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Solomon's Temple

According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the Holy Temple (Hebrew: בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ‎: Bet HaMikdash) in ancient Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount (also known as Mount Zion), before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE. There is no direct archaeological evidence for the existence of Solomon's Temple,[1] and no mention of it in the surviving contemporary extra-biblical literature.[1]

The Hebrew Bible states that the temple was constructed under Solomon, King of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah and that during the kingdom of Judah, the temple was dedicated to Yahweh, and is said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant. Rabbinic sources state that the First Temple stood for 410 years and, based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, place construction in 832 BCE and destruction in 422 BCE (3338 AM), 165 years later than secular estimates.

Because of the religious sensitivities involved, and the politically volatile situation in Jerusalem, only limited archaeological surveys of the Temple Mount have been conducted. No excavations have been allowed on the Temple Mount during modern times. An Ivory pomegranate mentions priests in the house of YHWH, and an inscription recording the Temple's restoration under Jehoash have appeared on the antiquities market, but the authenticity of both has been challenged and they remain the subject of controversy.


  • The Temple according to the Bible 1
  • Architectural description in the Bible 2
    • Most Holy Place 2.1
    • Hekhal 2.2
      • Etymology 2.2.1
      • Use in architecture 2.2.2
    • Porch 2.3
    • Chambers 2.4
    • Courts 2.5
    • Brazen Sea 2.6
  • Archaeology 3
  • Notable mentions 4
  • Freemasonry 5
  • See also 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9

The Temple according to the Bible

In an artistic representation, King Solomon dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem (painting by James Tissot or follower, c. 1896–1902)

The earliest source of information on the First Temple is the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament). According to the biblical sources, the temple was constructed under King Solomon during the united monarchy of Israel and Judah. This puts the date of its construction in the mid-10th century BCE.[2] Some scholars have speculated that a Jebusite sanctuary may have previously occupied the site.[3] During the kingdom of Judah, the temple was dedicated to Yahweh, the god of Israel, and is said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant.[4] Rabbinic sources state that the First Temple stood for 410 years and, based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, place construction in 832 BCE and destruction in 422 BCE (3338 AM), 165 years later than secular estimates.[5]

The exact location of the First Temple is unknown: it is believed to have been situated upon the hill which forms the site of the 1st century Second Temple and present-day Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock is situated. However, two other, slightly different sites have been proposed on this same hill: 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, according to this theory, a pit for the remnants of the blood services of the korbanot. The other theory places the Holy of Holies atop this rock. Still another location has recently been proposed between the Dome of the Rock and the gilded dome, based on orientation to the eastern wall, drainage channels, orientation of the platform stones, and the location of a possible Boaz pillar base.[6]

The Temple also figures in the account of King Hezekiah, who turned Judah away from idols;[7] when later in the same century Hezekiah is confronted with a siege by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:23, 19:1 and the Taylor prism), Hezekiah "instead of plundering the temple treasuries... now uses the temple the way it is designed to be—as a house of prayer (2 Kings 19:1–14).[8]

The alleged temple was plundered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem during the brief reign of Jehoiachin c. 598 (2 Kings 24:13), Josiah's grandson. A decade later, Nebuchadnezzar again besieged Jerusalem and after 30 months finally breached the city walls in 587 BCE, subsequently burning the Temple, along with most of the city (2 Kings 25). According to Jewish tradition, the Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of Av (Hebrew calendar).[9]

Architectural description in the Bible

Several temples in Mesopotamia, many in Egypt, and some of the Phoenicians are now known. The description given of Solomon's Temple in the Bible is not a copy of any of these, but embodied features recognisable in all of them. Its general form is reminiscent of Egyptian sanctuaries and closely matches that of other ancient temples in the region, however the complexity of inner chambers and unique functions does distinguish the temple strongly.[10][11][12]

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.[11] Nevertheless, the recorded plans and measurements have inspired Replicas of the Jewish Temple and influenced later structures around the world.

Reconstructions differ; the following is largely based on Easton's Bible Dictionary and the Jewish Encyclopedia:

Most Holy Place

The Kodesh Hakodashim, or Holy of Holies, (1 Kings 6:19; 8:6), also called the "Inner House" (6:27), (Heb. 9:3) 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.[11] 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 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 (2 Chr. 4:22); also a veil of tekhelet (blue), purple, and crimson and fine linen (2 Chr. 3:14; compare Exodus 26:33). It had no windows (1 Kings 8:12) and was considered the dwelling-place of the "name" of God.

The color scheme of the veil was symbolic. 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.


The Hekhal, or Holy Place, (1 Kings 8:8–10), is also called the "greater house" (2 Chr. 3:5) and the "temple" (1 Kings 6:17); the word also means "palace",[11] 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 Hebrew noun hekhal (Hebrew היכל) in Classical Hebrew means "a large building". This can be either the main building of the Temple in Jerusalem (that is the nave, or sanctuary, of the Temple), or a palace such as the "palace" of Ahab, king of Samaria, or the "palace" of the King of Babylon.


Hekhal is used 80 times in the Massoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. Of these, 70 refer to the House of the LORD (in Hebrew Bible בֵּית יְהוָה beit Yahweh), the other 10 are references to palaces. There is no reference to any part of the tabernacle using this term in the Hebrew Bible.

"In the year that king Uzziah died. I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and His train filled the hekhal (sanctuary)." Isaiah 6:1.

Use in architecture

The Jerusalem Temple

In older English versions of the Bible, including the King James, the term "temple" is used to translate hekhal. In modern versions more reflective of archeological research, the distinction is made of different sections of the whole Temple. Scholars and archeologists generally agree on the structure of Solomon's Temple as described in 1 Kings 6:3-5, with the main building, the hekhal, in English now sometimes called "the sanctuary," the devir, the inner sanctuary, and finally the Holy of Holies.[13] This main building of the Temple is depicted on coins from the Bar Kokhba revolt.[14]

This main building was between the outer altar, where most sacrifices were performed, and inside at the far end was the entry to the Holy of Holies, originally containing the Ark of the Covenant. The main hekhal, contained a number of sacred ritual objects including the seven branched candlestick, the inner altar for incense offerings (also called the "Golden Altar"), and the table of the showbread.


The same architectural layout of the temple was adopted in synagogues leading to the hekhal being applied in Sephardi usage to the Ashkenazi Torah ark, the equivalent of the nave.[15]


The Ulam, or porch, acted as an 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). (ESV 2 Chr. 3:4) notes that this porch was 120 cubits high. 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.


Chambers 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.[11]


According to the Bible, two courts surrounded the Temple. The Inner Court (1 Kings 6:36), or Court of the Priests (2 Chr. 4:9), was separated from the space beyond by a wall of three courses of hewn stone, surmounted by cedar beams (1 Kings 6:36). It contained the Altar of burnt-offering (2 Chr. 15:8), the Brazen Sea laver (4:2–5, 10) and ten other lavers (1 Kings 7:38, 39). A brazen altar stood before the Temple (2 Kings 16:14), its dimensions 20 cubits square and 10 cubits high (2 Chr. 4:1). The Great Court surrounded the whole Temple (2 Chr. 4:9). It was here that people assembled to worship. (Jeremiah 19:14; 26:2).

Brazen Sea

The large basin known as the "Brazen Sea" measured 10 cubits wide brim to brim, 5 cubits deep and with a circumference of 30 cubits around the brim, rested on the backs of twelve oxen (1 Kings 7:23–26). The Book of Kings states that it contains 2,000 baths(90 cubic meters), while Chronicles (2 Chr. 4:5–6) states it can hold up to 3,000 baths(136 cubic meters) and states that its purpose was to afford opportunity for the purification by immersion of the body 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. 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 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.


Because of the religious and political sensitivities involved, no archaeological excavations and only limited surface surveys of the Temple Mount have been conducted since Warren's expedition of 1867–70.[16][17][18] There is no archaeological evidence for the existence of Solomon's Temple. This building is not mentioned in surviving extra-biblical accounts.[19]

  • In 1940 American archaeologist Nelson Glueck "proclaimed–that he had discovered the Edomite mines controlled by King Solomon",[20] used to construct the Temple's furnishings.[21] Later, in 1997, investigating the role of "metallurgy in [the] social evolution" of Southern Jordan, University of California anthropologist Tom Levy "started probing the site known as Khirbat en Nahas (Arabic for 'ruins of copper')".[20][22] The samples Levy sent off to "Oxford for radiocarbon dating confirmed that Glueck had been on the right track: This was a tenth-century copper production site – and Levy adds ... 'the closest copper source to Jerusalem.'"[20] In response to these findings archaeologist Amihai Mazar has stated, "I believe that if, one day, we should find the copper objects from the temple in Jerusalem, it will prove to come from this area".[23]
  • An ostracon (excavated prior to 1981), sometimes referred to as the House of Yahweh ostracon, was discovered at Tel Arad, dated to 6th century BCE which mentions a temple which is probably the Temple in Jerusalem.[24]
  • A thumb-sized [27] This was based on the report's claim that yjtrr incised letters in the inscription stopped short of an ancient break, as they would have if carved after the ancient break was made. Since then, it has been proven that one of the letters was indeed carved prior to the ancient break, and the status of the other two letters is now in question. Some paleographers and others have continued to insist that the inscription is ancient and the authenticity of this artifact is still the object of discussion.[26]
  • Another artifact, the [28]
  • By 2006, the Temple Mount Sifting Project had recovered numerous artifacts dating from the 8th to 7th centuries BCE from soil removed in 1999 by the Islamic Religious Trust (Waqf) from the Solomon's Stables area of the Temple Mount. These include stone weights for weighing silver and a First Temple period bulla, or seal impression, containing ancient Hebrew writing which includes the name Netanyahu ben Yaush. Netanyahu is a name mentioned several times in the Book of Jeremiah while the name Yaush appears in the Lachish letters. However, the combination of names was unknown to scholars.[29][30]
  • In 2007, artifacts dating to the 8th to 6th centuries BCE were described as being possibly the first physical evidence of human activity at the Temple Mount during the First Temple period. The findings included animal bones; ceramic bowl rims, bases, and body sherds; the base of a juglet used to pour oil; the handle of a small juglet; and the rim of a storage jar.[31][32]
  • In 2013, Christine Thompson and Sheldon Skaggs identified early evidence for long-distance silver trade during the reigns of Solomon and Hiram of Tyre. The combined study of ancient documents and the ore provenance of silver in silver hoards found in southern Phoenicia identified Sardinia as the island of Tarshish, and substantiated the ancient reports about long-distance trade in metals during Solomon's reign and earlier.[33]

Notable mentions


Freemasonry is a fraternal order whose origins are in the European guilds of stonemasons who built the cathedrals and castles of Europe. Rituals in Freemasonry refer to King Solomon and the building of his Temple.[35] Masonic buildings, where Lodge members meet, are sometimes called 'temples'; an allegoric reference to King Solomon's Temple.[36]

See also


  1. ^ a b BBC Science and Nature
  2. ^ Stevens, Marty E. Temples, tithes, and taxes: the temple and the economic life of ancient Israel, pg. 3. Hendrickson Publishers 2006, ISBN 1-56563-934-0
  3. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible
  4. ^ Achtemeier, Paul J. and Roger S. Boraas. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. p. 1096.
  5. ^ Yeisen, Yosef. Miraculous journey: a complete history of the Jewish people from creation to the present, pg. 56. Targum Press 2004, ISBN 1-56871-323-1
  6. ^ New Proposed Location for Solomon's Temple
  7. ^ Peter J. Leithart, 1&2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible p. 254 (2006).
  8. ^ Peter J. Leithart, 1&2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible p. 258 (2006).
  9. ^ "AB, NINTH DAY OF".  
  10. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Temple of Solomon
  11. ^ a b c d e De Vaux, 1961.
  12. ^ According to Finkelstein in The Bible Unearthed, the description of the temple is remarkably similar to that of surviving remains of Phoenician temples of the time, and it is certainly plausible, from the point of view of archaeology, that the temple was constructed to the design of Phoenicians.
  13. ^ Peter Schäfer The Origins of Jewish Mysticism; 2011; Page 59: "Scholars have long observed that this three-part structure resembles the structure of Solomon's Temple as described in 1 Kings 6:3, 5: the hekhal (sanctuary), the devir (inner sanctuary) or qodesh ha-qodashim (Holy of Holies)..."
  14. ^ The Biblical archaeologist: Volume 47; George Ernest Wright, Frank Moore Cross, Edward Fay Campbell; 1984. "This is especially true with regard to the portrayal of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. There appears to be little doubt that the facade of the hekhal of the Second Temple is depicted on the silver coins of Bar Kokhba."
  15. ^ Meir Ben-Dov The Golden Age: Synagogues of Spain in History and Architecture 2009 "Among Ashkenazic Jewry, even though these two were the main foci of the synagogue, the terms used for them were different. The hekhal (literally, "the Temple") was known as the aron ha-kodesh (literally, ..."
  16. ^  
  17. ^ Langmead, Donald; Garnaut, Christine (2001). Encyclopedia of Architectural and Engineering Feats (3rd, illustrated ed.). ABC-CLIO.  
  18. ^ Handy, Lowell (1997). The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium. Brill. pp. 493–494.  
  19. ^ Finkelstein, Israel, and Silberman, Neil Asher (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. Simon & Schuster. pp. 128–129.  
  20. ^ a b c Draper 2010: p. 84
  21. ^ Glueck 1944: p. 238
  22. ^  
  23. ^ Eric Cline, Thomas Levy, Israel Finkelstein, Erez Ben-Yosef, John Grattan, Mohammad Najjar, Marc Beherec, Thomas Higham, Yossi Garfinkel, Oded Yair, Greg Bearman, William Schniedewind, Haagai Misgav, Bill Schniedewind (November 23, 2010). Quest for Solomon's Mines (Television production / DVD). Wadi Faynan: PBS/NOVA & National Geographic. Event occurs at 22:33. Retrieved 2011-06-25. Narrator: The size of the slag heaps indicates that over its lifetime the site produced 5000 tons of copper. Enough to supply copper to the entire region. Isotope analysis of copper objects from sites all over ancient israel has proved that they came from the Wadi Faynan area.
    Amihai Mazar: Right now in Israel metallurgical study of copper objects that were found in contexts of ... late 11th century BC were proven to originate from Faynan.
    Narrator: Perhaps this copper even reached Jerusalem. Where Solomon built his temple.
    Thomas Levy: The bible tells us that the temple would require precious metals including tons of copper. And the closest source of copper for Jerusalem, it's about a three day ride from here, is this area of Faynan."
    (later @51:06) Amihai Mazar: I believe that if, one day, we should find the copper objects from the temple in Jerusalem, it will prove to come from this area.
  24. ^ T. C. Mitchell (1992). "Judah Until the Fall of Jerusalem". In John Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, N. G. L. Hammond. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries BC. Cambridge University Press. p. 397.  
  25. ^ Myre, Greg (December 30, 2004). "Israel Indicts 4 in 'Brother of Jesus' Hoax and Other Forgeries".  
  26. ^ "'"Ivory pomegranate 'not Solomon's.  
  27. ^  
  28. ^  
  29. ^ Shragai, Nadav (October 19, 2006). "Temple Mount dirt uncovers First Temple artifacts".  
  30. ^ "Netanyahu ben Yaush Seal, 8th–6th century BCE". The Center for Online Judaic Studies. March 13, 2008. 
  31. ^ "Temple Mount First Temple Period Discoveries". The Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Retrieved 2009-10-05. 
  32. ^ Milstein, Mati (October 23, 2007). "Solomon's Temple Artifacts Found by Muslim Workers".  
  33. ^ Christine M. Thompson; Sheldon Skaggs (October 2013). "King Solomon's Silver? Southern Phoenician Hacksilber Hoards and the Location of Tarshish". Internet Archaeology. 
  34. ^ Clayton, Peter and Price, Martin: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (Routledge, 1988), pp. 162–63.
  35. ^
  36. ^


  • Draper, Robert (Dec 2010). "Kings of Controversy". National Geographic: 66–91.  
  • Finkelstein, Israel; Neil Asher Silberman (2006). David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. Free Press.  
  • Finkelstein, Israel; Neil Asher Silberman. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision. 
  • Glueck, Nelson (Feb 1944). "On the Trail of King Solomon's Mines". National Geographic 85 (2): 233–256.  
  • Goldman, Bernard (1966). The Sacred Portal: a primary symbol in ancient Judaic art. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. It has a detailed account and treatment of Solomon's Temple and its significance. 
  • Young, Mike. "Temple Measurements and Photo recreations". 

Further reading

21st century resources
  • Margaret Barker, "Temple Theology", London: SPCK 2004 (ISBN 028105634X)
  • Andrew G. Vaughn, Ann E. Killebrew (eds), "in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period" (Society of Biblical Literature, 2003)
  • Marty E. Stevens, "Temples, Tithes and Taxes: The Temple and the Economic Life of Ancient Israel (Hendrickson, 2006)
  • William G. Dever, "What Did The Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?" (Eerdman's, 2001)
  • Floyd Nolen Jones, "The Chronology Of The Old Testament" (New Leaf Publishing Group, 1993–2004)
Post-1945 resources
  • Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, Who is the King of Glory?: Solomon's Temple and its Symbolism in Michael D. Coogan, J. Cheryl Exum, Lawrence E. Stager (eds), "Scripture and Other Artifacts: Essays in Honor of Philip J. King" (Westminster John Knox, 1994)
  • Gershon Galil, "The Chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah" (Brill, 1996)
  • Joseph Blenkinsopp, "Sage, Priest, Prophet: Religious and Intellectual Leadership in Ancient Israel" (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
  • Jeremy Hughes, "Secrets of the times: myth and history in biblical chronology" (Sheffield Academic Press, 1990)
  • Edwin R. Thiele, "The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings" (Zondervan, 1983)
  • Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard (eds), "Mercer dictionary of the Bible" (Mercer University Press, 1990)
Pre-1945 resources
  • Paine, T. O. (1870). Solomon's temple: Including the tabernacle; first temple; house of the king, or house of the forest of Lebanon; idolatrous high places; the city on the mountain ... the oblation of the holy portion; and the last temple. Boston: H.H. & T.W. Carter
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