The Temple erected by Solomon, and described in the sixth chapter of the First Book of Kings, and the third of the Second Book of Chronicles, was an exact reproduction in stone of the wooden tabernacle as described in the Book of Exodus, with the one important difference, that every dimension in the Tabernacle was doubled in the Temple. The consequence was, that though neither taken singly is quite sufficient for a satisfactoiy restoration of the plan of the building, the two taken together illustrate each other to such an extent as to leave very few points unsettled.
This magnificent structure was built on the side of Mount Sion, called Moriah, on a very hard limes too e rock, encompassed by a very frightful precipice; and the foundation was laid with enormous expense and labour. The entrance stood towards the east, and the holy of holies towards the west. The temple itself, strictly so called, which comprised the portico, the sanctuary, and the holy of holies, formed only a small part of the sacred edifice, being surrounded by spacious courts, chambers, and other apartments, which were far more extensive than the temple itself; so that the whole made a square of about half a mile in circumference. The temple, considered in itself, was never intended to hold a vast concourse of people; it was only for the service of the Lord, and the priests were the only persons employed in it. So that it was never designed to be a place for the people to worship in, but a place to worship at. There Jehovah was known to have a peculiar residence, and before Him the tribes came; and the priests were, in a manner, mediators between Him and the people. In short, the temple in the promised land was like the tabernacle in the wilderness, the place where God's honour dwelt, and whither the people flocked to pay their adoration.
The prophet Ezekiel, who was himself a priest, and had seen the temple of Solomon, is supposed to give us a description of it in chapters xl, xli, xlii, &c. The ground-plot upon which the temple was built was a square of six hundred cubits, or twenty five thousand royal feet. Ezek. xlv. This space was encompassed with a wall of the height of six cubits, and of the same breadth. Beyond this wall was the court of the Gentiles, being fifty cubits wide. After this was a great wall, which encompassed the whole court of Israel.. This wall was a square of five hundred cubits. The court of Israel was an hundred cubits in square, and was encompassed all around with magnificent galleries, supported by two or three rows of columns. It had four gates, one on each side; and each had an ascent of seven or eight steps. The court was paved with marble of divers colours. The apartments on each side of the court were for the priests to lodge in, and to lay up things necessary for the use of the temple.
Before the gate of the court of the priests in the court of Israel was erected a throne for the king, being a magnificent alcove, where the king seated himself when he came into the temple. Within the court of the priests, and opposite the same eastern gate, was the altar of burnt offerings, of twelve cubits square, according to Ezek. xliii, 12,13; or of ten cubits high, and twenty broad, according to 2 Chron. iv, 1. They went up to it by a gentle ascent on the eastern side. To the west of the altar of burnt offering, was the temple, properly so called; that is, the Holy of Holies, the holy place, and the porch of entrance. The porch was twenty cubits long, and ten cubits broad. Its gate was fourteen cubits wide. The holy place was forty cubits long, and twenty broad. There stood the golden candlestick, the table of shew bread, and the golden altar, upon which the incense was offered. The Holy of Holies was a square of twenty cubits.* There was nothing in the Holy of Holies, but the ark of the covenant, which contained the tables of the law, and the mercy-seat. The high priest entered here but once a year, on the great day of atonement, and none but himself was allowed to enter. Solomon embellished the interior of this most holy place with palm-trees in relief, and cherubim of wood, overlaid with plates of gold; and, in general, the whole interior was almost all overlaid with plates of gold.
Although sacrifices could only be offered at the tabernacle or temple, yet it does not appear that the Jews were restricted to any particular place for the performance of other acts of religion. Hence the praises of Jehovah were sung and celebrated in the schools of the prophets, which the pious and devout Israelites seem to have frequented on sabbath-days and new moons, for the purpose of instruction, edification, and prayer. Synagogues were erected not only in cities and towns, but in the country, and especially by rivers, that they might have water for the convenience of their frequent washings. Not less than ten persons of respectability, composed a synagogue, as the Rabbis supposed that this number of persons, of independent property, and well skilled in the law, were necessary to conduct the affairs of the place, and keep up the divine worship.
This superb and magnificent edifice retained its pristine splendor only for thirty-three or thirty-four years, when Shishak king of Egypt took Jerusalem, and carried away the treasures of the temple, in the year of the world 3033,' before Christ 967, (I Kings xiv; 2 Chron. xii.) and after undergoing varioas subsequent profanations and pillages, this fine edifice was finally plundered and burnt by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar, A.M. 8416; BC 584. 2 Kings xxv; 2 Chron. xxxvi.
There is no evidence outside the scriptures for Solomon's Temple. Caetano Minette de Tillesse thought that the stories of the accession of David and Solomon served the purpose of unifying the disparate tribes of Israel. The core of the story might be a tenth century story but the style alone is sufficient to show that it has been edited by a refined editor at a much later date. The obvious times were during the priesthood of the "second" temple and more especially during Hasmonaean times. Biblical historians J M Miller and J Hayes (A History of Ancient Judah and Israel) in 1986 begin to suspect something was phony about the biblical account of early Israel. They criticise the narratives of David and Solomon's reigns, describing them as "folk legend," "not to be read as historical record."
The Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Hittite peoples in the ancient Near East left evidence of their empires including tablets or papyri, art and inscriptions on buildings and monuments. Yet the empire of David and Solomon is not mentioned in any Ancient Near Eastern source. Monumental reliefs and statues, palaces, ivories, jewelry and all the normal signs of the sophistication required to run an empire are lacking.
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