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Judgment of Solomon

infant child christian wise

One of the episodes from the life of the wise King *Solomon very often illustrated in early Christian, Byzantine, and western medieval art, the Judgment of Solomon is described in 1 Kings 3:16-28. The text recounts that two harlots, who shared a house and who had each recently given birth to a son, came to Solomon carrying only one infant. One of them accused the other of having stolen the living baby and substituting it for her own, which she had accidentally suffocated. They argued their rival claims to the living infant before Solomon, who then called for a sword to be brought so he could divide the baby in two. At this point, one woman surrended her claim while the other woman agreed to the slaughter. Interpreting these responses, Solomon then awarded the child to its rightful mother, who had valued the life of the child above all. This dramatic story of wise judgment is found in early Christian metalwork, manuscript illustration from the Carolingian period onward, Gothic sculpture, and stained glass. Solomon may be shown enthroned, approached by the two women, or directing a sword-bearing guard to slice the infant held up between the two mothers. Onlookers may be present, representing those witnesses who praised Solomon’s *wisdom.
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