1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Jewish Architecture: King Solomon's Temple

(Part 19)

Jewish Architecture

King Solomon's Temple

The long sojourn of the Jews in Egypt, and the fact that their chief employment there seems to have been the manufacture of bricks must have made them acquainted with the architecture of that country. On the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites seem to have a taken possession of the dwellings of the vanquished people; and we have no record of any important building constructed by the Jews till the days of Solomon. The piety of this prince seems to have induced him to carry out his father’s wishes with regard to the temple, but at so low an ebb was the art of building that the Jews did not even know how to hew timber properly (1 Kings v. 6). The king therefore applied to Hiram, king of Tyre, with whom he was on friendly terms, and that monarch sent an architect and staff of skilled workmen. Materials were collected for the building, and careful accounts of the whole work are given in the books of Kings of Chronicles.

The early temple is described (1 Kings vi.vii.) as a building of stone, roofed and floored with cedar. It appears to have been rectangular, with a single roof, and divided into two parts by a wall. It was 60 cubits (FOOTNOTE 392-2) long, 20 wide, and 30 in height, or about 110 feet by 36 feet, and 55 feet high. In front was a porch the same width as the temple (20 cubits), but only 10 cubits in depth.

Round the house -- which, of course, must mean on three sides only, as the porch occupied the front-were the priests’ chambers, in three stories, one over the other, the lowest 5 cubits broad, the middle 6, and the upper 7, -- a passage which has puzzled most commentators, but which will be considered presently. On the right side was a winding-stair leading to the upper stories of chambers. The walls of the house, as well as the ceiling, were lined with boards of cedar. The joists of the floor seem also to have been of cedar; but the floor it self was of planks of fir. The cedar was carved with "knops" and open flowers.

The house was, as has been said above, divided crossways into two parts- the outer temple and the oracle, or Holy of Holies. The one was 40 cubits long, by 20 broad; the other was 20 cubits square. The oracle had doors and door-posts of olive-wood. The temple door-frames were olive, and the door of fir, all being hung folding. Both doors were carved with cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. The entire fabric, even the floors, were gilt-"overlaid with gold." The account in the Second Book of Chronicles (ch. iii. iv. &c.) is substantially the same, except (a difference easily to be accounted for) that it describes the greater house, i.e., the outer temple, as ceiled with fir tree; and we gather also from the description, that the whole was roofed with tiles of gold: the nails were also of gold, and weighed 50 shekels. At the door of porch were two columns of bronze, or "pillars of brass," each 18 cubits, or 35 feet high, and 12 cubits round, or about 7 feet diameter. They had capitals (chapiters) also of molten brass, five cubits high, decorated with lily work, chain work, and pomegranates. In front of the porch was the altar, surmounted by a low wall three courses of stones in height. The whole building was enclosed by a walled court, called the inner court, or that of the priests. In front of this was another, called the lower court; and the whole area of this area was enclosed by circumscribed court going around the whole of the other courts and buildings; and this was called the outer court, or that of the Gentiles. It will be noted that in the careful description of the pillars, &c., no mention is made either of base or of moulded cornice.

Canina (Tempio di Gerusalemme, Rome, fo.) conceives the style of the building to have been Egyptian; that the temple was lighted like the hypostyle halls, by range of windows over the roofs of the cells or priests’ chambers; that these windows were like those of the clerestory of church splayed at the bottom and sides; that the walls of the temple itself sloped towards the top on the outside, or, the use the technical language, were built "battering," while the walls of the priests’ chambers were built perpendicular, and for this reason each story measured a cubit more than the room below. He also supposed that the capitals of the columns, which described as of lily work, were in fact the lotus (water lily) capital of Egypt. The porch itself he considers to have been like the propylon, containing other chambers like those of Egypt.

Mr. Fergusson’s restoration, as given both in his History of Architecture and more at length in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, is different. He assumes that the plan was somewhat analogous to that of the still existing building known as the palace or temple of Darius at Persepolis, which has a range of chambers on each side. The difficulty as to the other chamber being wider than the lower he solves in a very satisfactory way, by supposing that there was a set-off in each story on which the flooring just rested, so as not to cut into the walls of temples.

In the prophecy of Ezekiel (ch. xl. sqq.) we have a very full and interesting account of what the temple was in his time. The house itself and the oracle do not appear to have been altered, but the old courts seem to have been swept away and succeeded by vast atria, and a mass of halls and chambers.


(393-2) Canina makes the sacred cubit = .554 of a French metre, i. e. 21.81 English inches, or not quite 1 foot 10 inches.

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