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Bible Stock Illustrations

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Interior of Temple of Solomon

The illustration titled "Interior of the Temple of Solomon" depicts the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) on the day of Yom Kippur ( Day of Atonement) presenting incense before God a few steps away from the Ark of the Covenant resting between the outstretched wings of the towering figures of the two Cherubs. It was the only day of the year the Kohen Gadol ever entered the Kodesh haKodashim (Holy of Holies). He is shown wearing a simple linen garment specially made for the day. 

The image is based entirely on the detailed biblical description found in the 6th chapter of 1 Kings. I started with the overall measurement of the main hall of the Temple which is reported to be 20 cubits wide (9 meters or 27 feet) and 30 cubits high (13.5 meters or 40 feet).  The Holy of Holies, with the Ark of the Covenant and the two giant Cherubs in it, is described as a cube 20 x 20 x 20 cubits. It became clear right away as I was sketching up the space that 10 cubits are not accounted for in the height of the Holy of Holies to be of the same height as the main hall of the Temple.  The question is closely linked to the exact location of the Holy of Holies which has been a matter of some controversy.  

The rock now stands 6 feet above the floor of the Dome of the Rock. But a French scholar Charles Clermont-Ganneau who was present when Arab workmen conducted repair work near the eastern door of the Dome of the Rock in 1873 reported that after digging 3 feet into the soil under the floor of the building they still did not reach bedrock, close as they were because they observed that the soil changed to a reddish color that indicated the proximity of bedrock. According to that record the height of the es-Sakhra as it survives today must be around 10 feet from bedrock. The builders of Solomon's temple would have laid down stone slabs as sub-flooring in the main hall and wood beams would have run under the wood floors which the Bible mentions. With all this the top of the rock forming the floor of the Holy of Holies would have been around 8 feet from the wood floor of the Temple. That is the lower 5 of the missing 10 cubits. The other 5 cubits can only be accounted for if we consider a 5 cubit drop ceiling from the full height of the Temple.

So I measured out 8 feet for the elevation of the Holy of Holies in my drawing. It so happened that this height for the Holy of Holies yielded 12 steps of 8 inches each which is the standard rise for steps today. The 12 steps could correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel and I suspected I must be on the right track.  In creating the staircase I needed railing for the edge. The obvious choice was a kind of balustrade that was ubiquitous in the ancient Near East from the 10th century BC onwards of which many examples turned up at excavations, mostly made of ivory. I also needed balustrades on the platform in front of the Holy of Holies. The enormous double doors, carved with cherubim and palm trees and overlaid with gold, would swing out (they could only swing out as the Cherubim inside would prevent them from swinging inside) and so a platform as wide as the doors is necessary to open them. When the doors were closed they were covered by a linen curtain  embroidered with cherubim and palm trees. 1 Kings 6 would also have us believe that the entire interior of the temple was covered with sheets of gold hammered over wood panels carved with the customary cherubs, palm trees and lotus flowers. I decided not to challenge the biblical description and depicted an all-gold interior. I borrowed the iconography, ie: cherubs, Tree of Life motif and the flower pattern, from contemporary Phoenician and Canaanite sources such as the Hiram Sarcophagus and some ivory fragments found in Assyria but made by Phoenician craftsmen.  

An incense altar covered with gold stood in front of the Holy of Holies and I placed it at the bottom of the stairs as there is no room for it on the platform in the way of the opening doors. The Cherubs are recorded in 1 Kings 6 to be 10 cubits high ( 4.5 meters or 13.5 feet) and their wing span 10 cubits across, thus they fit perfectly in the room with their wings touching both walls and each other in the middle right over the Ark of the Covenant.  Made of olive wood, they were similarly covered with gold plates. The Cherubs  were referenced from depictions on Phoenician ivories and their Assyrian monumental stone equivalent, the winged bull-lion-man gate guards well known from several sites.  

There is no textual evidence regarding the oil lamps and lamp stands used in the Temple. The now traditional menorah shape is not yet known so far from the First Temple period.  However a bronze lamp stand with  a tripod base and a flat tray on top was unearthed in Megiddo dating from the same period as the Temple providing a good example of the ten lamp stands that stood in the Temple's main hall.  Further, clay bowls made for seven wicks have been found at a number of Iron Age I sites in Israel and I depict them positioned in the middle of the lamp stand trays. Windows high up on the side walls provided light and the overall effect of the interior must have been quite stunning.  

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