The Mystery and Symbolism of the Temple of Solomon

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Dec 6, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    By Cristian Filderman

    Outside of the sanctuaries of the Patriarchs and of the Ark of the Covenant from the Mosaic period, the Temple of Solomon offered the Judaic world its holiness and grandeur, and to Yahweh a shelter. Before its construction by Solomon, numerous Canaanite sanctuaries existed in the land of Israel, comprising stone altars often found in high places. Biblical Archeology has brought to light the ruins of many temples, especially in the locality of Megiddo and Jericho, and in the land of Galilee in the locality of Bethshean.

    Details of a smaller, local sanctuary of the Canaanite type are found in the description of the altar that Micah raised in the land of Ephraim (Judges 17, 18). This was based on an old Canaanite sanctuary, but we know nothing of its construction, but the fact that it seems to be a permanent altar, named the Temple of the Lord, the House of Yahweh (I Samuel 1, 3). Another sanctuary would have been in Jerusalem, on Mount Moria, made by the Jebusites, which David kept as principal place of prayer and service, after Jerusalem was conquered. In this sanctuary, David entered and prayed after the death of his child by Bathsheba (II Kings 12, 20).

    Solomon constructed his temple on a rocky crest of Mount Zion. This was already a sacred place in Jebusite tradition, having the same cosmic significance as the mysterious Mount Zaphon to the North, in Canaanite mythology, which was the house of El-Elyon.

    After the conquest of Jerusalem and its establishing as new capitol of the people of Israel, Mount Zion was demanded as place of dwelling for Yahweh. The erection of the Temple was the next step that would have affirmed the divine foundation of the state and the sacred authority of the Davidic dynasty. In this case, the Temple of Solomon inherited in one way or another, a place of ancient holiness. The Holy Book relates in detail how Solomon brought Phoenician architects and constructors for the erection of the Temple.

    This influence, together with the ones already described, shows how similar this was to the other temples of the ancient world. The general plan was that of a narrow and long structure, beginning with an impressive entry portal, symbolizing entry into the sacred space and the meeting with the divinity. This holy dwelling, oriented, facing East, was made of three parts, having in its front two imposing pillars whose significance was much discussed. It's Splendor and grandeur was worthy of the kingdom and riches of Solomon. From the obscurity of the Holy of holies, Yahweh watched over the people.
    The Deuteronomy writers and chroniclers relate various revealing phenomena in connection with the origins of the temple. First, a dream is associated with its origins. It is Nathan's, who receives the mission from Yahweh to forbid David the erection of the temple. This divine warning offers Solomon the doing of this sacred work.

    In this case, the human initiative, David's, of establishing and constructing the holy dwelling is stopped by the divinity. David, although he receives the negative verdict, is not wholly abandoned by Yahweh, but obtains through the Spirit, straight from the hand of Yahweh, the plan of the Temple
    (I Chronicles 28, 11-19).

    This plan of the Temple is illustrated further, in other revealing events. If, after the chronicler, the altar of David, placed in the thresher's path, was the place of the Temple, then its choice is associated with the teophany of the angels and is confirmed through the heavenly fire that descends to the altar (I Chronicles 21, 15-26). At the consecration of the Temple, a new Teophany takes place, that of the heavenly cloud that confirms the consecration, showing that this work was not merely human enterprise (I Kings 8, 10).

    The Temple as Microcosm
    The Temple of Solomon was the earthly representation of the heavenly dwelling, being adorned as a microcosm of the world, the realm of God. Numerous places in the Old Testament support this point of view, although some Bible scholars contest the cosmic significance of the Temple. The central conception is that the earthly sanctuary is a copy or reflection of the heavenly prototype, the true house of the divinity.

    It is true that in the Old Testament we do not have very clear statements about this. Psalms 78 and 69 seem to say that the Temple was erected as the heights of the sky, giving it a cosmic dimension. More precise is Psalm 11, 4 where "The Lord is in his holy temple", which is placed in parallel and in contrast with "the Lord is on his heavenly throne". The first Temple seems to be the one on Mount Zion, considered a "symbol and component part" of the heavenly sanctuary.

    We can also refer to the prototype of the Holy Tent, as it is presented in the book of Exodus, 25. Moses receives from Yahweh very precise and detailed instructions for the plan of the Tent, and this fits very well with the Temple from the vision of Ezekiel. However, it has not been established that the Temple from Ezekiel's vision, at the Chebar River, would be a reflection of the heavenly realm. On the other hand, it is reasonable to suppose that the details of these models are derived from the divine dwelling.

    What is more certain is that the shapes and proportions of Ezekiel's Temple are not the result of practical or aesthetic considerations, but represent, in their perfections and harmonies, the nature of heaven itself. The Temple is formed from four squares with interior courts and concentric exteriors, with the entry into each court through symmetrically placed gates. These gates are 50 cubits long and 25 wide and have the same 2: l proportion that applies to the real Temple, whose exterior is l00 cubits long and 50 wide.

    Before it was an open space stretching 100 cubits on either side, with the altar in the middle; and if the main, central part of the altar was placed at the base and included the top of the corners, it formed a perfect cube of 12 cubits on either side. All these symmetries, unities and mathematical proportions are the expression of a single basic idea: the perfection of the heavenly realm that must thus be reflected in the House of the Lord on earth.
    This is also the motive why the form and dimensions of the Temple were fixed forever and carefully maintained throughout the Temple's history. A Temple with such a cosmic reference in its basic project obviously supported further on detailed cosmic symbols.

    In the first place, there is no doubt that all the three temples in Jerusalem were oriented facing East, as were the main gate and the steps of the altar in the vision of Ezekiel (43).

    In the first century of the Christian era, Flavius Josephus interpreted the three main parts of the Temple as corresponding to the three cosmic dimensions: the Holy of holies for the skies, the Holy for the earth, and the Porch for the sea or lower regions. Another Jew of that age, the historian and philosopher Philo of Alexandria, shared these same cosmic interpretations of the Temple.

    The temple as a place of meeting
    The diverse ideas detached until now as to what concerns the four functions of the Temple support each other and overlap, so that the Temple as a place of meeting was implicitly considered both a center and a microcosm.
    This thing is relevant when we remember how the Temple offered the great future of the point of meeting for all the peoples of the earth .

    In a mythical vision of the Jews, the actual distance between the heaven and the earth, expressed in terms of the length of the firmament between them, is 500 years. This means a distance of walking that requires 5 centuries, which is, literally speaking, approximately three and a half million miles.
    However, the Temple was considered to be not lower than 18 miles under its heavenly part. This mythical vision made it the highest point on earth and, relatively speaking, in a direct contact with the heavens, which it met in a physical sense. This idea of the sanctuary, as the highest place on earth, is contained in the image of Mount Zion, which we have seen how tightly connected it was to the temple.

    Jerusalem itself was according to the prophets and the Psalmist, higher than the rest of the world, and the Temple was placed on the top of the tallest mountain, as was the entrance to heaven (Isaiah 2,1-4).

    This growth in altitude of Mount Zion is owed to the mythological notion according to which the divine dwelling is placed higher than any mountain. The same theme of the mountain found its expression in the steps that go up to the entrance of the courts, the terraces of the court, which go up to the main altar for the burning of offerings.

    The term used for the highest step was interpreted as the "mountain of God". Rabbinic thought was fascinated by the rocky outcrop that formed the top of the Holy Mount Zion and viewed it as the connection point not only with the world above, but also with the world below. This latter one contained the primordial and chaotic waters, which could burst out and flood the ordered world that had been created above them, but were stopped by this enormous rock that blocked their way.

    At the same time, these primordial depths contained the source of the waters necessary for earth, for the good of mankind (Genesis 49, 5; Deut. 33, 13; Psalms 33, 7). These primordial depths also appear in the vision of Ezekiel, being named life giving springs, that flow from under the threshold of the Temple, toward East (Ezekiel 47, 1-12). This subterranean world is also the dwelling of the spirits of the dead, of Sheol and of Paradise, so that the rock of the Temple was the means of connection to the sleeping ones. Thus, it occupied the center of the universe and was thus a point of meeting, being the place of communication between the worlds below and the heavenly realms.

    Next to these late post-Biblical evolutions, among the rabbis appeared other Biblical expressions of old, that deemed the Temple the only place of meeting for man and Yahweh.

    The Symbolism of the Temple
    The temple, in the Judaic vision, cultivated by Philo and Flavius Josephus, gains a symbolic interpretation, cosmic. The structure of the Temple is part of the discovery made by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, where he receives the tables of the law.

    The columns at the Temple entrance symbolized the power of God, His creative force and His agreement to live in a house made by human hands. In Solomon's and the Jewish people's vision, the Temple imagined and prefigured the cosmos. Its three constitutive parts, debinil - Holy of holies, hekalul - Holy and ulamul - Porch, had a profound symbolism in Judaic cosmology, representing the three fundamental elements of creation: heaven, earth and water. Flavius Josephus, speaking about the cosmic significance of the Temple, says: "the Ark of the Covenant, with its sacred elements, symbolized the nature of the universe.

    The third part of the Temple - the Holy of holies, where priests and the people were not allowed to enter, but only the chief priest, once a year, was the heaven, which opened only to God, and the other two parts, the Holy and the Porch, accessible to priests, is the earth and see, accessible to man" (Antiq. Iud. 111, 6, 4; 111, 7, 7). This cosmology of the Temple was later taken into rabbinic literature.

    Philo of Alexandria develops in his works this symbolism, describing the cosmic temple. He compares the heaven to the Holy of holies and the temple objects with the stars.

    The Ark of the Covenant, which was in the Holy of holies, adorned with golden garlands, symbolizes the stars and planets; its two sides, the two equinoxes, the four golden rings, with which it was tied at the ends, the four seasons. The two cherubs are the two hemispheres, "for t
    he entire world is winged". It is a dualist vision of the intelligible world.
    It is a world in which Moses was initiated on Mount Sinai and from there he expressed the symbolism through the Ark, which, in the obscurity of the Holy of holies, kept the symbol of the hidden God of Israel. The Ark is the archetype or model. The Cherubs are the two primordial powers, the creative, through which all things are, and the driving, which rules the world.
    The golden table in the Temple is the beneficent power. The two tables of the law symbolize rule and judgment. The word that makes itself heard amidst the Cherubs is the Logos, which sits on the throne of power. One can see here a Platonic conception, opposed to the cosmic symbolism of Stoicism. Yahweh is, in the Judaic conception, a hidden God, that remains in obscurity. He existed before the visible world, which is his work. The chief priest is the initiator and only he has access to the world of the hidden mystery. Philo has an original conception, as to the cosmic symbolism of the Temple. He will, however, use traditional symbolism in his interpretation of the two parts of the temple - Holy and Porch.

    To the objects in the Holy, he gives an anagogic interpretation. He sees in the Menorah the Logos, surrounded by the seven powers. The cosmic symbolism of the Temple refers especially to three objects from the Holy: the Menorah, the table for the bread and the incense altar. These three objects symbolize the action of grace in the world: the table - terrestrial critters, the Menorah - stars, and the central position in the cosmos is occupied by the altar, symbol of the action of grace in water and earth.

    The table, with the 12 breads evokes, for Flavius Josephus, the 12 months of the year (Antiq jud. III, 7, p.7). In Philo, they also have signify the sensible world, whence the food, as different to the Ark, symbol of the intelligible world. The table is in the Northern side of the Holy of holies and on it are two elements: bread and salt, for the Northern winds are the most fertile (Life of Moses, III, 10). Philo sees in the central arm of the Menorah the sun in the middle of the seven planets. His symbolism stretches to all the component parts of the candelabra: the gold - the periodic cycle of the planets (gold being a ductile material). The three candlesticks in the middle of the candelabra, that has its own arm, are the three signs of the zodiac that correspond to each season.

    In certain synagogues of the first Christian centuries, the sun can be seen over the four cardinal points, surrounded by seven beams of light. These are surrounded by 12 signs of the zodiac and flanked by the figures of angels.
    These zodiacal signs appear frequently in some Christian churches, as well as on some Christian cult objects, transmitted from Judaic cosmology. The olive wood doors, with cherubs, flowers, palms dressed in gold that separated the Holy from the Holy of holies, in the vision of Philo represent the veil of the temple.

    The four colors frequently seen on it symbolize the four elements: byssus - earth; porphyry (dark red, imperial majesty) symbolizes the sea; bright red - fire; hyacinth (blue, violet) - air. This common symbolism we find also in Flavius Josephus (Antiq Jud. 111, 7, 7), which will be taken into the Fathers of the Church. The clothes of priests and bishops symbolize the universe and the varied, vivid colors, the world made up of several elements. Entry in the Holy of holies is possible through the veil of the temple, that is through His Body, through His Blood (Hebrews 10, 20-21), through the elements of life. The veil of the temple that separates the Holy of holies, - the intelligible world - from hekal and ulam - earth and water.

    The lamps lit at night in the Holy are the stars of the heaven, that shine from evening till morning, and the sacrificial altar in the Porch, with its four horns - the four directions (cardinal points, winds). After the interpretation of the Talmud, the throne of God is placed in heaven exactly in front of the throne in the Temple. The gates of heaven stand over the gates of the Temple in Jerusalem. The positioning of the gates of heaven over the holy earthly place appears here as a connection between heaven and earth.(...)

    Talmudic commentators think Israel the country in the middle of the earth, Jerusalem in the middle of Israel, the Temple in the middle of Jerusalem, the Hekal in the middle of the Temple, and the Ark in the middle of the Holy of holies - and behind the Ark lies the foundation stone of the world, of which the world was made.

    This tradition is founded on the text from Ezekiel 5, 5: "This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." Both the text from Ezekiel and the prophecies of Isaiah about Jerusalem refer not to the earthly temple of Jerusalem, as they were interpreted by Talmudic writers, but has the vision of the heavenly temple, of the Heavenly Jerusalem that we must build within our souls.

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