Richard H. Ryder, 2017
Architecture is a fundamental component of Freemasonry, providing many rich and inspiring symbols to guide us on our Masonic journey. The Maven’s Journal will present a short series of articles to expand your awareness of architecture and some of its ties to Freemasonry. Starting with this first two- part installment on Solomon’s Temple, a future article will describe the Gothic architecture of so many European cathedrals. The Maven’s Journal will also present an article about the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as II Duomo di Firenze, in Florence, Italy. The story behind the building of this magnificent cathedral serves as a window into the lives of operative stone masons and the impressive structures they built so many years ago, several of which still stand today.
Solomon’s Temple: Part 1 – The Building
Solomon’s Temple, also known as the House of the Lord, is an important and inspiring symbol in Freemasonry. It represents the perfection we all hope to achieve, but which constantly alludes us. It also represents the inspiration of God and the potential within all of us to do great things. Lastly, Solomon’s Temple represents the spiritual temple within us, which we hope to build and strengthen with God’s help, through Masonic lessons, and our own exertions.
The Temple was built around 1000 B.C. by King Solomon, son of King David and Bathsheba. Built at Mount Moriah, it represented man’s faith in God. Taking over seven years to construct, it was said to have been started on the second day of the second month of the fourth year of his reign. The Temple stood for less than 400 years and, according to Christopher Hodapp in Freemasonry for Dummies, was situated where Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The Temple was twice destroyed – first by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. and later by the Romans.
King David’s Instruction to Solomon
I Chronicles 22 of the old testament tells us that King David desired to build a temple to the most-high God, but because he “hast shed much blood upon the earth”, the job of building the temple fell upon Solomon, his son and successor. David instructs Solomon to build the temple and proceeds to allocate “a hundred thousand talents [3,000 tons] of gold, a thousand-thousand [300,000 tons] talents of silver, and of brass and iron without weight; for it is in abundance; timber also and stone I have prepared”. Also, “there are workmen with thee in abundance, hewers and workers of stone and timber, and all manner of cunning men for every manner of work. Of the gold, the silver, and the brass, and the iron, there is no number”. In I Chronicles 28, David provides Solomon with specifics about the Temple, including the pattern of the porch, the treasures thereof, the upper chambers and the inner parlors, and the mercy seat. Solomon also identified the amount and purpose of gold and silver to be used.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary describes how the Temple was financed, stating that, “David, however, provided enormous amounts of weighted money and material of various sorts, acquired by ‘gifts’ and tribute from vassals dwelling between the Nile and the Euphrates. With this capital, and his own vast resources acquired by commercial and industrial expansion in cooperation with his ally, King Hiram of Tyre, Solomon began to build the Temple.”
The Temple’s Design and Completion
Ten broad steps led up to the temple’s outer porch, called the Ulam, that faced the east and caught the sun’s rays. Flanking the porch entrance, on either side of the Ulam, stood two bronze pillars called Boaz and Jachin. Once through the porch, according to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, priests entered the Temple through tall, narrow doors made of cypress and carved with symbolic cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers inlaid with gold. Ordinary worshippers were not allowed into the temple buildings.
After passing through the doors and past the doorkeepers, the priests entered the main or Middle Chamber, also known as the Hekel or Holy Place. It was a large central hall illuminated with filtered light from high Tyrian windows and contained gold lamp stands, an alter with golden incense censers, and other ceremonial items. Harper’s Bible Dictionary describes the dimensions as 45’ high, 30’ wide, and 60’ long. The stone floor was covered with cypress, and the room was lined and roofed with cedar.
According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the main chamber led to the smaller Sanctum Sanctorum, also known as the Debir or Holy of Holies. Only 30’ square it was the innermost sanctuary. Windowless and made with cedar and gold, it was believed to be the dwelling-place of God, built to store the Ark of the Covenant. Made from acacia wood and gold the Ark held the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses; the rod of Aaron; and a jar of manna, an edible substance God was said to have given the Israelites during their 40-year travels in the desert following the Exodus.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary further describes the upper stories of the temple, accessed through small doors and a set of interior or exterior stairs. These upper stories provided storage chambers and may have surrounded the Temple on all sides except the front.
In the book, World of the Bible, Roberta L. Harris describes the temple as follows: “The Temple was built of local Jerusalem limestone, with roof and beams of cedar. Inside, the walls were paneled throughout in cedar. The floors were pine and the doors were olive wood. The inner sanctuary and everything in it was overlaid with gold and ornamented with colored stone and glass.” The World of the Bible continued by saying that, “As described in the Bible, Solomon’s Temple was built of ‘undressed stone’ on a podium of ashlar masonry. It was rectangular in shape and according to the Bible measured…100 by 30 feet and stood 50 feet high…so it would have been easily visible above the city.”
Freemasonry for Dummies states that after completing the Temple Solomon spent the next 13 years building the rest of the citadel and royal palace, all while the temple went unconsecrated and unused. Finally, in 943 B.C., 20 years after the Temple was started, “the Ark of the Covenant was placed inside, and a celebration, the Feast of the Tabernacles, lasted for seven days, beginning a new era in Hebrew history.”