The Temple of Solomon
After King David captured the hill fortress of Jebus/Jerusalem, the Ark of the Covenant was installed in a sanctuary on Mount Moriah, or the Temple Mount. It was there that David's son Solomon constructed the First Temple, completed in 957BC.
The building was not large. It had three rooms: a porch, the main
room of worship, and the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept. A
storehouse surrounded three sides of the Temple.
The first Temple in Jerusalem and its furnishings are described in three passages in the Old Testament:
Unfortunately, the only information we have comes from the Bible texts. Nothing remains of the actual building itself.
The first two descriptions in the Bible are relatively the same; the fact that Chronicles gives more details than Kings is attributed to the fact that documents which were almost contemporary with the time of construction were available to the Chronicler.
Opinions are divided as to the description in Ezekiel. Some scholars regard it as purely fictitious, while others believe it to be an eye-witness description from the time of Zerubbabel. It is also possible that Ezekiel described the Temple as it was near the time of its destruction in 587 BC, after many alterations and improvements had been made after Solomon's reign.
The site of the Temple was on that part of the eastern hill of Jerusalem now occupied by the large platform (35 acres) known as the Haram-es-Sharif. A large number of scholars place the Temple close to the sacred rock (see below) which is enclosed in the Dome of the Rock.
The sacred rock enclosed within the Dome of the Rock
The rock (above) may have been the site of the altar of burnt offerings identified by I Chronicles 22:1 as the threshing floor of Ornan which would locate the Temple west of this rock. The problem with this view is that the hill slopes away steeply from the rock, requiring the elevated Holy of Holies (debir, see below) to be supported by an enormous substratum. Another old theory (confirmed to some extent by a rabbinical tradition that the surface of the rock broke through to the debir) places the great altar over the rock.
The rock was called 'eben
shtiyah' (foundation stone) and was considered the foundation stone of Heaven and earth.
According to the Bible, the construction of Solomon's Temple took seven years, from the 5th to the 11th years of his reign (I Kings 6:37-38). He was assisted in his work by Phoenician craftsmen lent for the purpose by Hiram, King of Tyre, who also supplied him, by contract, with timber from Lebanon. The Israelites were conscripted to provide the bulk of the labour force but the skilled workmen were Phoenicians (II Chronicles 2:7-14). Some of the materials, including the gold ingots which were to be used for the sacred objects, had been prepared by David (I Chronicles 22).
As far as we can tell, the Temple was an oblong structure consisting of three parts:
These sections stood one behind the other in a straight line. The whole Temple was laid out with an east west orientation, the ulam or outer hall facing east. The Temple was constructed of hewn stone (at the base) and cedarwood, i.e. masonry locked together by beams, which stood on the stone base.
Cutaway model of the ulam (vestibule), the hekhal, and the debir
Debir: The third and inner section was the Holy of Holies. The room, measuring 20 cubits in each dimension, was designed to hold the Ark of the Covenant and the
Cherubim. According to Isaiah 6:1 its floor level was higher than the rest of the Temple and it was windowless. (In ancient oriental temples, the
Cella stood somewhat higher than the level of the room, or if this were not the case, the symbol of worship itself stood on a raised platform.) A flight of stairs led to the Debir from the hekhal, and it was entered through a door 6 cubits wide. Some scholars believe that it was separated from the hekhal by a thin wall
(Ezekiel 41:3) or by a veil.
Ark of the Covenant: The Ark
stood in the Debir with the
Kapporeth and Cherubim, and represented the throne of Yahweh.
In the courtyard south east of the Temple stood a large molten sea of bronze 'wrought like the brim of a cup, like the flower of a lily'. It was held up by four groups of sculptured bulls, three bulls in each group. According to I Kings, its capacity was 2000 'bat', while II Chronicles puts it at 3000 bat (scholars suggest a bat was 22 litres, or 5 gallons). The best parallels which have been found are the stone basins from Amathonte in Cyprus and from Megiddo.
The Bible also mentions ten wheeled pedestals, each supporting a bronze laver used to wash the sacrificial victims. Such pedestals have also been found in Cyprus and Megiddo.
In front of the Temple, before the vestibule, were two bronze columns called Jachin and Boaz. They were free standing and purely decorative, with no functional purpose. They were elaborately decorated and crowned by bronze capitals, similar to the capital of a column found at Megiddo (see below), and were 23 cubits high and 12 cubits in circumference. Scholars suggest they were traditional stele or 'mazebot' which always had a place in the Canaanite sanctuaries. The name of the columns remains a riddle.
The capital of a column found at Megiddo
How and where the plan
of the Temple originated is not known for certain, but it probably came
from Phoenicia, the home of the Temple's artisans and builders. The tripartite division into
ulam, hechal and debir was very common among the Canaanites, for example in the "Fosse temple" at
Lachish belonging to the pre-Israelite period. Several recently discovered sanctuaries follow the plan of the rooms standing one behind the other in a line.
The Temple at Hazor. The outline of three rooms of descending sizes is clearly visible.
Solomon's Temple, like other temples in the ancient Near East, was intended for ritual purposes. Only those who belonged to the priestly order were allowed-within its precincts. The lay worshipper could not enter the Temple. In this respect, it was quite different from the synagogues and Christian churches which replaced it.
Though the Temple was erected primarily as a royal chapel adjoining the king's palace (a common practice in the Near East), it had national significance throughout its history, even though during the Divided Monarchy rival shrines existed in Bethel and Dan. On several occasions the vessels and equipment of the Temple were stolen by conquerors or surrendered as tribute. Only after the fall of the Northern Kingdom and the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah did the Temple assume paramount importance as the religious and symbolic focus of the nation.
The Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem: its location, furnishings and sections, Jackin and Boaz