11 Comments

  1. Bill Hamblin

    In a sense the court of Solomon’s Temple with its pillars, altar and brazen sea could be viewed as a hypaethral temple.

  2. Hey Bryce,
    “This was likely due to the temples’ often association with the cosmos.”
    I think that this is a mistaken assumption, at least with regard to Didyma. First, the Didyma temple was associated with the Apollonian oracles, which didn’t have a cosmological feature.
    Second, it should be noted that this temple was never completed, so its lack of a roof may be more of an accident than an intentional feature. Third, there was a spring in the middle of this temple which was the central cultic feature, indicating that star-gazing was not the purpose, but also that the smaller roofed structure inside the cella didn’t need to be covered by a second roof.

    Bill,
    Lots of temples had outside features. Actually, they all did since altars were always outside. Not sure that qualifies them as hypaetheral in Vetruvian terms since these are not part of the cella.

  3. TT,

    I wasn’t referring specifically to Didyma. In any case, many such temples are still referred to as hypaethral today, even if they weren’t built with that intention.

  4. Bryce,
    You’re right that temples without roofs are hyphaethral. I wasn’t suggesting otherwise since this is simply a tautological statement. Rather, I was challenging your assertion that “this was likely due to the temples’ often association with the cosmos.” In one of the four examples you give, this assertion doesn’t fit the actual evidence. There are many reasons that temples might lack roofs. Association with the cosmos is one possibility, but such an assertion requires evidence. I happen to be familiar with the Didyma temple, so I commented on that one.

  5. Well, yes, that would be a start. But after you make that claim, you would then need some compelling evidence for it since we have seen that lacking a roof in itself does not imply a cosmological element in the cult. You would need to give some other corroborating evidence, such as inscriptions, texts, or other instruments associated with the temple in question that suggest a cosmological dimension to the temple.

    In short, you can’t begin with the faulty assumption that ancient temples have an “association with the cosmos” as an explanation for the lack of a roof. Rather, you begin with the evidence that some temples lack roofs and then look at the specific conditions that best explain why that is the case.

    So, for the other three examples that you cite, are there reasons to believe that those temples had a cosmological element to the cult, which are all from different cultures and time periods, besides simply the lack of a roof?

  6. Clearly this post could have been much longer, but I did not intend it to be. I was introducing a word. Nothing more. As for the statement which concerns you so much, I was solely speculating as to why many ancient temples may have been hypaethral. It was not meant to be a definitive study or analysis of such an idea.

    We already know from scholarship much greater than my own that temples often had a cosmological association (e.g. Nibley’s Temple and Cosmos). The lack of a roof may have been one more element in that connection. There has been much said about Stonehenge as an ancient astronomical calendar, for instance. In order to make such observations, this temple would have had to be hypaethral.

  7. As for introducing a term, that is great. Again, that is not where I am trying to enter into conversation with you. Rather, I am trying to find evidence for your claim that temples that lack roofs “may” be associated with cosmological observation.

    Maybe. It is certainly a possibility. However, if you can’t point to a single example of a temple without a roof that was used for cosmological observation, then there isn’t any reason to make this assumption. Of course this post wasn’t intended as a definitive study, but that is besides to the point. You made an interesting suggestion and I am responding to it.

    Stonehenge is obviously a complicated case since there is so little known about it, except that it was a burial site. The suggestions that it may be a calendar are certainly interesting (I’m no expert in this period). Whatever it is, it certainly strains our definition of temple, at least as known in the mediterranean, wherein there is an object of cultic veneration and a altar for sacrifices. These differences are surely worthy of note. Besides lacking a roof, on what basis does Stonehenge warrant comparison with ANE or Greco-Roman temples?

    Nibley may very well be right that some ancient temples were related to cosmological speculation. I have some doubts about this and I am not sure that the evidence he provides for this claim is very convincing, at least not for a widespread, cross-cultural assertion about all ancient temples in all places. But his conclusions should never be taken as the starting point for analysis. Rather, they need to be tested against the evidence.

  8. TT, we can make assumptions and speculate without having definitive proof or examples. My assumption is based on the fact that temples have often been closely tied with the cosmos, including our very own temples which are adorned with cosmological symbols. There are many examples of this. The fact that some ancient temples also seem to have been hypaethral, or open to the sky, is evidence enough to speculate that it may have been that way for cosmological observation and veneration. Of course that assumption is uncertain. To turn that speculation into a better theory or fact we would need many more examples, texts, inscriptions, or other scholarship to verify it. We can certainly do that, and I would hope someone has done it or will do it. I am probably not qualified to make that kind of in-depth study, but I would welcome it.

  9. Bill Hamblin

    It is worth noting that the first explicitly Israelite sanctuary was, in fact, an open air sanctuary created by erecting stone pillars (see Ex 24:3–8, especially 24:4 where they set up twelve “pillars” (maṣṣebāh)), by an altar where they offered sacrifice. Although it is not clear, it was probably a circle, since each pillar represented one of the twelve tribes, and were likely arranged paralleling the later layout of the camp with three tribes on each side of the central tabernacle/altar. This shrine was duplicated by Joshua at Gilgal (Josh 4:20), where they likewise set up twelve stones, one for each tribe, and likewise offered sacrifice (Josh 5:10, 1 Sam 10:8, 11:15).

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