On This Day In the Ancient World — Solomon’s Temple Was Destroyed — 13 July 587 BCE


According to the Tanakh (or the Old Testament, if you prefer), King Solomon built a massive temple to the Lord. The scriptures say that construction lasted for seven years. The location of it is not completely clear, but it stands to reason that the temple was on the same site as The Second Temple. That temple was built to replace the first, so one assumes it is at the same place. The Second Temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 CE, and there are currently two sacred mosques on the Temple Mount, which is the massive stone foundation of the previous temples. We’ll get to that, though. 

The Neo-Babylonian Empire controlled parts of modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. In 589 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar (the one from the Book of Daniel) placed a puppet named Zedekiah on the throne of Judah (roughly equivalent to modern Israel). Turns out, Zedekiah wasn’t a puppet at all. He rebelled against the Neo-Babylonians and declared Judah to be free. 

Nebuchadnezzar and the Neo-Babylonians attacked Jerusalem, but the city had sturdy walls. So, they sieged the city. If you’re not familiar, that just involves an army sitting outside of the walls of a city. They don’t let anyone leave and don’t let in any supplies. The goal is to starve the city until they surrender or at least starve them until they can’t fight back. The siege lasted for two years. How long do you think your town could survive without a single shipment of food, water, clothes, home goods, car parts, and so on? 

The Tanakh details life inside of the sieged city in gruesome and heartbreaking ways. 

“09 Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field. 10 With their own hands compassionate women

have cooked their own children who became their food when my people were destroyed. 11 The Lord has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger. He kindled a fire in Zion

that consumed her foundations” (Lamentations 4:09-11 NIV).

While the writer of Lamentations might have been taking some artistic liberties, the siege did last for two years. That means the citizens of Jerusalem had to survive for two years with no food or water being delivered. Certainly, many of them simply starved to death. It’s not inconceivable that, driven by desperation, they turned to cannibalism.

July 13, 587 BCE

It is not exactly clear in what year the Neo-Babylonians broke through the walls of Jerusalem. Some historians suggest 586 BCE, but July 13, 587 BCE is a commonly accepted date. The Neo-Babylonians broke through the walls, burned everything that would burn, and smashed everything that wouldn’t. Solomon’s temple was completely destroyed. Many of the Jews who could not escape were taken into captivity in Babylon. After the fall of Babylon, several of these captives returned to Judah, but many did not. They’re the ancestors of Iraqi Jews and other groups across the former Neo-Babylonian Empire. 

Forward To Today

The Second Temple was built in 516 BCE and destroyed by Romans in 70 CE. The Romans named the city Aelia Capitolina and built a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount. Jews were banned from entering Jerusalem under penalty of death for about 600 years following the Roman conquest. Under Byzantine (the Eastern Roman Empire) Christian rule, the site fell into disrepair. Umayyad Caliphs in the 600s built The Dome of the Rock (pictured above) and Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Christian crusaders converted the two mosques into churches. They were converted back into mosques upon re-conquest. They are still standing. 

Four religions and nearly a dozen empires have claimed the site of the First Temple. All of that history began on this day in 587 BCE.