Biblical Temple

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BIBLICAL TEMPLE . [This entry is a discussion of the history, activities, and structure of the biblical Temple.]

The Hebrew Bible records various temples dedicated to God throughout ancient Israel. Recent archaeological discoveries generally have corroborated the record, while at the same time raising new questions about the character, functions, and locations of temples of the biblical period. Foremost among these temples were the First and Second Temples built in Jerusalem.

History and Design

The First Temple was built between 960 and 950 bce during the reign of Solomon; it was destroyed in 587/6 with the Babylonian conquest of Judah. The Second Temple was built on the site of the First in 516, and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 ce. However, both Temples underwent periodic renovations, expansion, and even restructuring, so that in describing temples we are speaking of an ongoing process, rather than of single events. Furthermore, the term Temple is ambiguous since it may designate either the building specifically, the focus of cult activity, or the entire complex of buildings, gates, and walls that together constitute the institution. For the purposes of this article, Temple refers to the building, Temple complex to the institution.

Most of the physical changes that the two Temples underwent at various times came in response to corresponding changes in the urban environment that were brought about, in turn, by changing political circumstances. Increased population density and the fluctuating political status of Jerusalem stimulated a tendency to protect, even barricade, the Temples against the outside. To a degree, and according to conditions, such efforts may have been vital to defense. More consistently, however, they expressed specific religious attitudes: the Temple and cult were to be shut off from the sounds and movements of the world around.

Temples in antiquity generally were intended to be prominent, to stand out in relation to the environment. They were often located on the summits of hills, and if construction intensified in the area either the temple was elevated, or the courtyards and buildings in the vicinity were downgraded.

Solomon's Temple (The First Temple)

The Temple of Solomon gained preeminence as a result of political and religious movements, most notably the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, and the drive, for both religious and political causes, to eliminate local and regional temples. David, founder of the united Israelite kingdom, had made Jerusalem (more precisely, the City of David on Mount Zion) his capital after conquering it around 1000 bce; he confirmed royal sponsorship of the cult of the Ark of the Covenant by bringing the Ark to the city, while at the same time sanctioning the city as his royal seat (2 Sm. 67).

The best functional definition of the Temple complex that eventually arose on Mount Zion is preserved in Amos 7:13, which originally applied to Bethel, not Jerusalem. Bethel was the most important cult center of the northern kingdom in the eighth century, and the priest of Bethel admonished Amos not to speak against the king at Bethel: "Don't ever prophesy again at Bethel; for it is a king's sanctuary and a royal domain." Indeed, the Temple was initially only one component of a royal acropolis built on the northern summit of Mount Zion.

As described in 1 Kings 68, Solomon's Temple was an oblong, stone structure, reinforced by cedar beams. The interior was divided by a wooden partition into two sections: the heikhal (great hall), encountered upon entering the building through swinging wooden doors, followed by the devir ("shrine"), the holiest section of the Temple, sometimes called the Holy of Holies. The shrine was raised higher than the floor of the great hall, and was set upon a huge rock, known later in the Jewish tradition as even ha-shetiyyah ("the foundation stone") and in Arabic as al-sak̆hrah (the "rock"), over which the Dome of the Rock was later built.

There were no interior columns, for the roof rested on large beams, and rows of windows punctuated two walls of the Temple. The facade of the Temple included a portico (ulam ) extending the width of the building, in front of which stood two massive, ornamental columns, yakhin and boʿaz, that were probably insignia of the Davidic monarchy. The Temple lay on an east-west axis.

The design of Solomon's Temple points to Syrian and Phoenician models. The temple at Tell Tuʿeimat (ancient Kunulua) on the Syrian coast is often mentioned by archaeologists, as are temples at Zinjirli in Northwest Syria, and at Carchemish and Byblos. The Kunulua temple was also an oblong structure, divided into three parts: portico, hall, and shrine. An earlier prototype may have been the late Bronze Age temple at Hazor in Galilee, dating from between the sixteenth and the thirteenth centuries.

What is unusual about Solomon's Temple is its east-west orientation. Some have suggested that this was to allow the sun's rays to penetrate the Temple; others have speculated that the alignment was to allow the sun, at certain times of the year, to shine through two successive doorways into the shrine itself.

The interior doors were paneled with cedar, as was the ceiling, and both were extensively decorated with floral motifs and cherubs, overlaid with gold. In the windowless shrine stood the Ark, and hovering over it were two cherubs, whose combined wingspan reached from one wall to the other. In the great hall, facing the entrance to the shrine, stood the incense altar, made of cedar wood and overlaid with gold, and two rows of five lampstands, ten in all, hammered of solid gold.

Abutting three of the outer walls of the Temple was a network of stone chambers three stories high, called the yatsiʿa, through which one proceeded from chamber to chamber, climbing to the higher stories. Although the biblical text fails to specify the yatsiʿa' s function, it undoubtedly was used for storing consecrated materials and for priestly preparations. The structure reached halfway up the Temple's walls, so that the great hall's windows on the north and south walls were not blocked.

The Temple was surrounded by an enclosed courtyard (atser ), in the center of which, facing the entrance to the Temple, stood the altar for burnt offerings. The Temple had three gates, on the east, north, and south. Upon entering to the right and again in front of the Temple was a huge bronze reservoir, the yam ("sea"), and ten mobile basinsall ornamented with beasts of burden, as if to indicate that these animals carried the sea and the basins.

As described in 1 Kings, the Temple was more exposed initially than in later periods. A comparison of Solomon's Temple complex with the visionary descriptions of the Temple complex in Ezekiel 4048 shows how the process of insulating the Temple from the outside world had proceeded from the tenth century to the early sixth century, prior to the Temple's destruction in 587/6. Serious doubt exists as to how realistic the descriptions of Ezekiel are, given their visionary, literary context, but they probably reveal somewhat how the Temple complex appeared in its last years.

Two periods of major renovation were the reign of Hezekiah in the late eighth and early seventh centuries, and the reign of Josiah in the late seventh century. Hezekiah's projects undoubtedly were motivated by the growth of the population of Jerusalem after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722, which left the Temple as the only national religious center.

2 Kings 22 tells of Josiah's Temple renovations. Both he and Hezekiah were, of course, devout Yahvists; Josiah, in particular, had a lasting impact on the historical importance of the Temple. However, not only pious, Yahvistic kings were motivated to undertake Temple renovation. Ahaz, Hezekiah's father and hardly a devout, Yahvistic monarch, installed an additional altar, modeled after one he had seen in Damascus, and he built a passageway leading from his palace to the Temple (2 Kgs. 16). Even Manasseh, characterized as wicked, who ruled during much of the seventh century, may not have neglected the Temple; indeed, Nahman Avigad's excavations in Jerusalem's upper city reveal the extent of Manasseh's construction efforts.

By the time of Ezekiel the Temple is described as enclosed in two courtyards; there were now three sets of gatehouses, so that the Temple was approached by mounting three staircases; the burnt offering altar was elevated, and numerous stores were near the walls and gates (Ez. 4048).

The Second Temple

Returning Judahite exiles, under their Davidic king Zerubbabel, rebuilt the Temple of Jerusalem on its original site pursuant to the edict of Cyrus II (the Great), issued in 538. Despite opposition from Samaritan leaders and other causes of delay, the Second Temple was dedicated in 516, its design resembling that of the First Temple. Measurements in Ezra 6:3, however, indicate that there may have been an upper story or attic above the ceiling of the Temple, as in later times, causing it to loom larger over the surrounding area than the First Temple.

As far as we know, no administrative buildings were located in the Temple complex, an absence that is understandable given the changed status of Jerusalem from capital of a sovereign kingdom to provincial temple city, one of many such entities throughout the Persian Empire.

Since its inception, the Second Temple had been devoid of certain artifacts once considered essential to the sanctity of the First. For instance the shrine held neither ark nor cherubs. (These cultic objects are missing in Ezekiel's descriptions of the First Temple.) Also missing were the two ornamental columns in front of the portico, since they symbolized royal authority and the Jews no longer had their own king. Yet even though no attempt was ever made to fashion a new ark (or cherubs), the empty shrine nevertheless was believed to be the domicile of the God of Israel.

Nehemiah 7:2 describes a fortress, birah, built in the northwest corner of the acropolis. (It is also mentioned in the Letter of Aristeas in the third century bce.) In Herod's time it was renamed the Antonia and heavily fortified.

Records from the Persian period (538 to around 330 bce) are sparse, but once Hellenistic sources begin to appear, more information emerges. The writings of Josephus Flavius, a Jewish historian of the first century ce, early tractates of the Mishnah, and passages in the New Testament all afford considerable information. Josephus, in Against Apion, refers to a certain Hecateus of Abdera who visited the temple in Jerusalem in the late fourth century bce; from the third century come descriptions in the Letter of Aristeas, and Yehoshuʿa son of Sirah (Ben Sira ) mentions that Shimʿon ha-Tsaddiq (Shimʿon the Just) undertook Temple renovations around 200. The recently discovered Temple Scroll, a pre-Herodian, Hebrew document, preserves detailed plans for a Jewish temple, and archaeological excavations in the Temple complex area have yielded additional material of interest.

Two periods appear to be times of major renovations and structural changes in the Temple: one following the Maccabean liberation of the Temple in 164, and the other, beginning about 20 bce when Herod undertook the rebuilding of the entire Temple complex, a project that continued virtually until the destruction in 70 ce. From 164 the Hasmonean (Maccabean) rulers maintained a degree of political autonomy, after ridding the Temple of the heterodox artifacts and cult practices introduced by the Hellenizing priesthood of Jerusalem in the period leading up to the persecutions of Antiochus IV. During the Hasmonean period, construction began on a series of archways leading to the Temple, connecting it to the city of Jerusalem. These are better known from the Herodian period.

Herod, descendant of the Idumeans who converted to Judaism, was a favorite of the Romans. His monumental Temple project was motivated by both his desire to rule over a majestic polis of the Roman Empire, and at the same time be accepted by the religious leaders of the Jews. The accommodation struck by Herod produced a Temple complex conceived along Roman lines that nonetheless retained the traditional Temple building, by now probably heightened considerably.

Extensive archaeological excavations in the Temple mount area, initiated under the direction of Benjamin Mazar in 1968, have provided new information. It seems that Herod's Temple preserved earlier Temple design but the dimensions were considerably enlarged, including its height.

The inner area of Herod's Temple complex was prohibited to Gentiles, and it was bounded by a balustrade called the soreg. Josephus mentions that inscriptions in Greek and Latin were posted at intervals warning Gentiles not to pass beyond that point; two examples of these inscriptions have been discovered in modern times.

A visitor moving from east to west would perceive that the walled area of the temple was composed of two main sections. First, he would pass through the Beautiful Gate into the women's court and proceed up a staircase through the Nicanor Gate to the court of Israel, where male worshipers assembled. (Men and women did not worship together.) The court of Israel was set off in the eastern section of the inner court, and there was no wall separating it from the priests' court where the altar of burnt offerings stood. This entire walled section contained various chambers, including the Chamber of Hewn Stone, where the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews, convened prior to approximately 30 ce.

The altar for burnt offerings was situated in front of the Temple, slightly to the south of the staircase leading to the portico. In the Herodian period it was a raised altar reached by a ramp called the kevesh. Sacrificial animals were slaughtered in the northern front section of the court of priests, and a laver stood near the southern wall. The portico facade itself is described as exceedingly impressive and ornate; however, it included a golden eagle that aroused intense opposition because many Jews regarded the eagle as a pagan symbol.

The entire Temple mount, some of it resting on pillars, was enclosed by a high wall called the eil. It undoubtedly served as a fortification, along with the Antonia fortress. The Temple mount had massive retaining walls, some of which have been exposed in recent archaeological excavations. (One is the so-called Western Wall.) On the periphery of the Temple mount were porticos, the best known of them being the royal portico, built along the southern side of the outer courtyards. This royal portico, which is profusely praised by Josephus, has been identified with the anuyyot ("stores") mentioned in the Mishnah (Taʿan. 1.6). The Temple mount's outer dimensions prior to the destruction are estimated at 1,550 meters, an area twice the size of Trajan's forum in Rome.

The two Temples of Jerusalem, built on the same spot, had the cumulative effect of sanctifying that place for all subsequent generations of Jews.

The Cult of the Temples of Jerusalem

Information on the conduct of worship in the Temples of Jerusalem comes from several kinds of sources, all of which are problematic in one way or another. Most of the detailed descriptions of cultic praxis in biblical times come from the priestly codes of the Pentateuch, known as the P source. This source projects the sacrificial cult back to the time of the Sinai migrations, prior to Israelite settlement in Canaan. Historically these codes of practice, found primarily in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, belong to a much later period and probably reflect the Jerusalem Temple cult. It is difficult, however, to as certain whether the cult of the First or Second Temple is being described. While the P source, as we have it, is more logically the product of the early postexilic period, the time of Persian domination (538c. 330 ce), much of it, especially as pertains to types of sacrifices and their essential modes of presentation, was probably in effect in Judah in the latter part of the monarchic period, prior to the Babylonian exile. Today, the dating of the P source is a matter of considerable disagreement among scholars, with a substantial number favoring a preexilic provenance.

The Letter of Aristeas and the Book of Ben Sira contain a good deal of information from pre-Maccabean times about the Second Temple. For the Herodian period and thereafter (about the last one hundred years of the Temple), considerable information is preserved in the writings of Josephus. The Mishnah and Tannaitic literature may also be employed for the Herodian period even though they were not compiled until the early third century ce. Megillat taʿanit and the books of the New Testament also contain authentic information on Temple worship. It is warranted to assume a high degree of conservatism in the religious practice of ancient Jerusalem.

Structure of the cultic worship

The public cult of Jerusalem was, from earliest times, structured around a daily regimen, wherein the major sacrifice was offered in the morning, and a less elaborate one offered before sunset. This was the ancient Near Eastern pattern, according to which the day was defined as the daylight hours. This was the time frame for most worship, although certain types of ritual were conducted at night, magic and penitential worship for the most part. The daytime schedule expressed the basic aim of worship: the need to secure God's blessings and help in the practical pursuits of life, in the activities of each day.

Thus, the Bible tells us that Ahaz, king of Judah, instructed the priests of Jerusalem to offer "the burnt offering of the morning and the grain offering of the evening" (2 Kgs. 16:15). The late afternoon came to be referred to as the time "of the ascent of the grain offering" (1 Kgs. 18:29, 18:36). In Ezekiel 46:1215, both a burnt offering and a grain offering were to be sacrificed each morning, but there is no mention of a second burnt offering later in the day, as is required by the laws of the Torah (Ex. 29:3846; Nm. 28:18). It is likely, therefore, that the Torah codes which project two daily burnt offerings are postexilic, as suggested by Roland de Vaux.

On Sabbaths, new moons, and festivals, additional or perhaps special sacrifices were offered. The Mishnah, especially in tractate Tamid, describes the daily regimen of the Second Temple, including the procedures for assignment of priests to various duties.

Basic kinds of sacrifices

Leviticus 13 and 57 outline the three basic types of sacrifices offered on the altar of burnt offerings:

  1. ʿOlah, functionally translated as "burnt offering" or "holocaust," was a sacrifice burned to ash, no part of which was eaten by the priest or donors. Literally, ʿolah means "that which ascends [in smoke]." An ʿolah could consist of a bull, a sheep or goat, or certain birds. The donor of the sacrifice laid his hands on the animal's head and, following a set formula, assigned it as an ʿolah; the Mishnah (ʿArakh. 5.5) preserves examples of such formulas used during the late Second Temple. The priest then slaughtered the animal, flayed it, washed certain internal organs, and decapitated and sectioned it. The blood of the sacrifice was then splashed on the altar. The ʿolah was also termed an isheh (offering by fire), a more general term for all burnt offerings, as well as a qorban ("offering").
  2. Minah (grain offering) consisted of semolina wheat flour, finely ground, mixed with oil and frankincense into a dough. A scoop of the dough was burned on the altar, while the remainder was baked or cooked some other way. Any grain offering burned on the altar had to be made of unleavened dough (matsah ). The reason for this restriction is not known. Portions of the minhah were eaten by the priests.
  3. Zeva shelamin ("a sacred gift of greeting"; sometimes termed a "peace offering"). The term zeva seems to mean "sacred meal," or "food." Such an offering could consist only of a bull, sheep, or goat. It too was assigned by the donor; its blood was splashed on the altar. But, in contrast to the first two kinds of sacrifice, this offering was shared with the donors. The altar received certain of the internal organs and the fat adhering to them, whereas the meat was divided between priests and donors and then boiled in pots (1 Sm. 2:13). In addition, libations of wine usually accompanied the major sacrifice (Nm. 15:116, 15:2231).

Sacrifice as a mode of worship

The sacrificial regimen just outlined represents the outcome of a long process of development; left unanswered are questions about the history and meaning of sacrifice.

There were two basic sacrificial modes in biblical Israel: the presentation and the burnt offering. In the presentation offering, the deity is portrayed as looking upon the offering and accepting or rejecting it. Such offerings, once "set" or placed before God, were usually assigned to the priests who would partake of them. Examples include the offering of first fruits (Dt. 26:111); the "bread of display," placed on tables in the Temple for a week and then given to the priests (Lv. 24:59, 1 Sm. 21:7); the leavened loaves of the thanksgiving offering (Lv. 6:1113); and the offering of the sheaf from the new grain crop (Lv. 23:11, 23:17). Therefore, to a degree mode relates to substance, and presentations tended to consist of grain and fruits, very much in keeping with sacrifice in other ancient Near Eastern countries.

With the burnt offering, the deity is portrayed as inhaling the aromatic smoke of the sacrifice, typical of an incense offeringa kind of sacrifice in its own right (Ex. 30:7f, Lv. 6:1215, Is. 1:13). Historically, the burnt offering may have originated in northern Syria, for it is known that it was adopted and widely used by the Hittites. It may not have been native to Canaan, although current research into this question is inadequate.

What is clear from biblical literature is the progressive ascendancy of the burnt offering in the public cult and in private donations. This can be traced in the adaptation of certain modes of sacrifice. The grain offering is a case in point. As prescribed in Leviticus 2 it can be analyzed as the accommodation of what was originally a presentation offering: only a scoop of dough was burned on the altar, the rest was given to the priests after having been offered first to the deity.

Yet another instance of accommodation is implicit in the term tenufah (raised offering). Before certain offerings were placed on the altar, they were held up and carried about for the deity to view (Lv. 10:4).

Procedures whereby offerings initially having nothing to do with the altar were adapted to the prevailing mode are also evident with respect to animal sacrifices. According to the old mode of sacrifice, the paschal lamb was roasted whole over an open fire without employing the altar (Ex. 12 and 13). But as prescribed in Deuteronomy 16:7 and like all other sacrifices of the zeva variety, it was to be boiled in pots, with certain parts burned on the altar.

Generally, most sacrificial types and modes existed quite early in the biblical period, and some are mentioned independently by eighth-century prophets. What changes perceptibly is the elaborateness of composite, public rituals, such as those performed at festivals, or in purifying the Temple. The liturgical calendar in Numbers, chapters 28 through 29, shows the growth of a frequent and detailed sacrificial activity since an earlier period in Leviticus 23.

Certain very ancient sacrifices were revived after long periods; one was the water libation, mentioned in connection with David's early years (1 Sm. 23:16), and which figured in Elijah's confrontation with the Baal priests somewhere in the Carmel mountain range (1 Kgs. 18). It was revived in the early rabbinic period (Sheq. 6:3).

Interacting with mode and substance was motivation, the reason for the sacrifice. There were several types of sacrifices whose objective was expiation, through purification; two major ones were the aaʿt ("sin offering") and the asham ("guilt offering"). The asham in particular had a votive aspect, and it could be donated in other than a sacrificial form (as silver, for instance), especially since the priesthood at different times preferred different kinds of revenue. The asham, as a sacrifical offering, had no role in the public cult, but the aaʿt was used in Temple purification in rites such as those described for the Day of Atonement (Lv. 16). These sacrifices resembled others in substance, and usually consisted of large or small cattle, except that allowances were made for less expensive offerings from donors with limited means so as not to deny them expiation.

Private and public worship intersected in the Temple. Individuals donated public sacrifices; the Temple was a place to pronounce vows and fulfill pledges; new mothers, in accordance with Leviticus 12, brought pigeons and doves to the Temple following their specified periods of seclusion. Scattered among the legal discussions of the Talmudic sages are beautiful descriptions of celebrations in the late Second Temple period; for example, the description of the offering of first fruits in Jerusalem, as first commanded in Deuteronomy 20:111, and later recorded in the Mishnah, tractate Bikkurim, chapter 3.

Once consecrated, sacrificial materials became susceptible to defilement, and could not be left unused. Not only would certain foodstuffs spoil, which was a practical consideration, but there was always the fear that impurity would affect the entire Temple complex or, put another way, that demonic forces would contaminate sacrifices.

Sacrificial blood was utilized in the Temple cult in special ways. As such, blood from sacrifices was considered taboo, as was all blood from cattle, sheep, and goats used as food (Gn. 9:4; Lv. 3:17, 17:10f.; Dt. 12:16f.). In most sacrifices, the blood was splashed on the sides of the altar, and in some cases on the horns atop the altar. In certain expiatory rites, such as those performed in Temple purification, blood was also dabbed on the interior incense altar, on the curtains at the entrance to the great hall and the shrine, and even on the Ark and cherubs. Blood, as the vital fluid of living creatures, was to be returned to the earth, and the blood splashed on the sides of the altar would therefore be allowed to run down into the earth. What had once been a blood libation to chthonic powers became an offering to God. Other uses, such as dabbing blood on cult objects (and occasionally people), seem to have been intended to ward off demonic forces. Salt was applied to offerings to drain off residual blood after slaughter (Lv. 2:13), and the method of slaughter, later described in the Mishnah (ul. 2.4), was to cut the jugular vein. An entire order of the Mishnah, Qodashim ("Sacred Things"), is devoted to procedures of sacrifice in late Second Temple times.

Apart from sacrifices, the Temple cult always included prayers and song, and probably dance as well (or at least orchestrated movement). The Psalms were first prayers, and one tradition has it that the Levites were the singers (Ez. 2:41, Neh. 7:44, 1 Chr. 15:10), at least at the time of the Second Temple. This tradition is reflected in the captions of certain psalms that associate them with Levitical clans. But prayer and song were not regarded as the main events or even as sufficient modes of worship: only sacrifice and its rituals were ultimately efficacious. The tamid or daily sacrificial offering that in the Second Temple was burned twice each day was the mainstay of the cult, and when it was suppressed by decree great anxiety overtook Jewish people everywhere.

Funding and Administration

Temple building and maintenance, the public cult, and the support of Temple personnel all required large outlays of funds. Who bore the costs? As with other matters pertaining to the Temples of Jerusalem, we are reliant primarily on the Hebrew Bible, since we lack contemporary documentation in the form of administrative records, such as those that have survived from the major ancient temples of Syria-Mesopotamia, or the inscribed ancient wall reliefs, for instance, that we find in Egypt. With the Hellenistic period, documentation begins to appear, and in the Roman period Jewish writings become available. Together these sources provide more specific information on the operation of the Second Temple.

In itself, the biblical record is complex and often confusing: the Torah tells one story, and the historical books of Hebrew scripturesSamuel, Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles another. The Torah gives little indication as to the role of the monarchy in biblical Israel, never venturing beyond stating the eventuality of a monarchy. Nor is there evidence of governmental taxation, only gifts to Godtithes, priestly emoluments, voluntary and obligatory sacrifices, and so forth. The various documentary sources of the Torah project legislation into the days of Moses, before the Israelite settlement of Canaan, when there was no king and no temple in Jerusalem. Historically misleading, all matters concerning the major temples of the land were controlled by the monarch, once established, in both Judaea and northern Israel. Although priestly groups probably originated independent of the monarchy, retaining traditional prerogatives, they nonetheless operated under royal jurisdiction for most of the preexilic period.

The contrast between the laws of the Torah, which provide so much detail on the performance of the cult, and the historical books of the Hebrew Bible, which contain little on these subjects but considerable information on governmental administration, can be demonstrated by the case of the tithe. The tithe amounted to one-tenth of the annual yield of grain and fruit, as well as an equal percentage of any increase in herds and flocks. In the Torah, such tithes are represented as cult dues or religious duties owed to the Levitical priests and the needy, without any governmental involvement in the process (Dt. 14:2229, 15:1923; Lv. 27:30). In contrast, the statement of royal jurisdiction preserved in 1 Samuel 8 (especially verse 15) refers to the fact that kings are the ones who impose tithes on crop yield. Projecting back to Moses, so characteristic of the Torah, often masks the realities of royal administration that obtained during the preexilic period, as well as the realities of priestly administration under foreign rulers in the postexilic period.

Funding in the Second Temple

The preferred method of studying Temple funding would be to begin with the Hellenistic period, for which we have contemporary evidence, and work backward. Elias Bickerman (1976) has clarified this subject for the Ptolemaic and Seleucid periods in Judaea and Jerusalem (c. 312363 ce) in a study of the mission of Heliodorus to the Temple of Jerusalem, as recounted in 2 Maccabees 3 and as known well in later literature and art.

In later times, maintaining the Temple and cult in Jerusalem was a royal responsibility; tax revenues were allocated for this purpose, augmented by gifts from the nobility. Under the Romans (63 bce70 ce) the system was more complicated, as will become apparent.

The principle of royal sponsorship also applied during the earlier Achaemenid period (538330 bce); both Hebrew and Aramaic versions of the edict of Cyrus II of 538 bce have been preserved (Ezr. 1:23, 6:612). Of particular relevance are statements of the Aramaic version, in Ezra 6:89, relevant to the funds and materials required for the restoration of the public cult in Jerusalem:

The expenses are to be paid to these men [the Judean elders] with dispatch out of the resources of the king, derived from the taxes of the province of Beyond the River, so that the work not be interrupted. They are to be provided daily, without fail, whatever they need of young bulls, rams and lambs as burnt offerings for the God of Heaven and wheat, salt, wine and oil, at the order of the priests in Jerusalem.

Further back in history, similar information about the funding of the First Temple under the national Judahite kings can be found.

Ezekiel 45 contains a statement on the prerogatives of the nasi' ("prince"; literally, "the one elevated, raised" above the people), Ezekiel's term for the future ruler of the restored Judahite community. It is not certain when this chapter was composed, but it is probably warranted, as in the matter of Temple design, to regard it as expressing the principle of royal funding in effect during the last days of the First Temple.

The chapter begins by designating a quarter inside Jerusalem to be set aside for the Temple complex (Ez. 45:18). Verses 9 through 17 establish standards of weights and measures, and specify a system of taxation based on percentage of annual yield. Verses 1617 are particularly relevant:

The entire population must pay this levy to the nasi'. It shall then be the responsibility of the nasi' to provide the holocausts, grain offerings and libations on the pilgrimage festivals, on New Moons and Sabbaths, on all the appointed celebrations of the House of Israel.

This passage has been variously interpreted by biblical historians, such as Jacob Jiver, who was undoubtedly correct in seeing it as reflecting royal sponsorship. In accounting terms royal sponsorship was a form of indirect funding. Taxes collected by government agents (sometimes priests served in this capacity) were partially or fully allocated to the Temple. Direct Temple funding came from the people, and was specifically earmarked for Temple use. The nasi', a civil authority although he had sacral functions, was made responsible for the entire Temple restoration, and it was he who collected taxes for the Temple project and the public cult.

But Ezekiel's vision never materialized, because during the postexilic period Temple funding became a function of foreign kings, and indeed the Davidic king Zerubbabel did not retain authority very long. Morton Smith has correctly understood the statement in Zechariah 6:1213 as an official, prophetic endorsement of Zerubbabel as sponsor of the rebuilt Temple of Jerusalem, with the authority of the high priest less precisely defined. He notes, however, that king and high priest are often addressed together, as coleaders of the people (Hg. 1:1, 1:12, 1:14, 2:2; Zec. 34), and by placing two crowns in the Temple, their joint authority was memorialized. As time goes on, with priestly administration of the Temple under Persian jurisdiction as the everyday reality, much less is said in scripture about a Davidic restoration. So in effect Ezekiel's recast vision embodies the principle of royal sponsorship as it operated in the period of the First Temple. Further, Samuel and Kings clearly describe the First Temple as a royal agency, but say little about taxation other than that labor forces were conscripted for Temple projects and other royal enterprises.

Funding in the First Temple

One way to investigate Temple funding in the preexilic period is to discuss the royal and Temple treasuries, both mentioned in 1 Kings 12:19, 14:26, and elsewhere, as separate agencies under royal control. We often read of "sanctuary weight" but hardly ever of royal standards of weights and measures. And yet, in a single, random passage (2 Sm. 14:26), we read of ʿeven ha-melekh ("the royal weight"), which tells something about the degree to which even the historical chronicles mask administrative reality in a preoccupation with religious concerns.

Several biblical chronicles tell how Judahite kings, both "upright" in God's sight and those who "did what was evil," appropriated Temple treasures for other than cult purposes (2 Kgs. 18:1516). In speaking of these acts, an assertion of royal authority over the Temple, Kings usually refers to Temple treasures as "sacred gifts" (qodashim ) donated by the various Judean kings and their ancestors, as if to imply that they, in turn, had the right to expropriate them.

Chapters 12 and 22 in 2 Kings are particularly informative on the subject of Temple funding during the period of the Judahite monarchy. Chapter 12 tells of Joash, a king who ruled in the late ninth century bce, who used Temple treasures for tribute. The chapter's present arrangement has the confrontation with the Aramean king, Hazael, after Temple renovations undertaken by Joash, as seen in verses 18 and 19, yet it is quite logical to regard the renovations mentioned in verses 1 through 17 as actually taking place subsequent to Joash's payment to Hazael.

Payments to Hazael left Temple coffers empty. The chapter opens with an edict issued by Joash to the priests: all silver brought into the Temple as votaries was to be collected by the priests and used for Temple renovation. This was apparently an exceptional measure, and the priests were lax to resort to votaries for this purpose, expecting instead royal allocations to cover their cost. After a time the king, seeing that repairs had not been made, summoned the chief priest of the Temple and, prevailing over the priest's objections, insisted that his edict be carried out. The priest installed a collection box near the altar where all donors were to deposit their votaries. At appropriate intervals the priest would tally donations, in the presence of the royal scribe, and the silver would be melted down into ingots; these, in turn, were paid out to craftsmen working on the Temple who apparently were so trustworthy that no accounting system was required for them. A freeze was placed on the manufacture of cultic vessels of silver and gold in order that all available funds could be used for needed repairs. The only exemption, for penalties brought to the Temple by worshipers in need of expiation, was granted so that atonement would not be delayed.

2 Kings 22 describes a similar situation under Josiah, king of Judah, in the late seventh century bce; both chapter 12 and this chapter are drawn from the same kind of royal chronicles. Again, all silver, this time collected by the Temple gatekeepers, was to be melted down into ingots to pay Temple workers. Josiah's coffers were also empty after the long period of Manasseh's reign.

Both chapters report that the king had jurisdiction over the Temple, royal scribes supervised Temple accounting procedures, and craftsmen were paid by royal order. In part records were preserved to credit Judean kings for proper maintenance of the First Temple of Jerusalem and for attending to necessary repairs. And yet they also point to another fairly constant source of Temple revenue and serve to link the historical books of the Hebrew Bible to the laws of the Torah.

Sacred vessels and sacrificial offerings were regularly donated (or "devoted") to the Temple by individual Israelites and their families. Votaries mentioned in 2 Kings 12, in fact, are the subject of Torah legislation in Leviticus 27, where specific payments are determined separately for men and women by age group. Such devotions often assumed large proportions. The writings of Josephus and rabbinic sources describe large-scale devotions from prominent Diaspora Jews, such as Helene, the queen of Adiabene. These donations were usually prompted by the motive of sponsorship.

The priesthood, for its part, relied on popular support, which, however, was not always adequate to sustain the priests and their families. People were exhorted to pay tithes and vows on time and to devote sacrifices; indeed, the Torah sets down the dues payable to the Levitical priesthood and includes a whole schedule of offerings (Nm. 18).

Fiscal responsibilities

The main problem here is to determine who bore responsibility for the Temples of Jerusalemthe government (so to speak), or the private sector. No persistent policy of support by the private sector is evident until late Hasmonean or early Roman times. Basing his work on Bickerman's, Jiver meticulously surveyed the background of this development, showing that the first reference to popular funding of the Temple is found in the writings of Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 18:312), who tells of the annual head tax of one-half shekel (at times, equal to two Roman drachmas); Matthew 17:24 through 17:27 speaks about the collection of this tax in Capernaum, in the early first century ce. In the Mishnah (Sheq. 1:36) the tax is called terumat ha-lishkah ("the levy of the bureau," for the bureau in the Temple complex where it was collected); it was used mainly to fund the tamid or daily sacrifice that was the mainstay of the public Temple cult. It was not accepted from Gentiles, thereby excluding them from any role in supporting the cult. But more specifically, at some prior time Jewish religious leaders decided that the cult should be supported "by all Israel," and not by foreign rulersHerodian or Roman. This decision is first recorded in the scholia, or comments, affixed to Megillat taʿanit, concerning a dispute involving the early Pharisees. The text states that Boethusians (perhaps the Sadducees, or some other anti-Pharisaic sect) claimed:

The tamid sacrifices may be brought from private contributions: one person may offer it for one week, another may offer it for two weeks, and still another for thirty days. The Sages [Pharisees] retorted: "You are not permitted to act in this way, because this sacrifice may only be contributed by all Israel and all of them [the sacrifices] are to come from the 'levy of the bureau.' " When they [the Pharisees] prevailed over them and defeated them, they instituted that all should weigh out their shekels and deposit them in the bureau, and tamid sacrifices were henceforth offered from popular funds. (quoted in Lichtenstein, 19311932, p. 325)

We cannot date the enactment of which this passage speaks, but historically it may have been the result of Pharisaic displeasure with the later Hasmoneans; some scholars trace it to the reign of Salome Alexandra (7667 bce). Whatever the case, Jewish communities from all over the Diaspora contributed their shekels.

The policy of refusing royal support was based on several Torah traditions that speak of all Israelites as contributing to the building of the Tabernacle in the Sinai wilderness. These traditions have baffled biblical historians, who have searched for a historical situation that could account for them. Since no such principle is known for either the First Temple or the Second, both of which relied on royal funding, the question remains as to when popular funding came to function as a system.

The Torah traditions are preserved primarily in the priestly sources of Exodus and Numbers. Beginning with Exodus 30:11 through 16, a law required every adult Israelite male to contribute one-half shekel "to Yahveh" to support the Tabernacle; it was to be collected in the course of a census.

In its context, this law was formulated as a one-time obligation. Exodus 25 and the following chapters appealed to all Israelites to contribute voluntarily to the construction of gold and silver objects for the Tabernacle, valuable fabrics, and the like. This fund-raising effort was very successful, and sufficient materials were donated. The half-shekel was for the "service" of the Tabernacle, to support its sacrifical cult. Of course it is possible that in Exodus 25 and 30 parallel traditions on funding exist: one recording a fixed tax, the other a voluntary contribution.

Either way, these traditions, reinforced by Numbers 7, which tells that the chieftains of the twelve tribes contributed identical vessels and sacrificial materials for the dedication of the Tabernacle, quite clearly idealize popular support for the Temple and its public cult. Nonetheless, all Israelites participated in its support, making it an institution of and for the people, even though it was conducted by the priesthood.

Since it is virtually out of the question to date these Torah traditions to the late first century bce, it is difficult to identify their historical situation. Most likely Julius Wellhausen and others were right in attributing the head tax of Exodus 30 with the period of Nehemiah, the late fifth century bce; he was a Jew who served for two terms under the Persians as governor of Judah. In Nehemiah 10 is a record of a popular assembly, or "constitutional convention," that some historians date to around 438 bce, although Nehemiah may have been written considerably later.

Under Nehemiah the people, along with priestly leaders and civil officials, assembled in Jerusalem and pledged to fulfill the Torah of Moses. In fact, however, they also instituted some new marriage restrictions, reinforced the observance of the Sabbath, and assumed certain financial obligations in support of the Temple cult. They pledged one-third shekel a year in support of the cult and cast lots to determine who would provide wood for the altar fire. In addition, they promised to pay tithes, redeem firstlings and firstborns by remitting their set value to the Temple, and offer first fruits of the harvestall of which brought profit to the Temple.

It is reasonable to see the priestly traditions as the institutionalization of a temporary policy change that occurred in the late Persian period when the economic fortunes of the Empire declined, threatening the continuity of the cult. According to the Book of Nehemiah, especially chapter 5, taxes were heavy and Jewish leaders had to help matters along. With the conquest of Alexander the Great, and the initiation of Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule in Jerusalem and Judaea, the economic situation improved substantially, and royal sponsorship functioned well once again.

The Torah traditions also correlate with other references to popular responsibility for the public cult in Ezra and Chronicles, although these references reach into the fourth century bce. (See Ezra 1:4, an addendum to the Cyrus Edict, also Ezra 3:5, 8:28; 2 Chronicles 31:14, 35:8.)

2 Chronicles 24:4 through 14 is a late recasting of 2 Kings 12, discussed earlier. In this version, Joash orders the priests and Levites to travel to every town in Judaea to collect silver for Temple repairs, from "all Israel." When the Levites fail to do their part, he rebukes them (2 Chr. 24:6). Thus, this preexilic chronicle's version of Temple votary expropriation was recast as the record of a tax collected throughout the land from all the people.

The Torah traditions, whenever composed, became epitomes ultimately of a democratic idealthe liberation of the Temple cult from royal domination. The Jews took charge of the Temple and limited the authority of foreign kings over the conduct of religious life. Perhaps for the first time, these kings, who had spent a fortune on the Temples from taxes collected from the people, were no longer permitted to claim exclusive sponsorship of the worship of God.

The Torah speaks of "consecrations" to the Temple (Lv. 27), with an assured 20 percent profit on "redemptions" of land or real estate so designated. Land was also permanently bequeathed to the Temple, making it the beneficiary of private estates. More than likely, the Temple served as a channel for tax exemptions.

The Mishnah describes how the Temple operated on a day-to-day basis in Herodian times and prior to its destruction. Like the prophet Jeremiah before him, Jesus certainly had reason to object to the atmosphere of the marketplace that characterized the Temple complex, but such was the nature of holy cities everywhere. Great numbers of sacrificial animals, as well as large quantities of incense, flour, wine, and oil, were stocked in the Temple stores; priests and their agents attended to the business of the Temple, selling to worshipers the goods that they required and collecting various payments. Priests were assigned to Temple duty, usually of a week's duration. Ancient records of these tours (mishmarot ) have been discovered in recent archaeological investigations, such as those at Beit She'an. The Temple proper was inspected every morning; a daily duty roster was used, with one priest placed in charge of work assignments each day; treasurers kept Temple accounts. Indeed, the Temple complex was the very hub of Jerusalem.

Temple Function and Phenomenology

Throughout biblical literature, the temple of Jerusalem is called beit YHVH ("the House of Yahveh"). This role emerges clearly from 1 Kings 8, a mixed text that presents both an early statement on the functions of this house and a later postexilic reinterpretation. Its primary function is best conveyed in verses 12 and 13: "Then Solomon spoke: Yahveh has chosen to abide in dense cloud. I have accordingly built for You a royal house, a dais for Your eternal enthronement."

The Temple served as an earthly residence for God and was designed to replicate his celestial estate. In the heavens, God is enveloped by dense cloud (2 Sm. 22; Ps. 18, 97:2; Jb. 38:9); his heavenly throne room was, in graphic terms, an arrested version of his chariot, fashioned as a winged sphinx and cherub (Ez. 28:14, Ps. 18:11). God rode his chariot across heaven, as "rider amid the clouds" (Ps. 68:5) and as "Yahveh of the [heavenly] hosts, seated astride the cherubim" (1 Sm. 4:4, 2 Sm. 6:2)a projection now recognized as a very ancient Near Eastern image known in Ugaritic mythology.

Also basic to celestial depictions is the obscurity that afforded protection from view and access. Moses climbed Mount Sinai, "into the dense cloud where God is" (Ex. 20:21); God had descended there to communicate with Moses, a dramatic move in keeping with other visible manifestations of the deity (2 Sm. 20:10, Ps. 18:10).

The Temple was a divine palace. In the ancient Near Eastern tradition of inverting reality, earth was perceived as a replica of heaven, yet poets and writers depicted heaven according to what they knew on earthan inversion seemingly endemic to the human imagination. The earthly residence of God in Jerusalem contained a shrine without windows, a dark room; in it the Ark served as God's footstool, and his throne was formed by the arched, winged cherubs. He was present, but invisible, and immaterial. On those rare occasions that the high priest entered the shrine, he bore incense, partly to protect himself, but also to cloud the immediate area of the shrine where the deity was thought to be seated (Lv. 16:13).

The term for great hall, heikhal, goes back to Sumerian egal ("big house"); Akkadian hekallu, and Ugaritic hkl. The Egyptian title pharaoh (pr ) literally means "big house," the ruler who lives in a palace. The great hall was a veritable audience room or parlor, where priests (perhaps originally worshipers as well) offered gifts to the resident divine monarch. There was a table for presentations and an incense altar, so that the air would be sweetened for God's pleasure. The cedar-paneled walls and ceiling were decorated with motifs suitable for a divine residencecherubs and floral motifs. Here was an effort to simulate a heavenly "garden," such as described in Ezekiel 2728. Such decorations were not thought to contradict the ban on iconography so basic to Israelite monotheism (Ex. 20:4, Dt. 5:8). And, like a palace, the Temple had a portico, so that one would not enter into the presence of the deity abruptly.


In the open-air courtyard stood the altar of burnt offerings, facing the entrance of the Temple. Every day sacrifices were burned on this altar, and other installations and artifacts were also present to serve the priests' needs.

The classic plan of Solomon's Temple and of all its successors represented the integration of two originally separate concepts: that of a house, closed and covered by a roof, and that of an open-air encampment. Within the "house" gifts were presented to the deity, and his "looking upon" them with favor constituted his acceptance of them. Normally, such gifts were assigned to the priests, who partook of them in a sacred meal.

The offerings of incense inside the great hall point to another kind of divine responseinhalation. In this respect, incense and the burnt offerings of animals, birds, and grain belonged together on the outdoor altar. Therefore, two modes of sacrifice took place in the great hall: presentation, which was intended to evoke a visual response from God, and aromatic smoke, intended for inhalation by the deity. A description of the open-air ceremony will help us to understand the phenomonology of incense offerings. On the altar of burnt offerings were placed parts of animals and fowl and scoops of dough that were reduced to ash by the fire. The smoke ascended heavenward, there inhaled by God and in this manner accepted by him. When God disapproved of the worshipers or the manner of their worship, he angrily refused to inhale the aromatic smoke of their burnt offerings (Am. 5:21, Lv. 26:31).

The open-air altar was oriented vertically and the effects of the rite directed heavenward, which helps explain the preference for mountaintops and high places. As the sacrificial rite began, God was thought to be in heaven, not yet present; once the smoke rose to heaven, it was hoped that he would be attracted by the sweet aroma, and come to his worshipers (Ex. 20:24). Once God drew near he could be entreated and petitioned for the blessings of life. This was the basic phenomenology of the open-air burnt offering. In liturgical terms it was a form of invocation, and this seems to be the original function of the burnt offering referred to as ʿolah (literally, "that which ascends," in aromatic smoke, to heaven).

The presentation clearly had a horizontal orientation. The deity was perceived as already present in his "house." This is the basic difference between a "house" and the open-air setting. The Temple "house" was God's permanent residence, affording him shelter and the necessities of life (so to speak), whereas an altar or bamah ("high place") was a site visited by him on occasion. Consequently, it is likely that the incense offering was originally an open-air ritual. Archaeological evidence seems to suggest this; many incense stands have been found in front of temples, or outside their entrances. But it is also reasonable to assume that the venue of the incense offering was, in certain instances, shifted to the Temple's interior.


As a projection of differing patterns of human habitation, the typical temple planincluding both an open-air court and a closed, covered "house"combines the encampment and the town, the pastoral and the more settled, agricultural bases of economic life into one ex-pression.

Wood was preferred for temple architecture, particularly the fine, aromatic cedar from Lebanon. The Sumerian king Gudea used cedar wood in his temple, built more than a thousand years before Solomon's Temple. In many areas of the ancient Near East there seems to be an almost symbolic preference for wood, persisting long after stone and mud brick became the functional materials for construction. In the earliest temple tombs of Egypt, wooden motifs were retained long after stone was used. It was conventional to romanticize more ancient modes of construction, while for practical purposes utilizing stronger, more lasting materials.

The huge reservoir, yam ("sea"), located in the courtyard also had its particular meaning; in Mesopotamian temples similar reservoirs were called apsu ("the deep"). Aside from their practical purposes, their names reflect a common cosmic or mythological concept. Zechariah 14:8 states that the Temple rested on the fountainhead of the earth and was connected to the deep wellsprings. As in heaven, where gods lived at the junctures of cosmic streams, so too on earth the divine palace was associated with water. The manmade reservoir was called "sea" to symbolize the purifying and fructifying properties of "living water."

Gods normally desired an earthly house or palace built by worshipers (usually their king) more fervently than they desired altars and high places. This desire is beautifully expressed (and with considerable pathos) in ancient Near Eastern literature from Sumer to Ugarit. Biblical historiography reports this suprisingly sophisticated attitude as attributed to the God of Israel when he, in effect, initially refuses David's offer to build a temple in his honor. He states that only when the Davidic dynasty is established and the conquest of the promised land accomplished will he insist on a "house." In 2 Samuel 7 "house" (bayit ) undergoes an ingenious semantic transaction: both David's dynasty and the Temple are houses, and only when David's dynasty is established, in the days of his son, will the time be right to build God his house.

The Temple is thus a royal project par excellence, a fact further demonstrated by the other components of Solomon's acropolis. The two pillars in front of the portico (yakhin and boʿaz ) were apparently royal insignia, although the precise meaning of their names remains elusive. The hall of justice demonstrates the judicial role of the king, as the one responsible for establishing justice in the land, and as a court of last resort for the redress of grievances. The king, chosen by God to rule in his name, exercised judicial authority over the Temple complex; documents were stored for safekeeping near the Temple, as was the practice in other temples. Oaths were pronounced in God's name, often in his presence, that is in the Temple (Ex. 21:7). Priests served as judges as well as cultic officiants, determining innocence or culpability according to a code of instruction (a torah ), and the king was commanded to consult God's law in arriving at his judgments (Dt. 17:1820). This set of functions is articulated in Deuteronomy 17:8f.:

If a case is too baffling for you to decide you shall promptly repair to the place which the Lord your God will have chosen, and appear before the Levitical priests, or the magistrate in charge at the time and present your problem.

Reference to the "the place which the Lord your God will have chosen" is Deuteronomy 's way of referring to the central temple of the land, ultimately identified as the Temple of Jerusalem.

Until soon before the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70, the Sanhedrin convened in a chamber of the inner Temple complex; around 30 ce it moved out to the portico, in the outer Temple area.


The Temple area itself was considered sacred space; this very ancient notion that certain spaces are sacred goes back to animism, the belief that power (or "life") is immanent in mountains, rivers, trees, and the like. Biblical statements on the subject of sanctity rarely (if ever) define it as immanent, but rather as property attributed to a certain place, object, person, act, or time. It was therefore important to know how and when a particular site had become sacred in the first place. A story or poem that relates how a place became sacred is known as hieros logos, and the Bible presents quite a few examples. A classic example is found in Genesis 28, which tells how Bethel, the major cult center of the northern kingdom of Israel, first achieved its sanctity: the partriarch Jacob once spent the night there and experienced a theophany.

The sanctity of Jerusalem is recounted in several biblical sources. In addition to the historiographies and oracles of 2 Samuel 6 and 7 and the chronicle of 1 Kings 8, a hieros logos in 2 Samuel 24 relates that David, after fighting many battles, angered God by conducting a census and imposing new conscriptions and taxes on the already weary people of Israel. God's anger was unleashed in a plague that at the critical moment was stopped when David confessed his sinfulness. This confession took place in front of a threshing floor owned by Aravnah, the Jebusite, most probably the Canaanite ruler of Jerusalem. Realizing that the spot was propitious, David obeyed a prophetic order to worship the God of Israel there. He purchased the facility from Aravnah, as well as sacrificial animals, insisting on making full payment. He then offered sacrifices to God. In addition, the episode of Abraham and the king of Salem, Melchizedek (Gn. 14:1820), has been interpreted as a veiled allusion to Jerusalem, in that Salem is traditionally equated with [Jeru]salem. This is further suggested by Psalm 110, wherein Melchizedek is praised and promised the priesthood of Zion.

In other words, biblical literature preserves stories about the sanctity of Jerusalem (and Zion) as the divinely chosen site for the Temple, just as it does for other similar sites, such as Bethel, Shiloh, and elsewhere. While these accounts seem to sanction changing political realities, in terms of religious phenomenology they explain the basis for the sanctity of certain "spaces." In the case of Jerusalem, we have an entire genre of psalms in which the divine selection of Jerusalem (Zion) is recounted (for example, Psalms 48, 78, and 122).

Historically, however, sites like Bethel were sacred to the Canaanites before sanctification by the Israelites, as is evident from the intensive archaeological excavations that have been carried out at Bethel, Shechem, and other sites. Information about pre-Israelite Jerusalem is less precise, but there are indications of cultic history there as well. The Israelites, notwithstanding their distinctive religion, were not averse to appropriating sacred space and worshiping the God of Israel where others had worshiped pagan gods. Sanctity of space seems to have cut across religious and national boundaries, and once attributed to a space, no matter by whom, such sanctity was permanent.

The Jerusalem Temple complex was a sacred space in which the farther one penetrated, the greater the sanctity, and, accordingly, the greater the restrictions on those who may enter and the greater the degree of purity required. Precise information is lacking on the "graduated" sanctity of the First Temple of the kind available on the Second Temple in its later period. The priestly writings of the Torah, projecting an elaborate system of purity and describing a Tabernacle with demarcated zones of graduated sanctity, may not have reflected the First Temple in detail, but rather the postexilic Temple. Nevertheless, it is quite certain that in principle there were, from the outset, limitations on who could enter the Temple, and there were rites of purification for all who desired entry. It is reasonable to conclude that only priests who were consecrated could enter the Temple, or stand in the courtyard near the Temple, although Judean kings may not have always respected this rule. Sacrificial animals and other materials used in worship had to conform to certain specifications; cult artifacts were also subject to specific standards, and in this connection the introduction of pagan or otherwise improper cult objects into the Temple or its courtyards defiled the sanctity of the Temple. certain kings were guilty of such acts of defilement, and othersthe more upright in God's sightpiously removed the improper cult objects from the Temple and its courts, thus restoring its condition of purity.

Whereas the preexilic prophets concentrated their denunciations on paganism and on social evils for which no ritual remedy existed (Isaiah 1 is a good example), early postexilic prophets, taking their cue from Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and "Second Isaiah," begin to attack the problem of defilement more pointedly. Thus, the Book of Malachi insists on ritual purity and quite explicitly condemns improper sacrifice. It is reasonable to place the elaborate priestly regimen of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers in the early postexilic period, when the Temple became the center of the restored Judean community, and certainly by the end of the fourth century bce the degree of ritual stringency with respect to sacred spaces had increased considerably, as can be gathered from 1 and 2 Chronicles, and from passages of Ezra and Nehemiah all literary products of that century.

This priestly tradition was the basis for the later rabbinic codification of law relating to the Temple and cult, preserved primarily in the Mishnah and other tannaitic sources. In other words, early rabbis utilized the complete Torah, drawing on it selectively to produce a regimen of purification.

With the changing designs of both the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem, progressively, the Temple and its inner courts were further protected or barricaded against the outside world by the addition of more walls, gates, and courtyards. Since a great deal is known about the Herodian temple, it is possible to be specific on the subject of "graduated" sanctity. The design of the structure prohibited entry to gentiles beyond a balustrade that encircled the inner Temple complex: this then was the first graduation. Such a restriction is actually presaged in principle in the priestly writings of the Torah; Ezekiel 44:63 is the first to mention explicit oppostion to the presence of Gentiles within the Temple, in a passage that is exilic at the very earliest.

Within the compound open to all Jews, the next graduation pertained to the exclusion of women. There is no explicit evidence from preexilic sources that women were excluded from those areas of the Temple complex that were open to men. Even if the laws of Leviticus 12 are preexilic (which is less likely than some suppose), the exclusion would have affected menstruating women and new mothers, and only for a limited length of time. But little information exists on the status of women and sacred space until late in the postexilic period; it is known, however, that women were never considered legitimately acceptable as priests, although they undoubtedly served in that capacity under heterodox spon-sorship.

The next graduation pertained to the priesthood itself. In the Herodian Temple complex, the court of Israel was not separated by a wall from the court of the priests, but probably by a marker. Opposed to the increasingly greater emphasis on purity was the ancient notion that the donor of the sacrifice, the Israelite who offered the gift to God, should "appear" before him and stand in his presence (Ex. 23:17). According to priestly law, the donor was to lay his hands upon the sacrifice (Lv. 1:4), so no wall or absolute barrier could stand between donor and altar.

Beyond the court of Israel was the court of the priests and the Temple itself. The shrine, the Holy of Holies, was out of bounds to priests, even to the high priest for the most part. Only when ritual purification of the Temple was obligatory could the high priest penetrate its space. We do not know how early in the biblical period the laws of Leviticus 16 detailing the purification of the Temple were in force, but prior to the end of the Persian period at the very latest there was an annual day of purification, Yom Kippur.

Following any defilement, purification of the Temple complex and its ground was both possible and necessary (2 Kgs. 18, and 23; 1 Mc. 1). Depending on the material of construction, many cultic vessels had to be destroyed, and sacrificial materialsmeat and other foodstuffsusually were not susceptible to purification and had to be likewise eliminated. Generally people could be purified, certainly as long as the Temple cult was in operation. Ultimately, the Temple complex and grounds withstood all the defilements recorded in literature and retained their sanctity through the ages.

Sanctification of space could also be affected by a ritual process, usually based on "mythic" models. At the first level, Israelites visited sites thought to be holy; in all cases, however, formal consecration was required. Jacob anointed the foundation stone of the temple at Bethel and offered sacrifices on an altar (Gn. 28). Usually there were specific recitations and celebrations, proclaiming the sanctity of the site; the process was then inverted and a myth created: it was declared that God had chosen the site and manifested himself there. But the myth was never quite sufficient, however, and communal sanctification was required.


There is no clearer demonstration of how the notion of sacred space worked than the religious pilgrimage. Important, often obligatory, the pilgrimage supported the belief that worshiping God at a sacred site is more efficacious than worship elsewhere.

In biblical Israel the three annual festivalsmatsot in the early spring, the spring grain harvest, and the autumn fruit harvestwere all referred to as ag, which means "pilgrimage." On these occasions an Israelite was required to appear before God, bearing gifts, at a proper pilgrimage center (Ex. 23, 34). 1 Samuel 1 tells the story of a family undertaking an annual pilgrimage to Shiloh, in the Ephraimite mountains. The occasion was not a scheduled religious festival but instead an annual clan gathering.

Throughout most of the preexilic period, there were temples and altars throughout the Land of Israel. An open-air cult site was called bamah ("high place") in Judaea and maqom ("cult site") in northern Israel. Political and demographic realities determined their relative prominence as pilgrimage centers.

Heterodoxy and centralization of the Cult

Experience with local and regional temples, high places, and altars, both in Judah and in northern Israel, was usually troublesome from the point of view of piety because of the almost inevitable tendency to introduce pagan elements into the ritual. There were even temples dedicated to pagan gods. These trends were regularly denounced by the prophets, such as the northern Israelite Hosea. 1 and 2 Kings, since they reveal a strong pro-Judahite bias, tell less about heterodoxy in Judah and Jerusalem, although there must have been similar problems there as well.

1 Kings 18:4 tells that Hezekiah, king of Judah after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, removed the bamot. However, no record of a follow-up exists and historians assume that the efforts of this "upright" king were not effective, especially since, following Hezekiah, his son Manasseh, who reigned for many years, pursued a decidedly heterodox policy. The next attempt to remove the bamot, an issue that pervades 1 and 2 Kings, was during the reign of Josiah (2 Kgs. 22, 23). In response to the horrendous execrations found in an old document that had been deposited in the Temple, Josiah closed down the local and regional cult sites in the towns of Judah, ordering all the priests to report to Jerusalem. He destroyed what remained of the temple and necropolis of Bethel, the major cult site of the erstwhile northern kingdom. Josiah further proclaimed a celebration of the paschal sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem for the first time, thereby altering in a basic way the relevance of what had been a domestic, clan-centered sacrifice.

To understand just how the site of the temples of Jerusalem eventually became the unique sacred space in Jewish religion, the background and consequences of Josiah's (and Hezekiah's) edicts need to be discussed. One of the major preoccupations of modern Bible scholarship has been to define the historical relationship between the events recorded in 2 Kings 22 and 23 and the doctrine in Deuteronomy 12 and 16. The narrative setting of Deuteronomy is projected back into the presettlement period of Israelite history, a projection consistent with Torah traditon. Chapters 12 and 16 state that once the Israelites have securely settled in their land, they must discontinue their customary practice of offering sacrifice at cult sites throughout the land and paying tithes locally, and they must do all of these things only at a central temple, to be built in a town selected by God.

At first, modern scholars tended to regard this doctrine of cult centralization as a seventh-century Judahite movement, a reaction to the heterodox policies of Manasseh. H. L. Ginsberg (1982) has made a good case for regarding the core of Deuteronomy, wherein this doctrine is expounded, as the product of the mid-to late eighth century, in northern Israel. He compares the language of Hosea and Deuteronomy, showing the unique correspondences, and argues that the doctrine of cult centralization grew out of the extreme dissatisfaction of northern Israelite prophets and leaders with the cults of the many local altars operating there, and eventually with the major temples of Dan and Bethel as well. They sought a solution in the form of a new, central temple, perhaps in Shechem on Mount Gerizim, which was still sacred to the Samaritans. Deuteronomy never refers to Jerusalem, even by allusion, but after the fall of the northern kingdom, it was logical to identify the proper site of the central temple as Jerusalem and to evoke the myth of Jerusalem's selection by God. So, some forty years before the Babylonian destruction (c. 622), Josiah taught this doctrine by devout priests who had educated him, acted in fulfillment of Deuteronomy's doctrine. In the short run he probably failed to remove all local cult sites, but in the long run he succeeded.

The real motivations behind cult centralization as a means of control over religious worship can only be guessed at. From the beginning of the monarchy, there were at least two factions or "parties" in Judah and the northern kingdom: what Morton Smith (1971) called "the Yahveh-alone" party, and a party that accepted Yahveh as the national god of Israel but saw no reason not to allow (or even sponsor) worship of other gods as well.

In 587/6 bce the Babylonians conquered all of Judah and destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. At that point religious life, both in the devastated land and among the exiles in Babylonia, Egypt, and elsewhere, could have gone one of two ways. Sacrificial worship might have been undertaken at substitute sites, which would have been the normal course. As it happened, Jewish leadership opposed substitute sites and insisted on a restoration theologysacrifice would be resumed only at the site of a rebuilt Jerusalem Temple, as God had promised.

There were several Jewish temples in the Diasporathe best known were one near Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, and one at Aswan (Elephantine) in Upper Egypt. There is also evidence of temples in Transjordan and possibly elsewhere in the Land of Israel. But in the main the Jewish religious leadership during the exilic period opposed such worship, and a clue to this policy may be preserved in Ezekiel where the elders of Israel approached Ezekiel in Babylonia and apparently inquired of him as to whether it would be proper to erect an altar to the God of Israel while in exile. The unequivocal response of the prophet: only when God restores his people to his holy mountain and to the Land of Israel will he once again be worshiped by sacrifice. Meanwhile, God would be present among the exiles, and there was no need for a temple in exile (Ez. 20:4044).

During the period of the Second Temple, the religious pilgrimage and support of the priesthood and cult of Jerusalem became mainstays of Jewish religious life throughout the expanding Diaspora. The statements in Deuteronomy about being distant from the central temple (Dt. 12:21) took on a new, somewhat pathetic interpretation: dispersed Jews must attend upon the cult of Jerusalem's Temple. Tobit, a pseudepigraphica work probably writen well before the Maccabean period, relates that Tobit made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem and contributed his dues to the Temple (Tb. 1). The Jewish military colony of Elephantine, active in the fifth century bce, which had its own temple, nevertheless maintained a steady relationship to the Temple of Jerusalem, as is known from the archives of that community.

During the period of the Second Temple, the Jewish synagogue came into being as a local institution devoid of any cultic status, strictly speaking. Jews in Israel and Diaspora communities assembled at synagogues for prayer and the reading of sacred writ, to attend to communal matters, and to celebrate in their own way Sabbaths and festivals, while the cult of the Temple of Jerusalem was in full operation. The true and sufficient worship of the God of Israel took place in the Temple, and delegations of pilgrims were dispatched to Jerusalem to attend the offering of sacrifices as representatives of the far-flung communities (Taʿan, chap. 4).

In 1 Kings 8 great emphasis is placed on prayer and song as forms of religious devotion. Prayers are heard by God in heaven when recited at the Temple. Prayer assumed an importance it did not have in the preexilic Temple, although the psalms, many of them preexilic in origin, show evidence that prayer and sacrifice coexisted even in earlier periods.

From praying "at" the Temple to praying elsewhere "toward" or "facing" it is a fascinating step in religious phenomenology, having relevance not only to postbiblical Judaism but to Christianity and Islam as well. Islam substituted Mecca for Jerusalem but insisted that in every mosque in the world the qiblah ("niche") be oriented toward a central spot, the focus of pilgrimage. Daniel, the wise seer of the exile, turned toward Jerusalem thrice daily when praying to God while in exile (Dn. 6:11).

Throughout the centuries, Jewish pilgrims attempted and often succeeded in visiting the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, but in fact Judaism accommodated itself to the loss of the Templeto living without sacred space. It is still too soon to speculate on the effects upon the Jewish religion of the modern resettlement of Israel, except to take note of the renewed importance of sacred space, as identified with Jerusalem.

See Also

Altar; Iconography, article on Jewish Iconography; Israelite Religion; Levites; Music, article on Music and Religion in the Middle East; Pilgrimage, article on Contemporary Jewish Pilgrimage; Priesthood, article on Jewish Priesthood; Psalms; Rabbinic Judaism in Late Antiquity; Sacrifice; Synagogue; Tithes.


Th. A. Busink's Der Tempel von Jerusalem: Von Salomo bis Herodes, 2 vols. (Leiden, 19701980), is the most exhaustive study, encyclopedic in nature, on the two temples of Jerusalem, providing discussion of everything from design and architecture to function, with numerous references to recent scholarly investigations. These volumes are replete with comparative evidence and are amply illustrated. The results of recent excavations in the area of the Temple mount are summarized, along with a survey of the physical history of Jerusalem by the leader of the excavations, Benjamin Mazar, in The Mountain of the Lord (Garden City, N.Y., 1975). This volume is well illustrated and synthesizes the archaeological and the textual evidence. It is popular in presentation but authentic. As a companion to Mazar's volume, the reader is referred to Nahman Avigad's Discovering Jerusalem (Nashville, 1983), a fascinating and well-illustrated report of the archaeologist's recent discovery of the upper city of Jerusalem, whose buildings, public and private, help to define the relation of the city to the Temples of Jerusalem, both in the preexilic and postexilic periods.

Henri Frankfort's The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (New York, 1969) remains the most penetrating treatment of temple architecture and its relation to meaning and function in the ancient Near East. Using examples drawn from SyriaMesopotamia and EgyptFrankfort analyzes the physical development of major temples, and his insights shed light on the temples of Jerusalem as well.

On the subject of cult and ritual and the phenomenology of worship in biblical Israel, two works, based on differing methods, may be consulted: Menahem Haran's Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel (Oxford, 1978) and my own In the Presence of the Lord (Leiden, 1974). A collection of studies on various forms of sacrifice and their religious significance is provided in Jacob Milgrom's Cult and Conscience: The Asham and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentence (Leiden, 1976). An earlier work, highly influential in its impact on present-day cultic studies, is G. B. Gray's Sacrifice in the Old Testament (1925), which I have reissued with a prolegomena (New York, 1971).

Recent encyclopedias offer informative "state of the field" investigations. The Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4 vols., edited by Michael Avi-Yonah (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 19751978), is a heavily illustrated reference work that will lead the reader to information on the modern exploration of ancient sites in biblical lands.

The Encyclopaedia Judaica, 16 vols. (Jerusalem, 1971), contains many easily located and informative articles on Jerusalem, the Temple, cult and ritual, with extensive bibliography. For those who read Hebrew, volume 5 of the Encyclopedia Biblica, edited by Haim Beinart and Menahem Haran (Jerusalem, 1968), contains a series of articles by Menahem Haran and Samuel Yeivin under "Miqdash" that are unexcelled for sound scholarly judgment, breadth of view, and attention to detail.

Several specialized studies contribute to our understanding of the foundations of the two Temples of Jerusalem. The administration and funding of the Second Temple under the Seleucids is incisively clarified in Elias J. Bickerman's "Heliodore au Temple de Jerusalem," in his Studies in Jewish and Christian History (Leiden, 1976), pp. 151191. The movement toward cult centralization, as reflected in Deuteronomy, is explored with new insights by H. L. Ginsberg in his The Israelian Heritage of Judaism (New York, 1982). Ginsberg traces this religious movement to northern Israel of the eighth century, and shows how it eventually overtook Judaea, as well. The political implications of the Temples and their priesthoods are investigated by Morton Smith in Palestinian Parties and Politics That Shaped the Old Testament (New York, 1971).

The phenomenology of the Temple as a house built for God is explored in my "On the Presence of the Lord in Biblical Religion," Religions in Antiquity: Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, edited by Jacob Neusner (Leiden, 1970), pp. 7187.

The reader will also want to consult ancient sources outside the Bible, referred to in this article. The best available English translation of the Mishnah is Herbert Danby's Mishnah (Oxford, 1933). The writings of the ancient historian Josephus Flavius, translated by Henry St. J. Thackeray and Ralph Marcus, are available in volumes 15 and 7 of the "Loeb Classical Library" (Cambridge, Mass., 19501961). Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols., edited by R. H. Charles (Oxford, 1913), includes such works as Ben Sira. Aristeas to Philocrates, or the Letter of Aristeas, has been edited and translated by Moses Hadas (New York, 1951). The Ta'anit Scroll (Die Fastenrolle ) has been edited by Hans Lichtenstein in "Die Fastenrolle: Eine Untersuchung zur Judisch-Hellenistis-chen Geschichte," Hebrew Union College Annual 89 (19311932): 257351. A newly discovered Hebrew document, named the Temple Scroll, dating from the pre-Herodian period, and containing plans for a Jewish temple and laws for its cult has been published in a three-volume English edition, translated and edited by Yigael Yadin (Jerusalem, 1977).

New Sources

Bahat, Dan. "Below the Temple Mount." BAIAS 16 (1998): 97104.

Barker, Margaret. The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem. London, 1991.

Berman, Joshua. The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now. Northvale, N.J., 1995.

Collins, John Joseph. Jerusalem and the Temple in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period. International Rennert Guest Lecture Series, no. 1. [Ramat Gan, Israel], 1998.

Elior, Rachel. "The Jerusalem Temple: The Representation of the Imperceptible." Studies in Spirituality 11 (2001): 126143.

Hayward, C.T.R, ed. The Jewish Temple: A Non-biblical Sourcebook. London and New York, 1996.

Mazar, Eilat, and Benjamin Mazar. Excavations in the South of the Temple Mount: The Ophel of Biblical Jerusalem. Publications of the Institute of Archaeology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, 1989.

McCormick, Clifford Mark. Palace and Temple: A Study of Architectural and Verbal Icons. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, no. 313. Berlin, 2002.

Schmidt, Francis. How the Temple Thinks: Identity and Social Cohesion in Ancient Judaism. Translated by J. Edward Crowley. Biblical Seminar, no. 78. Sheffield, 2001.

Schwartz, Max. The Biblical Engineer: How the Temple in Jerusalem Was Built. Hoboken, N.J., 2002.

Baruch A. Levine (1987)

Revised Bibliography