The lives of the ancient Jews had been characterised by uncertainty. To this end, Solomon’s construction of the temple was both a building up, towards the heavens, and also a laying down of roots, for a people.
In fact, the temple would offer only a fragile and temporary security, witnessing repeated capture, plunder, destruction, and rebuilding. And yet despite—or perhaps because of—this, the temple narrative continues to occupy an important place in modern Jewish imaginations and identities.
The work TS_04 forms part of Rhea Karam’s 2015 series Déraciné (Uprooted). The Lebanese-born artist, who now lives in Brooklyn, photographed trees in New York’s Central Park, printed and painted the images, and transported them to Lebanon, where she ‘replanted’ them onto public walls in Beirut.
Once in Beirut, Karam ‘drove and walked around scouting for locations’, stopping ‘to paste once I found a wall that piqued my interest’ (Sharp 2017). Whilst Karam controlled the first part of the process from her New York studio, she has said of the uncertainty regarding replanting her trees on the streets of Beirut:
I did not know where they would end up exactly, but prepared them for their destination—similar to how we integrate into a new environment when we move countries, knowing where we are going but having a lot of uncertainty as to where, and if, we will fit in. (ibid)
Karam’s photographic uprooting and transplanting of New York oaks onto Lebanese walls inversely echoes Solomon’s sourcing of the timber for the temple in Jerusalem—‘cedar, cypress, and algum’—from Lebanon (2 Chronicles 2:8).
There are references to Lebanese cedar throughout the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Psalm 92:12; Ezekiel 31:3). Today the cedar tree appears on Lebanon’s flag and currency, a unifying emblem of a country whose sixteen-year civil war pitted various Christian military and political groups against the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Left-leaning Muslim political parties. The scars of the conflict can be seen on the walls onto which Karam pastes her trees
Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, claimed by both Judaism and Islam, remains a focal point of the Arab–Israeli conflict. The temple which Solomon built to root one displaced people in ancient times has, in more recent history, been invoked in the displacement of another.
Karam, Rhea. 2018. ‘Déraciné’, available at http://www.rheakaram.com/dracin [accessed 3 March 2020]
Sharp, Sarah Rose. 2017. ‘A Show of Lebanese Art Suffused with the Longing of Exile, 2 May 2017’, www.Hyperallergic.com, [accessed 11 March 2020]
2 Now Solomon purposed to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself. 2And Solomon assigned seventy thousand men to bear burdens and eighty thousand to quarry in the hill country, and three thousand six hundred to oversee them. 3And Solomon sent word to Huram the king of Tyre: “As you dealt with David my father and sent him cedar to build himself a house to dwell in, so deal with me. 4Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the continual offering of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained for ever for Israel. 5The house which I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. 6But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to burn incense before him? 7So now send me a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided. 8Send me also cedar, cypress, and algum timber from Lebanon, for I know that your servants know how to cut timber in Lebanon. And my servants will be with your servants, 9to prepare timber for me in abundance, for the house I am to build will be great and wonderful. 10I will give for your servants, the hewers who cut timber, twenty thousand cors of crushed wheat, twenty thousand cors of barley, twenty thousand baths of wine, and twenty thousand baths of oil.”
11 Then Huram the king of Tyre answered in a letter which he sent to Solomon, “Because the Lord loves his people he has made you king over them.” 12Huram also said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, endued with discretion and understanding, who will build a temple for the Lord, and a royal palace for himself.
13 “Now I have sent a skilled man, endued with understanding, Huramabi, 14the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and to do all sorts of engraving and execute any design that may be assigned him, with your craftsmen, the craftsmen of my lord, David your father. 15Now therefore the wheat and barley, oil and wine, of which my lord has spoken, let him send to his servants; 16and we will cut whatever timber you need from Lebanon, and bring it to you in rafts by sea to Joppa, so that you may take it up to Jerusalem.”
17 Then Solomon took a census of all the aliens who were in the land of Israel, after the census of them which David his father had taken; and there were found a hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred. 18Seventy thousand of them he assigned to bear burdens, eighty thousand to quarry in the hill country, and three thousand six hundred as overseers to make the people work.