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Architecture, Hebrew

ARCHITECTURE, HEBREW: Before David and Solomon the Israelites had no architecture. The present village of Siloah (Silwân) on the Mount of Olives furnishes a type of their oldest houses and towns; it lies on the steep hillside, and the houses are not detached but half caves, the slope of the land making it possible to utilize the natural rock for one or more walls. Because their subjects did not know how to build houses David and Solomon had to import Phenician workmen for their palaces. This was probably the beginning of Hebrew architecture. It is not probable that a Jeroboam II. did not adorn his capital with a palace and temple. In Jerusalem, however, Solomon’s structures seem to have been the first and last of any size (but cf. Jer. xxii. 14), and his operations were too great for the financial resources of his land (I Kings ix. 10-23). The prophet Amos (v. 11) looks upon the building of houses of hewn stone by the rich of Israel as something new and reprehensible (cf. Isa. ix. 10). After the Exile the Temple was rebuilt with help from Phenicia (Ezra iii. 7), but the new structure fell far short of Solomon’s in splendor and impressiveness. The community was too poor for great secular buildings. Not until the days of Hellenism was there any building activity, and then the Greco-Roman style dominated. It is therefore correct to say that architecture as an art never existed among the Hebrews; whenever their building was more than a mere mechanical trade they had foreign help.

Accordingly it is impossible to speak of a Hebrew architectural style or school. Nevertheless, Hebrew building had certain characteristics, imposed first of all by natural conditions. Wood in Palestine was and is scarce and expensive (the beams for Solomon’s temple had to be imported from Lebanon, I Kings v. 6-10), and the most available material was the easily worked limestone in the mountains, and clay in the lowlands. The house, developed from the cave, consisted generally of but one room; it was low and had few windows or doors. The clay houses were roofed by means of a few unhewn tree trunks, branches, and brush, over which a layer of earth was placed and the whole covered with a mixture of clay and straw. The stone houses had domed roofs; the earliest were made by placing stones on the corners and others upon these until the space was covered. But the Hebrews early learned to construct arches, probably from the Babylonians or Phenicians.

Solomon’s temple was a stone building, wood being used only for decoration and the roof. Its massive walls, the absence of pillars (the two columns at the entrance bore no weight), and the use of great squared stones (I Kings v. 17-18; vii. 9-12) are characteristic, and show that wooden structures did not furnish the pattern. The Syrians and Phenicians attained great skill in building with squared stones; a noteworthy feature is a smoothly chiseled or sunken border from two to four inches wide about the outer face of each stone. In Solomon’s palaces wood was more freely used; the “house of the forest of Lebanon” (I Kings vii. 2-5) has its name from the fact. Here foreign models were evidently followed, which are naturally to be sought in the lead from which the wood was brought.

I. Benzinger.


Bibliography: Perrot and Chipies, Histoire de l’art dans l’antiquité, iv., Judée, Syrie, etc., 176-218, Paris, 1887. Eng. transl., 2 vols., London, 1890; idem, Le Temple de Jérusalem et la maison du Bois-Liban, Paris, 1889; C. C. W. F. Bähr. Der salomonische Tempel mit Beschreibung seines Verhältnisses zu heiliger Architektur, Carlsruhe, 1848; M. de Vogué, Le Temple de Jérusalem. Paris, 1864; J. Fergusson, The Temple of the Jews and other Buildings in the Harem Area at Jerusalem, London, 1879; F. O. Paine, Solomon’s Temple and Capital. London, 1886; T. Friedrich, Tempel and Palast Salomo’s, Innsbruck, 1887; idem, Du vorderasiatische Holztektonik, 1891; E. C. Robins, The Temple of Solomon. London, 1887; O. Wolff, Der Tempel von Jerusalem and seine Massse. Gras, 1887; Benzinger, Archäologie; Nowack, Archäeologie, i. 251-259; DB, i. 142-144; Schürer, Geschichte, i. 392, Eng. transl., I. i. 437-438.

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