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by Phil Elam, Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Missouri
King Solomon’s Temple is of universal interest, not only among both Jews and Christians, but also to many people throughout the world. Over the centuries, Freemasonry has kept alive the many fascinating legends, innumerable symbols, rituals, rites, ceremonies, and history associated with the building of the Temple and with its history. For these reasons, an explanation of the Temple’s original architectural beauty and glory, and the presentation of certain pertinent facts relating to its history are of special interest to Freemasons everywhere.
When we consider the stupendous cost of Solomon’s Temple, the enormousness of the materials used in its construction, the vast number of workmen employed, and the length of time required for its completion, it is almost impossible to comprehend the magnitude of this Holy task.
The Temple: A Perpetuation of the Tabernacle
In a very real sense, the Temple was the successor of the Tabernacle built under the direction of Moses in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai. The chief idea of the Hebrew term for Temple was a “dwelling place for God” where He could be approached, not that of a place of assembly for worshipers. It was, therefore, patterned after the Tabernacle in all of its principal components, although it was built on a much larger, more elaborate and more expensive scale.
When the nation of Israel became firmly established under King David, and Jerusalem was made the country’s religious center, the proposal for the erection of a Temple of superior grandeur and magnificence found expression in the heart of this noble and devoutly religious king. He was commended of God for this desire, but forbidden to carry it into reality because “he had been a man of war.”
A period of lasting national peace and prosperity was necessary for the construction of the type of building that would truly represent the greatness, majesty and glory of Jehovah, and that would serve as the permanent religious center and symbol of the spiritual life of Israel.
God assured David that his son, Solomon, who was destined to be his successor to the throne, would build the Temple. God did allow David to make extensive and elaborate preparations for its construction, including the laying of the Temple’s foundation, and to gather large amounts of funds and assemble vast quantities of materials to be used in the Temple’s construction. However, David could have no part in the actual building of the Temple as he “had blood on his hands.”
Because of the enormous booties taken in his successful wars, and the heavy tribute collected from subjugated peoples, David was able to accumulate an unbelievable quantity of precious metals for the building of the Temple. David was able to collect $3.2 billion in gold and $1.8 billion in silver from his wars. From his tribal princes, he collected $162 million in gold and $18 million in silver. From his own personal resources, he contributed $97.5 million in gold and $12.6 million in silver. The total value of these precious metals, in today’s dollars, accumulated and stored by King David exceeds $6 billion dollars.
To this vast sum must be added the value of the brass and iron “without weight,” precious stones, semi-precious stones, onyx, marble, rare woods, fine linens, fabrics, skins and other materials. In estimating the cost of the Temple, there must also be added to these expenditures many additional materials, such as quarried stones, cedar timbers, and the other woods of Lebanon, as well as a multitude of unitemized supplies. Of course, the services of thousands of workmen over a period of seven and a half years must be included in the total expenditure.
The final cost, estimated to be around $7 billion, is absolutely mind-boggling. Many historians have concluded that it was the most expensive building ever constructed right up until our present time.
One of the most fortunate events for Solomon in the construction of the Temple was his alliance with Hiram, King of Tyre. Although David originally formed the alliance, it was perpetuated into Solomon’s reign. As a result of this alliance, the finest timbers were obtained from Lebanon, and world-renowned skilled artisans from Phoenicia were employed. To secure the timbers from Lebanon, 30,000 Israelites were employed and sent in detachments of 10,000 each month. 150,000 Canaanites were impressed into service as hewers and carriers, and 550 chief overseers 3,300 subordinate overseers were appointed to supervise the work.
In addition to these overseers, the work was under the direction of the chief architect. Thus, the greatest efficiency and the most abundant results were assured. Besides these vast companies of workmen, there were almost countless scores of the best designers, metal workers, engravers, weavers and decorators in brilliant coloring, refiners of gold, silver, and brass, artists, sculptors and other skilled artisans. These were drawn, not only from among the most skilled of Israel, but also from many foreign countries such as Egypt, Phoenicia, and other neighboring lands as well as distant nations.
Hiram Abif: Chief Architect
The entire mammoth project was under the superintendence and direction of Hiram Abif, principal architect and engineer. He was of mixed race, being “a widow’s son of the tribe of Naphtali” whose father was a man of Tyre. Like his father, he was a notable artificer, “skilled to work in blue and in fine linen, and in crimson, also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device which shall be put to him.” A man richly endowed by nature with wisdom and knowledge, Hiram Abif was, indeed, more than suited for the almost super-human task of supervising every phase of the construction of Solomon’s Temple. There is little wonder that Freemasonry, for all of these past centuries, has magnified and glorified the name of “Hiram Abif, the widow’s son,” both in legend and ritual.
Few details of the Temple’s construction are recorded, but the work appears to have been carried out with little confusion or hindrance, and with perfect unity and harmony among the thousands of workmen. We do know that the walls were massive, constructed of stone that was hewn and prepared in the quarries, each stone being perfectly fitted for its position according to detailed plans and specifications. The woodwork was all prepared in the forests according to similar well-defined specifications so that no sound of ax or hammer or tool of iron was heard at the Temple.
Throughout the construction of the Temple, King Solomon appears to have been in frequent contact with Hiram, King of Tyre, and with his chief architect, Hiram Abif. The King of Tyre gave Solomon cedar, algum (unidentified in the Bible), and fir trees according to his needs. He also provided great stones of granite, costly stones of marble, and hewed stones shaped for pillars.
The Temple’s Site
Solomon’s Temple was erected on the eastern hill in Jerusalem, called Mount Moriah or Zion. It was probably selected by David and designated to Solomon as the place where the Temple should stand. The sacredness of this spot dates back to the days of Abraham. It was here that Abraham offered his only son, Isaac, as a “burnt offering unto the Lord,” and where he uttered those notable words of triumphant faith, “Jehovah-jireh,” meaning “The Lord will provide.” Here God did provide an offering that became the substitute for Isaac, but God accepted the obedience of Abraham as though he did actually slay and burn his only son. The name “Moriah” was given to the place by Abraham, signifying “Jehovah sees.” The saying, “In the Mount of Jehovah he will be seen,” has forever after filled the hearts of the Israelites with hope and consolation in commemoration of this event.
Mount Moriah later came under the control of the Amorites, a branch of the Canaanite people known as “Jebusites.” They later established a fortress there. It was so strong that even Joshua’s armies, and those coming after him, were never able to dislodge the Jebusites. David, however, captured the fortress and established his capital there, naming it Jerusalem. Later, David purchased the site of Mt. Moriah from Ornan the Jebusite, and there built an altar for sacrifices of thanksgiving to Jehovah for the deliverance of his people from a great plague. The site is 14.5 miles from Jordan, 15 miles from the Dead Sea, and 41 miles from the Mediterranean. It is at a very high elevation, and the Temple was visible from vast distances in every direction.
Time Required For Building The Temple
Solomon began the building of the Temple in the fourth year of his reign, when he was about 24 years old, and completed it in seven years and seven months (that’s right — not six), or when he was about 31 years old. The date of the beginning of the Temple was about 967 B.C, or, as some historians say, about 1012 B.C. It was completed about 960 B.C., or, as some historians say, about 1005 B.B. More than 165,000 men were employed during much of this time, including those employed in the quarries and forests, those engaged in the actual construction of the Temple, and those involved in preparing the extensive ornamentation and furnishings.
The Architecture of the Temple
The Temple itself, consisting of the Great Porch, the Holy Place, the Most Holy Place, and the Chambers erected against the north, south and west walls of the Temple, was built based on the pattern of the Tabernacle originally constructed by Moses. The dimensions, however, were more than double those of the Tabernacle. The chamber rooms surround three sides of the Temple were 30 feet high and actually formed three stories, while the walls of the Temple itself rose to a height of 40 feet. The chamber rooms were used for Temple officers, priests, and for storage.
The King’s Citadel
The Temple itself was simply one building, and the most important, in a series of other buildings. This complex was called, “the King’s Citadel.” The Citadel was actually a series of terraces built in such a way to accommodate the terrain and topography of Mt. Moriah.
The Temple occupied the west side of the topmost terrace of Mt. Moriah and was, therefore, at the highest point within the Citadel, with the Great Porch and Entrance at the east end. In front of the Temple to the east was the Inner Court, rectangular in form, and thought to be 200 feet in width and 400 feet in length. Entrance into the Inner Court was by the Great Gate in the center of the eastern wall. Just in front of the Entrance stood the Great Altar of Burnt Offering. This altar was constructed in the same pattern as the one used at the Tabernacle, but was made of brass. Its dimensions were much greater, being 40 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 20 feet high.
In the southeast corner of the Inner Court stood the Molten Sea, on of the most remarkable creations of Solomon’s chief architect, Hiram Abif. It was a large circular tank made of bronze, 60 feet in circumference, 20 feet in diameter, and 10 feet high. This great Molten Sea rested on the backs of 12 bronze bulls in groups of three, facing the four cardinal compass points. It weighed 30 tons and held 30,000 gallons of water. No one, however, has provided an explanation of the purpose of this giant vessel.
On the north and south sides of the Inner Court were the Lavers, ten in all, five on each side. Each of these Lavers was 8 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. They were made of brass and raised on bases that rested upon wheels. The Lavers were used for washing the animals to be offered on the Great Altar, and in cleansing the Inner Court after the sacrifices.
Interior Of The Temple
Like the Tabernacle, the interior of the Temple was divided into two compartments or rooms. The Holy Place (referred to as the Middle Chamber in Freemasonry) and the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place (referred to as the Sanctum Sanctorum, Latin for Holy of Holies, in Freemasonry).
The Holy Place was 40 cubits long, 20 cubits wide, and 20 cubits high (or about 80 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 40 feet high). Its walls were lined with cedar boards and overlaid with gold. Its ceiling was made of fir boards and also overlaid with gold. The walls and ceilings were engraved with settings of palm trees, flowers and cherubim. The floor was of fir or cypress wood, and appears also be have been overlaid with gold. The entire Holy Place was garnished with encrusted jewels and precious stones.
Within the Holy Place were the Censer (referred to as the Pot of Incense in Freemasonry) and the Altar of Incense that was made of cedar instead of acacia, as was the Altar in the Tabernacle. The Altar, too, was overlaid with gold. There were 10 golden candlesticks instead of one (5 on each side). Instead of one table for shewbread, there were 10 (5 on each side), and they were made of pure gold. Instead of a curtain, as in the Tabernacle, the entrance into the Holy Place at the east end was a large double door, two leaves to each door. They were made of olive wood, overlaid with gold, and carved with palm trees, flowers, and cherubim.
The Holy Of Holies
The Most Holy Place was a perfect cube, 20 cubits in length, height, and width (40 feet by 40 feet by 40 feet). All of the walls were overlaid with the finest gold, and also carved with palm trees, flowers and cherubim. Even the floor was overlaid with fine gold. The only article of furniture within the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Books of Law (i.e., the Decalogue given to Moses by I Am That I am), Aaron’s Rod, and a golden bowl filled with manna. It was placed under the wings of two massive cherubim, made of olive wood and overlaid with gold. Each of the cherubim was 20 feet high and had wings ten feet long. The outside tips of these wings touched the two walls of the room while the inside tips touched each other in the center of the room. The four wings of the cherubim thus extended 40 feet or the full width of the Sanctum Sanctorum.
The two doors leading into the Most Holy Place were also made of olive wood, overlaid with pure gold, and carved in the same patterns as the Middle Chamber. Over this entrance hung veils of blue, purple and crimson of the finest fabric that were patterned with palm trees, open flowers and cherubim.
Following the dedication of the Temple by King Solomon, only the Temple High Priest could enter the Sanctum Sanctorum, and then only on one day of the year – the Day of Atonement.
The Great Porch
This was the name given to the vestibule at the entrance to the Temple. It was 20 cubits long and 10 cubits wide (40 feet in length and 20 feet in width). According to the Scriptures, there was a monumental structure (120 cubits or 240 feet high) forming a gigantic tower over the vestibule entrance to the Temple.
The Two Pillars Of Brass
There was placed in front of the Great Porch two huge shafts or pillars of bronze. Each was 35 cubits high (70 feet) and 12 cubits (24 feet) in circumference. The chapiter on top of each pillar was 5 cubits (10 feet) in length, making the complete height of each pillar 80 feet. These two shafts were massive works of skill, highly ornamented by a network of 100 brass pomegranates. On top of the chapiters were great bowls or vessels for oil, over which hung more pomegranates and lily work.
The pillars appear to have stood in relief simply as works or art, and not for supports. These two giant shafts were called Boaz (signifying “strength” in Hebrew) and Jachin (signifying “God will establish” in Hebrew). Together, these two pillars signified, “In strength will God establish.” Boaz was on the north side of the Great Porch, while Jachin was on the south. They were cast hollow, and were used to store the important records of the Temple.
This magnificent Temple of Solomon continued to be the center of the religious life of the Jews for more than four hundred years, or until its complete destruction by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies in 586 B.C. However, an Egyptian Pharaoh first despoiled it almost immediately after Solomon’s death – some 33 years after it had been completed.
During periods of religious decline among the Israelites, it was allow to deteriorate and was woefully neglected. Each such period, however, was followed by great awakenings in which the Temple was repaired and reconstructed with reverent hands and devout hearts. On several occasions, foreign invaders plundered the Temple’s treasury, and the vessels of gold were removed as spoils. These were replenished, however, by generous gifts from the Jews during periods of religious revival and fervor. When Nebuchadnezzar ordered the total destruction of the Temple, he removed to Babylon all of the precious metals, the golden vessels, and every valuable article of furniture.
Two other Temples were later constructed on the site of the famous Temple of Solomon: Zerubbabel’s Temple, completed in 515 B.C., built after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. Herod’s Temple, built by Herod the Great, was built some twenty years before the birth of the Carpenter. Yet, neither of these Temples compared in magnificence, cost or glory to Solomon’s Temple. The Romans destroyed Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D.The site is now occupied by a splendid Muslim mosque (the Dome of the Rock) built in 636 A.D.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014