Solomon’s (Not So) Wonderful Temple

Allan Callahan

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When the Byzantine emperor Justinian completed his great church, Santa Sophia, he exclaimed, “Oh, Solomon, I have surpassed thee!” This statement proves that he, like so many others before and since, was taken in by the tall tales of the ancient Jews about Solomon’s temple, which they claimed was the envy and wonder of the ancient world. Many Christians still think that it was one of the most stupendous architectural achievements of all time. To get the lowdown on this structure we need do nothing more than consult “God’s word.”

David, Solomon’s father, started things off by raising the funds. The Bible declares that:

“….. David the king….. prepared for his holy house, even three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the houses withal…. Then the chief of the fathers and princes of the tribe of Israel…. offered willingly, and gave for the service of the house of God of gold five thousand talents and ten thousand drams, and of silver ten thousand talents, and of brass eighteen thousand talents, and one hundred thousand talents of iron.” (1 Chron., xxix, 1-7)

Any way you figure it, this was an enormous treasure, and we wonder how the chief of a petty tribe of thieves and cutthroats and his subjects could come up with it, especially since they lived in one of the poorest and most barren spots in Asia. Elsewhere in the Bible we find that:

“Now, behold, in my trouble I have prepared for the house of the Lord an hundred thousand talents of gold, and a thousand talents of silver; and of brass and iron without weight.” (1 Chron., xxii, 14)

After Solomon took over from his father, the Lord informed him that all he need do was ask to get whatever he wanted. With God’s help, Solomon then put 30,000 men to work gathering materials, and they spent four years going into foreign countries in their search. He also put 70,000 to bear burdens, and 80,000 to hew in the mountains. As overseers he hired 3,600 more.

These all add up to a grand total of 183,600 men. It thus took four years to gather the materials and seven years to erect the temple – 11 years in all.

From 1 Kings vi, 2, we get the size of the completed structure: “And the house which King Solomon built for the Lord, the length thereof was three-score cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.”

The cubit, an ancient measurement, is the length of the forearm from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, and is generally figured at 18 inches. The Egyptian cubit was about 20 inches; we are not sure if the Hebrew cubit was as long. Some Bible apologists, trying to stretch Solomon’s temple, stretch the cubit to nearly 26 inches. But using the generally accepted figure of 18 inches we find that the temple was 90 ft. long, 30 ft. wide, and 45 ft. high. And even if we measure it with the stretched out cubit of the Bible apologists, we see that this national monument of Israel, the pride of the Jews, was far from being any awe-inspiring edifice.

King Kheops of Egypt worked 100,000 men – an estimated 20,000 at a time – for 20 years to build the Great Pyramid. It is 750 ft. square and was originally 480 ft. high, and was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Justinian used 16,000 men and built the church of Santa Sophia in 5 years; a colossal structure whose dome sears 180 ft. above the floor and is 100 ft. in diameter. Yet two of the most able Jewish kings used 183,600 men, a great treasure, the help of Yahweh, and 11 years time to come up with an insignificant meeting-house.

Why couldn’t the “chozzen pipple” have produced a bigger temple? Because they didn’t have all these things to work with, really. All they had was a mythical army, a mythical treasure, and a mythical god.

SOURCE: The Liberty Bell, December 1983

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