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More of Same (Bible Belt Cinema)

An Ancient Photo-op
An Ancient Photo-op
Copyright: <a href=''>mkistryn / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Solomon and Sheba (1959) continues Hollywood's dabbling in the Old Testament. Its subject matter takes up more or less where David and Bathsheba (1951) leaves off. David dies. Solomon (Yul Brynner) succeeds David as King of Israel. This is the 10th Century BC. Its re-creation probably bears only a passing similarity here and there to the realities and geo-politics of the time. Most web-sites place Sheba in either Southern Arabia or Yemen. Apparently, its true location has been lost. What I find interesting is that the film's focus on winning Sheba as an ally in a contest against Egypt is not much different from what is still happening in the Middle East. Imagine: Egypt is again a power, though it has had to re-invent itself many times over. The same, mutatis mutandis, can be said for Israel. As to the other surrounding countries, only genuine experts know. We, the gullible, cannot trust the media. Its carefully selected images are the handicraft of manipulation designed to gain the spoils of public opinion. Leadership has its own axes to grind. For instance, while citizens of one Middle East nation are stoked to fever pitch contra those of another, their heads of state might at the same time be cutting a very nice mutual deal. Those "back rooms" never appear on the news. Those deals, too, it should be said, do not actually "exist". Thus, some nations regarded as leaning one way or the other might actually lean the opposite way. It depends. Americans are still taken aback by age-old underhanded practices that were and probably still are the stock-in-trade of Europe. In the New World, hearts must be worn on sleeves. Subtleties are headaches. Suffice it to say, to sum up, that in three thousand years, at least something has remained the same -- war and turmoil in the Middle East. Now we can talk.

As usual, Hollywood scriptwriters depart from the Word of God. Without getting into a book (or bible) versus movie conflict, it might be worth looking into 1 Kings 10. This is where the Queen of Sheba (Gina Lollobrigida) makes her entrance and exit. Not much is written. Thus, the writers are justifiably creative. To be sure, things like this matter to the religious. They are touchy. Enough said. All in all, however, for the meager purpose of a review/article, all that need be said is that Solomon won the Queen's support, which was hardly a trifle. One hundred and twenty talents of gold are cited. The infallible Wikipedia suggests that a talent was 130 pounds. At today's rate, a pound of gold is worth approximately $20,000. A talent, then, would be worth $2,600,000. Granted this is only a mental exercise not particularly relevant, except insofar as to indicate how valuable the Queen's contribution was. It enabled Solomon to build a great temple along with the acquisition of chariots and horsemen. Mention is also made of a navy. There are descriptions of an ivory throne, ornate artwork, and various jewel encrusted items. All this was accomplished without so much as the toss of a spear. As to what the Queen received, the Good Book says that it amounted to "all her desire".

But it was not meant to last. Like his father, King Solomon was seduced by the outer trappings of power. Chapter 11 describes his downfall from wedding so many foreign women, all of whom worshiped false gods. Among his wives and concubines was a daughter of the Pharoah. This is an example of fine, diplomatic skill. Not only did Solomon keep the peace in Israel, but increased it in the neighboring vicinities. But Solomon the man gives in to temptation. The movie, in a sequence reminiscent of Cecil B. DeMille, depicts the ungodly rituals of the heathen. These multiple marriages and arrangements might also have let in fifth columns and corrupted the delicate priest-people-ruler balance that obtained. I am only speculating. Whatever the case, the movie and book go separate ways, with either Solomon proving himself victorious in battle -- the former -- or going to sleep "with his fathers" -- the latter. In reality, it was not long before Egypt destroyed the temple along with priceless artifacts inside.

In the movie, Solomon's brother, Adonijah (George Sanders), exists in counterpoint. Together with Solomon, they are both sons of David. But only Adonijah has his father's military proclivities. Perhaps Adonijah, who actually proclaimed himself king, might have done better. The Romans would later show again and again the enormous profits to be gained from conquest. Far be it for me to decide matters of war and peace. I defer to Hollywood with its neat sets and colorful costumes. I wish they had made more of these. David and Bathsheba was released in 1951, Solomon and Sheba in 1959. They leave a large gap in between. Granted, the Old Testament is not the most accessible writing. The visual medium sugar coats a lot of its unwieldly substance. It has to. In the absence of many competitors, these two movies are well worth watching if only to introduce topics that might appeal to the bible-minded.