Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Opulence Of The Two Temples

And David said, Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the LORD must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries: I will therefore now make preparation for it. So David prepared abundantly before his death.
1 Chr. 22:5

It is known that most or all of the holy vessels of gold and silver from the tabernacle were with the Ark when it was brought from the city of David to the first temple by Solomon (I Kings 8:4). Although David desired to build a permanent house of God in Jerusalem, his son Solomon built the first temple. The plans were those of David, and David amassed the materials (I Chronicles 28:1-19; II Chronicles 2-4; I Kings 6-7).

These materials included 100,000 talents (Ref. 3) of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver, (I Chron. 29). From his own private fortune David also gave 3,000 talents of gold and 7,000 talents of high grade silver. This is an enormous quantity of gold and silver by any standard: 100,000 talents of gold = 3750 tons, value today = $45 billion; 1,000,000 talents of silver = 37,500 tons, value today = $10.8 billion. In round numbers, the wealth of the first temple was about $56 billion. ...

The total wealth of the Second Temple was always small compared to the greatness of the First Temple though there were many changes made during the 400 years following the closing of the canon of the Old Testament. The Roman ruler Herod decided to completely rebuild and enlarge the Second Temple beginning in his 18th year of reign (c20 BC). Herod employed 10,000 workmen and 1,000 wagons. The size of the temple area was increased from 17 to 34 acres by excavations in the north and by the building of great retaining walls rising 450 ft from the Kidron Valley in the southeast. Within this area, now measuring 351 yards on the north side, 512 on the east, 536 on the west, and 309 on the south, rose the temple with its Corinthian columns of bronze, its different courts and gates and gleaming, spacious cloisters. The buildings and walls we built were extensive and massive. It was in this enlarged Second Temple built by Herod that Jesus was dedicated, and where he later taught and cast out the money-changers on two separate occasions. ...

The second temple treasury did benefit from a great influx of gold and silver from all lands contributed by worshippers. Cicero wrote of great influxes of gold to Jerusalem during his lifetime. Gifts other than gold or silver coins were sold and their value given to the treasury. Another large source of revenue was profit made from the sale of the meat offerings which were prepared by the Levites and sold every day to the offerers. By far the largest sum was probably derived from the half-shekel of temple tribute which was required of every male Israelite of age, including proselytes and slaves. The total sum of gold and silver contributed annually at the time of Jesus has been estimated to have been of the order of $500,000 per year. A large fraction of this wealth no doubt accumulated year after year over the lifetime of the second temple, (515 B. C. to 70 A. D.). There were numerous temple expenses but the evidence suggests that the bulk of the income was stored up year after year. Thus, the Roman plunder could well have been worth tens of millions of dollars.

The pillaging of the temple, its total destruction and the burning of Jerusalem with terrible suffering and loss of life occurred in 70 AD under the Roman General Titus (Josephus, Wars of the Jews). Tradition has it that the intense flames of the temple fire melted the gold and silver of the temple so that it ran between the cracks of the rocks. Roman soldiers then totally dismantled the temple stone by stone to extract the gold, (see Matthew 24:1-2). No one seems to know with certainty if any of the vessels or sacred objects from Herod's temple were hidden in subterranean passageways during the long siege of Titus. Most everything of value was most likely carried off to Rome.


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