Solomon's Temple Explained

Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the main temple in ancient Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount (also known as Mount Zion), before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the temple was constructed under Solomon, king of the Israelites. This would date its construction to the 10th century BCE, although it is possible that an earlier Jebusite sanctuary had stood on the site. During the kingdom of Judah, the temple was dedicated to Yahweh, the God of Israel and housed the Ark of the Covenant. Rabbinic sources state that the First Temple stood for 410 years and, based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, place construction in 832 BCE and destruction in 422 BCE (3338 AM), 165 years later than secular estimates.

Because of the religious sensitivities involved, and the politically volatile situation in East Jerusalem, only limited archaeological surveys of the Temple Mount have been conducted. As no excavations have been allowed on the Temple Mount during modern times, there is no direct archaeological evidence for the existence of Solomon's Temple, and no mentions of it, in the surviving contemporary extra-biblical literature. An Ivory pomegranate mentions priests in the house of YHWH, and an inscription recording the Temple's restoration under Jehoash have appeared on the antiquities market, but the authenticy of both have been challenged and they remain the subject of controversy.

History

See also: Temple Denial.

The sole contemporary source of information on the First Temple is the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament). According to the biblical sources, the temple was constructed under king Solomon during Israel's period of united monarchy. This puts the date of its construction in the mid-10th century BCE.[1] Some scholars have speculated that a Jebusite sanctuary may have previously occupied the site.[2] During the kingdom of Judah, the temple was dedicated to Yahweh, the God of Israel and housed the Ark of the Covenant.[3] Rabbinic sources state that the First Temple stood for 410 years and, based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, place construction in 832 BCE and destruction in 422 BCE (3338 AM), 165 years later than secular estimates.[4]

The following is a summary of the history according to Book of Samuel and Book of Kings, with notes on the variations to this story in the later Book of Chronicles.

The Shekinah (dwelling place) of the God of Israel, was originally the portable shrine called the Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in the Tabernacle tent. King David, having unified all Israel, brought the Ark to his new capital, Jerusalem, intending to build there a temple in order to house the Ark in a permanent place. David purchased a threshing-floor for the site of the Temple (1 Chronicles 21–22), but then Yahweh told him that he would not be permitted to build a temple. The task of building therefore passed to David's son and successor, Solomon. 1 Kings 6:1–38, 1 Kings Chapter 7, and Chapter 8 describe the construction and dedication of the Temple under Solomon.

King Solomon requested the aid of King Hiram of Tyre to provide both the quality materials and skilled craftsmen. During the construction, a special inner room, named in Hebrew Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies), was prepared to receive and house the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 6:19); and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark—containing the Tablets of Stone—was placed therein (1 Kings 8:6–9).

The exact location of the First Temple is unknown: it is believed to have been situated upon the hill which forms the site of the 1st century Second Temple and present-day Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock is situated. However, two other, slightly different sites have been proposed for 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, according to 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. Still another location has recently been proposed between the Dome of the Rock and the gilded dome, based on orientation to the eastern wall, drainage channels, orientation of the platform stones, and the location of a possible Boaz pillar base.[5]

2 Kings 12:4–16 describes arrangements for the refurbishment of the Temple in the time of king Jehoash of Judah in the 9th century BCE. According to 2 Kings 14:14 the Temple was looted by Jehoash of Israel in the early 8th century and again by King Ahaz in the late 8th century (2 Kings 16:8). Ahaz also installed some cultic innovations in the Temple which were abhorrent to the author of 1–2 Kings (2 Kings 16:10–18).

The Temple also figures in the account of King Hezekiah, who turned Judah away from idols;[6] when later in the same century Hezekiah is confronted with a siege by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:23, 19:1 and the Taylor prism), Hezekiah "instead of plundering the temple treasuries... now uses the temple the way it is designed to be used — as a house of prayer (2 Kings 19:1–14).[7]

Hezekiah's son, however, is much different from his father and during the reign of Manasseh of Judah in the early and middle seventh century (2 Kings 21:4–9), Manasseh makes innovations to the Temple cult. He has been described as a Solomon who also fell into idolatry, and Manasseh is described as a king who "makes" (2 Kings 21:3–7) or "builds" (2 Kings 21:3) high places (cf. 1 Kings 11:7) (see Deuteronomy 12 for the prohibition against high place worship), yet while Solomon's idolatry was punished by a divided kingdom, Manessah's idolatry was punished by exile.[8]

King Josiah, the grandson of Manasseh, refurbished and made changes to the Temple by removing idolatrous vessels and destroying the idolatrous priesthood c. 621 BCE (2 Kings 22:3–9; 23:11–12). He also suppressed worship at altars other than the Temple's.

The Temple was plundered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem during the brief reign of Jehoiachin c. 598 (2 Kings 24:13), Josiah's grandson. A decade later, Nebuchadnezzar again besieged Jerusalem and after 30 months finally breached the city walls in 587 BCE, subsequently burning the Temple, along with most of the city (2 Kings 25). According to Jewish tradition, the Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of Av (Hebrew calendar).

Architectural description

Several temples in Mesopotamia, many in Egypt, and some of the Phoenicians are now known. The description given of Solomon's Temple is not a copy of any of these, but embodied features recognisable in all of them. Its general form is reminiscent of Egyptian sanctuaries and closely matches that of other ancient temples in the region.[9]

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.[10] Nevertheless, the recorded plans and measurements have inspired Replicas of the Jewish Temple and influenced later structures around the world.

Reconstructions differ; the following is largely based on Easton's Bible Dictionary and the Jewish Encyclopedia:

Most Holy Place

The Kodesh Hakodashim, or Holy of Holies, (1 Kings 6:19; 8:6), also called the "Inner House" (6:27), (Heb. 9:3) was 20 cubits in length, breadth, and height. The usual explanation for the discrepancy between its height and the 30-cubit height of the temple is that its floor was elevated, like the cella of other ancient temples.[10] It was floored and wainscotted with cedar of Lebanon (1 Kings 6:16), and its walls and floor were overlaid with gold (6:20, 21, 30). It contained two cherubim of olive-wood, each 10 cubits high (1 Kings 6:16, 20, 21, 23–28) and each having outspread wings of 10 cubits span, so that, since they stood side by side, the wings touched the wall on either side and met in the center of the room. There was a two-leaved door between it and the Holy Place overlaid with gold (2 Chr. 4:22); also a veil of tekhelet (blue), purple, and crimson and fine linen (2 Chr. 3:14; compare Exodus 26:33). It had no windows (1 Kings 8:12) and was considered the dwelling-place of the "name" of God.

The color scheme of the veil was symbolic. 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.

Holy Place

The Hekhal, or Holy Place, (1 Kings 8:8–10), called also the "greater house" (2 Chr. 3:5) and the "temple" (1 Kings 6:17); the word also means "palace",[10] was of the same width and height as the Holy of Holies, but 40 cubits in length. Its walls were lined with cedar, on which were carved figures of cherubim, palm-trees, and open flowers, which were overlaid with gold. Chains of gold further marked it off from the Holy of Holies. The floor of the Temple was of fir-wood overlaid with gold. The door-posts, of olive-wood, supported folding-doors of fir. The doors of the Holy of Holies were of olive-wood. On both sets of doors were carved cherubim, palm-trees, and flowers, all being overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:15 et seq.)

Porch

The Ulam, or porch, acted as an entrance before the Temple on the east (1 Kings 6:3; 2 Chr. 3:4; 9:7). This was 20 cubits long (corresponding to the width of the Temple) and 10 cubits deep (1 Kings 6:3). 2 Chr. 3:4 adds the curious statement (probably corrupted from the statement of the depth of the porch) that this porch was 120 cubits high, which would make it a regular tower. The description does not specify whether a wall separated it from the next chamber. In the porch stood the two pillars Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7:21; 2 Kings 11:14; 23:3), which were 18 cubits in height.

Boaz and Jachin

Two brass pillars named Boaz and Jachin stood in the porch of the Temple. (1 Kings 7:15; 7:21; 2 Kings 11:14; 23:3). Boaz stood on the left (the north) and Jachin on the right (the south). The Bible records their measurements as 27feet high and 6feet wide (18 by 12 cubits) with a hollow of 4 fingers thick. (Jeremiah 52:21–22). Their 8feet high brass capitals were each decorated with rows of 200 carved brass pomegranates, wreathed with seven chains and topped with lilies. (1 Kings 7:13–22, 41–42; 2 Chronicles 4:13) According to most translations of 1 Kings 7:13–22, these two pillars were cast of brass, though some believe the original Hebrew word used to describe their material, "nehosheth", is actually either bronze or copper, because the Hebrews were unfamiliar with zinc which, along with copper, is required to create brass.[11] [12]

The two pillars had their parallel not only at Tyre but at Byblus, Paphos, and Telloh (see, however, De Sarzec, "Découvertes en Chaldée," pp. 62–64). In Egypt the obelisks expressed the same idea. Those were phallic emblems, being survivals of the primitive Hamito-Semitic "maẓẓebah". Jachin and Boaz were really isolated columns, as Schick has shown, 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 that they may have been used as fire-altars. This assumes that they contained cressets for burning the fat.[13]

Chambers

Chambers were built about the Temple on the southern, western and northern sides (1 Kings 6:5–10). These formed a part of the building and were used for storage. They were probably one story high at first; two more may have been added later.[10]

Courts

According to the Bible, two courts surrounded the Temple. The Inner Court (1 Kings 6:36), or Court of the Priests (2 Chr. 4:9), was separated from the space beyond by a wall of three courses of hewn stone, surmounted by cedar beams (1 Kings 6:36). It contained the Altar of burnt-offering (2 Chr. 15:8), the Brazen Sea laver (4:2–5, 10) and ten other lavers (1 Kings 7:38, 39). A brazen altar stood before the Temple (2 Kings 16:14), its dimensions 20 cubits square and 10 cubits high (2 Chr. 4:1). The Great Court surrounded the whole Temple (2 Chr. 4:9). It was here that people assembled to worship. (Jeremiah 19:14; 26:2).

Brazen Sea

See main article: Brazen Sea. The large basin known as the "Brazen Sea" measured 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" (90 cubic meters), but Chronicles (2 Chr. 4:5–6) inflates this to three thousand baths (136 cubic meters) and states that its purpose was to afford opportunity for the purification by immersion of the body of the priests.

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.

Archaeology

Because of the religious and political sensitivities involved, no archaeological excavations and only limited surface surveys of the Temple Mount have been conducted.[14] [15] Because no excavations of the site have been allowed, there is no direct archaeological evidence for the existence of Solomon's Temple. This building is not mentioned in extra-biblical accounts which have survived.[16]

Notable mentions

See also

General:
Persons:People associated with the First Temple
Places:Sites associated with the First Temple

General references

Further reading

21st Century resources
Post-1945 resources
Pre-1945 resources

Notes and References

  1. Stevens, Marty E. Temples, tithes, and taxes: the temple and the economic life of ancient Israel, pg. 3. Hendrickson Publishers 2006, ISBN 1565639340
  2. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  3. Achtemeier, Paul J. and Roger S. Boraas. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. p. 1096.
  4. YEisen, Yosef. Miraculous journey: a complete history of the Jewish people from creation to the present, pg. 56. Targum Press 2004, ISBN 1568713231
  5. http://www.meridianmagazine.com/sci_rel/080815temple.html New Proposed Location for Solomon's Temple
  6. [Peter J. Leithart]
  7. [Peter J. Leithart]
  8. [Peter J. Leithart]
  9. According to Finkelstein in The Bible Unearthed, the description of the temple is remarkably similar to that of surviving remains of Phoenician temples of the time, and it is certainly plausible, from the point of view of archaeology, that the temple was constructed to the design of Phoenicians.
  10. De Vaux, 1961.
  11. http://www.godweb.org/blT0000800.htm Bible Dictionary
  12. http://www.linshaw.com/omtp/vol4no10.html King Solomon's Temple, Alex T. Brand
  13. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=129&letter=T Jewish Encyclopedia: Temple of Solomon
  14. Book: Encyclopedia of architectural and engineering feats. Donald. Langmead. Christine. Garnaut. 3rd, illustrated. ABC-CLIO. 2001. 157607112X, 9781576071120.
  15. Book: Handy, Lowell. The age of Solomon: scholarship at the turn of the millennium. 1997. Brill. 978-9004104761. 493–494.
  16. Book: 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. 128–129. 0-684-86912-8.
  17. Web site: Temple Mount First Temple Period Discoveries. Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority. 2009-10-05.
  18. Milstein, Mati. Solomon's Temple Artifacts Found by Muslim Workers, National Geographic, October 23, 2007
  19. Shragai, Nadav. Temple Mount dirt uncovers First Temple artifacts, Haaretz, October 19, 2006
  20. http://cojs.org/cojswiki/Netanyahu_ben_Yaush_Seal,_8th-6th_century_BCE Netanyahu ben Yaush Seal, 8th–6th century BCE
  21. Myre, Greg (2004-12-30). Israel Indicts 4 in 'Brother of Jesus' Hoax and Other Forgeries. New York Times, 30 December 2004.
  22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4123595.stm Ivory pomegranate 'not Solomon's'
  23. Shanks. Hershel. Fudging with Forgeries. Biblical Archaeology Review. November–December 2011. 37. 6. 56–58. Hershel Shanks. Biblical Archaeology Society. Washington, D.C.. 0098-9444.
  24. Shanks. Hershel. Fudging with Forgeries. Biblical Archaeology Review. November–December 2011. 37. 6. 57–58. Hershel Shanks. Biblical Archaeology Society. Washington, D.C.. 0098-9444.
  25. [#DRAPER_2010|Draper 2010]
  26. Web site: King Solomon's Copper Mines?. University of California — San Diego. 2008-10-28. ScienceDaily. December 19, 2010.
  27. Eric Cline, Thomas Levy, Israel Finkelstein, Erez Ben-Yosef, John Grattan, Mohammad Najjar, Marc Beherec, Thomas Higham, Yossi Garfinkel, Oded Yair, Greg Bearman, William Schniedewind, Haagai Misgav, Bill Schniedewind. November 23, 2010. Quest for Solomon's Mines. Television production / DVD. English. PBS/NOVA & National Geographic. Wadi Faynan. 2011-06-25. 22:33. Narrator: The size of the slag heaps indicates that over its lifetime the site produced 5000 tons of copper. Enough to supply copper to the entire region. Isotope analysis of copper objects from sites all over ancient israel has proved that they came from the Wadi Faynan area.
    Amihai Mazar: Right now in Israel metallurgical study of copper objects that were found in contexts of ... late 11th century BC were proven to originate from Faynan.
    Narrator: Perhaps this copper even reached Jerusalem. Where Solomon built his temple.
    Thomas Levy: The bible tells us that the temple would require precious metals including tons of copper. And the closest source of copper for Jerusalem, it's about a three day ride from here, is this area of Faynan."
    (later @51:06) Amihai Mazar: I believe that if, one day, we should find the copper objects from the temple in Jerusalem, it will prove to come from this area..
  28. Clayton, Peter and Price, Martin: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (Routledge, 1988), pp. 162–63.