By April 7, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Solomon’s Jerusalem 961-922, Teddy Kollek and Moshe Pearlman, Jerusalem: Sacred City of Mankind, Steimatzky Ltd., Jerusalem, 1991.


fedor_ivanovich_kalmyck_the_queen_of_sheba_before_king_solomon_c-1798David was a hard man to follow. But Solomon proved equal to the challenge. Few great leaders in history have been succeeded by men of equal caliber. Yet Solomon carved out a name for himself comparable to that of his father. Their characters were vastly different, and so the fields in which their individual greatness expressed itself differed the one from the other. Both were statesmen, but David was also the great warrior. Solomon had to fight no great battles, and could concern himself with the economic development of a peaceful country, a peace made possible by the successful wars fought by his father. David emerges from the biblical record as a very human individual, with human foibles and weaknesses. We see him in temptation and in penitence, in grief and in ecstatic joy as he dances in front of the Ark. He is the self-made man, rough, rugged, volatile. Solomon is the suave heir, aloof, sophisticated, viewed always through his majesty and grandeur. He is “Solomon in all his glory,” and, as one historian observed, “we see the glory, but are dazzled as to the man behind it.”

David brought all the tribes together, bequeathing to his son a united nation. Solomon consolidated it—though in the process sowed the seeds for its disruption. Solomon continued his father’s alliance with Hiram of Tyre, and also “made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter, and brought her into the city of David.” With his frontiers secure, he applied himself to advancing the material prosperity of the country. He mined copper in the southern tip of the Negev. From the nearby port at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, outlet to the Red Sea, “he made a navy of ships” and, together with his Phoenician ally Hiram, developed a considerable maritime trade. Gold and silver and ivory were brought by sea from Ophir, and formed part of the overland commerce with Israel’s northern neighboring states. Imports from these states were traded for goods from Egypt, linen from that country, horses from Cilicia. Solomon seem to have been the tycoon of the area, or in the more sober phraseology but exaggerated terms of the biblical description, “So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and wisdom.”

At the center of this trade stood Jerusalem, recipient of its revenues. In the process, the vastly enriched city underwent a great expansion, its physical features matching its economic, political and religious status as the most important site in Israel. To the wealth brought by distant trade was added the labor of the whole nation, both being applied to embellishing Jerusalem with buildings which raised her above every other town in the country.

How was the national labor secured and harnessed for the aggrandizement of Jerusalem? Solomon divided the kingdom into twelve provinces, and each province was responsible for the upkeep of the royal court for one month a year. They also had to provide workmen for the buildings in the city, notably, as we shall see, for the Temple and the royal palace. They also had to contribute taxes for the construction of “chariot cities” and forts to protect the trade routes and the approaches to Jerusalem. The biblical report, in I Kings IV, of the towns and districts called upon to make these contributions does not include Jerusalem itself, Bethlehem and Hebron—the seats of Solomon’s family—as if they had been relieved of the national duty. This may have been a contributory cause of the defection of the northern tribes following the death of Solomon.

“In the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel…he began to build the house of the Lord” (I Kings VI, I), and its construction was his most spectacular act. Nothing in the Bible is described in such great detail as the preparations for the actual building of this Temple.

The site chosen was the highest spot on the hill-city, the “threshing floor of Araunah the Jebustie” (II Samuel XXIV), which King David had insisted on buying and for which he had paid “fifty shekels of silver.” He thus acquired ownership of the land on which he himself erected an altar and upon which his son Solomon would later erect the permanent shrine. It was located to the north of the city compound as it existed in David’s day, where it stood within its own huge court. Tradition associates this site with Mount Moriah, scene of Abraham’s would-be sacrifice of Isaac, and to this day the Temple Mount is also referred to as Mount Moriah.

The whole of chapter VI and most of chapter VII in the First Book of Kings are given over to a detailed description of the architecture and interior decorations of the Temple. It was a thick-walled, rectangular building of squared stones and cedar beams, lying from east to west, about one hundred and ten feet long, forty-eight feet broad (the measurements include the wall-thickness), and more than fifty feet high. A huge porch extended on its eastern side and “side chambers” were built against the other three sides. A partition wall inside the Temple marked off the main hall from “the oracle…to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” This “oracle,” later called the Holy of Holies, was a cube of thirty feet, paneled, as was the main hall, with richly carved cedar, and floored with “planks of fir”—probably cypress wood. Lighting of the hall was through high lattice windows above the side chambers. The “oracle” was dark, lit by a single lamp. Overhanging the Ark were “two cherubims of olive wood, each ten cubits [15 feet] high,” and the Bible details numerous other decorations.

With its completion came the great day of dedication. And in the biblical description of the dedication ceremony may perhaps be found the answer to those who have suggested an incongruity between this sumptuous House of the Lord and the traditional simplicity with which the Hebrews had launched and nurtured the new, radical idea of monotheism. This was the only contemporary religion which fashioned no material shape or image of God. The heart of the Temple was the “oracle,” the gloomy cubicle containing the Ark, which from the days of Sinai was believed to have been “inhabited” by the Supreme Being. He was represented by no image. The Ark was reverently laid in the darkness of the inner chamber. “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord.” Towards this somber and image-less shrine, the people of Israel, crowding the sunlit court outside, worshipped His presence, while Solomon pronounced the nature of the One God (I Kings VIII.)

Through his words and those of the later prophets, the Temple and Mount Zion, the city of Jerusalem in which it stood, were to be invested with a unique sacredness, fount of the Jewish religion and central inspiration of the Jewish nation, long after the Temple had been destroyed, and throughout all the centuries of the Jewish exile.

Below the Temple (but also on high ground, believed to be Mount Ophel), and separated from it by a wall, rose another formidable building, the “House of the King;” and below that, Solomon constructed a large complex of royal buildings. They are described in I Kings VII. From these biblical details and from the contours of the site, we can recapture the appearance of this handsome cluster of structures, and a truly imposing spectacle they must have presented. On the highest point of the hill-city loomed the Temple, surrounded by its huge court. Below it, in a series of terraces and standing in their own courts, rose the royal palace and the “house for Pharaoh’s daughter;” the “porch of pillars;” the “porch for the throne;” and the large “house of the forest of Lebanon,” so named, presumably because its cedar beams rested upon forty-five pillars also of cedar wood brought from the Lebanon. The latter buildings served as the business quarters of the palace, offices where state affairs were conducted, assembly rooms, and the hall where Solomon sat in judgment. In addition to the walled courts in each of the terraces, the entire complex was encircled by a strong wall of stone, so that it must have appeared as a separate citadel in Jerusalem.

There are only fragmentary references to Solomon’s work on the fortifications of the city, nothing beyond the fact that he built “the wall of Jerusalem round about”—we cannot trace its line—and that he also “built Millo, and repaired the breaches of the city of David.” Millo, as we have already indicated, may have been the area between the Temple compound and David’s city. There is no clue as to what and where the breaches were that he repaired.

Many and considerable were the achievements of Solomon, statesman, diplomat, builder, trader, industrialist, administrator, philosopher, poet, man of peace, and man of God. Undoubtedly, his greatest act was the building of the Temple and the consolidation of Jerusalem as the religious center of his people.

However, in the process of his formidable work of national development, he displeased many sections of the population, notably—and the experience is not uncommon in our own day—by his taxation policy. By the strength of his personality he held the nation together, in a united Israel. On his death, the stresses proved too strong for his successor. He had reigned, like his father, some forty years. He died in the year 922 BC.

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