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by W. Bro. Garnet Holmes

From the first time that I trod the outer courts of the Temple, I have had a fascination with this magnificent edifice built by King Solomon to house the Arc of the Covenant and to serve as a permanent dwelling place for Jehovah, the Lord God.

For many years there had not been a suitable house for the Ark wherein were placed the two tablets of stones outlining the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God, an ‘omer of manna' ["..that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt..."] and the rod of Aaron. Bezaleel and Aholiab were made "wise hearted to build the tabernacle and all the furniture including the Ark". This Ark had been made from acacia wood (shittim) and lined inside and out with pure gold. Four gold rings were affixed to the outside through which were inserted two carrying poles. These poles had been fashioned from acacia wood and covered in pure gold. Across the golden lid of the Ark, called the ‘Mercy Seat', two cherubim faced each other. The Ark measured 4 ft 4 inches by 2ft 7 inches. During the long period of wandering in the Sinai desert, the People of Israel kept The Ark of the Covenant in a special tent called the Tabernacle, made according to precise dimensions and specifications contained in the Book of Exodus. Although King David had received from God the plans for the Holy House, and although he coveted the special honour and distinction of being the architect and creator, we learn in the M.E.M. Degree that God refused him. In point of fact, David was refused because his hands were covered in the blood of his enemies. By the time his son, Solomon, had assumed the throne, there was peace on all his borders and he had no enemies. He could begin the Holy work without interruption and focus all his energies and attention on it. His father had conquered the area known as ‘Jebus' in 1,000 B.C. David had established it as a capital city and renamed it ‘Jerusalem'. Here it was, on Mount Moriah, that Abraham had been prepared to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to the Lord. Consecrated as Holy ground, it was the logical choice for the Temple site.

Hiram, the Phoenician King of Tyre, ruled from 970-936 B.C. He had already established friendly relations with King David of Jerusalem with the commercial ventures that were carried on between their two nations. When Solomon approached him for help with the great undertaking of building a magnificent temple , King Hiram was ready to accommodate with materials and labourers.

The Phoenicians called themselves ‘Kinahna' meaning Canaanites. The Greeks called them ‘Phoenicians' which means purple because of the royal purple cloth the Greeks traded with them. These people were traders, not warriors. From history we acknowledge the Phoenicians as a very civilized and intelligent race. They were extremely skilled as artists and artisans. From the Egyptians they had developed a high degree of skill in making glass and weaving the imported linen. Their skill in navigation and seafaring was unparalleled and to them is credited the discovery and use of Polaris, the Pole Star. They were so successful as seamen that, by about 1,000 B.C., they had gained control of all the trading commerce on the Mediterranean, had established colonies all along the Mediterranean and had straddled this huge coastal area with factories that were centred at Tyre. They exported cedar from the Lebanon forests and many articles made from cedar, dyed woollen cloth, glassware, metal ware, pottery, and ivory. They imported tin, silver, iron and lead from Spain; gold, spices, wrought iron, horses and superior wool from Arabia; and corn of superior quality from Israel. Papyrus , ivory, ebony, silk and spices were imported from Egypt; copper and various kinds of raw materials were imported from Cyprus. They smelted their metals with the aid of blowpipes and bellows. They blasted in their mines by using fire and vinegar. They even had learned the practical use of pulleys from their Asiatic trading partners. The Phoenicians' chief gift to the world was the invention of an alphabet which later evolved and was adapted by the greeks to become the backbone of the modern alphabet. ‘Papyrus' (paper) was familiar to them from their trade with the Egyptians. They were great geometricians and they had a proven record of building skills. Solomon was familiar with the Phoenician Temple of Melqart, and wanted similar magnificence for his Temple at Jerusalem. Historians refer to this temple as one of unmatched magnificence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Solomon contracted with King Hiram of Tyre to receive Cedar,- which is still world renowned today- Cypress and Juniper logs from the mountainous forests of Lebanon. Cedar of Lebanon was of especially good quality, solid, not many knots, and of a deep rich, reddish colour. They could sometimes reach a height of well over a 100 feet. They are now extremely rare. (Hiram) "And we shall cut wood out of Lebanon, as much as Thou shalt need....floats by sea to Joppa". What we do not realize from this passage is that once the wood was cut, it had to be taken down the mountain side to the coast. This would have been an awesome task in itself because the distance was some 15 miles N. of Tyre. They rolled it down the mountainside and when it was on level ground, they pulled it to the coast by teams of oxen. There, the logs were bound together in rafts using very strong rope and floated down to Joppa, (today known as Tel Aviv). This was a further distance of about 90 miles. Joppa's harbour was formed by a low ledge of rocks about 330 ft. from the coast. The north end being open and shallow is probably where the log rafts were accessed. The city of Joppa was situated on a rocky hill rising to a height of about 115 ft. Did they have to get the logs up that hill, or were they able to somehow by-pass the city? I don't know, but regardless, from the coast of Joppa it was ANOTHER 35 miles to Jerusalem. A new road laid by King Solomon, enabled them to transport the cedar logs to Jerusalem. In exchange for the wood and 30,000 labourers from Tyre, each year Hiram received from Solomon the following: 2,000 tonnes of wheat; 2,000 tonnes of barley; 400,000 litres of wine; and 400,000 litres of olive oil.

We learn in the Senior Warden's lecture that an immense number of Masons were involved in building the Temple. More accurately, there were 70,000 Entered Apprentices in the rock quarries, 80,000 Fellowcrafts who quarried rock out of the mountains and cut and polished them into perfect ashlars, and 30,000 who cut wood out of Lebanon. Additionally, there were 3300 overseers of the work and 550 chief overseers, making a combined labour force of 183,850, Adoniram being one of the chief overseers. Solomon also contracted from Hiram, King of Tyre, a ‘ cunning to work in wood, gold, silver, brass, iron, glass, purple, crimson and blue and an engraver'. This man was Hiram Abiff. In the Book of ‘Kings' in the Bible, he is referred to as Hurum, the widow's son. About 3000 B.C. the Egyptians had opened up copper mines in the Sinai peninsula, so the Phoenicians were very familiar with its practical uses. They had discovered that by refining copper and tin together, they could get bronze. The Jordan Valley was some 60 miles N.E. of Jerusalem. Think then, of the awesome task of getting these massive bronzed (brazen) pillars back to Jerusalem. The pillars were at least 30 ft. high, each nearly 20 ft around. (The dimensions of these pillars differs depending on which researcher one selects). Each pillar was adorned with capitals of cast bronze formed in the shape of lilies, which had a thickness of almost three inches. Each capital was about 7 1/2ft high. A network of seven interwoven chains decorated the capitals. Hiram Abiff made pomegranates in two rows above the bowl-shaped part next to the network. The pomegranates totalled two hundred for each pillar. As we learn in the SW's lecture, these pillars were cast in bronze in the clay grounds of the Jordan, formed hollow and made of molten brass. The reason for them being hollow was to store the ‘ancient records' and the ‘valuable writings' pertaining to the historic past of the Jewish people. Boaz, the left-hand pillar, stood to the south representing the land of Judah and signifying ‘in strength'; Jachin stood to the north representing the land of Israel, signifying ‘God will establish' and when united by the lintel of Yahweh the two provided ‘stability'.

King Solomon began construction of the Temple in the year 957 B.C. during the 4th year of his reign. The Temple was built due east and west and was surrounded with high walls built of stone and timber. A vast retaining outer wall spanned 750 ft X 500 ft. Inside this was an inner court which extended from the Temple about 209 ft on all sides. The method used to build the walls was to place 3 rows of stone and follow that up with a row of interlocking cedar beams. This provided a sort of elasticity as a safeguard against the earth tremors which were prevalent in that area. For seven years Jerusalem was filled with busy workers engaged in leveling the chosen site, building vast retaining walls, laying broad foundations, shaping the heavy timbers brought from the Lebanon forests, and erecting the magnificent sanctuary. At the same time, the manufacture of the furnishings for the Temple was steadily progressing under the leadership of Hiram Abiff.

The Temple stone was immediately at hand in the hills round about Jerusalem and even in the city itself. The stone was quarried and prepared by masons from Tyre and Byblos. Entered apprentices prepared the rough ashlars in the quarries, then carried them up to a place close to the building site where more skilled and expert craftsmen gave them their fine finish with the result that they were perfect ashlars. These stones were the famous white limestone," which was so easily worked and carved. To gain some idea of the size of some of these blocks of stone, consider this. The remnants of an ancient Phoenician temple still exist today. The four corner stones stand in their proper place. The temple was 221 ft. long and 167 ft. wide. A block of blue granite which exists to this day measures 15 ft 10 in. long X 7 ft. 11 in. wide and 2 ft. 5 in. deep. There was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house..." while it was in the process of being built. The blocks of white limestone slotted perfectly together in their placement.

At the S.E. corner of the Temple, Hiram Abiff had fashioned a huge ‘bowl' called a ‘molten sea'. This huge tank was about 15 ft. in diameter. It stood about 7 ½ ft. high and the circumference was about 45 ft. holding about 10,000 gals of water. All round the outer edge of the rim of the tank were two rows of bronze gourds, which had been cast all in one piece with the rest of the tank. It is thought to have represented a ‘sacred lake' which had great cleansing powers. The great bowl was for the High Priests to cleanse themselves. It was made of molten bronze and a handsbreadth in thickness. It was supported by 12 bronze bulls arranged in four groups of three, each group facing a different direction with the heads facing outwards.

To the left and in front of Boaz was a great altar for burnt offerings. Mounted on four stages, each one smaller than the one below it, the altar was made of bronze and the stages were of stone. It was 30 ft. square and stood about 15 ft. high. When an animal was to become a burnt offering, it was slaughtered, skinned, and cut up. The priest laid his hand on the head of the animal as it was being slaughtered, emblematically transferring the sins and transgressions of the people into the innocent animal. The blood was drained into a container; the intestines and shanks were washed, then the body, head and all were burned on the altar. Only the most perfect specimens qualified for sacrificial rites, thus the reason for generally selecting lambs. All round the altar were bronze carts, totaling 10. These carts were about 6 ft. long X 6 ft. wide X 4 ½ ft. high. They were set on 4 bronze wheels with bronze axles. The wheels were about 26 inches high shaped like chariot wheels. A circular band, about 9 inches in width was placed around the top of the cart. The side panels, as well as the supports placed at each corner of the cart were all decorated in carved relief with figures of bulls, lions, palm trees and cherubim. Each cart had a basin set upon the band which was about 6 ft. in diameter and held about 211 gals of water. These were used to cleanse the animals intended as sacrifices. 5 carts were on the S. side and 5 on the N. side. The overseer of all this work was Hiram Abiff.

In my research I cannot find a consensus with respect to the actual dimensions of the Temple; however; even by today's standards, King Solomon's temple was immense. It was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 125 ft long, 65 ft wide and about 40 ft high. Unfortunately, the only illustrations of the Temple that exist are artists' conceptions. All around the outside of the building there were ‘side chambers' or ‘side rooms'. These were arranged in 3 storeys which were divided into 90 rooms, with 30 in each storey. Each storey measured about 10 ft. high. The wall on each floor was thinner than the one below it so that the rooms could rest on the wall without having their beams built into the wall. The entrance to the lowest storey was on the south side of the Temple with stairs leading up to the 2nd and 3rd storeys. Access was gained to the Middle Chamber by a winding stairway in the southeast corner of the building. No access to the Temple could be gained from these storeys.

At the front of the Temple was a porch or entrance hall with dimensions of 14 ft. deep and 30 ft. wide Since Solomon's Temple closely followed the Phoenician example of temple construction, it is safe to assume that he copied the practice of placing 2 great pillars at the porch entrance, although the Bible does support our S.W.'s lecture concerning the 2 pillars of fire and cloud. Biblical scholars cannot come to agreement as to whether the pillars stood alone or were an actual part of the entrance wall, helping to support the roof (pediment).

The Temple followed the traditional Phoenician design: an outer hallway, a central open courtyard, and an inner Holy of Holies or sanctum sanctorum. Once past the 2 great pillars, the vestibule opened into a vast main sanctuary, lit by small windows. A double door of olive and pine wood, covered in gold and decorated with carved figures of gourds, cherubim, palm trees and open flowers led into the sanctuary. This sanctuary was approximately 46 ft. long X 30 ft. wide. The stone walls were covered with cedar panels, as was the whole interior of the sanctuary. Even the rooves were covered in cedar. The floor was covered in cypress wood (pine by some researchers) and the whole structure was then overlaid with fine gold, carved with designs of palm trees and chain patterns. The gold came from southern Arabia, the land of the legendary Queen of Sheba. All of the furnishings in here were of the finest gold which included: the altar and the tables for the show bread offered to God; the lamp stands and the lamps of fine gold that were to burn in front of the Holy of Holies; the flower decorations; the lamps and the tongs; the lamp snuffers; the bowls; the dishes for incense and the pans used for carrying live coals. All these objects were made of pure gold. On the walls also, the workers carved designs of winged creatures (cherubim). These creatures are described in the Book of Ezekiel. They had 4 faces; those being a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. Do these sound familiar?? They had 4 wings and feet shaped like a calf.

Directly in front of the double doors leading into the ‘Holy of Holies' stood the altar. This altar was 7 ½ ft. long, 7 ½ ft. wide, and 4 ½ ft. high. It was made of acacia wood and 4 horns projected from the upper 4 corners. All was overlaid with gold.

The "Holy of Holies' or inner sanctuary was a curtained inner chamber. A perfect cube, the ‘Holy of Holies' measured thirty feet long, wide and high and was raised 10 ft. above the temple floor. A double door which spanned 10 ft. 8 in. led to this inner sanctuary; it was made of olive wood and gilded with gold, carved with figures of gourds, flowers, palm trees, and cherubim. These doors occupied 1/4 of the wall. The top of the doorway was formed into a pointed arch. The curtains, or veils were of the finest silk cloth brightly coloured in hyacinth blue, purple and scarlet. The Phoenicians were famous for their coloured dyes, especially purple . They obtained the purple ink from a marine snail (murex) found on their coast. Other shades of ink were obtained from other species of marine snails common throughout the Mediterranean. The silk for the veils came from their trading with tribes to the East, possibly India. They were embroidered with figures of cherubim. The floor, four walls and ceiling were completely lined with pure gold. Herein was kept the Ark of the Covenant which sat in a recessed area just large enough to contain the Ark. Above the Ark, King Solomon had caused two cherubim of gigantic size to be made. They stood over 20 ft. high and were made of olive wood ; both were of the same size and shape. They were placed side by side, so that 2 of their outstretched wings touched each other in the middle of the room, and the other 2 wings touched the walls. The two winged creatures were covered with gold and faced the doorway to the ‘Holy of Holies'. Herein, also, were kept other tokens of the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt and their sojourn in the Sinai wilderness.

Into this windowless chapel, the High Priest, who had undergone many washings, was allowed to enter once a year on the Day of Atonement that he might make propitiation for the sins of the people. His garment had been sown with bells around the rim and a rope was tied about his waist. The people could hear the bells as he moved about in his prayers, and should he collapse or die, he could be pulled out of the sanctum sanctorum by priests who were allowed entry into the sanctuary.

The Temple was finished in 960 B.C. having taken a little more than seven years to build. On the Day of Dedication, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the ‘Holy of Holies' beneath the huge cherubim, and the staves were withdrawn from the Ark for the last time. They were no longer needed to carry it; God did not plan for it to be moved ever again. On this same day all the holy vessels were lodged in the Temple. When the Ark was safely seated and the holy vessels lodged within the Temple, God filled the Holy House with a cloud of glory to signify that He had taken up residence in the Holy House. No one could enter the Temple because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's House. Over a seven day period, King Solomon dedicated and consecrated it by solemn prayer and costly sacrifices. He caused 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep to be slaughtered and burned on the huge altar outside the Temple.

King Solomon's Temple overlooked Jerusalem from its hill until 586 B.C. when it was destroyed at the command of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. In 538 B.C., the Persians under Cyrus captured Babylon. King Cyrus issued a proclamation which allowed the Hebrews to be freed from their Babylonian captivity. They returned to Jerusalem to assist in the rebuilding of the second temple on the site of the first. The task of rebuilding the Temple was initiated under Zerubbabel, Prince of the People of Judah. Because of meagre resources and many difficulties which delayed completion, the second temple was not completed and rededicated until 515 B.C.

In 164 B.C. Judah Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem and restored the Temple. The Roman general, Pompey, captured Jerusalem in 63 B.C. Nine years later, Crassus, a Roman consul plundered the temple. In 37 B.C. King Herod captured Jerusalem. In 20 B.C. he began the work of rebuilding of the Temple. It was not completed until 64 A.D. The Romans, under Titus, completely demolished Jerusalem along with the Temple in 70 A.D. Thus, the final chapter was written and history closed the King Solomon's Temple book for the final time. Today, hardly a fragment of this magnificent edifice remains except for a portion of the outer wall, known as the "Wailing Wall" of Jerusalem.

(Revised and re-written Feb. 11, 2002)

Noteworthy Facts:

1. The Phoenicians were responsible for discovering ‘bronze'. They were already familiar with tin and brass. They discovered that by mixing the two, they could get bronze.

2. When they were working in the casting grounds of the Jordan, between Sukkoth and Zarethan, they discovered glass as a by-product of the bronze casting.

3. Hurum (the Widow's son from Tyre)-Hiram Abiff to us-was responsible for the manufacture of:

  • The two great pillars
  • The two chapiters for the pillars
  • The design of interwoven chains on each capital
  • The 400 bronze pomegranates
  • The ten carts
  • The huge tank
  • The ten basins
  • The twelve bulls supporting the tank

The pots, shovels and bowls which included 30 gold basins, 1000 silver basins, 30 golden bowls, and 1000+ other vessels. He covered the altar in gold and also manufactured gold flowers, lamps, snuffers, tongs, cups, incense dishes, pans to hold burning charcoal, and hinges for the inner and outer doors. In all there were 5,400 gold and silver bowls and other articles which the exiles brought back with them from Babylon.

4. It has been estimated that 20+ tons of gold were used in the building of the Temple.

5. The largest stone to be found in modern Jerusalem measures 38 ft 9 in. long and weighs 100 tons. The marks of Phoenician masons are still on some stones

6. The estimated cost to build the Temple today would be......174 billion dollars!!!

7. King Solomon's annual revenue of gold was 666 talents or c. $256.5 million. He, over a period of 40 years, amassed 1400 chariots and 12,000 horses.

8. The Queen of Sheba was so impressed with him and the Temple that she delivered to him 120 talents of gold -c. $46.2 million- precious stones and balsam oil in great quantity.

9. In ancient times there were 3 cubits:

  1. the ordinary of 17.6 inches
  2. the Royal Hebrew cubit = 20.9 in. And
  3. a rarely used long cubit of 21.6 inches

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