Judgement of Solomon

John Brockington SKTJLBS at SRV0.ARTS.ED.AC.UK
Mon Nov 1 10:15:52 UTC 1999

Naseem Hines asks about sources of the Judgement of Solomon story.

Almost certainly the earliest recorded instance of this tale is Biblical (1 Kings
3:16-28); this may have been original, but could equally have been adapted from a
current oral narrative.  The Biblical account entered Judaeo-Christian-Muslim tradition;
whether it was first Hebrew or Arab cannot be determined.

References to the story as a European (? Christian-derived) and Jewish folk-tale can be
found in Stith Thompson's "Motif-Index of folk literature", motif J 1171.1 (cf. the
extension in J 1171.2 'The divided bride' -- 3 claimants! and J 1171.4 -- mares and
colt) supplemented by Antti Aarne's "Types of the folktale", type AT 926.

An early Indic source of a similar but not identical motif, and set in a different
story, is the Jataka tale translated by van Buitenen ("Tales of ancient India", p.168)
as 'Mahosadha's judgement'.  This may be an adaptation of the Solomon tale (or its
source), or may have arisen independently as a fairly obvious illustration of the
lengths to which a mother will go to protect her child -- a universal theme.

Thompson's and Aarne's Indic references (detailed in Thompson and Balys, "Oral tales of
India", and Thompson and Roberts, "Types of Indic oral tales"; no new references in
Jason's "Supplement") are:

J. Davidson, 'Folklore of Chitral', "The Indian Antiquary" 29: 249 (Kashmir)

Sarah Davidson and Eleanor Phelps, 'Folk tales from New Goa, India', "Journal of
American folklore" 50 :43-44 (Bombay)

"North Indian Notes and Queries" 3: no.378 and 5: no.617 (Mirzapur, U.P.)

G.R. Subramiah Pantulu, "Folklore of the Telugus" : 41 = "Ind. Antiq." 26: 111 no.18

(type 926C) "North Indian Notes and Queries" 4: no. 316 (Mirzapur, U.P.)

(J 1171.4) J.H. Knowles, "Folk-tales of Kashmir": 255.

At a fairly cursory glance, I have not found the variant you refer to in Ramanujan's
"Folk tales from India"; please could you give me the reference?

Many folk tales are common to South Asian and Arab traditions ('Aladdin' is perhaps the
most famous), and determining the direction of spread -- if any -- is complex and
hazardous.  The automatic assumption that international tales necessarily originated in
India (which used to be popular) should be resisted!


sent on her behalf by John Brockington
Professor J. L. Brockington
Sanskrit, School of Asian Studies
University of Edinburgh
7-8 Buccleuch Place
Edinburgh   EH8 9LW     U.K.

tel: +131 650 4174
fax: +131 651 1258

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