Descriptions of the Temple in First Kings and Ezekiel by C. A. Strine

Did everyone in ancient Israel agree on what their worship space—the temple—should be like?

The temple dedicated to YHWH is probably the most well-known building mentioned in the Bible. Since its purported site remains at the centre of Jerusalem and attracts thousands of visitors, it is no surprise descriptions of it still fascinate. The Hebrew Bible contains two notable passages depicting the temple: 1Kgs 6-8 and Ezek 40-48. The two share some similarities but differ in substantial ways.

First Kings describes a functioning temple, at the heart of a bustling Jerusalem, with many people coming and going. First Kings suggests a real, tangible place described by someone who has seen it. By contrast, Ezekiel speaks of a temple outside the city, with no humans in it, that appears to the prophet in a vision (Ezek 40:2). This temple defies reality.

The temple’s dimensions illustrate this too. 1Kgs 6:2 states succinctly the width, length, and height of the temple. Ezekiel spends two chapters giving the measurements of every part of the temple—but never the height of anything. Ezekiel’s temple can’t be built, only drawn on a flat surface.

The two also differ on who can enter. First Kings has priests working inside the temple and interacting with many people in the temple’s outer areas. Ezekiel allows no humans inside whatsoever. YHWH resides within the temple, behind a barrier that excludes humans, who might contaminate the temple. Even priests serve YHWH from a distance. Ezekiel—written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, which is attributed to improper worship of idols and the sun in the temple—requires such restrictions to maintain the purity of the temple. The two texts do share the belief that human conduct can defile the temple. First Kings thinks trained priests can manage that risk; Ezekiel concludes humans cannot be trusted to enter these sacred spaces again.

A memorable part of Ezekiel’s temple vision is a river that flows from the temple, heading east, growing wider and deeper, until it filters into the Dead Sea (Ezek 47:1-12). This feature is entirely absent from 1 Kings, but it still shows one place where Ezekiel and 1 Kings share a theological view. The river in Ezekiel flows into an arid region, but “everything will live where the river goes” (Ezek 47:9). The water transforms creation into a place of abundance. First Kings lacks a river but explains that the temple’s decorations include palm trees, flowers, pomegranates, and lilies. This horticultural imagery comes from a lush garden—such as the garden of Eden, one form of an ancient tradition of gardens as places where creation reaches its perfect state. First Kings makes an (implicit) argument that God dwells in a temple that reflects creation as it should be, like the garden of Eden. Ezekiel appropriates a different aspect of the garden tradition, namely, that the garden at creation has four rivers flowing from it (Gen 2:8-14), bringing life to the rest of the world. These seemingly unrelated images emerge from a shared theology, albeit in radically different ways. This comparison shows that between the two temples are real, but do indicate some shared theological ideas.

C. A. Strine , "Descriptions of the Temple in First Kings and Ezekiel", n.p. [cited 20 Sep 2020]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/places/related-articles/descriptions-of-the-temple-in-first-kings-and-ezekiel

Contributors

Strine-CA

C. A. Strine
Senior Lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern History and Literature , University of Sheffield

Rev. Dr. C. A. Strine is Senior Lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern History and Literature at the University of Sheffield. His first book, Sworn Enemies: The Divine Oath, the Book of Ezekiel, and the Polemics of Exile, received the Lautenschläger Award for Theological Promise. Strine’s research focuses on how the study of involuntary migration helps us to interpret the texts and reconstruction the history of the ancient Near East.

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A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Writing, speech, or thought about the nature and behavior of God.

The name of Israel's god, but with only the consonants of the name, as spelled in the Hebrew Bible. In antiquity, Jews stopped saying the name as a sign of reverence. Some scholars today use only the consonants to recognize the lost original pronunciation or to respect religious tradition.

1Kgs 6-8

Solomon Builds the Temple
1In the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Isr ... View more

Ezek 40-48

The Vision of the New Temple
1In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after t ... View more

Ezek 40:2

2 He brought me, in visions of God, to the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south.

1Kgs 6:2

2 The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high.

Ezek 47:1-12

Water Flowing from the Temple
1Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the ... View more

Ezek 47:9

9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; a ... View more

Gen 2:8-14

8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree ... View more

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