From the Temple to the City
If you’re wondering about the title of this post ‘From the Temple to the City’, it might surprise you to note that it is an extremely concise summary of all the Books of the Bible.
Throughout the world, sacred places have always played a vital role in human civilisation. Very often, we visit these religious sites when travelling - monumental churches, ancient synagogues, working cathedrals, elegant mosques and much else besides.
The tradition of building communities around places of worship goes back a very long time to the origins of civilisation itself. There seems to be something fundamentally human about our need to gather and reach out beyond ourselves to respond to a divine call.
One of the oldest places of worship known to us today can be found in Eastern Turkey. It is called Gobleki Tepe. A German archeologist, Klaus Schmidt from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), began digging there in the 1990s. Archaeologists have since unearthed parts of an enormous complex of stone circles formed into rooms dating back nearly 11,500 years ago. This is 7000 years earlier then Stonehenge in the UK or Newgrange in Ireland.
The evidence suggests that hunter-gathers banded together to construct an impressive temple before they settled down to build towns or develop agricultural practices. This is highly significant. In the words of the archaeologist Klaus Schmidt: ‘first came the temple, and then the city’.
Just imagine it for a moment. Long before towns existed, small groups of nomadic people came together into larger groups to build a religious structure. Around the temple, civilisation gradually developed.
It has long been thought that the first cities only developed once agriculture had become established. But now, archaeologists are seriously considering the possibility that it was the human search for sacred meaning that first brought people together in large groups. As they gathered to build a temple, agricultural practices subsequently developed to feed the larger numbers of people involved.
It is well understood that established religion can foster human creativity and innovation. Just think of the influence of Christianity on architecture, art, literature, medicine and science. But now it seems that this connection between religion and innovation goes back to the very beginning of civilisation itself. This is what the archaeologist’s words signify: ‘first came the temple, and then the city’.
The word religion comes from the Latin word ‘Re-Ligare’ meaning to rebind or reconnect. When we remember that we all came from God, we strive to reconnect with God, with each other and with all creation.
Historians have sometimes pondered if the biblical account of the Garden of Eden represented the difficult transition of people from a hunter-gatherer existence where available food was found in the landscape to the more demanding agricultural jobs of yearly planning, tilling and reaping. A few writers even suggest that the site of Gobleki Tepe is the original site of the Garden of Eden. These speculations cannot be proven, but they do open our hearts in new ways to the significance of events described in the Bible.
In Genesis, the creation accounts can be seen in terms of temple imagery. God builds a temple out of the dust of creation and creates man in the image and likeness of God, a living temple to minister to creation. From humble origins, civilisation develops. So again, we have: ‘first came the temple, and then the city’.
In Exodus, a tabernacle is constructed. In First Kings, instructions for the building of the Temple of Solomon is given. In the Gospels, Jesus foresees the tearing down of the temple that ultimately leads to the creation of a new temple by Christ – a living temple – for we are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us (cf. 1 Cor 3:9).
From the first moment of the creation of modern humans through the dawn of human civilisation to the development of today’s global society, God has played a vital role in human affairs.
The Bible offers us insights into the unfolding story of human history from the garden temple to the cross and into the future to the ends of time itself. This is the sacred account of God’s love for creation. It begins with a temple and ends with a holy city.