Following elaborate instructions in the Temple Scroll, Yigael Yadin prepared these plans of the Temple that the Essenes hoped would be built in Jerusalem. “To build the Temple in Jerusalem,” notes Yadin, “was one of the most important tasks enjoined upon the Israelites in the wilderness.” But strangely enough, there are no laws in the Bible detailing how the Temple is to be built, although the Tabernacle and its furnishings are clearly described.
The Essenes in their own “Torah,” the Temple Scroll, assigned nearly half of the text to plans for the Temple and to the laws associated with Temple rites.
Yadin is convinced that the Temple concept of the scroll’s author “is based on the design of the camp of Israel, set around the Tabernacle in the wilderness, according to tribes and Levitical families.” “It was this view,” observes Yadin, “and the Biblical mention of the Temple courts of both the First and Second Templesk that formed the basis of the descriptions of the Temple and its courts in the scroll.”
The cardinal prescription of the scroll is that there shall be three square courts around the Temple inner, middle and outer. (The plan of the Temple and its three courts is on the left; an enlargement of the inner court plan is on the right.) To ensure the purity of the Temple and its courts, the scroll ordains two additional precautions an inner wall (dotted line) to be erected around the Temple within the inner court, and, around the outer court, a fosse (moat) is to be made.
The inner court will have four gates, oriented to the four points of the compass. The middle and outer courts each will have 12 gates named after Jacob’s 12 sons and assigned in the same order around each court. The outer court will be divided into 16 chamber areas, 11 allotted to 11 tribes (excluding Levi, from whom the Levites are descended); three to the three sons of Levi—Gershon, Kohath and Merari (the Levitical families); and two to the sons of Aaron (the priests).
Precise dimensions for the inner court gates are given: the entrances are to be 14 cubits wide (a cubit is about 1 ½ feet) and 28 cubits high from threshold to lintel, with another 14 cubits from lintel to ceiling. Other dimensions given in the scroll are similarly exact.
Lining the inner court stoa, described in column 37 of the scroll, are “s[i]tting pl[a]ces for the priests, and tables in front of the sitting places.” The scroll author explicitly refers to these tables to emphasize the separation between priests and laity, “so that [there shall be] no mixing of the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the children of Israel with the sacrifices of the priests.”
The scroll tells us there are to be “cooking places,” kitchens, on either side of each gate. “In the four angles of the court,” the scroll continues, there are to be places for stoves “in which they [the priests] shall boil their sacrifices [and] the sin offerings.”
The structures to be found within the inner wall of the inner court are described in the scroll in minute detail. They include the 043Temple’s furnishings, such as the cherubim, the golden veil, and the lampstand (menorah).
The staircase, next to the Temple, is to be square-shaped, 20 cubits on a side, and located 7 cubits from the northwest side of the heikhal, or Temple building. This would be an extraordinary structure—40 cubits high, ascending to the roof of the Temple, and completely plated with gold! (See “The Case of the Gilded Staircase,” in this issue, and the drawing of the staircase.)
In the house of the laver, the priests would wash themselves and then put on their holy garments, which were to be kept in gold-plated niches in this structure. The house was to be “square on all its sides one and twenty cubits, at a distance of fifty cubits from the altar.”
The commands for the house of utensils list the following altar utensils: basin, flagons, firepans, and silver bowls. Even the function of the bowls is defined: “with which one brings up the entrails and the legs on the altar.”
The 12 columns with ceiling constituted the Temple’s slaughterhouse. Here the sacrificial animal’s head would be shackled by a ring embedded in a wooden column. Because the Hebrew phrase denoting roofing is used for this structure, we can assume that it would have either low outer walls or none at all.
To the west of the heikhal, there is to be made “a stoa of standing columns for the sin offering and the guilt offering.” The columns of the stoa are to be “separated from one another: for the sin offering of the priests and for the male goats and for the sin offerings of the people and for their guilt offerings.” To make the separation between priests and laity absolutely clear, the scroll author adds, “for their places shall be separated from one another so that the priests may not err with the sin offering of the people.”
The altar itself is mentioned several times but this portion of the scroll is so badly damaged that commands for the altar’s construction are fragmentary at best. We can understand, however, that the great altar of burnt offering was to be built of stone, with a ledge, corner and horns, and that one of its dimensions was to be 20 cubits.