King Solomon and the White Eagle,  retold by Ellen Frankel

The legends retold in Louis Ginzberg's classic work Legends of the Bible (the first volume was published in 1909) are a variation of the stories in the Scriptures as told and retold in the ancient east since the days of Abraham. In similar fashion, the great Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik collected legends from ancient, medieval and modern Arabic and Jewish sources, publishing them in a single volume Vay'hi Hayom in 1934 (translated into English, And It Came to Pass, in 1938). Thus, these legends came to the attention of the English-reading public; they have since been republished and readapted in various publications.

One of the popular narrative stereotypes in Arabic and Jewish folktales was that of King Solomon as wise judge. The following two stories focus on the hoopoe, the white eagle, and an exceptionally clever king.

Solomon: King of the Birds?

…God was pleased with Solomon's request [for wisdom] and said, "You could have asked for long life or great wealth or victory over your enemies. But instead you asked for wisdom and you shall have you wish. You shall be able to understand the language of the birds and beasts…"

Then Solomon woke up from his dream. He wondered if God had really spoken to him or whether it had been a spirit beguiling him in his dreams.

Then he heard the birds squawking and twittering to each other in his garden below. He heard one suddenly cry out, "Silly birds stop all this noise! Don't you know that the God has just given Solomon the ability to understand what we say and to make us do as he wishes!"

Then Solomon knew that the dream had indeed been sent by God.

"Nonsense!" chirped another bird. "How can a human being rule over us? Human beings are stuck on the ground while we can fly up into the heavens. Only the eagle who lives high in the mountains, can be our king."

White Eagle, King of the Birds"We'll see about that," whispered Solomon. Then he thrust his head out of the window and thundered, "Birds be quiet. King Solomon commands you!"

Instantly all was quiet in the garden.

"Where is the little bird who, a moment ago, talked so boldly? Come here at once!"

The poor little bird came fluttering to Solomon's finger, shaking as if her little heart would break.

"So," grumbled the young king, "you think that the eagle is stronger than I. We shall soon see about that. I command you to fly to the desert and summon the great White Eagle, mightiest of birds, to Jerusalem. Then we shall see who is king over the birds!"

"He will kill me if I speak so boldly to him!" stammered the little bird.

Then Solomon attached a letter to the bird's foot with a gold ring and placed the royal seal upon it. The little bird flew off shaking with fear. The next day, as the sun rose, Solomon's guards felt a great blast of wind howling down upon their heads. Then cam a second blast, then a third. Their hearts melted within them.

Then a fourth blast shook the palace to his foundations. In flew the great White Eagle, sparks of fire flashing like a sharp sword. As soon as his broad wings stopped beating, a little bird peered out from one of them and then darted behind the king's golden throne.

"Why have you summoned me here?" demanded the Eagle.

"To show you my power," answered the king.

Then Solomon ordered his guards to sound the shofar (ram's horn). Within moments, the vast throne-room filled with birds: parrots and peacocks, hawks and hummingbirds, cranes and cuckoos. The noise in the room was deafening.

Then the king cried, "Silence!" Instantly they all hushed.

Solomon turned to the White Eagle, who towered above the other birds like a mighty tree. "I command you, King of the Birds, to come back here once each month. Upon your wings, I shall keep watch over my great kingdom."

And so each month, the White Eagle returned to Jerusalem and King Solomon mounted his broad wings and shepherded the skies over Israel.

Barnes and Noble linkFrom: Frankel, Ellen, The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore. Copyright 1989, 1993 by the author. (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson) pages 214-16. By permission of the author.

BIRDS Table of Contents  l  Why the Hoopoe Has a Crest



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend