and numerals and their ancient religious uses in our e-book
Ancient Creation Stories told by the Numbers
by H. Peter Aleff
The mathematics of Genesis 1
in the layout of the Jerusalem Temple
The biblical accounts about Solomon's Temple give a few of its dimensions but not enough for reconstructing the layout. The oldest surviving information about the detailed layout of the entire Jerusalem Temple precinct is relatively late. It was transmitted in a Rabbinic tractate from the end of the second century of our era1 and may therefore appear, at first sight, to refer to the then recently destroyed Herodian Temple.
However, the Rabbis did not hold Herod in great esteem. Herod was an Edomite, and Edom was a traditional enemy of Israel, so hated that the Rabbis often used the word "Edom" as a substitute for "Rome" since it was unsafe to condemn the Roman occupiers openly.
Herod also built temples to other gods besides the God of Israel, and he placed an Imperial eagle, a symbol for the Roman emperor's divinity, on the Jerusalem Temple to the God who forbade all worship of others. For these and other reasons, the pious Rabbis surnamed him "the Wicked" and saw him as nothing but a puppet of the despised overlords2. They seem to have roundly ignored him and his deeds.
Leen Ritmeyer, an archaeologist who spent much time studying the evolution of the ancient Temple Mount, argues that those Rabbis are also more likely to have described the original plan of king Solomon's First Temple because they listed the Temple Mount still as square, long after the Hasmoneans and then again Herodes had enlarged it and made it rectangular3.
In a series of articles for Biblical Archaeology Review4, Ritmeyer described how he located the corners of the Temple Mount's original outer wall which the Rabbinic Middot 2.1. lists as measuring 500 by 500 cubit square. Based on the royal cubit of 20.67 inches which he had found used in several tombs near Jerusalem and other structures from Solomon's time, these corners formed a square of almost exactly 500 cubit.
According to Ritmeyer, the Temple Mount and its outer walls can be traced back only to just after Hezekiah’s time, and he suggests that these walls may not yet have been built by Solomon but might have been added later.
However, it seems hard to imagine that Solomon would have left his precious Temple precinct filled with gold galore yet without strong defensive walls. So shortly after his father’s frequent wars and easy conquest of Jerusalem, he must have worried about protecting his treasury’s gold reserve even more than the keepers of Fort Knox do today in a country far more secure.
Moreover, the square precinct appears also to be mentioned in 2 Chronicles 29:3 where we learn about king Hezekiah:
“In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the gates of the house of the Lord and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites and gathered them together in the square on the east side.”
The reason for the gathering was to remind his audience to hallow the Temple, so it is likely that he held it near that Temple and pointed to it during his speech.
"On the east side" also fits this scenario because that puts the gathering in front of the Temple, the most obvious spot for such a harangue. The east side of the Temple Mount was the largest area available for such a gathering because the southern half of the Mount was occupied by several royal buildings.
All this suggests that the “square” meant the square Temple Mount. If this Mount was originally square, as located by Ritmeyer, then that Rabbinic tradition is more likely than not to describe the building of king Solomon the Wise and not that of Herod the Wicked.
The Temple Mount layout derived from that tradition is shown in the picture at the top left of this scroll which you can click for a larger display. It is based on Ritmeyer's reconstruction from those Rabbinic data and from a 16th century commentary by one Tosefot Yom Tov who gave the distances from the four sides of the Temple Court to the edges of the surrounding Mount :
cubit to the south,
100 cubit to the west, and
115 cubit to the north.
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. He also drew attention to a rectangular recess cut in that rock that is of the right size and location for a foundation that may have supported the Ark of the Covenant.
The 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. This adds further support to the proposed connection of that source with the original layout.
The distances within that Temple Court are, according to Middot 5.1.5, and again in cubit :
South to North
30 Ramp to Altar
32 Base of the Altar
8 Altar base to Rings
24 Area of the Rings
4 Rings to Tables
4 Tables to Small Pillars
8 North of Small Pillars
135 Total Court South to North
East to West
11 Court of the Israelites
11 Court of the Priests
32 Altar Base
22 Altar to Porch
11 Space behind Temple
187 Total Court East to West
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.
Middot 4 Mishnah 7 gives the sanctuary wall thicknesses and interior separations6:
Adding these fifteen cubit per side to the seventy above makes that porch 100 cubit wide.
These Rabbinic dimensions match those given in the biblical descriptions of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings 6 & 7 and 2 Chronicles 3 & 4, except for an apparent difference in two items: the length of the sanctuary and the size of the porch before it.
The difference between the sanctuary lengths of 61 cubit Rabbinic versus 60 in the Bible is easily explained. The scribe of 1 Kings 6:2 said the “house” was sixty cubits long by twenty cubits broad” whereas the later author of 2 Chronicles 3:3 gives these same dimensions for the “foundations”. We also find in 1 Kings 6:17-20 that the sanctuary in front of the inner shrine was 40 cubit long, and that the inner shrine behind it was 20 cubit square and twenty high. This yields an apparent total length of 60 cubit.
However, these were inside dimensions. Both 1 Kings 6:23-28 and 2 Chronicles 3:10-13 subsequently give the wingspans of the two cherubim: the wingtips of each were ten cubit apart, and those of the two touched each other as well as the opposite walls. This makes it clear that the twenty cubit cube of the inner shrine was its inside, not the width of the entire building, or of the foundations on which its walls stood.
The biblical scribes’ confusion of the technical building terms indicates that they were only concerned with inside dimensions and ignored wall thicknesses. This may be why they did not include the one cubit thickness of the partition between the inner shrine and the sanctuary before it, although both mentioned the richly embroidered veil between the two, and 1 Kings 6:31-32 further implies a solid wall there because it says that
“At the entrance to the inner shrine, he [Solomon] made a double door of wild olive; the pilasters and the door posts were pentagonal (or had five nested and successively recessed frames)7. The doors were of wild olive, and he carved cherubim, palms, and open flowers on them, overlaying them with gold and hammering the gold upon the cherubim and the palms.”
These elaborately ornamented doors would not have been set into the veil but into a wall behind it, probably also made of wood. That door and wall, plus the heavy veil before them, would easily have occupied the additional one cubit which the Rabbinic data listed for the thickness of that partition.
The biblical scribes omitted to count this partition because they described only the space enclosed, not the walls around it, and their total of sixty for the "house" or even the "foundations" simply added up the available inside lengths and ignored all walls, exterior as well as interior.
The difference in the measurements for the porch or vestibule before the sanctuary may be due to the same difference in emphasis on inside versus outside dimensions. The Rabbinic data give that porch as 100 cubit broad and as adding 16 cubit to the length of the sanctuary, whereas 1 Kings 6:3 tells us that
The copyist who wrote 2 Chronicles 3:4 left out the length of the horizontal projection but added that the height of that vestibule was twenty cubit, and that Solomon overlaid it on the inside with pure gold.
The “whole breadth of the house” could again not have been twenty cubit, but it was that inside width plus the walls and outer chambers that surrounded them, so this technically wrong statement, as well as the golden overlay, confirm again that the biblical writers who recorded the measures were only concerned with the inside of the structures they described.
Their twenty cubit broad porch may have referred to a central chamber in that porch, right before the sanctuary doors, and omitted again all mention of walls around that chamber, or of the side extensions from that porch. If these side extensions were indeed only used to store butchering equipment, they would not have rated a mention next to the gold-clad antechamber of the sanctuary.
This difference between counting the full width of the porch, or only the inside of its most important part, can account for the difference with the much larger outside width in the Rabbinic total.
Also, the inside length of that antechamber is ten cubit in the Bible but eleven in the Rabbinic layout. The difference may correspond to the gold- covered wall paneling which could easily have taken up half a cubit, or about ten inches, on each wall.
The above dimensions allow us to reconstruct quite precisely where each feature was located in the square Temple precinct they describe.
Their perfect fit with the results of the quasi- equations that match the narrative from Genesis 1 suggests that these dimensions were meant to express that account of creation in the Temple layout.
And if that Mishnah tractate refers indeed to the First Temple, as the above arguments suggest, then this account must have existed in Solomon's time, contrary to the current scholarly mainstream consensus which holds Genesis 1 to be a relatively late priestly addition from post-exilic times.
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