Searching for the Temple of King Solomon

How the ’Ain Dara Temple in Syria sheds light on King Solomon in the Bible and his famous temple

The black basalt ruins of the Iron Age temple discovered at ’Ain Dara in northern Syria offer the closest known parallel to the Temple of King Solomon in the Bible. Photo: Ben Churcher.

For centuries, scholars have searched in vain for any remnant of Solomon’s Temple. The fabled Jerusalem sanctuary, described in such exacting detail in 1 Kings 6, was no doubt one the most stunning achievements of King Solomon in the Bible, yet nothing of the building itself has been found because excavation on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, site of the Temple of King Solomon, is impossible.

Fortunately, several Iron Age temples discovered throughout the Levant bear a striking resemblance to the Temple of King Solomon in the Bible. Through these remains, we gain extraordinary insight  into the architectural grandeur of the building that stood atop Jerusalem’s Temple Mount nearly 3,000 years ago.

As reported by archaeologist John Monson in the pages of BAR, the closest known parallel to the Temple of King Solomon is the ’Ain Dara temple in northern Syria. Nearly every aspect of the ’Ain Dara temple—its age, its size, its plan, its decoration—parallels the vivid description of the Temple of King Solomon in the Bible. In fact, Monson identified more than 30 architectural and decorative elements shared by the ’Ain Dara structure and the Jerusalem Temple described by the Biblical writers.
 


 
In the FREE eBook Ancient Israel in Egypt and the Exodus, top scholars discuss the historical Israelites in Egypt and archaeological evidence for and against the historicity of the Exodus.
 

 

The ’Ain Dara temple and the Biblical Temple of King Solomon share very similar plans. Images: Ben Churcher.

The similarities between the ’Ain Dara temple and the temple described in the Bible are indeed striking. Both buildings were erected on huge artificial platforms built on the highest point in their respective cities. The buildings likewise have similar tripartite plans: an entry porch supported by two columns, a main sanctuary hall (the hall of the ’Ain Dara temple is divided between an antechamber and a main chamber) and then, behind a partition, an elevated shrine, or Holy of Holies. They were also both flanked on three of their sides by a series of multistoried rooms and chambers that served various functions.

Even the decorative schemes of ’Ain Dara temple and the temple described in the Bible are similar: Nearly every surface, both interior and exterior, of the ’Ain Dara temple was carved with lions, mythical animals (cherubim and sphinxes), and floral and geometric patterns, the same imagery that, according to 1 Kings 6:29, adorned the Temple of King Solomon in the Bible.
 


 
Where did Solomon’s wealth come from? Biblical texts suggest that the seafaring Phoenicians brought Solomon silver from the land of Tarshish. A new study points to Spain and Sardinia as the Biblical world’s source of silver in the 10th century B.C.E., substantiating associations between Biblical Tarshish and modern Sardinia.
 

 

Gigantic footprints belonging to the resident deity were carved at the temple’s entrance. Photo: A.M. Appa.

It is the date of the ’Ain Dara temple, however, that offers the most compelling evidence for the authenticity of the Biblical Temple of King Solomon. The ’Ain Dara temple was originally built around 1300 B.C. and remained in use for more than 550 years, until 740 B.C. The plan and decoration of such majestic temples no doubt inspired the Phoenician engineers and craftsmen who built Solomon’s grand edifice in the tenth century B.C. As noted by Lawrence Stager of Harvard University, the existence of the ’Ain Dara temple proves that the Biblical description of Solomon’s Temple was “neither an anachronistic account based on later temple archetypes nor a literary creation. The plan, size, date and architectural details fit squarely into the tradition of sacred architecture from north Syria (and probably Phoenicia) from the tenth to eighth centuries B.C.”

Certain features of the ’Ain Dara temple also provide dramatic insight into ancient Near Eastern conceptions of gods and the temples in which they were thought to reside. Carved side-by-side in the threshold of the ’Ain Dara temple are two gigantic footprints. As one enters the antechamber of the sanctuary, there is another carving of a right foot, followed 30 feet away (at the threshold between the antechamber and the main chamber) by a carving of a left foot. The footprints, each of which measures 3 feet in length, were intended to show the presence (and enormity) of the resident deity as he or she entered the temple and approached his or her throne in the Holy of Holies. Indeed, the 30-foot stride between the oversize footprints indicates a god who would have stood 65 feet tall! In Solomon’s Temple, the presence of a massive throne formed by the wings of two giant cherubim with 17-foot wingspans (1 Kings 6:23–26) may indicate that some Israelites envisaged their God, Yahweh, in a similar manner.
 


 
BAS Library Members: Read “Issue 200: Ten Top Discoveries,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August September/October 2009.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
Hiram of Tyre sent Lebanese cedar and artisans to King Solomon for the construction of his own palace as well as the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:3,7; 1 Kings 5:20). Why was this wood so valued? Find out more in Lebanese Cedar—The Prized Tree of Ancient Woodworking.
 

 

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  1. Rose says

    Makes one wonder why nobody ever bothers to study the obvious candidate for Solomon’s Temple. Maybe it’s better to keep the mystery alive. But anybody anywhere in the world with a PC can see the first ‘Solomon’s Temple’ and the ruins of of the buried city surrounding it.

    In the December 2008 issue of National Geographic there’s a drawing of Solomon’s Temple on the fold out map, and it gives the length as 52.5 meters, and shows the front porch feature.

    The first ‘Solomon’s Temple is located here;
    Scroll your mouse cursor to this exact location using Google Earth.
    30° 58′ 14.44″ N, 31° 53′ 10″ E

    It’s the exact dimension from the front porch to the first back wall. It’s unexcavated and located in the middle of an unexcavated city. The Pharaoh who ruled from there was named Siamun. It was Siamun who (according to papyrus) procured the cedars from Lebanon. Siamun rules at the same time as the traditional Solomon. Siamun was the primary pharaoh of the 21st dynasty and after the 21st dynasty Egypt began its collapse, as did the 12 tribes after Solomon.
    Just to the North of Solomon’s first temple (about a mile) is the sepulcher of David (more properly Djed) where more gold and precious artifacts were found than anywhere else other than the valley of the kings.
    This is also the location where Nebuchadnezzar ended his siege (put out the eyes of Zedekiah). We know literally that the foundation was not existing in modern Jerusalem at the time of Ezra’s return, because he says so.

    Ezra 3:6
    From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.

    Ezra 3:10
    And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Louvre_122007_29.jpg

    It’s gonna be a hoot when people realize they’ve been worshiping Solomon and David in the wrong place. Ohhh I now see the motive for not excavating the site.

    shalom,
    Rose

  2. Nicole says

    Remember Solomon built many temples in honor of his concubines and wives gods.

  3. Rose says

    Sarah Parcak the self-proclaimed Space Archeologist has studied this unexcavated buried city just south of Tanis and concluded the ruins were 3000 years old. Exactly the time traditionally cited as when Solomon’s Temple was built. The tragedy is that she was just looking for lost pyramids. Like a child chasing the shiny object, she overlooked the Temple site. But it’s there as obvious as ever in the upper part of this image.

    http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/museums/tag/space-archaeology/

    The article here says the most compelling evidence for the ’Ain Dara temple being Solomon’s Temple was its time period. Well Tanis has the time period, it’s in the place where Nebuchadnezzar ended his conquest, its where all the gold was found (sepulcher of David), and according to ancient papyrus, “Story of Wenamun“, it’s where Pharaoh ordered cedars from Lebanon, it’s the exact dimension, it faces directly east to allow the glory of the Lord to enter in on the spring equinox. It’s king was named Siamun (and BTW he did marry Pharaoh’s daughter. The previous Dynasty was symbolized by Djed (David), and the succeeding Dynasty saw the breakup of Egypt as did the Dynasties of Hebrews after Solomon.

    A question nobody confronts is how Solomon could have 666 talents of Gold which was 1/3 of all mined gold in 1000 BCE according to a 1993 NATO Conference on” Prehistoric Gold”. Yet there was that much gold in Tanis because we’ve dug it up.

    “the closest known parallel to the Temple of King Solomon is the recently discovered ’Ain Dara temple in northern Syria.”
    This above statement is not true to anyone who ‘knows’ about the temple located at;

    30° 58′ 14.44″ N, 31° 53′ 10″ E

    Shalom
    Rose

  4. Matt says

    Rose, the article wasn’t saying the ‘Ain Dara was a candidate for being Solomon’s temple, but that its striking similarity to the Biblical description and its early date lends credibility to the text (which many minimalist scholars attack).

    For all I know, the Egyptian structure you mention could be another temple in the style, and the similarity between the account of the Egyptian pharoah Siamum and Solomon is certainly very interesting, especially with the complete paucity of evidence for the historicity of these legendary kings of Israel, barring one fragment which mentions kings of the “House of (DWD)” (rather than any DWD himself), though I know BAR likes to mention it as almost incontrovertible evidence of an historical king David. While it’s far from impossible (and discoveries such as the ‘Ain Dara temple show the surprising reliability of the Biblical text), if we suppose that Solomon and David are based on legend, then it’s possible to speculate an Egyptian origin, later homogenised as Israelite kings during, say, the exile, and placed in their accounts to be at Zion (or is that Gerizim?) just before the start of the known historical kings of Israel and Judah (whose records they often cite when they use them). Who’s to say the House of David didn’t claim descent from a Hyksos pharaoh, whose name was transliterated as DWD?

    Gradually I’m sure archaeology will start to investigate some of these fascinating site candidates brought to light by new technology, but hopefully not so suddenly that too many are disturbed before we have all the technology to truly master archaeology!

  5. arjun says

    Wasn’t the land of Israel at the time of Solomon ruled by Egypt?

  6. Rose says

    Nice comments!

    >> if we suppose that Solomon and David are based on legend, then it’s possible to speculate an Egyptian origin
    >> Who’s to say the House of David didn’t claim descent from a Hyksos pharaoh, whose name was transliterated as DWD?
    >> Wasn’t the land of Israel at the time of Solomon ruled by Egypt?

    I don’t think we have to categorize David and Solomon as legends. If the Biblical Solomon was based on the historical Siamun, then the only difference is the translation/transliteration of the name. If the historical time and place corresponds to the Biblical time and place, and the events described in the Bible match the events historically attributed to Siamun, then Solomon is indeed a historical figure. We don’t need to speculate Egyptian origin as the Torah is clear about the Egyptian origins of Moses people.

    What I would ask or challenge is for any scholar or archeologist to draw (on a map) the exact border between Israel and Egypt in 1000 BCE or so. Draw both the Biblical border and historical border. Nobody can, so identifying David and Solomon as being outside the border of Egypt is actually ‘speculation’, especially in light of Ezra saying the foundation wasn’t in modern Jerusalem). Jerusalem just means “City of Solomon”, how many Lincoln City’s are in the USA?

    Same with David. We can say David fought back the Philistines as did Ramses (whose symbol was Djed, a cross). And that was the kingdom that preceded Siamun’s kingdom. So if DVD is indeed the historical Djed or the dynasty before Siamun’s Dynasty, would that mean the Biblical David is a legend? To me it makes the Biblical David a historical figure.

    During the 19th and 20th dynasties no major temples were built because Ramsses (Djed) was too busy fighting the Philistines, and then there’s the Battle of Kadesh.

    Who fought those wars according to the historical record?

    “David my father could not build an house unto the name of the Lord his God for the wars which were about him on every side”

    1 Kings 5
    3 Thou knowest how that David my father could not build an house unto the name of the Lord his God for the wars which were about him on every side, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet.
    4 But now the Lord my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent.
    5 And, behold, I purpose to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house unto my name.

  7. Stephanie says

    Thank you, Rose. Great use of geo-intelligence!

  8. vijayaraghavan says

    The Biblical followers say that Solomon was turned against by God. So his place is in “anti-god persons!” If we find the real temple will that action also will be against God? ( See, I am a Hindu. I will not be punished!)

  9. google says

    Hello there! This article could not be written much better!
    Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept talking about this. I will send
    this information to him. Pretty sure he’ll have a good read.
    I appreciate you for sharing!

  10. Art says

    For those who have the archaeological resources, I fair means of testing either site for historical validity, would be a search for the last known historical event in or around Jerusalem, the Roman seige of the city.

  11. Art says

    After further thinking, if the site described on google earth is a true candidate for Solomon’s temple, Matthew 24: 2 is in error. According to the biblical accout, even the stones of the temple were to be removed. A historical accout of this event verifies that the romans indeed removed the temple even to its foundaton.

  12. Majeed says

    this temple is not far where i living ,i have got enjoy it when i read thus rare information about this temple, the way of comparing for both Solomon,s temple & AinDara was to much intersting …

  13. Dnia says

    The relation may be possible, since I have read an article written by Mr. Jonathan Gray, “Ark of the Covenant”, he claims that, King solomon went up to Indian himalayan ranges to establish temples for the Great and Ever Great LORD YAHWEH..

  14. mohamed says

    dear sir
    i know exactly place of temple of solmoon can i offer proff. ty me inventor

  15. grail says

    thank u rose!!!

  16. Alberta says

    OI’m happy to see how many ppl are interested in this topic I’m a passionate reader myself!! Thanks rose o find you very smart and reasonable person!

  17. Munira says

    Rose is too smart

  18. Munira says

    This is a very interesting article, the whole website is very interesting. I like it. Especially since the Quran and the Bible have similar figures so it’s very educational to people of all three fates I believe.(Islam, Judaism and Christianity) it provides historical evidence of the existence of these people and adds to their story a bit. Very nice.

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    [...] the full article please visit -  http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/temple-at-jerusalem/searching-for-the… Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogleLike this:Like [...]


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