An Elevated Holy of Holies

In Leviticus 10, God killed Aaron’s sons for violating the sanctity of the Tabernacle. “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: Among those who approach me, I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.” Aaron remained silent. Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary. So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.”

The sanctity of the Tabernacle was built into its design. The area in front of the Tabernacle held wash basins for ritual purity. Entry inside was restricted to priests. In Leviticus 16, the Holy of Holies was limited to only the high priest on the Day of Atonement.

In 1 Kings 6, Solomon built his temple along the same design plan, only larger and with a portico added in front. “The temple that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high…He partitioned off twenty cubits at the rear of the temple with cedar boards from floor to ceiling to form within the temple an inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. The main hall in front of this room was forty cubits long…He prepared the inner sanctuary within the temple to set the ark of the covenant of the Lord there. The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high.”

The Ain Dara Temple in Syria demonstrates that Solomon’s temple was built along the lines of other contemporary temples of the time. It had a rectangular layout, with similar dimensions. The two buildings were similar in the placement of a shrine area at the end of the building. And they had another similarity.

At Ain Dara, at the end of chain of rooms, the main hall led to an elevated shrine area. A ramp led up to the podium. This elevated area featured a niche where an image of a god would have been placed. It is thought that this main hall would have been separated from the shrine area by some form of barrier, creating two rooms from this one large area.

In Solomon’s temple, the building was sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high. But the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary area was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high. If the building was thirty cubits high and the inner sanctuary was only twenty cubits high, it would mean that either the inner sanctuary had a roof at twenty cubits or the inner sanctuary was elevated to ten cubits high, which would have required either steps or ramp to enter. The ark, with its cherubs above, could have sat on an elevated platform, just as there was an elevated platform at Ain Dara.

The photo in the link below shows the elevated portion of the holy of holies at the rear of the Ain Dara temple: