in our books and games based on the Phaistos Disk
by H. Peter Aleff
The ancient Jerusalem Temple Mount layout
and the Phaistos Labyrinth
Let us now examine these striking overlaps between the Labyrinth board and the Temple layout. Click on the above detail from the Temple Mount layout drawing in the preceding page, and you will see how well the major features of the architects' plan match up with their counterparts on the Labyrinth grid.
The north pole from the red 480 x 480 cubit grid falls into the south-west corner of the innermost sanctum, two and a half cubit from its south edge, or an even eighth of its width, and two from its back wall in the west, amounting to one tenth of its 20- cubit length.
The fit is even better when you consider that the Holy of Holies was also theologically the most appropriate place for the projection of the north pole since both were the dwelling place of God.
The north pole in the sky was a preferred abode of the high gods in many cultures, a natural choice as the one fixed and thus privileged spot in the entire cosmos that revolved around it. The universe was driven by and ruled from this all- important axis; in addition, the constellations closest to it never sank below the horizon and were therefore called the "Immortals".
The immortal God of Israel was also believed to dwell in the north. The prophet Ezekiel saw him coming from that direction in his most dramatic visions. Also, Psalm 48:2 says God had his city on a mountain in "the farthest reaches of the north". Its writer then goes on with an image that could well refer to the stars revolving in unison around the pole:
Verse 9 of the same Psalm appears to further confirm the proposed connection between the sky and its replica on earth:
Similarly, Solomon said in his Temple inauguration prayers that God had "chosen to dwell in thick darkness" (1 Kings 8:13). This fits the always dark Holy of Holies as well as the celestial north pole at night, the only time when observers could locate it. By day that region of the sky is no different from most others, but darkness lets you deduce this hidden center of the world from its surrounding stars, as illustrated on the Labyrinth board.
The outdoor altar fits also neatly into the enlarged central square of the grids, and the approach to its ramp suggested by my arrows in the drawing above continues the pattern of the Labyrinth path with its reversal of direction after each turn.
The base of that altar ends half a cubit before the blue line and protrudes on the ground two cubit beyond the red one. If that altar base had sloped sides, as such unhewn stone structures usually did for structural reasons, the red grid might even have defined its upper edge.
The required batter of two cubit per side would have made the footprint of the ramp 32 cubit long to its top. This would have matched the bottom of the altar base as well as the width of the sanctuary.
Matching this dimension may have been important to the number mystics of the time because in the Jewish tradition, 32 was the number of "mystical paths of wisdom" with which God had created the world, meaning the first ten numbers and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The red grid passes also just one cubit before the back of the porch and before the entrance of the sanctuary. It may well have corresponded there to a threshold or to a face of the sanctuary doors.
As to the overlap of the entrances into the overall squares, the Temple Mount was a busy place and had many gates, but only one of these was enhanced by a special gate building that set it apart. This was the so-called Prison Gate in its north wall.
This Prison Gate was also singled out as the ceremonially most important entrance when the prophet Nehemiah rededicated the newly repaired walls of Jerusalem. He chose this gate as the destination for his western half of the double procession past the other gates. He also seems to have met there the group that had gone along the eastern wall because in the next sentence, both thanksgiving choirs then "took their place in the house of God" (Nehemiah 12:39 and 40).
Having the principal gate of the ancient Temple Mount open to the north may at first sight seem strange because the people of Jerusalem lived in the city to the south. However, we saw that God was believed to dwell in the north. Since the precinct was built for him, it probably made sense to place the formal entrance to his dwelling on earth in his direction, and to make lesser openings for human access where needed.
The size and location of the Prison Gate on the picture in the previous page are scaled from a ground plan of the ancient Temple Mount by Leen Ritmeyer1. The width of the gate house on his drawing is about the same as the width of a Labyrinth field, and he shows that structure near the middle of the north side, just to the west of its center. This puts it in the same location as the entrance into the Labyrinth board.
The name of this Prison Gate is another clue to its possible connection with the Labyrinth because it does not seem to have referred to a conventional prison. The path through this gate led out to open countryside; there was no place for a prison that would have to be guarded and maybe also protected against marauders or an inmates' friends.
The gate building itself would not have been suitable for a prison either since it was more vulnerable to attack or escape than any building within the outer walls. Moreover, keeping prisoners there would have interfered with its role as gate house and defense stronghold.
The only logically possible place for a prison would have been within the fortified square reached through that Prison Gate. However, that square was the Temple Mount. It would seem strange if any of the consecrated ground there had been used for such a profane purpose.
Although some ancient Mesopotamian temples seem to have included prisons and even places of torture and execution, no similar accounts are reported about the Jerusalem Temple. So why did its only formal gate have this odd name?
The puzzle resolves itself when you consider that the mythological role of the Labyrinth was to serve as a prison. The now best known example is the legendary one in Crete which was built to confine and hide the Minotaur.
This creature was a hybrid of man and bull, and he was thoroughly calumnied by the Classical Athenians who had an ax to grind with the Cretans for their lack of participation in the Persian wars.
Once you strip the anti-Cretan propaganda from the myth about Theseus the Athenian Minotaur- slayer and the Labyrinth, then the supernatural bull-man, kept in the deepest recess of an elaborate building, was simply the Cretan version of the Apis bull whom the Egyptians venerated as a god and kept in a special temple sacred to Ptah.
Ptah was one of the Egyptian creator gods and specially renowned as the patron of artists and craftsmen, forerunner in that to Daedalus the crafty architect of the Cretan Labyrinth.
That supernatural bull-headed being in its dark house in Crete resembled also many of the chief gods in other ancient Near Eastern pantheons. Like the Ugaritic Baal who had asked the Syrian divine counterpart of Daedalus to construct him a palace without windows to dwell in, these gods typically wore horns and were addressed as "mighty bull".
Their group included the God of the Hebrews for whom Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple and who appears in the Bible as the "Bull of Jacob"2. Some of his followers venerated him as a golden calf or a young bull, and the altars which symbolized his presence had horns.
The analogy with the Cretan bull- god hidden in a dark and inextricable maze suggests that the references to the Labyrinth design in the Temple ground plan may have been intended, in the metaphorical thinking of the time, to keep and maintain the presence of Jacob's mighty God hidden within its innermost recess.
This was the purpose of putting up the Temple in the first place since it was to be God's dwelling. His throne room in it was as dark, and for all practical purposes as inaccessible, as the Minotaur's lair in the Cretan Labyrinth, or as the pole in the sky which that Labyrinth represented.
Hints for a connection between the Labyrinth and the Jerusalem Temple pop up again and again, but they are misty and hard to nail down. We saw on the page about the labyrinth riddle the legend that some of the medieval church labyrinths in northern Italy and France were copied from a design the biblical king Solomon had allegedly used in the Jerusalem Temple.
The labyrinth researcher W. H. Matthews cited an earlier author who had asserted in 1817 that the pavement Labyrinth in the cathedral of Reims in France was the emblem of the Jerusalem Temple's interior. Unfortunately, that author had not given his source for that identification3, and there seems to be no known earlier record of that legend.
Similarly, the French church Labyrinths were often called "chemin de Jérusalem", but this designation is documented only from post-Renaissance times on. So is the custom of penitents following the winding Labyrinth path on their knees to the heavenly spot at the center, a performance which counted as a substitute for a pilgrimage to the real Jerusalem.
These tales of links between the Labyrinth and Solomon's Temple appear therefore at first sight as if they might be a late invention. However, this easy dismissal does not explain why we would find several similar late but apparently independent connections again in widely separated places.
Hermann Kern, an art historian who assembled a large collection of Labyrinths from all over the world in a monumental work titled "Labyrinths: manifestations and interpretations, the 5000-year presence of an archetype"4, devotes a chapter to "The Labyrinth of Solomon" and mentions several examples:
King Solomon was an eminent figure in Ethiopia, as central to that country as the Founding Fathers are to the United States of America, but of much older standing. This kingdom had been ruled since the second century of our era by the Solomonids, with only two relatively brief interruptions. The last member of that exceptionally enduring dynasty, emperor Haile Selassie I, even added in 1955 a clause to the Ethiopian constitution that the monarchy was founded by the son whom King Solomon had sired with the Queen of Sheba, and that it must therefore remain in his line forever. (He was deposed in 1974, and the monarchy got abolished a year later.)
With traditions about Solomon so deeply woven into the country's life, and with the often attested longevity of magical lore, the link between him and the Labyrinth in that late amulet could therefore quite probably have been based on earlier legends.
The story about Solomon's Labyrinth as harem, built to hide and confine its female inmates, and one wife's abduction through a tunnel, matches again its designation as a prison. It further echoes the many tales about Labyrinth fortresses, from India and Afghanistan to England and Scandinavia, in which a fair maiden to be won had been emprisoned5.
Interestingly, the Jewish traditions personified the presence of God as a beautiful lady who appears in the Bible as Woman Wisdom and in the folklore as the Shekinah, the bride of the expected Messiah. The Shekinah's name came from a root that means "dwelling"; she was believed to have resided in the Temple and was then exiled from Jerusalem by its destruction, paralleling that harem wife's abduction from Solomon's Labyrinth.
Even the biblical Hebrew name of the dark Holy of Holies in the deepest recess of Solomon's Temple associates it with the equally dark and inaccessible Cretan labyrinth. That name appears in 1 Kings 6 as "debîr" which is commonly transliterated as "debir" although the value "e" for the first vowel in that word is an arbitrary convention since ancient Hebrew was written without vowels.
The Italian linguistic scholar Francesco Aspesi pointed out in 1996 that this word is very similar to the Mycenaean, and presumably also ancient Cretan, word for "Labyrinth" which shows up on three of the Linear B tablets from Knossos as the archaic genetive "da-pu2-ri-to-jo".
The corresponding nominative "daburito" has long been translated as the later Greek word "labyrinthos" because the replacement of an ancient "d" with an "l" was a common phenomenon throughout the Mediterranean world. Already ancient writers such as Terentius Varro (116 – 27 BCE) mentioned this substitution in a few terms of his Latin lexicon "Lingua Latina" (V, 26, 3) and slightly later Marcus Fabius Quintilian (about 35 to 100 CE) first pointed out the now well known example of Odysseus having become Ulysses6.
Both "debir" (or possibly "dabir"?) and "daburito" thus designated in each of their respective neighboring cultures an inaccessible dark and sacred space in a building reserved for the cult of a divine being associated with a bull. These parallels appear too numerous and too close for mere coincidence, and they add further weight to the proposed connection between Solomon's Temple and the ancient Labyrinth.
Yet another clue about a possible role of the Labyrinth in the Jerusalem Temple comes from the Roman-era Jewish historian Josephus. He described the Temple of his time which had been renovated or rebuilt by king Herod. According to him, the golden doors to the inner sanctum were hidden behind a curtain which was
That view of the heavens without the then very popular Zodiac accurately describes the design on the Labyrinth board. If that ancient design had indeed been connected with the plans for the original Temple, it would have been a natural choice for the later builders to use it in the new one. By displaying this influential and probably hallowed mandala and sky map in such a privileged place, they would have emphasized the continuity of their work with its venerated earlier model.
All this is circumstantial evidence, and none of it amounts to proof. The puzzle still has many gaps, but the pieces assembled so far seem to suggest that the ground plan of Solomon's Temple precinct, as well as the embroideries on this curtain in its successor, may have been based on the diagram of heaven from the Labyrinth board.
(That Temple layout reproduced not only this astronomical map but expressed also the story of Genesis 1 by means of some surprising mathematical relationships, as you can see on the Creation by Constants page in our Constants section.)
Continue to the e-book about the Board Game on the Phaistos Disk where you will find these and other themes discussed in more detail, or buy the splendidly crafted Game of the Goose and of the Labyrinth at www.gamepuzzles.com
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