Solomon's Temple

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Solomon's Temple (Hebrew: בית המקדש, transliterated Beit HaMikdash), also known as the First Temple, was, according to the Bible, the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

It functioned as a religious focal point for worship and the sacrifices known as the korbanot in ancient Judaism. Completed in the 10th century BC, it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The reconstructed temple in Jerusalem, which stood between 516 BC and 70 AD, was the Second Temple.

Artist depiction of the Temple (Drawing by Christiaan van Adrichem (1584).)

Ancient events and actions

David's first action as king of Israel was to conquer 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. According to Jewish tradition, Mount Moriah is an important place where Abraham bound Isaac and thus the Temple was to be built there. David conquered Jerusalem in approximately 1004 BC and made it a center of his government. He brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city. Jerusalem became the political and spiritual nexus of the Jewish people. King David was instructed 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, but became the capital of the less powerful of the two kingdoms (Judah) after the death of Solomon and the division of the country into two kingdoms. It regained its central status after the conquest and destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC. It was in Jerusalem where most of the great prophets were writing, articulating spiritual and ethical principles that would transcend the city's narrow confines to become pillars of the Jewish spirit. In 586 BC the city was invaded by the Babylonians. At the order of Nebuchadnezzar, their king, the city was torched, the Temple was razed, and the people were taken into exile. A small number returned from exile, 70 years later. This was 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 Shishak of Egypt, c.933 BC (1 Kings 14:25, 26);
  2. by king Asa of Judah, c.900 BC in order to persuade Ben-Hadad I of Damascus to come to his aid against Baasha of Israel (1 Kings 15:9-24);
  3. by king Jehoash of Judah, c. 825 BC, in order to pay Hazael of Damascus, who was besieging the city (2 Kings 12:17-18);
  4. by king Joash of Israel, c.790 BC (2 Kings 14:14);
  5. by king Ahaz of Judah, 734 BC, to persuade Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria to come to his aid against Pekah of Israel and Rezin II of Damascus (2 Kings 16:8, 17, 18);
  6. by king Hezekiah of Judah, 712 BC, to pay king Sennacherib of Assyria, who was besieging the city (2 Kings 18:15, 16).
  7. by king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon who pillaged it twice- once in 597 BC, and again in 586 BC, after which he 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 in 538 BC (Ezra 1:7-11).

Modern influences and events

Modern temple architecture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has influences from Solomon's Temple. Each of the 124 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. The Layout of Masonic Lodges are also based on the layout of King Solomon's Temple.

On December 27, 2004 it was reported that the Israel Museum in Jerusalem has 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 BC, 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[1].

In 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. [2].


Historically, the Temple was thought to be 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. It is noteworthy to mention that two slightly different sites for the Temple have also been proposed: 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 places the Holy of Holies atop this rock.

Archeological Evidence

There are two sources of archeological artifacts relevant to Solomon's temple. The first come from remains taken from refuse from an extensive construction project performed on the Temple Mount by the Islamic Wakf in November of 1999. It is not, however, clear whether these remains contain evidence of a Temple structure from this period.[1][2]. The second,more definitive source was discovered in the summer of 2007, as archeologists overseeing construction at the site reported artifacts most likely belonging to the first temple period. [3]


A sketch of Solomon's Temple based on descriptions in the Tanakh.
A sketch of Solomon' Temple facing East.

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.[3] Reconstructions differ; the following enumeration is largely based on Easton's Bible Dictionary and the Jewish Encyclopedia:

  1. The Kadosh Kadoshim, the Temple's 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.[3] 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 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 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. One can thus conclude that the only way into the Holy of Holies (God's presence) is through the purple veil (the Messiah). #The Hekhal: 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".[3] 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.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.[3]

According to biblical tradition, round about the building were:

  1. 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 6:36).
  2. The great court, which surrounded the whole temple (2 Chr. 4:9). Here the people assembled to worship God (Jeremiah 19:14; 26:2).

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 (Laver), 10 cubits wide brim to brim, 5 cubits deep and with a circumference of 30 cubits around about under 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); the Chronicler 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 (in everflowing living source Waters). (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. 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.

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.[3]

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 (cedar-wood, 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 BC temples at Alalakh in Syria and Hazor in the upper Galilee; a 9th century BC temple at Tell Tayinat also follows this plan.[3] Phoenician temples varied somewhat in form, but were similarly surrounded by courts.[citation needed]

Among the details which according to[specify] 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 of old tin. 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.[citation needed]

Similarly, according to[specify], 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 prohibited the making of graven images, while that of Ex. 34 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

According to[specify], 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.[citation needed] The Jewish Encyclopedia stated that "All these were phallic emblems, being survivals of the primitive Hamito-Semitic 'maẓẓebah'"[4], Jachin and Boaz were really isolated columns, as Schick has shown[5], 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[specify]) 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[specify], 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.[specify] thus characterizes the Temple as "a miniature world".[citation needed] 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[specify], 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.[specify] 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.[citation needed]

See also

Temple in Jerusalem, Temple Mount, Western Wall, Most Holy Place, Second Temple Period, "Solomonic column"
The most prominent personalities of the First Temple period
King David, King Solomon, the Prophet Isaiah, King Hezekiah, and the Prophet Jeremiah.
Major sites and places of the First Temple period
The City of David, Mount Moriah, Area G, Hinnom Flank, The Broad Wall, Siloam Inscription & Hezekiah's Tunnel, Warren’s Shaft

External articles and links

Citations and notes

  1. ^ The New York Times, December 30, 2004 (subscription required)
  2. ^ Pomegranate Inscription: Forgery or Authentic?, May 3, 2007
  3. ^ a b c d e f De Vaux, 1961.
  4. ^ W. R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., p. 208, and Schmidt, "Solomon's Temple," pp. 40 et seq.
  5. ^ "Die Stiftshütte, der Tempel in Jerusalem," etc., pp. 82 et seq.

General references

  • "Solomon's Temple".
  • Badillo, Tony, "Solomon's Temple".
  • Telushkin, Joseph, "The Temple". Jewish Literacy (Jewish Virtual Library).
  • Mystical composition of the 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".
  • Resources > Biblical History > Jerusalem, The First Temple Project of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • Jewish Encyclopedia Temple of Solomon.
  • Roland De Vaux (tr. John McHugh), Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (NY, McGraw-Hill, 1961).
  • Benjamin Mazar, The Mountain of the Lord (Doubleday, NY, 1975) ISBN 0-385-04843-2.
  • Hamblin, William and David Seely, Solomon's Temple: Myth and History (Thames and Hudson, 2007) ISBN 0500251339
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEaston, Matthew George (1897). "article name needed". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article name needed". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.