May 1, 2021
According to the Biblical narrative, Solomon’s Temple, also known as the First Temple, was a Temple in Salem (בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ: Beit Ha-Miqdash) built under King Solomon’s reign and completed in 957 BCE. The Temple was looted and then destroyed in 586 – 587 BCE at the hands of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who also deported the Jews to Babylon. The destruction of the temple and the deportation were seen as fulfillments of prophecy and strengthened Judaic religious beliefs.
The Torah describes how Solomon’s father, King David, the great warrior king, united the Israelite tribes, captured Jerusalem, and brought the Israelite’s central artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, into the city. David chose Mount Moriah in Jerusalem as the site for a future temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, today known as the Temple Mount or Haram Al-Sharif However, God would not let him build the Temple, for he had “shed much blood. Instead, his son Solomon, known for being an ambitious builder of public works, built it. He placed the Ark in the Holy of Holies, the windowless innermost room and most sacred area of the Temple. In the Holy of Holies, God’s presence rested. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the room, once per year on the Day of Atonement, carrying the blood of a sacrificial lamb and burning incense.
According to the Bible, the Temple not only served as a religious building, but also as a place of assembly for the Israelites. The Jews who had been deported in the aftermath of the Babylonian conquest were eventually allowed to return and rebuild their temple — known as the second temple, but the building no longer housed the Ark, as it had disappeared.
There is a general agreement that a ritual structure existed on the Temple Mount by the point of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, however serious doubts remain in attributing it or its construction to Solomon, or any king roughly contemporaneous to his lifetime. Scholars doubt the veracity of the Biblical account as no evidence for the existence of Solomon’s Temple has been found and the Temple is not mentioned in extra-Biblical accounts (See our article “Is Israel Really The Land Of The Bible?) Artifacts supposedly proving the existence of Solomon’s Temple – an ivory pomegranate and a 9th century BCE stone tablet – have turned out to be fakes Many scholars believe that the inscription on a pottery shard known as Ostracon 18 written around 600 BCE references the Temple in Jerusalem.
In the Bible book 2 Samuel, Hiram I, the king of the Phoenician city state Tyre, becomes an ally of King David; following his conquest of Jerusalem. The friendship continues after Solomon succeeds David and a literary account of how Hiram helps Solomon build the Temple is given in the Bible books 1 Kings chapter 5 – 9 and 2 Chronicles 2 – 7.
Hiram agrees to Solomon’s request to supply him with cedar and cypress tree for the construction of the Temple. 1] He tells Solomon that he will send the trees by sea: “I will make them into rafts to go by the sea to the place that you indicate. I will have them broken up there for you to take away In return for the lumber; Solomon sends him wheat and oil. Solomon also brings over a skilled craftsman from Tyre, also called Hiram or Hiram-Abif, who oversees the construction of the Temple. Stonemasons from Gebal (Byblos) cut stones for the Temple.
According to 1 Kings, the foundation of the Temple is laid in Ziv, the second month of the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and construction is completed in Bul, the eighth month of Solomon’s eleventh year, thus taking about seven years. According to Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, “Solomon began to build the temple in the fourth year of his reign. On the second month, the Macedonians call Artemisius, and the Hebrews Jar. Five hundred and ninety two years after the exodus out of Egypt, but after one thousand and twenty years from Abraham coming out of Mesopotamia into Canaan. After the deluge one thousand four hundred and forty years; and from Adam, the first man who was created, until Solomon built the temple, there had passed in all three thousand one hundred and two years
After the Temple and palace (taking an additional 13 years) is completed, Solomon gives Hiram twenty towns in the Galilee as a partial payment for goods delivered. But when Hiram comes to see the towns he isn’t pleased: “What are these towns that you have given me, my brother?” he asks. However, he remains on friendly terms with Solomon
The Bible book 2 Chronicles fills in some details of the construction not given in 1 Kings. It states that the trees sent as rafts were sent to the city of Joppa on the Mediterranean coast and in return for the lumber supplied, Solomon, in addition to the wheat and oil, sent wine to Hiram
1 Kings 8:1 – 9 and 2 Chronicles 5:2 – 10 record that in the 7th month of the year, at the Feast of Tabernacles the priests and the Levites brought the Ark of the Covenant from the City of David and placed it inside the Holy of Holies. (It is interesting that they alone had the very special job of looking after the Ark).
1 Kings 8:10 – 66 and 2 Chronicles 6: 1 – 42 recount the events of the temple’s dedication. When the priests emerged from the holy of holies after placing the Ark there, the Temple was filled with an overpowering cloud which interrupted the dedication ceremony “for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord [such that] the priests could not stand to minister” (1 Kings 8:10–11; 2 Chronicles 5:13, 14). Solomon interpreted the cloud as “[proof] that his pious work was accepted”:
The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever. (1 Kings 8:12-13)
The allusion is to Leviticus 16:2
The Lord said to Moses Tell your brother Aaron not to come just at any time into the sanctuary inside the curtain before the mercy seat that is upon the ark, or he will die; for I appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.
The Pulpit Commentary notes “Solomon had thus every warrant for connecting a theophany with the thick dark cloud”. Solomon then led the whole assembly of Israel in prayer noting that the construction on the temple represented a fulfilment of God’s promise to David. A temple was dedicated as a place of prayer and reconciliation for all people of Israel including foreigners. Highlighting the paradox that God, who lives in the heavens cannot really be contained within a single building.
The dedication was concluded with musical celebration and sacrifices said to have included “twenty-two thousand bulls and one hundred and twenty thousand sheep”. These sacrifices were offered outside the temple, in “the middle of the court that was in front of the house of the Lord”, because the altar inside the temple. Despite its extensive dimensions was not big enough for the offerings being made that day. The celebration lasted eight days. It was attended by a “very great assembly [gathered] from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. The subsequent feast of Tabernacles extended the whole celebration to 14 days before the people were “sent away to their homes”.
After the dedication, Solomon hears in a dream that God has heard his prayer, and God will continue to hear the prayers of the people of Israel if they adopt the four ways in which they could move God to action: humility, prayer, seeking his face, and turning from wicked ways. Conversely, if they turn aside, and forsake God’s commandments and worship other gods, then God will abandon the temple: “this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight”.
Solomon’s Temple, was considered to be built according to Phoenician design, and its description is considered the best description of what a Phoenician temple looked like. The detailed descriptions provided in the Tanakh are the sources for reconstructions of its appearance. Technical details are lacking, since the scribes who wrote the books were not architects or engineers. Nevertheless, the descriptions have inspired modern replicas of the temple and influenced later structures around the world.
Archeologists categorize the Biblical description of Solomon’s Temple as a langbau building. That is, a rectangular building that is longer than it is wide. It is furthermore classified as a tripartite building, consisting of three units; the ulam (porch), the heikal (sanctuary), and the debir (the Holy of Holies). It is also categorized as being a straight-axis temple, meaning that there is a straight line from the entrance to the innermost shrine.
The Holy of Holies, also called the “Inner House,” 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. It was floored and wainscotted with cedar from Lebanon, and its walls and floor were overlaid with gold amounting to 600 talents or roughly 20 metric tons. It contained two cherubim of olive-wood, each 10 cubits high 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; also a veil of Tekhelet (blue), purple, and crimson and fine linin. It had no windows and was considered the dwelling-place of the “name” of God
The Holy of Holies was prepared to receive and house the Ark; and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark, containing the original tablets of the Ten Commandments, was placed beneath the cherubim.