Sunday, August 31, 2008

Location of Solomon’s Temple 8: “Let us Ascend”

Biblical texts consistently describe going to the Temple as an ascent. The narrative of David’s capture of Jerusalem is a good starting point. The “city of David” (ʿîr Davīd) in the tenth century BC is explicitly said to be the citadel of the old Jebusite city on the Silwan ridge that David captured as described in 2 Sam 5. After conquering Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:6-8), “David captured the citadel/fortress of Zion (meṣudāh ṣîyôn), which is the city of David (ʿîr Davīd)” (2 Sam 5:7, 1 Chr 11:5). “So David dwelt in the citadel/fortress (meṣudāh, from which the name Masada), and called it “the city of David” (2 Sam 5:9, 1 Chr 11:7). This citadel/city of David is also distinguished from “the rest of the city” (1 Chr 11:8). Now in ancient fortification strategies, the meṣudāh/citadel was an independent fortress (often including a palace complex) within the city walls, but designed to be independently defensible. That is to say, citadels were designed so that if the city itself fell, the citadel could still be independently defended. It was invariably on the highest point within a city so that, if the city itself fell, the enemy would not have an elevated position from which to shoot down onto the walls of the citadel. What this means is that ancient fortification strategy dictated that the meṣudāh/citadel of Jebusite Jerusalem was on the northernmost and highest part of the Jebusite city, on the top of the modern Silwan ridge.

Thereafter, David brought the Ark of the Covenant into the “city of David,” meaning, into the citadel. The text specifically states that David “brought up” (or more literally, “caused to ascend”) the Ark into the “city of David” (2 Sam 6:12 yaʿal ʾet; 2 Sam 6:15 maʿălîm ʾet, a participle form of ʿlh)—not just into Jerusalem, but specifically into the citadel of Jerusalem, that he called the city of David. The verb ʿlh in Hebrew means “to ascend,” and refers to literally going from a lower place to a higher place.

The tale of Aruana, which we discussed in the previous post, provides another clue as to the location of the Temple. David’s spatial relationship with Arauna is clearly described as David “going up” to Arauna’s threshing floor. That is to say, Arauna’s threshing floor is higher than David’s palace/citadel, the “city of David” described above. In 2 Sam 24:18-20, Gad tells David to “go up” (ʿălēh) to Arauna (18). The next verse says David “went up” (yaʿal) (19), and Arauna saw David “come up” (ʿālāy) towards him (20). This tells us that the threshing floor of Arauna was either higher in elevation than the city of Jerusalem, or, more minimally, that the threshing floor was higher within the city than David’s palace. (This later interpretation is unlikely, however, since, as noted earlier, placing a threshing floor within the city walls blocks the wind, thereby undermining the efficiency of the winnowing process, and the citadel was almost always the highest place in a city.)

The relationship between the city of David/citadel and the site of the Temple is further clarified in the discussion of Solomon installing the Ark of the Covenant within his new Temple (1 Kgs 8, 2 Chr 5). Here the relationship is also explicit. Solomon gathered the people together “to bring up (haʿălôt) the Ark of YHWH’s covenant from Zion, which is the city of David” to Solomon’s new Temple (1 Kgs 8:1), after which “the priests took the Ark, and they brought up (yaʿălû) the Ark of YHWH” to the Temple (1 Kgs 8:3-4). Notice that the narratives are all consistent here. David “brought up” the Ark into the citadel/city of David, after which Solomon “brought up” the Ark from the city of David to the site of the Temple. The only conclusion that can be drawn here is that the Temple site was higher than the citadel/city of David. This is consistent with the assumption that the Temple was built on the contemporary Temple Mount, but doesn’t make sense if we assume the Temple was built in old Jebusite Jerusalem on the Silwan ridge. Indeed, it is clear that the Temple was not built on the same place where David had installed the Ark within the citadel/city of David, since they carried the Ark from the place where David put it in a tabernacle, to a higher place where the Temple had been built.

That the Temple was higher than the rest of the city of Jerusalem is confirmed by numerous incidental references in biblical texts; only a few will be given here. Isaiah 2:3, declared “let us go up (naʿăleh) to the mountain of YHWH, to the temple of the God of Jacob.” Likewise, Ps 24:3 asks “who shall ascend (yaʿăleh) to the mountain of the Lord?” Jeremiah also describes the inner court of the priests as the “upper [or higher] court” (Jer 36:10), implying that the Temple and court of the priests was higher than the surrounding plaza. As far as I am aware, there is no text that describes anyone “going down” to the Temple. All of this data is consistent with the location of the Temple higher than old Jebusite Jerusalem, and probably on the highest place on the Temple Mount, but requires significant special pleading to make sense with a location on the Silwan ridge.

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