Pharaoh’s daughter who was the wife of Solomon is a figure in Hebrew scriptures who married the king of the United Monarchy of Israel to cement a political alliance with Egypt. Out of his vast harem, she is the only wife singled out, although she is not given a name in the texts. Her influence on Solomon is seen as the downfall of his greatness.
While there is no archaeological evidence of a marriage between an Egyptian princess and a king of united Israel, claims of one are made at several places in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Note: All scripture quotes are taken from the Jewish Publication Society, 1917 which is in the public domain.)
A marriage alliance
1 Kings 3:1 says,
“And Solomon became allied to Pharaoh king of Egypt by marriage, and took Pharaoh’s daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about.”
The fact that Pharaoh’s daughter has been singled out in the accounts of Solomon is significant as similar treatment is not given to his “seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines” (1 Kings 11:3). Some scholars believe this unique example was because this marriage in particular “demonstrates the wealth and power of the Hebrew monarchy, for Pharaoh’s daughters did not ordinarily marry outside of their own family, and perhaps indicates the weakness of the Egyptian kingdom at this time.” Another scholar points out that marrying Pharaoh’s daughter is significant in light of the story of Exodus, “A descendant of former Egyptian slaves now became Pharaoh’s son-in-law”. Most scholars believe the alliance was a result of the reputation of Solomon’s father, “Under David, Israel had become a factor to be reckoned with in Eastern politics, and the Pharaoh found it prudent to secure its friendship.” The marriage alliance is seen by scholars as the reason for the reported increase in trade with Egypt at 1 Kings 10:28-29.
City of Gezer as dowry
The Hebrew scriptures relate that the Cannanite city of Gezer had never fallen before the Israelites from Joshua to David.
Joshua 16:10 “And they drove not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in the midst of Ephraim, unto this day, and became servants to do taskwork.”
Judges 1:29 “And Ephraim drove not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.”
2 Samuel 5:25 “And David did so, as the Lord commanded him, and smote the Philistines from Geba until thou come to Gezer.”
This situation changed when the Egyptian army invaded the city, ethnically cleansed the populace and Pharaoh turned it over to his daughter as a wedding gift, whereby it became the property of Israel.
1 Kings 9:16
“Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up, and taken Gezer, and burnt it with fire, and slain the Canaanites that dwelt in the city, and given it for a portion unto his daughter, Solomon’s wife.”
1 Kings 9:17 shows that Gezer “was now rebuilt and made a fortified city of Solomon.”
The historian Josephus gives a similar account in his Antiquities of the Jews, Bk 8, Ch 6, Sec. 1: “…he [Solomon] also built cities which might be counted among the strongest, Hazor and Megiddo, and the third Gezer, which had indeed belonged to the Philistines; but Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had made an expedition against it, and besieged it, and taken it by force; and when he had slain all its inhabitants, he utterly overthrew it, and gave it as a present to his daughter, who had been married to Solomon; for which reason the king rebuilt it, as a city that was naturally strong, and might be useful in wars, and the mutations of affairs that sometimes happen. Moreover, he built two other cities not far from it, Beth-horon was the name of one of them, and Baalath of the other. He also built other cities that lay conveniently for these, in order to the enjoyment of pleasures and delicacies in them, such as were naturally of a good temperature of the air, and agreeable for fruits ripe in their proper seasons, and well watered with springs.”
According to 1 Kings 9:20-23, Solomon enslaved, “All the people that were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” and he had members of “the children of Israel…rule over the people that wrought in the work.” The slaves produced many structures for Solomon including a palace for Pharaoh’s daughter.
Depiction of Solomon directing his builders.
1 Kings 7:8-12
“And [Solomon built] his [own] house where he might dwell, in the other court, within the porch, was of the like work. He made also a house for Pharaoh’s daughter, whom Solomon had taken to wife, like unto this porch. All these were of costly stones, according to the measures of hewn stones, sawed with saws, within and without, even from the foundation unto the coping, and so on the outside unto the great court. And the foundation was of costly stones, even great stones, stones of ten cubits, and stones of eight cubits. And above were costly stones, after the measure of hewn stones, and cedar-wood. And the great court round about had three rows of hewn stone, and a row of cedar beams, like as the inner court of the house of the Lord, and the court of the porch of the house.”
Removed from Jerusalem
1 Kings 3:1 states that Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter “into the city of David, until he had completed building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about.” Once the building was completed she was moved out of the city as were his other wives.
2 Chronicles 8:11
And Solomon brought up the daughter of Pharaoh out of the city of David unto the house that he had built for her; for he said: ‘No wife of mine shall dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places are holy, whereunto the ark of the Lord hath come.’
1 Kings 9:24
“But Pharaoh’s daughter came up out of the city of David unto her house which Solomon had built for her; then did he build Millo.”
The Jewish scholar Rashi’s commentary on the passage from 2 Chronicles shows that this relocation was not limited to Pharaoh’s daughter. He states “Scripture explains: ‘…for he [Solomon] said, A woman shall not live with me in the city of David'”.
Pharaoh’s daughter was the only wife to be moved into her own palace.
The Hebrew scriptures cast Pharaoh’s daughter and all of Solomon’s wives as leading Solomon into the temptation of straying from the true worship of God.
Depiction of Solomon worshiping with his queens.
1 Kings 11:1-10 “Now king Solomon loved many foreign women, besides the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; of the nations concerning which The Lord said unto the children of Israel: ‘Ye shall not go among them, neither shall they come among you; for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods’; Solomon did cleave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not whole 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 detestation of the Ammonites. And Solomon did that which was evil in the sight of The Lord, and went not fully after The Lord, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the detestation of Moab, in the mount that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestation of the children of Ammon. And so did he for all his foreign wives, who offered and sacrificed unto their gods. And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared unto him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he kept not that which the Lord commanded.”
Josephus gives a similar account in his Antiquities of the Jews, Bk 8, Ch 7, Section 5, “Solomon was fallen headlong into unreasonable pleasures, and regarded not those admonitions; for when he had married seven hundred wives, the daughters of princes and of eminent persons, and three hundred concubines, and those besides the king of Egypt’s daughter, he soon was governed by them, until he came to imitate their practices. He was forced to give them this demonstration of his kindness and affection to them, to live according to the laws of their countries. And as he grew into years, and his reason became weaker by length of time, it was not sufficient to recall to his mind the institutions of his own country; so he still more and more condemned his own God, and continued to regard the gods that his marriages had introduced nay, before this happened, he sinned, and fell into an error about the observation of the laws, when he made the images of brazen oxen that supported the brazen sea, and the images of lions about his own throne; for these he made, although it was not agreeable to piety so to do; and this he did, notwithstanding that he had his father as a most excellent and domestic pattern of virtue, and knew what a glorious character he had left behind him, because of his piety towards God.”
1 Kings 11:11-13 says that Solomon’s actions caused God to tell the King that the only thing keeping him from rending the kingdom from him to “give it to thy servant” was “for David thy father’s sake”. Instead Solomon’s punishment would fall on “the hand of thy son” who was to be stripped of all but “one tribe”. 1 Kings 11:14-22 says that God also “raised up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite…[who had] found great favour in the sight of Pharaoh”, and 1 Kings 11:23-25 says God “raised up another adversary unto him, Rezon the son of Eliada… And he was an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon”.
1 Kings 11:26-32 tells of another figure that is moved to act against Solomon:
“And Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, he also lifted up his hand against the king. And this was the cause that he lifted up his hand against the king: Solomon built Millo, and repaired the breach of the city of David his father. And the man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valour; and Solomon saw the young man that he was industrious, and he gave him charge over all the labour of the house of Joseph.
Depiction of Jeroboam condemning Solomon for sealing the Millo to benefit Pharaoh’s daughter.
And it came to pass at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way; now Ahijah had clad himself with a new garment; and they two were alone in the field. And Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam: ‘Take thee ten pieces; for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee—but he shall have one tribe, for My servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel—because that they have forsaken Me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, to do that which is right in Mine eyes, and to keep My statutes and Mine ordinances, as did David his father.”
“Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt” (1 Kings 11:40) he would return to lead a civil war against Solomon’s son Rehoboam that would divide the United Kingdom of Israel (as relayed by 1 Kings 12:19-25). 1 Kings 12:3 says the main reasons that Jeroboam received popular support was because of the taxes and labour caused by all of Solomon’s building projects which included the palace and Millo for the upkeep of Pharaoh’s daughter. They told Rehoboam “Thy father made our yoke grievous; now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.” Rehoboam refused to listen (1 Kings 12:9-19).
Song of Solomon
The majority of scholars who believe that Solomon was the author of the work Song of Solomon hold that the woman addressed in the song is Pharaoh’s daughter. One of the points cited for this is the passage at Song 1:9 that states “I have compared thee, O my love, to a steed before Pharaoh’s chariots.” At Song 1:5 she is reported to say “I am black” and at Song 4:8-12 the woman is described as “my bride”. A minority of scholars maintain that the song is actually about the Queen of Sheba.
Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter reciting the Song of Solomon.
Some sources refer to the object of Solomon’s song as The Shulamite.
John Wesley held that Psalm 45 (which he saw as “a kind of abridgement” of the Song of Solomon) also “alludes to the marriage between Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter.”
Many Jewish scholars, scribes, and rabbis have commentated on the relationship of Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter portrayed in the Hebrew scriptures.
Whether the marriage was forbidden
Avraham ben Yaakov reviewing the material points out that “Solomon’s move was questionable”because it appeared to be outlawed by Deuteronomy 7:1-5 that said “neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and He will destroy thee quickly.”
This objection is held to be addressed by some as the Talmud at Yevamos 76a says that Pharaoh’s daughter converted to Judaism before she married Solomon. Yaakov goes on to outline Jewish thought on whether this caused the union to be ritually pure, “Some rabbis held that intermarriage would only be forbidden if the non-Israelite party to the marriage does not convert, but others held that converting them in order to marry is also forbidden.” Some Tannaim look at the story of Solomon marrying Pharaoh’s daughter and declare it a “criminal act.”
There is also a discussion on Judaism’s policy (which is found in the Talmud at Yevamos 24b) of forbidding conversion unless the “Jewish people is downtrodden.” R’ Shlomo Ganzfried outlines the policy saying that “during the reigns of King David and King Solomon, when the Jews enjoyed political autonomy and financial prosperity, no converts were accepted, since they were likely to be motivated by a desire for personal security and monetary gain. Likewise, proselytes will not be accepted in the Messianic era.” This is held not to be the case with Pharaoh’s daughter as “the Talmud explicitly states that this did not apply to the daughter of Pharaoh, who had enough wealth not to need to marry Solomon for money (Talmud Yevamos 76a).” A less settled question is whether Solomon could have converted and then married an Egyptian woman when Deuteronomy 23:8-9 states “thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land. The children of the third generation that are born unto them may enter into the assembly of the Lord.” Yaakov says that “this objection is countered by a tradition (not accepted halachically) that the referenced verse applies only to an Egyptian male but not to a female (which would make the law of the Egyptian parallel to the law forbidding a Moabite but not a Moabitess [such as Ruth] from ever entering the Assembly)”
Jewish scribes say that Solomon’s teacher was Shimei son of Gera, and while he lived he prevented Solomon from marrying foreign wives. The Talmud says at Ber. 8a “For as long as Shimei the son of Gera was alive Solomon did not marry the daughter of Pharaoh” (see also Midrash Tehillim to Ps. 3:1).
The Talmud at Sanhedrin 21b says Solomon knew that there were regulations in the Torah against some of his actions but at the time he felt he was wise enough to disregard them and not fall into sin “it is written: He shall not multiply wives to himself, whereon Solomon said, ‘I will multiply wives yet not let my heart be perverted.’ Yet we read, When Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart. Again it is written: He shall not multiply to himself horses; concerning which Solomon said, ‘I will multiply them, but will not cause [Israel] to return [to Egypt].’ Yet we read: And a chariot came up and went out of Egypt for six [hundred shekels of silver].”
Avraham ben Yaakov tries to understand Solomon’s motivations in the scripture texts saying “Since PHARAOH represents the OREPH (“back of the neck”, same Hebrew letters as Pharaoh) of creation as opposed to its inner face, the conversion of his daughter by Solomon and her integration into the holy edifice that he was building was a ‘coup’ similar to the conversion of Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh who drew Moses out of the water. The ‘daughter of Pharaoh’ represents the source of all the different kinds of worldly wisdom (which are her ‘handmaidens’). By ‘converting’ and ‘marrying’ her, Solomon was perhaps very daringly and ambitiously striving to deepen and enhance the revelation of God’s unity on all levels of creation. If so, it was apparently still over-ambitious, because Solomon proved unable to hold his ‘catch’ within the bounds of holiness, and indeed he himself strayed beyond them.” Yaakov also points out “Despite the many questions that surround it, we do not find Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter criticized in our text as being intrinsically sinful: verse 3 [1 Kings 3:3] does implicitly criticize Solomon for sacrificing at many high altars but does not criticize him for marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. It was only in his old age, when Solomon took many wives, that he was criticized for allowing them to turn his heart aside from God.”
Timing of the marriage
The Tannaim hold that the marriage “took place on the night when the Temple was completed.” This is in conflict “with Seder Olam Rabbah 15, where it is held that Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter when he began to build the temple, that is, in the fourth year of his reign (comp. I Kings 6:1). The Jewish Encyclopedia states “The particular love which he manifested for her (comp. 1 Kings 9:1) was rather a depraved passion; and she, more than all his other foreign wives, caused him to sin. He had drunk no wine during the seven years of the construction of the Temple; but on the night of its completion he celebrated his wedding with so much revelry that its sound mingled before God with that of the Israelites who celebrated the completion of the sacred edifice, and God at that time thought of destroying with the Temple the whole city of Jerusalem.”
More stories of Pharaoh’s daughter
The Jewish Encyclopedia lists a collection of other stories about Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, saying she “brought Solomon 1,000 different kinds of musical instruments, explaining to him that each of them was used in the worship of a special idol. She hung over his bed a canopy embroidered with gems which shone like stars; so that every time he intended to rise, he, on looking at the gems, thought it was still night. He continued to sleep, with the keys of the Temple under his pillow; and the priests therefore were unable to offer the morning sacrifice. They informed his mother, Bath-sheba, who roused the king when four hours of the day had flown. She then reprimanded him for his conduct; and the verses of Proverbs 31:1-9 are considered by the Rabbis as having been pronounced by Bathsheba on that occasion.”
Depth of Solomon’s fall
In the Talmud at Shab. 56b the rabbinical defenders of Solomon say that the sin ascribed to him in 1 Kings 11 “is only figurative: it is not meant that Solomon fell into idolatry, but that he was guilty of failing to restrain his wives from idolatrous practices.” The Jewish Encyclopedia points out that the opinion “prevalent in rabbinical literature is that Solomon lost his royalty, riches, and even his reason on account of his sins. This is based on the words “I, Kohelet, was king over Israel in Jerusalem ” (Eccl. i. 12, Hebr.), which show that when he uttered them he was no longer king. He gradually fell from the highest glory into the deepest misery. At first, Solomon reigned over the inhabitants of the upper world as well as over those of the lower; then only over the inhabitants of the earth; later over Israel only; then he retained only his bed and his stick; and finally his stick alone was left to him (Sanh. 20b).” Rabbi Pinchas Frankel clearly pins this fall on Solomon’s wife Pharaoh’s daughter. He bemoans her arrival to Solomon’s court for “Unlike Pharaoh’s daughter in the Story of the Exodus, who raised and developed [Moses] the Leader of the People of Israel, this daughter of Pharaoh will have the opposite effect upon this Leader of Israel, causing his level of spirituality to fall to the point where he will have to temporarily abandon the kingship.”
Role in rise of Jeroboam
The Talmud states that Pharaoh’s daughter played a role in why Jeroboam was found worthy of becoming ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. At Sanhedrin 101b it says “Why did Jeroboam merit sovereignty? Because he reproved Solomon. And why was he punished? Because he reproved him publicly. As it is written, And this was the cause that he lifted up his hand against the king: Solomon built Millo, and repaired the breaches of the city of David his father. He said thus to him: Thy father David made breaches in the wall, that Israel might come up [to Jerusalem] on the Festivals; whilst thou hast closed them, in order to exact toll for the benefit of Pharaoh’s daughter. What is meant by And this was the cause that he lifted up his hand against the king? — R. Nahman said: He took off his phylacteries in front of him.”
Rashi explains that Solomon sealed up a place that was in Jerusalem, enclosed by a low wall and was filled with dirt called the Millo (mentioned in 1 Kings 11:26-32). He did this “to build within it houses for her manservants and maidservants. Concerning this Jeroboam admonished him, saying: Your father left it open for the pilgrims, and you enclosed it to make a labor force for Pharaoh’s daughter. …the Millo he did not build for any greatness, for his father had left it for the pilgrims to pitch their tents therein, but since Pharaoh’s daughter had gone up to her house, and the Millo was adjacent to that house, then he built up the Millo.”
The cause of Rome
As the Hebrew scriptures often say that God raises enemies against the people of Israel when their leaders fall into sin, a similar statement is made about the story of Solomon and his Egyptian wife. The Talmud at Sanhedrin 21b says that “When Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, Gabriel descended and stuck a reed in the sea, which gathered a sand-bank around it, on which was built the great city of Rome.”
In the Kebra Nagast
According to the Kebra Nagast of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Pharaoh’s daughter tricked Solomon into committing idolatry by making him swear an oath. In the text she was upset that he has slept with the Queen of Sheba and fathered Menyelek (who is held to have taken the Arc of the Covenant with him when the Queen returned with him to Africa). Solomon at first resists her calls saying “I will neither sacrifice to nor worship thine idols, and I will not perform thy wish.” So “one day she beautified and scented herself for him, and she behaved herself haughtily towards him, and treated him disdainfully. And he said unto her, “What shall I do? Thou hast made thy face evil towards me, and thy regard towards me is not as it was formerly, and thy beautiful form is not as enticing as usual. Ask me, and I will give thee whatsoever thou wishest, and I will perform it for thee, so that thou mayest make thy face (or, attitude) gracious towards me as formerly”; but she held her peace and answered him never a word. And he repeated to her the words that he would do whatsoever she wished, and she said unto him, “Swear to me by the God of Israel that thou wilt not play me false.” And he swore to her that he would give her whatsoever she asked for, and that he would do for her everything that she told him. And she tied a scarlet thread on the middle of the door of [the house of] her gods, and she brought three locusts and set them in the house of her gods. And she said unto Solomon, “Come to me without breaking the scarlet thread, bend thyself and kill these locusts before me and pull out their necks”; and he did so. And she said unto him, “I will henceforward do thy will, for thou hast sacrificed to my gods and hast worshipped them.” Now he had done thus because of his oath, so that he might not break his oath which she had made him to swear, even though he knew that it was an offence (or, sin) to enter into the house of her gods.”
Pharaoh’s daughter is a main figure in a three act oratorio called Solomon written by the composer George Frideric Handel. It was composed “between May 5th and June 13th 1748 and it was first performed at Covent Garden on March 17th 1749”. The first act deals with the dedication of the temple and Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter. The second act is about the story of his judgement between the two women both claiming the same baby. The third act is about the visit of the Queen of Sheba, “who is dazzled by his wisdom and the splendour of his court.”