Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Solomon and the Disengagement

There was an article a few days ago in Haaretz by Dr. Mordechai Cogan, an associate professor of Jewish History at Hebrew University. He points to an interesting, and briefly mentioned, biblical transfer of land from Jewish to Gentile control:

[T]here is one recorded incident in which an entire section of land was transferred to foreign rule.

King Solomon transferred "20 cities in the land of the Galilee" to Hiram King of Tyre (1 Kings 9:11-13), apparently in order to erase the debt he owed Hiram for his assistance in building the Temple. These were 20 cities with their land and their inhabitants - the entire Acre Valley up to Rosh Hanikra, which became the property of the Phoenicians. This was recorded in the Tanach without any criticism on the part of the writer of the chronicles of Solomon, and the explanation for that is clear: There is no prohibition whatsoever in the Torah against handing over territories to someone who is not a member of the Israelite nation. The ownership of territories in Eretz Israel by the Jewish nation has always reflected the political and military circumstances of the period.
Dr. Cogan's observation is both cogent and entirely dismissive of the Jewish commentarial tradition that is so important the religious opponents of the Disengagement. Commentators noted two biblical passages that seem to contradict each other:
And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king's house--now Hiram the king of Tyre had furnished Solomon with cedar-trees and cypress-trees, and with gold, according to all his desire--that then king Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. And Hiram came out from Tyre to see the cities which Solomon had given him: and they pleased him not. And he said: 'What cities are these which thou hast given me, my brother?' And they were called the land of Cabul, unto this day.
(1 Kings 9:10-13)

And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the house of the Lord, and his own house, that the cities which Huram had given to Solomon, Solomon built them, and caused the children of Israel to dwell there.
(2 Chronicles 8:1-2
According to 1 Kings, Solomon gave the cities to Hiram/Huram, while according to 2 Chronicles it was the other way around. The standard commentators, chief among them Radak (R. David Kimhi), explain that there was a mutual trade of cities as a show of trust and partnership. Hiram gave Solomon cities and Solomon then transferred other cities back. It was a zero-sum trade in which neither kingdom diminished from its size, and perhaps important is that Hiram gave his cities first.

R. Yitzhak Abrabanel, in his commentary to 1 Kings, disagrees with this interpretation for the following reasons:
- The text should have mentioned both actions together, not in different books.
- Hiram's complaint about the cities he received would have been a slap in Solomon's face, and not a show of friendship.
- Solomon would have had violated a Torah commandment by giving the cities.

Instead, Abrabanel suggests that Solomon annually gave Hiram wheat and oil (cf. 1 Kings 5:25) as payment for his work and material. After the Temple was finished, Solomon designated specific cities in the bountiful Galilees whose output was given directly to Hiram. It is not that their sovereignty was handed over to Hiram, just their annual bounty. Perhaps, Abrabanel suggests, Hiram's servants even worked the fields in those cities. (This is actually a very wise form of risk transfer, but that is another long discussion.)

The point: Dr. Cogan has no proof, certainly not from a traditional perspective of biblical commentary. Quite the opposite: Abrabanel points out the very biblical prohibition that Dr. Cogan is claiming does not exist.

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