KING SOLOMON'S TEMPLE
by John W. Alexander, PM
There is a vast Masonic literature concerning the building of King Solomon's Temple, both in the form of books and as papers prepared for Lodges of Research. I hesitate to imagine that this humble effort will find an enduring place among them. Nevertheless I present it because I have always considered my study to be for my own advancement and/or diversion and its results do not represent any "official" line. No brother is obliged to accept them, or even agree with them. However if anyone finds them of interest or of value in his own study, he is welcome to make use of them.
No modern brother should attempt an essay on the Temple without reference to Brother Alexander Horne's scholarly "King Solomon's Temple in the Masonic Tradition": indeed, I would go so far as to say it would be impossible to produce a comprehensive study of the Temple without duplicating Bro. Horne's work at least to some extent. Accordingly I must immediately acknowledge my indebtedness to him, although, in his defence, I accept my conclusions as my own. In this paper, references to the Ritual are to be taken as to that of the Ancient York Rite, and those to the Bible, as to the King James Version.
I hope, this afternoon, to present an overview of the position the Temple occupies — and has occupied — in the Masonic system, and also, by an examination of the Biblical record, to describe the building and address some of the perceived exaggerations of which some brethren have accused the ritual from time to time.
The Temple In a Masonic Context
The first reference a candidate receives to King Solomon's Temple is when he is taught to wear his apron in the manner in which the apprentices working on the Temple wore theirs. Since he has just been informed that his apron is the greatest Masonic gift he is ever likely to receive, his appreciation of its importance is doubtless extended to include the structure where it is said to be first worn. Very shortly afterwards, in the Lecture, he learns that the very manner of his preparation for Masonry was dictated by the conditions that prevailed at the construction. In quick succession, he is taught that the First Ornament is a representation of the Temple's ground floor — although, as we shall shortly see, it wasn't — and that the very orientation of his lodge is dictated by that of the Temple. So, he will go away from his very first meeting with the impression that King Solomon's Temple is of some significance to his new experience.
But it doesn't stop there. When he presents himself to be passed, he finds more about the Temple. Once again his apron is to be worn in the manner favoured by King Solomon's Operatives. He even finds that his wages are representative of those paid at that Temple building site and that he has to go to a representation of one of the Temple's apartments to receive them. During that process he is further imbued with the importance and magnificence of the Temple.
Finally, he discovers that the only way he can be raised to the summit of his new profession is by experiencing certain events that took place shortly before its completion. He now finds that he is classed with, and identified as a member of the highest class of workmen involved in that monumental construction.
If he develops an interest in contemporary Masonry, as we hope he will, he will shortly find brethren who "came in at the other door of Alberta's Masonic system. He will still find he can "talk Temple" with them, though, for although the Canadian Rite may use different illustrations, it still sees its roots in Solomon's incomparable structure. If he travels abroad he will still be at home in the Temple. I, myself was raised in Scotland, in a Rite different from both of those in Alberta. But I didn't have to learn anything new about the Temple in order to fit in here. And I have talked with brethren from the length of England who knew the same facts as I do about the Temple and its relevance to the Degrees -and this despite the fact that Britain has almost as many different rituals as it has lodges. Well ... Masonic Provinces, anyway.
If the new brother develops an interest in Masonic history, as we hope he does, he will find that this involvement with Temple imagery is spread as far back as he can go. Many lodges have old rituals which have been returned by a well respected brother's family after hiss death. If he reads these, he finds that even at the beginning of this century, the Temple occupied the same place in the Degrees. Further back still, William Preston's "Illustrations of Masonry" shows that the Speculatives of 180 years ago used the Temple as a framework for their symbolism. Preston was initiated in a "Moderns"' Lodge, that is, one which held its warrant from the Premier Grand Lodge of 1717, but William Hutchinson, who belonged to the other side of the Great Schism, showed in "The Spirit of Masonry" that the so-called "Antients" were just as devoted to this ancient house of worship.
Many people believe that, since the Sublime Degree, can be shown to be a development of the Speculative era — although some scholars would dispute this — that the Temple imagery dates from this period too. But even before Speculative Masonry began, our Operative brethren had references to the Temple in their manuscript histories — which we refer to as the "Old Charges", The Cooke Manuscript, the second oldest Masonic document in existence, dating back to 1410, still has the Craft present and active at the building of the temple.
This is an interesting point in itself, for the document was written only eleven years after the invention of printing and more than forty years before the first printing press was set up in London. Even though the bulk of printed material was religious in content, almost all of it was commissioned by the Church for its own use. So there were few, if any Bibles, available for the lay people. Since the document implies a body of knowledge older than itself, it argues strongly for an even more ancient oral tradition of the Temple amongst the Operatives.
So, even the most casual observer cannot avoid the conclusion that King Solomon's Temple is a "core theme" in Masonic thinking; one of the most important themes, if not the most important that we have. Someone who knows us, but not the Temple, would be bound to think that it must have been a most imposing structure to command such respect.
Well, in some ways it was, but in just as many ways it was not and in the next section, I would like to attempt to describe the Temple using what the Bible has to say about the first stone-built House of God.
There are two "major accounts" of the building of King Solomon's Temple in the Bible. There are a few other references scattered through the Old Testament, and, fortunately, for the accounts are by no means there is a considerable body of material relating to Jewish worship and religious practices from which we can draw inferences and make deductions to round out the picture.
The two "major Accounts" are contained, one in the sixth chapter of the First Book of Kings, and the other in the third and fourth chapters of the Second Book of Chronicles. These two accounts are quite distinct from each other. We may regard them as parallel but not identical, and there are some discrepancies between the two, as we shall see. Of the two accounts, the one in the First Book of Kings is considered the more accurate, as it is believed to have been written by a contemporary of the King, that is, someone who had seen the Temple. The Chronicles account was recorded by a scribe writing after the Babylonian captivity, that is, three to four hundred years after the Temple was destroyed. Many believe that his account is "doctored" to provide some inspiration to contemporaries engaged on the rebuilding, much as Ezekiel's account is less a description of Solomon's Temple than a record of Ezekiel's belief of what a Temple ought to be. It was more of a "wish list' than a description.
Unfortunately, the First Book of Kings was one of the most poorly preserved sections of the Old Testament. This, coupled with the technical language of the original writer — which was translated by theologians and not architects — and the obvious evidence of redaction which it has experienced, make it, accurate or not, a difficult document to understand.
"Redaction" is defined as the art of arranging material, especially literary material, in systematic order, the resulting digest being made by an editorial staff. Many redacted documents show evidence that some of their original content was modified, or even eliminated, if the editors considered it inconsistent with the canons of religious usage and propriety which prevailed in the age when the redaction took place. From this we can see that even with an account in front of us, we still have no guarantee that our conclusions will be historically accurate. We are frequently thrown back on the old maxim that "what is not said is often more informative than what is said." With this in mind let us see what we can find out about the Temple which Masons regard with such reverence.
The old walled city of Jerusalem was roughly four sided, built on four hills: — Akra to the Northwest, Bezetha to Northeast, Zion to the Southwest and Moriah to the Southeast. A spur runs south from Moriah and is called Ophel. Surrounding the city were deep ravines, the Valley of Hinnom on the West and South and the Valley of Kedron on the East. From this we will see that the North side is more exposed and, in fact, it was usually from the North that the city was attacked. (Is this the true origin of the Masonic belief that the North is "a place of Darkness" (i.e. ignorance)?
The Temple area was about 35 acres in extent — that is about one sixth of the entire city. It occupies the summit of Mount Moriah and its walls varied in height from 30 to 160 feet above the foundations the result, no doubt, of constructing a level platform partly on the hill and partly in the Tyropoeon valley which ran through the centre of the city. This valley was once 70 feet deep, although it has been filled over the ages and is now a shallow depression.
This platform is now occupied by the Dome of the rock, a shrine built by Abd-el-Melik in 686 A.D. That was already a longer time after Solomon's Temple than we are after it. Inside is the Sacred Rock from which Moslems believe Mohammed ascended to heaven. This rock is 60 feet long by 45 feet broad and stands up to 6 feet above the floor. The site has obviously long had sacred associations for the Jews believe it was the altar on which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. It is of interest to our present study because it is said to be the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite which David purchased from him for fifty shekels of silver to be the site of his temple. (see 11 Samuel xxiv, 24.)
The Temple area was an artificially constructed platform, made by building the walls round the summit of Mount Moriah and filling behind them with earth. There are said to be vaulted chambers below the area, a feature which forms the basis of the Thirteenth Degree of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite. The labour involved in such a construction would seem incredible nowadays. Remember we are talking about three thousand years ago. Not for them the earth-moving equipment, not for them the skyscraper crane, not for them the pneumatic tools. They had their own muscles and their own ingenuity. A team of oxen was as much help as they could hope for to carry stone up to the course where it was to be laid. And some to those stones were massive indeed.
In 1864 the British-based Palestine Exploration Fund financed an expedition to Jerusalem. In their subsequent report is a description of a foundation stone located at the southwest corner. It was 38 feet long by 12 feet wide and 3 1/2 feet thick! This monster weighed over eight tons. And when the platform was completed and work on the actual House was begun, the writer of Kings tells us that there were stones in the foundations "of ten cubits and stones of eight cubits" that is, stones between 12 and 15 feet long. No wonder — and no exaggeration either — that there were 80,000 men employed in the building.
When the platform was completed, work on the actual House continued. Like most ancient temple structures its own foundation was raised above ground level as a solid block of masonry which would be approached by steps cut into the foundation. The storerooms for the year's supply of olive oil for the lamps, for the wine and flour and for the incense all used in the Temple services would be built into this foundation block.
With all this preparation, all this labour, we can't avoid just a smidgen of anticlimax when we read the actual size of the Temple. The writer of Kings tells us that "the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits and the breath thereof thirty cubits." So, there we are, brethren. Using the old Egyptian building-cubit of 18", which was the common measure before the Babylonian Captivity our "core theme" building was 90 feet by 30 feet by 45 feet high. Eureka Lodge in Lacombe is about that size; the Central Masonic Temple in Edmonton is bigger. Is this what occupied more than 110,000 men for seven years? A building with the same proportions as a house brick standing on its edge, which would fit inside many a parish church and still leave room for the services? To say nothing of trying to cram seven times as many Masons as there are in Alberta into it all at the same time in order to pay them!
Our problem here is that in considering the Temple, we are wont to visualise its role as that of a modern cathedral, that is, as a place of worship. But that was never King Solomon's intention. What he built was "an House for the Lord to dwell in". No public worship — as we understand the term — ever took place inside it. In fact, the public wouldn't be allowed near it! For this was the successor of the Tabernacle and we read, in Numbers, chapter 1, volume 51, "And when the Tabernacle seffeth forward," (i.e. when it is to travel) "the Levites shall take it down and when the Tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up, and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death." King Solomon, as the Lord's anointed, was obviously exempted from this ban — at least for the dedication ceremony — but he still conducted the ceremony from the porch! So, since the house was for the Lord's use only, and the only human beings who were allowed inside were the Levites, it didn't have to be all that big. The public worship was conducted by the priests in the Temple courts surrounding the building. This is why such a small building needed a 35 acre site. Incidentally, although it has nothing to do with the Temple, a Roman legionary camp usually covered an area of 35 acres. Since this was big enough for the 5,000 men and all their equipment, we can imagine that an area this size would accommodate a great many more people who were just there for a short period.
We all know, of course that the Temple was aligned due East and West. We should be aware, however, that this is exactly the opposite orientation from our modern churches. The early Christians purposely changed the orientation of their churches to make them opposite from those of the Jews, whom they saw as being responsible for the Crucifixion. As a result, in "our" Temple, the Sanctuary, which the writer of Kings calls "the oracle" was in the West of the house and the great gilded doors faced the rising sun.
The Kings account tells us that King Solomon placed chambers round about the House on the North, West and South sides — this, alone, argues for the door being on the East side — in which he placed all the treasures David had gathered for the House. The chambers were three stories high, each storey being five cubits, or 7'6". This makes the full height, allowing half a cubit for the floors and ceilings, sixteen cubits or 24'. From there, the walls of the House rose straight to the roof and at the top were windows, wider inside than they were outside. The chambers varied in width, the lowermost storey being the narrowest at five cubits and each succeeding one wider than the one below it by a further cubit. This suggests that the outer wall of the House and the inner surface of the chamber wall were stepped back half a cubit at each five cubit height for the beams to rest on for the Kings account records that the beams did not pierce the wall of the House. The second or middle storey is of interest to us, of course, and Kings tells us that the access door was in the right side of the House, that is the South side, and there was a "winding stale" up to the chamber.
The roof was most probably flat, despite many people's desire to consider a ridged roof. Most oriental temples in antiquity had flat roofs, even when they were much wider than this structure. Ordinary 12" square timber, let alone the famed cedars of Lebanon, is quite capable of supporting a 30 foot span without internal pillars. Kings tells us "that he covered the building with beams and boards of cedar," but we can be sure that it was also covered with pitch and had gutters, too, for the annual rainfall is almost as much as in British Columbia.
In front of the building was a porch. The wording of Kings indicates that it was joined to the building but it is not very clear if it was flush with the facade or if it projected forward from the building. My own understanding is that it projected forwards ten cubits, or 15 feet, but I have seen several photographs of models of the Temple which all show a flush facade. My own opinion that it projected forward is based on the Chronicles account which gives its height as 120 cubits, or 180 feet.
Kings doesn't mention its height and many have seen evidence of fantasy in this aspect of the Chronicles account, since such a height is twice the length of the House and four times is height and, at first glance, would seem to be an architectural monstrosity. However when we remember that the writer of Chronicles had most likely never seen the Temple and was compiling an account from hearsay evidence, and when we remember, also, that when Jehoash, the sixth king of Judah after Solomon, repaired the temple, he added a high tower over the porch most likely for new moon or other astronomical observations, we can accept that perhaps the Chronicles inadvertently combined the two reports. I feel that such a tower would have involved less structural modification to the House if it were built over a projecting porch than over one recessed into the facade.
The building was of white stone, actually Dolomite, a compound of magnesium and calcium carbonate. There is a bed of this material, forty feet thick lying under the entire city of Jerusalem and about a hundred yards from the Damascus Gate can still be found a cave which expands into a perfect labyrinth of chambers. These are called "King Solomon's Quarries" and, indeed, visitors have reported that evidence of ancient quarrying activity can still be seen to this day. Dolomite has a most peculiar quality. When first extracted from the surrounding rock it is comparatively soft and workable. But, with exposure to sunlight, it becomes hard and able to take a good polish. This may be the reason why the stone was worked at the quarries before being transported to the building site where it would undoubtedly have proved too hard to carve. There is thus a perfectly satisfying and Masonically practical reason why "there was neither hammer nor axe not any tool of iron heard in the House when it was in building." Note, though, that this only applied to the stone part. We shall now see that there had to be a fair bit of noise once the finishing trades came in.
If the glory of King Solomon's Temple wasn't in its size, the opulence of its interior was more than enough to make up for it. Some scholars have calculated that fitting out a building to a similar standard today would cost close to half a billion dollars! At last, we have something to sing about. King Solomon, it seems, had a thing about gold. He had gold everywhere. The walls were lined with wood but the wood was covered with gold. The floor was planked with two different kinds of wood: — cypress for the eastern portion but cedar for the Sanctuary, although why he made the distinction is beyond me for he covered both kinds with gold. This is why we know there had to be some hammering going on for the Chronicles account tells us that the weight of the gold nails used in the "oracle" alone, was fifty shekels. Now screws were unknown at that time so they must have been hammered in.
There was gold on the ceiling, gold on the floor gold on the walls and gold on the doors, there were gold furniture and lampstands the Altar of Incense was of gilded wood; even the curtain between the outer House and the Sanctuary was embroidered with gold thread. No wonder the people weren't allowed in! No wonder the mouth of Shishak, King of Egypt watered.
There was a partition two thirds of the way along the nave of the House behind which was the oracle, more familiar to us as the Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies. The Kings writer tells us that this apartment was a cube of 20 by 20 by 20 cubits. Since the partition made it 20 cubits long, and the building was 20 cubits broad to begin with, we can only assume that it was roofed over at a height of 20 cubits also, for we remember that the House was actually 30 cubits high.
One thing has always struck me as curious. This is the manner of the decoration. Kings tells us that there were carvings of cherubim all over the walls, culminating in two gigantic figures of gilded olive wood in the "oracle" each fifteen feet high with outstretched wings which spanned the entire width of the building. Now, the second commandment expressly forbids the carving of "anything that is in heaven above ... etc." and so this would seem to be a deliberate violation of the Mosaic law. It may be that the "cherubim" were symbolical figures, expressly carved to represent something that Solomon imagined could not be in heaven above" but he would have to be awfully sure to take such a risk. In any case, it seems the Lord was pleased with the House Solomon had made for him, for his reign is still regarded as the "golden age" of Israel — no pun intended.
In considering the interior arrangements, we note a discrepancy with our ritual, in that the floor was covered with wood, actually two different kinds, and then sheathed with gold. This is totally unlike the First Ornament of a lodge, which, we are told is a representation of the ground floor of the Temple.
Some scholars have asserted that the original "Lodge" at the Temple was situated in the porch and that it was this which was paved like the First Ornament. However I would like to point out a real historic jewel here for you. The Vulgate Bible, the old Latin translation renders the appropriate verse, I Kings vi, 15, as "Stravit quoque pavimentum templi pretissimo marmore decore multo" "He paved also the floor of the temple with most precious marble of great beauty". This is not at all an accurate translation of the original Hebrew text, which is much more accurately rendered in the King James Version. However, when we remember that our operative brethren were active more than two hundred years before the King James Bible was produced (and, according to our own York Legend, more than six hundred years before it), we realise that the Vulgate Bible was the one to which our ancient brethren had access, where they had access to a Bible at all. So, this tiny apparent discrepancy may be the oldest existing link we have with the great cathedral builders from whom we are descended.
It cannot have escaped your notice that I have made no mention of the pillars in the porch. I admit that these are so prominent a feature in our ritual that no account of the Temple could be considered complete without them. However, as I sorted through my material, I found that I actually had more material on the pillars than I had on the Temple. And much of it was of opposing views and opinions. To attempt to reconcile the material and present it would have made this paper so long we would have needed a rest in the middle. Accordingly, I decided to omit the pillars from this paper, with the promise that I will deal with them in a separate paper as soon as my work is complete.
In conclusion, I hope I have demonstrated that not only does the actual Temple justify the high regard in which Freemasons hold it, but also that even those parts of our ritual, felt by many brethren to be exaggerations are much closer to the truth than has been supposed.
The Work. Ancient York Rite.
Holy Bible. King James Version.
Preston, William. Illustrations of Masonry. Northamptonshire England: The Aquarian Press. Reprinted 1986.
Hutchinson, William. The Spirit of Masonry. Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press. Reprinted 1987.
Young, Joseph. The Temple of Solomon. British Masonic Miscellany, Volume 9.
Rev. E.R. Biggs, B.D. The Temple of Solomon. British Masonic Miscellany, Volume 9.
Horne, Alexander. King Solomon's Temple in the Masonic Tradition. The Aquarian Press.