Dating the Testament of Solomon

by James Harding and Loveday Alexander (posted 28 May 1999)

[James Harding is a doctoral student and Dr. Loveday Alexander is Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield.–JRD]

The Testament of Solomon is a medium-length Greek text which tells the legendary story of King Solomon’s Ring and explains the power it bestowed on its possessor over the demons which plagued the building of the Temple. It is written from the point of view of the king himself, and closes with Solomon’s fall into idolatry. The narrative works at several levels. At one level, and for much of the text, it is an entertaining ‘Arabian Nights’-style narrative of a super magician and his contests with a variety of demons and djinns from the desert: there is always the underlying frisson of the supernatural, but the narrative also contains a certain aura of wry humour, and demons are satisfyingly routed by Solomon’s supernatural knowledge. But the narrative also provides a repository for serious magical lore about the names of the demons, their areas of influence, and the names and formulae by which they can be controlled. It is this factor which led McCown, the Testament’s first editor, to label it ‘a combination of folktales and a magician’s vade-mecum’ (McCown, 1922, p.1); and it is this agglutinative quality which has led to the complex textual situation with which McCown and subsequent editors have wrestled.

Whatever the original date and status of the texts, it is clear that the legends of King Solomon acted as a magnet to practising magicians from late antiquity through to the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’. The story provided a framework into which magical formulae and names could be inserted, and it has grown over the centuries, so that it is now very difficult to disentangle core material from later accretions. Apart from one chapter, the manuscripts in which the text now exists all date from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Some of the later accretions are written in late Byzantine Greek, and can be identified with relative ease: these McCown has relegated to his apparatus criticus. But McCown was confident that underneath these encrustations was a genuine Greek pseudepigraphon from at least as early as the fourth century CE, with elements going back even earlier. This confidence led Jim Charlesworth to include the Testament in Volume 1 of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (APOT I): Duling, the text’s editor for that volume, hints on the basis of the Vienna papyrus fragments (on which see further below) at a date prior to the fifth/sixth centuries, and probably prior to 400 C.E. He comments that ‘the lingering suspicion that the Testament might be medieval is no longer tenable’, and that ‘there is general agreement that much of the testament reflects first-century Judaism in Palestine’ (Duling, APOT I p.942).

The Testament of Solomon is thus potentially of immense importance for the study of Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity. If the early date is right, the Testament is a valuable witness to the belief-systems (and particularly the demonology) of the first century, and thus forms part of the background of the New Testament. The legendary figure of King Solomon the arch-magician and controller of demons (with or without the Ring) must be potentially a highly significant factor in our understanding of the Gospels, with their tales of conflict between Jesus and the demons which plague the human condition. When Jesus says, ‘Something greater than Solomon is here’ [Matt. 12.42], there is clearly some allusion to a cycle of Solomonic legend already more extensive than anything in the Hebrew Bible, and this complex of ideas, and the theological arguments raging around them, must form an essential background to the controversy aroused by Jesus’ exorcistic activities.

But before the historian can get to work on the text, there is a question of dating to be settled. Scholarly opinion on the date of the Testament varies widely.


  • mediaeval:F.F. Fleck (1837) originally argued that the Testament was a Byzantine work dating from the Middle Ages. V.M. Istrin (1898) also defended a date for the Testament in the Middle Ages (ca. 1200 C.E.), whilst admitting that the text contains a number of pre-Christian elements. 
  • fourth century CE or earlier:On the basis of arguing that the demonology of the Testament is similar to that portrayed in the Divinae Institutiones of Lactantius, F.A. Bornemann suggested a date in the early fourth century C.E. This dating was followed by McCown, partly because of the apparent allusion to TSol 26.5 found in the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila (see below), and partly because the fluent koine of the Testament suggests a date at a time when this form of Greek was current after the completion of the New Testament. McCown also argued that the allusions to the cornerstone of the Temple are to be attributed to a date before the notion of the cornerstone referring to Christ became common amongst Christians; and that the demonology of the Testament is very close to that found in Origen Contra Celsum. 
  • 1st./2nd century CE: F.C. Conybeare noted a number of points in support of a date around 100 C.E., at least for the Christian elements present in the Testament. He noted that ‘the stress laid on the name Emmanuel and on its numerical value, on the writing of the name on the forehead, the use of the word tanustheis, the patripassian conceptions, all have a very archaic air, and seem to belong to about 100 A.D.’ K. Kohler concurs with Conybeare, noting that the Testament represents pre-Talmudic demonology, and both Conybeare and Kohler were followed in their conclusions by G. Salzberger. More recently, K. Preisendanz has argued in favour of dating the original form of the Testament to the first or second centuries C.E. Prior to Preisendanz, W. Gundel had argued that the archetype of the list of thirty-six decans in TSol 18 is dateable to the first century B.C.E., and that Ch.18 was in use in pre-Christian Egypt.

Before we can hope to date the Testament itself, it is crucial to establish a plausible date for the extant manscripts, and to define what we mean by the term Testament of Solomon.. It is convenient to start with McCown, whose work on the manuscript tradition remains fundamental. He provisionally allocated the texts he examined to 3 major recensions, which he called A, B and C. But the earliest form of the text, he argues, is that represented by ms D, which McCown prints as a separate entity in his edition (pp.88-97).


  • ms D. The first significant MS is D (Dionysius Monastery, Mt Athos, No. 132, fol. 367-374). This is a haggadic folktale building on biographical material about Solomon and characterised by strong interest in demonology, and is datable to the sixteenth century. This, however, should probably not be regarded as a Testament of Solomon, but simply as haggadah: it is entitled PERI TOU SOLOMONTOS. It is not a testament at all but a ‘biography of Solomon’, gathering together a number of Solomonic folk-tales ‘in which demons played a large part’ (McCown 1922, p.35). It contains a long prefatory section giving the OT background to Solomon’s story (e.g. David’s sin with Bathsheba), which is not found in the other texts, and includes the ring story but less than half of the demonological material found in other manuscripts.Recension A is represented by H, I, and L, 3 manuscripts dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In these manuscripts the story begins with the building of the Temple and ends with Solomons fall through the episode of the Shunamite.


  • ms H(Holkham Hall, No. 99) is datable to the fifteenth century and usually presents an abbreviated text (except 26.8-10), omitting 14.3-16.1. This MS appears to be at least based on a text (or haggadic tradition) regarded by the scribe as the Testament of Solomon on account of the superscription DIEGESIS PERI TES DIATHEKES SOLOMONTOS. 
  • ms I(Paris BN, supplément grec 500), dating from the sixteenth century, is entitled SOLOMONTOS, with DIATHEKE T[OU] carelessly scrawled in the upper margin, suggesting perhaps that the scribe regarded the material with which he was dealing as simply ‘concerning Solomon’ and called to mind a traditional title for this material after writing the superscription. The abrupt end of the MS at 5.8 suggests that the repetitive material in which this verse occurs was intentionally omitted by a weary scribe, indicating also that this material existed in whatever Vorlage the scribe was using. 
  • ms L(Harleian MSS, British Museum, No. 5596) omits 14.3-16.1 and ends at 18.41, and is datable to the fifteenth century. This MS is a compendium of medieval magical, astrological and demonological lore: McCown suggests it was ‘evidently written by a medieval magician for practical use in his profession’ (McCown, 1922, p.14). It includes a number of ‘Solomonic’ fragments, of which the section designated by McCown as the Testament runs from folio 8r to folio 18r; three other fragments contain material associated with McCown’s recension C.Recension B is represented by P and Q, 2 manuscripts dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. N is also associated with this recension. It contains two explanations of the writing of the Testament, .. a shorter beginning and ending, and … more extended accounts of many of the demons.


  • ms N(Library of the Greek Patriarchate, Jerusalem, Sancti Saba, No. 422) is datable to either the fifteenth or the sixteenth century. Only N and P include 14.3-16.1, incorporating the overtly Christian comment at 15.10-12. 
  • ms P(Paris, BN, Anciens fonds grecs, No. 38 (Colbert 4895)) is a sixteenth century manuscript entitled DIATHEKE SOLOMONTOS. 
  • ms Q(Andreas Convent, Mt Athos, No. 73) is a fifteenth century document which does not include 3.1-20.9.Recension C is represented by mss V and W with the fragments (parts of other compilations) which McCown designated S, T, and U. This is described by McCown as an entirely different recension, which has undergone a thorough revision, and is more interested in demonology as a means for revealing natures treasures and mysteries than in its medical aspect (McCown 1922, p.32).


  • ms S (Vienna, codex philos. graec. 108) is a sixteenth century ms.
  • ms V (Bologna, Library of the University, MS No. 3632) dates from the fifteenth century.
  • ms W (Paris BN, Anciens fonds grecs, No. 2419) is a fifteenth century ms.
  • T is McCown’s designation for 3 fragments from msL (see above): fifteenth century.
  • ms U(Milan, Ambrosian Library, No. 1030) dates from the sixteenth century, and includes some Solomonic material (including a list of demons) written as page-fillers or across the margins.Besides these 3 recensions, McCown notes:


  • There are also manuscripts in Syriac (Paris BN, fonds syriaque 194, fols. 153a-156b) and Arabic(Vat. ar. 448, fols. 39-54), the former dating from the sixteenth century, and the latter from the seventeenth century, though it is not clear how close these MSS are to the extant Greek MSS. 
  • There are four further, fragmentary texts among the Vienna papyri, Pap. Vindob. G 29 436, Pap. Vindob. G 35 939 (together representing 18.27-28), and the two fragments which make up Pap. Vindob. G 330 (18.[33],34-40), probably date from the fifth or sixth centuries, and are thus by far the earliest witnesses to this material. They overlap with only one chapter of the Testament, ch.18, which contains material significantly different from the rest of the Testament.

3. QUESTIONS OF METHOD This slightly lengthy description of the extant texts and their dates is necessary to clarify a number of important points. Firstly, the earliest extant MSS which may be regarded as ‘complete texts’ of the Testament date from the fifteenth century C.E. The three Vienna papyrus fragments of ch. 18 mentioned may or may not be taken from a ‘complete’ text of the Testament (see below). One conclusion to be drawn from this is that on one level, certain Testaments of Solomon, and certain forms of haggadic tales regarding Solomon, are in fact datable to the late Middle Ages. Even if we conclude that substantial texts existed much earlier, it should be noted that (particularly in the case of McCown’s rec. C), the complex process of textual development continued into the Early Modern period. This process, again in the case of rec. C in particular, seems to have been so substantial as to suggest that the texts of this recension (STUVW) should be regarded as late redactions of the Testament. What this really means is that the textual and redactional histories of the Testament are inseparable. MSS L and S are suggestive of redactions of material attested in other recensions, which now form magical almanacs rather than Testaments or collections of haggadic folktales.

The fundamental question then arises: what are we trying to date? We cannot simply assume that we have a single identifiable literary text with minor textual variants. McCown’s text is a hypothetical reconstruction, based on a particular but not inevitable reading of the manuscript evidence. It is however only one possible way of reading this evidence. Only recensions A and B contain relatively similar material: D and C represent large enough differences to suggest that it is not possible to secure relative dating of the recensions with any accuracy. And none of the extant texts dates any further back than the fifteenth century, with the exception of the Vienna papyrus fragments which cover only one chapter of McCown’s ‘Testament’. This leaves us with three related problems:


  • a) McCown, working on standard text-critical principles, attempted to reconstruct an Ur-text which lies behind our extant manuscripts but does not actually exist in any of them. According to this model, the extant ms D represents an older text-form d. This text-form was then adapted to create the oldest form of the Testament proper, which McCown calls ‘the original Test ‘, and which we may call t. The recensions A and B represent independent redactions of t, and recension C is a reworking of B. None of these hypothetical stages of redaction, however, actually exists: the only witnesses we have are the manuscripts themselves, and none of these contains the text which McCown prints (and Duling follows) as ‘The Testament of Solomon’. Given the immensely varied states of redaction evidenced at every stage of transmission with these magical texts, we may well question whether McCown’s reconstruction has sufficient ontological status to be counted a ‘text’ in its own right, whatever its date. 
  • b) The question of dating adds another dimension to the problem. Even d, the earliest form of the postulated tradition, is witnessed only in a manuscript of the fifteenth century (D). Even if we accept McCown’s reconstruction of the ‘Testament of Solomon’ as an independent text, what evidence do we have that it was in existence substantially earlier than the late mediaeval period? 
  • c) Questions about the date of the text need to be distinguished from questions about the dating of the contents of McCown’s Testament. The material isolated here falls into 2 categories: legendary narrative traditions about Solomon and his power over the demons, some of which may have survived substantially for their entertainment-value; and serious demonological lore (names, incantations, and the like) belonging to the world of late antique and mediaeval magical practice. There is no doubt that some of this traditional material is extremely ancient, and some of it may go back to the first century; but dating the traditions used in the Testament is not the same as dating the Testament as a particular text. This distinction must be borne in mind in the following discussion.

There are two direct references to a text of Solomon in other literature to be considered here, and other hints at Solomonic literary documents elsewhere.

4.1 The first external reference is to be found in the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila. Here there is a direct reference to a diatheke of Solomon, and to Solomon’s sacrifice of locusts (26.5). This reference has often been taken to indicate the terminus ad quem of the Testament. The Dialogue purports to have been written during the Archbishopric of Cyril (d. 444 C.E.). Presumably, therefore, the materials which the Dialogue contains are much older (so Conybeare), though (McCown) we cannot be certain at what date the reference to the Testament entered the text. The chief problem with this reference is that we cannot be sure of the precise contents of the diatheke mentioned by Aquila. Certainly, there is a clear reference to a pre-existing literary document described as the diatheke of Solomon. However, we can only be sure that this document contained 26.5 and materials concerning Solomon’s building the Temple found in mss HPQ, and that it was understood as a Testament.

4.2 The second significant reference is to be found in the Gnostic text On the Origin of the World, 107.3. The reference in this (probably) early fourth century text is to forty-nine androgynous demons whose “names and effects you will find in the Book of Solomon.”. In recensions A and B of the Testament, however, we read of twenty-four demons in addition to the thirty-six decani of ch. 18 (rec. C lists 50 demons). It is clear also that whilst the hint here is that the Book of Solomon was solely concerned with the names and effects of demons, recensions A and B of the Testament deal, in addition to such material, with more expansive haggadic traditions; the exception, of course is ch. 18, attested in mss HLP. This suggests the possibility that a pre-fourth century document existed, perhaps of Gnostic origin, which listed the names and effects of the forty-nine androgynous demons. This text was attributed to Solomon on account of his association with magical wisdom (see below), and may have taken a form similar to TSol HLP 18. It is beyond proof, yet not inconceivable, that such a text may have been part of the very early Traditionsgeschichte of the Testament.

4.3 There are a number of other references to written works relating to Solomon involving his magical wisdom. The epodai and tropoi exorkoseon referred to by Josephus (Ant. VIII.44) seem to indicate the existence of written texts; however, it seems too much to argue that these represent the Jewish Ur-text of the Testament. There are many other incantational texts attributed to Solomon. Note also that Josephus says that Solomon composed the epodai in question, while in HLP 18 the decani ‘confess’ the adjurations which can be used to control them. As Duling observes, Josephus’ remark may be no more than a haggadic expansion of the septuagintal tradition that Solomon wrote five thousand ‘odes’ (I Kings [3 Kgdms] 5.12 LXX: cf. Duling in APOT I p.945).

4.4 McCown cites a work of Michael Glycas (ca. 1150 C.E.), which may refer directly to a recension of the Testament.

McCown lists many other references to Solomonic works; but all we can conclude from this is that many works in antiquity were attributed to Solomon. Unfortunately, we have no material which refers unequivocally to an early recension of this particular Testament.

We come now to the complex and potentially contentious issue of the Vienna papyri. The four papyri in question provide between them the Greek text of HLP 18.27-28 and [33]34-40. The fact that these fragments appear to date from the fifth or sixth centuries means that their significance for the question of dating the Testament is enormous. R. Daniel regarded G 330 as the recto of a rotulus, a papyrus which would have been rotated 90o and inscribed and read vertically (transversa charta), a format which was apparently used in the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and Roman periods for official, legal documents, including wills. On the basis of this usage, Daniel argued that whoever produced G 330 may have intended to imitate the form of the genre of a will, or Testament. Duling has argued on the basis of this evidence that TSol 18.4b-40 was separated from its original context within the Testament, following the view of K. Preisendanz that G 330 is a decan chapter which had originally been part of the Testament. This would bring the date of the composition of the Testament down to approximately Mc Cown’s terminus ad quem of 400 C.E.

However, the conclusion reached by Preisendanz and Duling is fundamentally unsatisfactory. That decan lists existed in antiquity is not to be doubted. The fact that the rotulus of which G 330 was a part seems to have ended at 18.40 might also suggest that what is now known as TSol 18.4b-40 was an originally separate document. It is possible, given that MS L concludes at 18.41, that G 330 was part of a ‘complete’ recension which ended at 18.40. This material breaks the literary pattern of Solomon’s dealings with the demons established in chs. 3-17, and is much greater in length than the pericopae which deal with individual demons. One possible solution to the problem may be considered here: a form of ch. 18, already linked with Solomon, existed independently, prior to its inclusion in the later Testament texts. This material was at some later stage incorporated into a larger text, (with the redactional seams evident in 18.1-4,41-42), which also included assorted haggadic tales regarding other demons not in the decan list. Ch. 18 was then re-written in the third person in harmony with the rest of the evolving text. Ch. 18 seems to be a serious magical handbook: whilst astrological and magical themes occur elsewhere in the tales about the individual demons, the rest of the Testament is more naturally read as folklore. The evolving text received its framework from the tale about Solomon and the Temple, and from the final material concerning Solomon’s fall from grace. This latter stage occurred as the recensions developed. MS D and Q represent traditions which continued to exist separately, as recensions A, B, and C evolved. C is the recension which became most clearly read as a magical handbook.

Thus, the Vienna papyri may provide an important clue to the dating of the Testament. If the hypothesis expounded above is correct, the Ur-text for the Testament, if it is justifiable to postulate the existence of a single Ur-text, should be dated at some point after the Vienna papyri, and, presumably, prior to the reference in the work of Michael Glycas. We may at this stage tentatively propose a date in the sixth century.

The next stage in the process of dating the Testament involves a consideration of the traditions which it embodies and their date. A consideration of the imagery employed in the Testament is also important, since it may help us to set the Testament into some kind of historical context. A study examining both these aspects is crucial to the dating process, yet it would also be a vast project if undertaken conscientiously. A brief consideration of the traditions found in the Testament is all that will be attempted here.

6.1 New Testament and Apocrypha
A terminus post quem is provided by the fact that allusions are made in the longer recensions of the Testament to known passages from the New Testament and the apocrypha. This, however, need only suggest to us a date from the second century C.E. onwards for the date of the Ur-Text of the Testament. TSol 3.5 (C), for example, makes a clear allusion to WisdSol 9.4. Again, TSol 11.6 (HLP) strongly echoes the Markan story of the Gerasene demoniac. Many other passages could be cited in this regard. The extant MSS of the Testament do not quote biblical passages as such: rather, biblical and pseudepigraphical materials form part of the thought world in which the Testament evolved, in the same way that Pentateuchal traditions formed part of the thought world out of which texts such as Jubilees, 1QapGen, and the Testament of Abraham evolved. The notion that the Testament lies behind, and helps us to interpret certain passages from the New Testament (so Conybeare, Duling) seems to be a misunderstanding of the available evidence.

6.2 Josephus
The first century testimony of Josephus has already been considered briefly. Ant VIII.45-49 is the earliest extant reference to Solomon’s ring, which places the material in the Testament along a time continuum beginning with the traditions which lie behind Josephus and continuing well into the Late Middle Ages: the Testament is merely one of many texts which make reference to Solomon’s ring. As we have seen, this passage from Josephus is also part of the Solomon tradition which built on the reference to Solomon’s literary output in 1ÊK 5.12. The material in the Testament may well be a late haggadic development of the 1ÊK passage, and may also be a development of the mention in WisdSol 7.20 of Solomon’s knowledge of the biai pneumaton. The astrological elements of the Testament are also anticipated by WisdSol 7.17-19. However, neither Josephus nor WisdSol are of much assistance in dating the Testament, since they anticipate a plethora of Solomonic traditions of which those attested in the Testament form only a small part.

6.3 Nag Hammadi Texts
There are four interesting references to Solomon in the Nag Hammadi texts. The first of these, On the Origin of the World 107.2-3, has already been considered. The tradition represented by The Testimony of Truth 70.6-30 is extremely important. Firstly, the text in question notes that Solomon built Jerusalem by means of demons, “because he received [power].” This is the unifying theme of the Testament, if one such theme were to be isolated. The reconstruction which follows includes the imprisoning of the demons in water pots in the Temple, reminiscent of the anggeia of TSol 15.9 (P), 16.7, and 25.7 (rec. B). The conclusion of this tradition in the Testimony of Truth is that the demons, having been imprisoned from the time of Solomon until the Roman attack on Jerusalem in 70 C.E., ran out of the waterpots as soon as the waterpots were discovered by the Romans. This tradition seems to be very closely paralleled by TSol 15.8-9 (NP), in which the demon Enepsigos predicts that Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed by the King of the Persians, Medes, and Chaldaeans, and that the demons shall break out of the vessels in which Solomon had imprisoned them. Whilst the details are different in the two accounts, for example, in the Testimony of Truth the events of the First Jewish War are envisaged, and in the Testament the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar in 587/6 B.C.E. is clearly in mind, the framework of the two stories is essentially the same. It may be that the development of this story attested in the Nag Hammadi document is conditioned by the historical events of 70 C.E., or that the story itself grew out of the events of the First Jewish War. The Testimony of Truth is dated by Pearson to around the end of the second century/beginning of the third century C.E. At any rate, it seems probable that the tradition attested in the Testimony of Truth and in TSol 15.8-9 (NP) dates from the early second century. The Gnostic text is probably closer to the original, since it represents a development based on a recent historical event, and the passage in TSol 15 only occurs in two MSS. This last point might suggest that this tradition was unknown in the Ur-Text of the Testament, and that the tradition in question developed for a time as part of a Solomon-Enepsigos tradition which only found its way into the Testament at a very late stage. Therefore whilst the Testimony of Truth helps us to consider the date of a tradition which became part of two texts of the Testament, it does not help us to date the Ur-Text of the Testament.

Two other, rather odd, references to Solomon are to be found in the Nag Hammadi codices. The Apocalypse of Adam 79.3-13 relates the strange tale of Solomon sending out “his” army of demons to seek out the virgin, whom Solomon “took.” Whilst Solomon’s command over the demons is envisaged here, there is no clear relation to a tradition known from the extant MSS of the Testament. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth 63.11-17 comments that “Solomon was a laughingstock, since he thought that he was Christ, having become vain through the Hebdomad, as if he had become stronger than I and my brothers. But we are innocent with respect to him. I have not sinned.” The tradition apparently placed into the mouth of Christ does not appear to relate directly to traditions known from the extant MSS of the Testament. Whilst the Nag Hammadi texts reveal interesting Solomon traditions, they are of only peripheral importance to the question of dating the Testament.

6.4 Greek Magical Papyri
The Hellenistic Magical Papyri (second century B.C.E.-fifth century C.E.) also reveal interesting material relating to Solomon. PGM IV.3041 mentions the seal of Solomon, which is mentioned throughout the Testament as the instrument of Solomon’s power over demons, and which is also mentioned elsewhere, notably in bGittin 68a (see below). The warning in PGM IV.3084-3085 to “Keep yourself pure, for this charm is Hebraic and is preserved among pure men” may anticipate the mock Hebrew names found especially in TSol 18 (HLP), and certainly echoes and anticipates the Aramaic Incantation Bowls and the Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation texts from the Geniza of the Qaraite synagogue in Cairo. PGM IV.850 contains the title of an incantation: “Charm of Solomon that produces a trance.” The genre of this text is wholly alien to recensions A, B, and D of the Testament, and is probably closer to what Josephus had in mind in Ant VIII.44. The final text to be considered here is PGM XCII.6 which mentions the “eyes of Solomon” in an incantation. Betz notes that this phrase is unique, and that it may relate to the auge that illumines Solomon’s mind in TSol rec. C, prologue, 2.

A study of the Hellenistic Magical Papyri reveals many interesting Solomonic traditions. However, this material is only indirectly relevant to the process of dating the Testament. What these papyri show is that Solomon himself was closely associated with the authorship of incantations (cf. Josephus) and that his name was often used as a magical charm. It seems more likely that a redactor would collate material regarding Solomon’s magical and demonological knowledge after texts such as the Magical Papyri had become current. It should be noted once again that the incantation texts and Gnostic tracts to which we have referred do not seem to echo the material in recensions A, B, and D of the Testament.

6.5 The Babylonian Talmud
For evidence of a different account of Solomon’s magical and demonological knowledge, we turn to the text of bGittin 68a-b. Gary Porton has argued that the major redactional work on the Talmud Bavli continued through the sixth and seventh centuries C.E., though material attributable to authorities of the eighth and ninth centuries also appears in its pages, as do glosses and comments from the Middle Ages. D.W. Halivni, by contrast, has argued that the major redactional activity took place in the sixth century C.E. Whatever the date to be adopted, it seems clear that the traditions embodied in the Bavli are much older. Two-thirds of the Bavli is haggadah, and in comparison with the Yerushalmi there is significantly more angelological, demonological, magical, and astrological material: precisly the themes with which the Testament is pre-occupied.. Tractate Gittin 68a contains interesting parallel material to the Testament, and also interesting differences. First of all, in bGittin 68a Solomon is said to have required male and female demons to inform him of the whereabouts of a worm which could cut through the sharpest stone, and which he required to help him in the building of the Temple. The partial parallel in the Testament is the tradition of Solomon employing demons in the construction of the Temple. Again, bGittin has male and female demons presented to Solomon tied together. This echoes the Testament, in which demons are brought bound before Solomon for interrogation (e.g. TSol 5.1 (HILPVW), referring to Asmodeus) and bound after interrogation (e.g. TSol 15.7 (NP), referring to Enepsigos). Both traditions link Solomon with Ashmedai/Asmodeus. Secondly, Solomon’s ring and its seal are used in the imprisonment of the demon. Thirdly, the demon is interrogated, and fourthly, the demon is linked in some way with Solomon’s construction of the Temple. However, there are also clear differences (such as the Testament’s identification of Beelzeboul as the ruler of the demons) which rule out the possibility of a direct literary relationship. What we seem to have are two very different manifestations of the same basic tradition, which must then be dated much earlier than either Bavli or the Testament. Both manifestations of the tradition seem, therefore to have co-existed in about the sixth century (in some form): the core of the tradition must therefore go back to between the final redaction of Tobit (on which the Testament is also drawing) and (approximately) the fourth or fifth centuries.

6.6 The Cairo Genizah
There is further interesting material to be discussed which was found amongst the texts from the Cairo Genizah. These texts may be dated to the early medieval period. It is first of all interesting to note that Joseph is linked with magic in three of the texts cited by L.H. Schiffman and M. D. Swartz. There seems to be a trend in these texts of linking ideal biblical figures with magical powers. The first significant text mentioning Solomon is TS K1.30.9-10. A tradition appears in this text which refers to seven spirits about whom Ashmedai taught Solomon, who enter the wombs of women and deform their offspring. Seven spirits appear in the Testament, in ch.8 (HLPVW), though their role in the Cairo text is not attributed to them in the Testament. However, a similar role is attributed to the demon Phonos in TSol 9.6 (HLPVW), and possibly to Pterodrakon in TSol 14.4 (P). As with the Bavli traditions, it may well be that we have different manifestations of similar demonological traditions in the Testament and in the Cairo text. The name of Solomon occurs in an incantation in TS K1.68.17, in a similar way to the Hellenistic Magical Papyri. However, in this case the context is too fragmentary for a great deal to be said.

Schiffman and Swartz, it should be noted, make a number of important general points concerning the Cairo texts. Angels and demons are presented as affecting natural events and the lives of men and women by their actions. Demons have specific roles, some, such as the seven spirits mentioned above, enter the wombs of women; others cause disease. This relates closely to the presentation of the roles of demons in TSol 18 (HLP). Angels can ward of demons, again as in the Testament, in which each demon has a thwarting angel. The names of angels are required in order for power to be exerted over them. This echoes closely Solomon’s stock question in the Testament, ‘Who are you?’. The name of God has the power to compel angels: this is not explicit in the extant MSS of the Testament, but is rather more closely paralleled by, for example, the Hellenistic Magical Papyri. There are clearly interesting aspects to our study to be found in the Cairo texts. However, the similarities between the Cairo texts, the Hellenistic Magical Papyri, and recension C of the Testament demonstrate the chief methodological problem faced in attempting to deal with the question of the date of the Testament: many ideas surface in the Testament which also surface in various geographical locations over a period of approximately a millennium. We must conclude that texts such as the Cairo incantations and the Hellenistic Magical Papyri are of very limited use in attempting to date the Testament itself as a literary text.

6.7 Obsequies of the Holy Virgin.
There is one early Christian text of about the fifth century which may be of greater significance. This text, to which we have not as yet had direct access, is the first long fragment of the Syriac narrative called by W. Wright Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, which is related to the Syriac narratives of the Assumption of the Virgin.. In this fragment, St Paul relates a story about Solomon, who had been told by a demon that a certain young man would die. This presumably relates to the story of Ornias in TSol 20.6-21 (DHP, Q10-21). It is possible that this story was developed from that found in the Obsequies and included amongst the demonological lore of the Testament. If Wright’s date for the Obsequies of the latter part of the fifth century is correct, our tentative dating of the Ur-text of the Testament in the sixth century would be supported (though, of course, not confirmed). However, it is also possible that both the Testament and the Obsequies draw on a common tradition, in which case it would only be possible to date this Ornias tradition prior to the fifth century. The possibility that the author/redactor of the Obsequies used the Testament, or rather a form of it, in the composition of his own work cannot be discounted. Perhaps the notion that both texts are dependent upon a common written or oral tradition is the most likely. Thus whilst the Obsequies of the Holy Virgin are potentially very significant for dating the Testament, there are a number of methodological difficulties to be taken into consideration.

6.8 The Quran
Finally, a few brief remarks should be made concerning the Solomon traditions in the Qu’ran, datable to the seventh century. It should be noted at the outset that in general, the demonology of the Qu’ran is very different from that of the Testament. The subjugation to Solomon of the wind echoes the traditions in the Testament concerning the demons Lix Tetrax (TSol 7.2-5 (HLPVW) and, more particularly, Ephippas (TSol 22.9-24.5 (DHPQ). It would be interesting also to study the ideology of the Testament in light of the following statement in sura 21.82: “We assigned him devils who dived for him into the sea and who performed many other tasks besides. Over them we kept a watchful eye.” The notion of demons doing the will of Solomon, crucial to the framework of the Testament, is evident in sura 34.12-14. Again, the traditions of demons subjugated to Solomon who were involved in building work and who were bound with chains is found in sura 38:

‘We subjugated the wind to him, so that it blew softly at his bidding wherever he directed it; and the devils, too, among whom were builders and divers and others bound with chains. “All these we give you,” we said. “It is for you to bestow or to withhold, without reckoning.”‘

It seems clear that there is an indirect relationship between the Solomon traditions found in the Qu’ran and those found in the Testament. The Qu’ran does not explicitly allude to the tales of the demons in the Testament, nor are the demons named. However, the basic ideas behind some of the demons in the Testament also emerge in the Qu’ran.

Only a small part of the relevant material has been covered here. However, it seems that the traditions which the Testament has in common with other texts were in existence before the seventh century. Various traditions found in the Testament are attested in many different documents, each with a different provenance, over a very long period of time. Thus when the relevant material is taken into account, and when the various extant MSS and papyri have been considered, a sixth century date for the Ur-Text of the Testament would seem to make good sense. However, to say that such a date makes sense is not to say that the Testament of Solomon was written in any form in the sixth century. This does seem to be the most likely date, but our evidence is ambiguous enough to preclude any possibility of certainty. We are hindered by the fact that the evidence of which we must take account in attempting to date the Testament is not extensive, and is made up of texts which are wildly different in date, authorship, provenance, and (possibly) ideology. We are also hindered by the lack of allusions within the Testament to contemporary events, and by the extremely complex textual and redactional histories of the Testament. We are able to deal only with possibilities.

In the foregoing study many different aspects of the process of dating the Testament have been considered. The results of previous research on this issue have proved to be unsatisfactory, largely on account of a failure amongst scholars to take serious account of the textual and redactional problems presented by the Testament, and a failure to recognise the limits and ambiguities of apparent external references to the Testament or material which it contains. There has also been a general failure to recognise the problem with exactly what text it is that is to be dated. To say that we are trying to date the Testament of Solomon merely begs the question: what exactly is the Testament of Solomon to which reference is being made?

The aim of the present paper has been to clear the ground for beginning the process of dating the Testament, and also to initiate the dating process itself, without coming to dogmatic conclusions about the date of the Testament. It is worth here outlining how future work on this issue, and other issues relating to the study of the Testament, might take shape.


  • the first step in the process of studying any aspect of the Testament is to define exactly what kind of text we are trying to date.
  • the process of dating the Testament cannot be undertaken in isolation; therefore, thorough text-critical and redactional critical studies of the Testament should be undertaken.
  • detailed studies should also been undertaken on the theology, astrology, and demonology of the Testament.
  • further to the above, more work on the relationship of the Testament to other literary works from antiquity and the Early Middle Ages is required, notably those, such as the Clavicula Salomonis, which relate directly to Solomon or purport to have been written by him.
  • considerably more work is required on the nature and development of Solomon traditions in late antiquity and the Middle Ages.
  • the interplay of Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, Pagan, and other ideas within the texts of the Testament should be studied in detail. Particular emphasis should be laid on the imagery used in the Testament.

Only when such work as the above is undertaken will it be possible to piece together the complex history and ideology of the Testament of Solomon.

Indicative Bibliography

Alexander, P.S., ‘Incantations and Books of Magic,’ in Schürer, E., _The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.E.-A.D. 135): A New English Version_ Revised and Edited by G. Vermes, F. Millar, M. Goodman (vol. III, part I; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1986) 342-379.

Betz, H.D. (ed.), _The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, including the Demotic Spells_ (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986).

Conybeare, F.C., ‘The Testament of Solomon,’ _JQR_ XI (October 1898) 1-45.

Duling, D.C., ‘The Testament of Solomon,’ in Charlesworth, J.H. (ed.), _The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha_ (vol. 1; New York: Doubleday, 1983) 935-959.

__________, ‘The Testament of Solomon: Retrospect and Prospect,’ _JSP_ 2 (1988) 87-112.

__________, ‘Solomon, Testament of,’ in _The Anchor Bible Dictionary_ 6.117-119.

Epstein, I. (ed.), _The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nashim_, Volume IV (London: Soncino Press, 1936).

__________, _Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud: Gittin_ (London: Soncino Press, 1963).

Ginzberg, L., _The Legends of the Jews_ ( vol. 4: _Bible Times and Characters from Joshua to Esther_; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1913, 1941).

Grether, H.G., ‘Asmodeus,’ in _The Anchor Bible Dictionary_ 1.499.

James, M.R., _The Apocryphal New Testament, being the Apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses, with other Narratives and Fragments Newly Translated_ by Montague Rhodes James (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924).

Kahle, P.E., _The Cairo Geniza_ (2nd ed.; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1959).

Mc Cown, C.C., _The Testament of Solomon_, edited from Manuscripts at Mount Athos, Bologna, Holkham Hall, Jerusalem, Milan, Paris, and Vienna, with Introduction by Chester Charles Mc Cown (Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, Heft 9; Leipzig: J.C. Hinrich’sche Buchhandlung, 1922).

Porton, G.G., ‘Talmud,’ _The Anchor Bible Dictionary_ 6.310-314.

Robinson, J.M., _The Nag Hammadi Library in English: Translated and Introduced by Members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity_, Claremont, California (3rd (completely revised) ed.; Leiden/New York: E.J. Brill, 1988).

Schiffman, L.H., and Swartz, M.D., _Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Genizah: Selected Texts from Taylor-Schechter Box K1_ (Semitic Texts and Studies 1; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992).

(c) 1999
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the authors.

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