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Bible Stock Illustrations

Largest selection of original Biblical stock illustrations

Solomon's Temple

"And Solomon said: 

YHVH caused his sun to shine in the heavens,

but he said he would dwell in thick darkness.

I have built you a lofty temple, a dwelling place for you to occupy forever."

(1 KIngs 8:12)

Solomon began construction on the temple in his fourth year as king tentatively dated to around 966 BC and it took seven years to complete. His father David had chosen the place for it on a threshing floor that he had purchased from a local Jebusite named Araunah. David built an altar there to atone for a selfish choice he had made but God did not allow him to build a temple. Solomon's Temple stood for 373 years from its completion around 959 BC until its total destruction by the babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.   

The reconstruction of the Temple of Solomon offered here is based entirely on the detailed description found in 1Kings chapters 6 and 7 our only source of information about it although 2 Chronicles 2-4 provides some of the same information composed at a later date.  I accepted the measurements given by the biblical authors as authentic and although I give them the benefit of the doubt as regards the sizes given, the height of the building,  seems a bit ambitious at 45 feet.  All the other dimensions, features of the building and the size and decoration of the numerous bronze implements mentioned in the text seemed plausible to me within the context of the contemporary 10th century BC Middle Eastern architecture, artifacts and iconography.  The Bible gives all measurements in cubits which corresponds to the length of a forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. As standard measure, one cubit varied from place to place and slightly different lengths were preferred over time by architects from Egypt to Babylon. For instance, the Egyptian royal cubit was 20.6 inches (53 cm). For Solomon's construction project I chose the generally accepted value of 18 inches (46 cm) as one cubit. 

The layout of Solomon's temple as described in the Bible has many parallels in the architecture of the nations surrounding ancient Israel and it is by no means unique in its design. Examples for its plan are evidenced from Canaan itself and from Syria from the same general time period. As only foundations of these temples remain, any elevation drawing of them is hypothetical.  It is debated whether the porch of Solomon's Temple was lower or the same height as the rest of the temple.  I chose the idea that it was the same height based on the principle that the entrance to any temple whether in the Iron Age or today aims to present a grand impression. 

The suggestion of the elevation of Solomon's Temple and its decoration presented here is based on the biblical reference that Solomon hired Phoenician craftsmen from king Hiram of Tyre to build the Temple as well as his own palace, supply the timber and cast all the bronze and gold implements associated with the temple service.  Phoenician artistic styles were under heavy Egyptian influence whether in their architecture, iconography or decoration.  Thus I thought it logical that the exterior temple walls were topped with the kind of cornice one sees on all Egyptian temples and cultic structures. A water lily frieze runs under it which was a favorite design for hundreds of years down to the Assyrian period. The border design around the porch entrance is borrowed from one of the most important finds contemporary with Solomon: the stone sarcophagus of Hiram of Tyre, possibly the same Hiram mentioned in the Bible.  

The temple's bronze cult objects and various bronze equipments had, until recently, been only known from the biblical descriptions in 1 Kings 6 and 7.  We now possess actual examples of the bronze trollies described in 1 Kings 7 found in Cyprus during excavations and they were dated to the 9th century BC.  They survived in remarkably good condition and I relied heavily on them to get an idea of the way bronze trollies were constructed in the Middle East at the time. As the result of these recent finds most of the convoluted biblical descriptions in 1Kings 7 became intelligible and the terminology now made sense. The open work spiral design as well as the typical tree of life flanked by two cherubim were old favorites as royal iconography for all kinds of surfaces throughout the Levant. The lion attacking a bull, mentioned in the same biblical passage concerning the decorated panels of the trollies is another timeless motif in the region seen on a variety of objects as early as the Sumerian period. I composed the trolley panels based on those examples. 

There is no known parallel in the art history of the ancient Middle East to the great "Bronze Sea" which rested on twelve bronze oxen. (1 KIngs 7:23) The large round water basin was cast in bronze and it was set up at the south-east corner of the temple. It measured ten cubits in diameter, its height was 5 cubits and the bronze oxen supporting it were evidently life size.  They were in groups of three facing the cardinal directions. I followed the measurements and descriptions given in the biblical text in 1 Kings 7 to create the image of the Bronze Sea. 

The two bronze pillars, named Yachin and Boaz, set up in front of the temple porch were more difficult to tackle. The height given for these bronze giants was 18 cubits and their circumference is given as 12 cubits. They were topped with 5 cubit high capitals 11.5 meters (35 feet).  One has the choice of believing that the 10th century BC kingdom of Solomon had the resources and technological finesse to acquire the necessary copper and tin to make bronze and to successfully cast them in complex shapes, or doubt the dimensions given as somewhat exaggerated. In this reconstruction I decided to go along with the biblical text on the basis that all too often we in the 21st century view the reports of the staggering achievements of our Bronze and Iron Age ancestors with incredulity and suspicion. 

The capitals on the two bronze pillars are challenging to envision when one reads the biblical account of its features which is rather garbled and inexact (1 King 7:16-22).  Compounding the problem is the report in 2 Chronicles 4;12 where the capitals are called "bowl-shaped" I took my clue to their overall design from the older account preserved in 1 Kings 7.  There they were likened to lily flowers which were the ubiquitous proto-Aeolian type of capitals found throughout the Middle East from Assyria to Canaan grounding the design in something one can recognize from surviving artifacts. Many of the Nimrud ivories of Phoenician origin from the 8th century BC portray these lily shaped capitals as part of balustrades in the typical "Lady in the window" theme. Carefully carved miniature balustrades with columns and lily capitals of the same kind were excavated in the Royal Palace at Ramat Rachel outside Jerusalem dated to the 9th century BC. In fact, the Ramat Rachel balustrade capitals were so perfectly articulated that I copied them exactly. 

The altar was made entirely of uncut field stones which no tools could touch as commanded in Exodus 20:24-26. The same passage indicates that priests ascended the altar on a ramp that led up to the top instead of stairs.  However, while most altars in the history of Israel were made only of earth and stone, Solomon covered the new altar with bronze plates (1 Kings 8:64).  The issue with this feature for the artist is the size. The dimensions of this new altar are only mentioned in 2 Chronicles 4:1, a later, secondary source and it might have been the one king Ahaz erected judging from its enormous size. It is described as 20 cubits square and 10 cubits high. King Ahaz (735-715 BC ) saw the great altar in Damascus while on a visit there and he was so impressed by it that he commissioned one just like it to be erected immediately to the east of the smaller, original bronze altar of Solomon.  Ahaz then moved the old bronze altar to the north of his new large one (2 KIngs 16:10-14). He made steps to approach it from the east as Ezekiel describes it.  I reduced these measurements somewhat for the original bronze altar depicted here and had a ramp lead to the top as originally prescribed in Exodus.  Ezekiel in exile envisioned an altar of similar size to the one  Ahaz had built measuring 18 cubits square and 11 cubits high (Ezek. 43:13-17).  The altar thus envisioned by Ezekiel must therefore have been inspired by the altar of Ahaz. 

The Temple stood on a platform, a kind of terrace in the court well paved with flagstones so the heavy bronze trollies with the water basins could be pushed where they were needed. The small part of a two story structure can be seen behind the temple that surrounds the entire court. 

As far as the family depicted in the foreground, we have very few extant art historical sources illuminating the appearance of Israelites in any period. The well known stone relief of Sennacherib showing the attack of the fortified Judaean town of Lachish is a record of the way Judaeans looked at the end of the 8th century BC, and that is the best we have at the moment. Some of the men are shown with long tunics others, like most lay folks in the Middle east at the time, wear short tunics with belts. The women are depicted with long dresses and long scarves reaching down to the ankles.

Quite a few ideas have been proposed about the appearance of Solomon's Temple from the Renaissance onwards when artists had no information to base their paintings on outside the Bible. In our own age with the advancement of archaeological exploration and scientific inquiry we are in a better position to envision the reality of this important place where so much of the biblical narrative unfolded and which continues to have major significance for the history of Israel, the Middle East and the entire world.  

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