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 gold.
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.