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

This Bible History Daily article was originally published in October 2013.—Ed.


 

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 recent 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. Learn more >>
 

 

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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  • Clifford says

    Why dwell on ‘Ain Dara’s similarity when the real temple – its basements &
    archives – can be found on (or rather in) Mt. OPHEL?!!! Since there was 600 ‘
    from the basilica on Moriah & the cloisters south of it, then the temple north wall
    would be just south of the mikvah in the Givati parking lot. The steps & treasure
    vault under them may still be there. Certainly under the houses perhaps 20′-30′
    will be rooms of the basement where the Levites did work for the upkeep of the
    temple. 600′ to 750′ south of there would be the south wall of the temple & its
    steps. LOOK THERE! The kings were buried in Tyroppean, but steps may lead up from them to the basement. In Jesus’ Name, C.C. Apr.5-2017.

  • Helen says

    The Western Wall is a retaining wall, not a Temple wall. Herod expanded the artificial platform on which to set “his” grand Temple, an expansion and refurbishment of the Temple constructed by Nehemiah and Ezra.

    Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. Temple 2.5 (Herod’s) was destroyed by the Romans. Both times, the Temple was burned so that the invaders could steal the gold fm the walls of the building.

    You can see photos, BAR has shown them, of the building stones of Temple 2.5 that are tumbled down fm the Temple Mount, just as Jesus said they would be. Romans were some of the most thorough destroyers ever known in antiquity. They did not leave a stone upon a stone. Again — note that the Western Wall is NOT part of the Temple but a retaining wall built as the Temple Mount was expanded by Herod. These stones were not the stones that Jesus said would not be left standing.

    I won’t even begin to address Rose and her wild-eyed theories. She’s as Zahi Hawass would say — a pyramidiot, fixated on all things Egyptian.

  • Ken says

    Since the 12th century AD, the Temple Mount has been governed by a special Islamic religious authority called the Waqf, originally installed by Saladin. Now, while currently Israeli authorities share security responsibilities with the Waqf, people of other faith (including Jewish) are still banned from praying inside the holy precinct.

    Such limitation of activities also stretches to archaeology. As a consequence, researchers and historians have not been able to fully analyse the possible remains or evidences on the Temple Mount that might provide clues to the existence of the Solomon’s Temple.

  • Ken says

    Wouldn’t the temple ruins be under the Muslim cemetery along the Eastern wall? Wouldn’t they be buried under the ruins of the Second Temple, raised by the Romans in 70AD. Because of the Muslim cemetery, this one area, has not been properly and thoroughly excavated. The temple would have been built close to the Kidron ravine to carry off the blood of the sacrifices.

    Why cast doubt on its existence?

  • john says

    the real temple of king Solomon is now called and known as castle ourem located in central ourem Portugal. the city of david was buried in the hillside directly beneath castle ourem,portugal. this can be proven because I am in possession of the original wood made map-key of king Solomon that has honestly been found from a shipwreck sunk and intact in the Delaware river of Pennsylvania usa. king solomons treasure is stored there! respectfully,john m.mcnally 3rd.

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