THE 3 TEMPLES OF THE ISRAELITES

The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple was a series of structures—a holy site devoted to worship. The Temples were located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem—going back thousands of years. 

Temples were a regular place of worship, and until the construction of Solomon’s Temple, it was normal, even among the Hebrews, for individual an area or neighborhood to have their own altar or sanctuary.

The First Temple was built in the 10th century B.C.E. by King Solomon, according to the Hebrew Bible. But the sanctity of the site goes back hundreds and possibly thousands of years before that.

The Temple was meant to serve as the main place of worship, where sacrifices to God would take place, and where, in the Holy of Holies, an elaborate chamber in the innermost sanctum of the Temple, where God’s presence was said to dwell.

As the view of God changed from that of a neighborhood or national deity who had an address and needed to be placated, to being universal an the sanctuary grew from being the place where God lived to be the place that the people visited to offer service to God, in the form of sacrifices.

By the time of the final destruction of the Temple, the Jews, as they now could be called, no longer needed to “feed” God with physical sacrifices, but rather could serve him with prayer and obedience to his laws.

After the single monarchy split into the distinct kingdoms of Judah and Israel, which happened, according to the Bible, under Solomon’s son Rehoboam, there was again a duplication of temples, as new altars were erected in Israel, at Dan, in the north, and Bethel, in the south.

The synagogue replaced the single Temple, but recalled the sanctuary by always being physically oriented in the direction of Jerusalem. Prayer took the place of animal sacrifices.

Solomon’s Temple

King David, wanted to build the great Temple in his era as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments.

He received the plans from God and gathered much of the material needed for construction. He also acquired the land  But the Lord, according to the biblical story, rejected David’s ambition because of the king’s sins—and his background as a man of war. Therefore, the task was given to his son, Solomon. 

The land David chose, a threshing floor, was associated with Moriah, where the patriarch Abraham brought his son Isaac for sacrifice. (In the Bible, the mount is also referred to as “Zion,” a name that eventually came to surround the entire Land of Israel). 

The crowning achievement of King Solomon’s reign was the building of the magnificent Temple which begun in 960 B.C. and was completed in seven and one-half years.

The general plan was like that of the tabernacle with the exception that its dimensions were double those of the tabernacle. It was far more ornate. The building was 90’ long, 30’ wide, and 45’ high. The walls were made of stone and lined with cedar. The roof was also of cedar and the floors were of cypress.

The interior was lined with gold and covered with carvings. The interior was divided into two rooms as was the tabernacle. The Holy of Holies was a cube with each dimension being 20 cubits. It housed the Ark of the Covenant which was placed under two large Cherubims. It contained the altar of incense, golden candlestick and the Table of Shewbread.

The temple area also contained two courts, the inner, being the court of the priests, and the great or outer court which was for Israel. They were separated from each other by a low wall. The court of the priests contained the brazen altar for sacrifice, the brazen sea for the priests to wash themselves.

Solomon’s temple by Nebuchadnezzar when he besieged Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The dedication took eight days. Therefore, Solomon’s temple was completed in about 953 B.C. and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar some 450 years later.

Solomon’s Temple sustained several attacks—was ransacked and burned by foreign powers before finally, in 586 B.C. being totally destroyed by the army of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king.

Zerubbabel’s Temple

With the fall of Babylon, the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to the Land of Israel, beginning in 538. A rebuilt temple was dedicated in 515 B.C.E. – a little-known precursor to the grand structure called Herod’s Temple.

After the return of the Jews from captivity, Cyrus authorized the erection of a temple in Jerusalem. Construction was begun in 537 B.C. which was the second year after their return. The plan, in general, followed that of Solomon’s temple but on a far less elaborate scale.

However many of the vessels from Solomon’s temple were destroyed. The Holy of Holies was left empty because the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared. Later Zerubbabel’s temple was plundered and used for idolatrous purposes.

Herod’s Temple  

Herod the Great ruled from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. Known as a master builder, and boy did he build so great stuff but his most famous project was the temple. It was on a grander scale than Zerubbabel’s, surrounded by courts.

Herod replaced the temple that existed when he began his reign. Work on this temple began in 20 B.C. but was not finished until A.D. 64.

He extended the temple platform both to the north and south, making the area some 2,500 feet from north to south and 1,000 feet from east to west. The Temple area had been enlarged to a size of about thirty-five acres. 

It included an outer court which could be frequented by Gentiles and unclean persons, the women’s court, and the inner court, which contained the chambers for storing the utensils and entered onto the priest’s court.

It contained the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place. A veil separated the two. It was this veil that was rent on the occasion of Jesus’ death.

This was the Temple that Jesus visited as a boy when he walked the earth. When Jesus went to Jerusalem, the Temple had just been marvelously rebuilt by Herod the Great. Today the Moslem Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is the prominent building where the Jewish temple once stood.

In conclusion, Jews still to this day mourn the destruction of the Temple but have evolved from being focused mainly on the loss of the ritual center of the Temple, to mourning over the loss of the land. Jews still want to rebuild the Temple, in Jerusalem, and to return to an era when Jews worshiped through pilgrimage and sacrifices.

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