The Temple and the Holy Ark

King Solomon built the first Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the tenth century BC with three main purposes in mind: first, to be the center of the Jewish faith in Israel; second, to be a place for the performance of animal sacrifices to God; and third, to be a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the original Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

King Solomon’s original temple, built during one of the wealthiest periods in Israel’s history, lasted until 586 BC, when it was destroyed by the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadrezzar II. The Babylonians looted and destroyed the temple, including, presumably, the Holy Ark and the Ten Commandments. With the destruction of the temple, the Jews were exiled from the southern portion of Israel, known as the Land of Judah.

When the Jews returned from their exile, they rebuilt the temple. This second temple took thirty-one years to construct and was completed in 515 BC. It thrived for five centuries. Around 19 BC, King Herod the Great began an ambitious expansion project, which included a large retaining wall around the entire site. The temple remained in this state until the end of the first century AD.

As the first century drew to a close, Roman-Jewish tensions rose. At the time, one-tenth of the Roman Empire was Jewish. Moreover, many of those who were not Jewish supported the Jews, only refraining from joining the religion because of its circumcision requirement. Although Roman-Jewish relations were peaceful for the most part, a group of zealots revolted in 66 AD. and Roman leaders feared the spread of rebellion. In response, they destroyed Jerusalem and the second temple in 70 AD. This was the second destruction of the Jews’ holiest site, and it began the Jewish Diaspora out of Israel.

ADDITIONAL FACTS

  1. The site of the first two temples, the Temple Mount, regarded as the holiest location in Judaism, is also an extremely important location for Christianity and Islam. Islam’s Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, both built in the sixth century, make it the third holiest site in the Muslim faith.
  2. Part of King Herod’s retaining wall survived the Romans’ destruction and still exists today, known as the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. This section of the wall is a holy site that many pilgrims go to visit.
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