The Accession of Solomon: The Building of the Temple

Masonic Articles and Essays

The Accession of Solomon: The Building of the Temple

Henry Hart Millman

Date Published: 2/1/2022                        

Freemasonry has at its mythological center the legend of the building of King Solomon's temple. This stately edifice is of the utmost importance to the Freemason, as the moral lessons of his Craft are communicated through the symbolism of its construction.

After many weary years of travail and fighting in the wilderness and the land of Canaan, the Jews had at last founded their kingdom, with Jerusalem as the capital. Saul was proclaimed the first king; afterward followed David, the "Lion of the tribe of Judah." During the many wars in which the Israelites had been engaged, the Ark of the Covenant was the one thing in which their faith was bound. No undertaking could fail while they retained possession of it.

In their wanderings the tabernacle enclosing the precious ark was first erected before the dwellings for the people. It had been captured by the Philistines, then restored to the Hebrews, and became of greater veneration than before. It will be remembered that, among other things, it contained the rod of Aaron which budded and was the cause of his selection as high priest. It also contained the tablets of stone which bore the Ten Commandments.

David desired to build a fitting shrine, a temple, in which to place the Ark of the Covenant; it should be a place wherein the people could worship; a center of religion in which the ark should have paid it the distinction due it as the seat of tremendous majesty.

But David had been a man of war; this temple was a place of peace. Blood must not stain its walls; no shedder of gore could be its architect. Yet David collected stone, timber, and precious metals for its erection; and, not being allowed to erect the temple himself, was permitted to depute that office to his son and successor, "Solomon the Wise."

At this time all the enemies of Israel had been conquered, the country was at peace; the domain of the Hebrews was greater than at any other time, before or afterward. It was the fitting time for the erection of a great shrine to enclose the sacred ark. Nobly was this done, and no human work of ancient or modern times has so impressed mankind as the building of Solomon's Temple.

 SOLOMON succeeded to the Hebrew kingdom at the age of twenty. He was environed by designing, bold, and dangerous enemies. The pretensions of Adonijah still commanded a powerful party: Abiathar swayed the priesthood; Joab the army. The singular connection in public opinion between the title to the crown and the possession of the deceased monarch's harem is well understood. (1) Adonijah, in making request for Abishag, a youthful concubine taken by David in his old age, was considered as insidiously renewing his claims to the sovereignty. Solomon saw at once the wisdom of his father's dying admonition: he seized the opportunity of crushing all future opposition and all danger of a civil war. He caused Adonijah to be put to death; suspended Abiathar from his office, and banished him from Jerusalem; and though Joab fled to the altar, he commanded him to be slain for the two murders of which he had been guilty, those of Abner and Amasa. Shimei, another dangerous man, was commanded to reside in Jerusalem, on pain of death if he should quit the city. Three years afterward he was detected in a suspicious journey to Gath, on the Philistine border; and having violated the compact, he suffered the penalty.

Thus secured by the policy of his father from internal enemies, by the terror of his victories from foreign invasion, Solomon commenced his peaceful reign, during which Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan to Beersheba. This peace was broken only by a revolt of the Edomites. Hadad, of the royal race, after the exterminating war waged by David and by Joab, had fled to Egypt, where he married the sister of the king's wife. No sooner had he heard of the death of David and of Joab than he returned and seems to have kept up a kind of predatory warfare during the reign of Solomon. Another adventurer, Rezon, a subject of Hadadezer, king of Zobah, seized on Damascus, and maintained a great part of Syria in hostility to Solomon.

Solomon's conquest of Hamath Zobah in a later part of his reign, after which he built Tadmor in the wilderness and raised a line of fortresses along his frontier to the Euphrates, is probably connected with these hostilities. (2) The justice of Solomon was proverbial. Among his first acts after his accession, it is related that when he had offered a costly sacrifice at Gibeon, the place where the Tabernacle remained, God had appeared to him in a dream, and offered him whatever gift he chose: the wise king requesting an understanding heart to judge the people. God not merely assented to his prayer, but added the gift of honor and riches. His judicial wisdom was displayed in the memorable history of the two women who contested the right to a child. Solomon, in the wild spirit of Oriental justice, commanded the infant to be divided before their faces: the heart of the real mother was struck with terror and abhorrence, while the false one consented to the horrible partition, and by this appeal to nature the cause was instantaneously decided.

The internal government of his extensive dominions next demanded the attention of Solomon. Besides the local and municipal governors, he divided the kingdom into twelve districts: over each of these he appointed a purveyor for the collection of the royal tribute, which was received in kind; and thus the growing capital and the immense establishments of Solomon were abundantly furnished with provisions. Each purveyor supplied the court for a month. The daily consumption of his household was three hundred bushels of finer flour, six hundred of a coarser sort; ten fatted, twenty other oxen; one hundred sheep; besides poultry, and various kinds of venison. Provender was furnished for forty thousand horses, and a great number of dromedaries. Yet the population of the country did not, at first at least, feel these burdens: Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.

The foreign treaties of Solomon were as wisely directed to secure the profound peace of his dominions. He entered into a matrimonial alliance with the royal family of Egypt, whose daughter he received with great magnificence; and he renewed the important alliance with the king of Tyre. (3) The friendship of this monarch was of the highest value in contributing to the great royal and national work, the building of the Temple. The cedar timber could only be obtained from the forests of Lebanon: the Sidonian artisans, celebrated in the Homeric poems, were the most skillful workmen in every kind of manufacture, particularly in the precious metals.

Solomon entered into a regular treaty, by which he bound himself to supply the Tyrians with large quantities of corn; receiving in return their timber, which was floated down to Joppa, and a large body of artificers. The timber was cut by his own subjects, of whom he raised a body of thirty thousand; ten thousand employed at a time, and relieving each other every month; so that to one month of labor they had two of rest. He raised two other corps, one of seventy thousand porters of burdens, the other of eighty thousand hewers of stone, who were employed in the quarries among the mountains. All these labors were thrown, not on the Israelites, but on the strangers who, chiefly of Canaanitish descent, had been permitted to inhabit the country.

These preparations, in addition to those of King David, being completed, the work began. The eminence of Moriah, the Mount of Vision, i.e., the height seen afar from the adjacent country, which tradition pointed out as the spot where Abraham had offered his son (where recently the plague had been stayed, by the altar built in the threshing-floor of Ornan or Araunah, the Jebusite), rose on the east side of the city. Its rugged top was levelled with immense labor; its sides, which to the east and south were precipitous, were traced with a wall of stone, built up perpendicular from the bottom of the valley, so as to appear to those who looked down of most terrific height; a work of prodigious skill and labor, as the immense stones were strongly mortised together and wedged into the rock. Around the whole area or esplanade, an irregular quadrangle, was a solid wall of considerable height and strength: within this was an open court, into which the Gentiles were either from the first, or subsequently, admitted. A second wall encompassed another quadrangle, called the court of the Israelites. Along this wall, on the inside, ran a portico or cloister, over which were chambers for different sacred purposes. Within this again another, probably a lower, wall separated the court of the priests from that of the Israelites. To each court the ascent was by steps, so that the platform of the inner court was on a higher level than that of the outer.

The Temple itself was rather a monument of the wealth than the architectural skill and science of the people. It was a wonder of the world from the splendor of its materials, more than the grace, boldness, or majesty of its height and dimensions. It had neither the colossal magnitude of the Egyptian, the simple dignity and perfect proportional harmony of the Grecian, nor perhaps the fantastic grace and lightness of later Oriental architecture. Some writers, calling to their assistance the visionary temple of Ezekiel, have erected a most superb edifice; to which there is this fatal objection, that if the dimensions of the prophet are taken as then stand in the text, the area of the Temple and its courts would not only have covered the whole of Mount Moriah. but almost all Jerusalem. In fact our accounts of the Temple of Solomon are altogether unsatisfactory. The details, as they now stand in the books of Kings and Chronicles, the only safe authorities, are unscientific, and, what is worse, contradictory.

Josephus has evidently blended together the three temples, and attributed to the earlier all the subsequent additions and alterations. The Temple, on the whole, was an enlargement of the tabernacle, built of more costly and durable materials. Like its model, it retained the ground-plan and disposition of the Egyptian, or rather of almost all the sacred edifices of antiquity: even its measurements are singularly in unison with some of the most ancient temples in Upper Egypt. It consisted of a propylaeon, a temple, and a sanctuary; called respectively the Porch, the holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. Yet in some respects, if the measurements are correct, the Temple must rather have resembled the form of a simple Gothic church.

In the front to the east stood the porch, a tall tower, rising to the height of 210 feet. Either within, or, like the Egyptian obelisks, before the porch, stood two pillars of brass; by one account 27, by another above 60 feet high, the latter statement probably including their-capitals and bases. These were called Jachin and Boaz (Durability and Strength). (4) The capitals of these were of the richest workmanship, with net-work, chain-work, and pomegranates. The porch was the same width with the Temple, 35 feet; its depth 17 1/2. The length of the main building, including the Holy Place, 70 feet, and the Holy of Holies, 35, was in the whole 105 feet; the height 52 1/2 feet. (5)

Josephus carries the whole building up to the height of the porch; but this is out of all creditable proportion, making the height twice the length and six times the width. Along each side, and perhaps at the back of the main building, ran an aisle, divided into three stories of small chambers: the wall of the Temple being thicker at the bottom, left a rest to support the beams of these chambers, which were not let into the wall. These aisles, the chambers of which were appropriated as vestiaries, treasuries, and for other sacred purposes, seem to have reached about half way up the main wall of what we may call the nave choir: the windows into the latter were probably above them; these were narrow, but widened inward.

If the dimensions of the Temple appear by no means imposing, it must be remembered that but a small part of the religious ceremonies took place within the walls. The Holy of Holies was entered only once a year, and that by the High-priest alone. It was the secret and unapproachable shrine of the Divinity. The Holy Place, the body of the Temple, admitted only the officiating priests. The courts, called in popular language the Temple, or rather the inner quadrangle, were in fact the great place of divine worship. Here, under the open air, were celebrated the great public and national rites, the processions, the offerings, the sacrifices; here stood the great tank for ablution, and the high altar for burnt offerings.

But the costliness of the materials, the richness and variety of the details, amply compensated for the moderate dimensions of the building. It was such a sacred edifice as a traveler might have expected to find in El Dorado. The walls were of hewn stone, faced within with cedar which was richly carved with knosps and flowers; the ceiling was of fir-tree. But in every part gold was lavished with the utmost profusion; within and without, the floor, the walls, the ceiling, in short, the whole house is described as overlaid with gold. The finest and purest that of Parvaim, by some supposed to be Ceylon, was reserved for the sanctuary. Here the cherubim, which stood upon the covering of the Ark, with their wings touching each wall, were entirely covered with gold.

The sumptuous veil, of the richest materials and brightest colors, which divided the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place was suspended on chains of gold. Cherubim, palm-trees, and flowers, the favorite ornaments, everywhere covered with gilding, were wrought in almost all parts. The altar within the Temple and the table of shewbread were likewise covered with the same precious metal. All the vessels, the ten candlesticks, five hundred basins, and all the rest of the sacrificial and other utensils, were of solid gold. yet the Hebrew writers seem to dwell with the greatest astonishment and admiration on the works which were founded in brass by Huram, a man of Jewish extraction, who had learned his art at Tyre.

Besides the lofty pillars above mentioned, there was a great tank, called a sea, of molten brass, supported on twelve oxen, three turned each way; this was seventeen and one-half feet in diameter. There was also a great altar, and ten large vessels for the purpose of ablution, called Wavers, standing on bases or pedestals, the rims of which were richly ornamented with a border, on which were wrought figures of lions, oxen, and cherubim. The bases below were formed of four wheels, like those of a chariot. All the works in brass were cast in a place near the Jordan, where the soil was of a stiff clay suited to the purpose.

For seven years and a half the fabric arose in silence. All the timbers, the stones, even of the most enormous size, measuring seventeen and eighteen feet, were hewn and fitted, so as to be put together without the sound of any tool whatever; as it has been expressed, with great poetical beauty:

"Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric grew."

At the end of this period, the Temple and its courts being completed, the solemn dedication took place, with the greatest magnificence which the king and the nation could display. All the chieftains of the different tribes, and all of every order who could be brought together, assembled.

David had already organized the priesthood and the Levites; and assigned to the thirty-eight thousand of the latter tribe each his particular office; twenty four thousand were appointed for the common duties, six thousand as officers, four thousand as guards and porters, four thousand as singers and musicians. On this great occasion, the Dedication of the Temple, all the tribe of Levi, without regard to their courses, the whole priestly order of every class, attended. Around the great brazen altar, which rose in the court of the priests before the door of the Temple, stood in front the sacrificers, all around the whole choir, arrayed in white linen. One hundred and twenty of these were trumpeters, the rest had cymbals, harps, and psalteries. Solomon himself took his place on an elevated scaffold or raised throne of brass. The whole assembled nation crowded the spacious courts beyond. The ceremony began with the preparation of burnt offerings, so numerous that they could not be counted.

At an appointed signal commenced the more important part of the scene, the removal of the Ark, the installation of the God of Israel in his new and appropriate dwelling, to the sound of all the voices and all the instruments, chanting some of those splendid odes, the 47th, 97th, 98th, and 107th psalms. The Ark advanced, borne by the Levites, to the open portals of the Temple. It can scarcely be doubted that the 24th psalm, even if composed before, was adopted and used on this occasion. The singers, as it drew near the gate, broke out in these words: Lift up your headset O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. It was answered from the other part of the choir, Who is the King of Glory? The whole choir responded, The Lord of Hosts, he is the King of Glory.

When the procession arrived at the Holy Place, the gates flew open; when it reached the Holy of Holies, the veil was drawn back. The Ark took its place under the extended wings of the cherubim, which might seem to fold over, and receive it under their protection. At that instant all the trumpeters and singers were at once to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanksgivings to the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice, with the trumpets, and cymbals, and instruments of music, praised the Lord, saying: For he is good, for his mercy endureth forever, the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God. Thus the Divinity took possession of his sacred edifice.

The king then rose upon the brazen scaffold, knelt down, and spreading his hands toward heaven, uttered the prayer of consecration. The prayer was of unexampled sublimity: while it implored the perpetual presence of the Almighty, as the tutelar Deity and Sovereign of the Israelites, it recognized his spiritual and illimitable nature. But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? Behold heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, how much less this house which I have built? It then recapitulated the principles of the Hebrew theocracy, the dependence of the national prosperity and happiness on the national conformity to the civil and religious law. As the king concluded in these emphatic terms: Now, therefore, arise, O Lord God, into thy resting-place, thou and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, and thy saints rejoice in goodness. O Lord God, turn not away the face of thine anointed: remember the mercies of David thy servant. The cloud which had rested over the Holy of Holies grew brighter and more dazzling; fire broke out and consumed all the sacrifices; the priests stood without, awestruck by the insupportable splendor; the whole people fell on their faces, and worshipped and praised the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is forever.

Which was the greater, the external magnificence, or the moral sublimity of this scene? Was it the Temple, situated on its commanding eminence, with all its courts, the dazzling splendor of its materials, the innumerable multitudes, the priesthood in their gorgeous attire, the king, with all the insignia of royalty, on his throne of burnished brass, the music, the radiant cloud filling the Temple, the sudden fire flashing upon the altar, the whole nation upon their knees? Was it not rather the religious grandeur of the hymns and of the prayer: the exalted and rational views of the Divine Nature, the union of a whole people in the adoration of the one Great, Incomprehensible, Almighty, Everlasting Creator?

This extraordinary festival, which took place at the time of that of Tabernacles, lasted for two weeks, twice the usual time: during this period twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred and twenty thousand sheep were sacrificed (6) every individual probably contributing to this great propitiatory rite; and the whole people feasting on those parts of the sacrifices which were not set apart for holy uses.

Though the chief magnificence of Solomon was lavished on the Temple of God, yet the sumptuous palaces which he erected for his own residence display an opulence and profusion which may vie with the older monarchs of Egypt or Assyria. The great palace stood in Jerusalem; it occupied thirteen years in building. A causeway bridged the deep ravine, and leading directly to the Temple, united the part either of Accra or Sion, on which the palace stood, with Mount Moriah. In this palace was a vast hall for public business, from its cedar pillars called the House of the Forest of Lebanon. It was 175 feet long, half that measurement in width, above 50 feet high; four rows of cedar columns supported a roof made of beams of the same wood; there were three rows of windows on each side facing each other. Besides this great hall, there were two others, called porches, of smaller dimensions, in one of which the throne of justice was placed. The harem, or women's apartments, adjoined to these buildings; with other piles of vast extent for different purposes, particularly, if we may credit Josephus, a great banqueting hall.

The same author informs us that the whole was surrounded with spacious and luxuriant gardens, and adds a less credible fact, ornamented with sculptures and paintings. Another palace was built in a romantic part of the country in the valleys at the foot of Lebanon for his wife, the daughter of the king of Egypt; in the luxurious gardens of which we may lay the scene of that poetical epithalamium, (7) or collection of Idyls, the Song of Solomon. (8) The splendid works of Solomon were not confined to royal magnificence and display; they condescended to usefulness. To Solomon are traced at least the first channels and courses of the natural and artificial water supply which has always enabled Jerusalem to maintain its thousands of worshippers at different periods, and to endure long and obstinate sieges. (9)

The descriptions in the Greek writers of the Persian courts in Susa and Ecbatana; the tales of the early travelers in the East about the kings of Samarkand or Cathay; and even the imagination of the Oriental romancers and poets, have scarcely conceived a more splendid pageant than Solomon, seated on his throne of ivory, receiving the homage of distant princes who came to admire his magnificence, and put to the test his noted wisdom. (10) This throne was of pure ivory, covered with gold; six steps led up to the seat, and on each side of the steps stood twelve lions.

All the vessels of his palace were of pure gold, silver was thought too mean: his armory was furnished with gold; two hundred targets and three hundred shields of beaten gold were suspended in the house of Lebanon. Josephus mentions a body of archers who escorted him from the city to his country palace, clad in dresses of Tyrian purple, and their hair powdered with gold dust. But enormous as this wealth appears, the statement of his expenditure on the Temple, and of his annual revenue, so passes all credibility, that any attempt at forming a calculation on the uncertain data we possess may at once be abandoned as a hopeless task. No better proof can be given of the uncertainty of our authorities, of our imperfect knowledge of the Hebrew weights of money, and, above all, of our total ignorance of the relative value which the precious metals bore to the commodities of life, than the estimate, made by Dr. Prideaux, of the treasures left by David, amounting to eight hundred millions, nearly the capital of our national debt.

Our inquiry into the sources of the vast wealth which Solomon undoubtedly possessed may lead to more satisfactory, though still imperfect, results. The treasures of David were accumulated rather by conquest than by traffic. Some of the nations he subdued, particularly the Edomites, were wealthy. All the tribes seem to have worn a great deal of gold and silver in their ornaments and their armor; their idols were often of gold, and the treasuries of their temples perhaps contained considerable wealth. But during the reign of Solomon almost the whole commerce of the world passed into his territories. The treaty with Tyre was of the utmost importance: nor is there any instance in which two neighboring nations so clearly saw, and so steadily pursued, without jealousy or mistrust, their mutual and inseparable interests. (11)

On one occasion only, when Solomon presented to Hiram twenty inland cities which he had conquered, Hiram expressed great dissatisfaction, and called the territory by the opprobrious name of Cabul. The Tyrian had perhaps cast a wistful eye on the noble bay and harbor of Acco, or Ptolemais, which the prudent Hebrew either would not, or could not since it was part of the promised land dissever from his dominions. So strict was the confederacy, that Tyre may be considered the port of Palestine, Palestine the granary of Tyre. Tyre furnished the shipbuilders and mariners; the fruitful plains of Palestine victualled the fleets and supplied the manufacturers and merchants of the Phoenician league with all the necessaries of life. (12)

(1) I Kings, i

(2) I Kings, xi, 23; I Chron;, viii, 3.

(3) After inserting the correspondence between King Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre, according to I Kings, v, Josephus asserts that copies of these letters were not only preserved by his countrymen, but also in the archives of Tyre. I presume that Josephus adverts to the statement of Tyrian historians, not to an actual inspection of the archives, which he seems to assert as existing and accessible.

(4) Ewald, following, he says, the Septuagint, makes these pillars not standing alone like obelisks before the porch, but as forming the front of the porch, with the capitals connected together, and supporting a kind of balcony, with ornamental work above it. The pillars measured 12 cubits (22 feet) round.

(5) Mr. Fergusson, estimating the cubit rather lower than in the text, makes the porch 30 by 15; the pronaos, or Holy Place, 60 by 30; the Holy of Holies, 30; the height 45 feet. Mr. Fergusson, following Josephus, supposes that the whole Temple had an upper story of wood, a talar, as appears in other Eastern edifices. I doubt the authority of Josephus as to the older Temple, though, as Mr. Fergusson observes, the discrepancies between the measurements in Kings and in Chronicles may be partially reconciled on this supposition. Mr. Fergusson makes the height of the eastern tower only 90 feet. The text followed 2 Chron., iii, 4, reckoning the cubit at 1 foot 9 inches.

(6) Gibbon, in one of his malicious notes, observes, "As the blood and smoke of so many hecatombs might be inconvenient, Lightfoot, the Christian Rabbi, removes them by a miracle. Le Clere (ad loe.) is bold enough to suspect the fidelity of the numbers." To this I ventured to subjoin the following illustration: "According to the historian Kotobeddyn, quoted by Burekhardt, Travels in Arabia, p. 276, the Khalif Moktader sacrificed during his pilgrimage to Mecca, in the year of the Hegira 350, forty thousand camels and cows, and fifty thousand sheep. Barthema describes thirty thousand oxen slain, and their carcasses given to the poor. Tavernier speaks of one hundred thousand victims offered by the king of Tonquin." Gibbon, eh. xxiii, iv, p. 96, edit. Milman.

(7) I here assume that the Song of Solomon was an epithalamium. I enter not into the interminable controversy as to the literal or allegorical or spiritual meaning of this poem, nor into that of its age. A very particular though succinct account of all these theories, ancient and modern, may be found in a work by Dr. Ginsberg. I confess that Dr. Ginsberg's theory, which is rather tinged with the virtuous sentimentality of the modern novel, seems to me singularly out of harmony with the Oriental and ancient character of the poem. It is adopted, however, though modified, by M. Renan.

(8) According to Ewald, the ivory tower in this poem was raised in one of these beautiful "pleasances," in the Anti-Libanus, looking toward Hamath.

(9) Ewald: Gesehichte, iii, pp. 62-68; a very remarkable and valuable passage.

(10) Compare the great Mogul's throne, in Tavernier; that of the King of Persia, in Morier.

(11) The very learned work of Movers, Die Phonizier (Bonn, 1841, Berlin, 1849) contains everything which true German industry and comprehensiveness can accumulate about this people. Movers, though in such an inquiry conjecture is inevitable, is neither so bold, so arbitrary, nor so dogmatic in his conjectures as many of his contemporaries See on Hiram, ii, 326 et seq. Movers is disposed to appreciate as of high value the fragments preserved in Josephus of the Phoenician histories of Menander and Dios. Mr. Kenriek's Phoenicia may also be consulted with advantage.

(12) To a late period Tyre and Sidon were mostly dependent on Palestine for their supply of grain. The inhabitants of these cities desired peace with Herod (Agrippa) because their country was nourished bar the king's country (Acts xii, 20).

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