Solomon's Temple

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Solomon's Temple, according to the Biblical description

Solomon's Temple (tem´p'l היכל, hēkhāl, “palace”), also called the First Temple, is the structure built in Jerusalem for the specific purpose of providing a house unto the name of the LORD my God (1 Kings 5:5), and the centerpiece of Jewish worship in ancient times.

David's Project

The tabernacle having lasted from the Exodus till the commencement of the monarchy, it appeared to David to be no longer fitting that the ark of God should dwell within curtains - the tabernacle was at that time a tent David had made for it on Mt. Zion, (2 Samuel 6:17) - while he himself dwelt in a cedar-lined house. The unsettled and unorganized state of the nation, which had necessitated a portable structure, had now given place to an established kingdom. The dwelling of the Lord should therefore be a permanent building, situated at the center of the nation's life, and “exceeding magnificent” (1 Chronicles 22:5), as befitted the glory of the Lord and the prospects of the state.

Plans and Preparations

David however, while honored for his purpose, was not permitted to build it because he had been a man of war (2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 22:8); the building of the house was reserved for his son, Solomon. According to the Chronicler, David busied himself in making extensive and costly preparations of wood, stone, gold, silver, etc., for the future sanctuary and its vessels, even leaving behind him full and minute plans of the whole scheme of the building and its contents, divinely communicated (1 Chronicles 22:2; 28:11; 29). The general fact of lengthened preparation, and even of designs, for a structure which so deeply occupied his thoughts, is extremely probable.

Site of the Temple

The site of the Temple was on the eastern of the two hills on which Jerusalem was built - known in Scripture as Mt. Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1). The place is more precisely defined as that where Araunah (Ornan) had his threshing-floor, and David built his altar after the plague (1 Chronicles 21:22; 3:1). To prepare a suitable surface for the Temple and connected buildings (the area may have been some 600 ft. East to West, and 300 to 400 ft. North to South), the summit of the hill had to be leveled, and its lower parts heightened by immense substructures (Josephus, Ant., VIII, iii, 9; XV, xi, 3; BJ, V, v, 1), the remains of which modern excavations have brought to light.

Phoenician Assistance

For assistance, Solomon invited the cooperation of Hiram, king of Tyre, who willingly lent his assistance by sending his servants to cut down timber in Lebanon and in the quarrying and hewing of stones, of which both were transported to the building site. Hiram also sent a skilled Tyrian artist, another man named Hiram, to superintend the designing and engraving of objects made of the precious metals, etc. For this assistance Solomon made a suitable recompense (1 Kings 5; 2 Chronicles 2). Excavations seem to show that a large part of the limestone of which the temple was built came from quarries in the immediate neighborhood of Jerusalem (Warren, Underground Jerusalem, 60). The stones were cut, hewn and polished at the places from where they were taken, so that “there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building” (1 Kings 5:17; 5:18; 6:7). Opinions differ as to the style of architecture of the building. Although based upon the layout of the tabernacle, the Temple was probably unique; Phoenician art also must have left its imprint upon it.

The Temple Building

In contrast with the tabernacle, which was a portable “tent,” consisting of a framework of acacia wood, with rich coverings hung over it, and standing in a “court” enclosed by curtains, the Temple was a substantial “house” built of stone, with chambers in three stories, half the height of the building (1 Kings 6:5-6), round the sides and back, and, in front, a stately porch (1 Kings 6:3), before which stood two lofty bronze pillars which were called Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7:21; 2 Chronicles 3:4, 3:15-17). Inside, the Temple was lined with cedar, overlaid with gold, graven with figures of cherubim, palms, and open flowers (1 Kings 6:15, 18, 21, 22, 29), and a partition of cedar or stone divided the interior into two rooms - the holy place (the hēkhāl), which contained the majority of the furnishings, and the other room which contained the Ark of the Covenant, called the “Holy of Holies” (1 Kings 6:16-18). The floor was of stone, covered with fir (or cypress), likewise overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:15, 30). The platform on which the whole building stood was probably raised above the level of the court in front, and the building may have been approached by steps; however, specific details are not given.

Dimensions, Divisions and Adornments

The Temple, like the tabernacle, stood facing East, environed by the inner and outer courts. Internally, the dimensions of the structure were, in length and width, double those of the tabernacle: 60 cubits long by 20 cubits wide. In height the Temple was 30 cubits, three times that of the tabernacle (1 Kings 6:2), making the whole approximately 90 x 30 x 45 feet (1 cubit = 18 inches).

Side Chambers


The thickness of the Temple walls is not given, but the analogy of the Temple described in Ezekiel 41 and what is told of the side-chambers render it probable that the thickness was not less than 6 cubits (9 ft.). Around the Temple, on its two sides and at the back, were built chambers (celā‛ōth, literally, “ribs”) in three stories, each story 5 cubits in height (allowance must also be made for flooring and roofing), the lowest being 5 cubits in breadth, the next 6 cubits, and the highest 7 cubits. This is explained by the fact that the chambers were not to be built into the wall of the Temple, but were to rest on ledges or rebatements in the wall, each rebate a cubit in breadth, so that the wall became thinner, and the chambers broader, by a cubit, each stage in height (1 Kings 6:5-10). The door admitting into these chambers was apparently in the middle of the right side of the house, and winding stairs led up to the second and third stories (1 Kings 6:8). Above the chambers on either side were “windows of fixed lattice-work” (Ezekial 41:4), i.e. openings which could not be closed (“windows broad within and narrow without”). The purposes for which the chambers were constructed are not mentioned; they may have been used partly for storage and partly for the accommodation of those engaged in the service of the Temple (1 Chronicles 9:27).

Porch and Pillars

Of the porch itself a very brief description is given. It is stated to have been 20 cubits broad - the width of the house - and 10 cubits deep (1 Kings 6:3). Its height is not given in 1 Kings, but it is said in 2 Chronicles 3:4 to have been 120 cubits, or approximately 180 ft. Some have accepted this enormous height (Ewald, Stanley, etc.), but the majority more reasonably infer that there has been a corruption of the number, giving it the same height as the Temple - 30 cubits. It was apparently open in front, and, from what is said of its being “overlaid within with pure gold” (2 Chronicles 3:4), it may be concluded that it shared in the splendor of the main building, and had architectural features of its own which are not recorded. The monumental bronze pillars, Jachin and Boaz, stood in front of the porch somewhat detached from it were hollow bronze castings, each 18 cubits (27 ft.) in height and 12 cubits (18 ft.) in circumference, and were surmounted by capitals 5 cubits (7 1/2 ft.) high, richly ornamented on their lower, bowl-shaped (1 Kings 7:20, 41-42) parts, with two rows of pomegranates, enclosing festoons of chain-work, and, in their upper parts, rising to the height of 4 cubits (6 ft.) in graceful lily-work.

Doors and partitions

Dividing the holy place from the Holy of Holies was a partition, probably of cedar wood, though some authorities think of a stone wall, one to two cubits thick. In this partition were folding doors, made of olive wood, with their lintels 4 cubits wide (1 Kings 6:31). The doors, like the walls, had carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and flowers, and the whole was gold-plated (1 Kings 6:32). Behind the partition hung the sanctuary veil (2 Chronicles 3:14). At the entrance of the Temple, similarly, were folding doors, with their lintels 5 cubits in width, only this time the posts only were of olive, while the doors, divided into two leaves, were of cypress wood (1 Kings 6:33-35). The carving and gold-plating were as on the inner doors, and all the doors had hinges of gold (1 Kings 7:50).

Courts, Gates and Royal Buildings

The Temple was enclosed in “courts” - an inner court (1 Kings 6:36, 7:12; 2 Chronicles 4:9; Jeremiah 36:10; Ezekiel 8:3, 8:16; 10:3), and an outer or greater court (1 Kings 7:9, 7:12; 2 Chronicles 4:9).

The Inner Court

The dimensions of the “inner court” (ḥācēr ha-penīmīth) are not given, but they are presumed to be twice those of the tabernacle court, namely, 200 cubits (300 ft.) in length and 100 cubits (150 ft.) in breadth. The name in Jeremiah 36:10, “the upper court,” indicates that it was on a higher level than the “great court,” and as the Temple was probably on a platform higher still, the whole would present a striking terraced aspect.


The walls of the court were built of three rows of hewn stone, with a coping of cedar beams (1 Kings 6:36). Their height is not stated, but “chambers” are mentioned (Jeremiah 35:4, 36:10 - if, indeed, all belong to the “inner” court), which imply a substantial structure. It was distinctively “the priests' court” (2 Chronicles 4:9), meaning that this area was reserved for them; to a certain degree, however, the laity evidently had free access into it (Jeremiah 36:10, 38:14; Ezekiel 8:16, etc.). The mention of “the new court” (2 Chronicles 20:5), and of “the two courts of the house of Yahweh” (2 Kings 21:5; 2 Chronicles 33:5), suggests subsequent enlargement and division.


Though gates are not mentioned in the narratives of the construction, later allusions show that there were several, though not all were of the time of Solomon. The principal entrance would have been the Eastern Gate. In Jeremiah 26:10 there is allusion to “the entry of the new gate of the Lord's house.” This doubtless was “the upper gate” built by Jotham (2 Kings 15:35) and may reasonably be identified with the “gate that looketh toward the North” and the “gate of the altar” (i.e. through which the sacrifices were brought) in Ezekial 8:1, 8:3, and with “the upper gate of Benjamin” in Jeremiah 20:3. Mention is also made of a “gate of the guard” which descended to the king's house (2 Kings 11:19). Jeremiah speaks of a “third entry that is in the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 38:14), and of “three keepers of the threshold” (Jeremiah 52:24), but it is not clear which court is intended.

Outer Court

The outer or “great court” of the Temple (ḥācēr ha-gedhōlāh) opens up more difficult problems. Some regard this court as extending to the East in front of the “inner court”; others think of it as a great enclosure surrounding the “inner court” and stretching perhaps 150 cubits east of the latter. These writers remove the court from all connection with the royal buildings of 1 Kings 7, and distinguish it from the great court of 1 Kings 7:9 and 7:12. The outer court, no matter how conceived, must have been very large. The extensive part occupied by the royal buildings being on a lower level than the “inner court,” entrance to it is thought to have been by “the gate of the guard unto the king's house” mentioned in 2 Kings 11:19. Its wall, like that of the inner court, was built in three courses of hewn stone, and one course of cedar (1 Kings 7:12). Its gates overlaid with bronze (2 Chronicles 4:9) show that the masonry must have been both high and substantial.

Royal Buildings

The royal buildings are those described in 1 Kings 7:1-12. They were of hewn stone and cedar wood (1 Kings 7:9-11), and embraced:

  • The king's house, or royal palace (1 Kings 7:8), in close contiguity with the Temple-court (2 Kings 11:19).
  • The house of Pharaoh's daughter (2 Kings 11:9) - the apartments of the women. Both of these were enclosed in a “court” of their own, styled in 2 Kings 11:8 “the other court,” and in 2 Kings 20:4 margin “the middle court.”
  • The porch or hall of judgment, with the throne room, paneled in cedar “from floor to floor,” i.e. from floor to ceiling (2 Kings 11:7). The throne (1 Kings 10:18-20) was of ivory, overlaid with gold, with figures of lions on either side. The hall served as an audience chamber, and for the administration of justice.
  • The hall of pillars, 50 cubits (75 ft.) long and 30 cubits (45 ft.) broad, with a sub-porch of its own (1 Kings 10:6). It is best regarded as a place of promenade and vestibule to the hall of judgment.
  • An elaborate building known as “the house of the forest of Lebanon” (1 Kings 10:2-5), which appears to have received this name from its multitude of cedar pillars. The scanty hints as to its internal arrangements have baffled commentators, but its outside dimensions seem to have been 100 cubits (150 ft.) long by 50 cubits (75 ft.) wide by 30 cubits (45 ft.) high, with probably four rows of pillars along the sides and back (the Septuagint mentions three rows), on which, supported by cedar beams, rested three tiers or stories of side-chambers (literally “ribs,” as in 1 Kings 6:5). In 1 Kings 6:3 it is disputed whether the number “forty and five; fifteen in a row” (as the Hebrew may be read) refers to the pillars or to the chambers; if to the former, the Septuagint reading of “three rows” is preferable. The windows of the tiers faced each other on the opposite sides (1 Kings 6:4-5). But the whole construction is obscure and doubtful. The spacious house was used partly as an armory; here Solomon put his 300 shields of beaten gold (1 Kings 10:17).

Furniture of the Temple

The “Debhir”

In the Holy of Holies, or debhīr, two large cherubim stood, made of olive wood, overlaid with gold, 10 cubits (15 ft.) high, their wings were each 5 cubits (7 1/2 ft.) long, outstretched so that they reached from wall to wall of the oracle (20 cubits), the inner wings meeting in the center (1 Kings 6:23-28; 2 Chronicles 3:10-13). In its place between the cherubim stood the Ark of the Covenant, of which only the high priest was able to see but once a year on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.

The “Hekhal”

In the holy place, or hēkhāl, the changes were greater. Before the oracle, mentioned as belonging to it (1Ki_6:22), stood the altar of incense, covered with cedar, and overlaid with gold (1Ki_6:20-22; 1Ki_7:48; 2Ch_4:19; see ALTAR OF INCENSE). It is an arbitrary procedure of criticism to attempt to identify this altar with the table of shewbread. (b) Instead of one golden candlestick, as in the tabernacle, there were now 10, 5 placed on one side and 5 on the other, in front of the oracle. All, with their utensils, were of pure gold (1Ki_7:49; 2Ch_4:7). (c) Likewise, for one table of shewbread, there were now 10, 5 on one side, 5 on the other, also with their utensils made of gold (1Ki_7:48, where, however, only one table is mentioned; 2Ch_4:8, “100 basins of gold”). As these objects, only enlarged in number and dimensions, are fashioned after the model of those of the tabernacle, further particulars regarding them are not given here.

The Inner Court

The Altar

The most prominent object in the Temple-court was the altar of burnt offering, or brazen altar. The site of the altar, as already seen, was the rock where Araunah had his threshing-floor. The dimensions of the altar, which are not mentioned in 1 Kings, are given in 2 Chronicles 4:1 as 20 cubits (30 ft.) long, 20 cubits (30 ft.) wide, and 10 cubits (15 ft.) high. As utensils connected with it - an incidental confirmation of its historicity - are pots, shovels, basins and fleshhooks (1 Kings 7:40, 45; 2 Chronocles 4:11, 16).

The Molten (Bronze) Sea

A new feature in the sanctuary court - taking the place of the “laver” in the tabernacle - was the “molten sea,” the name being given to it for its great size [1]. It was an immense basin of bronze, 5 cubits (7 1/2 ft.) high, 10 cubits (15 ft.) in diameter at the brim, and 30 cubits (45 ft.) in circumference, resting on 12 bronze oxen, and placed between the altar and the Temple-porch, toward the South (1 Kings 7:23-26, 39; 2 Chronicles 4:2-5, 10). The bronze was a handbreadth in thickness. The brim was shaped like the flower of a lily, and encompassing the basin were ornamental knops. Its capacity is given as 2,000 baths (1Ki_7:26). The oxen on which it rested faced the four cardinal points of the compass - three looking each way. The “sea,” like the laver, doubtless supplied the water for the washing of the priests' hands and feet (compare Exodus 30:18, 38:8). The view of certain scholars (Kosters, Gunkel, etc.) that the “sea” is connected with Babylonian mythical ideas of the great deep is quite fanciful; no hint appears of such significance in any part of the narrative.

The Lavers and Their Bases

The tabernacle laver had its place taken by the “sea” just described, but the Temple was also provided with 10 lavers or basins, set on “bases” of elaborate design and moving upon wheels - the whole made of bronze (1 Kings 7:27-37). Their use seems to have been for the washing of sacrifices (2 Chronicles 4:6), for which purpose they were placed, 5 on the north side, and 5 on the south side, of the Temple-court. The bases were 4 cubits (6 ft.) long, 4 cubits wide, and 3 cubits (4 1/2 ft.) high. These bases were of the nature of square paneled boxes, their sides being ornamented with figures of lions, oxen and cherubim, with wreathed work beneath. They had four feet to which wheels were attached. The basin rested on a rounded pedestal, a cubit high, with an opening 1 1/2 cubits in diameter to receive the laver (1 Kings 7:31).

History of the Temple

Building and Dedication

The Temple was founded in the 4th year of Solomon's reign (1 Kings 6:1), and occupied 7 1/2 years in building (1 Kings 6:38); the royal buildings occupied 13 years (1 Kings 7:1) - 20 years in all (the two periods, however, may in part synchronize). On the completion of the Temple, the ark was brought up, in the presence of a vast assemblage, from Zion, and, with innumerable sacrifices and thanksgiving, was solemnly deposited in the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 8:1-21; 2 Chronicles 5:1-14, 6:1-11). The Temple itself was then dedicated by Solomon in the noble prayer recorded in 1 Kings 8:22-61 and 2 Chronicles 6:12-42, followed by lavish sacrifices and a 14 days' feast. At its inauguration the house was filled with the “glory” of the Lord (1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14).

Repeated Plunderings, etc.

The religious declension of the later days of Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-8) brought in its wake disasters for the nation and the Temple. On Solomon's death the kingdom was disrupted, and the Temple ceased to be the one national sanctuary. It had its rivals in the calf-shrines set up by Jeroboam at Beth-el and Dan (1 Kings 12:25-33). In the 5th year of Rehoboam an expedition was made against Judah by Shishak, king of Egypt, who, coming to Jerusalem, carried away the treasures of the Temple, together with those of the king's house, including the 300 shields of gold which Solomon had made (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9). Rehoboam's wife, Maacah, was an idolatress, and during the reign of Abijam, her son introduced many abominations into the worship of the Temple (1 Kings 15:2, 12-13). Asa cleared these away, but he had further depleted the Temple and royal treasuries by sending all that was left of their silver and gold to Ben-hadad, king of Syria, to buy his help against Baasha, king of Israel (1 Kings 15:18-19). Again the Temple was foully desecrated by Athaliah (2 Chronicles 24:7), necessitating the repairs of Jehoash (2 Kings 12:4, 24:4); and a new plundering took place in the reign of Ahaziah, when Jehoash of Israel carried off all the gold and silver in the Temple and palace (2 Kings 14:14). Uzziah was smitten with leprosy for presuming to enter the holy place to offer incense (2 Chronicles 26:16-20). Jehoshaphat, earlier, is thought to have enlarged the court (2 Chronicles 20:5), and Jotham built a new gate (2 Kings 15:35; 2 Chronicles 27:3). The ungodly Ahaz went farther than any of his predecessors in sacrilege, for besides robbing the Temple and palace of their treasures to secure the aid of the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16:8), he removed the brazen altar from its time-honored site, and set up a heathen altar in its place, removing likewise the bases and ornaments of the lavers, and the oxen from under the bronze sea (2 Kings 16:10-17).

Attempts at Reform

An earnest attempt at reform of religion was made by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1-6; 2 Chronicles 29:31), but even he was driven to take all the gold and silver in the Temple and king's house to meet the tribute imposed on him by Sennacherib, stripping from the doors and pillars the gold with which he himself had overlaid them (2 Kings 18:14-16; 2 Chronicles 32:31). Things became worse than ever under Manasseh, who reared idolatrous altars in the Temple-courts, made an Asherah, introduced the worship of the host of heaven, had horses dedicated to the sun in the Temple-court, and connived at the worst pollutions of heathenism in the sanctuary (2 Kings 21:3-7, 23:7, 23:11). Then came the more energetic reforms of the reign of Josiah, when, during the repairs of the Temple, the discovery was made of the Book of the Law, which led to a new covenant with the Lord, a suppression of the high places, and the thorough cleansing of the Temple (2 Kings 22, 23:1-25; 2 Chronicles 34; 35). Still, the heart of the people was not changed, and, as seen in the history, and in the pages of the Prophets, after Josiah's death, the old evils were soon back in full force.

Final Overthrow

The end, however, was now at hand. Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiakim his tributary; then, on his rebelling, came, in the reign of Jehoiachin, took Jerusalem, carried off the treasures of the Temple and palace, with the gold of the Temple vessels (part had already been taken on his first approach, 2 Chronicles 36:7), and led into captivity the king, his household and the chief part of the population (2 Kings 24:1-17; Baruch 1:1-14 [2]). Eleven years later (586 BC), after a siege of 18 months, consequent on Zedekiah's rebellion (2 Kings 25:1), the Babylonian army completed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Only a few lesser utensils of value, and the bronze pillars, bases and sea remained; these were now taken away, the larger objects being broken up (2 Kings 25:13-16). The Temple itself, with its connected buildings, and the houses in Jerusalem generally, were set on fire (2 Kings 25:9). The Ark of the Covenant had by then vanished; possibly in the conflagration or taken as a trophy by the Babylonians, or as later historians and legends hint at, removed at an earlier time where it may exist today. The residue of the population - all but the poorest - were carried away captive (2 Kings 25:11, 25:12;).

This article incorporates text from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, a work in the public domain.

See also


  1. Compare the immense "sea of glass, or crystal" in Revelation 4:6; 15:2.
  2. See Literalist Bible chronology: The Divided Monarchy to the Destruction of the Temple 982-587 B.C. scroll down to 598–588 B.C.