Temple abandonment (Ezekiel 10)

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Illustration: Fallen blocks of stone from the destruction of the Temple, lie uncovered today.

The desecration or destruction of temples in the ancient Near East represented grave national and religious calamities. Temples were considered the abodes od deities who served as guardians of lands, peoples and nations, and elaborate temple liturgies were aimed at securing the presence of the deity. Conquering armies plundered temples as a demonstrable sign that the gods of the victors had triumphed over those of the vanquished  (Isaiah 36:18-20, 37:12). Sacred objects were regularly transported and then installed in the sanctuary of the conquering deity. For example, when the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant from Israel, they placed it in the temple of their god, Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-5).

From the perspective of the vanquished, it appeared that the temple had been abandoned by the deity. This gave rise to a genre od ritual laments for temples and cities that had been destroyed. A significant example of this motif is found in the Sumerian lamentation over the destruction of Ur.

The prophets used similar language to explain the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (Lamentations 2:7, cf. Ezekiel 10). Biblical laments assert that the Lord had abandoned His sanctuary because Israel had first abandoned her God.

The idea of the temple abandonment occurs as well with respect to the second temple. 2 Maccabees, an Apocryphal book, reports that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes plundered the sanctuary of Jerusalem, an act that should have brought down divine judgemenr upon his head. The text explains that such desecration was possible because God had temporarily abandoned the sanctuary of the sins of His people (2 Maccabees 5:17). Other sources suggest that God abandoned the temple just prior to its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus described a sound like that of a great multitude from within the sanctuary, announcing the departure of God’s presence (Jewish Wars, 6.5.3). 2 Baruch, a Jewish apocalyptic text written some time after A.D. 70, narrates a visionary account of the angel of the Lord descending into the Most Holy Place, removing the sacred vessels and proclaiming “Enter enemies and come advarearies because He who guarded the house has abandoned it” (2 Baruch 6:7-9, 8:2).


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