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Temple Scroll Revisited: The Gigantic Dimensions of the Visionary Temple in the Temple Scroll, Magen Broshi, Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov-Dec 1987.

Dead Sea Scrolls - test chart

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Temple Scroll and its contents have already been described at some length for BAR readers by the scroll’s editor, the late Yigael Yadin. Until his untimely death in 1984, Professor Yadin was Israel’s most famous archaeologist.a The Temple Scroll is the longest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls (27 feet), and it may well be the most important.

I would like to make one small additional point about the Temple Scroll relating to the size of the temple envisioned in it.

Of five major subjects dealt with in the scroll, the foremost is the temple, its design and the ordinances pertaining to it. This subject occupies almost half the length of the scroll; hence, the name Yadin gave to the scroll (the original name is unknown).

The temple compound as described in the scroll consists of three concentric square courts—the inner court, the middle court and the outer court. In the midst of the inner court would stand the temple and the various buildings connected with it.

Clearly, this was not the temple that existed when the scroll was written. Although the date of the scroll’s composition is still an open question (see “Is the Temple Scroll a Sixth Book of the Torah—Lost for 2,500 Years?” by Hartmut Stegemann, in this issue), it was certainly composed at least a century before Herod the Great began rebuilding the Temple at the end of the first century B.C. The temple described in the Temple Scroll obviously does not refer to the temple that existed in Herod’s time. Nor does it refer to the temple to be built by the Lord at the “End of Days.” Instead, it refers to a man-made edifice, to be constructed on terra firma according to the author’s own conception. As would be the case with Herod’s temple, the greatest effort was to be expended on the temple courts.

When Herod rebuilt the Second Temple, the temple proper was completed in 17 months1 and the porticoes in eight years.2 The completion of the whole compound, however, lasted, with intervals, for some 80 years. Only under the procurator Albinus (62–64 A.D.) were the “works” of the temple (that is, the gigantic esplanade) finished. At that time, 18,000 laborers were laid off.3 This was only a few years before the Great Revolt, the First Jewish Revolt, against Rome (which broke out in 66 A.D.). The mass unemployment caused by the completion of the temple works may well have caused considerable social unrest, which undoubtedly would have contributed to the outbreak of the revolt.
By comparison with the temple described in the Temple Scroll, the Herodian Temple was a miniature. Let us look at the size of the gigantic temple compound described in the Temple Scroll.

The square outer court would be 1,600 cubits on a side. This is about 2,500 feet or half a mile on a side.4 The total area of the temple compound would be 160 acres. In comparison, Herod’s Temple compound (which was the largest artificial esplanade in antiquity) was only about a quarter as big. In addition, the temple described in the Temple Scroll would be surrounded by a moat 100 cubits (165 feet) wide. The total area of the temple compound described in the Temple Scroll was, coincidentally, precisely the size of Jerusalem in the second century B.C.5

The outer court of the temple would stretch all the way from the present-day Damascus Gate in the west to the slopes of the Mount of Olives in the east.

To build the complex described in the Temple Scroll would require solving serious topographical problems. Creating a level space on which to build this gigantic project would require as much work as the building project itself.

Leveling the ground would require filling in the Kidron Valley (to raise it about 250 feet) on the east and quarrying rock on the west. This would have meant removal of millions of tons of soil and rock, all by human muscle. A feasible feat, I suppose, but extremely impractical. But after all, practicality was not the Dead Sea sect’s forte.

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