This page copyright 1999 The Shrubbery
Time Travel, Fact or Fiction:
King Solomon's Wisdom
It was a time machine that no one could have predicted, because I and I alone invented it. I sat down in the co-pilot's seat, leaving the piloting to my on-board intelligent computer, Time-Time 9000. The skin near the tip of my finger tingled as I drew it forth from it's holster, or pocket, and reached for the big button marked "past."
Somewhere in the ether, a hurricane rocked the shore of my discontent, and in a flash of light I was standing next to myself.
"Don't do it," the other me said, meaning what he said.
"Are you me from the future?" I asked, because I had just invented a time machine. I half-expected this to happen. I would go into the past, screw things up terribly, and have to come back here to tell myself not to do it in the first place to fix the whole mess. I watched all those movies.
"No, the past. Not your past, but mine," he said, "but it's not important."
"But you are here to tell me not to go into the past, right?"
"Ugh. Just shut up. I hate seeing you. You always act so smart, so smug. I can't tell you what to do; I'm not from the immediate past, I cannot affect you the way you affect me. The point is, you must decide whether or not to destroy the machine. I can't tell you what to do, because that would be a paradox, but think. Does curiosity win over caution? Scientific study over fear of playing god? Etc., you know what I'm getting at."
And with a flash of light, I disappeared.
So now, not having even used my time machine, I now had to decide if I should destroy it. The future me could not tell me the answer, so I knew the only place to look was the past.
But where in the past? Past me's would be no help to me. Neither would my parents; it would be far to easy to accidentally erase myself, at which point my time machine would reappear in the present and some of the neighborhood kids might get into it. I puzzled. Both choices seemed equally peachy and frightening. Every time those kids found a time machine or an old refrigerator, one would get locked in and the rest would forget. It never failed. Old refrigerators, hermetic time machines and wells are like children magnets.
It was then that I recalled a story I heard once as a child. King Solomon, it is said, was the wisest king that ever reigned. He made judgements so wise that they are remembered even today, in the Bible no less. It was worth a shot.
I pressed the "past" button and was off. A billion identities of social consciousness were stripped from me; old scars healed; digital effects companies went bankrupt attempting to reproduce it. I saw history as a hollow social construct, then only in terms of class struggles. One point twenty one jiggawatts! I arrived, my time machine frozen to the touch.
Solomon's court was indeed something to behold. It was filled with his 300 wives and 700 concubines which makes 1,000. Hundreds of administrators, courtiers and statues filled the long corridors. I mixed into the crowd and went then to the judgement chamber, the grandest hall of all. Marble and sandstone columns created an impression of Greek stuff, but this was not Greece. Not all of the ancient past was Greece.
Two brothers stood before the great king. One had built a fence for the other and was paid duly; the fence broke soon afterward, allowing his brother's animals to get away. Two of the escaped bulls promptly destroyed the fence-builder's shop, so there were a suit and two counter-suits involved.
"This is a very hard one, indeed," the great king intoned. His beard bristled. "I will have to think about it for exactly three days. Come back in three days and receive your judgement."
The justice would no doubt be worth the wait. I reflected on Solomon's most famous case, that of the mixed up mothers. Two women claimed to be the mother of one baby; Solomon ruled the child should be chopped in half to satisfy both parties. When one woman cried she'd rather give up her claim than have the baby harmed, Solomon knew she was the true mother.
A great confidence welled up in me. I would have my answer, I knew, if only I could gain audience. "Great King Solomon," I yelled, "please hear my case!"
The guards seized me but Solomon motioned them to bring me to him. "What," he said, "I your troubler?"
"I have a time machine," I replied, "But if I go back in time I may ruin the past or kill my parents or save Hitler or something, or maybe even if I kill Hitler this even worse guy might come along or something. Oh yeah, and If I kill my parent's before I'm conceived that would be a paradox."
"I see," he said, already two steps ahead of me. Solomon was experienced with paradoxes; when confronted with the famous Gordian Knot which was so hard to untie it baffled Pythagoras and Artaxerxes alike and was famous for it, he at once realized it was Alexander the Great, and not himself, in that story. A paradox ensued.
"So I came here, to ask you, if I should destroy it or save it," I concluded, exhausted by his presence.
"Hmmmm," he thought. What followed were a series of vocalized pauses so furious and academic I was convinced he was indeed wiser than wise, perhaps even inspired by the Lord himself. At last, he had it.
"Yaaah!" he shouted, as he sliced my time machine in two with one swipe of his mighty blade. Events had happened too quickly for me to react; I stood there, dumbfounded, staring at the baby guts and mommy tears he now wiped from his sword. My overthruster gave one last beep and died a noble death.
"Once again, I have solved a really hard problem. I am the greatest!" Solomon shouted, returning to his throne, which he summarily chopped in half.
"I have solved the unanswerable puzzle of my chair!" he shouted. Two wives approached him with wine and crackers, and he ever delicately sliced one in half, as she was standing in front of the television.
"You make a better door than a window," he shouted, " I have solved this one as well. I am truly a great and noble king."
"How many toes do you have?" I asked, testing.
"Arrrgh! I have solved them. Oh my God, I solved my own toes! This is a new puzzle, how will I walk now?" He then sliced through the only pair of orthopedic shoes ever invented in Biblical times.
The preceding was a text found in a Babylonian private library from the neo-Akkadian epoch. Written in both cuneiform and English, it was long thought a fraud. Recent evidence, however, suggests it is a true and valid account. The narrator of the story, thought intelligent enough to build a working time machine, had miscalculated--the presence of his future self should have been proof enough that he would never destroy the machine--how else could he go back to the present and warn himself? I guess he couldn't have anyway, since the machine was destroyed. This is what paradoxes are all about.
Jason Morrison, professor emeritus of time travel studies at Disneyland college in Florida, was solved in 2016 when his thousand-year-old remains returned to his apartment. Police say the case is still under investigation.