Temples (in the Bible)
TEMPLES (IN THE BIBLE)
There was no specific word for temple in the Old Testament. God's abode was called simply His house (bayit ) or palace (hêkāl ), the same words that were used for a king's house or palace. A temple's plan even copied that of a royal palace.
Ancient Semitic Temples. In Syria and Palestine of the third millennium b.c., following the Assyrian pattern, a temple had a portal near the end of a long side of an oblong construction, from which the worshiper turned to approach the divine image at the farthest wall. In the second millennium the plan was modified to include a small, sometimes elevated room at the farthest end, in front of which stood a portico or vestibule, then came the temple's main hall; the portal had also been moved to the short side of the oblong, farthest from the innermost sanctuary. This three-roomed plan, with the vestibule moved from in front of the innermost room to just inside the portal, was the pattern for Israel's temples.
The daily service of the god also was patterned after royal custom: the image was dressed, food was placed before it, and an elaborate procession was held. All this ceremony demanded the erection of other buildings close to the god's palace: quarters for priests, storerooms, kitchens, etc.
The god, however, was not his statue, which was placed in the innermost room, although some simple folk may have believed he was; nor was he limited to one palace; he could have other temples in the same land or even in the same city. In fact, the powerful presence of the greatest gods, e.g., Assur, marduk, and baal, was thought to extend over the whole world. The Israelites adopted many of these ideas, purifying and adapting them to the Yahwistic religion, but retaining the basic notion that the Temple was Yahweh's abode on earth (1 Kgs8.29).
Israelite Temples outside Jerusalem. The edifice at Shiloh, which substituted for the tent of meeting as Yahweh's abode among His people and housed the ark of the covenant, was the first of Yahweh's temples (1 Sm 1.7, 9; 3.3, 15; Jgs 18.31). It was the central sanctuary for the federation of the northern tribes (Jos 18.1; 19.51) during the later part of the period of the Judges. An annual pilgrimage feast was joyfully celebrated there (Jgs 21.19–21). Samuel's father came to it every year to worship Yahweh under the title sabaoth, which probably
originated at Shiloh (1 Sm 1.3, 7). The Philistines apparently destroyed this temple (c. 1050 b.c.) after they defeated Israel and captured the ark at the battle of Aphec (1 Sm 4.10–11). About 50 years later, when King david brought the ark to jerusalem, the city he himself had captured, he set up a tent for it there, thus making Jerusalem the central holy place for his kingdom, which included both the northern and southern federations of Israelite tribes.
Other Israelite temples were erected at traditional holy places, the most important of which were Yahweh's temples at Bethel and Dan, the chief sanctuaries for the Northern Kingdom. They were established at traditional holy places by Jeroboam I to attract his people away from the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kgs 12.27–30). At these royal sanctuaries Yahweh was worshiped as enthroned above a golden bull rather than above the ark of the covenant and the cherubim as He was in Jerusalem's Temple. The deuteronomists who edited the books of Kings considered this worship to be illegitimate, however, and severely blamed the northern Kings for fostering it. The temple at Bethel continued to be a Yahwistic sanctuary even after the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, until it was destroyed, along with other local sanctuaries, by Josia, King of Judah, in the great centralizing Deuteronomistic reform of the seventh century b.c.
Temples in Jerusalem. For more than 1,000 years (c. 950 b.c. to A.D. 70, except from 587 until 515 when the Temple was in ruins) Jerusalem's Temple was the most important sanctuary in Israel. Actually, there were three Temples, Solomon's, Zerubbabel's, and that begun by Herod the Great, c. 19 b.c.
Solomon's Temple. David proposed building a palace for Yahweh, but was forbidden to do so by an oracle (2 Sm 7.1–17). His son and successor solomon was the actual builder; he contracted with Hiram, King of Tyre, for the timber and artisans and completed the structure in seven years, from the fourth to the 11th year of his reign (1 Kgs 5.3–6.1, 37–38). A later interpretation of the Biblical chronicler, however, attributed much more of the preparation for the Temple's construction and services to David (1 Chr ch. 22–28).
The site chosen for Yahweh's palace (2 Chr 3.1) already had the essential requisites for a holy place: a divine intervention—the appearance of the angel of the lord to David; an act of salvation—the cessation of a plague; and the beginning of a cult to Yahweh—David's construction of an altar there and the first sacrifices (2 Sm 24.16–25).
The description of Solomon's Temple given in 1 Kgs6.2–36; 7.15–51 was based on a document dating from the construction itself, but, because of its technical vocabulary and consequent scribal errors, it is open to diverse interpretations that cannot be checked by any known archeological evidence. The following summation, therefore, is in no way definitive.
The Temple was oblong, with a portal (probably facing the east) at one of its shorter sides. There were three interior sections, a vestibule (’ûlām ), the main cultic room (hêkāl ), and the innermost sanctuary, or back room (d ebîr ), later called the Holy of Holies; the back room was the proper abode of Yahweh, housing also His throne, i.e., the ark of the covenant. The measurements given in the text are interior ones and do not give the thickness of the walls, but by projection one may conclude that the structure was about 115 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 50 feet high—not a very large public building according to modern standards and certainly not intended as a gathering place for the throngs that came up to Jerusalem for the great pilgrimages. The building was carefully designed, however, and artistically decorated with wooden paneling and precious metals. A service annex, originally of one story, to which two other stories were later added, was built contiguous to the three nonportal sides of the main building and was used as a kind of sacristy and for the storage of supplies and treasures.
The hêkāl was the largest room and enclosed the altar of incense, the table for the showbread, and 10 lampstands; it was, then, the place where the priest performed cultic acts. It was separated from the Holy of Holies by a thin partition or a veil. The d ebîr was elevated above the level of the hêkāl by about seven feet and was entered by means of a stairway. Besides the ark, it contained the two large gilded wooden figures called the cherubim, whose outstretched wings protected the ark and were thought to afford a throne for God, who, of course, was not represented by any figure.
Before the vestibule and separated from the Temple stood two bronze pillars about 27 feet high, the traditional steles of Semitic cultic centers. Not much farther east from the pillars guarding the Temple's entrance stood the altar of sacrifices, made of bronze and open to the sky; on it animals were sacrificed to God. South of the altar stood the large bronze basin supported by 12 bronze figures of bulls. In the courtyard before the Temple were also ten pedestals on wheels, supporting smaller bronze basins, five each on either side of the Temple's entrance. These basins were used for purificatory purposes for both priests and victims.
The Temple was enclosed by walls forming the inner court, the southern wall being common with the inner court of the King's palace. The great court enclosed both the Temple and the royal palace. Later the inner court of the Temple was divided, or expanded, at the expense of the great court; and at one time, there was an upper and a lower court. It was here that the people congregated during the cultic services.
The Postexilic Temple of Zerubbabel. After the Exile of Israel, a more modest Temple was built according to the pattern and on the site of the former Temple (Ezra ch. 1; 3; 6). The rebuilding had been authorized by Cyrus in 538 b.c., but because of Samaritan opposition and the discouragement of many of the Jews, the work was not completed (515 b.c.) until the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah had encouraged Zerubbabel and Joshua to take up the task (Ezr 4.24–5.2; Hag 1.1–2.9; Zec 4.7–10). Although Zerubbabel's Temple was not as richly decorated and elaborate as Solomon's, it was probably the same in size and general plan and was of solid and careful construction (see the report of the Persian satrap of Trans-Euphrates in Ezr 5.8). In accord with the ideal altar of Ezechiel (Ez 43.13–17), the new altar of holocausts was the same size as Solomon's, but was made of stone rather than bronze. This Temple was plundered and desecrated in 169 b.c. by antiochus iv epiphanes (1 Mc 1.21–26; 2 Mc 5.15–21). Judas Machabee replaced the sacred furniture and rededicated the Temple on a day in December that was henceforth celebrated as the Feast of the dedica tion of the temple (1 Mc 4.36–59; 2 Mc 10.1-8; Jn 10.22).
Herod's Temple. In 20–19 b.c. Herod the Great undertook to reconstruct the Temple and its surrounding courts and buildings. The essential reconstruction was completed in about ten years, but work on the annexes and courts continued until well after Our Lord's public ministry. Like the Zerubbabel Temple, it had a Holy of Holies separated from the hêkāl by a veil, which was torn in two by Jesus' death (Mt 27.51). A lengthy description of Herod's Temple is given by Josephus (Bell. Jud. 5.5.1–6). The entire Temple area was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, and its treasures and furnishings were carried off to Rome as trophies by Titus (Josephus, Ant. 15.11; Bell. Jud. 5.5).
Other Temples. Three other temples dedicated to Yahweh are known to have existed outside of Jerusalem in the postexilic period, but they were never recognized as legitimate by the officials in Jerusalem.
Samaritan Temple. The only certain thing known about this sanctuary on Mt. Garizim is that it was in existence when Antiochus IV Epiphanes dedicated it to Zeus in 167–166 b.c. The story of its foundation by a certain Manasses, recounted by Josephus in Ant. 11.7.2–8.4, is hardly credible and contradicts the account given in Neh 13.28. The temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus in 129 B.C., but the text of Jn 4.20–21 indicates that there was still a cultic center on Mt. Garizim in Jesus' times.
Elephantine Temple. A Jewish military colony living at Elephantine in Egypt erected a sanctuary and an altar dedicated to Yaho (yahweh) during the sixth to the fifth century b.c. These mercenaries in the Persian army were completely ignorant of the Deuteronomic law that forbade the construction of any Yahwistic temple outside of Jerusalem. Their sanctuary was destroyed by the Egyptians in 410 b.c., but had been restored by 402. After the end of Persian rule in Egypt in the early fourth century b.c., the Elephantine colonists and their temple disappeared from history.
The Temple at Leontopolis. A certain Onias, the son of the high priest Onias III (2 Mc 4.33–34), built a temple and established a cult of Yahweh at Leontopolis in Egypt (c. 170 b.c.). It remained in existence until a.d. 73, when Vespasian ordered it to be destroyed to prevent any resurgence of Jewish nationalism.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 2399–2400. h. lesÊtre, Dictionnaire de la Bible 5.2: 2024–74. r. de vaux, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 1957–65) 9:1350–58. r. de vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961) 271–344. k. galling, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 6:681–686. l. h. vincent and a. m. stÈve, Jérusalem de l'Ancien Testament, 3 v. in 2 (Paris 1954–56) v.2.1.
[j. e. steinmueller]
"Temples (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/temples-bible
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