Friday, August 12, 2005

EVIDENCE FOR THE FIRST ("SOLOMONIC") TEMPLE: This is my second post for the Temple Mount blogburst. The first dealt with evidence for the Second Temple and the Herodian Temple.

The main source for such information as we have on a Temple in Jerusalem in the Iron Age II (c. 1000-586/587 BCE) is the account of it in the so-called Deuteronomistic History (the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) which is widely regarded as a work completed around the end of the Iron Age II (but see below). (No archaeological evidence for the Temple has been recovered so far. Herod's extensive rebuilding of the Second Temple and his expansion of the Temple Platform may have obliterated all such evidence.) The relevant books are 1-2 Kings. We are told the King Solomon built the Temple around 960 BCE (1 Kings 6:1, 37). We are given details of the building in this chapter and chapter 7, and its dedication by Solomon is described in chapter 8. Much of the remaining material in 1-2 Kings is devoted to the northern kingdom of Israel, but Solomon's Temple is next mentioned in the reign of Jehoash in the late ninth century in 2 Kings 12:4-16, which describes arrangements for the refurbishment of the Temple. The Temple was looted by Jehoash King of Israel (a different Jehoash) according to 2 Kings 14:14 in the early eighth century and was looted again by King Ahaz in the late eighth century to bribe the king of Assyria to come to his aid against Aram (2 Kings 16:8). Ahaz also installed some cultic innovations in the Temple which were abhorrent to the author of 1-2 Kings (2 Kings 16:10-18). The Temple also figures in the time of King Hezekiah, later in the same century (2 Kings 18:23, 19:1), and in the reign of his son Manasseh in the early and middle part of the seventh century (2 Kings 21:4-9). Manasseh too made innovations to the Temple cult. King Josiah refurbished and made changes to the Temple c. 621 BCE (2 Kings 22:3-9; 23:11-12). The Temple was plundered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, during the brief reign of Jehoiachin c. 598 (2 Kings 24:13), and Nebuchadnezzar burned down the Temple in 586/587 BCE (2 Kings 25:9).

The Temple also figures in some of the books of prophecies attributed to the pre-exilic prophets. See, for example, Isaiah 6, Micah 4:1, and Jeremiah 7.

As I said, it is widely, but not universally accepted that the Deuteronomistic History (Dtr) was written, perhaps in two editions, during the reign of Josiah or within a few decades of the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the view I accept. A minority viewpoint, but an important one, thinks that it was written considerably later, in the late Persian Period (c 500-300 BCE) or even in the Hellenistic Period in the third or second centuries BCE. I find the last view very hard to defend. The Hebrew of the Dtr looks to me to be much more like that of the pre-exilic inscriptions than that of Hellenistic Hebrew. (I think there is a doctoral dissertation to be written on this.) The Dtr is also entirely lacking in the sort of anachronisms we would expect from a Hellenistic text. It contains no Persian words, no Greek words, and no mention of persons or events later than the early part of the exile.

But whenever we date it, there remains the question of how reliable the information in it is. To give a heuristic context, is the Dtr more like Geoffery of Monmouth's account of Aurthurian "history" in the History of the Kings of Britain, which mentions many historical personages but is rife with anachronisms, and full of historical errors, and largely legendary; or is it more like Book 2 of Herodotus' Histories, which gives an account of Egyptian history that gets the outline, order, and players in the story pretty much right, but which has a good bit of legendary material and whose contents are very much selected for Greek interest and slanted with a Greek viewpoint.

The evidence seems pretty clear to me that the Dtr is more like Herodotus' work than Geoffrey's. There is good reason to doubt much of the account of the United Monarchy under David and Solomon. Archaeological survey points toward a small population in Judah and against a state apparatus that could have supported the sort of empire described for David and Solomon. (The new excavation in Jerusalem may or may not change this perspective. It's too early to tell.) If there was a Temple built in the time of Solomon, it probably was a more modest building than what is described and which seems to have been the template for the later temples in Judah, Elephantine, and perhaps Samaria. The Aramaic Tel Dan inscription does refer to the "House of David" (בית דוד) in the ninth century BCE, so the dynasty isn't likely to be entirely legendary. (The genuineness of this inscription has been questioned, but it was dug up in a scientific excavation, and the type of extraordinary proof one would need to show an inscription to be a forgery in such a situation has not yet been advanced, in my opinion.)

All this said, the writer of the Dtr did have some good information. Quite a number of the kings of Israel and Judah are mentioned in outside sources, and in the Dtr they always appear in the proper order, at the proper time, and in relation to the proper figures in the larger ancient Near Eastern world. A few of the episodes, such as the Egyptian King Shishak's invasion of Judea in the time of Rehoboam; the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrian King Sargon II; the Assyrian King Sennacherib's invasion of Judea in the time of Hezekiah; and the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem, receive independent verification from extrabiblical inscriptions. And the writer knows a good many details that show that some of the sources used were pretty good. For example, the denominations of weights used for commerce which are mentioned casually in the Dtr do correspond closely to the (sometimes inscribed) weights actually excavated in Judah, only in the late Iron Age II.

The episode involving Hezekiah (2 Kings 18 and 19, paralleled in Isaiah 36 and 37) is illuminating for what it tells us we can expect from the Dtr. The Dtr gives us the proper players in the proper time and place and tells us correctly that Sennacherib invaded Judah and conquered its cities but failed (or neglected) to take Jerusalem. Some of the rest is legendary. It may be that Sennacherib's army encountered some difficulty during the campaign (Herodotus also hints at this in 2:141), but we can dismiss Dtr's report that the angel of the Lord smote 185,000 men in the Assyrian army: armies this large were not fielded until much more recent times. And the picture in the Dtr is misleading in places, if not exactly wrong. The destruction of the strategically critical city of Lachish is hinted at but never actually mentioned. It may be that when the latter was accomplished, Sennacherib did not feel that Jerusalem was important enough to take, which would explain why it was not captured. The last part of chapter 19 does not make clear that some twenty years passed between Sennacherib's withdrawal from Judah and his assassination.

In other words, the Dtr gives us the general flow of actual history, but mixed in with lots of legends, distortions, and spin. Much like Herodotus on Egypt.

If the Dtr was, as I and most scholars think, either written in the late seventh century and updated in the early sixth or written entirely in the early sixth century, it is simply unfathomable that the story of a royally sponsored Temple in Jerusalem was entirely made up. Too many people were around who were alive in the time and would have known better.

If the Dtr was written some centuries after this, it is still very difficult to imagine that the Temple was entirely made up and was an innovation of the Persian Period. The Temple is a feature that figures importantly in the narrative not only in the time of Solomon, but throughout the Judean monarchy and especially in the last century of the Iron Age. It is the sort of thing that might be made up in the Camelot of Geoffrey, but not in a work like the Dtr. It may well be that a smaller sanctuary in Solomon's time or later was expanded over time into the relatively large edifice at the end of the Iron Age (Herod's Temple would be an analogy), but the testimony of the Dtr combined with the consistent testimony of explicitly post-exilic literature makes a compelling case that a royal Temple stood in Jerusalem in the Iron Age II.

Some other considerations offer ancillary support. A temple designed roughly on the model of the First Temple (same dimensions and oriented in the direction of Jerusalem) was built in Elephantine, Egypt, by Aramaic-speaking Judean (the "Judean garrison" [חילא יהודיא]) worshippers of YHWH (YHW). It was destroyed in the late fifth century and then rebuilt. The petitioners for rebuilding reported that Cambyses had already found the Elephantine Temple present when he came to Egypt in 525 BCE, which means it was built before the Judean Second Temple in 520 BCE. (The petitioners were writing to the Judean governor and representative of the Persian Empire who would have been in a position to check their claim and who would have been informed by the rather hostile Judean priestly authorities if there had been any doubt about it. The petitioners would have had every incentive not to make claims that could be challenged.)

Here we have an interesting situation. In the sixth century BCE two temples were built by worshippers of YHWH, each on very similar lines. The earlier of the two was built by an expatriated Judean community in southern Egypt. The consistent Judean tradition about the later one, built in Jerusalem, was that it was built on the same site and along the same lines as an Iron Age-II temple destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. Which makes more sense: (a) both Temples just happened to be so similar; (b) the Jerusalemite Judeans actually imitated the Temple in Elephantine; (c) both temples were inspired by an earlier, Iron Age Temple, as the Judean returnees from exile claimed? You decide.

There is also some epigraphic evidence that is worth mentioning. It is interesting but not decisive. One of the late-seventh-century Hebrew ostraca excavated in Arad (#18) mentions that someone is in "the House of YHWH" (בית יהוה). It is likely that this refers to the First Temple in Jerusalem. There was also a Yahwistic sanctuary in Arad, so this could be a reference to it as well. But the latter sanctuary may have been destroyed by this time, in which case the reference is probably to the Jerusalem Temple. In any case, as Ed Cook points out in his good post on this ostracon, "there seems to be no reason why Eliashib, who was presumably in Arad, would need to be informed about the welfare of the temple there." Ed also makes the important point that
regardless of how Arad 18 is interpreted, the mention of this temple should remind us that the temple of the national deity was not an optional institution in the ancient Near East; it was an absolute religious and political necessity for any state. Those who deny the existence of a "First Temple" in ancient Judah, standing in the national capital Jerusalem, find themselves in defiance, not only of the biblical record, but of all historical analogy, and must be suspected of having something on their agenda other than an interest in history.

This is spot on, and I would add that the location of holy sites has always been a very conservative matter, and the consistent, longstanding tradition that the First Temple stood on the Temple Mount makes it very probable that that is indeed where it stood.

Two Hebrew graffiti excavated in an ancient burial cave at Khirbet Beit Lei, near Lachish, may also be relevant. The first editor, Joseph Naveh, found graffito A to refer to YHWH as the "God of Jerusalem" (אלהי ירשלם) and graffito B to refer to "Moriah" (מוריה; a biblical name of the Temple Mount [2 Chronicles 3:1]) as "the dwelling of YH YHWH" (נוה יה יהוה). He dated the inscriptions tentatively to the reign of Hezekiah in the late eighth or early seventh centuries BCE. There are two problems, however. The wall-scratched graffiti are extremely difficult to read, and none of the key words is certain, apart from the name "Jerusalem" in the first. Second, the date of the inscriptions has been challenged and at least one scholar, John Gibson, would date them between the late seventh and early sixth centuries, in which case any possible reference to the Temple could refer to the Second Temple.

While I am discussing inscriptions, it is worth noting that the epigraphic evidence makes it clear that speakers of Hebrew engaged in a monumental building project in Jerusalem around 700 (the Siloam Tunnel inscription). Other excavated Hebrew inscriptions in Jerusalem around this time include the Silwan tomb inscription, the Ophel ostracon, and an ostracon from Arad that mentions "the king of Judah." Substantial corpora of Judean Hebrew correspondence by worshipers of YHWH were found on ostraca from the end of the Iron Age (late 600s to 586/87) at Lachish and Arad. The Lachish letters mention "the king" (##3, 5), "the prophet" (#3), and possibly (the reading is damaged) "Jerusalem" (#5). The Arad ostraca also refer to "the king" (#24). These are all excavated inscriptions whose genuineness is not in doubt.

As I have said before, I am not aware of any serious publication (by which I mean peer-reviewed journal articles and monographs) which argues that there was no Iron Age-II Temple in Jerusalem. Nor have any specialists who publish on the Dtr, Iron-Age II history or archaeology, etc., responded to my invitation to send me a case for this position. The main purpose of this post is to reply to the claim (never actually defended with evidence) in Palestinian and Arab circles that there was no Solomonic Temple, or indeed no Judean/Jewish Temple at all in Jerusalem. I leave it to others to discuss any further political implications of these two posts.

CORRECTION: Herodotus is a poorer historical source than I indicated above. For example, he dates the building of the Pyramids more than a millennium too late, evidently due to a misunderstanding of his Egyptian sources. The Deuteronomist did make some chronological errors, but nothing on anything like this scale.

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