What is the Testament of Solomon?

The Testament of Solomon is a Second Temple period catalog of demons. The text includes names, the illness associated with a demon, and methods for casting the demon out of the afflicted person.

Testament of Solomon

D. C. Duling argues at length that this Solomonic magical text was written in Greek, likely from Alexandria in the third century A.D. (OTP 1:940-943), although earlier scholarship argued for a much later date. There is no clear evidence of an earlier Hebrew version. As Duling concludes, “native language of the writer of the Testament of Solomon as a testament was Koine Greek” (OTP 1:939). Although the Testament is clearly a fantasy, the Greek Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila (c. 400 A.D.) quoted it as authentic. Despite the late date, McCown argued in his extensive study of the Testament that it “comes to be of assistance in reconstructing the thought world of the Palestinian Jew in the first century of our era” (McCown, Testament, 3).

The format of the bulk of the book is a series of “interviews” with demons. They are forced to tell Solomon their name, where they live, and their activities, along with the way in which they can be “thwarted,” or cast out, captured, imprisoned, etc. Many times this can be done only by invoking an angel whose role it is to deal with that specific demon.

The book is really a catalog of afflictions – one may have looked up their particular suffering and they would find a remedy, or at least an angel to invoke who may have a remedy. The “form” of these descriptions is fairly consistent. First, the demon is forced to give a description of its origin and zodiac information along with the malady it causes. Then the method of expulsion is given. Solomon then commands the demon to participate in the building of the temple in some supernatural way (cutting stones, moving pillars, etc.)

The book is a valuable source for the understanding of magic and demons, although it is very difficult to know how much of this material goes back to the first century. Certainly there are several elements in the book which are parallel to the New Testament, especially in the use of so-called power words and incantations. Jesus does not use anything like Solomon does in this text, nor do the apostles when they cast out demons in the name of Jesus.

However, when the sons of Sceva attempt to use the name of Jesus and Paul as a power word to control a demon, they are soundly beaten by the possessed man (Acts 19:13-16). In the same context, those who practiced sorcery burnt their valuable scrolls (19:17-20). In Acts 19:17 we are told the name of Jesus was held in high honor – perhaps a reference to Jesus becoming associated with the miraculous.

The Testament of Solomon does NOT reflect actual hidden knowledge about real demons and should not be read as a manual for casting out demons. Despite the misunderstandings of this book published by esoteric teachers (especially in blogs and YouTube), the Testament of Solomon reflects the worldview of the first century, not actual reality.

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