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Doing The Incredible

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Building And Dedicating Solomon’s Temple

By James Donahue

There are some difficult statistics laid out in the Old Testament story of how King Solomon set about to build the great temple and then make a formal presentation to the Lord through a blood sacrifice.

In 1 Kings 6:2 we read that Solomon’s temple was 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. From our understanding of ancient measurements, a cubit was the measurement of a man’s arm, from the elow to the tips of his fingers. This may have equaled one and one-half feet or 18 inches. Thus the temple would have been just 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high, a relatively small building.

Other Bible scholars say a cubit was 21.888 inches. Using this measurement, the temple at 60 cubits would have been 1,313 feet long, 437 feet wide and 656 feet tall. This size would resemble a good sized modern ocean-going tanker, which would be quite impressive.

Using the larger numbers might explain why Solomon called on 153,300 workers who spend seven years building this structure. It might also explain why Solomon adorned the temple with over 7 million pounds of gold and 75 million pounds of silver.

But reading more carefully in the Book of 1 Kings we find that there was much more to this Temple than just the main structure, and everything that was built was done with great intricacy. For example the entire structure was made of cut stone fitted together merely under its own weight.

Also there was a vestibule that extended 10 cubits, or about 30 feet out from the front of the "house" and "against the wall of the temple he built chambers all around, against the walls of the temple, all around the sanctuary and the inner sanctuary. The three chambers, towering three stories high and surrounding the main building were five, six and seven cubits wide. If we assume the widest part of this structure was seven feet wide, we thus can add another 21 feet to the total width of the temple structure.

Later, when describing the way in which the interior of the temple was finished, the author of 1 Kings notes that Solomon "built the 20 cubit room at the rear of the temple, from floor to ceiling, with cedar boards." This means that yet another 20 cubits, or 30 feet of building was added to the back of the main building.

The walls of the temple were paneled with cedar, the floors with cypress. The cedar was "carved with ornamental buds and open flowers. All was cedar; there was no stone to be seen." Another verse says that "Solomon overlaid the inside of the temple with pure gold" and he placed two beautifully carved cherubim, made of solid olive wood and standing ten cubits high inside the inner sanctuary where the "holy of holies" was kept.

Considering the intricate degree of craftmanship that went into the design and construction of the temple, we get an understanding as to why it took 153,300 laborers and seven years to build.

A more interesting problem we find in 1 Chronicles 22:14, is that "a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver" were used to adorn the temple. Now a talent in ancient Bible times is known to equal about 75 pounds. So the verse is saying over 7 million pounds of gold and 75 million pounds of silver were used in completing the temple. It is estimated that only 10 billion ounces of gold exist in the world today. That means there are 625,000,000 pounds of gold in existence today, and that includes all of the gold mined and discovered in the world since the time of Solomon. Was it possible for Solomon to have amassed 7 million pounds of this precious metal during his lifetime?

Once the temple was finished, King Solomon held a festival celebrating the completion of the temple. It was highlighted by the sacrifice of 22,000 head of cattle and a 120,000 sheep and goats, all within a period of seven days. The festival then lasted an additional seven days.

Consider the labor and the loss of local farm animals that were slaughtered for this celebration. To have sacrificed so many animals, laborors would have had to slaughter about 850 animals an hour, or 14 every minute for seven days and nights.

Those people would have been up to their waist in blood before it was over. The whole story seems a bit too fictitious to have really happened.