culture to Byzantine (and even later) traditions that portray KS as taking part in the esoteric: Magic, exorcism, Astrology and more. Though the subject under study might be taken to be limited, dedicated to one Biblical character only, actually it is a very broad one since the scholar aimed to cover more than 1600 years, of Christianity and Judaism alike. The book is a real contribution to Biblical and Post-Biblical studies, Pseudepigrapha, legend, magic, astrology, Hermetic studies, Greek philology and all sorts of “out of the line” doctrines on the borders of Jewish Studies. However, with such a scope there is no chance that a young scholar – even with the aid of his mentors – will not miss an issue or two, especially when it comes apparent that he has mastered Greek much better than Hebrew.

On first sight the book looks like a biography of a Biblical hero, more or less following the acclaimed “The Legends of the Jews” by L. Ginzberg. However, actually the book has far less to say in regard to a Biblical hero than to the history of Magic in Antiquity (and beyond), not necessarily by Jews. This role of the book in the history of magic is evident in the titles of the chapters. After a general introduction comes a chapter on KS in the Bible, and then KS as a Hellenistic king. Later come these chapters: Solomon the Exorcist, Solomon the Hermetic sage, Solomon the son of David (in messianic and contra-demonic concepts), Solomon the horseman (in amulets), Solomon the astrologer, Solomon the magician and a conclusion. No doubt, many modern scholars might find interest in this study (not necessarily Biblical scholars).

Though magic is not new in Jewish studies, Hermetic literature was not associated with Jewish studies except while discussing much later texts.1 Moreover, for the first time texts from the Catalogus Codicum Astrologicorum Graecorum are brought into the Judaic studies realm as never been before. Those who are interested in the affinities, real or assumed, between Jews and Christians in the beginning of our era (when many Christians were still descendants of Jews) might find another interest in the book. In all, before scrutinizing the book, and putting a special stress on the book’s shortcomings, it should be borne in mind that this book has its own merit with whatever criticism it may yield.

As an introduction for those who have forgotten their share in the Bible, one should recall that the Bible designates KS with expressions never seen earlier or later (1 Kings 5:10): “And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt”. Moreover, the Chronicler knows that KS sat on the “Throne of God”. So, after such characterization it is evident that divine ability could be easily attributed to KS, even more easily than to Moses, although Moses’ qualifications as magus are stated in the Bible, though with different flavor: no magus but rather a man of God (Deut. 33:1; Josh. 14:6).

It takes time to realize that the wealth of the book in hand hides the exclusion of almost all Rabbinic tradition. While reading the heavy connection between KS and magic, demons, amulets and alike the reader expects, in vain, to find any discussion on KS and Ashmedai, King of Demons (b. Gittin 68b; Eisenstein, Ozar Midrashim., p. 15, 526; Yalkut Shimoni, Jeremiah 285).2 It is apparent that this issue, for example, waits to be discussed elsewhere, and most likely by another scholar. Other Rabbinic texts might have been added to this fine study but they aren’t. In whole, control of several languages, and deep understanding of the field of divination is never enough. The Rabbinic “appendix’ of this fine research is still missing. As a lesson, it looks like any discussion of traditions of Jews in Antiquity, from 2nd century BCE to the 6th century CE without dealing with Rabbinic Judaism is like explaining what Vertebrata are without talking about the backbone. Moreover, this omission is an obstacle in any decision-making concerning dating any text. If one reads this book and at the end is not sure whether he has read a book on Jews or on Christians, was it in 15th century traditions or from a millenium earlier, the reason for that is rooted in the lack of Rabbinics.

Hygromanteia of Solomon

In pp. 151-175, 209-224; 231-309 there is one of the most important achievements in the book, a discussion and synopsis edition of the Greek Hygromanteia of Solomon (“divination through water”), and an English translation. Before continuing it should be noted that somehow the scholar failed to mention a former study of this text.3 One should admit that in such a vast literature on magic and the art of Astrology in Antiquity, such an omission is highly expected, especially when the scholar is presenting his Ph.D. Under these circumstances one wonders what advisors are for. However, what is even more interesting is the following fact. When comparing the names of the editorial board of the journal, in which the “omitted” paper was published, and the names of the editor and the advisory board of the series of books, under which this book was published, one realizes that among the names there is an overlapping of two people. In Jewish tradition there is an expression (taken from a lost Pesikta): “everything depends on Mazal (=a Zodiac sign, meaning: needs luck), even a Scroll of Torah in the Temple”. Now we know that even a learned scholar who deals Astrology needs luck (vid. ibn Ezra).

This scholar did a very fine job in this part of the book, despite such a minor omission, but other issues should be considered here. Torijano discusses the technique of Hydromancy, that is foretelling the future by summoning demons by using a basin filled with water with the help of a child as a medium. Here some Jewish evidence should be added to the discussion, but as was said earlier, the input Rabbinic Judaism is almost completely missing.4

In b. Sanhedrin 101a it says: “it is not allowed to ask in regard to (=bidebar) demons on Shabbat; R. Jossi said: even on weekdays it is forbidden”. This literally translation “in regards” doesn’t make a sense, but this is the usual way to translate “bidebar”. However, in the Responsa of the Geonim they quote our text as: “and Tanu Rabanan: It is not allowed to ask Ministers on Shabbat”.5 Now, it is clear (with the help of the text that follows) that the text should be understood as “It is not allowed to ask Ministers, that is demons, on Shabbat”, as a rule made by the Tannaim. It is most likely that the text was censored a bit, but this is not the main issue here. A few lines later it is written: “Tanu Rabanan: Ministers of oil and Ministers of eggs are allowed to be asked, but they lie. It is allowed to say an incantation on the oil in a vessel but not on oil in one’s hand, therefore (it is allowed to) lubricate from oil in hand and not from oil in a vessel”. Rashi (ad loc.) writes: “Ministers of oil: There is a technique of asking demons with oil, and they are called “Ministers of Oil”, and they are “Ministers of Thumbs” (explained by Rashi on b. Sanhedrin 67b). And there are others that are asked in a flask of an egg, and they are called “Ministers of Eggs””. There is no doubt that this parade of demons is nothing other than all sorts of Hydromancy. As a matter of fact, this technique had already been discussed, even twice, in earlier literature, showing that we are dealing here with a very old type of magic.6 The same type of magic can be seen until this very day in the Levant and elsewhere, known as “reading in coffee”, but since this is not the place here to discuss all these foretelling techniques the reader is advised to check the daily papers to be more familiar with ancient magic in modern dress. At any event, once again it becomes evident that Jewish traditions and former studies that escaped the eye of the author might have enriched the discussion.

The search for astrologers

In pp. 178-183, the author discusses Zosimus’ opinion that KS was an Astrologer.7 However, it seems that the author has no evidence. The expression “the twelve portions of death”, that the author takes as referring to Astrology is highly doubtful, and cannot be attributed to Astrology. Also, the “seven bottles” (or: flasks) of KS, and an attributed book to KS by the name of “The Seven Heavens” do not imply any astrological knowledge. The author considers these two ideas to be: “of astrological material”. “The Seven Heavens” are nothing more than referring to basic Cosmography, such as can be seen in the Talmud (e.g. b. Rosh Hashana 32a; b. Menahot 39a), without any astrological implication. 12 (portions) can stands as a symbol of the months, and even 7 planets, are of no Astrological value. The text continues with the conformity of the planets to metals (though, admittedly, only to one who is more familiar with Alchemy). It had already been shown that Zosimus the Alchemist thought that KS was an Alchemist,8 creating his hero in his own image, without relating to a bit of Astrology. Basing KS’s Astrology on his ability to summon the demons seems to be a misunderstanding, based on an anachronism, while in Antiquity summoning the demons was a magic power, naturally one of KS’ ability, but without Astrological character. So, it looks like the enthusiasm of the fresh scholar to add more data to his study – justifiable by all means – shouldn’t yield a discussion on Zosimus in this perspective, especially without taking advantage of former studies on Zosimus.

When discussing “On the Origin of the World” from Nag Hammadi (pp. 183-186), it seems once again that the eagerness of the author to find Astrology leads him astray, that is, mentioning “seven forces of the seven heavens” bears no Astrological background but rather awareness of the way the world is constructed. It is clear that the number seven played a role in that book, but taking into consideration that Genesis itself, the assumed “source”, speaks of the origin of the world in seven days, doesn’t lead necessarily to Astrology, if not the contrary. In Astrology the planets are not androgynous but rather male of female (only Venus can be taken as androgynous, or better as hermaphrodite). This is not the right place to engender the stars but such a claim as relating Astrology to a text should be proven on a better ground. The “marriage” of seven male forces with seven female forces begets 49 demons, but this is Arithmetic (or: Numerology), certainly not Astrology.

On the other hand, while ignoring Rabbinic literature (or better: careless of reading L. Ginzberg Legends), the scholar lost sight of a Rabbinic legend depicting KS as an astrologer. The nature of the story seems to be late (assumed to be 6-9 centuries CE), and the main idea is that though KS checked the zodiac signs and tried to enable his daughter to escape from her destined groom, it was in vain (Tanhuma, Buber ed., preface, p. 136). In other words, the scholar’s intention finds its goal in a different field from that he was looking for.

Hermetic and Hekhalot literature

When the author discusses the state of the text of the Hygromanteia (pp. 155-157), he makes a very useful observation that there is a resemblance between this text and the Hekhalot. In both cases there is no Urtext to reconstruct. One cannot but justify his conclusion that the text should be presented in a Synopsis, since the text was never a “book” in the strict sense. It should be added here that not only was the concept of “text” absent, but the Pseudonymity and anonymity of the text show, in both cases, no particular author in the strict sense of the word. This fluidity of the text might explain how and why Sepher Ha-Razim was reconstructed by its modern editor, M. Margaliot out of several manuscripts and translations. Both modern editors, the author of this book and Margaliot, in two different languages made similar efforts to publish one book out of a variety of texts. It seems most likely that these texts (and others) reflect in a way their origin in the Byzantine era.

Hermetic literature and Botany

One part of the Hygromanteia discusses the plants of the planets and the orbiting stars (pp. 247-253), and while the author occupied himself with KS according the plan of his book, he somehow neglected this wonderful side of botany in Hermetic literature. Since the writer is no expert in Botany, and there are few other people with better knowledge in Hermetic literature, still some Jewish sources should be brought to clarify the issue.

The whole subject of plants and their relations to the planets and stars (that is the Gods), is very rare in Jewish tradition. Every farmer’s experience can tell of the influence of the sun (or: Sun) on the corn, but in the Bible (Deut. 33:14) there is a reference to the influence of the Moon over the crop, a concept the Rabbis were aware of.9 However, the dependence of a plant on a specific Planet seems like a scientific development. To uproot some plant in accordance with the Zodiac was meant to assure the potential of the “energy” in the plant, without it, the “energy” of the plant would not work. Clearly, the whole issue is not derived from Hippocratic literature, nor from Dioscorides, though some pseudepigraphic Byzantine books claimed so.10 Maimonides, while discussing the Sabaeans of Haran knew this type of astrological botany (Guide 3:37), and although he thought this was an ancient practice, attributing it to the days of Abraham the Patriarch, it is clearly a much “newer” practice. It is most likely that the Sabaeans took this form of religion from the Hermetic writings through the Syrians, their fellow Christians. As far as I know, though Herbalism has its own roots in Babylonia, still this combination of plants and their systematic dependence on the Zodiac is not attested to before late Antiquity. Later Astrological-doctors combined this technique into their practices as is well attested in medieval Europe. Such concepts prevail in a small pharmacological book written in Latin (and translated into Hebrew) by Saladino Ferro in the 15th century southern Italy.11 Needless to say that more of this material is waiting for scholars to discover among the treasures of the Hebrew manuscripts.

Two such texts of Jewish-Hermetic origin (if such a combination is allowed), could be added to the discussion of the Greek texts. One of them, based on Ms. Vatican Ebr. 216, ff. 4-6, ff. 4-6, is called “Pishra de-Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa”.12 In a long Aramaic text, assumed not to be later than the 8th century, the author gives instructions to a magician, what to do, that is how to “solve” (=pishra) all sorts of problems that he is confronted with. Each of the cases should be directed to a different angel, first ignoring the days of the week. However, later the author directs that his procedures for “solving” the situation depend strictly on the days of the week, the days of the month, the months under a specific zodiac sign, and the hours under a specific planet. In other words, magic, angelology and astrology combined, all aim to cure all sorts of ailments.

Quite recently there was discovered and published an Aramaic text from the Geniza (T-S NS 246.10) with many similarities to the Hygromanteia, and a few words are needed here for this unique text.13 Though the editor was aware of the similarity of the text to Syriac, Mandaic and Pahlavi traditions, somehow he said nothing on Hermetic literature. There is no need to repeat the text here since its similarities to the Hygromanteia are remarkable: for each day in the month there is a special angel, a special omen and a special plant.14 True, the names of the angels look Jewish (such as Yudiel or Yamniel), like many of the names of the angels in the Hygromanteia (to name just few from the beginning: Michael, Argphnael, Peruel).15 However, the connection to Christian milieu is evident from the statement that Christ (in the text: Christis) was created on the 22nd of that month. In the addendum the editor gave some other related texts from the Geniza. Hermes (whom we know from other Aramaic spells), appears in one of these texts, so it is clear that reader of this Jewish text should keep in mind its Christian and Hermetic heritage. In a way this text mirrors the Christian Hygromanteia since our scholar tells us, though implicitly, that when we read it, we should think of Jews. That is to say that both texts present some kind of amalgamation of religions in a way that later was changed.

King Solomon as a medicine man

A long and detailed discussion is devoted to depicting KS as an exorcist in pp. 41-87. Needless to say that while one might call one act an exorcism performed by a magician, another one might prefer call it a cure done by a doctor. Only for modern man is there a strong dichotomy between a doctor and a medicine man, but in Antiquity it was all the same, except for some learned “real” doctors; for the laity a doctor is a doctor without checking his license, since nothing like that was in existence. Now that we have redefined KS abilities in medicine, we should remember the Rabbis’ tradition (m. Pesahim 4:9; b. Berakhot 10b) concerning one of the deeds of King Jehizkia, one of KS’s descendants. The Rabbis acclaimed King Jehizkia for putting a certain “Book of Medicine” in an archive. In this particular case, one cannot but agree with Maimonides’ commentary ad. loc. (and Guide 3:37), when he explains that this book contained medical knowledge which shouldn’t be used, such as talsam, done in a specific order, expecting it to cure a certain illness.16 After a long discussion, Maimonides continues: “The reason I wrote in length on this matter is that I heard, and it was explained to me, that Solomon composed a book of medicine, so if a man became ill, in whatever disease, he went to it (the book) and performed according to it, and got cured”. Taking into consideration the Testament of Solomon and other traditions which the scholar supports, one tends to believe that Maimonides heard about some Hermetic writing (in a language he didn’t know: Greek or Coptic). If Maimonides is right, and there is no reason to question his commentary, one tends to see the Sitz im Leben of the Rabbis’ tradition concerning King Jehizkia’s act not as a mere legend but rather a rebuttal against Jews, such as those assumed by the scholar, who held books that characterize KS as a medicine man. Recently a new story about KS as a medicine man was published (Based on MS Paris Héb 727). A Kabbalist of the14th century, R. Elnathan b. Moshe Kalkish of Byzantine, wrote a story on KS and his knowledge concerning seven ways to cure a woman’s barrenness.17 Analyzing the cures in that story is beyond the scope of this discussion, but its amalgamation of magic and medicine attributed to KS leads either to folk medicine or to Hermetic writings, or both. In sum, while discussing KS as a medicine man, the scholar, though being well versed in non-Jewish writings, ignored all Rabbinic relevant traditions.

Short notes

There is no supporting hint concerning the dates in this text. For example, when the author states that on the 27th of the month “the children of Israel went out of Egypt” one wonders according to what calendar this statement was made.

Some misspellings: in p. 200 n. 16 read: זה ספר and לפני כניסתו; p. 202 n. 20: שוטרי; וילכו כעבדים; line 3 from the bottom is corrupt (due to the software): להביט בארבע רוחות הארץ, להיות מחוכם בקול רעמים; בכל חודש וחודש; p. 202 instead of “Noah will learn wondrous deeds (פלאים עשה)”, read: “Noah learned wondrous deeds (מעשה פלאים).


There is no doubt concerning the importance of the book under discussion and its contribution to scholarship in general and the history of magic in particular. It is to be hoped that this book will promote the study of Jewish magic and the affinities between the Jews and other nations during the ages.

1. M. Idel, ‘Hermeticism and Judaism’, Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus (eds.), Hermeticism and the Renaissance (Washington: Washington: The Folger Shakespeare Library – London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1988), pp. 59-76.

2. J. Seidel, ‘Charming Criminals: Classification of Magic in the Babylonian Talmud’, M. Meyer & P. Mirecki (eds.), Ancient Magic and Ritual Power (Leiden – New York – Köln: E.J. Brill, 1995), pp. 145-166.

3. S. Carroll, ‘A Preliminary Analysis of the Epistle to Rehoboam’, Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 4 (1989), pp. 91-103.

4. See the recent study: Esther Eshel, Demonology in Palestine during the Second Temple Period (Thesis Submitted for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1999, Hebrew).

5. S. Immanuel (ed.), Newly Discovered Geonic Responsa (Jerusalem: Ofeq, 1995), # 115, pp. 121-146 (esp. 141).

6. S. Daiches, Babylonian Oil Magic in the Talmud and in later Jewish Literature (London 1913); J. Dan, ‘Iyunim beSifrut Hasidut Ashkenaz (Ramat-Gan: Massada, 1975), pp. 34-43 (Hebrew). For more references on this divination (Mandal in Arabic), see: Sarah Stroumsa, The Beginning of the Maimonidean Controversy in the East (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1999), pp. 146-147 (Hebrew).

7. According to Rabbinic legend KS overcame the astrologers of Pharaoh. See: Tanhuma (S. Buber, ed.), Huqat 11, Wilna: Wittwe & Gebrüder Romm, 1885, pp. 109-110 (and see Buber’s discussion of the text and its parallels).

8. R. Patai, The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Sourcebook (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 26-29.

9. Rashi on Deut. 33:14: squash and pumpkin. See also Genesis Raba 10; addendum 2 to ADRN version A.

10. J. Scarborough, ‘Hermetic and Related Texts in Classical Antiquity’, Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus (eds.), Hermeticism and the Renaissance (Washington: Washington: The Folger Shakespeare Library – London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1988), pp. 19-44.

11. S. Muntner (ed.), Saladino de Ascoli (ca. 1430): “Compendium Aromatariorum”, The Book of the Pharmacists (Tel-Aviv: Machbarot Lesifrut, 1953). For example, Chapter 5 discusses the connection between herbs and each of the zodiac signs. Later there is a list of herbs to be uprooted in each specific month. In August, there is a special root that should be uprooted when the moon is waning since then the root is stronger against Hydropsia.

12. Franco Michelini Tocci, ‘Note e Discussioni: Note e documenti di letterature religiosa e parareligiosa giudaica’, Annali Istituto Orientale di Napoli, 46 (1986), pp. 101-108.

13. Sh. Shaked, ‘A Palestinian Jewish Aramaic Hemerologion’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, 15 (1992), pp. 28-42.

14. On day 18 it is recommended to uproot “Sarsar detura” which the editor takes as a cricket (being aware of the need for a vegetable, not an animal). However, one should keep in mind that many herbs bear metaphoric names, such as the Syriac and Arabic: “Ox-Tongue” (Anchusa officinalis Buglos), and in modern Hebrew there are “Lion-Throat” (Antirrhinum majus), “Cat-Claws” (Calendula), and many others (with many representatives from the Fauna). No doubt this is the case of “Donkey’s Head” in II Kings 6:25. For that reason this “Sarsar detura” should be undertaken as some herb that looks like a cricket and grows on mountains.

15. More on that: M. Bar-Ilan, ‘The Names of the Angels’, A. Demsky, J. A. Reif and J. Tabori (eds.), These Are The Names, Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1997), pp. 33-48 (Hebrew).

16. Arthur J. Silverman, ‘Censorship of Medical Works: Hezekiah and “The Book of Remedies”’, DINE ISRAEL, 7 (1976), pp. 151-157; D. Halperin, ‘The Book of Remedies, the Canonization of the Solomonic Writings, and the Riddle of Pseudo-Eusebius’, JQR, 72 (1982), pp. 269-292.

17. R. Cohen (ed.), Seven ways to cure sterility in women, etc. (Jerusalem: Raphael Cohen, 1999, Hebrew).