Biblical bottles: Balthasar to Melchizedek

Melchior or Solomon (in Champagne only) – 18 litres/24 bottles
Used in: Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. But did she exist? Did he?

Melchior, like Balthasar, is usually identified as one of the Magi, a Persian scholar according to later legend.

But Solomon is by far the most interesting figure – if only because he is far more likely to have existed while there is no reason to believe that Melchior did. The very idea there were three Magi is predicated on the ‘evidence’ that there were only three gifts given to the infant Jesus. But in the Syriac Christian tradition as many as 12 kings came to venerate the Christ child.

So let’s concentrate on Solomon. We have already been introduced to his son, Rehoboam, who before he was even crowned king had managed to sunder the kingdom of the Jews through his arrogance.

Yet the Kingdom of Israel Solomon is said to have inherited from his father, king David, was strong, rich and united.

The historicity of these early Israelite kings is still hotly debated but if we choose to take the Biblical narrative as holding even a kernel of truth, despite a lot of missing archaeological evidence, then Solomon is thought to have ruled between 970-931 BC.

Solomon was the second son of David and Bathsheba, the beautiful woman David had glimpsed while she bathed and fallen madly in lust with.

To hide the pregnancy that was the result of their infidelity, David ordered his commander, Joab, to put Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, in the thick of the fighting in the next battle and not to come to his aid. This happens and Uriah is killed. The prophet Nathan rebukes David for what is, effectively, murder and warns him that the “sword shall never leave your house”.

And, as the Bible might say, so it came to pass. David and Bathsheba’s baby dies in infancy and various other calamities befall his family culminating in the rebellion and death of his eldest son Absalom.

In the end as David lies dying Nathan and Bathsheba persuade him to make Solomon king ahead of another elder son, Adonijah.

Solomon’s early years are therefore quite brutal, as many such successions tend to be, with extensive purges in which, by various turns, Adonijah and David’s old general Joab all get the chop.

But Solomon is mostly remembered more positively, largely for his wisdom. The most famous example of this of course is The Judgment of Solomon; where he orders a baby to be cut in half to appease two claimant mothers before giving the child to the woman who offers to revoke her claim to the infant in return for its life on the grounds that no mother could bear to see her offspring harmed in any way.

Solomon falling into idolatry by the Dutch painter Willem de Poorter

He wrote the Song of Solomon, a pean to sexual love and intimacy, that, while once again in Jewish and Christian tradition is usually read as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel, has been commented positively upon even by certain modern feminists for its positive depiction of egalitarian relationships between men and women.

His most lasting legacy to his people though, according to tradition, was the building of the first great temple of Jerusalem, in which to house the Ark of the Covenant. A few years ago pottery was excavated from the area around Temple Mount dating to the traditional period of Solomon’s rule (970-931 BC). On the pottery was writing in what might be old Hebrew and which appears to show the Hebrew word for wine, ‘yayin. The professor in charge of the dig has suggested that it was once from a pot that contained wine for the slaves who were building the temple.

His wealth and wisdom were such that he attracted a visit from the enigmatic Queen of Sheba, who’s origin, motives and even existence has attracted a great deal of attention and legends despite her very existence being called into question.

Yet Solomon’s initial devotion to Yahweh was not destined to last. Polygamy, at least among kings, seems to have been relatively common among the Israelites of the time. Yet Solomon was clearly uncommonly polygamous, reputedly having 700 wives and 300 concubines. Many of his wives were foreign princesses, Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites, and we are told they were allowed to practice their own religions and in this way Solomon began a descent into idolatry.

1 Kings relates that: “his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.

“For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.”

Solomon’s mounting sinfulness and idolatry angered Yahweh who promises to tear his kingdom apart. Coupled with the harsh taxes and labour demands he placed upon the 10 northern tribes to build new temples to false idols and to fund his lavish lifestyle and harem, the stage was set for the breaking apart of the Kingdom of Israel when his son Reheboam – son of Solomon and his Ammonite wife, Namaath, we are told – came to the throne.

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” as Solomon supposedly announces in the opening line of Ecclesiastes.

2 Responses to “Biblical bottles: Balthasar to Melchizedek”

  1. Ian campbell says:

    What a fascinating series of articles. We don’t know the author’s name but he is a historian who also knows his Bible. And it’s always good to know that drinking has never gone out of fashion!

  2. Ian campbell says:

    Sorry! The author’s name is Rupert Millar.

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