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According to tradition, Solomon's Temple was the first Jewish temple in Jerusalem which functioned as a religious focal point for worship and the sacrifices known as the korbanot in ancient Judaism. Before his death, King David had provided materials in great abundance for the building of the temple on the summit of Mount Moriah (1 Chronicles 22:14; 29:4; 2 Chronicles 3:1), where he had purchased a threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite (2 Sam. 24:21 et seq.), on which he offered sacrifice.
Biblical account of the Temple's construction
According to tradition, in the beginning of his reign, King Solomon of the united Kingdom of Israel, set about giving effect to the ideas of his father, and prepared additional materials for the building. From subterranean quarries at Jerusalem he obtained huge blocks of stone for the foundations and walls of the temple. These stones were prepared for their places in the building under the eye of Tyrian master-builders.
According to tradition, Solomon also entered into a compact with Hiram I, king of Tyre, for the supply of whatever else was needed for the work, particularly timber from the forests of Lebanon, which was brought in great rafts by the sea to Joppa, whence it was dragged to Jerusalem (1 Kings 5).
According to tradition, Solomon also provided for a sufficient water supply for the temple by hewing in the rocky hill vast cisterns, into which water was conveyed by channels from the "pools" near Bethlehem. One of these cisterns, the "great sea," was capable of containing three millions of gallons. The overflow was led off by a conduit to the Kidron .
A sketch of Solomon's Temple based on Biblical descriptions.
According to tradition, in all these preparatory undertakings a space of about three years was occupied; and now the process of the erection of the great building began, under the direction of skilled Phoenician builders and workmen, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign. The building followed the Phoenician model, which makes the Bible's description historians an important source regarding the lay-out of Phoenician temples, and vice versa. David provided Solomon with a large amount of gold and silver with which to build the temple. The Biblical account reports that this amounted to 100,000 talents (3,000 tons) of gold and 1,000,000 talents (30,000 tons) of silver, but this figure is probably an exaggeration .
According to biblical tradition, many thousands of labourers and skilled artisans were employed in the work. Stones prepared in the quarries underneath the city (1 Kings 5:17, 18) of huge dimension were gradually placed on the massive walls, and closely fitted together without any mortar between, till the whole structure was completed. The building was 60 cubits (27 m) long, 20 cubits (9 m) wide, and 25 (in the Greek text) or 30 (in the Hebrew) cubits (14 m) high.
At length, in the Autumn of the eleventh year of his reign, seven and a half years after it had been begun, the temple was completed. For thirteen years there it stood, on the summit of Moriah, silent and unused. The reasons for this strange delay in its consecration are unknown. At the close of these thirteen years preparations for the dedication of the temple were made.
Ark of the Covenant
According to biblical tradition, the ark was solemnly brought from the tent in which David had deposited it to the place prepared for it in the temple. Then Solomon ascended a platform which had been erected for him, in the sight of all the people, and lifting up his hands to heaven poured out his heart to God in prayer (1 Kings 8; 2 Chr. 6, 7). The feast of dedication, which lasted seven days, followed by the feast of tabernacles, marked a new era in the history of Israel. On the eighth day of the feast of tabernacles, Solomon dismissed the vast assemblage of the people.
No remains of the temple are extant; 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 down the books were not architects or engineers (De Vaux, 1961). Reconstructions differ; the following enumeration is largely based on Easton's Bible Dictionary and the Jewish Encyclopedia:
- The Debir: the oracle or Most Holy Place (1 Kings 6:19; 8:6), called also the "inner house" (6:27), and the "Holy of Holies" (Heb. 9:3). It 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 (De Vaux, 1961). It was floored and wainscotted with cedar (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 10 cubits from tip to tip, 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 blue purple and crimson and fine linen (2 Chr. 3:14; compare Exodus 26:33). It had no windows (1 Kings 8:12). It was considered the dwelling-place of God.
- The Hekal: the 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" (De Vaux, 1961). It 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.)
- The Ulam: the porch or 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 and surmounted by capitals of carved lilies, 5 cubits high.
- The chambers, which 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 (De Vaux, 1961).
According to biblical tradition, round about the building were:
- The court of the priests (2 Chr. 4:9), called the "inner court" (1 Kings 6:36), which was separated from the space beyond by a wall of three courses of hewn stone, surmounted by cedar beams (1 Kings 4:36).
- The great court, which surrounded the whole temple (2 Chr. 4:9). Here the people assembled to worship God (Jeremiah 19:14; 26:2).
Furnishings and treasures
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).
From 2 Kings 16:14 it is learned 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, 5 cubits wide and 10 deep, rested on the backs of twelve oxen (1 Kings 7:23-26). The Book of Kings gives its capacity as "two thousand baths"; the Chronicler inflates this to three thousand (2 Chr. 4:5-6) and states that its purpose was to afford opportunity for the ablutions 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. These vessels especially excited the admiration of the Jews. 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 the 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.
The Temple was probably situated upon the more easterly of the two hills which form the site of the present-day Noble Sanctuary, in the center of which area is the Dome of the Rock. This was probably a sacred place of the Jebusites before David's time, though 2 Sam. 24 connects its consecration with an incident in David's reign.
Two slightly different sites for the Temple have been proposed: one places the bronze altar on 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 korbanot. The slope of the terrain in this area would require massive supporting structures for the Temple, what Easton's Bible Dictionary describes as "a huge wall of solid masonry of great height, in some places more than 200 ft (60 m) high. . .raised across the south of the hill, and a similar wall on the eastern side, and in the spaces between. . .many arches and pillars. . . ." The other places the Holy of Holies atop this rock, thus explaining its elevation. The traditions of this rock were sacred; probably the site was the same as that of the temple which Hadrian erected to Jupiter, which in turn was on the site of Herod's temple, which would naturally be on that of Solomon's—an example of the persistency of sacred sites in the East.
Exaggerations in account
When the Temple was constructed it was, together with Solomon's palace, by far the most splendid pile of buildings that the Hebrews had ever seen. The influence of environment may be seen in the description of Solomon's Temple. With the lapse of time Israel's fortunes declined, and the age of Solomon seemed even more glorious in comparison with later obviously decadent periods; and this increased the tendency to exaggerate the splendor of the Temple. Moreover, religious reforms made some of the arrangements of the Temple seem unorthodox, and various scribes may have amplified its description; as they did not always have the same point of view, present accounts are confused to a degree. One of the exaggerations of later times probably produced all those statements which declare that the inner parts of the Temple and all its implements were overlaid with gold.
As a result of editorial reworking of the description, the narrative in Kings contains no account of the great brazen altar which stood before the Temple. Ex. 20:24 et seq. provided that an altar might be made of earth or unhewn stone; and as it offended a later age to think that Solomon made an altar of bronze, its description was removed from 1 Kings 6. Nevertheless it is recorded elsewhere (1 Kings 8:64; 2 Kings 16:14) that it was a part of the furniture of the original Temple. Later scribes, too, are responsible for those statements which represent David as desiring to build the Temple, and as making preparation for it. Had he desired to build it he certainly could have done so. But in his reign the nomadic idea still prevailed, and a tent was thought to be Yhwh's proper dwelling (comp. 2 Sam. 6:6). Later generations, to whom the Temple seemed a necessity, could not understand why so venerated a man as David did not build it; hence these statements.
Comparison with other temples
The Temple has recognizable similarities to other temples of its time and region. Syro-Phoenician, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian influences are visible. A plaza or courtyard surrounding the sacred residence of the god, marked with stones, is a feature common throughout ancient Semitic religions. Earlier evidence of this practice among the Hebrews survives in the twelve 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. Even today the Muslims designate certain areas, especially that surrounding Mecca, as inviolate haram (De Vaux, 1961).
Phoenician and Canaanite
The Biblical text makes it clear that Solomon received aid from Hiram, King of Tyre, in the construction of his buildings. As the Hebrews were an agricultural people, this aid probably involved not only material (cedar-wood, etc.), but architectural direction and skilled craftsmen. Its tripartite division 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 (De Vaux, 1961). Phoenician temples varied somewhat in form, but were similarly surrounded by courts.
Among the details which were probably copied from Tyre were the two pillars Jachin and Boaz. Herodotus (ii. 44) says that the temple at Tyre contained two such, one of emerald and the other of fine gold. In the same way the ornamentation of palm trees and cherubim were probably derived from Tyre, for 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 survivals 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.
Similarly, the bronze altar was a Phoenician innovation; and probably the same is true of the bronze implements which were ornamented with palm-trees and cherubim. The Orthodox Israelitish altar was of earth or unhewn stone. The Decalogue of Ex. 20 (Elohist) prohibited the making of graven images, while that of Ex. 34 (Jahwist) prohibited the making of molten gods; and the Deuteronomic expansions prohibited the making of any likeness whatever. All these are, to be sure, later than Solomon's time; but there is no reason to believe that before that time the Hebrews had either the skill or the wealth necessary to produce ornamentation of this kind.
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 reminds one of Egyptian sanctuaries and closely matches that of other temples in the region, as described above.
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'", citing W. R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., p. 208, and Schmidt, "Solomon's Temple," pp. 40 et seq. Jachin and Boaz were really isolated columns, as Schick has shown ("Die Stiftshütte, der Tempel in Jerusalem," etc., pp. 82 et seq.), 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. This assumes that they 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. 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. The Temple thus became a miniature world. This 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. 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. The "house of the forest of Lebanon" and the "porch of pillars" remind one strongly of the outer and the inner hypostyle hall of an Egyptian temple.
Raids and destruction
According to the Bible, the temple was pillaged many times during the course of its history:
- by king Shishak of Egypt (1 Kings 14:25, 26);
- by king Jehoash of Israel (2 Kings 14:14);
- by king Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16:8, 17, 18);
- by king Hezekiah of Judah to pay king Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 18:15, 16).
- by king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon who pillaged and destroyed it (2 Kings 24:13; 2 Chr. 36:7). He burned the temple, and carried all its treasures with him to Babylon (2 Kings 25:9-17; 2 Chr. 36:19; Isaiah 64:11).
These sacred vessels were, at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, restored to the Jews by Cyrus (Ezra 1:7-11).
On Monday, December 27, 2004 it was reported that the Israel Museum in Jerusalem has alleged that the ivory pomegranate that everyone 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 travelling 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 Jehovah." The Israel Museum now believes that the artifact actually dates back to the 14th or 13th century BCE, and that the inscription is modern. Experts fear that this discovery is part of an international fraud in antiquities; Israeli authorities have charged five people. 
- "Solomon's Temple". Phoenicia.org.
- Badillo, Tony, "Solomon's Temple".
- Telushkin, Joseph, "The Temple". Jewish Literacy (Jewish Virtual Library).
Magickal Temple of Solomon
- Larkin, George, "Solomon's Temple Spiritualized". London, Two Swans without Bishopgate. 1688.
- Nat, Arnold vander, "The Temple of Jerusalem".
- Wells, Steve, "The Skeptic's Annotated Bible".
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