Cherubs and Lions in Temple Design

Source = |Author =Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Contact,

Following Leviticus’ description of ritually defiling skin afflictions, Leviticus 14 delineates the purification process. Once deemed clear of the condition, the afflicted person brought two birds, one of which would be killed and the other released. This would be followed by washing of the person’s clothes, followed by shaving the person’s hair and then bathing in water. On the 8thday, the now cleansed person would bring offerings to the Tabernacle.

If the purification process was the same during the first temple period, then the temple the afflicted person would be visiting would be more ornate than the Tabernacle building. 1 Kings 6 gives the following description. “The main hall in front of this room was forty cubits long. The inside of the temple was cedar, carved with gourds and open flowers.” On the exterior of the building, “On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.”

The entrances featured designs. “For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors out of olive wood that were one fifth of the width of the sanctuary. And on the two olive-wood doors he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid the cherubim and palm trees with hammered gold. In the same way, for the entrance to the main hall he made doorframes out of olive wood that were one fourth of the width of the hall. He also made two doors out of juniper wood, each having two leaves that turned in sockets. He carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers on them and overlaid them with gold hammered evenly over the carvings.”

The Ain Dara Temple in northwestern Syria, which was active between the 14th and 8th centuries BCE, provides an example of a temple that was contemporary with Solomon’s temple as described in the Bible. In addition to similarities in size, layout and a shrine room, it also was lined with carved designs both inside and outside.

The carved reliefs included images of lions, winged cherubs, sphinxes and a clawed figure, of which only the claws remained. It also contained images of palmettes, the fan shaped leaves of the palm tree, and floral patterns.

The similarity in the specific design elements between the Ain Dara temple and the Solomon’s temple in the Bible is yet another sign that Solomon’s temple fit the time period in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE.

The image above is of the Ain Dara temple, with a winged figure in the lower left corner.