Friday, November 8, 2019

The Precious Things of Solomon’s Temple – Part II

Continued from the previous post regarding the wealth of Israel and Solomon’s Temple compared to circumstances in Lehi’s Land of Promise
    It should also be noted that most or all of the holy vessels of gold and silver from the tabernacle were with the Ark when it was brought from the city of David to the first temple by Solomon (I Kings 8:4). David amassed the materials (I Chronicles 28:1-19; II Chronicles 2-4; I Kings 6-7), and these materials included 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver (I Chronicles 29). From his own private fortune David also gave 3,000 talents of gold and 7,000 talents of high grade silver. This is an enormous quantity of gold and silver by any standard: 100,000 talents of gold is 3750 tons, value today is $45 billion; 1,000,000 talents of silver is 37,500 tons, with a value today $10.8 billion. In round numbers, the wealth of the first temple was about $56 billion.
In addition to all the gold and silver, great quantities of bronze, cedar, iron, and precious stones were contributed. The most holy place of Solomon's temple was lined with cedar from Lebanon and covered with 600 talents of gold. This gold plating alone, about 540,000 troy ounces, would be worth about $270 million today. In addition, the doors of the temple were also covered with gold plates. During this period of Israel's history, Solomon's income was 666 talents of gold per annum or about 600,000 troy ounces, worth $300 million today.
    Thus, this great wealth was unknown in the Land of Promise in Nephi’s time, and thus he wrote: “for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (2 Nephi 5:16).
    In their commentary on the Old Testament Keil and Delitzsch call attention to the large quantities of gold and silver taken in Asia by Alexander the Great: 2,600 talents of gold and 600 talents of silver from Damascus, 50,000 talents of gold and 40,000 talents of uncoined gold and silver from Susa and from Persepolis 120,000 talents of gold. (The ruins of Persepolis are located just north of Shiraz in Iran). Thus, though the quantities are very high they are not unreasonable compared to the wealth of other surrounding ancient kingdoms. 
    A cube of gold weighing 3750 tons would measure about 6 meters (19.68 ft) on a side, and 37,500 tons of silver in a single cube would be about 16 meters (52.48 ft) on a side. The total amount of gold mined and stockpiled in the entire world up to the present time totals about 88,000 tons (Ref. 4). If this gold were collected together its volume would be that of a cube 16.5 m (54 feet) on a side. It is estimated that only about 40,000 tons of gold remains in the earth yet to be mined. South Africa's gold production today is about 950 tons per annum. The Soviet Union produces about 550 tons, Canada 70 tons, and the United States about 40 tons. The total world production of gold is about 1,850 tons annually.
The temple of Solomon required 7-1/2 years to construct and the efforts of about 180,000 laborers, (I Kings 7:13, 5:6, 13, 14; II Chronicles 2:17-18). Great quantities of local stone and imported cedar wood were used. The wealth of the first temple was immediately plundered after the death of Solomon. During the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam, Shishak (Sheshonk), King of Egypt, raided Jerusalem about 925 BC and "took away treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house; he took away everything. 
    He also took away the shields of gold (500 in number, worth about $36 million) which Solomon had made..." (II Chronicles 12:1-12). According to Second Chronicles 12, Shishak's army numbered 60,000 horsemen and 1200 chariots. If each man carried back 100 pounds of booty, this is only 3000 tons total of gold and silver. However, the people that were with him were "without number," the "Lubim, the Sukkim, and the Ethiopians." These people may also have carried off much gold and silver. It seems reasonable that some gold and silver remained in the temple after Shishak's raids. Probably gold would have been taken in preference to silver.
    After Solomon's death the kingdom of Israel continued to deteriorate in strength except for occasional revivals, until the time of the Babylonian captivity in 586 BC During the revivals of Joash, (II Chronicles 24), and Josiah, (II Kings 22), generous contributions were made by the citizenry for repairs and refurbishing of the temple. Except for these revivals much of the wealth of the temple appears to have been confiscated to pay national expenses and tributes to threatening foreign powers. Asa depleted the temple treasures by sending "all" that was left of the silver and gold to Ben-hadad, king of Syria, to buy his help against Baasha, king of Israel (I Kings 15:18, 19).
    A new plundering took place during the reign of Ahaziah when Jehoash, king of Israel carried off to Samaria "all" the gold and silver in the temple and the palace, (II Kings 14:14). Ahaz went even further than any of his predecessors in sacrilege, for, besides robbing the temple and palace of their treasures to secure the aid of the king of Assyria, he removed the brazen altar from its time-honored site, and also the bases and ornaments of the lavers, and the oxen from under the bronze sea (II Kings 16:10-17).
    Hezekiah paid tribute to Sennacherib, king of Assyria, 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold, "and Hezekiah gave him 'all' the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king's house. At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria," (II Kings 18:13-16). 
    Later Hezekiah foolishly received the emissaries of the king of Babylon and showed them his remaining state treasures: "Hezekiah...showed them all the house of the precious things, the silver and the gold and the spices, and the precious ointment and all the house of his armor, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his domain that Hezekiah did not show them," (II Kings 20:12-13). The wealth of the temple at the time of Hezekiah was evidently more than enough to incite the covetousness of the king of Babylon so that he hastened to capture Jerusalem after his emissaries brought him the news of the great wealth there.
The fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC was accompanied by terrible destruction and much loss of life. "And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his friends, all these Nebuchadnezzar brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels" (II Chronicles 36:18,19).
    A parallel account in II Kings 25 describes the seized vessels of the house of the Lord as including pots, snuffers, dishes for incense, firepans, bowls, etc. It is possible that some of the wealth of the temple and some of the treasures of the king's house was hidden under the temple mount though this is mostly speculation. If anything was hidden it would most likely have been the Ark of the Covenant which was of great sacred importance. The Scripture suggests that everything of value was carried off to Babylon.
     During the captivity some of the stolen sacred gold and silver vessels from Jerusalem's temple were used by Belshazzar on the night of his infamous feast when handwriting appeared on the wall of his palace indicating that judgment from God had fallen upon him, (Daniel 5). At the end of the 70-year captivity in Babylon the returning Jews were allowed to carry back at least some of these gold and silver sacred objects to Jerusalem, (Ezra 1:5-10). The list of returned items included 1000 basins of gold, 1000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 30 bowls of gold, 2410 bowls of silver, and other vessels of gold and silver totaling 5,469 in number.
    The total number of Jews returning from this captivity was 42,360, plus 7,337 servants and 200 singers. There were 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels and 6720 asses in their convoy, (Ezra 2:64-67). The returning exiles set about rebuilding the temple and the walls. The second temple was modest compared to that of Solomon and was completed in 515 BC Details are given in the Books of Nehemiah and Ezra. Nevertheless, the second temple contained significant quantities of gold and silver which appears to have generally increased during the life of the temple.
Judas Maccabeus at the victory of the Macabees

Historically, the next records come to us from the time of the Maccabees. An account of the plundering of the temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 170 BC, is given in 1 Maccabees 1:20ff and also was described by Josephus. At that time the temple contained at least an altar of incense made of gold, the table of shewbread, the lampstands, many cups, bowls, and incense holders, crowns and gold plating at the wall where the cherubim had been in days of old. Antiochus also took the "hidden treasures" of the temple site. In three days' time he murdered 40,000 Jews and led an equal number as captives. He then desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar.
    As stated earlier, the Nephite Land of Promise did not have, at least known in Nephi’s time, to have such wealth that was displayed within and upon Solomon’s temple. Thus, Nephi’s temple was constructed “after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious tings; for they were not to be found upon the land” (2 Nephi 5:16, emphasis added).

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