Solomon’s Temple and its Archaeological Analogies

Solomon’s Temple and its Archaeological Analogies April 25, 2023

Also, Parallels to Solomon’s Palace

1 Kings 6:2-6 (RSV) The house which King Solomon built for the LORD was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running round the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary; and he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad; for around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house.

1 Kings 6:18-23 The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers; all was cedar, no stone was seen. The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the LORD. The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also made an altar of cedar. And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. And he overlaid the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. Also the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold. In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high.

I again am utilizing the terrific, tour de force book on the Old Testament and archaeology by Egyptologist and archaeologist Kenneth A. Kitchen, for the particular argument herein. (1) He describes the temple of Solomon, based on biblical descriptions:

Behind the portico the temple had a main hall or vestibule and an inner sanctuary. . . . The interior (walls, floor) was then surfaced with gold overlay ([1 Kings 6] vv. 9, 15-22, 30) .. . the wall paneling bore engraved decoration (cherubs, palm trees, open flowers, gourds; vv. 18, 29). Within the inner sanctuary were placed two winged cherubs, wooden and also gilded (vv. 23-28). Around the temple was an inner courtyard of dressed stone-work having a course of cedar beams at every third course (v. 36).  . . .

How far does such a structure and its embellishment correspond to known ancient reality or arise from mere fantasy? (2)

There is no trace of this temple, but this is rather easily explained, so contends Kitchen, by the fact that Jerusalem was thoroughly destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., a second temple built on the same spot later in the same century, massive redevelopment of the entire temple mount and a third temple built in King Herod’s time (first century B.C.), and the even more complete Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D.

This being the case, in order to back up the claims of the Bible about the first temple (for those who question it on inadequate grounds), we can only compare them to temple and otherwise sacred design and architecture from the ancient world, elsewhere. Fortunately, there are many such temples in the ancient Near East from the fourth millennium all the way down to the times of the Greeks and Romans. Therefore, why not in Jerusalem in the tenth century B.C.?

Temple D at north Syrian Ebla (ca. 1800) . . . is tripartite: open portico (no columns), anteroom, hall with raised sanctuary niche. (3) At Habuba Kabira, on the west end of the Euphrates, probable remains of such a tripartite temple (portico, no columns, anteroom, long sanctuary hall) . . . date to the early second millennium. At Mari on the east Syrian Euphrates, the twentieth- to eighteenth-century rebuild of the temple of Dagan . . . is seemingly tripartite, with portico (no columns), hall, and then twin sanctuaries. At Alakh (4), by the north bend of the Orontes, the stratum VII temple (ca. eighteenth century . . .) has an enclosed portico (no columns), broad hall, and larger niched sanctuary. (5)

Similar structures were located at Tell Munbaqa (ancient Ekalte) from the fifteenth century, at Hazor in Canaan (thirteenth century), at Ain Dara (about forty miles from Aleppo), built from 1300-1000, embellished during 1000-900: the latter being the same century as Solomon’s temple, and a third building phase, c. 900-740. It’s the closest architecturally to Solomon’s temple. (6)

We have many parallels to the “side chambers” (1 Kings 6:5) or storerooms, in the Egyptian pyramid temples of Sahure and Pepi II in the third millennium, and Sesostris I in the early second millennium. In Sahure, we can observe two-level storerooms, quite similar to Solomon’s three-level structures. Tuthmosis [or Thutmose] III built two-level storerooms in the temple of Amun at Karnak in the fifteenth century. We find similar structures at Hattusas, the Hittite capital, in the thirteenth century. (7)

I Kings 6:36 He built the inner court with three courses of hewn stone and one course of cedar beams.

Kitchen notes similar building practices:

The system of building walls with stone base-courses, topped by timber beams (at times with cross-framing) and then by higher courses in brick or stone, was endemic to the eastern Mediterranean world during the second and first millennia in particular, in the Aegean, and in Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine. Its purpose was to give strength and flexibility against earthquake shocks. (8)

He cites examples of this from the late second millennium, in the Hittite citadel at Hattusas (Boghazkoi) and at Kultepe, and in Syria, at Ugarit.

1 Kings 6:15-16 He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar; from the floor of the house to the rafters of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood; and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the rafters, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the most holy place.

Kitchen provides parallels of wood-paneling of this sort:

It first occurs at Abydos and Saqqara in the great tombs of Egypt’s Archaic Period (ca. 3000-2700). (9) Then in . . . Ebla (ca. 2500), we find . . . fine relief scenes engraved on wooden paneling . . . (10) Then in late-second-millennium Hattusas . . . In the early first millennium, . . . Carchemish and Zinjirli showed analogous evidence . . . In ninth-century Assyria, areas of a major palace could be defined by the type of wood used in the rooms . . . Finally, in the eighth-century palace at Tell Tayinat in north Syria, wooden wall-facing backed by brick was found . . . (11)

Kitchen goes on to note use of gold-plating in Egyptian tombs (c. 3000), and

. . . in the later second millennium, . . . sheet gold and electrum (gold/silver alloy) on temple walls, columns, obelisks, doorways, etc., and silver on floors . . . Nor were the kings of Assyria and Babylon any less generous . . . Esarhaddon and Nabonidus alike “sheathed the walls with gold as if plaster” . . . Nebuchadrezzar II. . . claims . . . “In Esagila . . . the awe-inspiring sanctuary . . . of Marduk . . . I clad in shining gold.” . . . Solomon leafing his temple walls and floor with gold is — in this context — merely what kings then customarily did. (12)

Even the size of Solomon’s temple is entirely typical:

In terms of size and scale, Solomon’s temple at 90/105 feet by 30 feet (plus side rooms) stands within a long-established range of size for temples of its type during the third to first millennia. . . . And, as Solomon’s temple adjoined his palace in Jerusalem’s acropolis, so several of out other examples do likewise. . . . Therefore Solomon’s works here are not fantasy but belong within a widespread and solid framework of actual, long-lived ancient practice. (13)

As for a few of the features of temple of Solomon, the (nonfunctional) bronze columns (1 Kings 7:15-22) can be observed in other Near Eastern temples, such as at Hazor in the late thirteenth century. (14)

The bronze “sea” or tank (1 Kings 7:23-26) copied a similar structure in the tabernacle (Exod. 30:17-21; 38:8). These were common throughout the ancient Near East during all periods; for example, in the late second millennium in Egypt and thirteenth-century Ugarit in north Syria. The ten bronze wheeled stands next to the sea are similar to items found in twelfth/eleventh-century Cyprus and at Ekron. Philistia in the eleventh century. (15)

Even Solomon’s palace (1 Kings 7:1-12) has many parallels: particularly its “House of the Forest of Lebanon” (7:2) and “Hall of Pillars” (7:6), in Pharaoh Akhenaten’s palace in the fourteenth century, among the Hittite “Great Kings” a century later, the ninth-century Phoenician temple at Kition, and an Urartian royal citadel at Altintepe (northeast Anatoli) in he eight/seventh centuries. (16)

The hall of the palace was adorned with gold shields (1 Kings 10:16-17). Some critics have claimed that this is fantasy as well. But it has its parallels in the temple of the god Haldi at Musasir in 714 B. C. and Sargon II’s palace at Khorsabad in the same period. Decorated bronze shields have been found at Nimrud in Assyria, Carchemish in north Syria, and Urartian Toprak Kale in eastern present-day Turkey. Greek tradition refers to gold shields in the temple of Zeus at Olympia. (17)

1 Kings 10:18 The king also made a great ivory throne, and overlaid it with the finest gold.

We find analogies even in this instance. In the fourteenth century Amarna letters, Pharaoh Amenophis III sends to Kadashman-Enlil I of Babylon an ebony bed and ten chairs overlaid with ivory and gold, with several similar footstools. Thus, Kitchen asks rhetorically: “If Solomon is fantasy, what shall we say of Amenophis III?” (18) The tomb of Tutankhamun yielded all these items as well, fabulously gold-plated. Gold tables, vessels, and jewelry were found in the burial places of ninth-eighth century Assyrian queens and in the burial chamber of Psusennes I of Egypt (1040/1039-992-991), which was in the time of King David’s reign. (19)

FOOTNOTES

1) Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003).

2) Kitchen, 122.

3) See: P. Matthiae, Ebla, an Empire Rediscovered (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977), 131-132 and fig. 30 (and in unnumbered plates at the end).

4) See Sir C. L. Woolley, Alalakh (London: Society of Antiquaries, 1955), fig. 35.

5) Kitchen, 123.

6) Ibid.

7) See Kitchen, 123-124.

8) See H. C. Thomson, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 92 (1960), 57-63.

9) See W. B. Emery, Archaic Egypt (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1961), 190 and fig. 11 (wooden flooring, 187 and pl. 21).

10) Matthiae, 75  and unnumbered 17th to 20th photo pages.

11) Kitchen, 125.

12) Kitchen, 125-126.

13) Kitchen, 126.

14) Ibid.

15) Kitchen, 126-127.

16) Kitchen, 128-129.

17) Kitchen, 129.

18) Kitchen, 131.

10) Ibid.

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See Related Articles

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The Tabernacle: Egyptian & Near Eastern Precursors (Archaeology Entirely Backs Up the Extraordinary Accuracy of Holy Scripture Yet Again) [9-8-21]

Archaeology & Solomon’s Temple-Period Ivory [1-28-23]

King Solomon’s “Mines” & Archaeological Evidence [3-24-23]

Solomon’s “Impossible” (?) Wealth & Archaeology [4-25-23]

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Photo credit: model of Solomon’s temple, Metropolitan Museum of Art (London), 1883 [public domain / Picryl]

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Summary: Archaeologists have discovered all sorts of architectural parallels to particular features of Solomon’s temple, down to almost the smallest detail. I summarize them.

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