What is a “mezuzah” in the Bible?
King Solomon’s Temple was resplendent. Described in 1 Kings 6–7, the temple was divided into three parts: the forecourt (ulam), the outer sanctum (heikhal) and the inner shrine (devir), also known as the Holy of Holies. Built of stone and roofed with wooden beams, Solomon’s Temple was intricately ornamented. Its interior walls and floors were lined with wooden boards and covered in gold. It took seven years to complete the temple and its furnishings.
Despite the Biblical description and archaeological parallels, there are still some mysteries about Solomon’s Temple. For example, 1 Kings 6:31 describes the doors between the outer sanctum and the inner shrine of Solomon’s Temple as having five mezuzot (the plural form of mezuzah).
What is a mezuzah? In the Bible, mezuzah is normally translated as “doorpost.” However, in the context of Solomon’s Temple, doors with five doorposts do not make sense.
Madeleine Mumcuoglu and Yosef Garfinkel explore this enigma in “The Puzzling Doorways of Solomon’s Temple” in the July/August 2015 issue of BAR. They contend that a recent discovery from Khirbet Qeiyafa may hold the answer to unlocking the meaning of a mezuzah in the Bible regarding Solomon’s Temple.
Madeleine Mumcuoglu and Yosef Garfinkel present a building model from Khirbet Qeiyafa that depicts a doorframe with three—or maybe four—interlocking doorframes surrounding an opening. They suggest that these interlocking frames are what is meant by mezuzot in the description of Solomon’s Temple. According to their interpretation, then, the doors to the inner shrine (devir) of Solomon’s Temple did not have five doorposts—but rather five recessed doorframes.
Temples with recessed doorways have been uncovered throughout the ancient Near East, and Madeleine Mumcuoglu and Yosef Garfinkel further note that recessed doorframes set apart inner rooms and spaces as being sacred. In the case of Solomon’s Temple, the more recessed the doorframes, the holier the space:
There is a gradual increase in the number of recessed doorframes from the entrance to the forecourt (three) to the outer sanctum (four) and finally to the entrance from the outer sanctum to the devir (five). It is as if the devir had the highest number of mezuzot because it was the most sacred part of the Temple.
For a full description of the doorways of Solomon’s Temple—and parallels throughout the ancient Near East—read the article “The Puzzling Doorways of Solomon’s Temple” by Madeleine Mumcuoglu and Yosef Garfinkel in the July/August 2015 issue of BAR.
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Victor Hurowitz, “Solomon’s Temple in Context,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2011.
Victor Hurowitz, “Inside Solomon’s Temple,” Bible Review, April 1994.
Volkmar Fritz, “Temple Architecture: What Can Archaeology Tell Us About Solomon’s Temple?” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1987.
John Monson, “The New ‘Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2000.
Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil, “An Ending and a Beginning,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2013.
Hershel Shanks, “Newly Discovered: A Fortified City from King David’s Time,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2009.
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on June 15, 2015.
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