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Bible Dictionaries
Temple of Jerusalem

Holman Bible Dictionary

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A place of worship, especially the Temple of Solomon built in Jerusalem for national worship of Yahweh. Sacred or holy space is the meaning of our word temple , very like the two Greek words, hieron (temple area) and naos (sanctuary itself) which are translated “temple” in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the language is usually beth Yahweh or beth Elohim , “house of the Yahweh” or “house of God” because He is said to have dwelt there. The other Hebrew expression for temple is hekal , “palace, great house” deriving from the Sumerian word for “great house,” whether meant for God or the earthly king. So David, when he had built for himself a cedar palace, thought it only proper he should build one for Yahweh, too (2 Samuel 7:1-2 ). Nathan at first approved his plan, but the Lord Himself said He had been used to living in a tent since the Exodus from Egypt. He would allow David's son to build Him a house (Temple), but He would build for David a house (dynasty, 2 Samuel 7:3-16 ). This covenant promise became exceedingly significant to the messianic hope fulfilled in the coming of the ideal king of the line of David. See Tabernacle, Tent of Meeting.

Chronicles makes it clear that David planned the Temple and accumulated great wealth and gifts for it, though Solomon was the one who actually built it. Solomon's Temple may not have actually been the first temple which housed the ark of the covenant, since there was a house of Yahweh, also called a temple, at Shiloh (1Samuel 1:7,1Samuel 1:9,1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 3:3 ) but in 1 Samuel 2:22 (NIV) it is called “tent of meeting,” whether the wilderness tabernacle or not. Jeremiah in his great Temple sermon warned all who came into the Lord's house in Jerusalem that if they trusted primarily in the Temple, instead of the Lord, He could destroy Solomon's Temple just as He had the previous one at Shiloh ( Jeremiah 7:1-15; Jeremiah 26:1-6 ).

Israel knew other worship places with history far older than the Jerusalem Temple. Former patriarchal holy places near Shechem or Bethel (Genesis 12:6-8; Genesis 28:10-22; compare Deuteronomy 11:29-30; Deuteronomy 27:1-26; Joshua 8:30-35; Joshua 24:1-28; Judges 20:26-27 ), these are not called temples in Scripture though local inhabitants may have called them temples. It cannot be determined what kind of sanctuaries were at Ophrah, Gilgal, Nob, Mizpah, Ramah, or other “high places” where Yahweh was worshiped, but “the Temple” is the one at Jerusalem from Solomon's time.

Solomon's Temple There were three historical Temples in succession, those of Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod in the preexilic, postexilic, and New Testament periods. Herod's Temple was really a massive rebuilding of the Zerubbabel Temple, so both are called the “second Temple” by Judaism. All three were located on a prominent hill north of David's capital city, which he conquered from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-7 ). David had acquired the Temple hill from Araunah the Jebusite at the advice of the prophet Gad to stay a pestilence from the Lord by building an altar and offering sacrifices on the threshing floor (2 Samuel 24:18-25 ). Chronicles identifies this hill with Mount Moriah, where Abraham had been willing to offer Isaac (2 Chronicles 3:1; Genesis 22:1-14 ). So the Temple mount today in Jerusalem is called Mount Moriah, and the threshing floor of Araunah is undoubtedly the large rock enshrined within the Dome of the Rock, center of the Muslim enclosure called Haram es-Sharif (the third holiest place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina). This enclosure is basically what is left of Herod's enlarged Temple platform, the masonry of which may best be seen in its Western Wall, the holiest place within Judaism since the Roman destruction of Herod's Temple.

No stone is left that archaeologists can confidently say belonged to the Solomonic Temple. We do have the detailed literary account of its building preserved in Kings (1 Kings 5:1-9:10 ) and Chronicles (2 Chronicles 2-7 ). Ezekiel's vision of the new Jerusalem Temple after the Exile (Ezekiel 40-43 ) is idealistic and was perhaps never realized in Zerubbabel's rebuilding of the Temple, but many of its details would have reflected Solomon's Temple in which Ezekiel probably ministered as a priest before being deported to Babylon in 597 B.C. The treaty with Hiram, the king of Tyre, and the employment of the metalworker Hiram (or Huram-abi, a different person from the king) whom he provided show that considerable Phoenician influence, expertise, craftmanship, and artistic design went into the building of the Temple.

The primary meaning of the Temple was the same as that of the ark it was constructed to enshrine: a symbol of God's presence in the midst of His people (Exodus 25:21-22 ). Because it was God's house, the worshipers could not enter the holy place, reserved only for priests and other worship leaders, much less the holiest place (holy of holies) to be entered by the high priest only once a year (Leviticus 16:1 ). The worshipers could gather for prayer and sacrifice in the Temple courtyard(s) where they could sing psalms as they saw their offerings presented to Yahweh on His great altar. The spirit of Israel's prayer and praise is to be found in the Psalms and in the worship experiences such as that of Isaiah when he surrendered to his prophetic call experience in the forecourt of the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-8 ).

The account of Isaiah's experience makes it clear that the earthly Temple was viewed as a microcosm of the heavenly Temple where the King of the universe really dwelt. The quaking and smoke of the Lord's presence at Sinai were now manifested in Zion (Isaiah 6:4 ). Israel understood that it was only by God's grace that He consented to dwell with His people; and so Deuteronomy understood the central sanctuary as the place where Yahweh caused His name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12:5; compare 1 Kings 8:13 ), and priestly thinkers viewed it as filled with His glory (compares the tabernacle, Exodus 40:34 ). Obviously, no one can house God: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27 NRSV).

Solomon's Temple was shaped as a “long house” of three successive rooms from east to west, a vestibule of only 15-feet depth, a nave (the holy place) of 60 feet and an inner sanctuary (the most holy place) of 30 feet (1 Kings 6:2-3; 1 Kings 16-17 ). It was approximately 30-feet wide and 45-feet high by its interior measurements for the “house” proper, not counting the porch, which was sort of an open entryway. This is similar to, though not precisely the same as, the shape of several Syrian and Canaanite temples excavated in the past few decades (at Hazor, Lachish, tell Tainat). There is even one Israelite “temple” at the southeast border of Judah in the iron age fortress of Arad which some have compared with Solomon's Temple. None was so symmetrical or ornately decorated, nor even as large as the Jerusalem Temple, even though Solomon's palace complex of which the Temple was only a part (1 Kings 7:1-12 ) was much larger and took longer to build (tell Tainat, in northern Syria, is the closest analogy). Around the outside of the house proper was constructed three stories of side chambers for Temple storehouses, above which were recessed windows in the walls of the holy place (1Kings 6:4-6,1 Kings 6:8-10 ).

The inside of the house proper was paneled with cedar, floored with cypress, and inlaid with gold throughout. It was decorated with well-known Phoenician artistic ornamentation, floral designs with cherubim, flowers, and palm trees. The most holy place, a windowless cube of about 30 feet, housed the ark of the covenant and was dominated by two guardian cherubim 15-feet tall with outstretched wings spanning fifteen feet to touch in the middle and at each side wall (1 Kings 6:15-28 ). One of the interesting results of archaeological research is the recovery of the form of these ancient cherubim. They are Egyptian-type sphinxes (human-headed winged lions) such as are pictured as the arms of a throne chair of a Canaanite king on one of the Megiddo ivories. The ark, the mercy-seat lid of which had its own guardian cherubim (Exodus 25:18-20 ), was Yahweh's “footstool.” Beneath these awesome cherubim, God was invisibly enthroned.

The double doors of the inner sanctuary and the nave were similarly carved and inlaid of finest wood and gold (1 Kings 6:31-35 ). The arrangement prescribed for the wall of the inner court, “three courses of hewn stone and one course of cedar beams” was followed in Solomonic buildings excavated at Megiddo (1 Kings 6:36; 1 Kings 7:12 ). This arrangement is also known from the tell Tainat temple. This exquisite sanctuary took seven years to build (about 960 B.C.; 1 Kings 6:37-38 ). The marvelous furnishings of the holy place and the courtyard require another chapter to describe (1 Kings 7:9-51 ).

The most mysterious creations were two huge free-standing bronze pillars about thirty-five-feet tall, including their beautifully ornamented capitals of lily-work netting and rows of pomegranates (1 Kings 7:15-20 ). They were nearly six feet in diameter, hollow, with a thickness of bronze about three inches. The pillars were named Jachin (“He shall establish”) and Boaz (“In the strength of”), perhaps to signify the visible symbolism of the Temple as a testimony to the stability of the Davidic dynasty to which it was intimately related.

The reader at this point expects an account of the bronze altar, included in Chronicles (2 Chronicles 4:1 ), but only presumed in Kings (1Kings 8:22,1Kings 8:54,1 Kings 8:64; 1 Kings 9:25 ). This altar is large, thirty-feet square and fifteen-feet tall, presumably with steps.

The molten sea, which may have had some kind of cosmic symbolism, stood in the south-central quadrant of the inner courtyard opposite the bronze altar. It was round with a cup-shaped brim, fifteen feet in diameter, seven-and-a-half-feet tall, with a circumference of forty-five feet. It was cast of heavy bronze, ornately decorated, and resting on the back of twelve bronze oxen in four sets of three facing each point of the compass. Since it held about 10,000 gallons of water, it must have been for supplying water to the lavers by some sort of syphon mechanism.

The third great engineering feat was the crafting of ten ornate, rolling stands for ten lavers, five on either side of the courtyard. These were six-feet square and four-and-a-half-feet tall, each containing some 200 gallons of water, quite heavy objects to be rolled about on chariot wheels. Chronicles says they were used to wash the utensils for sacrificial worship (2 Chronicles 4:6 ).

At the Feast of Tabernacles, Solomon conducted an elaborate dedication festival for the Temple (1 Kings 8:1-9:9 ). The story begins with a procession of the ark containing the two tables of the decalogue, God's glory in the shining cloud of His presence filled the sanctuary (1 Kings 8:1-11 ). Then the king blessed the assembly, praised God for His covenant mercies in fulfilling Nathan's promise to David, and gave a long, fervent prayer on behalf of seven different situations in which the prayers of his people should arise to the heavenly throne of God from His earthly temple, closing with a benediction. Solomon provided myriads of sacrifices for the seven days of the great dedication festival. God had consecrated this house of prayer, but He required covenant obedience of Solomon and each of his successors, lest He have to destroy this magnificent sanctuary because of the apostasy of His people (1 Kings 9:1-9 ). The consistent emphasis of Solomon's prayer and God's answer is the awareness of sin and the necessity for wholehearted repentance to keep the Temple ceremonial a meaningful symbol of worship and devotion (2 Chronicles 7:13-14 ). The great prophets preached that, in their Temple worship, Israel was not able to avoid syncretism with pagan religious impulses or the hypocritical irrelevance of meaningless overemphasis upon ritual without righteous obedience to their sovereign Overlord (Isaiah 1:10-17; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 7:1-26 ).

The history of Solomon's Temple has many ups and downs through its almost four hundred years of existence. Its treasures of gold were often plundered by foreign invaders like Shishak of Egypt (1 Kings 14:25-26 ). At the division of the kingdoms, Jeroboam set up rival sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan which drew worshipers away from Jerusalem for two hundred years. King Asa plundered his own Temple treasuries to buy a military ally, Ben-Hadad of Syria against Baasha, king of North Israel (1 Kings 15:18-19 ), though he had previously repaired the Temple altar and carried out limited worship reforms (2 Chronicles 15:8-18 ). Temple repairs were carried out by Jehoash (Joash) of Judah after the murder of wicked Queen Athaliah, but even he had to strip the Temple treasuries to buy off Hazael, king of Syria (2 Kings 12:1 ). Jehoash (Joash), king of Israel, when foolishly challenged to battle by Amaziah, king of Judah, not only defeated him, but came to Jerusalem and plundered the Temple (1 Kings 14:12-14 ). King Ahaz plundered his own Temple for tribute to Assyria during the Syro-Ephraimitic war of 735 B.C., even stripping some of the bronze furnishings in the courtyard (2Kings 16:8-9,2 Kings 16:17 ). Good King Hezekiah raised a hugh tribute for Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in his 701 B.C. invasion, even stripping gold off the Temple doors (2 Kings 18:13-16 ). During the long and disastrous reign of King Manasseh many abominable idols and pagan cult objects were placed in the Temple which good King Josiah had to remove during his reform (2Kings 23:4-6,2 Kings 23:11-12 ). Both Hezekiah and Josiah were able to centralize worship in the Jerusalem Temple during their reforms and even recover some worshipers from the north for the Jerusalem sanctuary, but Josiah's successor, Jehoiakim, reversed all of Josiah's reforms and filled up the Temple with pagan abominations (Ezekiel 8:1 ). Despite the warnings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the people refused to repent of their political and religious folly, and their Temple and holy city were first plundered by Nebuchadnezzer in 597 B.C., then burned by Nebuzaradan, his general, in 587/586 B.C.

For both groups of Judah, those in Babylon, and those still in Jerusalem, the loss of the Temple and city were a grievous blow (Psalm 137:1; Lamentations 1-5 ). But Jeremiah and Ezekiel had prepared a remnant in their prophecies of hope beyond the catastrophe for a return and rebuilding.

Zerubbabel's Temple The decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. permitted the Jews to return from the Babylonian Exile with the Temple vessels which had been taken. It charged them to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem with Persian financial aid and free-will offerings from Jews who remained in Babylon (Ezra 1:1-4 ). Sheshbazzar, the governor, laid the foundation. The project was halted when the people of the land discouraged the builders (Ezra 1:8 ,Ezra 1:8,1:11; Ezra 4:1-5 ). Then in the second year of Darius, 520 B.C., the work was renewed by the new governor Zerubbabel and Jeshua the high priest at the urging of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1-2 ).

When local Persian officials tried to stop the rebuilding, Darius found a record of Cyrus' decree which included the overall dimensions (Ezra 6:1-6 ).The size seems to have been approximately that of Solomon's Temple. Ezekiel's temple vision had considerable influence on the new Temple (Ezekiel 40-42 ), so that Zerubbabel's Temple perhaps was mounted on a platform and measured about 100 feet by 100 feet with the interior dimensions being virtually the same as those of Solomon's Temple. It was probably not as ornately decorated (Ezra 3:12-13; Haggai 2:3 ).

The differences between the two sanctuaries have to do with furniture and courtyard arrangements or gates. As Jeremiah had foreseen, the ark of the covenant was never replaced (Jeremiah 3:16 ). Jospehus said the holy of holies was empty. It was now separated from the holy place by a veil instead of a door. There was only one seven-branched lampstand, as had been true of the tabernacle, probably the one pictured by Titus in his triumphal arch at Rome as having been carried off when Herod's Temple was plundered. The importance of the new Temple was that it became a symbol of the Lord's holiness and the religious center of life for the new community.

It was completed in 515 B.C. and dedicated with great joy (Ezra 6:14-16 ). Priesthood had replaced kingship as the authority of the postexilic community.

The Maccabean revolt changed this, and Judas Maccabeus rededicated the Temple in 167 B.C. after Antiochus had profaned it in December, 164 B.C. This joyous event is still remembered in the Jewish celebration of Hannukah. Judas' successors appointed themselves as high priests, and the Temple became more a political institution. Pompey captured the Temple in 63 B.C. but did not plunder it. See Intertestamental History.

Herod's Temple Herod the Great came to power in 37 B.C. and determined that he would please his Jewish subjects and show off his style of kingship to the Romans by making the Jerusalem Temple bigger and better than it had ever been. His most notable contribution was the magnificent stonework of the Temple platform which was greatly enlarged. The descriptions in Josephus and the Mishnah have been fleshed out by recent archaeological discoveries.

Herod surrounded the whole enclosure with magnificent porches, particularly the royal stoa along the southern wall. Through the Huldah gates, double and triple arches of which can still be seen, worshipers went up through enclosed passageways into the court of the Gentiles. Greek inscriptions separating this court from the court of the women and the holier inner courts of Israel (men) and the priests have been found. The steps south of the Temple, where Jesus may have taught on several occasions, have been excavated and reconstructed. An inscription: “To the place of trumpeting” was found below the southwest corner where there was a monumental staircase ascending into the Temple from the main street below. Perhaps this was the “Temple pinnacle” from which Satan tempted Jesus to throw Himself.

The Jerusalem Temple is the focus of many New Testament events. The birth of John the Baptist was announced there (Luke 1:11-20 ). The offering by Joseph and Mary at the circumcision of baby Jesus was brought there. Simeon and Anna greeted Jesus there (Luke 2:22-38 ). Jesus came there as a boy of twelve (Luke 2:42-51 ) and later taught there during His ministry (John 7:14 ). His cleansing of the Temple was instrumental in precipitating His death. He knew no earthly temple was necessary to the worship of God (John 4:21-24 ). He predicted the Temple's destruction by the Romans, and His warnings to His followers to flee when this happened actually saved many Christians' lives (Mark 13:2 ,Mark 13:2,13:14-23 ). Early Christians continued to worship there, and Paul was arrested there (Acts 3:1; Acts 21:27-33 ).

After the Jewish revolt in 66 A.D., Vespasian and then his son Titus crushed all resistance. The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Stephen's preaching tended to liberate Christian thinking from the necessity of a temple (Acts 7:46-50 ), and Paul thought of the church and Christians as the new temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ). For John, the ideal which the temple represented will ultimately be realized in a “new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2 ). See Ark of the Covenant; Herods; Holy of Holies; Moriah; Shiloh; Solomon; Tabernacle, Tent of Meeting; Zerubbabel .

M. Pierce Matheney

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Temple of Jerusalem'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​t/temple-of-jerusalem.html. 1991.
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