David's leading role in the building and organization of the Great Tabernacle
The preparatory stages of the construction of the Great Tabernacle
The account given in Divre Hayamim evidently intends to highlight the part taken by David in the preparatory stages of the construction of the Great Tabernacle, and also the steps he took towards the organization of its officials. 7
To begin with we may list the materials collected beforehand and the man-power at the outset. Stone was being extracted from quarries near Yerusalem. Great quantities of iron. ...for the leaves of the doors and for clamps were assembled, and more bronze than could be weighed. Cedar logs, also, beyond number. These extravagant phrases were normal in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia: they served to perpetuate the memory of monarchs who had been builders. Precious metals are mentioned not to provide information for a future historian, but to stagger the reader. The scribe says that David had set aside 100,000 talents of gold 8 (about seven and a half million pounds in weight); and about a thousand talents of silver (about 75,000 lbs.).
In addition, he gave 3000 talents of gold and 7000 silver talents from his privy purse. He referred to this gift with some complaisance before an assembly of chieftains and elders with a view to encouraging voluntary contributions from them. Jehiel, the finance minister of the Great Tabernacle, collected incredible sums.
David was exultant; as a poet and a believer he uttered one of those spontaneous songs of which he was a master.
'Yours, YAHWEH, is the greatness, the power, splendour, length of days, honour; for all that it is in the heavens and on the earth is YOURS. ...YAHWEH, our YAHWEH, this store we have provided to build a house for YOUR QADASH NAME, all comes from YOUR hand, all is YOURS. ...Give Solomon my son a heart determined to keep YOUR commandments, YOUR decrees, YOUR statutes; may he practice them all, and build this palace I have prepared for YOU.' ...And the whole assembly blessed YAHWEH, the YAHWEH of their ancestors, and went on their knees to do homage to YAHWEH and to the king. (1 Divre Hayamim 29:11-20).
It is also of interest to note the classification laid down by David for the kohens and Levites who were to be in charge of the Great Tabernacle services. As a musician and a poet he settled the organization of the composers, cantors, the players on the lyre and harp and cymbal, and the duties of the officials of the tabernacle.
Then he drew up the general plan of the building and the details for its liturgical furnishing. This plan included a description of the various parts of the Great Tabernacle with their dimensions, and also the measurements of the annexes, the store-rooms and repositories, as well as those of the vestibule.
After mentioning the gold bullion that would be at the disposal of the future builder, he listed the items to be made from this metal for the purposes of worship: the lamp stands and their lamps; the tables on which the rows of bread were set; the forks; the sprinkling bowls and basins; the altar of incense, etc. Following these came the utensils to be made of silver. He even described the way in which the cherubim, in the remote chamber of the QADASH OF QADASH, should stretch their wings.
All these regulations were in accordance with what YAHWEH with HIS hand had written in order to make the whole work clear for which HE was providing the plans. In the East it was always the god who 'wrote' the directions that were to be used as the plan for a Great Tabernacle in HIS honour: that is, HE inspired the architect.
So too, throughout the Middle East, it would have been unthinkable to have built a temple anywhere without having first received a more or less categorical command. Thus the apparition of the' Malak of YAHWEH' seen by David and his comrades and also by the family of Ornan, above the threshing floor on Mount Moriah, was taken as an indication of the divine will. YAHWEH, it was thought, wished a Great Tabernacle to be built on this spot; it was an interpretation strongly encouraged by Gad, the seer.
Now, if the narrative is an objective account of what really happened, as we think it is,9 then what is known as 'Solomon's Great Tabernacle', is really the fulfillment of a project planned in all its details by David. What then remains of Solomon's reputation as an architect? Much more than might at first be thought. Even if the Great Tabernacle owes its origins to David, Solomon’s architectural achievement in the construction of his palace in Yerusalem and in a number of other places, is no less considerable.
7 The corresponding passage in the Book of Melechim, most probably written in the ninth century, that is, about the time when the Great Tabernacle was being built, provides no details. The author appears to have intended to reserve all the honour of its construction to Solomon. And yet the chapter in Divre Hayamim (written in the second century before YAHSHUA, and thus five hundred years later than the account in Melechim), insists on the part played by David. There is indeed a wide divergence in time; even so the Chronicler's details are convincing .He quotes his authorities and the manuscripts he used.. Through war, looting, burning and every kind of destruction, these works have been lost. But the fact that the narrative is based on them as references adds considerably to its credibility.
8 At this period, a talent was a measure of weight about 75 pounds.
9 Some exegetes, of unquestionable reputation, take the following view the present text of these chapters on the building of the Great Tabernacle is a combination of two different accounts; one of them attributing the work to David; the other to Solomon’s. In order to reconcile these two accounts, the scribe has diversified their functions: David did the preparatory work and Solomon fulfilled it. We now have sufficient knowledge of the methods used by the scribes to be sure that in circumstances like this, they would, with their customary respect for the documents in front of them, usually reproduce them both, without attempting to harmonize them even when they were widely divergent and contained contradictions. In the present instance it would be difficult to believe that two opposite traditions have been manipulated in order to endow them with a semblance of logical order; such methods were foreign to the Scriptural authors.
Hiram I, king of Tyre: timber merchant and building contractor
As soon as the news of David's death spread throughout the East, Hiram quickly sent a deputation to Solomon to express his sympathy and declare his friendship. Solomon thanked him in due form, and an active diplomatic correspondence ensued which was discovered a thousand years later by Yosephus, the Jewish historian, in the great seaport of Tyre. The evidence from these letters practically coincides with that given in the Scripture.
Hiram was a man of enormous energy -his activity in the construction of the Great Tabernacle proves it. He was probably about the same age as Solomon; at any rate their reigns are almost exactly parallel. David's own business transactions seem to have been with Hiram's father, Abi-Baal, whose workmen built a 'cedar-wood house', David's palace, on the hill of Ophel. The Hebrews gazed at it in awe, but it must in fact have been quite unpretentious. It was these same men who helped David to draw up the plan for YAHWEH's tabernacle, and he had the assistance of Tyrian decorators and goldsmiths in working out at least the main lines of the ornamentation of the Great Tabernacle.
Abi-Baal and David died more or less at the same time; their sons, Hiram and Solomon, continued to exchange ideas on the great works to be undertaken on the hill of Moriah.
According to the ancient historians, the Greek Menander and the Jew Yosephus, Hiram had radically transformed the Phoenician port of Tyre. Originally it had consisted of little islands divided by narrow arms of the sea. The young prince decided to build a new city on an imposing scale. The old city was constructed on a huge rock; the smallest island (called the 'holy island') contained the temple of Melkart, 'the god of the city'. The canals were filled in and the main island increased in size, and the archipelago was made into a single compact whole. On the land thus reclaimed from the sea, splendid sanctuaries and sumptuous dwellings were erected. Rare woods -the forest on the nearby Lebanese coast provided cedar, pine and cypress -and precious metals, were used in abundance for these new constructions. Hiram built himself a palace worthy of the Arabian Nights, and filled it with amazing treasures.
Such was the prince of Tyre, the master of a merchant fleet trading throughout the Mediterranean. When opportunity arose, he loaned his architects and decorators to foreigners. He could also provide his clients with rare and precious kinds of wood. The Syrian hillsides held much valuable timber.
Hiram was aware of Solomon's needs, for in Canaan no tree of any size could be grown, and only the most utilitarian buildings of a very primitive character could be erected from local materials.
After copious expressions of devotion, this astute businessman hastened to settle the clauses of the contract. His aim was to avoid wearisome litigation later on. Solomon agreed, and Hiram was at once ready to begin deliveries: 'I will supply all you want in the way of cedar wood and juniper.' The procedure was as follows: Hiram's woodmen felled the trees marked out for the construction of the Great Tabernacle in Yerusalem. Then, gangs of forced labour provided by Solomon dragged the timber down to the shore of the Mediterranean. It was a formidable task. There, Phoenicians crews built rafts and their ships towed them to Joppa (Jaffa) where the cargo was discharged. Hebrew gangs then had to drag these huge loads nearly forty miles up to Yerusalem, some two thousand six hundred feet above sea level: the way was steep, with ascents and descents sharply alternating.
The wood for the Great Tabernacle was brought from Tyre to Joppa in rafts
Solomon introduce forced labour
In order to make sure that this organization functioned properly, Solomon had to introduce forced labour, a shameful thing in Jewish eyes. Thirty thousand men, divided into three sections, were requisitioned, each section working for a full month. Ten thousand were sent to the Lebanon; the other twenty thousand stayed at home for the time being.
The Phoenicians were renowned for their hard bargains. These businessmen of antiquity knew how to charge for their services and their goods. The tariff, fixed by Hiram, is recorded, in its main lines, in the Scripture. But this was only a start. After the Great Tabernacle had been built, there were to be a number of other deliveries, of different sorts, and hence fresh agreements involving on occasion sharp arguments.
In return for the goods he provided, Hiram did not want gold. He possessed this in greater abundance than Solomon. But in his island of Tyre, and on the wooded slopes of Lebanon, there was a lack of crops for food. In the land where Yacob's tribes had settled, agriculture had been reasonably developed for some two centuries, and the countrymen of the plains were in a position to export a quantity of wheat and other cereals. This was an exchange agreeable to both parties: valuable timber was sent to Yerusalem, provisions were sent to Tyre.
The arrangement was as follows: each year and throughout the period of work on the structure of the Great Tabernacle, Solomon promised to provide Hiram with 20,000 hogsheads (kor) of wheat (about 170,000 pounds) and the same amount of barley; 20,000 measures (bath) of oil (roughly 200,000 gallons) and the same quantity of wine.10
At Tyre, Hiram was building a splendid city, abounding with wealth, on the land reclaimed from the sea. In comparison, Solomon's Great Tabernacle was a very modest affair, no more than some 165 feet long. But Hiram pretended to be awed by it, and -believer in Melkart and Astarte, though he was -proceeded to 'bless YAHWEH', who, he said, 'has made the heavens and the earth, and given King David a wise son, endowed with discretion and discernment, who is going to build a house for YAHWEH' (2 Divre Hayamim 2:2).
But these amiable sentiments did not prevent him from asking for a substantial payment in advance. The king of Yerusalem must send the first installments of wheat, barley, wine and oil, without delay. On receipt of these (and not before, if we understand rightly) the Lebanese woodmen would begin felling the trees necessary for the preliminary work on the Great Tabernacle.
THE ISLAND OF TYRE after Hiram I's reconstruction
Hiram I, king of Tyre, Solomon's friend and official supplier, was an untiring builder. The small archipelago of Tyre was made up of several rocks separated by shallow channels of sea. By means of embankments and strongly built wharfs Hiram reclaimed a considerable area of land to the south towards the Lebanese coast. It has been calculated that this expansion of the island provided room for some 30,000 to 35,000 persons. These considerable building works give us an idea of the capabilities of the Phoenician architects whom Solomon summoned to Canaan to build the Great Tabernacle of YAHWEH, the royal palace, a great number of citadels and also the industrial city of Ezion-geber on the Red Sea at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.
10 The Kor is 100 gallons and a Bath is a tenth of this. The details given above are from 2 Divre Hayamim 2:9. In the Book of Melechim (1. 5:25), the same quantities of wheat and oil are mentioned, but there is nothing about barley and wine.
Foremen in charge of the building
The Scripture is not very informative about the professional organization of the Phoenician foremen in charge of the building. At most we are given a few details about the chief metal worker who was also responsible for the workshops of the wood-carvers and decorators.
This man's real name was Huram-abi. (It is some times translated as Hiram, with the obvious risk of confusing him with the Tyrian king). His father was a Tyrian, but, as the Scripture notes complacently, his mother belonged either to the tribe of Naphtali (according to Melechim) or to that of Dan (according to Divre Hayamim). In any case she was a Hebrew woman. In a letter to Solomon, Hiram recommended this craftsman: 'He is skilled in the use of gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, wood, scarlet, violet, fine linen, crimson, in engraving of all kinds, and in the execution of any design suggested to him' (2 Divre Hayamim 2:13).11
In Phoenician workshops producing materials for wealthy Tyrian exporters, the owners employed some craftsmen of this kind with abilities in a number of spheres. Huram-abi must be considered a technician of wide talents who could supervise the running of several specialized workshops. In Canaan, as we shall see, he gained a special reputation as a worker in bronze.
11 A modern reader will need some explanation of these terms;
1. Scarlet, crimson: these colours relate to fabrics of a reddish tint. 'Crimson material,' manufactured in great quantities in Phoenician workshops, sold profitably in the great Mediterranean markets.
2 Fine linen: scholars question whether this was really linen or merely cotton; since it was fabric to be used in the Great Tabernacle it was probably very fine and precious linen.
3 Violet: woollen material coloured deep-red tending to violet. A typically Phoenician, and particularly, a Tyrian product. The colouring matter -purple -is secreted by the gland of a marine mollusc (murex trunculus) fished on the coasts of Asia Minor, Africa or Phoenicia. It was used in colouring costly fabrics.
Materials for construction of the Great Tabernacle
A last word on the materials that were to be used in the construction of the Great Tabernacle:
Bronze: David himself had managed to assemble on Ophel a great quantity of bronze from Tibhath and from Cun, towns belonging to Hadadezer, king of Zobah (1 Divre Hayamim 18:8) over whom he had won a victory. This store was used later in casting such items as the Bronze Sea, erected in the vestibule of the Great Tabernacle, and the great pillars at the entrance to the tabernacle.
Precious metals: David bequeathed to his son Solomon an impressive amount of gold and silver bullion which he had gathered in his numerous raids into the neighbouring territories of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Amalek, etc. The subject peoples, also, paid a heavy annual tribute to Yerusalem. In the Book of Divre Hayamim, the scribe gives the amount of this treasure reserved for the house of YAHWEH:100,000 talents of gold (roughly 7,500,000 pounds weight), and 1,000,000 talents of silver. These sums are scarcely credible, even to a modern financier, and we may take them simply as indicating that David, who lived thriftily, had accumulated considerable wealth to be used for the building of the Great Tabernacle, and that consequently, the treasure chests were full.
Freestone: North of Yerusalem there is an ancient quarry, some 200 yards long, probably identical with the 'royal caves' mentioned by Yosephus (The Jewish War, 5, 4. 2). It is easy to see how these blocks of limestone were extracted in this place. Here and there, we can observe traces of splintering due to the insertion of wooden wedges that were damped after being driven into the stone. Posts kept up the ceiling. Oil lamps were placed at intervals along the wall to give light to the workers.
Iron: David stored up great quantities of iron to make nails for the leaves of the doors and for clamps (1 Divre Hayamim 22:3). This metal was mainly used as an accessory, and therefore, in spite of the emphasis laid on it by the chronicler, the amount was probably quite small. In any case, iron had been used in Canaan for only two hundred years (since c. 1200). Its extraction and use had been a monopoly of the Philistines, who had used it mainly to make better weapons. Not surprisingly, therefore, it was not much esteemed in Solomon's day: it was not considered a suitable material for use in the Great Tabernacle, the symbol of peace.
Solomon The Magnificent Index Solomon Sitemap Scripture History Through the Ages Solomon The Historian RADIANT DAWN Solomon's Wisdom SOLOMON IN ALL HIS HONOR David's role in building the Temple Dates of the building of the Temple Division of the Temple The Ark of the Covenant The most Kodesh Place Dedication of the Temple SOLOMON Prince of Peace SOLOMON THE TRADER Solomon's Ophir expedition The queen of Sheba LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS OF SOLOMON First historical works of the Hebrews What did Solomon write THE SHADES OF NIGHT Political and social failure Solomon's spiritual failure The moral failure of Solomon CONCLUSION of Solomon