Solomon's Jerusalem

The last years of David's reign were marked by drought, famine and plague. As the old king lay dying, the question of his successor had to be decided quickly. The princes Amnon (his firstborn by Ahinoam of Jezreel) and Absalom (third son by Maacah, daughter of Talmai king of Geshur) were dead; the next in line was the handsome Adonijah (his fourth son by Haggith), who was supported by Joab, commander-in-chief of the army, and Abiathar the priest. Near the spring of En Rogel ("fount of the fuller"), in the Kidron Valley just south of Jerusalem, was a cult-place associated with the Jebusites, the former occupants of the city. Here, Adonijah was declared king in a ceremony attended by his brothers and the royal officials of Judah (see 1 Kings 1:9). However, the move was undercut by the prophet Nathan who informed queen Bathsheba who, in turn, prevailed on the dying David to designate their second son, Solomon, as the next ruler. David gave Solomon these instructions:

"'I am about to go the way of all the earth,' he said. 'So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.'" (1Kings 2:2-3)

Attended by Zadok the priest, Benaiah the chief of the royal guard and Nathan the prophet, Solomon rode his father's royal mule to the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley, and there he was anointed king of Israel.

The would-be king Adonijah fled and took refuge at the altar, and was pardoned by Solomon for his conduct on condition that he showed himself "a worthy man" (1 Kings 1:5-53).

Adonijah asked to marry the king’s servant, Abishag the Shunammit. Despite Bathsheba's pleas on Adonijah's behalf Solomon viewed this was a veiled threat to take over his kingdom and ordered that Adonijah be put to death (1 Kings 2:13-25). Solomon then followed his father’s final instructions and executed Job and one of his father’s enemies, Shimei son of Gera. He also exiled David's priest Abiathar. Solomon thus overcame the last potential threats to his kingdom. He then appointed friends to key military, governmental and religious posts.

Solomon inherited a vast empire stretching from the Euphrates River (in modern Iraq) to the Gulf of Aqaba, from Tyre in Phoenicia south to Egypt. According to the Bible the Hebrew monarchy reached its highest splendor during his 40-year reign. An able administrator, builder, diplomat and commercial entrepreneur, Solomon was a perfect compliment to his father, the great military leader. He was noted for his wisdom. The most famous incident of his cleverness as a judge was the time two women came to his court with a baby that both claimed as their own. Solomon threatened to split the baby in half. One woman accepted the decision, the other begged the king to give the baby to the other woman. Solomon then knew the second woman was the real mother.

Under Solomon Israel become rich and powerful. He made treaties with many surrounding nation and established his kingdom as a major trading and industrial power. He also completed David's dream of transforming Jerusalem into a true royal city and a center for the worship of the one true God. His crowning achievement was the Temple, completed around 950 BC.

The Bible paints a picture of Solomon's reign as an era in which each man "lived in safety under his own vine and fig-tree" (1 Kings 4:25). However, long before his death, storm-clouds gathered which, when they broke, totally disintegrated his empire. To organize taxation and labor, he set up a system of administrative districts, but he conspicuously omitted his own tribe of Judah. This favoritism created tension with the northern tribes, threatening the uneasy union brought about by Saul and David. Disregarding the admonition of Samuel and the Law of Moses, he accumulated horses and chariots, and erected shrines to the divinities or his many foreign wives (numbering seven hundred according to 1 Kings 11:3!!!). For his extensive building projects, he levied heavy taxes on his subjects, and those who could not pay were pressed into forced labor. The tragic decline of Solomon's reign is related in the book of Kings:

"As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done...So the Lord said to Solomon, 'Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.'" (1 Kings 11:4-6, 11-13)

Solomon's policies eventually led to the rebellion of Jeroboam, one of his northern governors appointed over the tribal territories of Ephraim and Manasseh to collect revenue for repairs to Jerusalem's walls. After a failed bid to wrest control of the northern tribes, he fled to Egypt, where he remained until Solomon's death...

The Jerusalem of Solomon

During the reign of Solomon, Jerusalem doubled in size as the remaining area on the summit of the eastern ridge, the "hill of Ophel" (meaning "hump"), was incorporated into the city; and walls were built to defend the whole area. The most reliable estimates suggest that the population of the city more than doubled during Solomon's reign, to about 5,000.

Archaeological finds related to the time of Solomon

The First Temple

Also under Solomon, the Temple conceived by David as a home for the Ark of the Covenant was built on the small hill some 762 feet north of the original north wall of the City of David. On the highest point of this hill was the threshing floor purchased by David from Araunah (or Ornan) the Jebusite; now it is the holy rock under the Dome of the Rock, which, in turn, was probably the bedrock on which the Temple foundations were laid.

The Temple was part of a royal precinct that included lavish palaces for Solomon and his wives, along with government buildings: the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon (named in honor of Phoenicia, the source of timber; 45 cedar columns supported its roof); the Hall of Pillars; the Hall of Justice (where Solomon administered justice from his ivory throne) and a special palace for Pharaoh's daughter, his most illustrious wife. Nothing has survived of these structures; even their locations are uncertain. No architectural fragments of Solomon's Temple have ever been found. But descriptions in 1 Kings 6-8 and 2 Chronicles 2-5 tell us just enough about its construction to imagine what it looked like. It took seven years to complete and, in addition to skilled craftsmen, involved the forced labor of some 30,000 Israelites. If you were a Canaanite or Phoenician looking at the outside you would probably think it had been built to house images of their own divine pantheon: El, Baal, Anath and Astarte. The Bible does not hide the fact that the artisans and materials for the sophisticated work were provided by Hiram, king of the Phoenician city-state of Tyre. Borrowing from a more advanced, if pagan, neighboring culture was often standard procedure in the ancient world. But the Jerusalem Temple was designed according to a different concept. No physical image could adequately represent God; idols were abominations. This temple would serve as a house of the Word, not of the deity. No man-made building could hold the One True God. As Solomon said:

"But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27)

In front was a large courtyard which contained the the great horned altar for burned sacrifices—30-feet square and 15-feet high— presumably with steps. Nearby stood an immense bronze basin, 7 1/2 feet high and 15 feet in diameter (called the "bronze sea") supported by 12 statues of oxen and most probably holding ten-thousand gallons of water for cleaning the courtyard after the sacrifices. There were also ten bronze basins on wheeled pedestals, each containing some 200 gallons of water for washing burnt offerings.

The Temple itself was fairly small, only about 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high, double the size of the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary of the Israelites in the desert, yet average by Phoenician standards, and quite small when compared to the contemporary religious structures of Egypt or Mesopotamia. The parts were all prepared away from the building site, and when they were brought together the whole structure was erected without using iron tools. The main doorway, facing east toward the rising sun, was flanked by two mysterious bronze pillars six-feet in diameter and about thirty-five-feet tall, including their beautiful capitals decorated with lilies and pomegranates. They were named Jakin ("He will establish") and Boaz ("fleetness"), perhaps as visible symbols to the stability of the Davidic dynasty.

Left, a four-horned altar, dating from the 9th or 8th century BC, found dismantled at Tell Beersheba, south of Hebron. It was probably modeled on the sacrificial altar that stood in the courtyard in front of Solomon's Temple. It stands 5-feet-high and measures 9-feet on each side, the dimensions of the Tabernacle altar erected by the Israelites in the Wilderness.

The Temple had three rooms: To the east was a shallow entrance porch called the heykal (from the ancient Semitic word for "palace").

Next came the main hall, known as the ulam (meaning "dumb" or "put to silence"), the largest of the rooms at roughly 60 feet long by 30 feet wide. This was dimly illuminated by light from a series of narrow windows just below the ceiling. It is here that most of the daily rituals were performed by the priests and it contained an altar for incense, a table for the "bread of the Presence," twelve seven-branched candlesticks (menorot, plural of menorah), and other implements, all of gold. The floors and walls of cedar were overlaid with beaten gold sheeting depicting cherubim, flowers and palm trees. The knot-free cedar from Lebanon, insect-repellent and rot-resistant, is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as the best wood for construction.

From the main room, a flight of stairs led to the next chamber, the debir or Most Holy Place (NIV), a windowless cube, 30 feet on each side. Here rested the sacred Ark of the Covenant containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, protected by two gold-plated olive wood cherubim, 15-feet-high with outstretched wings spanning fifteen feet to touched each other above the Ark and at each side wall. According to archaeological research, these cherubim resembled Egyptian-type sphinxes, i.e., human headed winged lions. The meaning of the word debir is intriguing; it is derived from the root meaning "speak," "declare" or "converse" suggesting that this was not only the room where the Divine presence resided, but where God "spoke" to the High Priest.

Below, looking south from the summit of the eastern hill—the "the City of David"—where Solomon resided. On the far left, across the Kidron Valley, is the "hill east of Jerusalem," now known as the Mount of Offense (1 Kings 11:7-8), and site of the Arab village of Silwan, where the "wise" king "built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites." (1 Kings 11:7)

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