The First Temple: Crowning Achievement of King Solomon and Home of the Legendary Ark of the Covenant
The Biblical figure King Solomon was the son of King David, was reputedly both wealthy and wise. He is recorded as a prophet in both Judaism’s Talmud and Islam’s Quran and one of his major legacies and first projects when he became king was the building of a temple in Jerusalem.
King Solomon’s Temple, known also as the First Temple (or Beit HaMikdash in Hebrew), was the Holy Temple of ancient Jerusalem. This temple was built as a monument to God, as well as a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant. It was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians when Jerusalem was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar II during the 6th century BC. Archaeologists have sought to uncover the remnants of this temple for centuries. It was only recently, however, that the first direct evidence for King Solomon’s Temple was reported to have been found.
Conception of the Temple
Up until recent times, the only source of information regarding King Solomon’s Temple came from the Tanakh (also known as the Hebrew Bible, and is the textual source for the Old Testament of the Christian Bible). Information about the temple can be found in several books, primarily in I Kings, but also in I Chronicles, II Chronicles, and II Samuel.
Although the temple had been built by Solomon, the idea for its construction was conceived by his father, David. The Israelite king had intended to build a great temple in order to provide a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. God, however, forbade David to build this temple, as he had shed much blood during the many battles he fought in. Thus, it was only a generation later, during the reign of Solomon, that the temple was finally constructed.
The site of the temple was on the top of Mount Moriah, which was also the site where many generations earlier, Abraham was told to bring his son, Isaac, to be made as a sacrifice to God. David had purchased this plot of land from a man called Araunah the Jebusite, as he was told by God to erect an altar there. David had intended to build a temple to God there, but as God later forbid him to do so, he made the necessary arrangements, and entrusted the task to his son, Solomon.
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Construction of Solomon’s Temple
After the death of David, Solomon began construction of the temple that his father had dreamt of. In I Chronicles, the materials for this project had been gathered by David before his death. In 1 Kings, on the other hand, the materials were said to have been collected by Solomon himself. Cedar and fir (two types of timber), for instance, were obtained from Lebanon. In return, Solomon paid Hiram, the King of Tyre, in wheat and pure oil. As for the manpower required, Solomon raised a levy from the whole of Israel, and these workers co-operated with the workers of Hiram. In a way, these details provide us with a glimpse of the way in which the economy of that time functioned. Interestingly, according to Islamic tradition, Solomon was able to control demons, and commanded them to aid with the construction of the temple.
The building of the temple is recorded as having begun during the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign, and took about seven and a half years before it was completed. Solomon dedicated the temple with prayer and sacrifice. As many as 22000 oxen and 120000 sheep were sacrificed, which was then followed by a great public feast. The most important part of the temple is a room called the Holy of Holies. In most temples in the Near East during that time, this room would have housed the cult statue. Unlike these contemporary temples, King Solomon’s Temple did not contain an idol, but had the Ark of the Covenant in its Holy of Holies.
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The Queen of Sheba before the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem (Public Domain)
Destruction of the Temple
In 587 BC, Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. The victorious Babylonians then proceeded to raze the temple to the ground. For centuries, people have tried to find evidence of the existence of this ancient temple, but to no avail. One of the factors making it difficult for archaeological excavations to be carried out there is the presence of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the site. Nevertheless, it was announced recently that archaeological work, which had been done with the permission of the Islamic organization that administers the mosque, has yielded artifacts from the time of King Solomon’s Temple, thus providing further evidence supporting its existence.
Top image: A modern interpretation of King Solomon’s Temple. (CC BY 4.0)
By Wu Mingren
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