King Solomon is known for his construction projects like fortress cities of Meggido, Hazor and Gezer and his own palace in Jerusalem. Among them, the most important achievement during his reign must have been the construction of the Holy Temple. The Old Testament describes how magnificent the Temple used to be: ‘The length by cubits after the ancient measure was threescore cubits (103.5 feet / 31.5 metres), and the breadth twenty cubits (34.5 feet / 10.5 metres). And the porch that was before the house, the length of it, according to the breadth of the house, was twenty cubits, and the height a hundred and twenty (207 feet / 63 metres); and he overlaid it within with pure gold’ (2 Chronicles 3:3-4, conversions to foot and metre inserted by the researcher). For what purpose did he build such a huge temple and how could he finance a seemingly quite expensive project? This short entry would like to focus on examining these specific questions relating to the Holy Temple.
It was not Solomon, who originally intended to build the Temple in Jerusalem, but David, his father and previous king of Israel. As it is mentioned in a previous entry in this blog (https://wrex2009.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/the-ark-of-covenant-and-the-reign-of-king-david/), it was David who brought back the Ark of Covenant from the House of Abinadab to Jerusalem, the capital city of his kingdom. Therefore, it would be quite natural to presume that David ‘had wanted to build the great Temple… as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which (allegedly) contained the Ten Commandments’ (Telushkin, 1991). However, according to the Old Testament, it was God who forbade David to do so by saying, ‘Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood’ (1 Chronicles 28:3).
Accordingly, it was after the death of David when Solomon, his successor king, first issued the order for the construction of the Temple and actually, it is said that the ‘Construction began in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and took seven years’ (Dolphin, 2011) to complete.
For the main purpose of this huge construction, a special room known as the Holy of Holies was situated inside of the Temple in order to provide a suitable place for housing the Ark of Covenant. On the contrary to the magnificent outlook of the Temple, it is said that it’s ‘most important room contained almost no furniture at all’ (Telushkin, 1991). The distinctive uniqueness of this room could be imaginable from the following descriptions too:
‘In Solomon’s Temple the Holy of Holies formed a part of the house of Yhwh (I Kings vi. 1 et seq.), which was 60 cubits in length, 20 cubits in breadth, 30 cubits in height, and built of stone (Josephus, “Ant.” viii. 3, § 2: “white marble”), and was divided into two sections by a partition of cedar-wood with a door covered by a costly curtain (Josephus, l.c.§ 3; II Chron. iii. 14). The section farthest from the entrance, designated also as the “debir” (the “oracle” “the most holy place,” I Kings vi. 5, R. V. margin), was 20 cubits high and presented the shape of a cube. The stone of this inner or hinder part, like the outer room, was completely hidden with cedar boards carved with knops or gourds and open flowers and then covered with pure gold. This room must have been without light. In it was placed the Ark (ib. vi. 18, 19)’ (Jewish Encyclopedia, 2011).
Accordingly, the following custom followed to be established presumably due to the notion of the Holy of Holies: ‘That part of the Tabernacle and of the Temple which was regarded as possessing the utmost degree of holiness (or inaccessibility), and into which none but the High Priest—and he only once during the year, on the Day of Atonement—was permitted to enter’ (ibid).
Seven years of time was not the sole investment Solomon made for the construction of the Temple but also it took expensive materials and the vast amount of labour force. Nonetheless, it is said that ‘Solomon spared no expense for the building’s creation. He ordered vast quantities of cedar wood from King Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 5:20-25), had huge blocks of the choicest stone quarried, and commanded that the building’s foundation be laid with hewn stone. To complete the massive project, he imposed forced labor on all his subjects, drafting people for work shifts that sometimes lasted a month at a time. Some 3,300 officials were appointed to oversee the Temple’s erection (1 Kings 5:27-30). Solomon assumed such heavy debts in building the Temple that he is forced to pay off King Hiram by handing over twenty towns in the Galilee (1 Kings 9:11)’ (Telushkin, 1991).
However, 1 Kings continues to describe that ‘Hiram was not happy with’ the towns he was given ‘and complained to Solomon that they were worthless (9:12-13)’ (Bradshaw, 1999) whilst Solomon was not an incompetent ruler who could balance his financial problems by only selling off some parts of his territory. Furthermore, Hiram was one of the most important allies for Solomon and his kingdom ever since his father’s reign. Now, it would be appropriate to take a glance at King Hiram and the background history of Tyre, his kingdom.
According to Bradshaw, ‘The city of Tyre was located on two islands 600-700m from the mainland and 40 km south of Sidon… and we have evidence that she was inhabited from early in the 3rd millennium BC. The first written reference appears in an Egyptian Execration text dating from c. 1780-1750 BC [Katzenstein & Edwards, 1992]. The book of Joshua refers to Tyre a “the fortified city” (19:29), an apt description of a fortress with strong walls ascending from the very edge of the sea… The island had two ports, one on the North side, the other on the South, but lacked agricultural land, an adequate supply of fresh water, fuel and room for burials [Liverani, 1988: 932]. The city’s population is estimated to have been about 30 000 in its heyday [Katzenstein & Edwards, 1992]. To support these inhabitants water and food had to be ferried to the island from the mainland city which contained large freshwater springs [Pritchard, 1955: 477]… The city grew rich through its extensive trade in timber with Egypt and in turn relied on Pharoah’s protection… as Egyptian power declined during the 12th Century BC… Tyre fell victim to the invasion of the Sea Peoples’ (Bradshaw, 1999).
In contrast, ‘Before Solomon’s time, Israel was not known for maritime trade’ (King et al, p. 183, 2001). However, ‘the biblical text describes how important trading by sea became for Israel’ (ibid) during his reign so that ‘“King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom” (1 Kings 9:26)’ (ibid). Having given above backgrounds, it might have been quite plausible for both kings to have embarked on a co-operative joint venture in a following way: ‘The fleet was Solomon’s, but it was manned by Phoenicians skilled in sailing. Together Solomon and Hiram may have controlled trade from the Red Sea eastward to Africa and Arabia. “They [sailors of Solomon and Hiram] went to Ophir, and immediately imported from there four hundred twenty talents [14,400 kilograms] of gold, which they delivered to King Solomon” (1 Kings 9:28)’ (ibid). Furthermore, ‘Solomon built a commercial fleet called “ships of Tarshish”, a biblical term signifying heavy, seagoing merchantmen. From the context it is evident that these ships were able to make long voyages: “For the king [Solomon] had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:22)’ (ibid).
Despite there have been various academic arguments, it would be safe to say that the location of both Ophir and Tarshish yet remain uncertain. More importantly, the points here could be summed up as following: ‘What Solomon gained by the alliance was knowledge of the Phoenician manner of trading… he built ships and sent his own servants, under Phoenician masters, to trade with (a gold-producing country, possibly) Arabia. The profits went into the king’s coffers. As Arabia was a gold-producing country, we need not suppose that South Africa was reached by these fleets. Whether the commerce of India reached him by this route is not certain. The list of products imported has sometimes been interpreted in this sense. But one or two obscure words in a comparatively late text can hardly establish the conclusion’ (Knight, 2009). In addition, the relationship between Israel and Tyre worked beneficial for both nations because ‘Tyre depended upon Israel for its food supply (Acts 12:20), while Israel made use of the two major assets of Tyre: its access to the sea-trading routes and its abundant supply of timber (1 Kings 5:8-11) [Patterson & Austel, 1988: 58]’ (Bradshaw, 1999).
Telushkin describes that ‘When the Temple was completed, Solomon inaugurated it with prayer and sacrifice, and even invited non-Jews to come and pray there. He urged God to pay particular heed to their prayers: “Thus all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built” (1 Kings 8:43)’ (Telushkin, 1991). Needless to say, king Hiram of Tyre was one of those who was invited to the inauguration, nonetheless, ‘The fact that Scripture records Hiram offering praise to Yahweh (1 Kings 5:7; 2 Chron, 2:11-12) does not mean that he was converted. It was common in polytheistic cultures to accept the existence of other people’s gods and even enter into their theology to some extent [Keil, 1989: 60]’ (Bradshaw, 1999).
Thus, this short entry tried to examine the purpose of the construction of the Temple and how King Solomon managed to finance it. As for former, it argued that the purpose was to house the Ark of Covenant, which had been brought back by his father King David, and as for the latter, it weighed on Solomon’s relationship with his neighbouring king, Hiram of Tyre, who had been allied with Israel since the reign of King David as well.
Ivy Books (1991), The Holy Bible, King James Version
Published by Ballantine Books, New York
Bradshaw, Robert I. (1999), Tyre, Biblical Studies. Org. UK (electrically accessed 25/06/2012)
Dolphin, Lambert (2011), The Temple of Solomon, Lambert Dolphin’s Library (electrically accessed 02/07/2012)
Jewish Encyclopedia (2011), Holy of Holies (Vulgate, “Sanctum Sanctorum”; Hebr. “Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim,” or, more fully, “Bet Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim,” II Chron. iii. 8, 10; R. V. “the most holy house”): (electrically accessed 01/07/2012)
King, Philip J. and Lawrence E. Stager (2001), Life in Biblical Israel, Library of Ancient Israel, Google Books (electrically accessed 26/06/2012)
Knight, Kevin (2009), Solomon, New Advent – Catholic Encyclopedia (electrically accessed 26/06/2012)
Telushkin, Joseph (1991), Jewish Literacy, Jewish Virtual Library – The Temple – Beit HaMikdash, (electrically accessed 25/06/2012)