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The Wisdom of Solomon


There's a story in the old testament many people are familiar with about the judgement and wisdom of Solomon. It goes like this: Two women are fighting over a child each claiming it as their own. They are brought before Solomon. He draws a sword and proclaims that each woman will be given half a child. One woman agrees that they should receive half a child. The other woman protests and says that the other woman can have the whole living child. Solomon gives the whole child to what's assumed to be the real mother, or at a minimum the best of the two mothers, who would want to keep it whole and alive.

But what if it hadn't gone that way. What if both mothers agreed with the split, that they'd each rather have half of a dead baby than to give up the whole child to the other woman. What would Solomon have done? Cleave the child in twain? Devise another test? Leave the women to fight it out themselves? What happens when some extreme is hit and the normal wisdom no longer holds the same strength.

I can't help but wonder if various stoning and killing rituals around the world didn't start as some kind of "Solomon's Test". A man comes before the tribe elders and village with his wife in tow and exclaims that women in the village have told him that his wife has been unfaithful. The wife denies it. The chief looks down on the couple, remembers marrying them, remembers how happy they are, their four children, their family and in that moment devises a test. It's a test not just for the husband but also for the accusers. "Dig a hole in the village square and bury her up to her chest. Then everyone in the village get a stone and we will all throw stones at her until she is dead." Wisdom would say that the husband would think of his children and the happy life they've had up until now and beg for mercy, or that the women who started the rumor would step forward and renounce it, or that if it's true the lover will step forward and plead for the woman, or that friends or family would intercede to plead on her behalf. Or perhaps that concept of "he who is without sin cast the first stone" might kick in.

Imagine the chief's horror when the village mobilizes to bury and kill the woman. Out of fear of similar punishment no one steps forward. Imagine the guilt as he can't find a way to reverse the decision. Imagine the devastation as it becomes a set ritual, a tried and true honor bound duty.

Or there's the possibility that it did work. Someone stepped forward and the wife was saved. Then news of the event spread to other villages and other tribes and they tried it but it went poorly. Maybe someone decided that it was too hard on friends and family to do the stoning so they chose paid executioners or strangers from another village. Then all sense of mercy is taken out of the equation. Justice is lost and only punishment remains.

You hear these stories over and over again, family members murdering other family members for honor, because it's the law and it makes you wonder how it started. More so it makes you wonder how to end it. What wisdom do we have to show people that this is not the way.

In the U.S. we are not dissimilar. While we don't go quite the degree that other countries go, we still have lost the concept of mercy within our courts. We've lost the ideal of a jury of our peers, replacing it with strangers forced to take on a task they don't want to perform handing down punishments that they don't agree with but cannot modify or worse they get to choose the harshest punishment available because of their own bias towards the crime and not the person. We've removed discernment, community, family, and mercy in order to replace them with homogeneity assuming that that one rule can apply to all regardless of circumstance and that by applying a single rule to all we are being fair.

In our fairness we disconnect people from who they should be accountable to. We remove them from their peers, the ones that would work hard to keep them in line and we eliminate their personal responsibility by making it to where they will never see the people they hurt, and never be able to make amends with honor and humility. In some cases this is necessary for safety but in a great many cases it's not. The homogeneity of the law doesn't allow for such distinctions.

Maybe this is the price for having a society as large as we do. Maybe it's the cost of having suburbs and strip malls and two hour commutes. We've stopped local lynchings and murderous posses but one has to wonder if there's not some better way, some balance between the angry mob from the community and the cold blind eye of justice. Oh but for the wisdom of Solomon right now.