In the year 63 BCE, the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, in the process of conquering Israel and all the surrounding territories, entered the most sacred place in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. What he found shocked him. For this temple was different in one crucial respect from all other temples.
Pompey's incursion was made upon what the Jews called their second temple. The original version of the first temple was supposed to have been a magnificent structure in Jerusalem constructed by Judah's King Solomon on land purchased by his father, King David. No archeological evidence - not one brick - has been found of anything remotely on that scale existing in what appears to have been at the time, the tenth century BCE, a tiny, sleepy kingdom. But by the reign of King Josiah, in the seventh century BCE, a central temple certainly existed in Jerusalem. It was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 586 B.C. Construction on a new temple began with the return from exile in Babylon in 537 BCE.
That was the second temple. The sacrifices and purity rituals that were at the center of the Jewish religion were performed in and around such a temple in Jerusalem for more than half a millennium. (Herod, beginning in 19 BCE, built a version that may truly have qualified as magnificent.) And it was into an incarnation of this second temple that Pompey, then perhaps the most powerful man on earth, intruded. "As victor he claimed the right to enter the temple," the Roman historian Tacitus explains. (Tacitus, the only source for this incident, is writing, alas, more than one hundred and sixty years after the fact.)
The temple's inner sanctum - the Holy of Holies: Yahweh's sanctuary - was supposed to be entered by only one person, the high priest, on only one day a year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Pompey forced his way in. And here, according to Tacitus, is what Pompey found:
Nothing. "The sanctuary was empty."
My goal in this paper - formed of twelve spiraling blog posts - is to consider the elements of belief and doubt that make up that emptiness.
How do I leave a comment?
How do I leave a general comment for this section of the essay?
Use the section title block as the basis for your general comment. So, for the first entry, you would:
Cute. I expected dead (i.e. sacrificed) animals; or a man counting money; or a couple copulating. But I should have remembered the Wizard of Oz.
Wasn’t that the same thing the high priest saw there every year on Yom Kippur? If so was the case, was that a reason for him to reconsider his belief?
Was the content emptied to avoid stranger’s sight?
I REALLY like this commenting system. Any chance that it will be made available as open source?
Yes. It is our intention to eventually release this as an open source theme for WordPress, or something along that line. When that will be depends on how successful this is as an experiment, and how robust we can make it, and what other features we think need to be added. But keep in touch, and keep up with the blog; we’ll surely announce anything there.
As a babyboomer not versed in the new B.C. BCE usage, I wonder why “destroyed by King…of Babylon” occurred in B.C. when the other abbreviations are BCE. Error?
–A. S. Hayes
Does it suggest that the idea of any single god is empty, too.
Content comment: Of course, to a Christian, the empty holy space (tomb, sanctuary, etc.) is a powerful image suggesting the triumph of faith. I assume that’s the reaction you want.
Technical comment: if:book et al., you rock. This is great. My one squib is that on my machine I had to scroll down to see the name and email boxes (this is a 19″ monitor at average resolution).
Two other things I’d like: the ability to comment on several paragraphs at once, and the ability to have a comment URL to include elsewhere, such as my own blog.
This reminds me of one of the ideas that make up literary interpretation- that what the reader carries with him influences the interpretation. Could the idea of emptiness here substitute for the lack of belief on Pompey’s part?
Forgive me if this is explored later, I’m just commenting while the idea is fresh.
Where are the references/footnotes for this article? Could they not also be subject to commentary?
yes, commenting on references would also be useful. I have tried to note some in comments.
Your introduction grabs the reader’s attention and provides a bit of historical background. My first reaction is that this is a bit spare, but, then, this may be your intention.
I have not read on, but will look forward to your developing the connections between the physical emptiness that Pompey found and the spiritual, theological, and historical “elements of belief and doubt.”
At the seminar in which this paper was presented one of the participants suggested a possible analogy between Pompey’s intrusion and Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount in the Jerusalem in September of 2000.
I can see where you are taking this analogy, but I fear you might be shoehorning meaning that might not fit as you want it.
I’m confused about what evidence is present or lacking with regard to the first temple — no evidence, no bricks, no evidence of a structure of that scale, or no bricks that could have been part of a structure of that scale? What scale is implied by “magnificent” anyway? And if it took three centuries for the first temple to emerge as something memorable, so what?
From Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in the Bible Unearthed: “No trace of the Solomonic temple and palace in Jerusalem has ever been identified.” So it is the temple itself, not just a monumental temple, that is missing. Tales of David and Solomon seem mostly to have been legends — the legends of a much later, seventh-century religion; the Jerusalem-centered legends of little Judah, trying to establish its legitimacy after the larger Hebrew state, Israel, had been destroyed.
technical comment: is there an RSS feed for the comments? It would be good to be able to follow parts of the discussion without having to remember that this particular paragraph had 7 comments last time and now has 8…
The Ark is mentioned in one passage in the deuterocanonical 2 Maccabees 2:4-10, which contains a reference to a document saying that the prophet Jeremiah, “being warned of God,” took the Ark, and the tabernacle, and the altar of incense, and buried them in a cave on Mount Nebo (Deut 34:1), informing those of his followers who wished to find the place that it should remain unknown “until the time that God should gather His people again together, and receive them unto mercy.
was the shock supposed to be the surprised capturers of
Jerusalem that showed all of their efforts were in vain- the Jews of the city of Jerusalem prized the ark and nobody will take that from them. They probably surmized as much and were a step ahead of the enemy. Naturally they were shocked. This would be the second time that the ark was rescued from evil.
Technical comment: I normally use a larger font for browsing, which hides the scroll bar to the right of the comments. I took some playing around to figure out how to scroll the comments.
While the subject remains controversial, there certainly was some large, early, construction in Jerusalem, as the “stepped stone structure” still survives. “It consists of a mantel of stones and some adjoining terraces which were laid out over the pre-existing buildings and the debris on the slope of the hill. Originally the structure must have been at least 27 m. high and 40 m. wide at the top, which makes it by far the largest and most impressive structure of this kind.”
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