The Merkabah provides us with the last of 4 ancient methods of biblical interpretation; the highly secretive ‘Sod’ of the PaRDeS. Unfortunately it has nothing positive to say to scholars looking for evidence that proves the existence of the First Temple.
Although it may be the educated opinion of many Israeli archaeologists that the First Temple existed as attested in the Hebrew Bible, the existence of the First Temple cannot be established as a fact. A fact is a statement that is true or can be proven with evidence, and there just isn’t any evidence to prove it. Wanting something to be true, and believing something to be true, doesn’t not mean that it IS true. As a wise woman once said “if wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets!”
There are many narratives in the bible that have had incorrect interpretations assigned to them that are not supported by the text. For example – Jacob and Esau were not men nor patriarchs of the Jewish and Arab peoples but were instead the personifications of Seasons. Their story began as the Mesopotamian text “The debate between Winter and Summer”. Jesus Christ was not a man, but the personified 12 hours of daylight, and the Leviathan was never a massive sea-serpent as was popularly believed, but is a collection of stars called the constellation of Draco.
Temple expert – Professor Victor Hurowitz assessed the state of the known evidence in his 2009 paper. In his notes he dismissed Dr. Gabriel Barkay sifting project and concluded that nothing had been found “that can be characterized as belonging to the Temple proper“.
“Nothing survives from this glorious Temple, and the site cannot be properly studied
because of the political and religious sensitivity of Jerusalem. Moreover, constant
occupation and rebuilding at the site has probably obliterated any possible remains; in
October 2007 some pottery sherds from the period of the First Temple were discovered
on the Temple Mount itself, but their relationship, if any, to the Temple has yet to be
established. [1a] As a result, the only window into this Temple is the Hebrew Bible, and
especially the description in 1 Kings 6–7 and scattered allusions in the Book of Kings, the
books of prophets of the First Temple period, and perhaps some Psalms.”
“Our generation has witnessed biblical scholars, historians, and archaeologists claiming
that the Jerusalem Temple, if it existed at all, was not built by Solomon and certainly did
not resemble the magnificent edifice described in the Hebrew Bible. [1b] “
This came as somewhat as a shock to me when I first learned it. I have often come across newspaper articles from Israel that claim new artifacts have been discovered that prove the existence of the Temple without a doubt. But in actuality most of these stories are simply exaggerating the significance of the find in order to get more readers. They leap to conclusions that are not justified by their sources; for instance – if a coin is found in debris near the Temple mount and it is found to have been minted circa the the 6th century BCE – newspapers and magazines will tell you that coin would have been spent in the Temple, even though coins could have been spent anywhere in Jerusalem. There is more than a little grasping at straws present in these articles. More than a patina of wishful thinking.
Wendy Pillan, a senior lecturer in the history and philosophy of architecture at the University of Cambridge has said that “The sources for the first temple are solely biblical, and no substantial archaeological remains have been verified” . The dearth of evidence has led some Palestinian archaeologists to doubt whether the First Temple even existed at all, and it’s not clear whether the firm assertions from Israeli scholars about the historicity of the Temple are grounded in scientific method and the rigors of the discipline. Political and religious pressures rest heavily on the shoulders of academics in Israel. For an Israeli archaeologist to publicly doubt the existence of the Temple is to risk their career and chances at advancement within their Universities, such is the politicization of research and teaching in the state.
There is another route to extra information about the alleged Temple that archaeologists have traditionally not had access to – and that’s through the Merkabah. In the 2nd Century, Judah the Patriarch edited the Mishnah, and inserted a prohibition against anyone talking of the Merkabah (unless they had found it for themselves). Using the gematria of the Merkabah reveals the sod of any text that was originally written with it and fortunately for us, 1 Kings was written using a goodly amount of gematria calculations. With the sod we can arrive at a more complete picture than ever before of what the scribal author of the text was trying to convey.
I have a great deal of sympathy with those who want to believe in the historicity of the Temple. Unfortunately the Merkabah has nothing positive to say to scholars looking for evidence that proves it. Indeed the reverse is true; it casts doubt upon the account of the building of the Temple in 1 Kings 6-7. It suggests the Temple was built in a single day. It is also the case that 1 Kings does not aim at reflecting an authentic chronology of events but rather presents numbers of days that are typological, and represent an ideal span of time.
A 480 year period is given in 1 Kings at the commencement of a section of the text detailing the building of the Temple of David:
“In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the Temple of the LORD.”
The self styled ‘hipster historian‘, David Miano suggests that 480 years represents an Era and he notes that biblical writers appear to have written or adjusted their open chronology to fit an idealized period of time.
45 years for the Exodus and Conquest (Josh 14:10)
70 years for the periods of oppression (Judges 3:8, 14; 4:3; 6:1; 10:8)
200 years for the periods of rest (Judges 3:3, 11; 5:31; 8:28)
76 years for the minor judges (Judges 10:1-4; 12:7-15)
3 years for the reign of Abimelech (Judges 9:22)
40 years for the Philistine oppression (Judges 13:1)
2 years for Saul (1 Sam 13:1)
40 years for David (1 Kgs 2:11)
3 years for Solomon (1 Kgs 6:1)
= 480 years by ordinal measurement.
According to 1 Kings, 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt, Solomon finished the Temple in 3 sections over a 7 year period – [6:9], [6:14], [6:38]. Yet one day is 480 minutes x 3 (= 1440 minutes), so this is typological to the way God created the heaven and the earth in a single day because in the first line of genesis, 480 is the sum total of the words Elohim, Heaven and Earth:
בראשית 220 ברא 203 אלהימ 86 את 5 השמימ 98 ואת 11 הארצ 296
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
אלהימ 86 + השמימ 98 + הארצ 296 = 480
This is not to deny the existence of the Temple but simply to underline the typological nature of the writing in 1 Kings. 1 Kings is not a factual account of Temple building at all. It is about as factual as the account of creation in Genesis that it draws direct parallels to.
בראשית 220 + אלהימ 86 + השמימ 98 + הארצ 296 = 700
Bereshit 220 + Elohim 86 + HShmim 98 + Hartz 296 = 700
The value 700 is a reference to the seven days of creation and the seven palaces. The plural form of the Hebrew word for ‘day’ is: ימים = 100, and it follows imim x 7 = 700. 700 minus 480 = 220, which is the number of the first word of ‘Bereshit’ (220).
Rather than being a simple historical account about succession and Temple building, the sod of the text of 1 Kings draws architectonic parallels between the Seven Palaces and the Temple. These parallels are well known in Kabbalistic literature; the original menorah and its seven branches represent the seven lower Sephirot of the Tree of Life. The veil of the Holy of Holies and the inner part of the temple represent the Veil of the Abyss on the Tree of Life, behind which the Shekhina or Divine presence hovers . It is less well known that the Tree of Life was developed from the Seven Palaces during the middles ages precisely to get around the prohibition from talking about the Merkabah – and therefore the tree acts as an ingenious cipher on the subject..
Yet even without bringing Kabbalistic references into the equation; and even without the sod provided by the Merkabah, scholars have suggested that the Temple described in 1 Kings represented God’s personal pleasure garden on Earth – and was a copy of the divine garden of Eden in the heavens. It remains to be seen whether this Temple was ever realized as a physical building or whether it existed purely as an inspirational idea.
The First Temple is not the only Temple in the region that may have been more conceptual than actual; the Temple of the Supreme God of the Canaanites ‘El’ was also said to be located in the mountains. El’s mountain was at the “source of the rivers; amidst the channels of the two oceans,” a concept strongly reminiscent of the biblical Garden of Eden, and it was reportedly a complex of Seven Palaces – however no trace of any physical Temple building to El has ever been found.
What is sure is this; whether or not there was ever a physical building corresponding to the Temple of Solomon – the Temple loomed large in the minds of the people of the region, and it still does so today. Indeed, it seems, by its very ephemerality to have become something of more weight and presence than any physical structure could muster.
 Tenth Century BCE to 586 BCE: The House of the Lord (Beyt YHHW), Victor Avigdor Hurowitz
from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, in ‘Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade’, ed. Oleg Grabar, Benjamin Z. Kedar (Yad Ben-Zvi Press: Jerusalem; University of Texas Press: Austin, Texas), 2009, pp. 14-35.
References from Professor Hurowitz’s paper:
[1a] Several items to have appeared in recent years including an inscribed ivory pomegranate, an inscription purportedly of King Jehoash, and an ostracon mentioning a payment to the “House of the Lord,” are considered by most scholars modern forgeries. Archaeological sifting supervised by Dr. Gabriel Barkay of rubble removed from the Temple Mount in the course of recent construction work has yielded some fragmentary items from the First Temple period but nothing that can be characterized as belonging to the Temple proper [see fig.1].
[1b] For this controversy, see the articles collected in Lowell K. Handy, The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East 11 (Leiden, 1997). For defenses of the historical existence of the First Temple in some form or other (not necessarily as described in 1 Kings), see David Ussishkin, “Solomon’s Jerusalem: The Text and the Facts on the Ground,” in Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period, eds. Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, SBL Symposium Series 18 (Atlanta, 2003), pp. 103–15; William G. Dever, “Were There Temples in Ancient Israel? The Archaeological Evidence,” in Text, Artifact and Image: Revealing Ancient Israelite Religion, eds. Gary M. Beckman and Theodore J. Lewis, Brown Judaic Studies 346 (Providence, RI, 2006), pp. 300–16, esp. 303–10.
 The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places, Wendy Pullan, Maximilian Sternberg, Lefkos Kyriacou, Craig Larkin, Michael Dumper. Routledge, Nov 20, 2013, p. 9.
 Shadow on the Steps: Time Measurement in Ancient Israel, David Miano, Society of Biblical Lit, (2010), p. 56.
 The Way of Kabbalah, Warren Kenton, Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, Weiser Books, 1976, p. 24.
 Conformations of the Tree of Life, Bethsheba Ashe (2017); http://bethshebaashe.com/conformations-tree-life
 Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story, G.J. Wenham, 1986, in Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies 1985, Division A: The Biblical Period (Jersualem: Magnes Press), English part: 19-25.
 Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden, L. E. Stager, 1998, in B.A. Levine, P.J. King, J. Naveh and E. Stern (eds.), Eretz-Israel 26 (Frank Moore Cross Volume; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, Hebrew University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish institute of Religion): 183*-94*.
 Solomon’s Temple: The politics of Ritual Space, E. Bloch-Smith, in Gittlen (ed.) 2002, 83-94.
 The Correlation between the Garden of Eden and the Temple, L. Mazor, Shnaton 2003, 13:5-42 (Hebrew).