The Temple of Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (II Kings xxv. 9). It is usually supposed that its sacred site was desolate and unused for fifty years, until the accession of Cyrus made the rebuilding of the Temple possible. This view is shown by Jer. xli. 5 to be mistaken; for two months after the city was destroyed a company of men from Samaria, Shechem, and Shiloh came to keep the Feast of Ingathering at Jerusalem. It is true that Giesebrecht (ad loc.) argues that the men were bound for Mizpah and not for Jerusalem; but if that be so the whole narrative is meaningless. No reason is known why at this date men from a distance should go to Mizpah to worship. More probably they were on their way to Jerusalem, when the messenger from Mizpah enticed them into that town. It is probable, therefore, that, though the building was in ruins, the site of the Temple was used by the poor Hebrews resident in Palestine as a place of worship all through the Exile.

The Decree of Cyrus.

With the accession of Cyrus in 538 it became possible—that monarch replacing the old Assyro-Babylonian policy of transportation by a policy of toleration—for the Jews to resuscitate their religious institutions. The Chronicler, who wrote much of the Book of Ezra, represents Cyrus as issuing a decree for the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem; but this assertion is of doubtful authority. The Aramaic document in Ezra relates that the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away were delivered to Sheshbazzar with authority to take them back and rebuild the Temple (Ezra v. 14, 15). It states also that Sheshbazzar "laid the foundations of the house," but it is doubtful if any building was then done, as the house remained unbuilt in the time of Haggai, twenty years later. The Chronicler (Ezra iii. 1) declares that Zerubbabel (whom he puts in place of Sheshbazzar, thus placing him twenty years too early) "builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon"; but as Haggai (ii. 14) declared that all which was offered here was unclean, it is altogether probable that the altar was the same that had been used throughout the Exile, and that the Chronicler's statement is a mistake.

The Rebuilding.

In the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspes (519) the real rebuilding began. The people were aroused to the effort by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah; and in the course of three years the rebuilding was accomplished. It is now generally recognized that the representation in the Book of Ezra, that the work was begun immediately upon the accession of Cyrus and was then interrupted by opposition from Israel's neighbors, is unhistorical.


Of the dimensions of this Temple there are given but few data. Hecatæus, a Greek writer contemporary with Alexander the Great, is quoted by Josephus ("Contra Ap." i. 22) as saying that the Temple area was enclosed by a wall a plethra, or 500 Greek feet, in length and 100 Greek cubits in breadth, i.e., 485½ × 145½ English feet. The altar was built of unhewn stones in conformity with the precepts of the Law (comp. I Macc. iv. 44 et seq.). The dimensions of the building were probably the same as those of Solomon's Temple, though the edifice was apparently at first lacking in ornament. It was probably because the building was less ornate that the old men who had seen the former Temple wept at the sight of its successor (Ezra iii. 12; Josephus, "Ant." xi. 4, § 2). Nehemiah in rebuilding the city wall followed the lines of the former wall, and it is altogether likely that the old lines were followed in building the walls of the Temple also. The statement in Ezra vi. 3 that Cyrus gave permission to make the Temple 60 cubits high and 60 cubits broad has probably no connection with its actual dimensions: how the statement arose can now be only conjectured. The authorities for this period make no mention of the palace of Solomon. If the wall of the Temple was at this period less than 500 feet long, the whole Temple court occupied but about one-third the length of the present Ḥaram area, and less than half its width (comp. Baedeker, "Palestine and Syria," ed. 1898, p. 39). It is probable that the site of Solomon's palace either lay desolate or was covered by other dwellings.

The Temple was surrounded by two courts (I Macc. i. 22, iv. 48); but until the time of Alexander Jannæus (104-79 B.C.) it would seem that these were separated by a difference of elevation only. That ruler surrounded the inner court with a wall of wood because the Pharisees, with whom he was unpopular, had pelted him with citrons while officiating at the altar at the Feast of Tabernacles (comp. "Ant." xiii. 13, § 5). The inner court contained chambers for storing the garments of the priests (I Macc. iv. 38, 57). The stone altar of burnt offering probably occupied the site of the bronze altar in Solomon's Temple.

Furniture of the Temple.

The Temple, or Holy Place, seems to have had two veils or curtains at its front (ib. iv. 51). It had also one holy candlestick, a golden altar of incense, and a table of showbread (ib. i. 21, 22). Separated from the Temple by another veil was the Holy of Holies (Josephus, "B. J." v. 5, § 5). According to Josephus, this contained nothing; but, according to the Mishnah (Mid. iii. 6), the "stone of foundation" stood where the Ark used to be, and the high priest put his censer on it on the Day of Atonement. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 22b), the Second Temple lacked five things which had been in Solomon's Temple, namely, the Ark, the sacred fire, the Shekinah, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim.


In the time of Nehemiah there were two towers,named respectively Hananeel and Meah, which probably formed parts of a fortress on the site afterward occupied by the tower Antonia (comp. Neh. xii. 39, and Mitchell in "Jour. Bib. Lit." xxii. 144). The small size of the Temple area at this period makes it improbable that this fortress adjoined the Temple court. The "gate of the guard" (Neh. xii. 39) was probably an entrance into the Temple court on the north side. From the time of Zerubbabel to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes the history of this Temple was comparatively uneventful. Sirach (Ecclus.) l. 1 et seq. says that "Simon, son of Onias, the great priest," repaired the Temple and fortified it; but the text of the passage is corrupt. In the year 168 Antiochus, as a part of a policy to enforce Hellenistic practises on the Jews, robbed the Temple of its candlestick, golden altar, table of showbread, and veils (these being its distinctive furniture), and compelled the high priest to sacrifice swine upon its altar. This led to the Maccabean revolt (comp. I Macc. i.), as a result of which the Jews after three years regained possession of their Temple and rededicated it. They carefully replaced the stone altar of burnt offering with stones which had not been defiled, and replaced the other characteristic articles of furniture (ib. iv. 43-56). Judas Maccabeus at this time fortified the Temple with high walls and towers (ib. iv. 60, vi. 7); so that thenceforth the Temple was the real citadel of Jerusalem. These walls were pulled down by Antiochus V. (ib. vi. 62), but were restored by Jonathan Maccabeus ("Ant." xiii. 5, § 11). The fortifications were afterward strengthened by Simon (I Macc. xiii. 52). At the time of the rededication, in the year 165, the front of the Temple was decorated with gilded crowns and shields (ib. iv. 57).

At some time during the ascendency of the Hasmonean dynasty a bridge was built across the Tyropœon valley to connect the Temple with the western hill ("Ant." xiv. 4, § 2). This bridge was probably situated at the point where Robinson's arch (so called because its nature and importance were first discovered by Prof. Edward Robinson; see his "Biblical Researches," ed. 1856, i. 287 et seq.) may still be seen. The nature and purpose of this bridge have been regarded as obscure problems; but there can be little doubt that the structure was intended to afford easy access to the Temple from the royal palace which the Hasmoneans had built on the western hill ("Ant." xx. 8, § 11). From this palace the movements of people in the Temple courts could be seen, as Josephus records; and as the Hasmoneans were high priests as well as monarchs, the purpose of the bridge is clear.

In 63 B.C. Pompey, the Roman general, captured Jerusalem and had a hard struggle to take the Temple ("Ant." xiv. 4). In the conflict the bridge was broken down. In exploring Jerusalem Sir Charles Warren found its remains, or the remains of its successor, lying in the ancient bed of the Tyropœon valley eighty feet below (comp. Warren and Conder, "Jerusalem," p. 184, London, 1884). Pompey did not harm the Temple itself or its furniture; but nine years later Crassus plundered it of all its gold ("Ant." xiv. 7, § 1). In 37 B.C Herod during his siege of Jerusalem burned some of the cloisters about the courts, but did not otherwise harm the Temple (ib. 16, § 2).

  • See Temple of Herod.
E. C. G. A. B.
Images of pages