King Solomon’s Temple, also known as the First Temple, was, according to the Bible, the first temple of the ancient religion of the biblical Israelites in Jerusalem.
According to the Bible, it functioned as a religious focal point for worship and the sacrifices known as the korbanot in ancient Judaism.
Completed in the 10th century BCE, it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The reconstructed temple in Jerusalem, which stood between 516 BCE and 70 CE, was the Second Temple.
According to the biblical account, David’s first action as king of Israel was to conquer Jebus (Jerusalem) and declare it the capital of his kingdom. Even though the city was not the perfect choice from many points of view, a geopolitical constraint dictated this choice. Mount Moriah is an important place where Abraham bound Isaac and thus the Temple was to be built there. David conquered Jerusalem at the end of the 11th century BCE, then choose it as the center of his new government. He brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city. Jerusalem became the political and spiritual nexus of the ancient Hebrews. King David was instructed by God not to build the Temple, leaving the task to his son Solomon. The concentration of religious ritual at the Temple made Jerusalem a place of pilgrimage and an important commercial center.
The city served as the capital of the united kingdom of Israel, but became the capital of the less powerful of the two kingdoms (Judah) after the death of Solomon and the division of the country into two kingdoms. It regained its central status after the conquest and destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. In 586 BCE the city was invaded by the Babylonians. At the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II the city was torched, the Temple was razed, and the people were taken into exile. Jewish tradition holds this incident to be the first exile of the Jewish nation.
Raids and destruction
According to the Bible, the temple was pillaged many times during the course of its history (dates before Ahaz are approximate):
by king Shishak of Egypt, c.933 BCE (1 Kings 14:25, 26);
by king Asa of Judah, c.900 BCE in order to persuade Ben-Hadad I of Damascus to come to his aid against Baasha of Israel (1 Kings 15:9-24);
by king Jehoash of Judah, c. 825 BCE, in order to pay Hazael of Damascus, who was besieging the city (2 Kings 12:17-18);
by king Joash of Israel, c.790 BCE (2 Kings 14:14);
by king Ahaz of Judah, 734 BCE, to persuade Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria to come to his aid against Pekah of Israel and Rezin II of Damascus (2 Kings 16:8, 17, 18);
by king Hezekiah of Judah, 712 BCE, to pay king Sennacherib of Assyria, who was besieging the city (2 Kings 18:15, 16);
by king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon who pillaged it twice — once in 597 BCE, and again in 586 BCE, after which he destroyed it (2 Kings 24:13; 2 Chr. 36:7). He burned the temple, and carried all its treasures with him to Babylon (2 Kings 25:9-17; 2 Chr. 36:19; Isaiah 64:11).
These sacred vessels were, at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, restored to the Jews by Cyrus, in 538 BCE (Ezra 1:7-11).
The Temple is believed to have been situated upon the hill which forms the site of the present-day Temple Mount, in the center of which area is the Dome of the Rock. Under the Jebusites the site was used as a threshing floor. 2 Sam. 24 describes its consecration during David’s reign. Two other, slightly different sites for the Temple have also 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, in 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.
Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar has conjectured that archaelolgical evidence supports the possible historical existence of Solomon’s Temple. This evidence includes remains taken from refuse from an extensive construction project performed on the Temple Mount by the Islamic waqf in November of 1999. The second was discovered in the summer of 2007, as archeologists overseeing construction at the site reported “evidence of human activity” most likely belonging to the first temple period. In January 2008 Israeli archaeologist Mazar publicized the Shelomit seal.
The detailed descriptions provided in the Tanakh and educated guesses 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. Reconstructions differ; the following enumeration is largely based on Easton’s Bible Dictionary and the Jewish Encyclopedia:
The Kadosh Kadoshim, the Temple’s Most Holy Place (1 Kings 6:19; 8:6), called also the “inner house” (6:27), and the “Holy of Holies” (Heb. 9:3). It 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 10 cubits from tip to tip, 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 blue purple and crimson and fine linen (2 Chr. 3:14; compare Exodus 26:33).It had no windows (1 Kings 8:12). It was considered the dwelling-place of God.
The reason for the color scheme of the veil was symbolic. In Jewish tradition, 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. Thus, purple can also be a representation of the Holy Messiah in Jewish and Christian traditions.
The Hekhal: the holy place, 1 Kings 8:8-10, called also the “greater house” (2 Chr. 3:5) and the “temple” (1 Kings 6:17); the word also means “palace”. It 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 Ulam: the porch or 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). 2 Chr. 3:4 adds the curious statement (probably corrupted from the statement of the depth of the porch) that this porch was 120 cubits high, which would make it a regular tower. 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 and surmounted by capitals of carved lilies, 5 cubits high.
The chambers, which 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 biblical tradition, round about the building were:
The court of the priests (2 Chr. 4:9), called the “inner court” (1 Kings 6:36), which was separated from the space beyond by a wall of three courses of hewn stone, surmounted by cedar beams (1 Kings 6:36).
The great court, which surrounded the whole temple (2 Chr. 4:9). Here the people assembled to worship God (Jeremiah 19:14; 26:2).
The inner court of the Priests contained the Altar of burnt-offering (2 Chr. 15:8), the brazen Sea (4:2-5, 10) and ten lavers (1 Kings 7:38, 39). 2 Kings 16:14 says that a brazen altar stood before the Temple, 2 Chr. 4:1 gives its dimensions as 20 cubits square and 10 cubits high.
The brazen Sea (Laver), 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” (24,000 US gallons), but Chronicles inflates this to three thousand baths (36,000 US gallons) (2 Chr. 4:5-6) and states that its purpose was to afford opportunity for the purification by immersion of the body of the priests. (According to Talmud tractate Mikwaoth, a “bath” of 40 seahs is the minimum permissible size for a Mikvah).
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.
JACHIN and BOAZ
Two brass pillars named Boaz and Jachin stood in the porch of the Temple. (1 Kings 7:15; 7:21; 2 Kings 11:14; 23:3). Boaz stood on the left and Jachin on the right. The Bible records their measurements as 27 feet (8.2 m) high and 6 feet (1.8 m) wide (18 by 12 cubits) with a hollow of 4 fingers thick. (Jeremiah 52:21-22). Their 8-foot (2.4 m) high brass capitals were each decorated with rows of 200 carved brass pomegranates, wreathed with seven chains and topped with lilies. (1 Kings 7:13-22, 41-42; 2 Chronicles 4:13) According to most translations of 1 Kings 7:13-22, these two pillars were cast of brass, though some believe the original Hebrew word used to describe their material, "nehosheth", is actually either bronze or copper, because the Hebrews were unfamiliar with zinc, which along with copper, is required to create brass.
The two pillars had their parallel not only at Tyre but at Byblus, Paphos, and Telloh (see, however, De Sarzec, "Découvertes en Chaldée," pp. 62-64). In Egypt the obelisks expressed the same idea. Those were phallic emblems, being survivals of the primitive Hamito-Semitic "maẓẓebah". Jachin and Boaz were really isolated columns, as Schick has shown, and not, as some have supposed, a part of the ornamentation of the building. Their tops were crowned with ornamentation as if they were lamps; and W. R. Smith supposed that they may have been used as fire-altars. This assumes that they contained cressets for burning the fat.
ARK OF THE COVENANT
The Shekinah (dwelling place) of Yahweh, 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, 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).