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The First and Second Temples

When we read biblical scholarship, a lot of times we’ll come across these terms first and second temple or First and Second Temple periods. What those terms refer to, that can kind of be a little bit confusing. We might wonder, why are there are two temples?

Well, the first temple refers to the temple of Yahweh built in Jerusalem by King Solomon; scholars are not certain the degree to which the picture we get in the Bible in 1 Kings corresponds to historical reality. So, there is just a great degree of uncertainty on that point. It’s likely that a temple did exist but whether it is to the scale and degree that it is described there is quite uncertain.

That temple is destroyed by the Neo-Babylonians, which is a Mesopotamian power in 586 (B.C.E.); and it was part of a destruction, in fact, of the entire city—the city is razed. And this was a massive crisis, of course, for the people of Judah and for the city of Jerusalem in particular, because this was the house of their god. This is the one place where God had said, I have chosen to dwell here; and this is where proper worship, of course, took place.

The second temple refers to a rebuilding project that took place in the Persian period, probably dedicated in 515 B.C.E. And so, the Second Temple period refers to basically the Persian period up until 70 C.E., that is of the Common Era, when the Romans leveled the temple once and for all.

  • Michael J. Chan

    Michael Chan is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN. He is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University (BA), Luther Seminary (MA in Old Testament), and Emory University (PhD). In addition to many articles and essays, Chan is also the author of The Wealth of Nations: A Tradition-Historical Study (2017) and coauthor of Exploring the Bible (2016).