Friday, January 21, 2011

HCSBSB: Herod's Temple, Exterior View

This exterior view of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem would be a serious contender for my favorite out of all the illustrations I did for the HCSB Study Bible. The whole process, from research, concept sketching to final result was particularly enjoyable and highly satisfying for me.

There are a number of models and illustrations of Herod’s Temple in existence and they all bear a good deal of similarity due to the fact that detailed and accurate descriptions of the Temple’s appearance (primarily in the writings of Flavius Josephus) and even a few representations (albeit rather simplistic and crude ones—mostly from coins and ossuaries) have been preserved from antiquity. In spite of this overall continuity, however, I was able to identify at least a couple of aspects that lent themselves to some interesting interpretations which, to my knowledge, no other illustrator or reconstructor has exploited.

Virtually every modern depiction I know of presents a facade with a relatively small outer doorway of rectangular shape. There are two things that made the possibility of a more open and revealing facade an appealing interpretation for me. The first is the description Josephus gives of a vast ornamental vine wrought of gold which apparently occupied the space within the vestibule between the outermost entrance of the facade and the inner (veiled) doorway into the Holy Place. (It isn’t clear whether this was fully three dimensional or some sort of relief sculpture, but I chose to imagine the latter.) Especially given that the vine is a typical biblical metaphor for the nation of Israel (cf. Psalm 80; Isaiah 5:1-7) it seemed implausible to me that such a beautiful and potently symbolic piece of art would be entirely tucked away out of the general view behind a miserly opening. Secondly, I found this one ancient coin (above) which seems to depict a relatively tall outer opening with an arched rather than a horizontal top. This sent me off in the direction of having not just the doorway but the entire Temple facade conform to the proportions of a classical Roman triumphal arch. This solution was especially appealing given the fact that Herod himself was such a fawning afficionado of all things Roman.

After sketching it out I found that the measurements could be made to harmonize with Josephus and I went on from there to produce a complete front elevation (above). I chose a dramatic low angle for the final perspective rendering in order to emphasize the grandeur of what, at equal height and width of 150' and a surface finished entirely with white marble and gold, was no doubt a very imposing edifice.


  1. Gorgeous! And fascinating about the 7/12 relationships... I don't recall that in Josephus but then, I don't retain information like you do. So lovely, Abe! Great job. The sketches are my favorite, as usual!

  2. It's to big ! And the portal depicted on the Bar-Kokhba coin, was a scallop shell.

    Like this >

    Temple on Beit She'arim sarcophagus >

    Temple on Dura-Europus wall >

    All modern models are depicting the facade of Herod’s Temple wrong

  3. Croatia, thanks for the links and extra info. My own research didn't turn up any of those details (nor did any research conducted by the publisher, apparently). Of course, reconciling this information with the accounts provided by Josephus would no doubt present some challenges, but if I ever revisit this subject, I'll certainly take all this into account.