We’ll begin by learning about Biblical history, from the time of Abraham to the end of the Second Temple Period. If you prefer video, the Heritage series below the podcasts are a bit older, but are great for “binge watching.”
The crowning achievement of King Solomon’s reign was the building of the magnificent Temple (Hebrew- Beit haMikdash) in the capital city of ancient Israel – Jerusalem. His father, King David, had wanted to build the great Temple a generation earlier, as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments.
Solomon spared no expense for the building’s creation. He ordered vast quantities of cedar wood from King Hiram of Tyre (I Kings 5:2025), had huge blocks of the choicest stone quarried, and commanded that the building’s foundation be laid with hewn stone. To complete the massive project, he imposed forced labor on all his subjects, drafting people for work shifts that sometimes lasted a month at a time.
When the Temple was completed, Solomon inaugurated it with prayer and sacrifice, and even invited nonJews to come and pray there. He urged God to pay particular heed to their prayers: “Thus all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built” (I Kings 8:43).
Sacrifice was the predominant mode of divine service in the Temple until it was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years later, in 586 BCE. Seventy years later, after the story of Purim, a number of Jews returned to Israel – led by the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah – and the Second Temple was built on the same site. Sacrifices to God were once again resumed. During the first century B.C.E., Herod, the Roman appointed head of Judea, made substantial modifications to the Temple and the surrounding mountain, expanding the Temple. The Second Temple, however, met the same fate as the first and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., following the failure of the Great Revolt.
The Second Temple was not only awe inspiring because of its religious significance, but also for its physical dimensions, its grandeur and its beauty. Thus, as the Roman generals sat surveying Jerusalem and considering the Temple’s future they hesitated before ordering its destruction. Jews, from that day to this, have yearned and prayed for its rebuilding, and tourists and religious people alike have come to behold the site on which it once stood.
Unfortunately our impressions of the Temple are at best incomplete. Since its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE, the only available sources of information about the Temple have had some religious or political bias. The New Testament, the Mishna, and the works of the Judeo-Roman historian Josephus provide the bulk of our knowledge of the Temple. These in association with archeological evidence at the site all point to a building so wondrous that even today its construction remains a mystery.
An appreciation of the Temple is enhanced by a clearer understanding of the geographical and historical setting in which it was extended.
During this period, Jerusalem was under Roman rule but remained the capital of Judea and the international centre of Judaism. Normally a city of 100 to 200 thousand people, three times a year on the pilgrim festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Jerusalem’s population swelled to 1 million souls (the exact number depending on the source of population estimates).