Solomon's Temple Explained

Solomon's Temple (Hebrew: בית המקדש, transliterated Beit HaMikdash), also known as the First Temple, was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the first temple of the ancient religion of the biblical Israelites in Jerusalem and originally constructed by King Solomon.

According to the Bible, it functioned as a religious focal point for worship and the sacrifices known as the korbanot in ancient Judaism. Completed in 960 BCE, it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. A reconstructed temple in Jerusalem, which stood between 516 BCE and 70 CE, was the Second Temple. Jewish eschatology commonly includes belief that a Third Temple will be built.

Biblical account

According to the biblical account, David's first action as king of Israel was to conquer Jebus (Jerusalem) and declare it the capital of his kingdom. Even though the city was not the perfect choice from many points of view, a geopolitical constraint dictated this choice. Mount Moriah is an important place where Abraham bound Isaac and thus the Temple was to be built there. David conquered Jerusalem at the end of the 11th century BCE, then chose it as the center of his new government.[1] He brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city. Jerusalem became the political and spiritual centre of the Israelite tribes. According to the biblical narrative, David was instructed by God not to build the Temple, leaving the task to his son Solomon. The concentration of religious ritual at the Temple made Jerusalem a place of pilgrimage and an important commercial center.

The city served as the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel, and became the capital of the Judah, which was less powerful of the two kingdoms after the division of the country into two kingdoms, after the death of Solomon. It remained the centre of Judaite cultic life until the city was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and, at the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II, the city was torched, the Temple razed, and the people taken into exile. Jewish tradition holds this incident to be the first exile of the Jewish nation.

Raids and destruction

According to the Bible, the temple was pillaged many times during the course of its history (dates before Ahaz are approximate):

  1. by king Shishaq of Egypt, c.933 BCE (Kings 14:25-26);
  2. by king Asa of Judah, c.900 BCE in order to persuade Ben-Hadad I of Damascus to come to his aid against Baasha of Israel (Kings 15:9-24);
  3. by king Jehoash of Judah, c. 825 BCE, in order to pay Hazael of Damascus, who was besieging the city (Kings 12:17-18);
  4. by king Joash of Israel, c.790 BCE (Kings 14:14);
  5. by king Ahaz of Judah, 734 BCE, to persuade Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria to come to his aid against Pekah of Israel and Rezin II of Damascus (Kings 16:8, 16:17-18);
  6. by king Hezekiah of Judah, 712 BCE, to pay king Sennacherib of Assyria, who was besieging the city (Kings 18:15-16);
  7. by king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon who pillaged it twice — once in 597 BCE, and again in 586 BCE, after which he destroyed it (Kings 24:13; Chronicles 36:7). He burned the temple, and carried all its treasures with him to Babylon (Kings 25:9-17; Chronicles 36:19; Isaiah 64:11).

These sacred vessels were, at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, restored to the Jews by Cyrus, in 538 BCE (Ezra 1:1-11).


The Temple is believed to have been situated upon the hill which forms the site of the present-day Temple Mount, in the center of which area is the Dome of the Rock. Under the Jebusites the site was used as a threshing floor. 2 Sam. 24 describes its consecration during David's reign. Two other, slightly different sites for the Temple have also been proposed, on this same hill. One places the stone altar at the location of the rock which is now beneath the gilded dome, with the rest of the temple to the west. The Well of Souls was, in this theory, a pit for the remnants of the blood services of the korbanot. The other theory places the Holy of Holies atop this rock.

Archaeological evidence

Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar has conjectured that archaelolgical evidence supports the possible historical existence of Solomon's Temple. This evidence includes remains taken from refuse from an extensive construction project performed on the Temple Mount by the Islamic waqf in November 1999. [2] [3] The second was discovered in the summer of 2007, as archeologists overseeing construction at the site reported “evidence of human activity” most likely belonging to the first temple period.[4] In January 2008 Israeli archaeologist Mazar publicized the Shelomit seal.

According to Israel Finkelstein, the archaeological remains considered to date from the time of Solomon reflect an unabated continuation of Canaanite material culture and do not show a magnificent empire or cultural development. Finkelstein suggests that comparing pottery from areas traditionally assigned to Israel with that of the Philistines points to the Philistines having been significantly more sophisticated. Finkelstein conjectured that due to religious prejudice, later writers (i.e. the Biblical authors) suppressed the achievements of the Omrides (whom the Bible describes as being polytheist), and instead pushed them back to a supposed golden age of godly rulers (i.e. monotheist, and Yahweh worshiping). [5] However, when reading Finkelstein's work, it must be taken into account that his methods and results have met with significant controversy.


The detailed descriptions provided in the Tanakh and educated guesses based on the remains of other temples in the region are the sources for reconstructions of its appearance. Technical details are lacking, since the scribes who wrote the books were not architects or engineers.[6] Reconstructions differ; the following enumeration is largely based on Easton's Bible Dictionary and the Jewish Encyclopedia:

The reason for the color scheme of the veil was symbolic. In Jewish tradition, blue represented the heavens, while red or crimson represented the earth. Purple, a combination of the two colors, represents a meeting of the heavens and the earth. Thus, purple can also be a representation of the Holy Messiah in Jewish and Christian traditions.

According to biblical tradition, round about the building were:

The inner court of the Priests contained the Altar of burnt-offering (2 Chr. 15:8), the brazen Sea (4:2-5, 10) and ten lavers (1 Kings 7:38, 39). 2 Kings 16:14 says that a brazen altar stood before the Temple, 2 Chr. 4:1 gives its dimensions as 20 cubits square and 10 cubits high.

The brazen Sea (Laver), 10 cubits wide brim to brim, 5 cubits deep and with a circumference of 30 cubits around the brim, rested on the backs of twelve oxen (1 Kings 7:23-26). The Book of Kings gives its capacity as "2,000 baths" (24,000 US gallons), but Chronicles inflates this to three thousand baths (36,000 US gallons) (2 Chr. 4:5-6) and states that its purpose was to afford opportunity for the purification by immersion of the body of the priests. (According to Talmud tractate Mikwaoth, a "bath" of 40 seahs is the minimum permissible size for a Mikvah).

The lavers, each of which held "forty baths" (1 Kings 7:38), rested on portable holders made of bronze, provided with wheels, and ornamented with figures of lions, cherubim, and palm-trees. The author of the books of the Kings describes their minute details with great interest (1 Kings 7:27-37). Josephus reported that the vessels in the Temple were composed of Orichalcum in Antiquities of the Jews. According to 1 Kings 7:48 there stood before the Holy of Holies a golden altar of incense and a table for showbread. This table was of gold, as were also the five candlesticks on each side of it. The implements for the care of the candles—tongs, basins, snuffers, and fire-pans—were of gold; and so were the hinges of the doors.

Comparison with other temples

According to De Vaux, the Temple has recognizable similarities to other regions. Syro-Phoenician, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian influences are visible, and a plaza or courtyard surrounding the sacred residence of the god, marked with stones, is a feature common throughout ancient Semitic religions. De Vaux found earlier evidence of this practice among the Hebrews surviving in the two stones that Joshua placed at Gilgal (Joshua 4:20) and the marking of Mount Sinai by Moses (Ex. 19:12), and in the forbidden zone surrounding the tent which was the predecessor of the Temple. According to De Vaux, contemporary Muslims' designation of certain areas, especially that surrounding Mecca, as inviolate haram represents a comparable practice.[6]

The Biblical text states that Solomon received aid from Hiram, the King of Tyre, in the construction of his buildings. This aid involved not only material (cedarwood, etc.), but architectural direction and skilled craftsmen. According to De Butt, the tripartite division of the Temple is similar to that found in 13th century BCE temples at Alalakh in Syria and Hazor in the upper Galilee. A 9th century BCE temple at Tell Tayinat also follows this plan.[6] Phoenician temples varied somewhat in form, but were similarly surrounded by courts.

Among the details which, according to were probably copied from Tyre, were the two pillars Jachin and Boaz. Herodotus (ii. 44) says that the temple at Tyre contained two such pillars, one of old tin. According to most translations of 1 Kings 7:13-22, the two pillars of Solomon's Temple were cast of brass, though some believe[7] [8] the original Hebrew word used to describe their material, "nehosheth", is actually either bronze or copper, because the Hebrews were unfamiliar with the metal zinc, which along with copper, is required to create brass. The ornamentation of palm trees and cherubim were also probably derived from Tyre, because Ezekiel (28:13, 14) represents the King of Tyre, who was high priest also, as being in the "garden of God". Probably both at Tyre and at Jerusalem the cherubim and palm tree ornaments were remnants of an earlier conception - that the abode of God was a "garden of Eden." The Tyrians, therefore, in their temple imitated to some extent the primitive garden, and Solomon borrowed these features.

The Solomonic Temple's plan has also been compared to that of the Ain Dara temple.

Both architecturally and in terms of its historical importance, the Temple has long stood out in comparision to other monuments. In the sixth century CE, it was included on a list of seven wonders which included the Pharos of Alexandria and Noah's Ark, compiled by Gregory, Bishop of Tours.[9]

Other Near Eastern temples

Several temples in Mesopotamia, many in Egypt, and some of the Phoenicians are now known. In Babylonia the characteristic feature was a ziggurat, or terraced tower, evidently intended to imitate the mountains on which the gods resided. The chamber for the divine dwelling was at its top. The early Egyptian temples consisted of buildings containing two or three rooms, the innermost of which was the abode of the deity. A good example is the granite temple near the sphinx at Giza. The Middle Kingdom (12th dynasty) added obelisks and pylons, and the New Kingdom (18th dynasty) hypostyle halls. Solomon's Temple was not a copy of any of these, nor of the Phoenician buildings, but embodied features derived from all of them. It was on the summit of a hill, like the altar of Ba'al on Mount Carmel and the sanctuaries of Mount Hermon, and like the Babylonian idea of the divine abode. It was surrounded by courts, like the Phoenician temples and the splendid temple of Der al-Bakri at Thebes. Its general form is reminiscent of Egyptian sanctuaries and closely matches that of other temples in the region, as described above.

According to, the two pillars Jachin and Boaz had their parallel not only at Tyre but at Byblos, Paphos, and Telloh. In Egypt the obelisks expressed the same idea. The Jewish Encyclopedia stated that "All these were phallic emblems, being survivals of the primitive Hamito-Semitic maẓẓebah",[10] Jachin and Boaz were really isolated columns, as Schick has shown[11], and not, as some have supposed, a part of the ornamentation of the building. Their tops were crowned with ornamentation as if they were lamps; and W. R. Smith supposed (l.c. p. 488) that they may have been used as fire-altars, positing that they may have contained cressets for burning the fat.

A miniature world

The chambers which surrounded the Holy Place in Solomon's Temple are said in 1 Chr. 28:12 to have been storehouses for the sacred treasure. According to, these are paralleled in Babylonian and Egyptian temples by similar chambers, which surrounded the naos, or hypostyle hall, and were used for similar purposes. The "molten sea" finds its parallel in Babylonian temples in a great basin called the "apsu" ('deep'). As the ziggurat typified a mountain, so the apsu typified the sea. thus characterizes the Temple as "a miniature world". In Babylonian temples, an apsu was used as early as the time of Gudea and continued in use till the end of Babylonian history; it was made of stone and was elaborately decorated. According to, in Solomon's Temple there was nothing to correspond to the hypostyle hall of an Egyptian temple; but this feature was introduced into Solomon's palace. states that the "house of the forest of Lebanon" and the "porch of pillars" are strongly reminiscent of the outer and the inner hypostyle hall of an Egyptian temple.

Modern influences and events

The structure of this temple and its successor built by Herod the Great was an influence in Juan Bautista de Toledo's design for the Escorial Monastery in Spain (1563-1584)[12] .Modern temple architecture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has influences from Christian interpretations of biblical descriptions of Solomon's Temple. Each of the 125 operating temples has a baptismal font which is supported by 12 oxen patterned after the brazen Sea described in 1 Kings 7:23-26. Three of the church's early temples exteriors were patterned loosely on the design of Solomon's Temple.

On December 27, 2004 it was reported that the Israel Museum in Jerusalem had alleged that the ivory pomegranate that some scholars believed had once adorned a sceptre used by the high priest in Solomon's Temple may not be related to the Temple. This artifact was the most important item of biblical antiquities in its collection; it had been part of a traveling exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 2003. The report described the thumb-sized pomegranate, which is a mere 44 millimetres in height, as being inscribed "... with ancient Hebrew letters said to spell out the words 'Sacred donation for the priests in the House of YHVH.'" The Israel Museum now believes that the artifact actually dates back to the 14th or 13th century BCE, and there is much dispute over the age of the inscription. Some experts fear that this discovery is part of an international fraud in antiquities; Israeli authorities have charged five people.[13]

On May 3, 2007, in Jerusalem, a group of American, French and Israeli scholars met in attempt to resolve differences over whether the Ivory Pomegranate Inscription was authentic or a forgery, with no conclusion resulting. [14]

See also

Persons: Prominent personalities of the First Temple period
Places: Sites and places of the First Temple period


External links

General references


Notes and References

  1. HISTORY: Biblical Times
  2. Exclusive: Dumped Temple Mount Rubble Yields Jewish Artifacts - Jewish World - Israel News - Arutz Sheva
  3. The Temple Mount Archaeological Destruction
  4. Solomon's Temple Artifacts Found by Muslim Workers
  5. Finkelstein, Israel, and Silberman, Neil Asher, The Bible Unearthed : Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, Simon & Schuster 2002, ISBN 978-0684869131
  6. De Vaux, 1961.
  7. Bible Dictionary
  8. King Solomon's Temple, Alex T. Brand
  9. Clayton, Peter and Price, Martin: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (Routledge, 1988), pp. 162-63.
  10. W. R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., p. 208, and Schmidt, "Solomon's Temple," pp. 40 et seq.
  11. "Die Stiftshütte, der Tempel in Jerusalem," etc., pp. 82 et seq.
  12. Simbology [sic] and projective genesis in architecture: El Escorial and the Temple of Solomon
  13. The New York Times, December 30, 2004
  14. Pomegranate Inscription: Forgery or Authentic?, May 3, 2007