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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