It is very interesting to compare this rendering for the HCSB Study Bible of the interior of Herod’s Temple with the earlier one for Solomon’s Temple and to note both the points of continuity and discontinuity. As was noted in the post on Solomon’s Temple, the Scriptural descriptions are rather extensive, even if they are difficult to interpret on a number of points. With regard to Herod’s Temple, we have virtually no Scriptural information to go on. Our primary extra-biblical source, Josephus, gives a fair amount of information but it is quite selective, in some respects raising more questions than it answers.
Drawing upon Josephus, one overarching trend can be noted as a helpful guide to the would-be reconstructor: there seems to have been a Pharisaical trend towards austerity, simplification and abstraction that governed the decoration of this Temple. For instance, in the Holy Place, there seems to have been a return to one table and one lamp stand, after the manner of the original Tabernacle, whereas Solomon’s Temple had boasted ten of each. It also seems, based on some of Josephus’ comments, that any creaturely or quasi-human representations (e.g. cherubim) were deemed inappropriate (an interesting example of numerous and infamous Pharisaical attempts at a sort of “holier even than God” severity). With this as a backdrop, questions regarding the overall mode of decoration of the Holy Place, on which Josephus is pretty much silent, can begin to be begin to answered, at least with a fair amount of educated guess and conjecture.
Since the interior of the earlier Temple was decorated richly with garden and floral motifs, it seems reasonable to assume, given the symbolic importance of this imagery (Eden re-attained) and given that botanical representations seem to have escaped the pervading Pharisaical proscriptions, that these would have been retained in some form. We know that the Temple’s exterior employed the Greco-Roman Corinthian order, so it would be reasonable to transfer this to the interior as well.
Drawing on these assumptions, I developed a vision of the interior, worked out in the above elevation, which employs a three-tiered scheme of Corinthian pilasters interspersed with relief carvings displaying vegetative motifs. A good contemporary source of inspiration for these latter details can be seen in the Ara Pacis, in Rome.
The floor plan of Herod’s Temple followed the same dimensions as Solomon’s earlier temple, but the height was apparently even greater, which would have made for a very tall and slender sanctuary. Partly to help me get all the dimensions and proportions correct for the illustration and partly just for sheer personal satisfaction, I constructed a rough scale model and photographed it to use as starting reference for my sketches.
The Arch of Titus, also in Rome, which was built to commemorate the subjugation of the Jews and the destruction of the same Temple considered here in 70 A.D., includes a depiction of the lampstand, quite probably based on the actual artifact.
The publisher specifically asked that the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies be featured prominently. The gospel accounts make special mention of this veil as being torn in two from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death upon the cross, indicating that man’s alienation from God had been overcome. The writer of Hebrews (4:14; 9:23-34) explains that Jesus, in His death and resurrection, “passed through the heavens” themselves, into the very presence of God as our true High Priest, and thus fulfilled in reality what the temple and the earthly High Priest merely represented in shadowy form. With this in mind, it is very interesting that Josephus states that many of the items depicted here had cosmological or astrological associations: the seven lamps of the lamp stand represent the seven “planets” that the Ptolemaic cosmology of the time recognized, the twelve loaves of showbread the twelve signs of the zodiac, etc. With respect to the veil (there was also another one of similar design at the outer entrance of the Holy Place), Josephus specifically mentions that it was woven with some sort of design that incorporated the twelve zodiacal signs (though again, the depictions were apparently abstract or symbolic—no literal pictures of lions, virgins, rams, etc.). He also associates the colors used (blue, purple, red and brown) with the four “elements” of air, water, fire and earth. Inspired by these descriptions and associations and drawing upon other sources, I created a design that incorporates a symbolic conception of the universe that was pretty common at the time: a square-shaped earth in the center, surrounded by seven planets in concentric orbits, in turn surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac, beyond which lies the ethereal fire of the “third” or highest heavens.