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Envisioning the Temple: Scrolls, Stones, and Symbols, Adolfo Roitman, 2003

Unrolling and Photographing
Deciphering, Research, and Publication
Workmanship and Language
Content, Composition, Editing, and Literary Genre
Dating and Origin
The Ideal Temple: Architecture and Halakhah


Although it seems that the Temple Scroll was found in Cave 11 in 1956, no one in the West knew of its existence until the early 1960s. An American minister, Joe Uhrig of Virginia, claiming to be negotiating on behalf of an antiquities dealer (who later turned out to be none other than the notorious "Kando"), wrote to Yigael Yadin and offered him a complete scroll for $100,000. This turned out to be what later became known as the Temple Scroll.

The back of the scroll fragment sent by
Reverend Uhrig to Yigael Yadin in the early 1960s
The fragment came from a section
discussing the role of the high priest

Since Yadin was unwilling to negotiate sight unseen, the minister agreed to send a fragment of the scroll for him to check. Yadin duly received a scrap of parchment, reinforced on the back with adhesive tape and a British postage stamp (!); it was wrapped in silver foil from a cigarette pack and held between two pieces of cardboard. Examination of the scrap convinced Yadin that it was indeed authentic. The text, in Hebrew, concerned the role of the high priest. As agreed, the fragment was returned to Uhrig, and formal negotiations through a lawyer began. While this was going on, the seller’s demands grew by leaps and bounds: he was now demanding $750,000 for the scroll. Early in 1962, a detailed agreement was concluded, specifying a final sum of $130,000. At that point, Uhrig received a $10,000 advance (and an additional $1,500 for his trip to Bethlehem), in return for which he returned the original sample to Yadin so that the latter would be able to ascertain the fit when the rest of the scroll arrived. Unfortunately, the negotiations then broke down, since the dealer had again raised the price – this time to $200,000 – and in May 1962 the correspondence came to an end.

A few years later, while serving as military adviser to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol during the Six-Day War, Yadin was able to renew his acquaintance with the scroll. When the IDF occupied East Jerusalem and Bethlehem on June 7, 1967, the General Staff appointed a ranking officer from the Intelligence Corps to help him find the scroll. Acting on information provided by Yadin, the officer was able to make contact with the antiquities dealer Kando and to discover the scroll in its hiding place under the floor tiles of Kando’s house, in a Bata shoe box, rolled up in cellophane and a towel and wrapped in paper! The officer was also given a cigar box containing a few further crumpled and disintegrating fragments that had fallen off. The following day, after years of disappointed hopes, the scroll was in Yadin's hands.  1 

The package received by Yadin in 1967

Inside the towel, cellophane wrapping

Inside the package, a shoe box

The rolled scroll, its upper portion

Inside the shoe box, a towel

Prof. Yadin and Israel Museum
conservators open the scroll

The Military Government subsequently confiscated the scroll from the dealer, paying him $105,000 in compensation even though his possession of the scroll had been illegal and he had caused it considerable damage. Most of the sum was donated by the Wolfson Foundation, the balance, by the Israeli government. The scroll became the property of the Shrine of the Book, where it has been kept ever since.

Unrolling and Photographing

The scroll proved extremely difficult to unroll. Overseeing the whole operation was Joseph ("Dodo") Shenhav, later head of the Israel Museum laboratories, assisted by Ruth Yekutiel. Shenhav converted a whole room of his home for the purpose, working there for months on end with photographer Arieh Volk, who documented all stages of the unrolling and also took all the final black-and-white, infrared, and color photographs.

The scroll’s state of preservation was not uniform; the inner columns of text were better preserved than the outer ones.  2  The upper part of the scroll had been irreparably damaged by humidity (a few lines had disappeared altogether), as had the lower parts of some columns.  3  In addition, in some places the writing had peeled off and adhered - in mirror image - to the back of the succeeding column, as the scroll had been rolled up very tightly. In many cases, nothing had survived of the original column, all the text being preserved in reverse on the back of the next column.

Since whole sections of the scroll were stuck together, Shenhav had to separate them by a process of humidification at 75°-80° Celsius.  4  In particularly stubborn cases, it was necessary, as an emergency procedure, to soften the parchment by almost 100-percent humidification for a few minutes, followed immediately by a few minutes of refrigeration. When separation proved to be impossible, it was decided not to touch the adhering portions but to retrieve the text by photographing front and back, against the light. Sometimes it was even necessary to cut the columns lengthwise and then rejoin them after separation (Shenhav referred to this as the “domino” technique). While the unrolling was in progress, the various pieces were marked step by step, so that their precise position in the scroll would be known. It was not the task of Shenhav and his staff to determine the location of the many additional fragments that had become separated from the scroll, as well as those kept separately by the dealer; this would be done in the next stage - deciphering.

Title page to Yadin's English edition of the Temple Scroll

Deciphering, Research, and Publication

Once the scroll had been unrolled, the next stage could begin: deciphering the text. Wherever the text had been well preserved (mainly, as noted, in the inner columns of the scroll), this was not particularly difficult, since the writing was quite legible. However, where the parchment was warped, the ink had faded, or the letters had peeled off and left traces in mirror writing on the back of the succeeding column, the writing was not at all easy to decipher. It was sometimes necessary to reproduce the text by special photographic techniques, including infrared photography.  5  Deciphering also involved piecing together fragments of the scroll that had been dislodged during the unrolling or had been found in the cigar box or scattered around the homes of Kando and his brother. At this point Yadin could also avail himself of a few fragments from what he believed were other copies of the scroll, discovered in the early 1950s and kept at the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.  6 

Deciphering was followed by the copying and printing of the text. Yadin numbered the columns and the lines as they appeared in the scroll, and then printed the results, clearly distinguishing - as must be done in any critical edition of a text - between indisputable readings and reconstructions.  7 

With all these stages completed and the fully deciphered text on his desk, Yadin switched roles from editor to commentator and embarked on an analysis of the scroll's multifaceted contents.  8  The work took many years. Only in 1977, a decade afteracquiring the scroll, was Yadin able to publish the results of his labors in a critical edition (three volumes with illustrations), issued by the Israel Exploration Society, the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, and the Shrine of the Book. The publication was seen at the time as a landmark in scholarly research.Even today, after more than fifty years of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship, during which excellent editions of many scrolls have been published, Yadin’s learned, comprehensive, and precise edition is considered to be one of its outstanding achievements.

Nevertheless, after the publication of this editio princeps of the TempleScroll (known technically as 11Q19 or 11QTemplea [11QTa]), 9  the efforts to decipher the text did not come to an end. Yadin’s suggestions prompted many other scholars to propose their own readings and reconstructions of the text, which he himself took into consideration when he published the English edition in 1983. That edition, too, was followed by various developments: further suggestions and alternative recombinations of textual fragments by other scholars; new photographs of some columns by the brothers Zuckerman in 1991; publication of another, very fragmentary copy of the scroll (11Q20 or 11QTempleb [11QTb]);  10  and identification of further manuscripts – a dubious, highly fragmentary, additional copy (4QTemple Scrollb [4Q524]) and texts associated in some way (perhaps as literary sources) with the Temple Scroll itself (11Q21, 4Q365a). By then, an updated edition of the scroll, taking all these new textual developments into consideration, was unavoidable. In 1996 Prof. Elisha Qimron published a new critical edition of the Temple Scroll, which included some readings that were more accurate and complete than Prof. Yadin’s, as well as many new constructions of the text.

Workmanship and Language

The Temple Scroll was written on very thin animal skin – in fact the thinnest found at Qumran – of a thickness not exceeding 0.1 mm. The skins were not evenly tanned in all sheets of the scroll, as evidenced by the different colors: the original color was an ivory-like yellow, but in some places the material is lemon yellow or dark ivory.

The handwriting in the scroll’s first sheet (left) is clearly different from that in most of the scroll (see right). Thus the first sheet must have been recopied at a later date, perhaps as the result of damage from exposure

The scroll currently in our possession is made up of 18 sheets of parchment, but there was most probably another sheet, the first, which has not survived. The scroll’s total length is 8.148 meters; its original height was probably 24 to 26 centimeters. 11  The sheets, which are sewn together with thread, are of unequal length and fall into two main groups: seven comprising three columns each, on average approximately 40 cm in length; and ten comprising four columns, on average approximately 52 cm in length. The final sheet of the scroll is blank; it probably consisted of a single column with five lines inscribed in the now-missing top part. The scribe left blank margins above, below, and in between the columns. All in all, the scroll consists of 66 columns of text, in most of which the lower margins have been preserved; the top lines have not survived in any column. It is therefore difficult to determine the exact number of lines originally in each column, 12  but it seems that the number of lines per column varied, and probably ranged from 22 to 29. 13 

Reconstructed “desks” from Qumran The Qumran “scriptorium.” Reconstruction by Leen Ritmeyer

Despite the aforementioned thinness of the skin, the scribe was able to trace horizontal lines to guide his writing and vertical lines to delimit the columns, using a sharp-pointed instrument, but without cutting the parchment and without using ink. The letters were written below the horizontal lines, as if suspended from them at a certain distance. Given the great length of the scroll, it must have taken a long time to write, and the scribe had to changed his quill more than once.  14 

Scribal exercise on a clay shard found at Qumran. Israel Antiquities Authority

Careful examination of the scroll clearly reveals at least two scribes: The first columns (II-V) are written in a different hand than the main body of the text, and they appear to be slightly later than that of the rest of the work, which is written in a highly professional Jewish “Assyrian” or “square” script (a script in common use during the Second Temple period), in formal Herodian style. 15  Yadin conjectured that the first sheet had been rewritten by a later scribe after the original one had become worn or been damaged, a frequent practice in the ancient world.

Examination of the text also reveals that although the scribes were highly proficient, they did occasionally make mistakes. Most of the errors were caught by the scribes themselves, some were corrected by a later reader, and a few were left untouched. 16  The corrections were made in a variety of ways, the most common of which was the insertion of a missing letter or letters above the line, immediately before the letter which should have followed. 17 

One of three inkwells found by de Vaux at Qumran. Israel Antiquities Authority

It is clear that the writers of the scroll, especially the earlier scribe who copied most of the text, were expert craftsmen and excellent proofreaders.

To endow the work with a divine authority, the author clearly strove to imitate biblical, especially Pentateuchal, Hebrew. However, despite his determined efforts, the scroll's grammar is clearly not that of the Torah or the rest of the Bible, and its language reflects the syntax and vocabulary of the late Second Temple period and is similar to the Hebrew of the Rabbis. The characteristic linguistic features of the Temple Scroll include the use of compound verbs; a preference for words current in the author’s own time rather than their First Temple period equivalents; the use of technical terms associated with the Temple and appearing exclusively in the Mishnah; othera typically Mishnaic collocations, legal phrases, and general usages; and words, terms, and idioms typical of other Judean Desert scrolls.

Content, Composition, Editing, and Literary Genre

The Temple Scroll claims to provide the details of God's instructions to Moses about the Temple. Although its beginning is lost, we may surmise that the narrative framework was the Covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai (see Temple Scroll LI, 6-7; cf. Exod 34). A similar narrative frame appears in the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, many copies of which were found in the Qumran caves. 18  The scroll was evidently supposed to be a kind of "new Torah," consistently and systematically combining the various laws of the Temple and the sacrifices (mainly in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) with a new version of the laws enunciated in Deuteronomy 12-23.

An overall survey of the text reveals a deliberate subdivision into four main themes:
1. Construction of the Temple: (i) construction of the Temple and the
altar (columns II-XIII); (ii) construction of the Temple courts and the
various structures in and around them (XXX-XLV).
2. The sacrificial rites for the various festivals (XIII-XXIX).
3. Laws of purity and impurity: (i) those associated with the Temple
and the Temple City (XLV-XLVII); (ii) general prohibitions and rules
4. A "revised" version of Deuteronomy 12-23 (LII-LXVI).

These details from col. LVIII (top) and col. LVI (bottom) illustrate writing technique: lines are etched into the parchment using a stylus; the letters are formed beneath the line; and mistakes or omissions are corrected above the line.

Yadin believed that the scroll had been composed en bloc by a single author drawing on biblical sources. Today, however, it is almost certain that this author (who might also be called “editor”  19  ) relied heavily on an existing literary source or sources along with mainly legal material from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and, in particular, Deuteronomy. His work consisted mainly in the following:
1. Rephrasing the text in the first person, thus representing the
commandments as the personal word of God. 20 
2. Merging different commandments concerning the same theme into a
continuous text.
3. Harmonizing contradictory or duplicate commandments.
4. Introducing changes and additions in order to clarify the legal
implications of the commandments. 21 

Finally, the author added passages that have no parallel in the biblical text as known today, phrasing them as biblical commandments enunciated by God Himself. These additions came from the earlier source/sources at his disposal and include: (i) a text containing instructions for the building of the Temple and its utensils, courtyards, and structures; (ii) a liturgical calendar; 22 (iii) laws of purity and impurity; 23  and (iv) a midrash (exegetical commentary) based on the book of Deuteronomy. 24  This account of the content and redaction of the Temple Scroll leads us to the crucial question of its literary genre. As might be expected, the scholarly literature is deeply divided on the answer, opinions varying from one extreme - an alternative Law of Moses - to the other - a kind of halakhic midrash or homiletical exposition of the Bible.

Yadin explicitly argued that the Temple Scroll comprised the secret teachings of the Essenes (on the assumption that the people of the Judean Desert sect were indeed Essenes). It was, he believed, an esoteric text, supposedly revealed to the sectarians alone and therefore considered by them as a canonical teaching, like the Torah itself. A German scholar, Hartmut Stegemann, similarly conjectured that the scroll was meant to be the sixth book of Moses, thus completing the existing Pentateuch. Ben-Zion Wacholder, in an even more far-reaching proposal, suggested that for the Qumranites, the Temple Scroll was the eternal Torah of the Jewish people, designed to replace the Law of Moses. 25  Michael Weiss, moderating this argument somewhat, held that the scroll was seen as a “new book of Deuteronomy," designed to replace Deuteronomy (chaps. 12-26) at the End of Days. Florentino García-Martínez, however, has argued that the author of the scroll considered it to be not a new Torah but a revealed exegetical work, intended to serve as the normative, definitive, interpretation of the true intentions of the Law of Moses. 26  Lawrence Schiffman, continuing this line of thought, believes that the scroll was a kind of halakhic midrash, providing the biblical foundation for every Jewish law. 27  Hence the sectarians believed the Temple Scroll to be another revealed teaching, presenting the very words of God as spoken to Israel on Mount Sinai. 28 

Whatever the precise genre, there is no doubt that the author of the scroll intended to attribute his teachings/interpretation to the Almighty - which of course raises the question: how did he himself understand what he was doing? Was he deliberately trying to mislead his readers? Morton Smith, among others, has noted that the ancient device of ascribing late works to early authors ("pseudepigrapha") was common practice in Jewish literature of the Second Temple period. Possibly, then, our author was part of this phenomenon and, in order to give his work the appropriate stamp of authority, he was perfectly happy to conceal the text’s real origins and ascribe it to God.

This argument, as Yadin pointed out, assesses ancient authors and redactors according to modern criteria. One might instead assume that the author of the scroll was convinced that the literary sources he had received were an expression of the true Torah or, at least, of the true interpretation of the Law of Moses. If this is so, his writing of the scroll was no act of deception, but only a faithful reflection of his desire to set down in writing the words of the living God, as conveyed to him through ancient traditions; in this respect, he was following in the footsteps of the classical prophets and the writers and editors of the Bible.

Dating and Origin

Most contemporary scholars believe that the Temple Scroll was composed in the Land of Israel in the late Second Temple period, or, more precisely, in the second half of the second century BCE (after 120 BCE, perhaps during the reign of John Hyrcanus I?). Among the main arguments for this view are the following:

1. The earliest extant copy of the scroll (4Q524), if it is indeed a copy and not an entirely different work, was copied in Hasmonean semi-cursive script (150-125 BCE).
2. The scroll's language is closely related to Mishnaic Hebrew.
3. The author's overriding concern with problems of impurity would tie in very well with the situation in the Land of Israel shortly after Antiochus IV Epiphanes' desecration of the Temple and its reconsecration by Judas Maccabeus (167-164 BCE).
4. The "Statute of the King" (columns LVI-LIX) and the punishment of hanging/crucifixion (LXIV) reflect the Hasmonean reality.
5. There are impressive parallels in vocabulary, content, and legal material between the Temple Scroll, on the one hand, and the Qumran work Miktzat ma'asei ha-Torah (4QMMT) and the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, on the other, both of which have been dated to the second half of the second century BCE.

Columns XXIV-XXVIII of the Temple Scroll

Does the discovery of the Temple Scroll in the Qumran caves prove that the author was a member of the Judean Desert sect? As already stated, Yadin believed that the author was an Essene and pointed out similarities between his work and other sectarian works found at Qumran. Stegemann, however, rejects any connection with the Qumran Community.

A more careful comparison of our scroll with the other sectarian documents found in the caves does cast some doubt on Yadin’s theory. On the one hand, there are indeed strong parallels in various areas, such as the prohibition of polygamy, of marriage between uncle and niece, or of sexual relations in the Temple City (Damascus Document); the exclusion of women from the Temple City and the camp during the eschatological war, and the location of privies (War Rule); the list of people to be denied membership in the Community at the End of Days, and the list of those not allowed to enter the Temple City (Rule of the Congregation); and so on. On the other hand, there are obvious differences, such as the method of interpreting biblical texts and discrepancies in certain laws (e.g., those concerning witnesses). Moreover, the characteristic hatred and aggressive spirit of the sectarian scrolls are absent, as is the belief in dualism, predestination, and messianism. There are also differences of vocabulary (such as the title of the high priest). Finally, the Temple Scroll is addressed to the entire people of Israel, whereas the other scrolls are aimed specifically at the Community or some other group.

In light of these differences, we may assume with considerable assurance that, like the scrolls of the Qumran sect, the Temple Scroll originated in certain priestly circles (according to Schiffman, Zadokite priests) but, unlike
the others, it was committed to writing before the Community seceded from their brethren in Jerusalem and withdrew to the desert. 29 

As to the author, there is unfortunately no indication in the scroll itself of his identity (that is, other than the attribution to God!). Nevertheless, some conclusions may be drawn on the basis of the scroll’s content and, in particular, its redaction. The author was presumably a person of authority, he was extremely well versed in the biblical tradition, and he had enough self-esteem – or audacity – to rewrite the Torah. Some scholars have therefore suggested that our author might have been the legendary founder of the Qumran sect, the so-called “Teacher of Righteousness” (moreh tzedek), but this is no more than speculation.

The Ideal Temple: Architecture and Halakhah

The building of the Temple, with its courts, auxiliary structures, and implements, takes up nearly half the text of the Temple Scroll (columns II-XIII, XXX-XLV). Adding the details of the festivals and sacrifices (XIII-XXIX), as well as the laws of impurity relevant to the Temple and the Temple City (XLV-XLVII), one clearly sees that the Temple, in all its aspects, was the central theme of the scroll. 30 

The scroll’s ambitious and highly sophisticated design for the new Temple drew on two main sources of inspiration. The first was biblical: the descriptions of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Solomon’s Temple (including the version presented in the book of Chronicles), and Ezekiel’s envisioned Temple. 31  The author’s second source of inspiration was the Hellenistic architecture of his own time. Throughout, he was guided by the principle that the new Temple should meet the highest possible architectural standards, while fulfilling the most minute halakhic requirements.

The Temple compound would extend over most of Jerusalem (in the author’s time, an area of approximately 80 hectares), arranged in three concentric square courts to resemble the tribal camp in the desert. As in the latter, where the Tabernacle stood in the middle of the “Camp of Israel,” the Temple Scroll envisages the utopian Temple standing in a central inner court (147 × 147 m in area), 32  with the altar for burnt offerings and other structures near it: the Stairhouse leading to the Temple roof; the House of the Laver, in which the priests washed their hands and feet; the House of the Altar Utensils; the slaughter-place; and a pillared structure, without walls, in which the sacrificial animals were sorted. The various structures in the inner court would be surrounded by a partition (the soreg of the Mishnah). In addition there would be a stoa (a roofed space resting on one side on a wall and on the other on a colonnade), at least two stories high, along the wall of the inner court.

The Temple structures as envisioned in the Temple Scroll. Reconstruction by L. Ritmeyer

The inner court would be accessible to priests alone. Four gates, one on each side, would lead from the inner court into a middle court. The gates were named for Aaron and the three families of the Levites: the Gate of Aaron (east), the Gate of Gershon (west), the Gate of Kohath (south), and the Gate of Merari (north). This middle court was the parallel of theso-called camp of Levi in the desert, that is, the area where Moses and the Levites camped around the enclosure of the Tabernacle (cf. Num 3: 14–39). Twelve further gates, named for the twelve tribes, three on each side, would lead from the middle court to the outer court. On the east were the gates of Simeon, Levi, and Judah; on the north, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan; on the west, Gad, Zebulun, and Issachar; and on the south, Benjamin, Joseph, and Reuben. This gigantic outer court (800 m on each side) was designed to extend from today’s Damascus Gate in the west to the slopes of the Mount of Olives in the east. Twelve further gates, three on each side, would link it with the other parts of the city. Around this court would be a great moat, 50 m wide, to separate the Temple City from the residential area. 33  (From the scroll it appears that the author imagined the entire Land of Israel as a square, with each tribe camping opposite “its” own gate.)

The Temple’s inner court, according to the
Temple Scroll. Reconstruction by Y. Yadin
1. The Temple
2. Stoa of columns to the west of the hekhal
3. Stairhouse
4. House of the Laver
5. House of Altar Utensils
6. Altar
7. Slaughter-place
8. “Cooking places”
9. Inner court stoa
10. Tables and seats
11. Place for stoves
12. Partition

In sum, the anonymous architect intended to protect the House of God from any contact with impurity and to enhance its sanctity by means of the three concentric courts and the moat around them. The source of sanctity, where God’s Presence would reside - the Temple - would stand in the center of the inner court, radiating its holiness to the whole of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, just as at the time of the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. To quote the scroll itself: “For I, YHWH, abide among the children of Israel. You shall sanctify them and they shall be holy. They shall not render themselves abominable by anything that I have separated for them as unclean and they shall be holy” (LI, 7-10).

The profound concern for sanctity is also reflected by the prominence in the scroll of the laws of purity and impurity associated with the Temple and the Temple City (cols. XLV–XLVII). While the details of these laws derive from the Bible (Leviticus and Deuteronomy), they are reworked in the scroll, with various innovations and changes introduced by the author himself. For example, according to the Temple Scroll, a man who has had sexual relations with his wife is forbidden to enter the Temple City for three days (XLV, 11–12). 34  The blind are absolutely forbidden entry into the city: “No blind man shall enter it in all his days and shall not profane the city” (ibid., 12–13). 35  Another example is the law concerning latrines, 11 which entails building special structures outside the city, “far enough not to be visible from the city, (at) three thousand cubits [= 1,500 m!]” (XLVI, 13–16). The purpose of these stringent rules and others like them was to extend the sanctity of the Temple over the entire Temple City and to subject the entire nation to the laws of purity and impurity which, in the Mosaic Code, were supposed to apply to the priests alone.

Plan of the sacred compound envisioned in the Temple Scroll
The entire sacred compound envisioned in the Temple Scroll
Reconstruction by L. Ritmeyer

Within this magnificent, extraordinarily holy Temple, the priests were supposed to observe the festivals and all their sacrifices. The commandments in the scroll relating to the sacrifices (cols. XIII-XXIX) therefore follow the order of the festivals, beginning with the month of Nisan, after prescribing the daily burnt-offerings and those offered on the Sabbath. The scroll sets out a comprehensive, detailed account of the sacrifices for each festival - unlike the traditional formulation of the Torah, in which some of the sacrifices are prescribed in detail and some only alluded to, with the order of the sacrifices and their exact times not always clearly specified (cf., for example, Lev 23; Num 28-29). 36 

The twelve tribes encamped around the Tabernacle
Etching by an unknown artist, Germany, 16th century
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Gift of Mr. Bromberger, Linz
The Temple Scroll lists four festivals of first fruits. The first two are those prescribed in the Bible, but the other two are completely new: 1. The day of waving of the sheaf (the Omer, celebrating the “first fruits” of barley), on Sunday, the 26th of the first month (as opposed to the 16th of the month in Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism; col. XVIII; cf. Lev 23:12–13); 2. the festival of weeks (celebrating the first wheat), on Sunday, the 15th of the third month (in the Pharisaic-Rabbinic calendar, the 6th of the month; cols. XVIII–XIX; cf. Lev 23:15 ff.); 3. the day of new wine, on Sunday, the 3rd of the fifth month (cols. XX–XXI); and 4. the day of new oil, on Sunday, the 22nd of the sixth month (cols. XXI–XXII). Finally, the scroll requires that immediately after the last of these festivals a further festival be celebrated for six days: the festival of the wood offering, also not mentioned in the Torah (but see Neh 10:35; 13:31). 37 

It is clear from the foregoing survey that the plan for the Temple in the Temple Scroll is beautifully thought out, consistent, and systematic. But what does it mean? Why was it devised, and what was the author’s purpose? And why did he go to the trouble of imagining an ideal Temple at a time when (assuming that the scroll was indeed composed in the second half of the second century BCE) the Second Temple was still standing in Jerusalem? These and other questions are of paramount importance for anyone wishing to study the Temple Scroll and understand its secrets. Unfortunately, the scroll itself does not answer any of these questions. All one can do to settle these crucial issues is to place the scroll in its historical context and hope that, by so doing, it will be possible to determine the motives behind such a detailed blueprint for an imaginary Temple.




The Tabernacle at the center
of the Israelite camp
A The Holy of Holies
B The Holy [Place]
C The Tent of Meeting
Plan: M. Chyutin


1. The Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting
As related in the Bible, the initiative for the construction of the Tabernacle  38  in the desert came from on high: when Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, God commanded, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you - the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings – so shall you make it” (Exod 25:8–9). 39  Moses is then given precise instructions for the building of the Tabernacle (ibid., chaps. 25-31), and the text goes on to describe its construction (ibid., chaps. 35-40) by Bezalel son of Uri (ibid. 31:1-11).

The Tabernacle constructed in the desert was a portable, collapsible shrine, suitable for nomadic life. It was made of three walls of goldplated acacia wood (Exod 26:15–22), on which were hung strips of cloth embroidered with cherubs. The Tabernacle was covered first with eleven goatskin cloths, and then with tanned ram skins and tahash skins. 40  There were two concentric sections to the Tabernacle: the first, outer part, referred to as the “Holy [Place],” contained the showbread table, the seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), and perhaps also the incense altar; the second, inner part, the “Holy of Holies,” contained the Ark of the Pact, surmounted by two cherubs who shielded it with their wings. The two spaces were separated by a curtain or screen, suspended from four acacia-wood pillars (Exod 25, 26, 27, 36).

The Tabernacle was rectangular in shape, 15 m long and 4 m wide. It stood in a court or enclosure, 50 m long and 25 m wide (Exod 27:9–18), which was divided into two equal parts. In the west stood the Tabernacle, in the east, brass vessels and the burnt-offering altar (Exod 27:1–8). The entire court was surrounded by a fence made of curtains hung on pillars. The entrance, on the east, was closed off by a screen (ibid. 27:16), as was the entrance to the Tabernacle itself. According to P (the priestly source), the Tabernacle was placed in the center of the camp when the people were encamped and also as they journeyed, with the twelve tribes of Israel positioned around it (Num 2:2, 17).

In the biblical account, the Tabernacle had three main roles. To begin with, it provided a place for God to “dwell among the Israelites” (Exod 25: 8; 29:45–46). It was also the cultic space in which, for example, a daily burnt-offering was sacrificed twice a day (ibid. 29:38–43), atonement was made for the Temple and the people on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), and incense was burned every morning (Exod 30:1–10, 34–38). Finally, it was in the Tabernacle – the “Tent of Meeting” – that the Divine Presence revealed itself to Moses (ibid. 25:22; 30:6). 41 

2. Solomon’s Temple
The Bible relates that King David, in the context of his plan for a new center for the emerging nation, proposed to erect a Sanctuary, or a House of God (2 Sam 7:2; 1 Chron 17:1). Surprisingly, he did not implement his plan, 42  although a later tradition attributes to him some preliminary preparations for the construction (1 Chron 22-28). Significantly, David, like Moses at Sinai (cf. Exod 25:9), was said to have received a “blueprint” in God’s own hand (1 Chron 28:19).  43 

It remained to King Solomon to realize his father’s plans. In order to build the Temple, he had the area of the City of David extended northward, to include the Northern Hill (later known as the Temple Mount). On this hill, over an area of some 6.5 acres, he established a royal acropolis comprising various structures: the palace, the “Lebanon Forest House” (the royal treasury), the Hall of Judgment, and the Temple, which is called “the House.”  44  According to a tradition reported only in the book of Chronicles, the location of the Temple was not chosen at random: it was built on “Mount Moriah” (the traditional site of the binding of Isaac; see Gen 22), exactly where Solomon’s father David had set up an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (1 Chron 21:18–28; cf. 2 Sam 24:18–25). The builders of the Temple were Phoenicians (1 Kings 5:20, 32), including Hiram, king of Tyre (son of an Israelite mother), who cast the bronze vessels for the Temple (ibid. 7:13–47).

No remains of Solomon’s Temple have ever been found, but its design can be reconstructed on the basis of the biblical data (1 Kings, chaps. 6–7; 2 Chron, chaps. 3–4; Ezek, chaps. 40–42)  45  and archaeological evidence of ancient temples in northern Syria (Mumbaqa, Emar, En Dura, and Tel Ta’inat) and Israel (Shechem, Hazor, and Megiddo). As far as we know, the Temple stood on higher ground than the royal palace and was aligned east-west, opening toward the east. Its overall shape was that of a “long house” (of the architectural megaron type), 30 m long, 10 m wide, and 15 m high (inner dimensions, not including the thickness of the outer walls). The building was surrounded on three sides by a court, in which stood an altar for burnt-offerings and, nearby, several large vessels for water: a large brass tank (Heb. yam, literally: “sea”) and ten brass carts (laver stands, Heb. mekhonot) carrying the lavers – small containers of water (kirot).

The structure was divided into three parts, whose Hebrew names are rendered variously in different translations of the Bible: the ulam (Portico), the hekhal (Great Hall), and the devir (Shrine or Holy of Holies). The ulam (10 m wide and 5 m long) was a kind of vestibule, separating the sacred precinct from the world outside; it was probably not roofed.  46  In front of it stood two great brass columns, named Yakhin (on the right) and Bo’az (on the left). The ulam opened into the hekhal (20 m long, 10 m wide, and 15 m high; later known as the kodesh, that is, the Holy [Place]), where the Temple rites were performed. In the hekhal were a gold incense altar, a gold table (or tables) on which offerings could be placed, and ten gold candelabra to provide illumination. The inner walls and ceiling of the hekhal were lined with cedar wood, in which various floral and mythological motifs were carved (such as cherubim – sphinx-like animals with a winged lion’s body and a human head); the floor was made of cypress wood.

Reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple

Between the hekhal and the devir was a wooden partition, made of cedar planks overlaid with gold; in the partition were double doors, made of carved olive wood, through which one could enter (ascend to?) the devir. The devir, later also known as the kodesh kodashim (Holy of Holies), was a cubical wooden chamber (each side measuring 10 m).  47  Here, too, as in the hekhal, the walls and floors were overlaid with cedar and cypress wood, and palmettes and cherubs were carved on the walls. Inside the devir stood two enormous cherubs, made of olive wood overlaid with gold, their faces toward the hekhal and their wings extended the entire width of the devir and touching each other; beneath them was the Ark of the Covenant. Abutting the building on the outside was an additional structure, known in Hebrew as yatzia, in which Temple treasures and vessels were stored: it comprised rows of chambers in three stories around the building. The chambers communicated with one another through passages and possibly also spiral staircases (Heb. lulim), which provided access from one storey to another. The yatzia was entered through the southeastern chamber.

According to ancient beliefs, the main purpose of Solomon's Temple was to provide an earthly dwelling place for God. This is clearly demonstrated by the account in the first book of Kings of the Ark of the Covenant being brought into the Holy of Holies: “. . . the cloud had filled the House of the LORD and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the LORD filled the House of the LORD” (8:10-11).  48  As this passage matches, almost word for word, the parallel description of the completion of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exod 40:34-35), it is clear that the author of the book of Kings considered Solomon’s Temple the sole legitimate successor to the portable Tabernacle. 49 

3. Ezekiel's Temple
In the last part of the book of Ezekiel, following his prediction of an apocalyptic war against “Gog of the land of Magog” (Ezek 38–39), the prophet describes the future restoration of the people of Israel to its land, including an eschatological vision of the Temple and its cult (chaps. 40-48).  50  The prophet’s guiding principle is the necessity for an entirely new Temple, free of any impurity and quite different from the unclean Temple that stood in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of 586 BCE (see Ezek 43:1-12; 44:6-8). This new Temple would be built “on a very high mountain" (40:2), in territory not belonging to any one tribe, but rather in the territory of the priests,  51  at a distance from the city (Jerusalem, which is called “the LORD is there” [48:35]) and its property (45:1-6; 48:8-22).  52 

Ezekie's description of the Temple’s structure is schematic, the design highly symmetrical.  53  The Temple occupies a sacred area separated from the profane world by two concentric forecourts, at whose gates stand guards who ensure that only Israelites enter.

The outer court is square in shape - 250 by 250 m - and surrounded by a wall with three large gates (north, east, and south).  54  Built along the wall are thirty chambers (40:17; 41:10), and at the corners of the court are “unroofed enclosures,” in which the Temple personnel are supposed to cook sacrifices brought by the people (46:21-24). Opposite the gates in the outer forecourt are three gates providing access to the inner forecourt, which is also square, measuring 50 by 50 m (40:47). In the center of the inner court stands the great altar; along the northern and southern sides are the priests’ chambers (only priests will be permitted access to this sacred area).

Toward the western end of the inner court stands the Temple (“House”), divided into three parts: the ulam, the hekhal, and the kodesh kodashim “side chambers” (tzela’ot), in three stories, encompass the structure on three sides (41:5–9). Ten steps lead up from the inner forecourt to the first part of the Temple, and at the entrance, which is 7 m wide, stand two columns. A further door, 5 m wide, connects the ulam to the hekhal, from which, through a third door, 3 m wide, one enters the Holy of Holies (40:48 - 41:4).  55  Here, too, as in Solomon’s Temple, the walls of the hekhal and the Holy of Holies are overlaid with wood, in which cherubs and palmettes are carved. The doors are carved in similar fashion. There is no reference to the cultic implements inside, apart from the wooden altar, of which it is said, “This is the table that stands before the LORD” (41:21–22); it is not clear whether the reference is to the showbread table or the incense altar. Finally, farther along the inner forecourt to the west, behind the Temple, is a structure whose purpose is not defined.

The Temple envisioned by Ezekiel. Reconstruction by M. Chyutin
Ezekiel’s Temple no longer houses the Ark of the Covenant that occupied the heart of Solomon’s Temple; instead, the “Presence of the LORD” fills the Temple (43:4-5). This is God’s abode: “. . . It said to me: O mortal, this is the place of My throne and the place for the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people Israel forever. The House of Israel and their kings must not again defile My holy name by their apostasy and by the corpses of their kings at their death” (Ezek 43:7). The prophet’s eschatological Temple will thus resemble the Tabernacle in the wilderness, built in fulfillment of the Divine command, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exod 25:8).

Herod’s Temple. Reconstruction by L. Ritmeyer

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