Is the King Solomon Story Really About Mediating or Judging?

04/28/2015 05:57 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

Recently, an "Arbitrator, Adjudicator, and ADR Practitioner" posted the following discussion in the ADR, Conflict Resolution and Mediation Exchange LinkedIn group:

"Was it a good thing Solomon did not mediate all those years ago? In the biblical story at 1 Kings 3:16-28 Solomon made a judgment, a decision. Had he mediated the result would have been that the true mother relinquished her son. Mediation seems like that. See the story "Solomon Makes a Difficult Decision."

Interestingly enough, on November 12, 2012, this same individual made the following comment in a LinkedIn discussion in the same LinkedIn group: "Let's be fair to King Solomon. He never divided any baby. He used a device to ascertain the truth." That discussion was titled "Don't Split that Baby!! - Good Negotiators Don't Split Babies." He made the comment because others involved in the discussion had said things such as the following: "The mediator threatening to split the difference can be Solomonic wisdom."

Over the years, I have been involved in a great many discussions, wherein someone referenced this King Solomon story. Almost always, their rendition of "Solomonic wisdom" has to do either with splitting something in half or empowering judges and arbitrators with decision-making authority.

The following is an actual exchange that took place the Integrative Law LinkedIn group in a discussion titled "The Grave Mistake of Confusing Concepts of Justice and Fairness with the Law," based upon my article by that same title:

One participant said, "Do other people ever refer to King Solomon? The Old Testament King-Judge who wanted wisdom. His most famous trial was related to Infant Death Syndrome and lacking DNA evidence to identify the parent of the surviving child - what did this greatest of wise judges do? He made a decision to award/confirm parental rights to the woman who regarded the best interests of the child as paramount. In my reading of the story, it is not that the 'real' mother would rather lose her parenting rights to save the child, but that the wisdom was that the person prepared to do that rather than harm the child was a better candidate for doing the job irrespective of actual maternity.

Solomon's perception in doing that is held up as an example of the wisest King-Judge who lived and whose name is still used as the bench-mark for wisdom.

Was that not an example of 'the law' finding a people-based solution?"

Another participant responded, "No Lewis he tried to split the Baby. The fact that the real mother would rather give up her child may not have been part of his thinking. In other words the true mother may have taught Solomon the true meaning of parenting and with that acquired knowledge he did the right thing. Far different than what most courts do. They actually split the baby and this is what enrages so many parents."

In another discussion in a different LinkedIn group, someone made the following comment: "We have only to refer to the famous judgment of Solomon by saying to cut the child in two for each of the two parties can enjoy fairly. Justice became apparent when the mother said, 'NO' give the him and is found to be recognized as the mother and that would be the more by his involvement."

Yet another person made the following statement: "We have really screwed up as a culture to allow a specific segment of professionals think that they are the Solomon of our society."

It seems to me that a great many people have misunderstood the Biblical story. King Solomon knew that he would kill the baby by cutting it in half. While he may have ordered the baby to be cut in half, he never actually did so, nor did he ever intend on doing so. To me, this story is about someone cunningly getting the liar to expose themselves and then turning the child over to its true mother. No mother would have encouraged the killing of their child in order to solve the problem. It was hardly difficult to make a "judgment" under such circumstances. Seriously, the use of this story for validating the judging of people in court or through arbitration and to question the use of mediation is outrageous. It is equally offensive to use the story as justification for "splitting the baby."

To me, this story is so basic and has absolutely nothing to do with judging or mediating. It's about ferreting out the truth. The story is about exposing hypocrites and liars.

The mother whose child died understood the loss and grief she felt and was willing to subject the other mother to those same feelings by trying to steal the living baby from her. Moreover, if she couldn't succeed in her efforts to steal the baby, she preferred that the child be killed, rather than allow the true mother to experience the joy of motherhood. In other words, the liar would other "win" or they would both "lose." In the story, King Solomon used his wit to expose the truth. He essentially called the imposter out on her evil and hypocritical ways.

It's amazing how many ways Biblical text can be interpreted and the fact that the same people are willing to interpret the exact same text differently for their own selfish and self-serving purposes, as the need arises.