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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, and no mention of it in the surviving contemporary extra-biblical literature.
The Hebrew Bible states that the temple was constructed under Solomon, king of the Israelites. This would date its construction to the 10th century BCE, although it is possible that an earlier Jebusite sanctuary had stood on the site. During the kingdom of Judah, the temple was dedicated to Yahweh, God of Israel, 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. No conclusive archeological evidence for the existence of Solomon's Temple has been found.
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 Israel's period of united monarchy. This puts the date of its construction in the mid-10th century BCE. Some scholars have speculated that a Jebusite sanctuary may have previously occupied the site. 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. 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.
The Mishkan (dwelling place) of the god of Israel was originally the portable shrine called the Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in the Tabernacle tent. King David, having unified all Israel, brought the Ark to his new capital, Jerusalem, intending to build there a temple in order to house the Ark in a permanent place. David purchased a threshing-floor for the site of the Temple (1 Chronicles 21–22), but then Yahweh told him that he would not be permitted to build a temple. The task of building therefore passed to David's son and successor Solomon. 1 Kings 6:1–38, 1 Kings Chapter 7, and Chapter 8 describe the construction and dedication of the Temple under Solomon.
King Solomon requested the aid of King Hiram of Tyre to provide both the quality materials and skilled craftsmen. During the construction, a special inner room, named in Hebrew Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies), was prepared to receive and house the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 6:19); and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark—containing the Tablets of Stone—was placed therein (1 Kings 8:6–9).
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.
2 Kings 12:4–16 describes arrangements for the refurbishment of the Temple in the time of king Jehoash of Judah in the 9th century BCE. According to 2 Kings 14:14 the Temple was looted by Jehoash of Israel in the early 8th century and again by King Ahaz in the late 8th century (2 Kings 16:8). Ahaz also installed some cultic innovations in the Temple which were abhorrent to the author of 1–2 Kings (2 Kings 16:10–18).
The Temple also figures in the account of King Hezekiah, who turned Judah away from idols; 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 used — as a house of prayer (2 Kings 19:1–14).
Hezekiah's son Manasseh, however, was much different from his father; during his reign of the early and middle seventh century (2 Kings 21:4–9), Manasseh made innovations to the Temple cult. He has been described as a Solomon who also fell into idolatry, and Manasseh is described as a king who "makes" (2 Kings 21:3–7) or "builds" (2 Kings 21:3) high places (cf. 1 Kings 11:7) (see Deuteronomy 12 for the prohibition against high place worship), yet while Solomon's idolatry was punished by a divided kingdom, Manasseh's idolatry was punished by exile.
King Josiah, the grandson of Manasseh, refurbished and made changes to the Temple by removing idolatrous vessels and destroying the idolatrous priesthood c. 621 BCE (2 Kings 22:3–9; 23:11–12). He also suppressed worship at altars other than the Temple's.
The 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).
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.
The detailed descriptions provided in the Tanakh and educated guesses[who?] 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. Nevertheless, the recorded plans and measurements have inspired Replicas of the Jewish Temple and influenced later structures around the world.
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. 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", 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 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. This main building of the Temple is depicted on coins from the Bar Kokhba revolt.
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 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.
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).
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 gives its capacity as "2,000 baths" (90 cubic meters), but Chronicles (2 Chr. 4:5–6) inflates this to three thousand 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. There is no direct archaeological evidence for the existence of Solomon's Temple. This building is not mentioned in surviving extra-biblical accounts.
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