The Foundations of Solomon's Temple
(and the building too)

God had David's son, Solomon, build a temple for His Name in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. This temple was subsequently destroyed, due to Israel's persistent rebellion, at the time of the Babylonian captivity. One thing that is certain about this structure is that it was magnificent in splendor and beauty. Though the second temple, after the additions paid for by Herod (the Great), may have been larger, it is unlikely to have rivaled that of Solomon. (Timeline of these events).

1 Chronicles 22:1-5 Then David said, "The house of the Lord God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel." 2 So David gave orders to assemble the aliens living in Israel, and from among them he appointed stonecutters to prepare dressed stone for building the house of God. 3 He provided a large amount of iron to make nails for the doors of the gateways and for the fittings, and more bronze than could be weighed. 4 He also provided more cedar logs than could be counted, for the Sidonians and Tyrians had brought large numbers of them to David. 5 David said, "My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it." So David made extensive preparations before his death. (NIV)

1 Chronicles 22:14-16 "I [David] have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the Lord a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone. And you may add to them. 15 You have many workmen: stonecutters, masons and carpenters, as well as men skilled in every kind of work 16 in gold and silver, bronze and iron-craftsmen beyond number. Now begin the work, and the Lord be with you." (NIV)

Other than the descriptions in the Bible, we have no additional histories describing the temple built by Solomon.1 The majority of what little remains at the temple mount site pertain to the second temple destroyed in A.D. 70. But there may be more traces of the original than what seemingly meets the eye. One thing any modern visitor to the Middle East should be familiar with is the ongoing use of stones in secondary usage. Many buildings and structures have been built and rebuilt utilizing stones (building blocks, pillar pieces, monuments, etc) that have been re-cut and used again. Most often this results in the original stone being reduced in size for the subsequent structure.

This building at Banias shows how stone is recut and used over again.
More recent periods almost always end up with smaller stones.
Four distinct eras and stones sizes are in view here

Notice the western wall at the temple mount. Herodian blocks are at the street level
and go up to a series of recut blocks from the Crusader/Muslim era.

Consider how many years of work went into building the first temple, not only in Solomon's reign but also in the final years of David's as preparation of materials was already under way. Stonecutters were not surprisingly one of the specific duties underway at the very beginning. Even with what had already begun and the plans provided by David, Solomon appears to have increased the level number of people working on the temple, and perhaps the magnitude of some aspects.

1 Kings 5:15-18 Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, 16 as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workmen. 17 At the king's command they removed from the quarry large blocks of quality stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. 18 The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and the men of Gebal cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple. (NIV)

1 Kings 6:1-7 In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord. 2 The temple that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high. 3 The portico at the front of the main hall of the temple extended the width of the temple, that is twenty cubits, and projected ten cubits from the front of the temple. 4 He made narrow clerestory windows in the temple. 5 Against the walls of the main hall and inner sanctuary he built a structure around the building, in which there were side rooms. 6 The lowest floor was five cubits wide, the middle floor six cubits and the third floor seven. He made offset ledges around the outside of the temple so that nothing would be inserted into the temple walls. 7 In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built. (NIV)

Two of the things especially emphasized, in these passages from 1 Kings, included that the material quarried by Solomon's command featured "large blocks of quality stone" for the foundation and that no stone dressing was done on the temple mount site. 2 This is an incredible statement and feat. By most opinions of today, moving large stones from another mountain would have required dragging them, resulting in necessary damages requiring onsite fixes. But, the Bible is clear; Solomon had put in place a means by which this movement could be done without damage. It should not be a surprise that this ancient king had the knowledge, or wisdom, to direct this. He specifically had appealed to God for wisdom and God granted it in abundance. In fact, the Bible tells us that until Jesus he was the wisest man who ever lived.

1 Kings 3:7-12 "Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" 10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. (NIV)

1 Kings 4:29-34 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite - wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (NIV)

1 Kings 5:7 When Hiram heard Solomon's message, he was greatly pleased and said, "Praise be to the Lord today, for he has given David a wise son to rule over this great nation." (NIV)

Matthew 12:42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. (NIV) [See Luke 11:31 also]

Solomon's extraordinary and legendary wisdom was employed in governing the people and in matters such as building the temple. The scope of how many people were involved in stonecutting alone is incredible.

2 Chronicles 2:1-2 Solomon gave orders to build a temple for the Name of the Lord and a royal palace for himself. 2 He conscripted seventy thousand men as carriers and eighty thousand as stonecutters in the hills and thirty-six hundred as foremen over them. (NIV)

2 Chronicles 2:17-3:4 Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. 18 He assigned 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working. 3:1 Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David. 2 He began building on the second day of the second month in the fourth year of his reign. 3 The foundation Solomon laid for building the temple of God was sixty cubits long and twenty cubits wide (using the cubit of the old standard). 4 The portico at the front of the temple was twenty cubits long across the width of the building and twenty cubits high. (NIV)

2 Chronicles 8:16 All Solomon's work was carried out, from the day the foundation of the temple of the Lord was laid until its completion. So the temple of the Lord was finished. (NIV)

Below ground level at the temple mount on the western wall (the arch was built against it)
Note the large foundation block at the bottom (more on this below)


Many of these passages go out of their way to emphasize the laying of the foundation. Not only is a good foundation necessary for a large stone structure, but logically it would have employed the largest stones - a memorable thing for all those present to see. To this day, on the western wall of the temple mount, one huge foundation stone perhaps bares testimony to the original. The stone is estimated to weigh about 500 tons, with no piece of machinery on earth today capable of moving it. While some attribute this stone to Herod's later rebuilding project, it is out of character with the blocks he utilized elsewhere. The blocks of Herod's time, though large, would have been much more manageable to move into (and around) the temple mount area. By his time the environment surrounding the temple was much more populated, than in Solomon's day when there was only a city south of the mount. It appears that the aforementioned gigantic block, close to the location of the Holy of Holies, was left intact by the subsequent rebuilding following the exile and by Herod's reconstruction project. It certainly is much larger than the block size Josephus records as being used by Herod. 3 Many other large blocks were likely re-cut and placed in secondary use, including those in the original foundation.

When the temple was rebuilt and in Herod's later improvements, Solomon's instruction that no stone carving take place on site had fallen out of view. The builders of Ezra's time would have needed to reuse materials, or else haul them away, as much of it remained in place following its earlier destruction.4 With the scarcity of resources at that time, hauling the old stones away would have been seen as a waste. (Note that Ezra 3:1-9 refers to bring in new timbers, not stones, and yet stonemasons were working there.)

The result of re-cutting and reusing earlier stones was clearly evident to those who witnessed the second while still having memory of the first - it paled in comparison to the original.

Ezra 3:10-12 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: "He is good; his love to Israel endures forever." And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. (NIV)

As amazing as these structures were, the final word (for believers) goes to Stephen's history and witness as recorded in the book of Acts.

Acts 7:45b-50 It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God's favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built the house for him. 48 "However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: 49 "'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not my hand made all these things?' (NIV)


This huge block stretches from beside the camera's position to
where the author's son, Scott, is standing

Same huge foundation stone (author at far end), showing a bit higher on the stone.
Note the indentations carved into it. These were not originally in the stone, but
were carved later to support wooden beams for structures built against the wall.


End Notes

1. While there are ancient historians that refer to Solomon's temple, I could not find eyewitness accounts apart from Scriptures. First century historian, Josephus, who was quite accurate regarding his contemporary accounts, was also dependant on outside materials and calculations to furnish the history of the Jews in Old Testament and inter-testament times. An example of how this can fail can be seen in regards to his dating of the building of Solomon's temple. Josephus, in referring to the final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., also refers back to the prior temple:

"However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were now observed, as I said before, wherein the holy house was burnt formerly by the Babylonians. Now the number of years that passed from its first foundation, which was laid by king Solomon, till this its destruction, which happened in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, are collected to be one thousand one hundred and thirty, besides seven months and fifteen days; and from the second building of it, which was done by Haggai, in the second year of Cyrus the king, till its destruction under Vespasian, there were six hundred and thirty-nine years and forty-five days." (Flavius Josephus: Wars of the Jews 6.4.8)

By Josephus' reckoning, the temple was begun by Solomon around 1059 B.C., a calculation that is off by many decades.

2. Why Solomon did not want any stone dressing done on site is not completely clear from Scriptures, though it certainly would have shown the temple to be something extraordinary. One thought is that Solomon was trying to adhere to the same standard as the altar on Mount Ebal, built immediately after Israel entered the Promised Land, or at least to some degree.

Deuteronomy 27:4-6 And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. 5 Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool upon them. 6 Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. (NIV)

3. Josephus recorded the recent history of Herod's reconstruction at the temple. He specifically noted the average size of Herod's stones and that they were capable of being moved by "wagons".

1. AND now Herod , in the eighteenth year of his reign, and after the acts already mentioned, undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God, and make it larger in compass, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude, as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection; and that this would be sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him; but as he knew the multitude were not ready nor willing to assist him in so vast a design, he thought to prepare them first by making a speech to them, and then set about the work itself; so he called them together, and spake thus to them: "I think I need not speak to you, my countrymen, about such other works as I have done since I came to the kingdom, although I may say they have been performed in such a manner as to bring more security to you than glory to myself; for I have neither been negligent in the most difficult times about what tended to ease your necessities, nor have the buildings. I have made been so proper to preserve me as yourselves from injuries; and I imagine that, with God's assistance, I have advanced the nation of the Jews to a degree of happiness which they never had before; and for the particular edifices belonging to your own country, and your own cities, as also to those cities that we have lately acquired, which we have erected and greatly adorned, and thereby augmented the dignity of your nation, it seems to me a needless task to enumerate them to you, since you well know them yourselves; but as to that undertaking which I have a mind to set about at present, and which will be a work of the greatest piety and excellence that can possibly be undertaken by us, I will now declare it to you. Our fathers, indeed, when they were returned from Babylon, built this temple to God Almighty, yet does it want sixty cubits of its largeness in altitude; for so much did that first temple which Solomon built exceed this temple; nor let any one condemn our fathers for their negligence or want of piety herein, for it was not their fault that the temple was no higher; for they were Cyrus, and Darius the son of Hystaspes, who determined the measures for its rebuilding; and it hath been by reason of the subjection of those fathers of ours to them and to their posterity, and after them to the Macedonians, that they had not the opportunity to follow the original model of this pious edifice, nor could raise it to its ancient altitude; but since I am now, by God's will, your governor, and I have had peace a long time, and have gained great riches and large revenues, and, what is the principal filing of all, I am at amity with and well regarded by the Romans, who, if I may so say, are the rulers of the whole world, I will do my endeavor to correct that imperfection, which hath arisen from the necessity of our affairs, and the slavery we have been under formerly, and to make a thankful return, after the most pious manner, to God, for what blessings I have received from him, by giving me this kingdom, and that by rendering his temple as complete as I am able."

2. And this was the speech which Herod made to them; but still this speech aftrighted many of the people, as being unexpected by them; and because it seemed incredible, it did not encourage them, but put a damp upon them, for they were afraid that he would pull down the whole edifice, and not be able to bring his intentions to perfection for its rebuilding; and this danger appeared to them to be very great, and the vastness of the undertaking to be such as could hardly be accomplished. But while they were in this disposition, the king encouraged them, and told them he would not pull down their temple till all things were gotten ready for building it up entirely again. And as he promised them this beforehand, so he did not break his word with them, but got ready a thousand wagons, that were to bring stones for the building, and chose out ten thousand of the most skillful workmen, and bought a thousand sacerdotal garments for as many of the priests, and had some of them taught the arts of stone-cutters, and others of carpenters, and then began to build; but this not till every thing was well prepared for the work.

3. So Herod took away the old foundations, and laid others, and erected the temple upon them, being in length a hundred cubits, and in height twenty additional cubits, which [twenty], upon the sinking of their foundations fell down; and this part it was that we resolved to raise again in the days of Nero. Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve; and the whole structure, as also the structure of the royal cloister, was on each side much lower, but the middle was much higher, till they were visible to those that dwelt in the country for a great many furlongs, but chiefly to such as lived over against them, and those that approached to them. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 15.11.1-15.11.3)

4. When the temple was destroyed, the Babylonians were not interested in hauling away the debris; they merely wanted it destroyed so that it could no longer be used. In fact, they would have wanted the debris left as a monument to what would happen to all who would resist them. It is likely that, other than the top blocks of the foundation, which would have been damaged and cracked by fire, the lower blocks would have been left in place and merely buried by the rubble above. Some of the people who lived in the land may have carted off some of the rubble for secondary use, something quite common in ancient times, but it is more likely that the Jews who remained would have revered the spot to such a degree that they would have chosen to leave it be.

2 Kings 25:8-10 On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9 He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. 10 The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. (NIV)