(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA)
The Hebrew name given in the Hebrew Bible for the building complex is either Beit YHWH (House of Yahweh, or Jehovah), Beit HaElohim “House of God”, or simply Beiti “my house”, Beitekhah “your house” etc. The term hekhal “hall” or main building is often translated “temple” in older English Bibles. In rabbinical literature the temple is Beit HaMikdash, “The Sanctified House”, and only the Temple in Jerusalem is referred to by this name.
The Hebrew Bible says that the First Temple was built in 957 BCE by King Solomon. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, as the sole place of Israelite sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:2-27), the Temple replaced the Tabernacle constructed in the Sinai Desert under the auspices of Moses, as well as local sanctuaries, and altars in the hills. This temple was sacked a few decades later by Shoshenq I, Pharaoh of Egypt.
Although efforts were made at partial reconstruction, it was only in 835 BCE when Jehoash, King of Judah in the second year of his reign invested considerable sums in reconstruction, only to have it stripped again for Sennacherib, King of Assyria c. 700 BCE. The First Temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE (425 BCE according to historical Jewish sources) when they sacked the city.
According to the Book of Ezra, construction of the Second Temple was authorized by Cyrus the Great and began in 538 BCE, after the fall of the Babylonian Empire the year before. It was completed 23 years later, on the third day of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the Great (12 March 515 BCE), dedicated by the Jewish governor Zerubbabel. However, with a full reading of the Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah, there were four edicts to build the Second Temple, which were issued by three kings. Cyrus in 536 BCE, which is recorded in the first chapter of Ezra. Next, Darius I of Persia in 519 BCE, which is recorded in the sixth chapter of Ezra. Third, Artaxerxes I of Persia in 457 BCE, which was the seventh year of his reign, and is recorded in the seventh chapter of Ezra. Finally, by Artaxerxes again in 444 BCE in the second chapter of Nehemiah. Also, despite the fact that the new temple was not as extravagant or imposing as its predecessor, it still dominated the Jerusalem skyline and remained an important structure throughout the time of Persian suzerainty. Moreover, the temple narrowly avoided being destroyed again in 332 BCE when the Jews refused to acknowledge the deification of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Alexander was allegedly “turned from his anger” at the last minute by astute diplomacy and flattery. Further, after the death of Alexander on 13 June 323 BCE, and the dismembering of his empire, the Ptolemies came to rule over Judea and the Temple. Under the Ptolemies, the Jews were given many civil liberties and lived content under their rule. However, when the Ptolemaic army was defeated at Panium by Antiochus III of the Seleucids in 198 BCE, this policy changed. Antiochus wanted to Hellenize the Jews, attempting to introduce the Greek pantheon into the temple. Moreover, a rebellion ensued and was brutally crushed, but no further action by Antiochus was taken, and when Antiochus died in 187 BCE at Luristan, his son Seleucus IV Philopator succeeded him. However, his policies never took effect in Judea, since he was assassinated the year after his ascension.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes succeeded his older brother to the Seleucid throne and immediately adopted his father’s previous policy of universal Hellenisation. The Jews rebelled again and Antiochus, in a rage, retaliated in force. Considering the previous episodes of discontent, the Jews became incensed when the religious observances of Sabbath and circumcision were officially outlawed. When Antiochus erected a statue of Zeus in their temple and Hellenic priests began sacrificing pigs (the usual sacrifice offered to the Greek gods in the Hellenic religion), their anger began to spiral. When a Greek official ordered a Jewish priest to perform a Hellenic sacrifice, the priest (Mattathias) killed him. In 167 BCE, the Jews rose up en masse behind Mattathias and his five sons to fight and win their freedom from Seleucid authority. Mattathias’ son Judas Maccabaeus, now called “The Hammer”, re-dedicated the temple in 165 BCE and the Jews celebrate this event to this day as a major part of the festival of Hanukkah.
The temple was rededicated under Judas Maccabaeus in 164 BCE. During the Roman era, Pompey entered (and thereby desecrated) the Holy of Holies in 63 BCE, but left the Temple intact. In 54 BCE, Crassus looted the Temple treasury, only for him to die the year after at the Battle of Carrhae against Parthia. According to folklore, he was executed by having molten gold poured down his throat. When news of this reached the Jews, they revolted again, only to be put down in 43 BCE.
Around 20 BCE, the building was renovated and expanded by Herod the Great and became known as Herod’s Temple. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE during the Siege of Jerusalem. During the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in 132–135 CE, Simon bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva wanted to rebuild the Temple, but bar Kokhba’s revolt failed and the Jews were banned from Jerusalem (except for Tisha B’Av) by the Roman Empire. Emperor Julian allowed to have the Temple rebuilt but the Galilee earthquake of 363 ended all attempts ever since.
After the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th century, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan ordered the construction of an Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, on the site of the Temple. The shrine has stood on the mount since 691 CE; the al-Aqsa Mosque, from roughly the same period, also stands in the Temple courtyard.
The Temple Mount, along with the entire Old City of Jerusalem, was captured from Jordan by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War, allowing Jews once again to pray at the holy site.Jordan had occupied East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount immediately following Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, 1948. Israel officially unified East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, with the rest of Jerusalem in 1980 under the Jerusalem Law, though United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 declared the Jerusalem Law to be in violation of international law. The Muslim Waqf, based in Jordan, has administrative control of the Temple Mount.
There are four theories as to where the Temple stood; where the Dome of the Rock is now located, to the north of the Dome of the Rock (Professor Asher Kaufman), to the east of the Dome of the Rock (Professor Joseph Patrich of the Hebrew University). and to the south of the Temple Mount on Mount Ophel.
Remnants of the 1st century Stairs of Ascent, discovered by archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, to the entrance of the Temple Courtyard. Pilgrims coming to make sacrifices at the Temple would have entered and exited by this stairway.
The Temple of Solomon or First Temple consisted of three main elements:
- and the Temple building itself, with
In the case of the last and most elaborate structure, the Herodian Temple, the structure consisted of the wider Temple precinct, the restricted Temple courts, and the Temple building itself:
- Temple precinct, located on the extended Temple Mount platform, and including the Court of the Gentiles
- Court of the Women or Ezrat HaNashim
- Court of the Israelites, reserved for ritually pure Jewish men
- Court of the Priests, whose relation to the Temple Court is interpreted in different ways by scholars
- Temple Court or Azarah, with the Brazen Laver (kiyor), the Altar of Burnt Offerings (mizbe’ah), the Place of Slaughtering, and the Temple building itself
- The Temple edifice had three distinct chambers:
- Temple vestibule or porch (ulam)
- Temple sanctuary (hekhal or heikal), the main part of the building
- Holy of Holies (Kodesh HaKodashim or debir), the innermost chamber
According to the Talmud, the Women’s Court was to the east and the main area of the Temple to the west. The main area contained the butchering area for the sacrifices and the Outer Altar on which portions of most offerings were burned. An edifice contained the ulam (antechamber), the hekhal (the “sanctuary”), and the Holy of Holies. The sanctuary and the Holy of Holies were separated by a wall in the First Temple and by two curtains in the Second Temple. The sanctuary contained the seven branched candlestick, the table of showbread and the Incense Altar.
The main courtyard had thirteen gates. On the south side, beginning with the southwest corner, there were four gates:
- Shaar Ha’Elyon (the Upper Gate)
- Shaar HaDelek (the Kindling Gate), where wood was brought in
- Shaar HaBechorot (the Gate of Firstborns), where people with first-born animal offerings entered
- Shaar HaMayim (the Water Gate), where the Water Libation entered on Sukkot/the Feast of Tabernacles
On the north side, beginning with the northwest corner, there were four gates:
- Shaar Yechonyah (The Gate of Jeconiah), where kings of the Davidic line enter and Jeconiah left for the last time to captivity after being dethroned by the King of Babylon
- Shaar HaKorban (The gate of the Offering), where priests entered with kodshei kodashim offerings
- Shaar HaNashim (The Women’s Gate), where women entered into the Azara or main courtyard to perform offerings
- Shaar Hashir (The Gate of Song), where the Levites entered with their musical instruments
On the east side was Shaar Nikanor, between the Women’s Courtyard and the main Temple Courtyard, which had two minor doorways, one on its right and one on its left. On the western wall, which was relatively unimportant, there were two gates that did not have any name.
The Mishnah lists concentric circles of holiness surrounding the Temple: Holy of Holies; Sanctuary; Vestibule; Court of the Priests; Court of the Israelites; Court of the Women; Temple Mount; the walled city of Jerusalem; all the walled cities of the Land of Israel; and the borders of the Land of Israel.
The Temple was the place where offerings described in the course of the Hebrew Bible were carried out, including daily morning and afternoon offerings and special offerings on Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Levites recited Psalms at appropriate moments during the offerings, including the Psalm of the Day, special psalms for the new month, and other occasions, the Hallel during major Jewish holidays, and psalms for special sacrifices such as the “Psalm for the Thanksgiving Offering” (Psalm 100).
As part of the daily offering, a prayer service was performed in the Temple which was used as the basis of the traditional Jewish (morning) service recited to this day, including well-known prayers such as the Shema, and the Priestly Blessing. The Mishna describes it as follows:
The superintendent said to them, bless one benediction! and they blessed, and read the Ten Commandments, and the Shema, “And it shall come to pass if you will hearken”, and “And [God] spoke…”. They pronounced three benedictions with the people present: “True and firm”, and the “Avodah” “Accept, Lord our God, the service of your people Israel, and the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer receive with favor. Blessed is He who receives the service of His people Israel with favor” (similar to what is today the 17th blessing of the Amidah), and the Priestly Blessing, and on the Sabbath they recited one blessing; “May He who causes His name to dwell in this House, cause to dwell among you love and brotherliness, peace and friendship” on behalf of the weekly Priestly Guard that departed.
In the Talmud
The Talmud (Yoma 9b) provides traditional theological reasons for the destruction: “Why was the first Temple destroyed? Because the three cardinal sins were rampant in society: idol worship, licentiousness, and murder… And why then was the second Temple – wherein the society was involved in Torah, commandments, and acts of kindness – destroyed? Because gratuitous hatred was rampant in society. This teaches you that gratuitous hatred is equal in severity to the three cardinal sins: idol worship, licentiousness, and murder.”
Role in contemporary Jewish services
Part of the traditional Jewish morning service, the part surrounding the Shema prayer, is essentially unchanged from the daily worship service performed in the Temple. In addition, the Amidah prayer traditionally replaces the Temple’s daily Tamid and special-occasion Mussaf (additional) offerings (there are separate versions for the different types of sacrifices). They are recited during the times their corresponding offerings were performed in the Temple.
The Temple is mentioned extensively in Orthodox services. Conservative Judaism retains mentions of the Temple and its restoration but removes references to the sacrifices. References to sacrifices on holidays are made in the past tense, and petitions for their restoration are removed. Mentions in Orthodox Jewish services include:
- A daily recital of Biblical and Talmudic passages related to the korbanot (sacrifices) performed in the Temple (See korbanot in siddur).
- References to the restoration of the Temple and sacrificial worships in the daily Amidah prayer, the central prayer in Judaism.
- A traditional personal plea for the restoration of the Temple at the end of the private recitation of the Amidah.
- A prayer for the restoration of the “house of our lives” and the shekhinah (divine presence) “to dwell among us” is recited during the Amidah prayer.
- Recitation of the Psalm of the day; the psalm sung by the Levites in the Temple for that day during the daily morning service.
- Numerous psalms sung as part of the ordinary service make extensive references to the Temple and Temple worship.
- Recitation of the special Jewish holiday prayers for the restoration of the Temple and their offering, during the Mussaf services on Jewish holidays.
- An extensive recitation of the special Temple service for Yom Kippur during the service for that holiday.
- Special services for Sukkot (Hakafot) contain extensive (but generally obscure) references to the special Temple service performed on that day.
The destruction of the Temple is mourned on the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av. Three other minor fasts (Tenth of Tevet, 17th of Tammuz, and Third of Tishrei), also mourn events leading to or following the destruction of the Temple. There are also mourning practices which are observed at all times, for example, the requirement to leave part of the house unplastered.