Nearly everyone knows the saga surrounding pseudo-archaeologist Indiana Jones' pursuit of the Ark of the Covenant, but there was a treasure nearby that some deem just as sacred. The Ark of the Covenant itself contained the two tablets with the ten commandments which God gave Moses—and that’s what King Solomon built his temple to enshrine. The temple itself is no longer standing (which is allegedly why the treasure is missing), but every Abrahamic religion—and some extra-religious documents—has opinions about the temple and the treasure within it. All of the Abrahamic religions also revere King Solomon as a wise man or prophet, but some stories credit the construction of his monumental temple—Ark included—all to a specific ring: the Seal of Solomon.
So, what is the Seal of Solomon?
This ring is said to have carried “the most great name of Allah” and the Star of David. Some accounts say the Seal of Solomon was made of brass and iron, and some say the ring featured a huge diamond or sapphire set in gold.
But the ring itself, and its worth, was far from the most exciting part of the Seal of Solomon. The Seal of Solomon allowed the king to enslave all of the evil djinn in the world.
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Who was King Solomon?
Just to refresh your memory, the ascent of Solomon to the throne itself is a somewhat salacious tale: according to Biblical historians, Solomon was King David (God’s favorite)’s illegitimate son, and despite Solomon being younger than Adonijah, the heir apparent, Solomon came into power upon his father’s death. It was a pretty scandalous deviation from tradition… especially when King Solomon exiled Adonijah for asking to marry their dad’s consort. (More on that in 1 Kings 1-3)
Shortly after Solomon’s coronation, he dreamed that he talked directly to God, and God said, “Ask what I shall give thee.”
In the Bible, Solomon asks for wisdom; he desires to be a great and fair ruler. Because he didn’t ask for treasure, prestige, victory over his conquests, or any of the more typical things kings asked for, God made him the wisest man in the world—in addition to making him rich and powerful.
But in other texts, Solomon received more than just wisdom. Islamic traditions agree that Sulaiman (the Arabic name of Solomon) was uncommonly wise, but he also understood the language of birds, animals, and insects. Plus, when he asked God for wisdom, God gave him another gift, too: the ring called the Seal of Solomon—purported to grant dominion over evil djinn.
What is the Seal of Solomon?
Islamic folklore identifies djinn as an ethereal being—somewhere between an angel and a human. They are powerful tricksters, invisible to humans unless they want to be seen. Djinn, too, have free will, so they can choose whether to follow the path of Allah. The Qur’an explicitly says that it’s those who forsake God that Solomon’s ring was able to enslave. Hebrew rabbinical interpretations corroborate this, too.
Mythic lore has it that with the aid of the ring, Solomon dominated at least seventy djinn. With this army of djinn in his power, Solomon was able to make them do whatever he wished—and early Muslim religious storytellers say he could command the wind, too, to travel from place to place in what was essentially a portable palace. The Seal of Solomon also enabled him to bind Lilith’s powers and keep her from doing evil.
The Seal of Solomon is responsible for one of the most famous tales in 1001 Nights, as well, “The Fisherman and the Jinni.” In the story, a fisherman catches a jar of yellow brass in his net “stoppered with lead-bearing a seal ring’s mark.” Listeners knew that inside the bottle must be one of the evil djinn whom Solomon punished with confinement. The poor fisherman, however, thought he’d take the vessel to the copper market to sell, but when he opened the jar to empty it, a thick column of smoke rose from it, swirled, and turned into the evil jinni, Ashmedai.
Once, Solomon even lost his priceless ring. Whenever he washed, he would give it to one of his wives, Amina, to hold. But on this day, a rebellious spirit stole it and wore it for forty days, posing as Solomon and seating himself on the throne while Solomon roamed helplessly. This was apparently a deliberate punishment for Solomon, who allowed his 700 wives to continue worshipping their idols. After 40 days, the spirit dropped the ring into the sea where it was eaten by a fish; the fish was caught and cleaned by a local fisherman—and the ring was finally returned to Solomon.
What did King Solomon do with the ring?
The most astounding thing the Qur’an says Solomon did with his seventy evil djinn slaves, though—or at least the most famous—was that he built his famous temple, which by all accounts is an architectural wonder. The entire thing was layered with gold, from the ornamental cherubs carved from olive trees to the decorative pomegranates hanging from the tilt-up pillars poured from molten brass. Slats made from the Cedars of Lebanon insulated every wall. The foundation was made from stone cut at the quarry, so that it seemed the construction was silent. This also contributed to the idea that the temple was built by djinn.
After Solomon said the prayer dedicating the temple to God, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the inner sanctuary of the temple, “and a dark cloud filled the temple of the Lord.” Many say the cloud was, in fact, a djinn.
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What happened to the Seal of Solomon?
The version told in the Qur'an ends with Solomon's subtle death. At an old age, his death goes unnoticed as he leans on his cane. In fact, his corpse continues to stand, still propped on the cane—and the djinn labor on, assuming that he still supervises their work. It's not until much later (the time-lapse is unspecified) when an insect gnaws through the base of Solomon's cane and offsets the balance, that his corpse falls to the ground. The evil djinn finally realize they are no longer enslaved when Solomon's once-imperceptible death is revealed in that fall, and they rush off to resume their former lives.
And as for the Seal itself, when Solomon's body falls, the ring also falls from his finger, never to be seen again. Is it still out there, a mythic treasure waiting to be rediscovered? We may never know.
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Lebling, Robert. Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar. Counterpoint, 2010.
Jacobs, Joseph and M. Seligsohn. “Solomon, Seal of.” Jewish Encyclopedia. < https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13843-solomon-seal-of>
Holy Bible. New King James Ed. 1 Kings 1-6.
Seale, Yasmine, translator. The Annotated Arabian Nights: Tales from 1001 Nights. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2022.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.