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the enigma of solomon's temple

by Bro. Robert Roman, Virginia, U.S.A

For centuries Christians, Jews, archaeologists, biblical scholars and Masons world-wide have attempted to construct a model of King Solomon's famous Temple. As described in I Kings and II Chronicles in the Old Testament the details are incomplete and ambiguous. A recently discovered Dead Sea Scroll has clarified many of the 3000-year-old enigmas.

After Moses had received the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments he was commanded by God to build an Ark to hold the Decalogue. For almost 500 years the Israelites kept the Ark of the Covenant in a tent-like tabernacle erected in accordance with God's orders. One day King David declared, "Lo, I dwell in a house of cedar but the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord remaineth under curtains". Thereafter David commenced to amass gold, silver and the materials to build a "House of the Lord". Since the Levites had always been responsible for the Ark he designated 38,000 of them over the age of 30 as follows:-24,000 to supervise construction of the Temple

6,000 to be officers and judges
4,000 to be Temple guards, and 
4,000 to be musicians.

Those between ages 21 and 30 were assigned to assist the priests, perform ceremonial purification and custodial duties. Those designated as priests were all descendants of Aaron, the original High Priest. However, God forbade David to build "His House" since David had been a warrior and had shed blood. David designated his son, Solomon, to succeed him and provided him with detailed plans for the "Temple and its surroundings - the porch, courts, houses, inside rooms, upper chambers, storage areas, treasuries, utensils."

However, not all of these entities are adequately described in I Kings and II Chronicles, even though they are alluded to several times throughout the Old Testament.

Solomon succeeded David in 961 B.C. and reigned for 40 years. He initially took a census of all foreigners in his kingdom and indentured 153,300 of them to construct the Temple. Assisted by Hiram, King of Tyre, construction commenced on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem in 957 B.C. The dimensions provided in the Old Testament are mostly interior measurements expressed in cubits, a cubit being approximately 18 inches. The following description is expressed in linear feet in order to provide a more familiar visualisation.

The House of the Lord was 90 feet long by 30 feet wide divided into two separate chambers. The eastern chamber. 60 feet by 30 feet (and probably 30 feet high) was called the Holy Place. The only interior details provided were ten golden tables and ten golden Iampstands placed on either side. Biblical references to women's. men's and priests' courts were postulated by some to be located within the Holy Place. The western chamber was the Holy of Holies, a 30 foot by 30 foot room, 30 feet high. This chamber contained the hallowed Ark of the Covenant, a shewbread table, a menorah and an incense altar (possibly outside) - all made of gold. Two carved wood angels, 15 feet tall with wingspans of 15 feet, stood side by side with their faces turned towards the Ark. They were overlaid with gold and their combined wingspans extended from wall to wall. The entrance from the Holy Place was through two folding, golden doors. A crimson and blue veil decorated with angels was draped from ceiling to floor to separate the two chambers. The House throughout had cypress floors and cedar panelling inlaid with gold and jewels. The only entrance was at the East end through two golden doors.

A partially covered vestibule 30 feet wide well known to Masons and 10 feet high extended 15 feet out from the East end. Two 35-foot-high bronze pillars, 5.5 feet in diameter were placed on either side of the porch. The capitals of the pillars were lily-shaped and flared into a 45-foot-high roof. The two capitals were adorned with bronze chains hung with 400 bronze pomegranates and surmounted with two pommels.

On both sides and around the rear of the House were about ninety annexes (chambers) arranged in three storeys of thirty chambers each. The second and third storeys were supported by timbers resting on the stepped exterior of the outer wall. The annexe rooms were each 7.5 feet high and varied in width from 7.5 feet on the first storey, 9 feet on the second and 10.5 feet on the third; their length was unspecified. It was postulated that these small chambers were living quarters for the priests. The Bible mentions that access to the upper chambers was from the North side of the House via the winding stairway. The description thus far is based on texts from the Bible. In 1967 the Israelis acquired a Dead Sea Scroll which was ultimately to be designated the "Temple Scroll". After nine years of painstaking analysis and translation of the badly damaged, 30-feet-long leather scroll by Yagael Yadin, it was determined to have been written about 150 B.C. It detailed the construction of the Temple and prescribed rituals and procedures.

According to this document the House of the Lord was enclosed by three concentric courts. The Outer (Women's) Court was a square enclosure 2400 feet on each side. Three equally spaced gates were installed in each side. Each gate was 75 feet by 75 feet and 105 feet high. The twelve gates were individually named for the twelve sons of Jacob. Outside each gate was a twelve-step terrace. Recent excavations in Jerusalem have unearthed one such terrace. The Scroll explicitly lists the assignment of priests, Levites and all other tribes of Israel to each section of the three-storey Outer Court. The public, women and children, were permitted to enter the Outer Court. The Middle (Men's) Court was 720 feet on each side and was probably two storeys high. Each side had "cells made into the walls". No other details were retrievable.

Each side had three equally spaced gates 42 feet by 42 feet (height unknown) and they were named for the twelve sons of Jacob. A winding stairway in each gate provided access to the second storey. Only Israeli men over age 20 were permitted to enter the Middle Court.

The Inner (Priest's) Court was 420 feet on each side with a single gate named for the four points of the compass in each side. A collonade porch provided a covering for tables and chairs arranged on all sides. At each corner was a cooking place or kitchen. According to the description in I Kings "He built the inner court with three rows of hewed stone and a row of cedar beams". Only priests were permitted to enter the Inner Court.

Within the Inner Court the "House of the Lord" and the following other structures were all enclosed inside a 4.5-foot-high parapet. The "House of the Winding Stair" (stairhouse) was a 30-foot by 30-foot structure adjacent to the northwest corner of the "House". A square 6- foot-wide winding stairway provided access to the second and third stories of the upper chambers (annexes) and to the roof of the House via bridges. The Scroll reveals that the annexes were actually storerooms and treasuries. The walls of the stairhouse were inlaid with gold since it was in proximity to the Holy of Holies. Similar winding stairways have been discovered at Masada and Dor.

Adjacent to the southeast corner of the House was the House of the Laver, a 31.5 foot by 31.5 foot, 30-foot-high structure containing a 15 foot-diameter bronze "Molten Sea" (tank) 7.5 feet-high supported on the backs of twelve bronze oxen. Here the priests changed clothes and washed before and after sacrifices. Ten feet directly East of the Laver House was a structure of identical dimensions identified as the "House of the Altar Utensils" where sacrificial implements were stored.

Located 75 feet East of the Laver House was the bronze sacrificial Altar supported by rough hewned stones. North of the Altar was the pillared "Slaughter House" for the processing of oxen prior to sacrificial burning on the Altar. Between the House of the Lord and the West Gate was a similar pillar-supported "Stoa" used for the separate preparation of sheep and goats to be sacrificed for the sins and guilt of the people.

The Temple was completed in seven years, but thirteen more years were required to complete Solomon's Palace, Hall of Judgement (Throne Room), Hall of Pillars, Living Quarters and the Great Court (possibly the Outer Court).

The Temple was dedicated in 937 B.C. during an eight-day ceremony consuming 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep and goats for sacrifice and feasting.

In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, captured Jerusalem, looted and destroyed the Temple and enslaved the Israelites. The "Second Temple" was constructed by Zerubbabel about 5 16 B.C. after Cyrus, the Persian, vanquished Nebuchadnezzar and eventually freed the Israelites. It was not as grandiose as the "First Temple,' and possibly consisted only of the House of the Lord, the Inner Court and its various 'Houses". But there was no Ark since it disappeared or was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem. Herod the Great dismantled the Second Temple and constructed a magnificent Temple in 20 B.C. in an attempt to glorify Jerusalem and his name. It was ultimately demolished by the Roman Emperor Titus in 70 A.D.

Today it is the site of the Dome of the Rock, built in 691 A.D. to commemorate Muhammad's ascent to heaven from that spot. The ancient Wailing Wall, considered to be one of the most sacred places of all to the Jews, is a portion of the West wall that enclosed Herod's Temple in ancient times.

The Temple Scroll has solved another mystery for scholars of the Bible today. Sixteen of the Dead Sea Scrolls were wrapped in linen coverings which had a pattern of three concentric quadrangles woven in blue thread. The analysts of these scrolls could not fathom the meaning of these patterns. We now realise the significance of this design as a geometric representation of King Solomon's Temple.

Hopefully more Dead Sea Scrolls will ultimately be discovered, more of the Bible will be confirmed and additional enigmas resolved.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014