When David tried to build a temple to house the ark, God told him that it was a job for his offspring (2 Sam. 7:12). Now that the offspring is on the throne, it’s time to get cracking!

As I’ve learned from my many watchings (and re-watchings) of Bob the Builder, the first step to any construction project is to make sure you have all your materials (well, actually, Bob is quite clear that the first step is planning, but I assume the narrator is just skipping over that stage). For help, Solomon sends to King Hiram of Tyre, who had provided cedar trees, carpenters, and masons when David had built his palace in 2 Sam. 5:11-12, and who is described as having been a good friend of David’s. The narrative actually has Hiram contact Solomon first, when his reign begins, to remind him of what good friends he and David were. I’m sure that was political, though, and not a bid for a big construction contract.

In his message to Hiram, Solomon explains that David had been unable to build a temple “because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him” (1 Kgs 5:3) – a different explanation from what we were given in 2 Sam. 7, though they aren’t mutually exclusive. Now that there is peace, Solomon has the time to focus on his great works. He offers to send servants of his own to supplement Hiram’s, and to pay wages for Hiram’s workers. Hiram agrees with the stipulation that Solomon pay him in food for his household, and makes arrangements to send the wood down by sea from Lebanon. Both parties agree, Solomon sends Hiram 20,000 cors of wheat and 20,000 cors of beaten oil per year, and the two make a treaty.

Solomon’s next problem is finding the labour. Rather than offering appealing wages and other incentives, he decides simply to raise a levy of forced labour, to be directed by Adoniram, mentioned in 1 Kgs 4:6, and presumably the same person as the Adoram in 2 Sam. 20:24. Thirty thousand people are conscripted, to serve in groups of 10,000 for one month each in rotation (one on, two off) in Lebanon. Solomon also procures 70,000 burden-bearers and 80,000 hewers of stone to work in the hill country, presumably forced labour as well.

Paul Davidson has a great discussion about the various forms of slavery in the Bible that doesn’t fall under the category of “private ownership of slaves.” The term he uses in place of levy is “corvée,” – “the “right” of the king to force his subjects into mandatory labour as a sort of taxation for public works and other projects” (whereas “levy,” at least in my mind, carries the connotation that the services is to be military in nature). Davidson continues to explain that the nature of the slavery described here is one of temporary service for a specific task, citing 1 Kgs 9:22 (“But of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves”) to argue that this forced labour was socially considered to be a separate class from slavery.

Also, if the list in 2 Sam. 20:24 is correct, it seems that the practice of this kind of forced labour was already happening under David, and not a Solomonic invention to deal with the building of the temple. Another detail I noticed is that the levies are only said to be raised “out of all Israel” (1 Kgs 5:13), whereas the nation has generally been referred to as “Israel and Judah” for the last little while. I’m not sure of this is significant and Solomon is only “recruiting” from tribes other than his own, or if his is just a different source that is reverting to the earlier use of “Israel” to refer to the whole populace.

Solomon also brought in men from Gebal to do the hewing and preparation of the materials for construction, as well as a master stonemason named Hiram of Tyre, who was  the son of a Naphtali woman and a Tyrian man (1 Kgs 7:13-14).

Construction

We’re told that construction on the temple began in the 418th year since the Hebrews came out of Egypt, and the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. Even more specifically, it began in Ziv, which would be somewhere around April-May. According to my New Bible Commentary, there are a few problems here, the first being with the number of years since the exodus, which “would put the Exodus about 1447 BC, which is not in keeping with other evidence, either biblical or extra-biblical. There are indications that this verse may be a late gloss in the text. It is inserted two verses earlier in LXX, and reads ‘440’ instead of ‘480’” (p.328).

There’s another issue with the beginning month. Ziv is said to be the second month of the year in the text, yet it “was the second month of the later Babylonian calendar, but the eighth month of the pre-exilic calendar. LXX omits in the month of Ziv” (p.328).

What follows is an incredibly long description of the temple. The TL;DR version is that it’s pretty small for something that was meant for congregation-based worship activities, so it was likely used more for priestly rituals. All the stone used in the construction was prepared at the quarry  to reduce the amount of noise at the site – the reason is not stated, though I’m sure we’re to assume that it was for cultic reasons and not because Solomon lived nearby and liked to sleep in.

There was an innermost chamber to house the ark, and an outer nave or entryway that was a bit larger. Surrounding both were chambers. If I understand correctly, there was another structure surrounding this inner centre with a courtyard buffer. The inside of the temple was panelled with cedar and either foiled or inlaid with gold – the inner sanctuary entirely so, so that none of the stonework could be seen. This panelling was apparently quite ornate, as mention is made of images of gourds and open flowers.

Basically, it looked like this:

1 Kings 6

Perhaps as part of the temple complex, he made two free-standing pillars of bronze, one named Jachin and the other Boaz. My New Bible Commentary says that: “the use of free-standing columns in front of the Temple is attested in coins which were found at Sion and on the sculpture which tells that the pillars before the Baal temple at Tyre held a fire which glowed at night. It has been suggested that the pillars in front of Solomon’s Temple may have contained a sacred fire reminding the Israelites of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night of the wilderness period; but all suggestions are largely speculative” (p.330). In other words, for all the ink wasted in the description of the temple, frustratingly little information actually comes through.

On the names of the pillar, my New Bible Commentary explains that Jachin meant “he establishes” and Boaz meant “in him is strength” (p.331), both perfectly plausible literal names.

There was also a “molten sea” (1 Kgs 7:23) – a round structure filled with water and standing on twelve oxen – three facing out toward each compass point. According to Collins, “the symbolism of these objects is not explained, but the sea recalls the prominence of Yamm (Sea) in the Ugaritic myths” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.135).

All through the temple were images of various flowers, fruits, and animals – which is difficult to reconcile with the rather clear prohibitions in Exodus 20:4, Leviticus 26:1, and Deuteronomy 27:15.

In addition to all of this were stands, lavers, pots, shovels, and basins. Once the construction was over, Solomon brought in all the stuff David had already begun collecting and dedicating for storage in the temple’s treasuries.

The entire construction took seven years to complete.

It seems that the temple may have been part of a building complex that included Solomon’s personal apartments (which seem to have been called the House of the Forest of Lebanon), his Egyptian wife’s apartments, a Hall of Pillars (whatever that might have been used for), a Hall of the Throne (from which he made his kingly pronouncements), and a Hall of Judgement (in which he presumably saw petitioners like the two prostitutes in 1 Kgs).

As fancy as the temple seem to have been, it took only seven years to build. Solomon’s own house took thirteen. As Brant Clements puts it, “That may say something about how YHWH rates….”