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The First Temple was planned by King David and erected by King Solomon (970-931 B.C.E.). It took seven years to build the sanctuary: its walls were made of huge blocks of granite, quarried, dressed, and dovetailed in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. On the Temple site itself, no iron tools were used because implements of war were made of iron, and the Temple was a symbol of peace (I Kings 6:7). Solomon imported Phoenician craftsmen to build it. For the Temple roof, cedars and cypresses were hewn in the forests of Lebanon, floated down in rafts from Phoenicia to Joppa (Jaffa), and then borne up, log by log, to the heights of Jerusalem. The Temple was surrounded by courts and auxiliary buildings. It had three divisions: the vestibule before which were free-standing pillars, Jahin and Boaz; the holy place containing the altar of incense, the table of the shewbread and the seven branched Menorah; and the Holy of Holies, which held only the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments. The altar for the sacrifices was in the Temple court. The services in the Temple were impressive and accompanied by singing and instrumental music. For 380 years, this shrine was the heart of the nation. To it the people went up in pilgrimage three times a year on the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The Temple was destroyed on the ninth day of Av in 586 B.C.E., by Nebuchadnezzer, King of Babylonia, who deported the people of Judah and made it a Babylonian colony.

The Second Temple was completed 70 years later by the people who had returned from the Babylonian exile. Many of the original Temple vessels, plundered by the conqueror, had disappeared. The Ark of the Covenant was gone, and the Holy of Holies stood quite empty. When the sacredness of the Temple was defiled in 168 B.C.E. at the command of the Syrian King Antiochus, the people revolted. After the Maccabean victory, the Temple was restored, but
did not reach its full magnificence until Herod rebuilt it in 20-19 B.C.E. Ninety years later, the Roman legions under Titus set fire to the Temple, again on the ninth day of Ab, and left it a heap of ruins in 70 C.E. Since then, the day of the destruction has been remembered by Jews with fasting and prayer. Historic events are mentioned as having occurred “in the days of the First Temple” or “in the time of the Second Temple.”

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