- The Temple of Solomon -


The Biblical Temple of Solomon has captured the imagination for many centuries. This website presents a virtual reconstruction of a model of this Temple, which was created in the early eighteenth century in Halle (Germany). Such tentative reconstructions should help to arrive at a better understanding of the Bible, which describes the Temple and the events that took place in it in great detail. Models like these raised much interest at the time and were presented to the general public as sights of wonder.

Perspectival rendering of the temple model from the north. Copperplate engraving from Christoph Semler, Der Tempel Salomonis (Halle: Waysenhaus Verlag, 1718). © Göttingen State and University Library.

This elaborate Temple-model, measuring c. 2 x 3 meter, was displayed in 1717 in the Waisenhaus (orphanage) at Halle, a complex of schools founded by the Pietist leader and theologian August Hermann Francke (1663-1727).

The orphanage at Halle represented as “Obed Edoms-Haus” (temporary refuge of the Ark of the Covenant). Copperplate engraving by David Ulrich Böcklin, Leipzig, 1730. © Halle city archive.

The model was made by the schoolmaster Christoph Semler (1669–1740), who is known as the initiator of teaching with objects. Semler and Francke worked together to create a reconstruction that was more historically accurate than the existing models. To this end, they based themselves on the most reliable interpretations of the biblical accounts and various Jewish sources. Putting the Biblical stories in their spatial context, presenting them to the eyes of the viewer in three-dimensions, would shed light on many obscure passages in the Bible. Thus, it was argued, the viewer gained such a clear and vivid impression of the events that had taken place there, that it was almost as if they were present in person. By looking at the model for one hour, viewers could learn more than by studying the best authors for many hours.

The Kunst- und Naturalienkammer (cabinet of curiosities) at the Francke Foundations in 1910. Photo Klaus E. Göltz, Halle / Saale. © Francke Foundations, Halle.

History of the Temple

The Bible describes how the construction of the Temple was initiated by king David, who received its design from God. It was to replace the Tabernacle, a portable tent-shrine used by the Israelites during their itinerancy in the desert. However, David was unworthy to accomplish the building, because his hands were stained with blood. Therefore, he prepared everything for his son Solomon to realize the plans once he became king.

King David handing the temple design to his son Solomon. Copperplate engraving, frontispiece to Semler, Der Tempel Salomonis (1718). © Göttingen State and University Library.

Allegedly, it took seven years to assemble all the prefabricated elements on site, and a grand ceremony of dedication initiated the divine service. It was not before long, however, that Solomon’s many foreign wives set up shrines in honour of other deities in the Temple, provoking God’s wrath. This first Temple existed from c. 950 to 586 BCE, when it was destroyed by the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar, who led the Israelites into captivity in Babylon. After their exile, the Israelites rebuilt the Temple under Zerubbabel c. 515 BCE, initiating the Second Temple period. In 17 BCE the Hellenistic king Herod the Great started a grand renovation of the Temple, which was underway during the life of Jesus. In 70 CE, the Romans under Titus finally destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple as retribution for the Jewish rebellion. Ever since, only scant archaeological remains (such as the Western Wall) evince of the biblical Temple. From the seventh century CE, the likely site of the shrine on Temple Mount in Jerusalem has been occupied by the Islamic Dome of the Rock.

The eighteenth-century Temple model at Halle has also vanished. However, a detailed manual with illustrations provides a clear account of its layout, and how it was to be interpreted: according to the Pietists, everything in the Temple referred to Jesus Christ. Originally, special guides educated the audience (of schoolchildren and curious visitors) during live demonstrations. This website allows you to discover the Temple model at your leisure, in the comfort of your own home.

You are listening to George Frideric Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’, the Sinfonia to Act III of the oratorio Solomon (HWV67) of 1748. Performance by the Academy of Ancient Music led by Bojan Cicic and directed by Christopher Bucknall at the harpsichord.