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Solomon and Ashmedai

Around the image of King Solomon, a wealth of legends developed over thousands of years, in which demons, particularly one named Ashmedai (Asmodeus), play an important role. These legends rose from the belief that Solomon's wisdom afforded him supernatural powers, which included communication with demons and animals. Such legends appear both in the Talmudic literature as well as the Islamic scriptures.

Protection AmuletOne legend concerning Ashmedai recounts that Solomon one day asked the demon what could make demons powerful over man, and Ashmedai asked for the King's magic seal in order to demonstrate. Solomon agreed, but Ashmedai threw the ring into the sea, where it was swallowed by a fish. Ashmedai then swallowed the king, stood up fully with one wing touching heaven and the other earth, and spat out Solomon to a distance of 400 miles.

The rabbinic interpretations claim this was a divine punishment for Solomon having failed to follow three divine commands, and thus, the great and powerful king was reduced to a pauper and forced to wander from city to city. He eventually arrived in an Ammonite city, where he was forced to work in the king's kitchens. Solomon prepared a meal for the Ammonite king, which the king found so impressive, that the previous cook was sacked and Solomon put in his place. The king's daughter, Na'amah, subsequently fell in love with Solomon, but the royal family disapproved of the match, thinking Solomon to be a commoner, and therefore, couple was banished into the desert. There they wandered until they reached a coastal city, where they bought a fish to eat. It so happened that this was the fish which had swallowed the magic ring. So did Solomon regain his strength and his throne.

No Harm Seal of SolomonAnother version of this legend, a prototype of "prince and pauper" motif, tells that Ashmedai impersonated King Solomon, whereas the real king was forced to wander the world as a beggar until, as the rabbinic commentaries tell, nothing remained of his former magnificence except the staff in his hand. Another version of this tradition states that Solomon never regained his throne and died in abject poverty. This is supported by a very literal reading of Ecclesiastes 2:10: "and this [i.e., only what I am now holding in my hand] was my portion of all my labor."

Ashmedai is the demon mentioned in connection to the construction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The edifice was, according to rabbinical legend, throughout miraculously constructed, the large, heavy stones rising to and settling in their respective places of themselves. The general belief was that Solomon had the stones hewed by means of a Shamir, a mythical worm whose mere touch cleft rocks. According to the rabbinic commentaries, the Shamir was brought from paradise by Solomon's eagle, but most of the Rabbis state that Solomon was informed of the worm's haunts by none other than Ashmedai.

The story of Solomon and Ashmedai appears in the Qur'an and in Arabic legends of the Arabian (Thousand and One) Nights. There, too, it is Solomon's power over Ashmedai which forces the demon to reveal the whereabouts of the Shamir. The Arab legends also tell of Ashmedai's deception and Solomon's downfall from greatness following the loss of his magic seal.

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