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The Temple in Jerusalem

The original Temple in Jerusalem is built by Solomon. Since the craftsmen (as well as the materials) are brought from Tyre, the style of architecture is probably Phoenician.

Two large free-standing bronze pillars flank the entrance to the main building, which is rectangular with a flat roof. It has an entrance hall leading into a main chamber (Hekal or Holy Place) which is about 30 yards long and 10 wide. Beyond that is the inner sanctuary (Debir or Holy of Holies); this is a cubical room, about 10 yards in each dimension, in which the ark of the covenant is watched over by two winged angels or cherubim.

Public worship takes place in the courtyard in front of the Temple building. This contains two features, the 'sea' and the altar. The former is a large bronze basin, resting on the backs of twelve sculpted oxen; it is used by the priests for their ritual ablutions.

The altar, also of bronze, is a platform ten yards square - the same dimensions as the Holy of Holies. The regular rituals of the cult (sacrifices of animals and the provision of burnt offerings for Yahweh) are carried out on this altar, which is like a stage raised some five yards above the ground.

Solomon's Temple is destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Second Temple is built to the same design after the return of the Jews from Babylon. It is completed in 516 BC. But the Holy of Holies no longer contains the ark of the covenant or the cherubim, which have been lost in the disaster.

In 20 BC Herod the Great sets about enlarging the Temple mount and rebuilding the Temple in more lavish style. His version lasts less than a century before it is destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The Western Wall, the most holy shrine for Jews today (often referred to by tourists as the Wailing Wall), is part of the supporting structure of Herod's Temple mount. On the mount itself, in the 7th century, the Dome of the Rock is built.

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