The Everlasting Foundation
of the Heavenly Temple
Part 1 of a Conference Discourse
"Behold! Here I am laying as a foundation in Zion a stone, a tried stone, the precious corner of a sure foundation." (Isaiah 28:16 ASV. See Is. 14.32, also 44:28; 51:16)
Obviously the prophet Isaiah is not here speaking of a literal stone, he speaks of Jesus Christ, and since the stone is not literal nor earthly, neither is the Zion in which it or rather He is laid by the LORD. The Hebrew word 'foundation', 'shethiyyah' means 'God has set it'.(1)
The most important part of any structure is its foundation, its substructure. For a building to endure its foundation must be sound. On it rests everything else. It must have the qualities that the prophet extols; it must be a tried stone, it must be precious, the most important stone to the builder, and it must be sure. In Jesus Christ were found these qualities to such an extent that "no-one who puts his trust in him will be disappointed" (Rom. 10:11 New Berkeley Version, Revised), for the writer of Proverbs was also inspired to write "The righteous has an everlasting foundation" " (Prov. 10.25 NKJ).
Foundation cornerstones became so important in the ancient world, guaranteeing strength and stability, that they became a figure of speech in Israel and are referred to in the OT when describing chiefs or prominent men on whom the community relied. The Hebrew word "cornerstones" is often translated "keymen", "leaders", or "chiefs" (Judges 20.2; 1 Sam. 14.38; Is. 19.13; Zech. 10:4).
Good foundations were vital in Israel to withstand, not only the heavy rains, winds and floods, but also earthquakes, as this region is an earthquake area. When the stonework associated with the building of Solomon's Temple and especially its foundation stones are examined, we learn much about the greater foundation, and one particular stone emerges from archaeological excavations as being of supreme importance; it is called the Chief Foundation Cornerstone of the whole Temple edifice.
The Temple itself was built on Mt Moriah, which was at the time, a hilly uneven surface. To make the surrounding ground level, Solomon constructed a stupendous foundation platform, raised high above the valley beneath, using an immense number of great hewn stones of white limestone. This foundation platform, the Temple Mount Platform or Courtyard, almost tripled the size of the place David chose for the Temple site (purchased from Araunah; 2 Sam.24; 2 Chron. 3.1). Josephus informs us that such was the unevenness of Mount Moriah, that in laying the foundation of the Temple, it was necessary to lay it far below the surface of the ground reaching to the bedrock, and raise a massive foundation on it, which is evident from the fact that while for example, the inside of the Western wall is only 12 feet high, the outside is 70 feet high (Ant.B xv, cxv, s.3). This would require vast masses of masonry. Where did all the stone come from? Timber came from the forests of Lebanon, but where did the stone come from?
Next to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem there is a rugged rock 50ft high, on which the northern wall of the present city has been built. At the foot of the rock is an entrance to a cave. The size of the cave increases rapidly and develops into vast caverns called the Royal Quarries, or King Solomon's Quarries, where rock has been cut away with tools. It is also called Zedekiah's Cave as it is thought to be the place he fled to when the Babylonian armies were breaking through the walls of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:4,5). Tunnel-looking cuttings diverge in various directions, one tunnel reaching 750 feet into Mt. Moriah. At one point the quarry is 325 feet wide, and 50 feet high. Pillars of solid rock left in place support the ceiling and prevent the cavern from collapsing, since part of the northern city of Jerusalem is above it. The quarry is alongside a natural cavern that descends to the Valley of Achor. Steps have been cut into the rock and descend to lower levels penetrating into mammoth caves like dark amphitheatres. Subterranean quarries run in all directions that "form a spectacle never to be forgotten" according to one member of the Palestine Exploration Fund, and were discovered quite by accident in 1852 by Dr Joseph Barclay when going for a walk(2). The existence of this quarry was not a well-known fact and was always kept completely sealed for fear of enemies tunnelling into the city. The first reference to this place is in Joshua 7.4,5 where 3,000 Israelites fled from Ai to these quarries. The passages were hidden in, in times of war.
Large fragments of quarried stone lie around in these caverns, and several massive blocks half cut still adhere to the rock walls. There are niches here and there in the rock, which turned out on closer examination to be incisions made in cutting the stone using chisels. The white limestone ceiling is blackened by smoke from burning wicks in oil. Indications are found of wooden wedges used to remove the stones when cut from their original position. One of the methods for hewing the stones was to carve broad slits along the rock face, and to drive dry wooden wedges into them. Water was then poured over the dry wedges, causing them to swell. The resulting pressure then split the stone along the chiselled slits. Greatly helping the quarrying was the fact that this limestone in its natural state is so soft that it can be cut with a saw. So long as it remained underground, the limestone rock was fairly easy to cut. When exposed to the sun and air however, it becomes as hard as marble and is capable of a very high polish. Marble is in fact a type of limestone. The stone did not come from the mountains of Lebanon; the timber did but not the stone. The Biblical Archaeological Review (1986 p.21) also informs us that Jerusalem limestone has a rare chemical fingerprint, it is called travertine aragonite and is far rarer than the more common form of limestone known as calcite. It is different from any other rock in the region. But who did this quarrying, cutting and preparing of the stone?
1 Kings and 2 Chronicles record Solomon's dealings with Hiram the king of Tyre, and another Hiram, the master workman of the same name. Previous to this 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles record King Hiram supplying King David with cedar timber from Lebanon, as well as craftsmen skilled in working wood and stone to build him a house on the stronghold of Zion (2 Sam. 5:11). Once David's palace is built he reflects on the situation and says to the prophet Nathan: "Here I am living in a palace of cedar while the ark of God remains in a tent." (2 Sam. 7:2 NIV) But God's reply to David was rather different from what he had expected: "Can you yourself build me a house for me to dwell in?" (2 Sam. 7:5 NKJ) and in v.7 He basically says 'whenever did I ask for a house to be built for me?' 1 Chronicles 17 records God's promise to King David in his desire to build a temple that He would raise up seed to David who would build a house that would last "forever". David perhaps wanted to be like the kings he had vanquished in battle, all of whom had built temples to their gods. In the Canaanites' view, a god actually dwelt in a temple. God however did not approve and because of David's sins he was not granted his wish. But it was given to Solomon. He granted Solomon to build a house but had to remind the people as in Is. 66.1 (REB). "The heavens are my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where then is the house that you people can build for me?" (See Acts 7:48; 17:24)
After building the Temple, Solomon undertook a government-building project (1 Kings 7), and then engaged in a nationwide construction program (2 Chronicles 7:11 and chapter 8). The building work proved controversial among the people and led to a split in the kingdom (1 Kings 12).
Nevertheless, toward the close of David's reign preparations on construction materials for the Temple began (1 Ch. 22.1,2,15) and on hearing of David's death and that Solomon reigned in his stead, the Phoenician king, Hiram, sent his servants to renew his friendship (1 Kings 5:1-12) and sent craftsmen of every description. Solomon drafted 30,000 Israelites who served in relays of 10,000 working one month in three in the forests of Lebanon, as well as 70,000 burden bearers and 80,000 woodmen, cutters and carpenters, as well as 3,300 foremen (2 Chron. 2:17,18). 1 Kings 5.17,18 (REB) records: "By the king's orders they quarried huge, costly blocks for laying the foundations of the LORD'S house with hewn stones. The builders supplied by Solomon and Hiram together with the Gebalites shaped the blocks and prepared both timber and stone for the building of the house." The Gebalites were from Gebal (Byblos), a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean Sea coast. While these figures seem large, 200,000 workers, they compare favourably with those given for the time and workers it took to build the temple to Diana at Ephesus and the Taj Mahal in more recent times. To appreciate how much work was involved, it is necessary to remember that the Temple was built on Mt. Moriah. To have room on this hill for the Temple and its courts required the building of an enormous limestone platform, with walls hundreds of feet high, all of which served as a massive foundation for the Temple itself. Some of the walls stand to this day.
The ancient quarry men, the Phoenician stonemasons sent by the King of Tyre, King Hiram, quarried stone from within Mt. Moriah itself, from subterranean quarries. In a corner some distance from the main thoroughfare of this quarry, a basin was discovered scooped out of the rock, which was designed to collect water that percolates through the roof and fissures of the limestone walls. On the floor around the basin, fragments of pottery drinking vessels have been found. Other telltale signs of stone masons' activities have also been discovered and go back to the time of Solomon.
How were the blocks of stone after being cut and dressed in the quarry, transported to the Temple site? Although the quarries were close to the site it is not thought the stones were taken to the entrance of the cavern, down into the valley, around and up the western slope of Mt Moriah. The stones were brought up into the city through a hole in the ceiling. When the pillars of stone left in this quarry were examined carefully one was found to be a giant mound of earth and debris piled up to the ceiling. The section above the rock was cut away in a manner that would allow the cut out section to fit back over the hole like a manhole cover. This artificial entrance, from the quarry to the city, has been found through which the stone blocks were transported.
Could all the stone needed for the Temple foundation, the walls, and the Temple itself come from one quarry? "When it is remembered that nearly the whole city of Edinburgh has been built out of Craig Leith Quarry and that many a town of England has been built of stone taken from one rock-cut excavation; when moreover, we reflect upon the immense size of the Jerusalem quarries, we are led to the conclusion that all the stonework of the Holy City, including the Temple's of Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod, the gigantic walls…as well as the wall encompassing the city, have been excavated from one and the same spot, namely from the Royal quarries underneath the north part of the Holy City. This…gathers strength from the fact that all the stonework is of one formation, and corresponds to the hard limestone rock of the aforesaid caves."(3)
King Hiram's skilled quarry-men were extremely careful about the foundations of their buildings and sometimes cut trenches out of the solid bedrock in which to place the foundation. This was done in the case of the Temple. The skilled masons, taking considerable effort, have gone down to the native rock and laid foundation stones on the solid rock of Mt. Moriah itself. The Psalmist's words are literally true when he proudly sings, "His foundation is in the holy mountains" (Ps. 87:1 ASV). Sometimes the masons had to go down nearly 100 feet to cut into the bedrock as a base for the foundation. The lowest point within the whole Temple platform, and hence the most critical point in the whole substructure, was the south east angle.
The foundation stone at the bottom of this SE angle, which is also a cornerstone, is the most interesting stone in the entire world, for it is the foundation stone, the chief cornerstone of the Temple platform and of its walls. Upon this everything rests, and on this single stone, outwards and upwards every other piece of masonry is dependant. It is still in situ, it is still there. The stone itself was carefully chosen and meticulously examined. It had to be sound, being limestone it had to be without any white streaks of spar that, under pressure and strain might lead to cracks and split. It was the very first stone to be laid and it had to be laid in position accurately. It had to be of the right size and of the right dimensions. It had to be carefully dressed so as to form a rectangular block. Being also the Chief Foundation Cornerstone it had to face both ways, it was a bond of union between the two main sides of the foundation substructure. It had to be expertly hewn as it had to come into close contact with the bedrock below and be a support for the masonry above. Once laid it would set. In fact, once the foundation stone was laid, the other blocks of stone had to be laid in position quickly so that they welded together and dried out in an immovable solid mass.
Accomplishing this feat for a structure so large would take a great deal of surveying, calculation, thought and preparation. In 1 Kings 6.1,37 we are told that building began and the foundation laid in Solomon's fourth year of rule, King David making preparations for the building before Solomon became king. Preparations for the Temple took from David's last days into Solomon's fourth year when the foundation was finally placed in position. That would entail a great deal of work, excavating, preparing and levelling uneven ground with stone, preparing all the foundation stones, and cutting paving stones for the surface of the Temple's Great Courtyard. It would require detailed plans, calculation, and expert specialist skill.
When engineers in the 1800's excavated the Temple's foundations and located the Chief Foundation Cornerstone, at the SE angle, they ascertained this stone dimensions to be 14 feet in length, 3 feet 8 inches high and about 7 feet wide. It is enormous. But it is not the largest foundation stone. To be the Chief Foundation Stone it does not have to be the largest. At the SW angle (opposite the SE angle, at the other end) there is a foundation stone 31 feet long, 7 feet wide and 5 feet high. It weighs over 100 tons, but it is not the Foundation stone. Its position is nowhere near as crucial as the one at the SE angle. At this position, it is the lowest point in the structure. The geometry and inclination of the site make everything dependant upon this one Foundation Cornerstone. And this stone is also laid in the live bedrock of the mountain itself and is out of sight.
The engineers who excavated this area were struck with admiration at the vastness of the blocks and the excellence of the workmanship. Other fascinating features discovered at this site confirmed they had discovered the original foundation cornerstone dating from the time of King Solomon. On the polished surface of the stones they noticed with considerable interest, incised marks and red painted characters; but they were unable to decipher these strange figures, nor could they tell to what language they belonged. They contacted an official in the British Museum (Emanuel Deutsch), an expert in epigraphy, the study of inscriptions. He concluded that the marks were partly letters, partly numerals, and partly special masons or quarry signs of Phoenician origin. They were the marks of the King of Tyre's stonemasons, and the same markings have also been discovered on ancient Phoenician buildings from the same period in present day Syria.
Click on picture to enlarge
That is very interesting because all the stonework was cut, prepared and polished, not on the site but in the quarry away from the site. So how did they know which stones went where? And, there were a great many stones. From the discovery of the ancient quarrymen's marks, it was discovered that by the use of a system of numerals and letters and special masons' marks placed on the stones, the masons would know where to place each block as each came, fully prepared, from the quarry. Knowing which stone went where, as for example, what course a stone belonged to, could not be left to last minute decisions. Many of these stones were so huge no margin for error could be or was allowed. For example, 100 feet above the Foundation Cornerstone, also on the corner, is another cornerstone, a gigantic block, 26 feet long, over 6 feet high, and 7 feet wide. It forms the seventh course from the ground. It also weighs over 100 tons, and is the heaviest though not the longest stone visible in the foundation. Charles Warren uncovered one stone in the Temple, which measured 30 feet 9 inches in length.(4) Manoeuvring stones of that size and weight would leave no room for inaccuracy or miscalculation, and would take meticulous experience and skill. In fact, the world's greatest engineers and masons were brought into Jerusalem to lay theses stones.
These stones also form part of the platform's south walls (Wall of Haram) foundation, being over 900 feet long (divided into 3 sections by two gates or entrances, Triple Gate and Double or Huldah Gate). The South wall, from the SE angle extends to the SW angle and here, interestingly, the foundation stone rests on the slope of the western bank of the base of Mt Zion, not Mt Moriah. Again it is literally true that as the Psalmist (87:1) said the "foundation is in the holy mountains", mountains, plural, the foundations are laid both in Moriah and in Zion.
The bedrock of Moriah comes to the surface at the sill of the Triple Gate. Level with this is the bed of a colossal course of masonry. It runs from the SE angle for a distance of about 600 feet. It is called the Great Course. Engineers noticed that this Great Course is not quite horizontal, it is "imperfect" you may say. "The outer lines of spires and columns, when perfectly straight, appear from some optical delusion to be slightly convex, and in order that they may appear straight the outer surface must be made slightly convex."(5) Greek architects, who strove for "rectitude" in the lay of their buildings, seeking perfection in outline and in number, also made provision for this optical illusion in some of their buildings.
(to be continued)
G.Friedlander, Pirké de Rabbi Eliezer, 1916 p.266. This work is an ancient rabbinical commentary on the work of God in His creation, and the oldest history of Israel. It is attributed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanos, a Palestinian sage ('Tannaite') of c.90-130 AD, but written during the eighth or early ninth century in Palestine.