The art or science of building. The Bible shows a diversification of dwelling places and living habits early in human history, during the 1,656 years prior to the flood of Noah’s day. Cain, after the murder of Abel, is spoken of as ‘taking up residence’ in a certain area, and there “he engaged in building a city.” (Gen. 4:16, 17) Yet, one of his descendants, Jabal, became the “founder of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” Another became a “forger of every sort of tool of copper and iron.” (Gen. 4:20, 22) The descendants of Cain perished at least by the time of the Flood; however, constructive ability and the use of tools did not perish with them.
The outstanding work of building of that pre-Flood period was done by descendants of Seth: the ark constructed by Noah and his sons. While the basic plans and dimensions were provided by God, yet some architectonic ability must doubtless be attributed to Noah as the human director of works. It was 43.8 feet (13.4 meters) high, with a length of 437.5 feet (133.5 meters), and a width of 72.9 feet (22.3 meters). It could have had about 2.1 acres (.9 hectares) of floor space. The three floors, plus the wide roof span probably required the use of some wooden columns and beams, in addition to the ‘compartment’ divisions, to support the weight, as well as to give the structure necessary stability. Although the ark was caulked with tar, there would also be need for careful fitting of the timbers to ensure a reasonably watertight construction.—Gen. 6:13-16; see ARK.
EARLY POST-FLOOD CONSTRUCTION
In the post-Flood era Nimrod is described as a prominent builder of several cities. (Gen. 10:8-12) Another mayor building project was now put forward, the Tower of Babel, disapproved by God. Here, new materials are mentioned, kiln-baked bricks with bitumen serving as mortar. The tower was intended to be the highest structure up till that time.—Gen. 11:3, 4.
Abraham, the forefather of the Israelites, doubtless saw fairly advanced styles of architecture in Ur of the Chaldeans. (Gen. 11:31) Excavations there reveal evidences of city streets, two-story houses with brick stairs, and complexes of temples and palaces, considered as dating back to the third millennium B.C.E. Here, too, is found some of the earliest evidence of the use of the corbelled vault or cantilever arch (formed by building the two sides of a wall closer and closer together until the gap between them can be bridged with a row of stones or bricks), as well as of the true curved arch with keystone.
Later, during his stay in Egypt (Gen. 12:10), Abraham may have witnessed some of the architectural splendors of that land. The step-pyramid of King Djoser at Saqqara is supposed to date from the third millennium B.C.E. and is one of the earliest examples remaining of mayor constructions using cut stone. The Great Pyramid of Cheops, built somewhat later at Gizeh, has a huge base of thirteen acres (5.3 hectares) and was made of some 2,300,000 blocks of limestone, each weighing two and a half tons (2,268 kilograms) on the average. It was originally 481 feet (146.6 meters) high. Not only the size but also the precision achieved makes it a project amazing even modern engineers. Several centuries later at Karnak, farther up the Nile, the Egyptians produced the largest known temple built by man. The roof of its great hall was supported by 134 enormous columns, each over ten feet (3 meters) in diameter, decorated with richly colored reliefs.
During the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt they did considerable building work as slaves under Egyptian taskmasters. (Ex. 1:11-14) Later, in the wilderness Jehovah gave them precise instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, with panel frames, socket pedestals, bars and pillars, which also required considerable architectonic ability on their part. (Ex. 25:9, 40; 26:15-37; Heb. 8:5) While the majority of those doing such work, and who had done building in Egypt, undoubtedly died before reaching the Promised Land, a concept of building methods and the use of tools was surely carried over by the survivors. (Compare Deuteronomy 27:5.) The Mosaic law prescribed at least one requirement for construction. (Deut. 22:8) The Israelites, upon conquering the land, of course, did take over entire cities and villages with their completed constructions, but they also did building themselves. (Num. 32:16; Deut. 6:10, 11; 8:12) At the time of their entry (1473 B.C.E.), Palestine was a land with numerous walled cities and strong fortifications.—Num. 13:28.
While it is true that no striking constructions remain to indicate Israelite originality or ingenuity as to architecture, it does not logically follow that they were lacking in such ability. Unlike the pagan nations, they did not erect huge monuments in honor of political rulers or military heroes. The one temple constructed was at Jerusalem, although apostasy produced other religious sites. Nothing remains of the original temple nor of its successor. Among the more impressive ruins uncovered are those of the identical city gates of ancient Megiddo and Gezer, thought to have been built in Solomon’s time. (1 Ki. 9:15) In each case the sixty-six-foot-long (20 meters) external walls were made with carefully drafted stones. Within the gate passage there were three successive pairs of jambs or extended piers, thus producing six recessed chambers flanking the passage on either side, in which business might be transacted or from which soldiers could harass any attempting to force their way through the gates. (See GATE.) At Megiddo and at Samaria examples of expert masonry have been found, the stones being carefully chiseled and laid and joined with fine precision, in some cases so exactly that even a thin knife blade cannot be inserted between the joined stones. Undoubtedly the work on the temple built by Solomon was of the same high quality.—1 Ki. 5:17; 6:7.
On the basis of archaeological investigation it appears that Israelite houses were generally of very modest construction, some authorities holding that they were quite crude. Yet the evidence on which such opinions are based is very meager. As The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 209) comments: “Modern knowledge of the subject is restricted both by the inattention of ancient writers to matters of architectural interest and by the scanty survival of the buildings themselves, most of which time and succeeding generations of builders have utterly destroyed.” Thus, it is rare to find more than one or two courses of masonry above the foundations of any ruined building in Palestine. It is also logical that the better homes would suffer most at the hands of destroyers and, subsequently, of those seeking building materials.
ANCIENT BUILDING MATERIALS AND METHODS
Stone foundations were common from the earliest times. Whereas rough stones might be employed, they were aligned and bonded by the cornerstones, which were carefully smoothed and fitted. (Compare Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16.) Clay mortar or plaster inside Israelite stone houses is mentioned at Leviticus 14:40-48. If the remainder of the house was not completed in stone, sun-dried or kiln-baked bricks were frequently used above the foundation. (Compare Isaiah 9:10.) Wood was at times interspersed with the bricks. The materials employed depended principally on what was locally available. The lack of wood and stone in Mesopotamia resulted in most constructions’ being made of mud brick, whereas in Palestine limestone or other stones were generally abundant. An early method of forming an economical wall was that of the “wattle and daub.” Stakes were driven into the ground and reeds or flexible branches were interwoven between them horizontally to form a mesh framework upon which clay could be spread. After the clay had been thoroughly dried and hardened by the sun, plaster was applied periodically to preserve the walls from the elements.—See WALLS.
The roof of a building was generally formed by laying long stones or timbers across the supporting walls. Posts or pillars might be introduced to increase the span of the roof, the common “post and lintel” method. Since the corbelled vault and the curved arch were both known from ancient times, it is probable that in large buildings these were used to support such flat roofs as were capable of supporting considerable weight. In these larger buildings one or two rows of pillars were often used; the wood or stone pillars were set in a stone plinth or base, and it is suggested by some that the pillars in the house of Dagon to which the Philistines brought blind Samson were of this type. In addition to those gathered within the building, some three thousand persons were on the roof observing when Samson dislodged the two main pillars, causing the collapse of the house.—Judg. 16:25-30.
The roofs of smaller buildings and domestic dwellings were frequently formed of branches or reeds bound together and laid across the beams and then packed and covered with mud or clay, which was then rolled smooth. A slight slope given to the roof allowed the rain to run off. Such roofs are still to be found in the Jordan valley in present-day dwellings.
The basic type of building in Palestine was of rectangular form; if a dwelling, there was usually a somewhat loose arrangement of small rectangular rooms within. The limited space available within cities, often crowded, determined the size and shape of the buildings. If space allowed, there might be an inner courtyard with all the rooms opening off it and with only one entranceway from the street. The same basic rectangular style was used, not only for the domestic house, but also for the royal house (palace), the storehouse, the house of assembly (synagogue), the house of God (temple), and the house of the dead (tomb).
ARCHITECTURAL WORKS OF THE KINGS OF JUDAH AND ISRAEL
The only particular construction mentioned as of King David’s reign appears to be the “house of cedars,” built with materials and by workers supplied by Phoenician King Hiram of Tyre (1 Chron. 14:1; 17:1), although David continued building other houses in Jerusalem. (1 Chron. 15:1) David also made great preparations for the temple construction to be done by his son Solomon, including the hewing of squared stones, the fashioning of iron nails, preparing of copper and of cedar timbers “in great quantity,” as well as supplies of gold, silver, precious stones and mosaic pebbles. (1 Chron. 22:1-4; 29:1-5) He was also used to provide the divinely inspired “architectural plan” for the entire temple layout and equipment.—1 Chron. 28:11-19.
Under Solomon, Israelite architecture reached its high point. (2 Chron. 1:15; Eccl. 2:4-6) Although the Phoenician workers of King Hiram were employed in the cutting of timbers in Lebanon for the temple construction, the record does not support the view often advanced that the temple at Jerusalem was primarily and essentially the work of Phoenicians. An Israeli-Phoenician named Hiram is mentioned as contributing to the immediate construction, but this mainly in decorative work and metal work, done after the building was erected and according to the plans provided by King David. (1 Chron. 28:19) King Hiram of Tyre acknowledged that there were “skillful men” among the Israelites as well. (1 Ki. 7:13-40; 2 Chron. 2:3, 8-16; compare 1 Chronicles 28:20, 21.) Solomon himself is presented as the one acting as the “director of works” of the temple structure itself. (1 Ki. 6:1-38; 2 Chron. 3:1–4:22; compare 1 Corinthians 3:10.) Additionally, he built the temple courtyard, the House of the Forest of Lebanon, noteworthy for its forty-five pillars of cedarwood and special illumination features, the Porch of Pillars, the Porch of the Throne, as well as his own house and the house for Pharaoh’s daughter, all constructed of expensive stones hewn “according to measures.”—1 Ki. 7:1-12.
Other kings prominent in building were Asa (1 Ki. 15:23), Baasha (15:17), Omri (16:24), Ahab (22:39), Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 17:12), Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:6-10, 15), Jotham (2 Chron. 27:3, 4) and Hezekiah (2 Ki. 20:20). The tunnel of Siloam (1,749 feet or 533.1 meters in length), attributed to Hezekiah, and those found at Lachish (144 feet or 43.9 meters long), Gibeon, Gezer and Megiddo were remarkable engineering feats.
POSTEXILIC BUILDING IN PALESTINE
The postexilic period seems to have seen only modest construction among the Jews. However, Herod the Great (first century B.C.E.), and his successors, engaged in great architectural projects, including the reconstruction of the temple at Jerusalem (Mark 13:1, 2; Luke 21:5), the harbor at Caesarea, the great viaduct spanning the central part of Jerusalem, as well as public buildings, theaters, hippodromes and baths. A most remarkable feat was Herod’s development of the fortress on the 1,000-foot-high (304 meters) hill of Masada. Besides the fortifications, Herod built an elegant three-tiered hanging palace with terrace and bathing pools, as well as another palace with a Roman bathhouse having heating pipes in the walls, and a sit-down lavatory with flushing system. He equipped the huge rock fortress with a dozen great cisterns able to hold an estimated 8,000,000 gallons (30,282,400 liters) of water.
ASSYRIAN, BABYLONIAN AND PERSIAN ARCHITECTURE
As a result of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel (740 B.C.E.) and the overthrow of the southern kingdom of Judah (607 B.C.E.), the Jewish people became acquainted with the architectural splendors of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Empires. The palace of Sargon II at Khorsabad was notable for its regularity and use of symmetry, as well as its splendid reliefs, glazed bricks and enameled tile paintings. Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh was an immense structure of some seventy rooms, with almost 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) of wall space lined with sculptured slabs. (2 Ki. 19:36; compare Jonah 3:2, 3.) Sennacherib is also believed to have built the thirty-mile (48.3 kilometers) aqueduct that carried water from the Gomer River to the gardens of Nineveh. At Mari, on the Euphrates in eastern Syria, an enormous three-hundred-room palace complex covered some fifteen acres (6 hectares). The ruins of ancient Babylon likewise indicate the one-time magnificence of that city with its formidable walls, famous streets, and numerous splendid palaces and temples.
Under Persian rule, Jews in Shushan might view the splendor of the palace of Darius I there, with its interiors beautified by splendidly colored glazed bricks. At Persepolis the grandeur was perhaps yet more impressive, from the Gate of Xerxes, with its colossal bulls, to the palace and huge audience halls of Darius and Xerxes, including the hall of one hundred columns. The Persian columns were more graceful and slender than the famed Ionic columns of the Greeks. The ratio of height to diameter of the columns in the Hall of Xerxes was 12 to 1 as compared to a ratio of 10 to 1 maximum for Corinthian columns, and only 6 to 1 for Egyptian columns. Likewise, the span attained between the columns in Persian buildings was as much as twice that of the Greek buildings, thus creating a greater sense of spaciousness than found in similar ancient structures.
GRECIAN AND ROMAN STYLES AND METHODS
Greek architecture entered its “golden period” from the seventh century on down to the fourth century B.C.E. Athens became the site for majestic temples and buildings erected in honor of the Greek gods and goddesses, including the Parthenon, the Temple of the Wingless Victory, and the Erechtheum; while at Corinth the Temple of Apollo and the vast marketplace (or a·go·raʹ) were outstanding. The style of architecture is generally designated by the three main orders of beautiful Greek columns developed: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian.
The Romans were much indebted to the Greeks as to architectural style. Roman architecture was generally more functional than the Greek, while lacking some of its subtle beauty. They also benefited from the Etruscans, who were noted for their true arch formed with wedge-shaped atones. In the sixth century B.C.E. such true arches were used in a most impressive way in the construction of the great sewers of Rome. The Roman architects are to be credited also with the development of the double arch and the dome, both of which they used in producing enormous column-free rotundas and spacious halls. The Greek masons had built majestic structures without the use of mortar or cement due to their surpassing skill and precision in fitting and joining the marble blocks used. Roman masons made use of a volcanic earth combined with lime called pozzolana, a hydraulic cement of great cohesive strength. With pozzolana as mortar, the Romans could extend the span of their arches as well as construct multistoried edifices, including the mammoth four-story Coliseum, built in the first century C.E., with a seating capacity variously estimated as accommodating from 40,000 to 87,000 persons. Among the more valuable Roman constructions were the great military roads and splendid aqueducts built particularly from the third century B.C.E. forward. The apostle Paul made much use of these Roman highways and undoubtedly saw the aqueduct of Emperor Claudius along the Appian Way when traveling to Rome.
Even as the nation of Israel was not noted for architectural splendor or pomp, so too the early Christians of spiritual Israel constructed with modesty. Unger’s Bible Dictionary (pp. 84, 85) comments: “As early as in the 3rd century buildings erected by them existed, but they were neither substantial nor costly.” It was not until the time of Emperor Constantine, when encouragement was given to those so inclined to enter relations with the political state, that nominal Christians began to produce a particular style of architecture, eventually constructing some of the most ornate and pompous edifices known.
ARCHITECTURE IN PROPHECY AND FIGURE
There are numerous uses of architectural terms in Biblical prophecies and figures. The restoration prophecies deal to a great extent with the building (or rebuilding) of God’s people and their cities. (Isa. 58:12; 60:10; 61:4; Ezek. 28:26; 36:36) Zion is foretold to be built upon stones laid with hard mortar, with sapphire foundations, ruby battlements, and gates of fiery glowing stones. (Isa. 54:11, 12) Wisdom is described as building its own house (Prov. 9:1) and, along with discernment and knowledge, as being the means for building up a household. (Prov. 14:1; 24:3, 4) The wicked are likened to one who builds a roomy house by unrighteousness and injustice, and the one who builds a city with bloodshed. (Jer. 22:13-15; Hab. 2:12) Their efforts at achieving peace are compared to the building of a plastered partition wall that Jehovah blasts with the windstorm and hail of his rage, tearing it down and revealing its foundations. (Ezek. 13:10-16) The psalmist assures that unless Jehovah builds the house, the builders labor in vain. (Ps. 127:1) Prior to the “great day of Jehovah,” those who disregard God will build, but will not come to occupy their buildings. (Zeph. 1:12-14; compare Amos 5:11.) By contrast, God’s servants are to “build houses and have occupancy” and “use to the full” the work of their hands.—Isa. 65:17-23; compare Ecclesiastes 3:3.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the importance of making a “cost estimate” before beginning construction is used by Jesus in counseling on the decision to become his follower. (Luke 14:28-30) The need for a solid foundation is used in a number of illustrations. (Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 6:48, 49; 1 Tim. 6:17-19; 2 Tim. 2:19; Heb. 11:10) Christ Jesus speaks of founding his congregation on a rock-mass (peʹtra) (Matt. 16:18), and Jesus himself is shown to be the one foundation, besides which “no man can lay any other”; yet, “the stone that the builders rejected.” (1 Cor. 3:11; Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:11; Ps. 118:22) As the chief cornerstone, all the other “living stones” of the spiritual temple are founded on and aligned with him, with justice as the “measuring line” and righteousness as the “leveling instrument.” (Eph. 2:20, 21; 1 Pet. 2:4-8; Isa. 28:16, 17) On such basis Jesus could speak of the temple, of which he was the chief part, as being raised up “in three days,” although the literal temple and surrounding buildings at Jerusalem in his day had taken forty-six years to build, and still were not finished. (John 2:18-22) Paul, as a “wise director of works,” admonished concerning the use of high-quality, noncombustible materials in building on Christ as the foundation. (1 Cor. 3:10-17) Love is described as a prime element of building. (1 Cor. 8:1; compare Psalm 89:2.) John’s vision of the New Jerusalem presents it as a radiant city formed of precious stones with its walls resting on foundation stones inscribed with the names of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:9-27) God himself is presented as the great Constructor of all things; hence as not residing in buildings made by men.—Heb. 3:4; Acts 7:48-50; 17:24, 25; Isa. 66:1.
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Chaldean arch with keystone
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Impressive construction begun by Darius, found at Persepolis