The cylinders of Gudea (1 Kings 3)

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Two large, inscribed clay cylinders were discovered at the end of nineteenth century. After their broken pieces had been meticulously reassembled, the cylinders revealed a lengthy Sumerian composition memorializing the building of a new temple by a Mesopotamian ruler named Gudea (reigned ca. 2112-2095 B.C or shortly before).

The cylinders claim that the deity Ningirsu appeared to Gudea in a dream, commanding him to build his new temple, the Eninnu. Gudea prayed and slept in the temple already existing on the site, waiting for a second dream; in it Ningirsu revealed the new temple’s plan. The cylinders provide detailed information about the preparation and purification of the temple area and specifics about conscripting workers, the acquisition of building materials and the laying of the foundations. Next, they describe the building process, decorations and furnishings. Gudea then installed the statues of Ningirsu and his consort, Baba, offered dedicatory prayers and hosted a seven-day banquet. Upon completion of the project, Gudea recorded, he was blessed and promised long life by his personal gods.

It has been suggested that the account of Solomon’s construction of the Jerusalem temple follows this same general outline. Since divine sanction for Solomon’s temple building had been given to his father, David (2 Samuel 7:12-13), Solomon declared his intention to build Yahweh’s temple in fulfilment of the divine command (1 Kings 5:3-5). This is followed by a description of the arrangements between Hiram of Tyre and Solomon, which provided for Hiram to contribute cedars and pine for the building project, as well as for Solomon’s levy for labourers and the quarrying of stone for the foundation (5:6-18). The details of the construction process, including the layout and dimensions of the individual rooms, are included (6:1-38), as are directives regarding the furnishings (7:13-51).

Just as Gudea installed the statues of his deities to symbolize their presence in the temple, Solomon brought the ark of the covenant, which represented God’s footstool (1 Chronicles 28:2), into the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:1-21). He then offered his prayer of dedication and hosted a seven-day feast (8:22-66). Finally, the Lord appeared to the king to bless him and promise him an everlasting throne over Israel, provided Solomon would continue to follow His commands (9:1-9).

That the account of Solomon’s temple building follows the same structure need not surprise or alarm the reader. The inspired writers worked within familiar cultural and literary structures to faithfully transmit the history of Israel and of the Word of God.


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