The Jerusalem Temple in Devotional and Visionary Experience
Jon D. Levenson
The paradox is compounded when one considers that the Pentateuch has been, in principle, the foundational document of Judaism since some point in that Second Temple period. For the Pentateuch neither names Jerusalem nor refers directly to the sacred building(s) that were erected there. Instead it treats at length the construction of the ‘ohel mo’ed, the Tent of Assembly or Tent of Meeting, which served as a portable temple during the period between the revelation at Sinai (e.g., Exod 25-30; 35-40) and the entrance into Canaan, or perhaps even the construction of Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple (1 Kgs 8:4). Modern critical scholarship has tended to doubt the historicity of that portable temple and to regard it as a retrojection of a later institution, usually the Second Temple, which the text thus anchors in primordial events.
This tendency has been mitigated in our century by research into tribal palladia and other tent-like structures which, even in modern times, have accompanied some nomadic Arabian tribes in their movements. Descriptions of analogous shrines appear in Phoenician sources contemporaneous with much biblical literature. Thus, the possibility that the traditions about the Tent of Meeting contain a nucleus of historical fact especially in the more conservative American circles.There has gained ground, on the other hand, the notion that the Tent as described in Exodus could have been carried about in the wilderness for some forty years is still implausible. If, as seems likely, the Tent of Meeting and the Temple, in whatever of its phases, are not simply to be identified, we are led to wonder what statement is being made by the emphasis of some ancient Israelite traditions upon the portable shrine.
Is it a judgment upon the Temple, a statement that the Jerusalem shrine does not conform to the ancient archetype. If so, then the very portability of the Tent may have served as a critique of the tendency to regard Jerusalem and its Temple as immutable cosmic realities, a tendency which we shall examine and which became more developed in post-biblical literature. Similarly, the availability of God in His portable home probably did serve as a source of consolation to an Israel in exile (sixth century B.C.E.) far from their Temple, which lay in ruins. To them the most meaningful image of God was not that of a king enthroned in his massive stone palace; it was that of a delicate tabernacling presence, on the move with His people. In rabbinic literature, this presence acquires a name, the shekkinah (from the root shakhan, “to set up tent; “to dwell”), and there it is often said to envelop those who involve themselves in Torah (e.g., m. Abot 3:3). This conjunction of the tabernacling presence and Torah is, in a sense, natural, in light of the emphasis in the Pentateuch itself upon God’s mobility and availability to all Israel, attributes that He shares with the Book. Finally, we should note that, if the Pentateuchal concern with the tent-shrine is indeed a judgment on the Jerusalem Temple, it is probably also a judgment upon the latter’s character as a royal shrine, built, patronized, and abused by the House of David. The placement of the ideal arrangement in the days of Aaron and Moses, when a king had not yet remains that the dominant impression one receives from the Hebrew Bible is one of an easy harmony between the two. In fact, one scholar has recently gone so far as to argue for the historical accuracy of the statement of 1 Kgs 8:4 (-2 Chr 5:5) and several texts in Chronicles that the Tent was moved into the Temple.4 In support of this, he points to texts such as Ps 26:8:
0 LORD, I love Your temple abode,
The dwelling-place (meqwm ‘thaw) of Your glory.’
For example, the haftarah for the portion Teza wweh (Exod 27:20-e 30:10) is Ezek 43:10-27, and that for Wayaqhel (Exod 35:1-38:20) is 1 Kg 7:40-50. Judaism tends to continue those streams in biblical tradition which: homologized the Tent and the Temple.
The Presentness and Practice of Salvation
It is often said that Israel established her identity through the recitation of her Heilsgeschichte, the sacred story which, with many embellishments and digressions, dominates the Pentateuch or the Hexateuch (Genesis-Joshua) The most compressed resume of the story occurs in 1 Sam 12:8: 91710 Jacob came to Egypt,6 … your fathers cried out to the LORD, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place This resume is extraordinary only in its implication that Moses and Aaron came into the land with the people; the Pentateuch dates their deaths before the entrance into the land (Num 20:27-29; Deut 34:4-7).7 The absence of mention of the revelation at Sinai/Horeb is not,. extraordinary. It is paralleled in the Pentateuch (e.g., Deut 26:5b-9). In fact,. it is this omission which has generated the controversial hypothesis that the settlement tradition and the Sinai tradition were originally separate and distinct, having been combined only at a certain point within historical memory.’ Whether the hypothesis is historically valid or not, it remains true that the present shape of the Pentateuch presents us with two different perspectives concerning the point at which the relationship between Israel and its God (YHWH) was consummated, the telos, so to speak, of the foundational drama. The settlement tradition holds that the story is consummated only outside the Pentateuch, with the allocation of the land, at long last, to the tribes (Josh 21:41-43). Until “everything was fulfilled” (v. 43), the hand of God was restless, discontented with the status quo, and upsetting eventually each obstacle to the fulfillment of the promise, whether it arises from Pharaoh, from Canaanite land tenure, or from the faithlessness and lawlessness of the Israelites themselves. The other perspective finds the climax at the point at which God graciously signals the acceptability of the complex and elaborate system of worship mandated and executed at Sinai:
Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people.
Fire came forth from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces. (Lev 9:23-24)
Within this second perspective, the emphasis lies on absorption into divine order of things, that is, participation in the rhythm of the divine file: itself, which is the nearest approximation to unto mystics that Hebraic thought can tolerate. Thus, the Sabbath, which in Deuteronomic tradition (D) is a humanitarian ordinance and a commemoration of the liberation from Egypt (Deut 5:12-15), appears in P as a sign of the eternal covenant. and a-commemoration of the act of creation (Exod 31:12-17). In P, in of e words, observance of the Sabbath is an example of imitatio Dei. Through it, Israel replicates the rhythm of the primordial act, participating endlessly in an institution which, until Sinai, had been observed by God alone (Gad., 2:1-3). The dietary laws speak to the same point. In D, they seem to be consequence of the election and consecration of Israel (Deut 14:1-21). P, which also assumes election and consecration, suggests a connection between I Israel’s “separation” (hivdaltem) of clean from unclean beasts and God’s “separation” (hivdaltiy) of Israel from the nations, and it presents divine holiness as the rationale for Israel’s mandated holiness (Lev 20:25-26).10 Once again, sacred rites are grounded in imitatio Dei; mortal persons are offered some access into the divine life. Furthermore, it seems likely that tile emphasis upon the verb “to separate” (hivdil) here is intended to suggest the primordial acts of separation that punctuate the act of creation in P (Gen 1:4, 6, 7, 14, 18). If so, then the implication is that the separation of Israel from the nations is a continuation of creation and that Israel’s own separation of fit from unfit foods is a perpetuation of the very process that brought order out of chaos. Israel draws near to God, in part, by perpetuating the primordial within the world of historical change, and the sacred amidst profanity.
And at the center of Israel, quite literally, lies what is most sacred, the Temple (Num 2). Israel lies at the intersection of God and, the world, but she faces God.
The dichotomy between these two perspectives must not be sharply drawn. Although D is closer in spirit to the first, and P, to the second, the perspectives are ideal types that are not coterminous with literary sources or historical periods. Nor should we fall into the common mistake of identifying one perspective as indigenous and essential, and the other as foreign and peripheral. Both are well attested in the Hebrew Bible, and both have antecedents and parallels elsewhere in the ancient Near East. More important, the final shape of the Hebrew Bible and of the Torah in particular includes both perspectives. In that sense, the Book is bipolar: the whole is larger than the sum of its part, and the tension between perspectives yields a spiritual dynamic that neither perspective alone could have produced.
The Presence and the Omnipresence of God
The developed theology of temples in Israel points to the presence of God as the core of spiritual meaning:
For there I will meet with you, and there I will speak to you, and there I will meet with the Israelites, and it shall be sanctified by My Presence.
I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God.
And they shall know that I the LORD am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the LORD their God. (Exod 29:42b-46)
A song of ascents.
Now bless the LORD,
all you servants of the LORD
who stand nightly
in the house of the LORD.
Lift your hands toward the sanctuary and bless the Lord.
May the LORD, maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion. (Ps 134)
The Temple is the objective correlative of the paradoxical doctrine of God’s simultaneous otherness and omnipresence.
Refuge for the Just in the House of YHWH
Nowhere is it written that sins and sanctity can cohabitate. In some passages, the conditionality of God’s presence in the Temple is underscored:
Then the word of the LORD came to Solomon,
“With regard to this House you are building— if you follow My laws and observe My rules and faithfully keep My commandments,
I will fulfill for you the promise that I gave to your father David: I will abide among the children of Israel, and I will never forsake My people Israel.” (1 Kgs 6:11-13)
When they [the Judean kings] placed their threshold
next to My threshold
and their doorposts next to My doorposts
with only a wall between Me and them,
they would defile My holy name
by the abominations that they committed,
and I consumed them in My anger.
Therefore, let them put their apostasy
and the memorials of their kings far from Me,
and I will dwell among them forever. (Ezek 43:8-9)
Between these two positions—the one resting the very existence of the Temple on Israel’s deserts, the other ostensibly ignoring the issue of deserts – lies a third position. This one, most evident in the book of Psalms, sees in the Temple a source of boundless security, but one available only to those whose deeds prove worthy. The effect, then, is to highlight the unshakability and inviolability of the person of innocence And rectitude:
A psalm of David.
LORD, who may sojourn in Your tent,
who may dwell on Your holy mountain?
He who lives without blame,
who does what is right,
and in his heart acknowledges the truth;
whose tongue is not given to evil;
who has never done harm to his fellow,
or borne reproach for (his acts toward) his neighbor;
for whom a contemptible man is abhorrent,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who stands by his oath even to his hurt;
who has never lent money at interest,
or accepted a bribe against the innocent.
The man who acts thus shall never be shaken. (Ps 13)
But who is applying for admission? Much of the literature suggests, as does Psalm 15, that it is ordinary people who seek to offer prayer or sacrifice in the House of YHWH. Elsewhere, however, we hear of the worshiper’s desire not merely to visit the sacred shrine but to spend his whole life there, as in the close of the famous Twenty-Third Psalm:
You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my drink is abundant.
Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for many long years. (Ps 23:5-6)
One thing I ask of the LORD, only that do I seek:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD,
to frequent His temple.
He will shelter me in His pavilion
on an evil day,
grant me the protection of His tent,
raise me high upon a rock.
Now is my head high
over my enemies roundabout;
I sacrifice in His tent
with shouts of joy,
singing and chanting
a hymn of the LORD. (Ps 27:4-6)
How lovely is Your dwelling-place,
0 LORD of hosts.
I long, I yearn for
the courts of the LORD;
my body and soul shout for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself
in which to set her young,
near Your altar, 0 LORD of hosts,
my king and my God.
Happy are those who dwell in Your house;
they forever praise You. (Selah)
Happy is the man who finds refuge in You.
Better one day in Your courts
than a thousand [anywhere else];
I would rather stand at
the threshold of God’s house
than dwell in the tents of the wicked,
For the LORD God is sun and shield;
the LORD bestows grace and glory;
He does not withhold His bounty
from those who live without blame. (Ps 84:2-6a, 11-12)
I bless You all my life;
I lift up my hands, invoking Your name.
I am sated as with suet and fat,
I sing praises with joyful lips
when I call You to mind upon my bed,
when I think of You in my watches of the night,
for You are my help,
and in the shadow of Your wings
I shout for joy.
My soul is attached to You;
Your right hand supports me.
May those who seek to destroy my life
enter the depths of the earth. (Ps 63:5-10)
The refugee of those poems that do clearly speak of asylum became Everyman. The situation of an innocent person slandered and hunted by bloodthirsty enemies and seeking shelter and sustenance from his bountiful lord became a paradigm of the human condition. The recitation to this day of those psalms by people who have never suspected their original setting is stunning evidence for the phenomenal durability of the spiritual legacy of the Jerusalem Temple.
A Locus for the Vision of God
The apogee of the spiritual experience of the visitor to the Temple was a visit of God. In fact, “to see the face of YHWH” is an idiom that indicates a visit to the Temple (e.g., Deut 16:16). Psalm 11 asserts a reciprocity of vision: YHWH, enthroned in His Temple, conducts a visual inspection of humanity, and those found worthy are granted a vision of his “face”:
The LORD is in His holy palace;
the LORD —His throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold (yehezu), His gaze searches mankind.
The Lord seeks out the righteous man,
but loathes the wicked one who loves injustice.
He will rain down upon the wicked
blazing coals and sulfur;
a scorching wind shall be their lot.
For the LORD is righteous;
He loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold (yehezu) His face. (Ps 11:4-7)
And Abraham named that site Adonai-Yireh,
whence the present saying,
“On the mount of the LORD there is vision.” (Gen 22:14)
The last clause can just as well be translated, “on the mount of the LORD He is seen.” One senses that the author has a particular mountain in mind. Postexilic tradition may well be correct in identifying it with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where YHWH “had appeared to [Solomon’s] father David” (2 Chr 3:1). If so, then one function of the story of the binding of Isaac in its present form was to connect the ongoing vision of God in the Temple with the visionary experience of the patriarchs. Abraham’s experience has been assimilated to David’s (2 Sam 24:15), and both now serve as a foundation myth for the Jerusalem Temple. If, as seems equally possible, in Genesis 22 Moriah has not yet become a name for any part of Jerusalem but refers to another sacred spot, the connection between theophany and sacrifice remains valid and important. Particularly noteworthy is the association of vision, sacrifice, and oracle, which appear together not only in Genesis 22 and 2 Samuel 24 but also, for example, in the story of the Gentile seer Balaam (Num 23:1-5) and in the annunciation of Samson’s birth (Judges 13). The last passage indicates that a divine being might be imagined to have been glimpsed in the flames leaping up to the sky from the altar on which the sacrificial offering was burning (vv. 19-23; cf. Exod 3:2).
The importance of icons of the deity in Near Eastern temples suggests another candidate for the object beheld in the epiphanic moment. To be sure, images of the deity, in fact all images, became strictly prohibited in ancient Israel. The prohibition came into the Decalogue itself (Exod 20:4),20 and Aaron’s and Jeroboam’s casting of golden calves (Exod 32 and 1 Kgs 12:28-32) came to serve as archetypes of sin. The question is the date at which the cultus became aniconic and the extent of acceptance of the anti-iconic theology in ancient Israelite society. From the Torah itself one might not suspect that the heyday of iconoclasm in Israel began in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah late in the eighth century B.C.E., and was resumed with a ferocious passion almost a century later, in the reign of Josiah.
It was Hezekiah who “broke into pieces the bronze serpent which Moses had made” (2 Kgs 18:4), the very sight of which had been thought to produce healing in the viewer (Num 21:6-9).
Josiah, acting on the basis of a newfound “book of the Torah,” which most scholars think was some form of Deuteronomy, carried out a far-reaching purge, which included the destruction of iconography on the grounds of the Jerusalem Temple (2 Kgs 22-23). The history of Israel that comes to us in the books from Joshua through 2 Kings was edited in Deuteronomistic circles who presupposed the normativeness and antiquity of the aniconic cultus.
But traces of the other perspectives remain. There is, for example, the golden “ephod” that the YHWHistic hero Gideon made; to a Deuteronomistic editor of the book of Judges, it was only “a snare to Gideon and his household” (Judg 8:27). But there is no reason to think that it represented any deity except YHWH. Similarly, the mother of an Ephraimite named Micah dedicated silver to YHWH, out of which a smith at her request apparently made two images, one sculptured and one molten. These Micah set up in his temple (Judg 17:1-6). The precise nature of all these images must remain a matter of speculation. Nonetheless, the application of bovine imagery to YHWH may provide a clue. Not only is YHWH described as being endowed with something “like the horns of a wild ox” (Num 24:8), but one of his epithets is ‘avir ya`aqov, a term often rendered as “Mighty One of Jacob; but better rendered “Bull of Jacob” (Gen 49:24; Ps 132: 2,4).21 The bovine imagery and epithets are a carryover from the Canaanite god ‘El, with whom YHWH was identified even in “orthodox” theology (e.g., Gen 33:20; Isa 43:12). Was there ever a bull image or similar icon in the Jerusalem Temple?
In answer, one must first note that the radical iconoclasm of Deuteronomic tradition, which prohibited all plastic art (Deut 4:15-18), never seems to have taken root in the Jerusalem Temple. There, in contrast, one encountered a dazzling display of art, including olive-wood cherubim, reliefs of trees and flowers, bronze columns, topped with capitals and festooned with chainwork, a bronze tank called the “Sea’ supported by twelve oxen (!), and much else (1 Kgs 7).
The blunt truth is that, if we judged from the descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and the Tent of Meeting (Exod 25-30; 35-40) alone, we should never guess the depth of anti-iconic feeling in ancient Israel. Whether the gallery of visual delights that was the Jerusalem Temple included at some points in its checkered history an icon of YHWH, bovine or other, is impossible to say with certainty. Deuteronomic tradition insists that the Ark of the Covenant contained only the Decalogue (Deut 10:1-5).
Some modern scholars have conjectured that at one point it contained an icon instead.If so, it is likely that the “face” which was seen in the Temple or the “beauty of the LORD” which one psalmist longed to behold there for his entire life (Ps 27:4) were more than metaphorical. In that case, what is most remarkable is that this language of vision remained central to the religious vocabulary even after its literal referent had vanished. In this, the language of vision resembles the Jerusalem Temple itself.
Zion the Inviolable
We have seen that central to the idea of the Temple as a place of asylum is the assertion that the person qualified for admittance to it is inviolable. He “shall never be shaken” (Ps 15:5), and he holds his “head high/over [his] enemies roundabout” (Ps 27:6). The same inviolability is predicated not only of the right-doing person sheltered within, but of the Temple itself, the mount upon which it rests, and the holy city in which it is found. That is to say, the protection that the Temple affords one Israelite against the enmity of another is available also to the larger community when it is under attack by its enemies:
A song. A psalm of the Korahites.
The LORD is great and much acclaimed
in the city of our God,
His holy mountain —
fair-crested, joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, summit of Zaphon,
city of the great king.
Through its citadels,
God has made Himself known as a haven.
See, the kings joined forces;
they advanced together.
At the mere sight of it they were stunned,
they were terrified, they panicked;
they were seized there with a trembling,
like a woman in the throes of labor,
as the fleet of Tarshish
was wrecked in an easterly gale.
The likes of what we heard
we have now witnessed
in the city of the LORD of hosts,
in the city of our God—
may God preserve it forever!
In Your temple, God,
we meditate upon Your faithful care.
The praise of You, God, like Your name,
reaches to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is filled with beneficence.
Let Mount Zion rejoice!
Let the towns of Judah exult,
because of Your judgments.
Walk around Zion, circle it;
count its towers, take note of its ramparts;
go through its citadels,
that you may recount it to a future age.
For God—He is our God forever;
He will lead us evermore. (Ps 48)
Why do nations assemble,
and peoples plot vain things;
kings of the earth take their stand,
and regents intrigue together
against the LORD and against His anointed.
“Let us break the coals of their yoke,
shake off their ropes from us!”
He who is enthroned in heaven laughs;
the LORD mocks at them.
Then He speaks to them in anger,
terrifying them in His rage,
“But I have installed My king
on Zion, My holy mountain!”
Let me tell of the decree:
the LORD said to me,
“You are My son,
I have fathered you this day.
Ask it of Me,
and I will make the nations your domain;
your estate, the limits of the earth.
You can smash them with an iron mace,
shatter them like potter’s ware.
So now, 0 kings, be prudent;
accept discipline, you rulers of the earth!
Serve the LORD in awe;
tremble with fright,
pay homage in good faith,
lest He be angered,
and your way be doomed
in the mere flash of His anger.
Happy are all who take refuge in Him. (Ps 2)
First, ultimate sovereignty is not an earthly prerogative; it resides in the skies, where YHWH, the king of kings, is enthroned. No challenge to His kingship can succeed (v. 4).
Second, the human king against whom they are in rebellion has been installed by the ultimate king on Mount Zion, which is sacred space (v. 6). Presumably, an attack upon him there would be equivalent to an invasion of the Temple precincts by a blood-avenger in pursuit of his prey—in short, an outrageous sacrilege.
Third, the rebellious vassals do not recognize the closeness and the durability of YHWH’s relationship to the anointed king enthroned upon Zion. The latter rectifies this by reading the protocol By which he became God’s son and thus the vice-regent of the universal dominion (vv. 7-9). The action of Psalm 2, therefore, takes place upon a split set.
The nexus between heavenly and earthly sovereignty is Davidic kingship, which is an extension of YHWH’s reign into the murky world of human politics. In other words, the authority of the House of David is in this world, but not of it. The link between the two worlds, the world of divine power and the world of power politics, is Mount Zion, the capital of the universe, from which the House of David exercises its divine commission to rule. The divine origin of that commission ensures the immunity and invulnerability of the Temple Mount to the challenges of ordinary political life. It is on Zion that the higher world is available. Zion is the axis mundorum.
The Judean royal theology, with its bold assertions about the indefectibility and absoluteness of God’s commitments to David and Zion, must not be taken for the totality of biblical thought on these issues. There is, for example, a tension between this theology and the stern morality of much prophetic literature:
Hear this, you rulers of the House of Jacob,
You chiefs of the House of Israel,
Who detest justice
And make crooked all that is straight,
Who build Zion with crime,
Jerusalem with iniquity!
Her rulers judge for gifts,
Her priests give rulings for a fee,
And her prophets divine for pay;
Yet they rely upon the LORD, saying,
“The LORD is in our midst;
No calamity shall overtake us.”
Assuredly, because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field,
And Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
And the Temple Mount
A shrine in the woods. (Mic 3:9-12; cf. Jer 7:1-15)
The breath of our life, the LORD’S anointed,
Was captured in their traps—
He in whose shade we had thought
To live among the nations. (Lam 4:20)
The effect of the inclusion of these two spiritual postures in one set of scriptures is to create a spiritual dialectic which, like any dialectic, is more than the sum of its pans. The one perspective, represented by the royal theology, speaks of the mysterious and all-encompassing grace of God, which provides absolute security in the here-and-now. The second perspective, represented by the Sinaitic covenantal perspective, also includes a note of grace, for example, in its assertion of the perdurable openness of God to repentance (e.g., Deut 4:29-31) and its occasional emphasis upon the eternal, unconditional covenant with the patriarchs (e.g., Lev 26:39-42). But the predominant note in the Sinaitic traditions is the note of ultimate conditionality, the life-and-death choice which it is fully in Israel’s power to make (e.g., Deut 30:19-20).
Together these two positions prescribe a religion in which, to use the Christian terminology, neither “grace” nor “works,” is asserted at the expense of the other. The emphasis on grace in the royal and Temple theologies threatens to depreciate the deed, to render ethics dispensable, in short, to make Israel merely a passive bystander in her own spiritual life. The emphasis on works on mizwot, in the traditions of the Sinai covenant, threatens to make God merely a mechanism for the dispensation of rewards and punishments and to make the mizwot themselves into magical practices through which Israel can manipulate her God, who thus becomes the passive partner in the relationship.
By refusing to dichotomize spiritual experience into grace and works, by affirming both simultaneously, the religion prescribed by the Jewish Bible maintains the two-sidedness of the relationship of God and Israel. It preserves both activity and passivity as proper postures for both partners, and it affirms the ultimate importance both of this world and of the higher or future world.
To some, the juxtaposition of the two theologies will seem to have resulted in an unacceptable contradiction. To others, it will seem to have resulted in a contradiction that is indeed to be accepted, a paradox, one that lies at the heart of Jewish spirituality throughout the ages.
Temple and Creation
In post-biblical Jewish literature, both Hellenistic and rabbinic, we find the notion that the Jerusalem Temple (or the Tent of Meeting) was a cosmic institution, either the center of the world, from which the world was created, or itself a microcosm, a miniature world. For example, the first-century historian Josephus describes the veil over its door as an eikon, an image, of the world.
In our century this notion that the Temple was conceived as cosmic has received some confirmation from archaeologists studying the iconography of the Temple and its Near Eastern sources and parallels.
For example, the metal “Sea” (yam) in its courtyard (1 Kgs 7:23-26) suggests “the Mesopotamian apsu, employed both as the name of the subterranean fresh-water ocean and as the name of a basin of holy water erected in the Temple. As the god of the subterranean freshwater ocean, apsu played an important role in some Mesopotamian cosmogonies, just as the Sea (yam) did in some Israelite creation stories (e.g., Ps 74:12-17; Isa 51:9-11). This suggests that the metal Sea in the Temple courtyard served as a continual testimony to the act of creation.
Similarly, the name of the foundation of the altar of the Temple envisioned in Ezek 43:13-17, “Bosom of the earth” (heq ha’arez), might suggest the sort of cosmic understanding that will become common in Hellenistic and rabbinic speculation, and the name har’el there (v. 15) may signify either “the mountain of God” (Hebrew) or “a cosmic locality opposite of heaven” (Akaddian arallu). The last example of many that might be cited is the platform (kiyor), upon which Solomon stands as he dedicates his Temple in 2 Chr 6:13. It has been connected with Akkadian kiuru, which may indicate the earth or a sacred place.
In sum, the likelihood is that the Temple appurtenances were conceived as symbolic of the cosmos and reminiscent of the great cosmogonic acts of YHWH. If so, then the association of Zion/Jerusalem with “heaven and earth” (e.g., Ps 134:3; Isa 65:17-18), the nierism through which biblical Hebrew denotes the world (e.g., Gen 1:1), is not coincidence!
There is also literary evidence to support this connection of creation and Temple in ancient Israelite culture. Since rabbinic times, scholars have noticed verbal parallels between the account of the completion of the world in Gen 2:1-3 and the account of the completion of the Tent of Meeting in Exodus 39-40. World building and Temple building seem to be homologous activities. In fact, some of the same language can be found in the description of “the establishment of the sanctuary in the land and the distribution of the land among the tribes in Joshua 18-19.
Therefore, we should not be surprised to find other thematic parallels between these three moments. One is the theme of “rest.” God “rested° (wayyanah) on the seventh day (Exod 20:11), the crown of creation; Zion is his “resting-place” (menuhatiy), Ps 132:4 and the land of Israel is the place in which he provides “rest” for his people (menuhah, Deut 12:9). According to 1 Chr 22:9, it is because Solomon, unlike David, was “a man at rest” (‘ish menuhah) that he was permitted to build the Temple.
The Temple is the place at which that primordial moment of repose remains eternally available. Yet the Sabbath; another memorial to creation (e.g., Exod 20:11), makes available the same experience. The Sabbath is a kind of democratization of the Temple experience, and the land of Israel is an extended Temple, a whole land of holiness, which, like temples, must be zealously guarded against pollution (e.g., Lev 18:24-30).
The sanctity of the Sabbath, the sanctity of the Temple, and the sanctity of the land are homologous. They are not ultimately distinguishable. Each testifies to God’s triumph, to His invincibility — whether in cosmogony, when He overcame the primordial watery chaos (Gen 1:2), or in history, when He overcame all the enemies of His people, settled them in the land, gave them respite, and allowed His sacred palace to be built at last. Ultimately, the cosmogony and the historical myths are not to be distinguished: their end point is the same, YHWH and Israel at rest in His sacred precincts. It was for this reason that the definitive triumph of YHWH over Pharaoh, a historical enemy, could be celebrated with a hymn about victory at the waters, a hymn that ends with the appropriate image of YHWH enthroned on his mountain in the Temple which His own hands built and acclaimed king by the people He acquired through manumission (Exod 15:1-8).32 It is here that we see the convergence of the two perspectives outlined above, the settlement tradition and the (Priestly) Sinai tradition.
It is true that the consummation of the foundational story comes at the assumption of the promised land in one case and at the inauguration of the tent-shrine in the other. In the settlement tradition, the fulfillment lies ahead for a longer time. In the (Priestly) Sinai tradition, it is a present reality from Sinai on. But once the homology of land and Temple is recognized, it becomes clear that, although the story comes to rest later in one case than the other, the rest to which it comes is the same.
This conception of the Temple as a world, a microcosm, recalls the recent statement by a distinguished historian of religion that “ritual represents the creation of a controlled environment … [It is] a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension to the way things are in such a way that this ritualized perfection is recollected in the ordinary, uncontrolled, course of things.” The Temple is the world as it ought to be. It is a world in which God’s reign is unthreatened, and his justice is manifest, in which life is peaceful, and every Israelite is without blemish. It is no wonder that prophets could call the mountain of God TAW, and compare Zion glorified to that paradisaical garden (Ezek 28:13-14; Isa 51:3). In this theology, [he Temple was a piece of primal perfection available within the broken world of ordinary experience—heaven on earth.
The House of YHWH and the Renewal of the World
The contiguity of a heavenly entity, the Jerusalem Temple, and mundane reality, with all its corruption and defilement, accounts for one of the most powerful spiritual dynamics in the Hebrew Bible. We see it in its sharpest form in the experience of the prophet Isaiah:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I beheld my Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; and the skirts of His robe filled the Temple.
Seraphs stood in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly.
And one would call to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy!
The Loan of Hosts!
His presence fills all
The doorposts would shake at the sound of the one who called, and the House kept filling with smoke.
“Woe is me; I am lost!
For I am a man of unclean lips
And I live among a people
of unclean lips;
Yet my own eyes have beheld The King LORD of Hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew over to me with a live coal, which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched it to my lips and declared,
“Now that this has touched your lips,
Your guilt shall depart
And your sin be purged away!”
Then I heard the voice of my LORD saying,
“Whom shall I send?
Who will go for us?”
And I said,
“Here am I; send me.”
And He said,
“Go, say to that people… 7 (Isa 6:1-9)
The vision would have doomed him, had not a seraph cauterized his lips and thus purified him of whatever blasphemy or slander he had uttered (Isa 6:5-7). Only then does Isaiah become fit to bear the verdict of the divine council out into the profane world (vv. 8-9).
The affinity of Isaiah’s throne – vision with the spirituality of the Temple as it appears in the Psalms is patent. As we have noted, the apogee of a visit to the Temple was a vision of God, but entrance was granted only to those qualified for it. Sins of the tongue are prominent among the disqualifications (e.g., Ps 15:3; 24:4).
In Isaiah’s case, the dissonance between the holiness of YHWH enthroned in his Temple and the unholiness of the outside world impelled his prophetic career. The people of Zion have become unfit receptacles for that overpowering holiness whose invasion of the ordinary world was announced by the seraphim. They must be reformed:
Sinners in Zion are frightened,
The godless are seized with trembling:
“Who of us can dwell with the devouring fire?
Who of us can dwell with the never – dying blaze?”
He who walks in righteousness,
Spurns profit from fraudulent dealings,
Waves away a bribe instead of grasping it,
Stops his ears against listening to infamy,
Shuts his eyes against looking at evil —
Such a one shall dwell in lofty security,
With inaccessible cliffs for his stronghold,
With his food supplied And his drink assured. (Isa 33:14-16)
Yea, man is bowed,
And mortal brought low;
Brought low is the pride of the haughty.
And the LORD of Hosts is exalted by judgment, The Holy God proved holy by retribution. (Isa 5:15-16; cf. 2:10-17).
The invasion of the weed by the Towle is the theme of an oracle of uncertain authorship, two variations of which appear in Isaiah and in Micah:
In the days to come,
The Mount of the Lord’s House Shall stand firm above the
mountains And tower above the hills;
And all the nations
Shall gaze on it
And the many peoples shall go and say: “Come,
Let us go up to
the Mount of the Lord, To the House of the God of Jacob; That He may instruct us
in His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.”
For instruction shall come
forth from Zion, The word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Thus He will judge among the nations
And arbitrate for the many peoples,
And they shall beat their
swords into plowpoints”
And their spears into pruning hooks:
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war. (Isa 2:2-4; cf. Mic 4:1-5)
Finally, the prediction of “instruction” (torah, Isa 2:3) proceeding from Zion recalls the career of Isaiah himself, who bore his message from the Temple out into the world. The prediction is another reflex of the idea, common throughout the ancient Near East, of the temple as a place for oracles. But, in this vision, alongside the outward motion of the oracle as it leaves Zion/Jerusalem lies the motion of the nations as they march toward the Temple in quest of sacred knowledge. The image of the Gentiles converging on Zion, now resplendent and triumphant after a period of humiliation and desolation, became an important element in later Jewish eschatology (e.g., Isa 60-62).
It was an essential constituent of the vision of YHWH’s ultimate victory, which was complete and manifest only when He had assumed His throne in the palace upon His sacred mountain. “A new heaven and a new earth” were inextricably associated with a new Jerusalem, (re-)created “as a joy/and her people as a delight” (Isa 65:17-18). Visions of that (re)new(ed) temple and the proleptic experience of it were important in Jewish utopias (e.g., Ezek 40-48).
Temple and Synagogue