Last week, I began this series on the contextualization of visual arts in the Bible by comparing the Israelite Tabernacle with Egyptian war tents. In this post, I'd like to continue the discussion by moving on to Solomon's Temple (which shared the same basic layout and many of the same visual motifs with the Tabernacle), and its similarities to a Hittite temple in Syria called ‘Ain Dara.
In his article “The New ‘Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel" John Monson writes that “the Hittite temple in ‘Ain Dara, northern Syria, is the most significant parallel to Solomon’s Temple ever discovered.” It is contemporaneous in date, similar in size, and shares many of the same features. It was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar, who would've been represented inside by a statue of the goddess. Gregory K. Beale writes that in nearby Assyria, “Ashurbanipal II (883-859 B.C.) 'created an icon of the goddess Ishtar . . . from the finest stones, fine gold . . . (thus) making her great divinity resplendent,' and he 'set up in (the temple) her dais [throne platform] (with the icon) for eternity.' The resplendent glory of the image was to reflect the luminescent glory of the goddess herself. Accordingly, the light of the deity was to shine out from the temple into the faces of humanity.”
Of course, Solomon's Temple (like the Tabernacle) was built to house the Ark of the Covenant, which was considered to be Yahweh's throne, though he himself was never depicted.
Monson continues in his article: “Built on a large raised platform, the ['Ain Dara] temple consists of three rooms: a niche-like portico, or porch; an antechamber; and a main hall, which housed the innermost shrine.” This innermost shrine was analogous to the Holy of Holies in Solomon's temple, while 'Ain Dara's main hall was similar to Solomon's Holy Place (minus the antechamber), in which most of the Temple furniture (menorahs, etc.) were kept. Both temples had a portico, each flanked by two columns.
In the case of 'Ain Dara, the slabs in front of the doorway between the columns are inscribed with a pair of 36” human footprints, as if the goddess herself stood for a moment outside the temple before striding inward (there is a single left footprint just inside the doorway to the antechamber, and a single right footprint at the threshold to the main hall, as if she was walking into the innermost shrine).
Other similarly-constructed temples existed in the Near East, such as the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.) temple at Hazor in northern Israel, and the eighth-century B.C. temple at Tell Ta‘yinat, in northern Syria. According to Monson, “Today we know of at least two dozen excavated temples that may be compared to Solomon’s Temple. Most of them are of the long-room type and come from the area north of the Israelite heartland. The Bible itself tells us that Solomon’s Temple design was mediated through Hiram of Tyre and other artisans from Phoenicia, the coastal region north of Israel (1 Kings 5, 7:13–37).”
Once again, we see (like the Israelite Tabernacle) that Solomon's temple to Yahweh was heavily influenced in its overall layout by those of its neighboring cultures (although in the case of Solomon's temple, God himself did not give the specific dimensions). We have no biblical evidence that God disapproved of this architectural influence from Tyre/Phonecia, as long as the Israelites worshiped him alone. And as mentioned in last week's discussion of the Tabernacle, God himself based its design on Egyptian models.
Next week: I promised previously to discuss the iconography of the cherubim and other tabernacle/temple symbols, and plan to do so in my next post.