in our books and games based on the Phaistos Disk
by H. Peter Aleff
The ancient Jerusalem Temple Mount
and the Phaistos Labyrinth
We saw in the pages on Labyrinth clues that the string of fields from the Phaistos Disk falls into place on the square board with the Labyrinth- like path, and that this board had clearly been designed as an image of the ancient heaven.
The signs resembling northern star groups were correctly arranged to rotate around its "north pole", and the continuous path of the "falcon & serpent" pair in an orderly chess- knight's pattern around that pole and then around the center, in a sequence that parallels the Egyptian mythology, would be equally hard to explain as mere coincidence.
Moreover, the race between the dark and bright parts of the moon during the lunar month along its opposing sides, on the loop from field 11 to 40, is in the proper location for the ecliptic opposite that pole where this race takes place in the sky. The Labyrinth board combined all this, and more, into a simple diagram of heaven and its inhabitants.
Building a replica of heaven has been the unchanging goal of temple architects for many religions throughout the Ages. We see this in the earliest Sumerian and Egyptian sanctuary names, such as "house of heaven"1 or "companion of the gods"2, and the many Chinese "temples of heaven". The stars on the blue-painted ceilings of Egyptian temples express the same idea as the clouds and angels and other heavenly life- forms painted on European Baroque church ceilings.
The temple architects and their sponsors seem to have believed that enticing a god from heaven to visit or inhabit a dwelling on earth involved reproducing down here that heavenly being's original habitat.
This process started with the ground plan which was usually said to have been designed by the deity itself, as in the Sumerian king Gudea's dream and in several Egyptian inscriptions. The Jerusalem Temple is a well known example which also clarifies the role of the human who actually drew up the plans:
When the biblical king David gave its plans to his son Solomon for execution during the latter's reign, he said according to 1 Chronicles 28:19 :
In more modern terms, these plans reflected the temple architects' understanding of how their creator gods had designed the cosmos which they tried to reproduce in their diagrams.
The image of heaven preserved on the Phaistos Disk from Crete expressed such an understanding of the world and its workings. It is comparable in that to the mandalas which people in India used and use to visualize some aspect of the cosmos, and which turn up in the ground plans for many temples there. The Labyrinth mandala from the Disk described the complex life- cycles in the sky and on earth in an admirably simple diagram.
This understanding and its visual record may have survived among the Philistines who hailed from that general area and brought its culture with them when they settled in southern Canaan. Those initially dominant neighbors of the Hebrews even identified themselves with the sun-head from the Disk by imitating its unique rayed hairdo in their trademark "fluted crown" helmets.
We also are told in the Bible that David had spent much time among the Philistines before he became king. As a poet and musician, he must have been familiar with their traditions and their arts and would probably have appreciated the cleverly interlocked and amazingly coherent model of heaven on the Labyrinth board if his hosts still used this ancestral and probably venerated relic.
An alternate and equally possible path for the transmission of this knowledge could have gone through Phoenicia. Phoenician traders had long maintained a prominent presence in Crete and were well acquainted with its culture. They were also proverbial artistic borrowers who adapted the best designs and styles of their neighbors and used them freely in their own work.
These cosmopolitan go- betweens supplied the master builder and the craftsmen whom Solomon hired from Tyre to build his Temple in Jerusalem. It is easy to imagine that they could have brought the highly suitable Labyrinth mandala to this heaven- oriented project.
It may therefore be more than mere chance that this square Labyrinth board exhibits some curious similarities with the layout of the originally square Jerusalem Temple complex.
Our information about that layout is relatively late. It was transmitted in a Rabbinic tractate from late in the second century of our era3 and may therefore appear to refer to the then recently destroyed Herodian Temple.
However, Leen Ritmeyer, an archaeologist who spent much time studying the evolution of the ancient Temple Mount, points out that the Rabbis did not hold Herod in great esteem and seem to have roundly ignored him. He argues that they are more likely to have described the original plan because they list the Temple Mount still as square, long after the Hasmoneans and then again Herodes had enlarged it and made it rectangular4.
The Temple Mount layout derived from their dimensions is shown at right in the picture at the top of this page which you can click for a larger display. It is based on Ritmeyer's reconstruction.
Ritmeyer described in a series of articles for Biblical Archaeology Review how he located the corners of its original outer wall which measured 500 by 500 cubit square, as described in Middot 2.1., and then found two lines of evidence for the place where the Holy of Holies had stood within that square.
One such indication comes from a 16th century commentary on that Middot passage by one Tosefot Yom Tov who gave the distances from the four sides of the Temple Court to the edges of the surrounding Mount5:
(One "royal" or "long" cubit, as used in sacred buildings and encountered in ancient Jerusalem graves as well as in the remains of the Temple Mount, was about 20.67 inches long.)
This commentary may be late, but the distances it gives match Ritmeyer's discovery of the foundation trenches for the walls of the innermost Sanctum on photographs of the rock exposed under the Dome of the Rock, plus a rectangular recess cut into that rock that is of the right size and location for a foundation that may have supported the Ark of the Covenant6.
This so defined probable location of the Holy of Holies, in turn, is in the proper spot relative to the corners of the Temple Mount when the distances from the Rabbinic source and that late commentary are laid out on the ground.
The cubit dimensions within that Temple Court are, according to Middot 5.1.7:
The scribe of 2 Chronicles 4:1 adds that the bronze altar, which probably stood on the 32 x 32 altar base, was ten cubit high and 20 cubit square.
These dimensions, plus those for the sanctuary wall thicknesses and interior separations given in Middot 4.7.8, allow us to reconstruct quite precisely where each feature was located on the square Temple Mount described in those sources. That is the reconstruction shown in the drawing above.
The square Jerusalem Temple Mount was lined up approximately with the cardinal directions, its axis about three and a half degrees west from true north9. Its ground plan above is shown in the then prevalent Egyptian way of drawing maps where south was "up". North was at the bottom of the diagrams because the Nile flowed north and down10.
The Labyrinth board next to that plan parallels its orientation, its entrance also at the bottom towards the observer. If that bottom of the board is north, then the path from its entrance starts out towards the west, matching thereby the "Tar"- shirt in the first field which stood for "west". This starting direction matches also the traditional motions of the sun and moon along their path.
To make the comparison with the Labyrinth board more convenient for you, I overlaid that Temple Mount plan with two grids: the blue grid divides the total 500 x 500 cubit square into the 8 x 8 fields of the Labyrinth board, and the red grid does the same for the estimated 480 x 480 area inside its outer walls. I drew two grids because we cannot presume to know whether the designer would have used the entire square for laying out the board on it, or only the area available within its walls.
When you so compare this Temple Mount layout with the reconstructed Labyrinth board, you will notice that
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