When my Israel tour groups arrive in Tel Aviv and to our first night’s hotel (usually along the Med Sea in Bat Yam or Natanya), one of the first questions I get from the group is, “What is that small thing placed on the doorframe of our hotel room?” The answer?

mezuzah.  It is actually a mitzvah (Hebrew for “command”) from the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically Deuteronomy 6:9.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  In Israel, a kosher mezuzah contains the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6.  In fact, my Israeli guide’s brother-in-law is a scribe who, in part, carefully pens the Hebrew texts for mezuzot (Hebrew plural of mezuzah).

Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6

Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6

Mezuzot appear essentially anywhere someone goes in and out of a house, museum, or even gates of the Old City (e.g. Zion or Dung Gate).  It reminds people of the essential belief in one God and the importance of obeying His commands.

While mezuzot are commonly used by our Jewish friends today, I was intrigued by a recent archaeological article I read the other day on the idea that suggested Solomon’s Temple built almost 3,000 yeas ago, also contained mezuzot.  What could this mean, what did they look like, and how can one be sure?

This building model from Khirbet Qeiyafa depicts an elaborate doorframe surrounding an opening. With three—or maybe four—interlocking frames, the recessed doorframe sets apart the inner room as sacred space. This model may unlock the meaning of a mezuzah in the Bible regarding the description of Solomon’s Temple. Photo: G. Laron/Courtesy of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Expedition.

This building model from Khirbet Qeiyafa depicts an elaborate doorframe surrounding an opening. With three—or maybe four—interlocking frames, the recessed doorframe sets apart the inner room as sacred space. This model may unlock the meaning of a mezuzah in the Bible regarding the description of Solomon’s Temple. Photo: G. Laron/Courtesy of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Expedition.

The text of 1 Kings 6-7 offers us a description of Solomon’s Temple.  Built of stone yet with roof of cedar wooden beams, the Temple was a building that took seven years to complete. The basic structure of the temple was approximately two times the size of the Tabernacle’s Holy chamber – 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high.  Yet the text of 1 Kings 6:31 describes the doors between the outer sanctum and the inner shrine of Solomon’s Temple as having five mezuzot.  Author of “The Doorways of Solomon’s Temple), Megan Sauter states, “However, in the context of Solomon’s Temple, doors with five doorposts do not make sense.”  

Madeleine Mumcuoglu and Yosef Garfinkel (archaeologist who recently dug at Khirbet Qeiyafa located in the Elah Valley 20 miles from Jerusalem) considered this “puzzle” in an article written for the July/August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (the name of the article: “The Puzzling Doorways of Solomon’s Temple“).  They present a building model from Khirbet Qeiyafa “that depicts a doorframe with three—or maybe four—interlocking doorframes surrounding an opening.” Sauter writes, “They suggest that these interlocking frames are what is meant by mezuzot in the description of Solomon’s Temple. According to their interpretation, then, the doors to the inner shrine (devir) of Solomon’s Temple did not have five doorposts—but rather five recessed doorframes.”  If this was the case, the mezuzot were simply placed on the five recessed doorframes.

solomon-temple-plan-260x184

A reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Drawing: Leen Ritmeyer.

So perhaps this unique find at Qeiyafa sheds important light on the mezuzot question.  Personally I visited Qeiyafa last summer (on my own with two friends prior to excavating up north).  I hope to take the July group (and future groups) to this new and “not-ready-for-public” site.

Pin It on Pinterest