Temple of Solomon

Three Temples and a Vision

The story of the Templars must begin with that of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock stands today. For it was here that Solomon’s Temple was built–the legendary, lost temple of the Jews, from which the Templars, as guardians of the Holy Land, took their name, and on whose site they created their military and spiritual headquarters. Sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, no world site has greater resonance; nor, as home of the Ark of the Covenant, such enduring myth.

Physically, the Temple Mount takes the form of a vast platform, which was constructed overanatural hill by Herod the Great to support his gigantic temple–built around 25–10 BC on the site of Solomon’s original temple of a thousand years earlier. It is Herod’s Temple that is referred to in the Gospel of Mark 13:1–2, when a disciple says to Jesus,  ‘Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!’, to which Jesus replies, ‘Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another,that shall not be thrown down. ’And it was this temple that, duly bearing out the prophecy, was destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus in AD 70 in the course of putting down a Jewish rebellion.

Temple of Solomon

The Temple of Solomon

Though nothing survives of Herod’s Temple, the exposed western retaining wall of the Temple Mount platform, famously known as the Wailing Wall, has come to symbolise not only the lost Temple of Herod but the first temple built on this same spot three thousand years ago, the Temple of Solomon.

Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, became King of Israel in about 962 BC and died in about 922 BC. During the forty years of his reign, he expanded trade and political contacts, centralised the authority of the crown against tribal fragmentation, and engaged in an elaborate building programme. Hisprincipal building works were the royal palace and the Temple in Jerusalem.

Almost all that we know about the planning and building of Solomon’s Temple comes from the Old Testament, in particular the books 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles. We also know from 2 Kings about the Assyrians’ capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and how they destroyed the city, burnt down Solomon’s Temple, and sent the population in to exile at Babylon where their lament is recorded in Psalms 137:1: ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.’

We are told by the later Book of Ezra that after the Assyrians were over thrown by the Persians, the Persian King Cyrus the Great gave permission for the Jews to return home from their captivity in Babylon and to rebuild their temple. Begun in 520 BC and completed five years later, this Second Temple, also known as the Temple of Zerubbabel, stood on the same spot as the Temple of Solomon and probably followed its plan, but owing to the reduced condition of the Jews at the time it was not possible to reproduce the magnificence of Solomon’s decorations.

Jerusalem remained part of the Persian Empire for two hundred years. But when Alexander the Great defeated the Persian King Darius III at the battle of Issus in 333 BC the entire Middle East came under the rule and cultural influence of the Greeks. In time the Greeks were superseded by the Romans, though much of Greek culture remained. Palestine, as the Romans called it, became part of the Roman Empire in 63 BC, but it was given complete autonomy under Herod the Great, a Jew who had proved himself loyal to Roman interests and was installed as King of the Jews in 37 BC.

By Herod’s time the Second Temple had suffered five centuries of wear and decay, but it would have been sacrilege for him to have torn it down. Instead he incorporated the Second Temple in his plans, enlarging and refurbishing it on a grandiose scale; in effect it was a third temple, though it still counted as the second. But in less than a century Herod’s Temple too was destroyed.

There was yet another temple, and though it never really existed it was described in great detail in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel was among those deported to Babylon where he had a vision that Israel was restored to its former glory and that Solomon’s Temple had risen again from its ruins. Ezekiel’s Temple was the expression of a yearning for the Temple of Solomon, a symbol of a lost ideal. In that sense, and not only for Jews, but for all peoples, the Temple of Solomon has become one of the great legendary buildings of the world, a monument that has inspired imaginations for thousands of years.

The New Testament adds another dimension to Ezekiel’s symbolism of the Temple. After prophesying the  destruction of the Temple, Jesus announces in the Gospel of John 2:16,  ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’, words which are taken as referring to his own death and resurrection, so that in place of the destroyed earthly Temple, Jesus becomes an everlasting divine Temple. For Christians the resurrection, the corner stone of their faith, was expressed in this vision of Jesus as the new Temple, and of Paradise as the new Jerusalem.

Temple of Solomon

The Bible and History

Everything we know about the First Temple at Jerusalem comes from the Old Testament, and the same applies even to the existence of the Kingdom of David and Solomon. There are no accounts by outsiders, nor is there any material evidence–not helped by present-day religious and political sensitivities about archaeological digs at the Temple Mount. This has led some to argue that there is no historical basis for the ancient kingdom or the original Temple. But there is too much circumstantial evidence–political, economic and cultural–to dismiss the biblical account. For example there are the details of the complex commercial relationships between Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre (also called Huram in some parts of the Bible), who is an independently attested historical figure.

The existence of Israel as a people and a place was already mentioned by the ancient Egyptians as early as c1209 BC, during the reign of Merneptah, son of Ramses II. And within a century of Solomon’s reign (c962–c922 BC), events and figures in the Bible find corroboration in Assyrian inscriptions, and thereafter in contemporary Persian, Greek and Roman texts.

But it is also true that the books of the Old Testament were often written much later than the events they describe.For example four centuries had elapsed before an account of the construction of the First Temple was given in 1 Kings, and indeed by then it had already been destroyed and its most sacred object, the Ark of the Covenant, had long since disappeared. When 1 Kings was written, the Jews were a broken and oppressed people who seemed to have somehow lost the favour of God, and at least part of its purpose was to remind them of a time when they had been powerful and united in the presence of God, who had dwelt among them in the splendour of the Temple. More than a historical account, 1 Kings was a book of desire and hope, an injunction to return to pious ways to restore what had been lost.

Here are the dates of composition, as generally agreed by biblical scholars, of those Old Testament books which describe the reigns of David and Solomon and the period of the First Temple.

2 Samuel: written during the Babylonian exile, sixth century BC, but working with earlier sources.

1 and 2 Kings: as 2 Samuel.

1 and 2 Chronicles: written in the latter half of the fourth century BC, ie 350–300 BC.

Ezra: Ezra himself arrived in Jerusalem in 397 BC, but the book was written a half century later by the same authors or compilers as Chronicles.

Psalms: though ascribed to David by tradition, in fact they were composed and collected over six centuries, with some in their original form perhaps dating to the First Temple period and all of them collected after the Babylonian exile.

Ezekiel: Ezekiel went to Babylon in 597 BC, and he may have written all or part of his book while there, but it is also possible that it is a thirdcentury pseudepigrapha, that is a fake written to look three hundred years older.

The books of the New Testament: Often written long after the event, these likewise have purposes beyond the historical. For example, the Gospel of Mark was written in tumultuous times, during or immediately after a Jewish rebellion against Rome which was put down by the Emperor Titus in AD 70 when he also razed the Second Temple to the ground, and so the words ascribed to Jesus probably owe less to prophecy than to hindsight. The same is true of the words uttered by Jesus in the Gospel of John 2:16, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ These are taken as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus, which occurred in about AD 30, whereas John’s Gospel was written no earlier than AD 85.

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