Solomon's temple was undoubtedly one of the most august and opulent buildings of the ancient world. The finest building materials of cedar and Cyprus came from Lebanon (1 Kings 10:11,12).
Skilled Phoenician craftsmen, then "the master builders in the Near East" 1 assisted in its construction (1 Kings 5:15-18). Built on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, it was not only to be the center of Israel's religious experience but also the dwelling of the Lord God Himself (1 Kings 8:10, 11).
Whatever happened to this temple? Archaeology over the last 200 years has revealed much about the various people, places, and events of Israel in biblical history. For this reason it is often assumed that a great deal should be known about the temple of Solomon. But this is not the case. While the general location of the temple mount is well established,2 the presence of the Dome of the Rock has made detailed excavations impossible during this century. That, however, has not kept archaeologists from speculating about the exact location of Solomon's temple. Some have suggested that the temple stood about 350 feet north of the Dome. This would make the rebuilding of the temple possible without disturbing Islam's third most holy shrine. 3 Others have made a strong case for siting the temple precisely where the Dome of the Rock is standing4 and have located the place where the ark of the covenant would have rested in the Holy of Holies.5 Despite these theories, no architectural evidence for Solomon's temple has yet been found. The absence of such evidence has caused some scholars to doubt the historical description of the biblical text regarding the time period of Solomon. Some question whether Solomon had the extravagant golden wealth ascribed to him.6 Others go so far as to challenge the validity of assigning architectural remains in the archaeological record7 to the time of Solomon.8
A new inscription
Recently, a remarkable document has surfaced shedding new light on the "house of the Lord" built by Solomon in Jerusalem. A small, broken piece of pottery with an inscription (called an ostracon), part of a collection of antiquities owned by London collector Sh. Moussaieff, was recently heralded. The inscription gives several remarkable details about the king's relationship to temple life in ancient Judah.9
The ostracon measures 10.9 x 8.6 centimeters and is complete except for only one letter missing at the beginning of line three (see Figure 1). The script is written in pre-exilic Hebrew and has been dated paleographically to the second half of the seventh century B.C. 10 The text is translated:
1. According as Ashyahu the king commanded you
2. to give to
3. Zakaryahu silver from Tar-
4. shish for the house of YHWH:
5. three shekels.
Content of the inscription
This message, written by an un known hand, clearly relates a command given by one identified as king. The proper name of the king, SYWH, is found in numerous extra-biblical inscriptions but never associated with the title "king." According to Bordreuil, Israel, and Pardee. ... no Israelite king was known by that name, although they state that "royal names could appear in more than one form." 11 Based on the reversal of name elements (the verb-subject to subject-verb form of the name), they suggest that the king could be biblical Joash/Jehoash, king of Judah (835-786 B.C.), Jehoash of Israel (798- 782/1 B.C.), or most likely Josiah (640-609 B.C.). 12
The purpose of the text is apparent. This king is commanding someone to give three shekels of silver to Zakaryahu for the "house of the Lord." The well-known name Zakaryahu, or Zechariah, is mentioned in connection with the temple both during the reigns of Joash (2 Chr. 24:20) and Josiah (2 Chr. 34:8; see below). The "house of the Lord" is a typical expression used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the temple.
The donation is designated as "silver from Tarshish." This source for silver is found frequently in the Bible. Second Chronicles 9:21 indicates that gold, silver, and ivory came by ship from Tarshish. Isaiah predicts that silver and gold from Tarshish will come first (Isa. 60:9). Jeremiah (10:9) states that "silver is beaten into plates" and is brought from Tarshish.
The final line of the inscription simply has the letter "S," which is an abbreviation of skekelim (shekels) fol lowed by three strokes indicating the number. The Hebrew word shekel had a literal as a measure "weight." One such shekel weight found at the site of Gezer also had the inscription "LMLK" or "of the king," and weighed 11.14 grams, which corresponded to the royal shekel mentioned in the Bible. Presented here is a command for three shekel weights of Tarshish silver to be given for the temple. Since the offering of silver comes from the king, Bordreuil, Israel, and Pardee suggest that the shekel referred to is the royal shekel rather than the "sanctuary shekel" (Exod. 30:13). 13
This inscription makes a significant contribution to biblical studies. First, the mention of an Israelite king named 'SYWH is unprecedented and allows one to posit an alternative spelling for the name Joash/Jehoash or Josiah. In either case it represents the first extrabiblical association of this name with royal kingship.
Second, the name of the temple official in this connection is important. Biblical accounts for both kings indicate the service of a Zakaryahu, or Zechariah in the "house of the Lord." In the ac counts of Joash/Jehoash, king of Judah, Zechariah's father, Jehoiada, plays a central role in that together with the king he raises money to repair the "house of the Lord." At the king's command a chest was made to collect the funds, which then went to pay the masons and carpenters their wages (2 Chr. 24:5-12). Vessels of gold and silver were made from the funds collected (2 Chr. 24:14). The narrative ends in tragedy as the king rebels against God after the death of Jehoiada. And when his son Zechariah pronounces God's judgement upon Joash/Jehoash, the king incites the people to stone Zechariah in the court of the "house of the Lord." While it may be possible to attribute the ostracon to his reign, the turn of events described in the Bible suggests that Joash/Jehoash, who was at this time rebelling against God and had finished the repairs to the temple, would not have commanded an offering to be sent during the priesthood of Zechariah whom he had stoned.
Indeed, as Boudreuil, Israel, and Pardee point out, the paleographic evidence suggests that the inscription dates to the second half of the seventh century B.C. Moreover, a strong biblical context can be found for this period. Like his predecessor Joash/Jehoash, Josiah is also attributed with major reforms and extensive rebuilding of the "house of the Lord." At this time the Book of the Law is found leading to reformation and revival throughout the nation and it is in this context that a certain Zechariah is mentioned as a temple official having the title of "ruler of the house of the Lord" (2 Chr. 35:8). 14 The context of the narratives of 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 35 make this Zechariah the more likely one spoken of in the inscription. As a "ruler of the house of the Lord," he might have been responsible for the collection of funds for the temple renovation.15 In addition, Josiah remained faithful to God and followed through with not only the rebuilding of the temple but also with the demolishing of high places and idolatry in Judah. He indeed would be the kind of person most likely to make a personal offering to the "house of the Lord."
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Bible students now have the first extra-biblical reference to Solomon's temple written in a Judean script. Al though we are not certain where the ostracon was found we may presume that it was written in Jerusalem. The inscription refers to the temple as the "house of the Lord," an expression that is found throughout the Bible and one that is exclusively used in reference to the temple in Jerusalem. 16
Although this temple is now shrouded in time and subsequent construction, we can reflect on its magnificence and splendor as it stood on Mount Moriah. It was that temple that testified to all nations of the majesty and providence of the God of heaven, His generosity and support of His people, and the dedication of His servant the king.
1. Alfred J. Hoerth, Archeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Midi.: Baker, 1998), 281; see review by Michael G. Hasel, Andrews University Seminary Studies 37 (1999), 315-317.
2. Ephraim Stern, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), vol. 2, 718.
3. See Asher S. Kaufman, "Where the Ancient Temple of Jerusalem Stood," Biblical Archaeology Review 912 (1983): 40-61.
4. Leen Ritmeyer, "Locating the Original Temple Mount," Biblical Archaeology Review 18/2 (1992): 24-45,64-65.
5. ___, "The Ark of the Covenant: Where it Stood in Solomon's Temple," Biblical ArchaeologyReview22/l (1996): 46-55, 70-73.
6. Joseph Robinson, The First Book of Kings, Cambridge Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972) 79; John Gray, l and ll Kings (London: SCM, 1964) 160. But this view has been challenged by Allan R. Millard, "Does the Bible Exaggerate King Solomon's Golden Wealth?" Biblical Archaeology Review 15/3 (1989) 20-29, 31, 34; ___, "Text and Archaeology: Weighing the Evidence: The Case for King Solomon," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 123 (1991) 117-119; ___, "King Solomon's Shields," in Scripture and Other Artifacts, ed. Michael G. Coogan, J Cheryl Exum, and Lawrence E. Stager (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster, 1994) 286-295.
7. On recent discussion concerning the gate structures at Razor Megiddo and Gezer, which have been attributed to Solomon based on 1 Kings 9:15-16, see William G. Dever, "Further Evidence of the Date on the Outer Wall of Gezer," Bulletin of the Ameri can Schools of Oriental Research 289 (1993) 33-54; Randall W.Younker, "A Preliminary Report of the 1990 Season at Tel Gezer," Andrews University Seminary Studies 29 (1991) 19-60; and the entire issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 277/278 (1990) for issues. Recent support of the tenth-century date of these gates comes from excavations at Hazor, see Amnon Ben-Tor and Doran Ben-Ami, "Hazor and the Archeology of the Tenth Century B.C.E." Israel Exploration Journal 48  1-37); idem., "Hazor and the Chronology of Northern Israel: A Reply to Israel Finkelstein," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research317 (2000), 9-16.
8. For an excellent overview of the issues involved, see Gary N. Knoppers, "The Vanishing Solomon: The Disappearance of the United Monarchy from Recent Histories of Ancient Israel," Journal of Biblical Literature U6 (1997): 19-44.
9. Pierre Bordreuil, Felice Israel, and Dennis Pardee, "Deux ostraca paleohebreux de la collection Sh. Moussaieff: I) Contribution financiere obligatoire pur le temple de YHWH, II) Reclamation d'une veuve aupres d'un fonctionaire," Semitica 46 (1996 ): 49-76; idem, "King's Command and Widow's Plea: Two New Hebrew Ostraca of the Biblical Period," Near Eastern Archaeology 61/1 (1998): 2-13; see also Herschel Shanks, "Three Shekels for the Lord: Ancient Inscription Records Gift to Solomon's Temple," Biblical Archaeology Review 23/6 (1997): 28-32.
10. Bordreuil, Israel, and Pardee, "King's Command and Widow's Plea," Near Eastern Archaeology 61/1 (1998):3. Unfortunately, the provenience of artifacts like this one in private collections is hardly ever known. Laboratory analysis conducted at Johns Hopkins University confirms that the ostracon is genuine, see Chris A. Rollston, "Laboratory Analysis of the Moussaieff Ostraca Using the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with an Energy Dispersive X-Ray Microanalyzer (EDS)," Near Eastern Archaeology 611 1 (1998): 8-9.
11. Ibid., 4.
12. These dates are based on Edwin R. Theile, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, Revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 205.
13. Bordreuil, Israel, and Pardee, "King's Command and Widow's Plea," Near Eastern Archaeology 61/1 (1998): 5.
14. Ibid., 7.
15. Ibid., 5.
16. The inscription contains word dividers in the form of dots that separate most of the words. The implications for another inscription found at Tel Dan is worth noting. The excavator, Avraham Biran and the eminent epigrapher Joseph Naveh concluded that the Dan inscription contained a reference to the "house of David" (bt dwd). This was the first extra-biblical reference to David and more particularly to the dynasty of David; see Michael G. Hasel, "The House of David," Adventist Review, July 14,1994,10. More recent assessments of this inscription have concluded that perhaps this is not a reference to the dynasty of David but rather a place name, Beth-dod or Bethdaud (Philip R. Davies, "'House of David' Built on Sand," Biblical Archaeology Review 20/6 ). This interpretation was based on the lack of a word divider between bt, "house," and dvd, "David." This new ostracon discussed in this article severely hampers this argument. In this ostracon the designation "house of YHWH" contains no word divider, yet in the context it undoubtedly refers to the temple of the Lord. "Since there is no word divider... there is no reason to question the 'house of David' reading in the Tel Dan inscription simply because it lacks a word divider," Herschel Shanks, "Reading of Beit David Inscription Strengthened," Biblical Archaeology Review 23/6(1997): 32.