King Solomon Builds the Temple

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This third installment from The Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus comments on the building of Jerusalem's temple by King Solomon. Josephus describes the layout and many of the dimensions of the structure, the decorations it contained, as well as the furniture and implements specially created for its operation and worship of God. Other study materials in this series are listed at the bottom of this article.

King Solomon began to build Jerusalem's temple in the fourth year of his reign, on the second month. Now that year on which it began to be built was already the eleventh year of the reign of Hiram; but from the building of Tyre to the building of the temple, there had passed two hundred and forty years.

Foundation laid

Now, therefore, Solomon laid the foundations of the temple very deep in the ground, and the materials were strong stones, and such as would resist the force of time. These were to unite themselves with the earth, and become a basis and a sure foundation for that superstructure which was to be erected over it. They were to be so strong, in order to sustain with ease those vast superstructures and precious ornaments, whose own weight was to be not less than the weight of those other high and heavy buildings which Solomon designed to be very ornamental and magnificent.

They erected its entire body, quite up to the roof, of white stone. Its height was sixty cubits, and its length was the same, and its breadth twenty. There was another building erected over it, equal to it in its measures; so that the entire altitude of the temple was a hundred and twenty cubits. Its front was to the east. As to the porch, they built it before the temple. Its length was twenty cubits, and it was so ordered that it might agree with the breadth of the house. It had twelve cubits in latitude, and its height was raised as high as a hundred and twenty cubits.

Small rooms

Solomon also built round about the temple thirty small rooms, which might include the whole edifice, by their closeness one to another, and by their number and outward position round it. He also made passages through them, that they might come into on through another. Every one of these rooms had five cubits in breadth, (1) and the same in length, but in height twenty. Above these there were other rooms, and others above them, equal, both in their measures and number; so that these reached to a height equal to the lower part of the house; for the upper part had no buildings about it.

The roof

The roof that was over the house was of cedar. Every one of these rooms had a roof of their own that was not connected with the other rooms. For the other parts, however, there was a covered roof common to them all, and built with very long beams, that passed through the rest, and rough the whole building, that so the middle walls, being strengthened by the same beams of timber, might be thereby made firmer.

As for that part of the roof that was under the beams, it was made of the same materials, and was all made smooth, and had ornaments proper for roofs, and plates of gold nailed upon them.

The walls

And as King Solomon enclosed the walls with boards of cedar, so he fixed on them plates of gold, which had sculptures upon them; so that the whole temple shined, and dazzled the eyes of such as entered, by the splendor of the gold that was on every side of them.

Solomon dedicates the temple in Jerusalem
Solomon dedicates the temple in Jerusalem
Johann Georg Platzer

Now the whole structure was made with great skill of polished stones, and those laid together so very harmoniously and smoothly, that there appeared to the spectators no sign of any hammer, or other instrument of architecture. It was as if, without any use of them, the entire materials had naturally united themselves together, that the agreement of one part with another seemed rather to have been natural, than to have arisen from the force of tools upon them.

Solomon also had a fine contrivance for an ascent to the upper room over the temple, and that was by steps in the thickness of its wall; for it had no large door on the east end, as the lower house had, but the entrances were by the sides, through very small doors. He also overlaid it, both within and without, with boards of cedar, that were kept close together by thick chains, so that this contrivance was in the nature of a support and a strength to the building.

Divided into two parts

Now when Solomon had divided the temple into two parts, he made the inner house of twenty cubits [every way], to be the most secret chamber, but he appointed that of forty cubits to be the sanctuary. When he had cut a door-place out of the wall, he put therein doors of cedar, and overlaid them with a great deal of gold, that had sculptures upon it.

The king also had veils of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and the brightest and softest linen, with the most curious flowers wrought upon them, which were to be drawn before those doors.


He also dedicated for the most secret place, whose breadth was twenty cubits, and length the same, two cherubims of solid gold; the height of each of them was five cubits (2). They had each of them two wings stretched out as far as five cubits; wherefore Solomon set them up not far from each other, that with one wing they might touch the southern wall of the secret place, and with another the northern. Their other wings, which joined to each other, were a covering to the ark of the covenant, which was set between them. Nobody, however, can tell, or even conjecture, what was the shape of these cherubims.

Everything covered in gold!

He also laid the floor of the temple with plates of gold; and he added doors to the gate of the temple, agreeable to the measure of the height of the wall, but in breadth twenty cubits, and on them he glued gold plates. And, to say all in one word, he left no part of the building, neither internal nor external, but what was covered with gold.

The king also had curtains drawn over these doors in like manner as they were drawn over the inner doors of the most holy place. The porch, however, had nothing of that sort.

Now Solomon sent for an artificer out of Tyre, whose name was Hiram. He was by birth of the tribe of Naphtali, on the mother's side, (for she was of that tribe,) but his father was Ur, of the stock of the Israelites. This man was skillful in all sorts of work. His chief skill lay in working in gold, and silver, and brass, by whom were made all the mechanical works about the temple, according to the will of Solomon.

Jachin and Boaz pillars

This Hiram made two [hollow] pillars, whose outsides were of brass, and the thickness of the brass was four fingers' breadth, and the height of the pillars was eighteen cubits and their circumference twelve cubits. There was cast with each of their chapiters lilywork that stood upon the pillar, and it was elevated five cubits, round about which there was network interwoven with small palms, made of brass, and covered the lilywork. To this also were hung two hundred pomegranates, in two rows.

The one of these pillars he set at the entrance of the porch on the right hand, and called it Jachin (3) and the other at the left hand, and called it Boaz (1Kings 7:21, 2Chronicles 3:17).

The brazen vessel

Solomon also cast a brazen sea, whose figure was that of a hemisphere. This brazen vessel was called a sea for its largeness, for the laver was ten feet in diameter, and cast of the thickness of a palm. Its middle part rested on a short pillar that had ten spirals round it, and that pillar was ten cubits in diameter.

There stood round about the brazen vessel twelve oxen, that looked to the four winds of heaven, three to each wind, having their hinder parts depressed, that so the hemispherical vessel might rest upon them, which itself was also depressed round about inwardly. Now this sea contained three thousand baths.

Solomon also had made ten brazen bases for so many quadrangular lavers. The length of every one of these bases was five cubits, and the breadth four cubits, and the height six cubits. This vessel was partly turned, and was thus contrived.

There were four small quadrangular pillars that stood one at each corner; these had the sides of the base fitted to them on each quarter; they were parted into three parts; every interval had a border fitted to support [the laver]; upon which was engraven, in one place a lion, and in another place a bull, and an eagle.

The small pillars had the same animals engraven that were engraven on the sides. The whole work was elevated, and stood upon four wheels, which were also cast, which had also naves and felloes, and were a foot and a half in diameter. Anyone who saw the spokes of the wheels, how exactly they were turned, and united to the sides of the bases, and with what harmony they agreed to the felloes, would wonder at them.

However, their structure was the following. Certain shoulders of hands stretched out held the corners above, upon which rested a short spiral pillar, that lay under the hollow part of the laver, resting upon the fore part of the eagle and the lion, which were adapted to them, insomuch that those who viewed them would think they were of one piece: between these were engravings of palm trees. This was the construction of the ten bases.

Large round lavers

Solomon also had made ten large round brass vessels, which were the lavers themselves, each of which contained forty baths (4). Its height was four cubits, and its edges were as much distant from each other. He also placed these lavers upon the ten bases that were called Mechonoth; and he set five of the lavers on the left side of the temple (5) which was that side towards the north wind, and as many on the right side, towards the south. But looking towards the east, the same [eastern] way he also set the sea.

Now he appointed the sea to be for washing the hands and the feet of the priests, when they entered into the temple and were to ascend the altar, but the lavers to cleanse the entrails of the beasts that were to be burnt-offerings, with their feet also.

The brazen altar

He also made a brazen altar, whose length was twenty cubits, and its breadth the same, and its height ten, for the burnt-offerings. He also made all its vessels of brass, the pots, and the shovels, and the basons; and besides these, the snuffers and the tongs, and all its other vessels, he made of brass, and such brass as was in splendor and beauty like gold.

Furniture and implements

Solomon also dedicated a great number of tables, but one that was large and made of gold, upon which they set the loaves of God. He made ten thousand more that resembled them, but were done after another manner, upon which lay the vials and the cups. Those of gold were twenty thousand, those of silver were forty thousand.

He also made ten thousand candlesticks for the temple, according to the command of Moses, one of which he dedicated for the temple, that it might burn in the day time, according to the law; and one table with loaves upon it, on the north side, over against the candlestick. This he set on the south side, but the golden altar stood between them. All these vessels were contained in that part of the holy house, which was forty cubits long, and were before the veil of that most secret place wherein the ark was to be set.

Solomon also made pouring vessels, in number eighty thousand, and a hundred thousand golden vials, and twice as many silver vials: of golden dishes, in order therein to offer kneaded fine flour at the altar, there were eighty thousand, and twice as many of silver.

Of large basons also, wherein they mixed fine flour with oil, sixty thousand of gold, and twice as many of silver. Of the measures like those which Moses called the Hin and the Assaron (a tenth deal), there were twenty thousand of gold, and twice as many of silver.

The golden censers, in which they carried the incense to the altar, were twenty thousand. The other censers, in which they carried fire from the great altar to the little altar, within the temple, were fifty thousand.

Solomon made all these things for the honor of God, with great variety and magnificence, sparing no cost, but using all possible liberality in adorning Jerusalem's temple. These things he dedicated to the treasures of God. He also placed a partition round about the temple, which in our tongue we call Gison, and he raised it up to the height of three cubits. It was for the exclusion of the multitude from coming into it, and showing that it was a place that was free and open only for the priests.

Solomon also built beyond this court a temple, whose figure was that of a quadrangle, and erected for it great and broad cloisters; this was entered into by very high gates, each of which had its front exposed to one of the [four] winds, and were shut by golden doors.

Court of the Gentiles

When King Solomon had filled up great valleys with earth, which, on account of their immense depth, could not be looked on, when you bended down to see them, without pain, and had elevated the ground four hundred cubits, he made it to be on a level with the top of the mountain, on which the temple was built, and by this means the outmost temple, which was exposed to the air, was even with the temple itself. (6)

He encompassed this also with a building of a double row of cloisters, which stood on high upon pillars of native stone, while the roofs were of cedar, and were polished in a manner proper for such high roofs; but he made all the doors of silver.

William Whiston notes

William Whiston was the person who translated Josephus' works into English.

(1) These small rooms, or side chambers, seem to have been, by Josephus's description, no less than twenty cubits high a piece, otherwise there must have been a large interval between one and the other that was over it; and this with double floors, the one of six cubits distance from the floor beneath it, as 1Kings 6:5.

(2) Josephus says here that the cherubims Solomon had made were of solid gold, and only five cubits high, while our Hebrew copies (1Kings 6:23, 28) say they were of the olive tree, and the LXXX of the cypress tree, and only overlaid with gold; and both agree they were ten cubits high. I suppose the number here is falsely transcribed, and that Josephus wrote ten cubits also.

(3) As for these two famous pillars in Solomon's temple, Jachin and Boaz, their height could be no more than eighteen cubits, as here, and 1Kings 7:15, 2Kings 25:17 and Jeremiah 3:21. The thirty-five cubits mentioned in 2Chronicles 3:15 are contrary to all the rules of architecture in the world.

(4) The round or cylindrical lavers of four cubits in diameter, and four in height, both in our copies, 1Kings 7:38, 39, and here in Josephus, must have contained a great deal more than these forty baths, which are always assigned them. Where the error lies is hard to say: perhaps Josephus honestly followed his copies here, though they had been corrupted, and he was not able to restore the true reading.

The forty baths are probably the true quantity contained in each laver, since they went upon wheels, and were to be drawn by the Levites about the courts of the priests for the washings they were designed for; and had they held much more, they would have been too heavy to have been so drawn.

(5) Here Josephus gives us a key to his own language, of right and left hand in the tabernacle and temple; that by the right hand he means what is against our left, when we suppose ourselves going up from the east gate of the courts towards the tabernacle themselves, and so vice versa.

It therefore follows that the pillar Jachin, on the right hand of the temple was on the south, against our left hand; and Boaz on the north, against our right hand.

(6) When Josephus here says that the floor of the outmost temple or court of the Gentiles was with vast labor raised to be even, or of equal height, with the floor of the inner, or court of the priests, he must mean this in a gross estimation only.

For he and all others agree, that the court of the priests, was a few cubits more elevated than the middle court, the court of Israel, and that much more was the court of the priests elevated several cubits above that outmost court, since the court of Israel was lower than the one and higher than the other.

Our Notes

The Biblical sections that discuss the building of the temple include 1Kings 6 and 7 as well as 2Chronicles 3 and 4.

Solomon began his effort to build Jerusalem's temple in the fourth year of his reign in the second month called Zif (1Kings 6:1, KJV). Zif is another name for Iyar, the second month of the Hebrew sacred (religious) calendar that occurs roughly around our April to May period. The magnificent building was completed seven and one-half years later (see 1Kings 6:38).

King Solomon ultimately employed 70,000 Canaanites (foreigners) living in Israel as common laborers, as well as 80,000 loggers and 3,600 foremen (1Kings 5:15 - 16, 2Chronicles 2:17 - 18), to build Jerusalem's temple.

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Biblical History by Josephus
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The Tower of Babel
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Solomon Builds Jerusalem's Temple
Babylon Destroys Jerusalem and Temple
Alexander the Great Visits Jerusalem!
Herod the Great Conquers Jerusalem
Herod Rebuilds the Temple

Excerpts taken from
Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus
Book 8, Chapter 3
Edited, expanded and ©

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