1. Plans, Estimates and Measuring

2. Old Testament References


1. Construction and Materials

2. Style

3. Facts

4. Phoenician Designers


1. Defense Walls

2. Streets

3. Absence of the "Grand Manner"

4. Solomonic Detail

5. Temple of Onias

6. Comparison with Maccabean Work

7. Painted Tombs at Marissa

8. Characteristic Feature





See a list of verses on ARCHITECTURE in the Bible.

I. General History.

The words "architect" and "architecture" do not occur in the Old Testament or the New Testament.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

As the greatness of a nation and its social elevation are reflected in the course of architectural development, so is a nation's failure to rise to firm establishment, after victory in war, reflected in the absence of such development. The latter condition was that of the Jews in Palestine; they failed so to establish themselves that their character and aims could find true expression in architecture. The country by reason of its geographical position and its broken territorial character, which exaggerat edition the tribal nature of its inhabitants, did not favor political empire (see HGHL , 10). The great difficulty of the Jews was the preservation of their own integrity. There could be no victorious expeditions to foreign lands to inspire monumental evidence of achievement in arms, nor had they the inspiration. of various gods or saints, to whose glory great and separate buildings might be raised. Their dwellings were, by force of circumstances, unpretentious, and their tombs were of the same character.

1. Plans, Estimates and Measuring:

Although in the smaller buildings there is very little evidence of the builder having been governed by a previously drawn plan, there seems no doubt that in larger works a plan was prepared. The Tabernacle was made according to a "pattern" (Ex 25:9) and Solomon's Temple was also designed and submitted for approval (1Ch 28:11). Estimated cost was also considered (Lu 14:28). The equivalents to a tape line and foot rule can be identified (Eze 40:3,5; 47:3; Re 11:1; 21:15).

The Israelites arrived in tents, and the walled cities, "great and walled up to heaven" (De 1:28 the King James Version) which they took and occupied were well fortified, unlovely shelters, covering areas of anything from 12 acres, as at Taanach and Megiddo, to about 23 acres as at Gezer (Canaan d'apres l'exploration recente). The habitations within the walls were poor structures of mud bricks or rude stone; in many cases they were rock-cut caves. True, the Jews attempted, at the outset of their full pos session, to build in beauty, and made efforts toward greater substantiality, using the best available help; the attempt, however, was doomed to failure. Their most important buildings were their fortifications. The engineering skill displayed in the construction of aqueducts and other water systems was forced out of them by sheer necessity, and proved the existence of a latent constructive power, which they never had sustained opportunity to apply to architecture. In striking contrast is the architecture of the Crusaders. In a comparatively short time of less than 200 years, during the half of which practice in the arts of peace was well-nigh impossible, they stamped their occupation by the erection of an enormous number of great and beautiful buildings, the ruins of which are among the most imposing landmarks in the country.

2. Old Testament References:

The often-repeated references to building greatness in the Old Testament, indicate a pride out of all scale with actuality. They tell the story of a long desert pilgrimage during which the Jews, as dwellers in tents, were impressed with the walled cities which, with extraordinary fortitude, they stormed and occupied, and which, with pardonable enthusiasm, they consequently exaggerated, to the glory of God. Although references to buildings in the Old Testament are frequent, they are seldom sufficiently de tailed to convey an idea of their character.

Cain built a city and named it Enoch (Ge 4:17); his descendant Tubal Cain was "an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron" (Ge 4:22 the Revised Version, margin). The description of the plan of the ark (Ge 6:14 ff) is the first detailed architectural description in the Old Testament. Asshur, a descendant of Ham, built Nineveh and other cities (Ge 10:11). The tower of Babel was built of "brick for stone and slime for mortar" (Ge 11:3). In Ex 27:9-21 plan, dimensions and construction of the Tabernacle are given.

II. Temple and Palace of Solomon.

The most complete architectural reference is the description of the Temple and Palace of Solomon (1Ki 6:1-38; 7:1-51) and (Eze 40:1-49; 41:1-26). These buildings are fully dealt with under TEMPLE, but a brief note is here necessary, as they are by far the greatest buildings of which there is mention in the Old Testament. It is clear that Solomon had ambition for architectural greatness, and, following the example of David (2Sa 5:11) he employed Phoenician designers and craftsmen to carry out the work.

1. Construction and Materials:

It is known that the buildings were of stone, that the chambers surrounding the Temple were three stories high, that the Temple was roofed (presumably flat) with cedar. Fergusson's restoration shows a sloping roof, following the precedent of the sloping roof of the Tabernacle (Temples of the Jews, 26). The walls and ceilings were lined with cedar, so that "there was no stone seen" (1Ki 6:18) within the house. The interior was enriched with carved foliage and cherubim, and in the decorative scheme, gold was freely applied. The description of the exterior is less minutely detailed. Stones were large and, as in the buildings of Egypt, were "sawed with saws" "from foundation to coping" (1Ki 7:9), "foundation to the top of walls" (3 Ki 7:9, the Douay Version). The inference therefore is that the masonry was smooth-faced: "no sign of any hammer" (Ant., VIII, iii, 2). Windows were "narrow" (1Ki 6:4 the King James Version), repeatedly referred to (Eze 40:16,26). In the interior of the palace, cedar beams were carried on rows of cedar columns, and there were three rows of windows, one row to each story, directly opposite each other. Doors and posts were "square in prospect" (1Ki 7:5 the English Revised Version), i.e. square-headed. In Eze 40:21 ff English Versions of the Bible arches are repeatedly mentioned but this is an error of translation.


2. Style:

In the description, there is very little indication of the style of architecture. The rich nature of the pillars of brass and their "chapiters" (1Ki 7:15 ff English Versions) point to some hankering after an ornate trabeated style. There is no indication, however, of such a style in constructive stone. No mention is made of a crowning feature of a distinctive kind, not even an eave, simply a "coping." The use of a coping suggests that the walls were topped by parapets, "battlement" (De 22:8 English Versions), accord ing to the law. Fergusson's restoration shows both cornice and battlements (Temples of the Jews, Frontispiece).

One can only vaguely conjecture the sources of influence which guided the builders. The description clearly shows that the great columnar architecture of Egypt was not taken as a model, although certain Egyptian characteristics in detail are evident in contemporary work. Probably Phoenician intercourse with the Mediterranean, generally, showed its influence, in which case a comparatively poor result might be inferred.

3. Facts:

There remain these facts, namely, that here is described a group of buildings, of comparatively great scale; internally, at least, richly detailed and disposed in a way which shows considerable appreciation of architectural fitness, inspired by ambition for monumental greatness and dedicated, as was all that is great and spontaneous in architecture, to the glory of God. The one great flaw lay in the complete lack of a national constructive ability to respond to the call.

4. Phoenician Designers:

The Phoenicians who were employed seem to have been indifferent builders. They took 13 years to build Solomon's house (1Ki 7:1) and 7 1/2 years to build the Temple (1Ki 6:38), and they, in all probability, found such a great work beyond their powers of adequate conception, more especially as the housement of a strange God was uninspiring. "Shalt thou build me an house for me to dwell in?" (2Sa 7:5 English Versions) was a command which they were only hired to fulfill.

III. Conclusions from Actual Remains.

There are only a very few known examples from which a knowledge of Jewish architecture can be obtained. There are none now standing, and what the spade has uncovered proves little more than a mere building craft of an inferior order. Remains of the period of the monarchy have been uncovered on several sites, notably Jerusalem, Lachish, Tel es Safi (Gath?), Gezer, Taanach, Tel es Mutesellim (Megiddo), Jericho, and these give a general idea of the building craft of the period, but give no evidence of an architectural style. It may, with good reason, be argued that there was no style, but it is too much to conclude that the Jews had no architectural instinct. Ideals were not lacking: "Behold, I will set thy stones in fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy pinnacles of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy border of precious stones" (Isa 54:11-12). Had history been different, Solomon's great example might have laid a foundation from which a national style would have been developed. The arts of peace, however, did not even bud, and the bane of internal and external conflict forced building energy to concentrate itself on fortifications.

1. Defence Walls:

Indeed in the great defense walls lies the building history of the Jews. They were hurriedly built and frequently destroyed. Destruction and reparation alternated so consistently, that each successive city within was little more than a temporary housement, at all times subservient to the more important work of defense. Under such conditions nothing flourished, least of all architecture. Building art became a thing of bare temporary utility.

2. Streets:

Streets were laid out without method; narrow, tortuous alleys broken into by projections, founded at the will of each individual builder, served as main thoroughfares (Bible Sidelights, 95; Excavation of Gezer, Vol I, p. 167 ff); compare similarity of conditions with streets of Mediterranean city of Philakopi (Journal RIBA,XI , 531). See CITY. Masonry was usually of rough unhewn stones, unskillfully laid without mortar, and buildings were rarely on the square. Under these conditions the enthusiasm displayed in the description of Solomon's work can be understood.

3. Absence of the "Grand Manner":

In Jerusalem the Temple area was the center of architectural grandeur, and it is possible that it may have inspired building endeavor of another nature in other cities. Palestine has as yet yielded no such parallel. Free areas, where they are found to have existed, seem to have happened so, and do not always coincide in position in successive superincumbent cities. They lay claim to no particular "lay out" and, in all probability, they served as space for the dump heaps of the town refuse or for the pen ning-up of cattle and sheep (Isa 58:12, "waste places"). Compare the modern city of Es Salt; it gives a fairly good idea of the general appearance of an ancient Jewish city. The use of wooden shafts for porticos and roofs of large covered areas appears to have been prevalent, and these were frequently set in stone sockets which served as bases. Stone columns seem to have been sparingly used; in fact, there is no evidence whatever that a stone columnar style of architecture prevailed in the more important buildings.

4. Solomonic Detail:

At Lachish (Lachish, 23 ff) a number of voluted low-relief slabs were discovered which were originally built into the left reveals of the doorways of a building of considerable importance. These slabs were found in conjunction with a molded lintel of Egyptian character. The discovery disclosed the only authentic examples of the architectural detail of the Solomonic period, and is particularly interesting as furnishing, perhaps, the earliest prototype of the Ionic volute. At its best it is a shoddy uncon structive adaptation of exotic features, and if it is to be taken as a key to the work of the period throughout Palestine, there can be nothing great to record.

5. Temple of Onias:

When Onias fled to Egypt from the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, circa 154 BC, he gained permission from Ptolemy and Cleopatra to build a temple at Leontopolis like to that at Jerusalem (Ant., XIII, iii, 3). The temple was built in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isa and modeled after the temple of Zerubbabel, but "smaller and poorer" and "resembled a tower." Petrie recovered this temple (Hyksos, 19 ff) on an artificial mound resembling the Temple hill at Jerusalem, raised alongside the Hyksos camp, w here an influential Jewish community had established itself. It is the most complete plan of a Jewish building of monumental character yet discovered. A sort of rude Corinthian detail was used, and certain fragments point to a battlemented treatment, suggestive of Babylonian origin, and to some extent confirming the inference drawn from the description of Solomon's Temple.

6. Comparison with Maccabean Work:

Fragments of contemporary architecture of the Maccabean dynasty throughout Palestine show a Greco-Syrian style of considerable dignity and interest, illustrating a readiness to respond to the Hellenizing influence in the arts, which at that time was characterized, in architecture, by a decadent Greek provincialism. The battlemented details, found at Hyksos, seem to indicate the use of a style antedating the Maccabean work, preserving, to some extent, Babylonian traditions.

7. Painted Tombs at Marissa:

From the 3rd century BC up to the Christian era architecture shows a consistent Greek origin with local character in detail (see Expl. in Palestine, 18, 19) at Tel Sandahannah and Mareshah (Painted Tombs of Marissa). These Marissa tombs show most interesting decorated elevations, with painted architectural detail. The work is Phoenician (93) and the date probably 194 to 119 BC (79). Greek Ionic capitals are used, with wreath enrichments painted on the architrave over the capital, and a deep frieze of painted animals, surmounted by a representation of a "battlement" "coping" (De 22:8; 1Ki 7:9) remarkably like the details found by Petrie at Hyksos. An interesting detail is the pointed head to the intercolumnar opening, a form which seems to have suggested itself universally to the primitive builder, where the handling of large lintel stones presented a difficulty. They call to mind the heads of Anglo-Saxon openings.

A liking for mural decoration existed throughout the whole Jewish period, as is seen from the small fragments of painted plaster discovered in the various excavated cities, but the decoration on the Marissa tombs is the most complete example, and resembles in many ways the mural decoration at Knossos and Phylakopi.

8. Characteristic Feature:

The tomb of Zechariah in the Kedron valley probably belongs to the same date as its neighbor, the tomb of James, which De Vogue, from the inscription upon it, ascribes to the time of Herod (Le Temple de Jerusalem, 46). The detail of the crowning part of the entablature is an often-recurring feature in Palestine architecture, appearing as early as the Solomonic era at Lachish. It is characteristically Egyptian, and is also seen at Persepolis (Gwilt's Encyclopedia, 22), and although neither might have been bor rowed from the other, they are not many removes from the common parent. (A curious eastern tradition mentioned (BD, "Cities," 610) ascribes the building of Persepolis to Solomon.) It was a feature commonly used by the Phoenicians (Rawlinson, Hist. of Phoenician, 142), and was probably introduced by them from Egypt. It seems to have been in favor up to the time of Herod and was abandoned after the wholesale introduction of the classic entablature which in Hellenistic times was only partially incorporated into the prevailing style. The successive variations of the crowning feature of their design is an important factor in tracing the development of Jewish architecture.

IV. Herodian Work.

The Temple of Siah (described by De Vogue in Recovery of Jerusalem, 419 ff, and Temples of the Jews, 140 ff) is an interesting example of the work of the Herodian period and is more Greek in character than one would expect. Here, local character in carving is strongly marked, foliage and figures being freely used with a certain Assyrian manner which, in spite of loose handling, betrays its origin. In fact this chord of architectural enrichment can be traced through the work of In dia, Assyria, Persia and Syria on to the Byzantine period, when the great cathedral church of Sophia in Constantinople displayed it in the most perfect harmony of all time.

The great building period of Herod need not be detailed. Herod was an Edomite and his architecture partook of the more robust Roman style which dominated Jewish art at a time when the opportunity of national incorporation had passed.

V. Synagogues.

This Roman influence, however, remained in Palestine as can be seen by the important remains of synagogues in Galilee of the 3rd century AD (see Fig. 8 from Kerr Berim; Studies in Galilee, chapter vi; Memoirs of the Survey of Western Palestine, special papers, 294 ff). The many remains investigated shed light upon the plan of these post-exilic places of worship, of which there is little or no mention in the Old Testament. See SYNAGOGUE. The plans vary considerably in proportion. The example at Meiron measures 90 ft. x 44 ft. 8 inches, while that at Irbid measures 57 ft. 3 inches x 53 ft. (SWP, special papers, 299). In general arrangement the plans vary very little, consisting usually of five aisles with a triple entrance, most often facing south. The details are richly carved and "a surprising feature common to all is the use of animal figures, especially lions, or lambs and eagles. .... In some examples human figures, usually intentionally mutilated, are found" (Studies in Galilee, 110).

VI. Final.

It is probable that future researches may add to our knowledge of early Jewish architecture, but it is doubtful whether there is more to discover than is constituted in the crude and unskilled use of building materials, influenced by limited knowledge of exotic features, which the Jews had neither the time nor the knowledge properly to apply.



Conder, Survey of Western Palestine; Warren, Recovery of Jerusalem; Bliss and Dickie, Excavations in Jerusalem, 1894-97; Fergusson, Temple of Jerusalem; Masterman, Studies in Galilee; Bliss and Macalister, Excavations in Palestine; Macalister, Excavations at Gezer; Petrie, Excavations at Hyksos; Rawlinson, History of Phoen; Petrie, Lachish; Sellin, Excavations at Taanach; Schumacher, Excavations at Tell Mutesellim; Macalister, Bible Sidelights; Peters and Thierch, Painted Tombs of Marissa.

Arch. C. Dickie

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