From the March 1, 2014 issue of the online journal Popular Archaeology,

posted at

under the headings Cover Stories, Viewpoints

The Phaistos Disk: A New Approach
Part 6: The Labyrinth Sky Chart as a Model for the Layout of Solomon’s Temple.
By Peter Aleff   Saturday, March 01, 2014


The Phaistos Disk: A New Approach


In the earlier parts* of this series about my new book, Solomon’s Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk, I maintain that the symbols on the formerly mysterious Phaistos Disk were not writing. Instead, they were the signs on the fields of an ancient gameboard which still survives partly in the modern Game of the Goose. The ancient labyrinth-shaped original reconstructed from the Disk, however, was more detailed than this current and much simplified version. It reproduced its makers’ vision of the sky and its inhabitants, from the northern constellations and their mythological meanings to the important motions of the moon and the sun.

In the present segment which is adapted from chapter 11 of that book, you will find that many ancient gameboards were similarly scaled-down replications of how their players perceived the world, and that these stylized diagrams of the cosmos often served also as blueprints for the layout of temples, tombs, and towns. Following this same trend, the labyrinth sky chart derived from the Disk appears to have been the model for the layout of the temple King Solomon was said to have built in Jerusalem.

To have such a diagram of heaven was important not only to help in understanding the celestial motions but also because heaven was the abode of the gods. To entice a deity to come down to Earth and dwell in their area the worshipers had to build a temple for him or her that resembled as much as possible that divinity’s natural habitat in the sky. Moreover, they also had to praise and compliment that god by replicating some of the triumphs of his or her divine artistry in creating the world.

Building a replica of heaven on Earth to draw down and house one or more of these gods was the unchanging goal of sacred architecture for many religions throughout the Ages. We see this in the earliest Sumerian and Egyptian sanctuary names, such as "house of heaven" or "companion of the gods", or in the many Chinese "temples of heaven". The stars and solar barques on the originally blue-painted ceilings of Egyptian temples, like those carved in the Hathor Temple at Dendera, express the same idea as the clouds and angels painted on many Christian church ceilings, often with skies opened to display other heavenly life-forms. The image below from Dendera is part of a series posted at




The concept of wanting to imitate heaven and its world in the layouts of temples and later also of churches was practically universal, even though the shape this replica took varied from culture to culture and occasionally changed as those cultures’ religions did. These layouts for representing heaven or the universe often reflected the shapes of the builders' gameboards because these appear to have evolved as tools for tracking the motions in those heavens. This means they were designed to reproduce the perceived celestial structure and supplied therefore ready-made diagrams for expressing their players’ and temple builders’ shared ideas about that structure. This is why some typical ancient temples, towns, and tombs appear to have been built on ground plans that resemble the layout of gameboards from those areas and times, as you will see below.

1.  Examples of gameboard layouts in ancient temple and town plans


Among the above images, the one at left shows a prehistoric clay plaque found near Gezer, Canaan, identified as “Idol” but featuring the layout of a well-known gameboard with 58 holes. (Redrawn from a photograph in Erich Neumann: “The Great Mother, An Analysis of the Archetype”, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLVII, 1955, edition consulted 1974, Plate 157 A.)

Middle: One of four similar ivory gameboards for the “Game of 58 holes” found in Megiddo with golden peg heads and dated to the 13th century BCE. (Redrawn after a photo in Maitland A. Edey: “The Sea Traders”, Time-Life Books, New York, 1975, page 90, credited to the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.)

Right: The town plan of biblical Megiddo had its city gates located where the gameboards have their indentations, and at the top, in the east, the vital water well plus the tunnel to it. (Redrawn from a map of Tell Megiddo on the web page which lists as its source: Israël- Sites and Places published by the Israëli Ministry of Defense, 1989.)


The water tunnel at the top of the Megiddo town plan has sometimes been attributed to the 9th century BCE but this appears to be just the latest modification of that water access system whereas the actual water source is said to date to the Middle Bronze Age or earlier, as does the town itself. See!

The gameboards had in the place of that water source an extra group of eight additional holes; the elaborate board in the middle presumably once included there one of the now missing eight-petaled rosettes of rebirth.

The site of Megiddo had been inhabited since Neolithic times, and the clay “Idol” from Gezer suggests that the matching gameboard was just as old. The number of holes on it corresponds to the phases of the moon over two months. It is the same as on an Egyptian “Palm Tree” gameboard from about 2,000 BCE that has a similar path, minus the big indentations but with several pairs of lines linking non-adjacent fields. The starting point for my numbering of the holes is arbitrary and does not imply the ancient count started there. The large cutouts in the sides may rather suggest the period when the moon disappears and the new month as well as the path of the game pieces begin, echoing the locations of the town entrances.

The lavishly executed gameboard in the middle, from a flourishing period of Megiddo, implies that the ruling elite of that city was still well aware of this heavenly connection and reinforced it by continuing to play this traditional game.

The Megiddo town plan at right shows that this shared layout may have depicted an important aspect of the cosmos, in this case apparently the repeated renewals of the moon. In nearby Mesopotamia, city walls and their gates were usually sacred and received the same kind of ceremonial names as temples. It seems likely that the builders and inhabitants of Megiddo felt the same reverence for these structures on which their lives depended, just as the much later Governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, emphasized the importance of the gates when he and his priests ceremonially consecrated the repairs he had ordered for that city’s then broken down defense walls.

We find a similar resemblance between the layouts of gameboards and temples in ancient Mesopotamia:



(*Sumerian gameboard redrawn after a photograph in Dora Jane Hamblin: “The First Cities”, Time-Life Books, New York, 1973, page 119.  ** Northern Temple ground plan redrawn after Sigfried Giedion: “The Beginnings of Architecture”, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XXXV, 1964, date on pages 195 and 201, drawing and quote on page 197, “from Tobler, 1950, II, pls. XII and XIII”, citing Tobler A.J.: “Excavations at Tepe Gawra II, University Museum, Philadelphia, 1950. ***Akkadian shrine redrawn after Sigfried Giedion: “The Beginnings of Architecture”, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XXXV, 1964, date and comment on page 206, drawing on page 204 “from Frankfort, 1939b, fig.3”, citing Frankfort, H: “Sculpture of the Third Millennium BC from Tell Asmar and Khafajah”, Oriental Institute Publications XLIV, Chicago, 1939.)



(Top: gameboard redrawn from an image inTimothy Kendall: "Passing through the Netherworld: The meaning and play of Senet, an ancient Egyptian funerary game", Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Department of Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art, and KIrk Game Company, 1978, see "Additional Notes and Comments” Bottom: Layout of mortuary temple redrawn after Sigfried Giedion: “The Beginnings of Architecture”, Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XXXV, 1964, page 417, “after Naville, Plate CLXXIV”, citing E. Naville: “The Temple of Deir el Bahari”, Egypt Exploration Fund, London, 1901.)


The “Game of Twenty Squares” in the top image is an unfolded version of the Sumerian game illustrated earlier. This game became popular in Egypt during the early New Kingdom and was known, at least in later times, as the “Game of the Sacred Way”. Its board appeared often on the underside of a box that had a Senet board on top and the pieces in a drawer inside the box. The above example was found in Enkomi, Cyprus, and dates from about 1,580 BCE.

The ground plan of the mortuary temple at Deir el Bahari for Queen Hatshepsut (about 1479 to 1458 BCE) shown at the bottom is representative of many similar layouts for major New Kingdom temples and tombs with a long processional approach to a destination chamber or inner shrine that represented heaven. These included, for instance, also the Great Temple of Amun-Ra in Luxor, Egypt, built by Amenhotep III (1386 to 1349 BCE), not shown here.


2. The 8x8 chessboard as India's cosmic grid and sacred layout mandala

The image of heaven preserved on the Phaistos Disk as a condensed copy of the square Labyrinth gameboard expressed a similar but more detailed diagram of the world and its workings. As in the above examples, that layout could be scaled up to reflect this diagram with a building ground plan meant to imitate that world, just like the mandalas which people in India and sometimes elsewhere used and still use to visualize some aspect of the cosmos. Some of these mandalas turn up in many of the basic Indian layouts for temples and towns.


In the above image, the mandala at left is the Chinese “I CHING mandala” from the “Book of Changes” that describes how to use this “mandala of 64 Kua” for divination. The consolidation of the then already venerable hexagrams on the 8x8 grid is credited to king Wan and his son who worked on this system around 1143 BCE and again 30 or 40 years later. Middle: The “mandala of 64 divisions” from the Indian Vastu-Purusha group of mandalas that served as the basis for sacred architectural layouts. Right: An Indian chessboard with the cross-hatched squares that were formerly used in the Ashtapada race game but persist on the chess board although they lost their function. (Images left and middle redrawn from Jose and Miriam Arguelles: “Mandala”, Shambla, 1972; comments on age of I Ching from James Legge, translator: “The I CHING - the Book of Changes”, Oxford, 1899, edition consulted Dover Publications, New York, 1963, pages 4 to 7. The board at right is redrawn from the most complete of seven variations with cross-hatching shown in H.J.R. Murray: “A History of Chess”, Oxford University Press, 1913, edition consulted for Oxbow Books, page 41.)

A mandala in the Hindu tradition is a symbolic design which represents an aspect of the cosmos and its deeper structure. One of the fundamental mandalas in that tradition is the “Mandala of Sixty-four Divisions” which is said to depict “the divine incorporation of the spiritual essence that supports the world order” and to correspond to “a live sacrifice at the beginning of a new world system”. This description fits perfectly the path from the Phaistos Disk on the square 8 x 8 board because, as you saw in Part 5 of this series, the career of the Christ-like sun-head depicts the sun god’s spirit becoming a mortal and dying to then be resurrected into the afterlife, just as in the Hindu mythologies.

This Indian mandala has the same layout as the gameboard for Ashtapada, and also as the 8 x 8 square labyrinth grid with the merged center squares. In India, the merged center was the Brahmastana, or dwelling of the creator god Brahma, and also the symbol of Shiva, the Hindu god of cyclical destruction and subsequent renewal. These events match the death and resurrection or rebirth of the bald head at the end of the Phaistos path.


Left: The Surya temple at Konarak, with the womb chamber mandala at top and the ceremonial hall at bottom, laid out as a 5 x 5 Surya Pancabja Mandala (after the Mandala Sarvasva). Middle: The Great Temple at Purudkul, also based on the 5 x 5 mandala. Right: The Great Temple at Baillur, laid out as an 8 x 8 mandala with added entrance porches and a merged center space. (These three layouts are redrawn from James Fergusson et al.: “A History of Indian and Eastern Architecture”, J. Murray, London, 1910.)


This 8 x 8 mandala is also one of the two basic mandalas used in the plans of Indian temples. Some authors say the other one is the 5 x 5 grid that matches the gameboard for Thayyam, others say it is the 9 x 9 grid which is also the gameboard for Saturankam, with an awkward track that leaves two squares unused. However, all concur that the 8 x 8 layout was one of those two preferred plans. The 8 x 8 grid was not only the gameboard for the race game of Ashtapada and the model for some prominent temple designs but also supplied the template for the layout of several ancient towns, as Nigel Pennick reported:

“The earliest known instructions for the canonical form of cities are in the Arthasastra of Kautilya, who was prime minister to the ancient Indian ruler Chandragupta Maurya. This gives the grid of nine lines by nine as the canonical form, making the city have a layout of eight by eight square blocks. The legendary capital city of Krishna, Dvaravati, however, was believed to have been laid out with eight streets crossing at right angles. Similarly, the K’ao-kung Chi, a classical Chinese text, describes the layout of the royal Chou capital city thus: ‘The carpenters demarcated the capital as a square with sides of nine Li, each side having three gateways. Within the capital, there were nine meridional and nine latitudinal streets, each of the former being nine chariot-tracks wide.’ This description shows us that the capital city was a ‘chessboard’ grid of 64 squares. The administrative center was the central quarter area of the grid, four by four. (…) The word Ashtapada was used to describe the grid employed in land survey.”  (Nigel Pennick: “Secret Games of the Gods: Ancient Ritual Systems in Board Games”,  Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1989, reprinted edition consulted 1992, page 145.)

The Arthasastra is a still widely admired comprehensive treatise on statecraft, economics, and military strategy from around 300 BCE. Chandragupta Maurya seized in 321 BCE the throne of what he would forge into the first empire over most of today’s India, with an army he had modeled on that of the consistently battle-winning Macedonian Alexander ( Kautilya was his mentor and adviser who guided the initially ragtag rebel Maurya and helped him to win and consolidate his empire. His instructions for city layouts carried therefore considerable weight. They also show that they were based on longstanding traditions and beliefs.

In China, the long-reigning Chou dynasty built the first of its four capital cities about 1,046 BCE, and the K’ao-kung Chi was written later as an account of that time.

As to the reason for the choice of this “chessboard” grid in town planning and land surveying, the art historian Titus Burckhardt explained:

“There are two mandalas that are especially favored for the symbolical plan of the temple, one with 64 lesser squares and one with 81. (…)

An effective transformation of the cosmic cycles, or more precisely of the celestial movements, into crystalline form is also found in the symbolism of the sacred city. The mandala par excellence containing 64 squares is compared with the unconquerable city of the gods (Ayodhya) which is described in the Ramayana as a square with eight compartments on each side. This city holds in its center the abode of God (Brahmapura), just as the plan of the temple contains the Brahmastana. (Titus Burckhardt: "Foundations of Oriental Art & Symbolism", World Wisdom, Inc., Bloomington, Indiana, 2009, pages 27, 29 and 30.)

The main composition of the Ramayana is said to be even older than the Mahabharata and to date from anywhere between the eighth and fourth centuries BCE. Emulating the plan of the unconquerable heavenly city would have conferred obvious symbolic and magical advantages, similar to those some ancient Egyptians had sought by building their “mansions of eternity” or tombs in the shape of the Senet-gameboard hieroglyph for “duration”.  

Accordingly, we find several accounts of cities having been built with that chessboard layout. For instance, Professor H.J.R. Murray reports in his monumental “A History of Chess” that a tenth-century CE Persian writer described the building of the provincial capital Jundishapur by the Sassanian King Shahpur I (240 to 270 CE):

“… the plan of this city was after the fashion of a chessboard; it was intersected by eight times eight streets.” (Oxford University Press, 1913, edition consulted Oxbow Books, page 33.) 

Murray further cites a later Persian historian’s comment that the city was indeed laid out that way but that “Chess had not yet been invented by that time”. This historian fell into the same trap as many modern scholars who still often assume reflexively that the first documented trace or mention of any item or idea is also the date of its invention, even though archaeologists and archivists keep discovering earlier examples that are, again, not necessarily the first ones of their kind ever made or mentioned.  

Nigel Pennick had argued in his above-cited work that the chariot piece in Chaturanga suggested an origin of this game piece -- and therefore also of this game -- long before Alexander’s invasion of India made the Indian war chariots obsolete. However, like most other board games that are seldom cited in the surviving scraps of early writings, Chess and its early form Chaturanga are likely to have been played for centuries below any chronicler’s radar -- just as the Game of the Goose was not “invented” in Renaissance times but descended from the oldest known board game, the Snake Game, and simply left no other recorded traces until then, except for the long misunderstood Phaistos Disk. Moreover, the 8 x 8 board had long served in India for the race game Ashtapada that then appears to have evolved into those later war games, keeping the same category-defining Chess knight’s move that we find already on the labyrinth board.  

Although king Shahpur I had built Jundishapur on the layout of the unconquerable city of the gods, nothing remains visible of it on the now plowed fields that cover where it once stood ( However, the same king also built other cities with the same chessboard ground plan, among them the still thriving Nishapur in the northeastern Iranian province of Khurasan (Murray: “A History of Chess”, page 33). That city appeared to live up to its name which meant “the good city of Shahpur”: towards the end of the first millennium CE it was one of the ten largest cities on earth and became in 1048 the birth place of the poet Omar Khayyam.

On the other hand, Nishapur was also said to have been destroyed and rebuilt more often than any other city, due to both wars and earthquakes ( It appears that the magic protection of the unconquerable layout in heaven may not have survived its transplant to the more hostile Earth.

3. The 8x8 labyrinth-board and the layout of the Jerusalem Temple Mount

Building a sacred structure, such as a town, a tomb, or a temple, started with the ground plan which was usually said to have been designed by the deity itself. For instance, the Sumerian priest-king Gudea of Lagash (about 2100 BCE) recorded on one of his statues, now headless in the Louvre, that his god Ningirsu had given him in a dream the temple plan shown on his lap. Also, many Egyptian inscriptions asserted that Seshat, the goddess of the measuring rope and of temple geometry, had helped the king in staking the layout provided by one of the senior gods such as Ra or Thoth (For a discussion of Seshat and her rope emblem, see  

King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem is another well-known example of reportedly having been built from such divine blueprints. The story of that design also clarifies the role of the humans who actually drew up the plans. When the biblical King David gave those plans for the Temple to his son Solomon for execution during the latter's reign, he said in 1 Chronicles 28:19:

"All this was drafted by the Lord's own hand; my part was to consider the detailed working out of the plan."

In more modern terms, such divinely inspired plans reflected the temple architects' understanding of how their creator God had designed the cosmos which they tried to reproduce in their buildings. And this perception of the ancient Near Eastern sky appears to have been condensed in the square labyrinth diagram which reflected some of its major constellations and many of its solar and lunar cycles. It may therefore be more than mere chance that this square labyrinth sky board exhibits some curious similarities with the layout of the originally square Jerusalem Temple precinct that has been transmitted to us.

3.1. Potential paths of transmission

The labyrinth mandala from the Disk depicted the complexly interwoven life-cycles in the sky in an admirably simple design. This compact visual record of the heavenly motions along its labyrinthine path could have survived into biblical times from the nearby builders of the Bronze Age megalithic structure of Rogem Hiri if these had indeed intended to reproduce a similar vision of the sky with their labyrinth-like monument (See my “Riddle Rings of Rogem Hiri Reflect the Sky’s Own Numbers”,, Kindle Singles, 2013). Or else the sky board could have arrived in the biblical lands with the Philistines who hailed mostly from the Aegean area, including Crete, and brought their culture with them when they settled in southern Canaan. Those initially dominant neighbors of the Hebrews even identified themselves with the sun-head on the Disk by imitating its unique rayed hairdo in their trademark "fluted crown" helmets.

We also are told in the Bible that David had spent much time among the Philistines before he became king. As a poet and musician, he must have been familiar with their traditions and their arts and would probably have appreciated the cleverly interlocked and amazingly coherent model of heaven on the labyrinth board when he saw his hosts use this ancestral and probably venerated heirloom for their diversion and/or for divination. 

An additional and equally possible path for the transmission of this knowledge could have gone through Phoenicia. Phoenician traders had long maintained a prominent presence in Crete and were well acquainted with its culture. They were also frequent artistic borrowers who adapted the best designs and styles of their neighbors and used them freely in their own work. These cosmopolitan go-betweens supplied the master builder Hiram and the craftsmen whom Solomon hired from Tyre to build his Temple in Jerusalem. It is easy to imagine that Hiram and his helpers could have brought the greatly admired and highly suitable labyrinth mandala of heaven to this heaven-oriented project, or at least that they would have been already familiar with it when Solomon showed them David’s plans.

But even without our knowing the exact mode of how the knowledge of the labyrinth sky-board reached the builders of the Jerusalem Temple, we can appreciate the parallels in the layouts of that sky board and of that Temple precinct.

Unfortunately, there are no archaeological traces left of that Temple, and some biblical 'minimalists" have questioned whether it had actually been built. Some even doubted whether David and Solomon ever existed or, if yes, whether they had the rich kingdom described in the Bible or were at best some local petty chiefs who lacked the means for undertaking such a major project.

Those doubts have meanwhile been answered by the excavations the archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel and his team undertook at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a well-built and strongly fortified city in Judah with radiocarbon dates of olive pits from 1020 to 980 BCE, the time of King David. In a recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Garfinkel and two of his co-excavators wrote:

"Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David's kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities. The inscription indicates that writing and literacy were present and that historical memories could have been documented and preserved for generations." (Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell: "An Ending and a Beginning: Why We're Leaving Qeiyafa and Going to Lachish", Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2013, pages 44 to 51, quote on page 46.)

This suggests said kingdom would also have been capable of building the Temple complex described in the biblical and Rabbinic accounts. However, even if future digs turned up an authenticated inscription signed by King Solomon himself in which he asserted that he never built the Temple attributed to him because he had never existed, it would not matter in this context because we have the reported layout of that Temple Mount in the Rabbinic writings. Comparing that transmitted design with the sky-replicating gameboard it appears to have followed reveals telltale similarities.

3.2 Locating the Temple on the Temple Mount  

Our information about that Temple Mount layout is relatively late. Its oldest known detailed description was transmitted in a Rabbinic tractate from late in the second century CE (Mishnah, as referenced below. The age of this tractate is cited from Leen Ritmeyer: "Locating the Original Temple Mount", Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1992, pages 24 to 45 and 64, 65, see note on page 26.)

Because of its late date, this description may appear to refer to the then recently destroyed Herodian Temple. However, Leen Ritmeyer, an archaeologist and architect who scrutinized the evolution of the ancient Temple Mount both on the ground and in its written traces, points out that the Rabbis did not hold Herod in great esteem and seem to have roundly ignored the changes made by that detested Rome-serving Edomite. He argues that they are more likely to have described the original plan because they list the Temple Mount still as square, long after the Hasmoneans and then again Herod had enlarged it and made it rectangular (Leen Ritmeyer: "The Temple and the Rock", Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, Harrogate, England, 1996, page 10. See also the expanded and updated version by Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer: “Secrets of the Jerusalem Temple Mount”, Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington, DC, 1998, and additional books offered at 

Here are the dimensions in cubits that the tractate Middot 5.1. gives for the area within the Temple Court that immediately surrounded the Temple (As quoted by Ritmeyer in "The Temple and the Rock", page 49. According to Hershel Shanks: "Jerusalem's Temple Mount, from Solomon to the Golden Dome", Continuum International Publishing Group, New York, 2007, page 68, the word Middot means "dimensions" or "measurements"; the tractates with this title are devoted to describing the Temple and are ascribed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob who lived when the Temple still stood.):


We also owe an additional bit of information to the scribe of 2 Chronicles 4:1 who adds that the outside bronze altar, which must have stood on the 32 x 32 altar base, was ten cubits high and 20 cubits square. This echoed the footprint given for the Holy of Holies which was a cube with sides of 20 cubits, and an outer width of 32 cubits.  

The square Jerusalem Temple Mount layout derived from the dimensions in that Rabbinic tractate is shown in the drawing below in which the gate locations and details of the outer wall are scaled from those in Ritmeyer's drawings. The Mount was lined up approximately with the cardinal directions, its axis about three and a half degrees west from true north (Leen Ritmeyer: "The Ark of the Covenant: Where it stood in Solomon's Temple", Biblical Archaeology Review, January/ February 1996, pages 46 to 55 and 70 to 73, see page 70 middle).

The layout of that Temple Mount is shown here in the then prevalent Egyptian way of drawing maps where south was "up". North was at the bottom of the diagrams in that Egyptian-influenced region because the Nile flowed north and down (Erik Hornung: "Einführung in die Ägyptologie", Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 1967, page 108).

I superimposed on this ground plan of the Temple Mount the Labyrinth sky board shown in parts 1 and 2 in the same orientation, with its entrance also at the bottom, towards the observer, and I am repeating its image below for easy comparison. If that bottom of the board is north, then the path from its entrance starts out towards the west, matching thereby the "Tar"- shirt in the first field which stood for "west". This starting direction matches also the courses of the sun and moon along their daily path from east to west.


Ritmeyer described in the above referenced articles for Biblical Archaeology Review and in several booklets the fascinating logical journey that led him to locate on the ground the corners of the Mount’s original outer wall which Middot 2.1. gave as 500 by 500 cubits square. (One "royal" or "long" cubit, as used in sacred buildings and encountered in ancient Jerusalem graves as well as in the remains of the Temple Mount, was about 20.67 inches long.)

Ritmeyer’s next step was to determine the place where the Holy of Holies had stood within that square. He did so with help from a passage in the 17th century Tosefot Yom Tov commentary to the Mishnah by Rabbi Yom-Tov Lippmann Heller. This eminent Talmudic scholar gave there the distances from the four sides of the 187 x 135 cubit Temple Court to the outer edges of the surrounding 500 x 500 cubit Mount: 213 cubits to the east, 250 to the south, 100 to the west, and 115 to the north (Leen Ritmeyer: "The Temple and the Rock", Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, Harrogate, England, 1996; Mount size from Middot 2.1. quoted on page 20).

This commentary may be late, but it appears to be based on an accurate transmission of these measurements. They position the Temple Court on the Mount, as shown in the above drawing, and they relate the Rabbinic dimensions to those Mount corners. This is how Ritmeyer discovered that the foundation trenches for the walls of the innermost Sanctum must have been located on the rock exposed under the Dome of the Rock, and indeed he found them there on photographs of that rock.  

These clearly man-made trenches are in just the right places relative to those corners of the outer wall to mark the place of the Holy of Holies described in the Rabbinic sources. Moreover, he determined that a rectangular recess cut into the rock floor of that Sanctum is of precisely the right size, shape, and location for the postulated foundation slab that would have supported the Ark of the Covenant (Leen Ritmeyer: "Locating the Original Temple Mount", Biblical Archaeology Review, March / April 1992, pages 24 to 45; also "The Ark of the Covenant: Where it stood in Solomon's Temple", January / February 1996, pages 46 to 55 and 70 to 73).

3.3. The Temple within its Court

We can add to the above dimensions those for the sanctuary wall thicknesses and interior separations given in Middot chapter 4, Mishnah 7 (As quoted in Helen Rosenau: "Vision of the Temple: The Image of the Temple of Jerusalem in Judaism and Christianity, Oresko Books, London, 1979, page 187):


The scribe added that "the porch extended beyond this fifteen cubit on the north and fifteen cubit on the south, this space was called the knife house where they used to store the slaughterers' knives. Thus the hekal was narrow behind and broad in front, resembling a lion (...).  Just as a lion is narrow behind and broad in front, so the hekal was narrow behind and broad in front." 

The East-to-West dimensions match those in 1 Kings 6 & 7 and 2 Chronicles 3 & 4, except that the biblical scribes list a total length of 60 cubit. They were only concerned with inside measurements and omitted the one cubit thickness of the partition before the inner shrine. However, 1 Kings 6:31-32 places a solid wall there, with "a double door of wild olive; the pilasters and the door posts were pentagonal.” This explains the additional cubit. 

Together, these measurements allow us to reconstruct where each feature was located on the square Temple Mount described in those sources, except for the ten-cubit diameter Sea of Bronze which stood somewhere near the Temple front, and for the pillars Jachin and Boaz which each had a circumference of twelve cubits and stood "in the porch" (1 Kings 7:21) but for which no precise location is given either. This reconstruction, without that Sea and those pillars, is shown in the above drawing of the Temple Mount and in the close-up below of the Temple Court.


 3.4 Symbolic numbers for the outer wall and the grid inside 

To compare the Labyrinth sky board with the Temple Mount plan I overlaid the latter with a grid that divides the square inside the outer walls into the 8 x 8 fields of that sky board. I chose the inside of that square because the outer walls were there to protect that inside area and separate it from the outside, not to be a part of it.

Mentions of early Hebrew household shrines often refer to them as "miqdash" which comes from a verb that means "to set apart", "to make holy", or "to consecrate" (William G. Dever: "Did God have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israël", William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005, page 95). Similarly, the later Latin word templum designated an area cut off by augurs from its surroundings. Consistent with those meanings applied to sacred areas, the purpose of that outer wall was to separate the outside world from the Temple precinct inside it which represented Israël.

The surviving descriptions of that precinct do not mention the thickness of these walls or the size of the area they enclosed, but we can deduce both by analogy to the way the architects picked the outside measurement of that precinct. They had to start with a number that symbolized the outside world, and that was a given at 500 cubits because their tradition stated clearly, as preserved in a Haggadah:

“It takes five hundred years to walk from the earth to the heavens, and from one end of a heaven to the other, and also from one heaven to the next, and it takes the same length of time to travel from the east to the west, or from the south to the north.” (Haggadah: Jewish Legend from Midrash, Pseudoepigrapha, and Early Kabbalah, as published in Willies Barnstone, editor: “The Other Bible -- Ancient Esoteric Texts”, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1984, page 17 right). 

Converting years into cubits was easy when only the symbolism of the number mattered, so these travel times determined the outside dimension of 500 x 500 cubits. This would later also be the same number that the prophet Ezekiel reported to have measured at the celestial Temple.

The inside, in turn, had to correspond to a number that was specific to Israël. And what better number could there be than the one ascribed to the history of the Exodus? In the biblical tradition, this epic event had formed the people of Israël into a nation. The number that so summarized its existence is specifically pointed out in 1 Kings 6:1 where the scribe asserts:

“It was in the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israëlites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israël, in the second month of that year, the month of Ziv, that he began to build the house of the Lord.”

The years elapsed since the Exodus must have carried great symbolic value, to the point that this symbolism seems to have compelled the scribe to make up the needed number. There are many theories as to when or even whether the Exodus happened (Ernest S. Frerichs and Leonard H. Lesko, editors: “Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence”, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1997, pages 105 ff). However, 480 years before Solomon’s Temple foundation can be firmly ruled out. This timing would put it into the reign of Thutmoses III (about 1479 to 1425 BCE), a relatively well known period of strong Egyptian power asserted throughout the region. Its many inscriptions would have left us some mention of major events such as the ten plagues or the extraordinary mass flight of 603,550 enslaved Hebrew males plus their families and non-Israëlite followers as described in the Bible. That entire crowd was estimated at about two million people, and removing these from a country with then at most about 3,500,000 inhabitants would have left many traces. Moreover, neither the recorded 603,550 men nor the estimated two million people could have survived in the desert for forty years.

Like the clearly unrealistic number of 603,550 male adult Hebrew emigrants, the 480 years cannot be taken at face value as historical account but should be considered as theologically inspired at a time when the symbolical value of numbers was sometimes more important than the actual quantity they were said to express. This symbolic association between the essence of Israël and the number 480 survives also in the Jewish folklore which asserted there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem (Zev Vilnay: “Legends of Jerusalem”, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1973, pages 183 and 329, citing Isaiah 1:21; Rashi commentary, Babli, Ketuboth 105a, L. Ginzberg: “Genizah Studies I”, 1928, page 261, and several other sources). That number alone mattered, whether it counted years or cubits or synagogues.

In plain practical terms, that inside number had to be compatible with a reasonable wall thickness to be deducted from the pre-ordained 500 cubits. Outer walls ten cubits thick would have been a suitable round and sturdy number, compared with the six cubits of the temple walls inside that enclosure, and with other defensive outer walls in that turbulent Iron Age where rumors about the lavish golden treasures displayed in that Temple could easily attract strong invaders.

For instance, Hezekiah’s slightly later city wall was in some places up to 15 cubits thick (See photo captions near the bottom of the page: This wall fended off Sennacherib’s Assyrian besiegers despite their latest very successful battering-ram and tunnel-sapping technologies, although purportedly with the help of an angel who killed many of the attackers. Just over a century later that wall fell twice to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonians, but the second time only after thirty months of relentless siege.

The proposed wall thickness of ten cubits (or slightly over 17 feet) for the Temple Mount’s outer wall would therefore be in the right range for its time and purpose. The 480 cubits this left for the side lengths of the Israël-representing inside square would then easily have been translated back into 480 years of Israël-defining insiders' history, just as the outside cubits had been derived from the years needed to journey through the outside. Moreover, the choice of that round number allowed the precinct designer(s) to organize that 480 x 480 cubit area into a grid of 8 x 8 squares measuring an even 60 cubits each. 

The number sixty was auspicious and freighted with symbolic meaning because it was the “great ONE” in the sexagesimal system of nearby Mesopotamia, the number of the Babylonian sky god Anu and the favorite counting base of astronomers. Sixty was also the number of squares surrounding the ONE enlarged center on the labyrinth board.

Echoing this arrangement of 60 smaller squares around a larger ONE at their center, one of the oldest surviving messages found in an Israëlite or Judahite fortress, written on a potsherd in a script that could either be early Hebrew or Canaanite, includes the lines:

“… the men and the chiefs/officers have established a king, he marked 60 servants among the communities/habitations/generations.” (Last lines of the Qeiyafa ostracon, translated into French by Émile Puech of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem, given in English by Gerard Leval in “Ancient Inscription Refers to Birth of Israëlite Monarchy”, Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 2012, pages 41 to 43 and 70).  

The translator proposes that this ostracon could be referring to the establishment of the Israëlite monarchy with Saul. This parallel of sixty and One may then not be a coincidence since auspicious numbers were deemed important for the conduct and outcome of any major project, particularly a kingship or a temple.

The perfect fit of the 8 x 60 numerology with the practical requirements of wall building and defense would have been a good reason for the planners to pick an outer wall thickness of ten cubits, in addition to their inherent preference for round numbers and their concerns about potential attackers. The scribe then converted the resulting 480 inside cubits back into years to match those 500 years that had supplied the outside dimension, and he identified the so obtained 480 years with the Exodus history and existence of the people who would use that Temple.

Never mind that the separate count of 40 years in the wilderness plus the reported judgeships and reigns from Joshua to the fourth year of Solomon yields between 554 to 574 years for that same period, or that the “Kings Calendar” in the Septuagint translation of the same passages gives 440 years. Using the longer and more detailed set of biblical numbers would place the so calculated Exodus near the time of the expulsion of the Hyksos which happened in about 1,567 BCE.  Many scholars have tried to identify the Exodus with this Egyptian evicting of invaders who had come from the Canaanite area, but that timing is wrong, too. The actual emergence of Israël in Canaan is generally dated to about 1,200 BCE which is almost four centuries later and also incompatible with the alleged 480 years.

3.5. Parallels between the sky board and Temple Mount layouts

When you compare this 480 x 480 cubit Temple Mount inside with the 8 x 8 grid from the reconstructed labyrinth sky board, you will notice some striking similarities between them, and you will see how well the major features of the architects' plan match up with the labyrinth layout that appears to have supplied the model for it.

The focal points of both compositions are both in the same location: when you superimpose the two squares, then the "north pole" on the board falls into the small Holy of Holies in the farthest recess of the Temple, near its south-west corner. It winds up two and a half cubits from that Inner Sanctum’s south edge, or an even eighth of its width, and two cubits from its back wall in the west, amounting to one tenth of its 20-cubit length.

This precise projection of the celestial north pole into the Holy of Holies was theologically the appropriate place since both were the dwelling places of God. The north pole in the sky was a preferred abode of the high gods in many cultures, a natural choice as the one fixed and thus privileged spot in the entire cosmos that revolved around it. This idea led in Mesopotamia to many ceremonial names for temples that emphasized this unique spot, such as “House, Great Bond of Heaven and Underworld” where the word “Bond” can also be translated as “Pole” or “Mooring Pole of Heaven” (A. R. George: "House Most High: The Temples of Ancient Mesopotamia", Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1993, page 75, see entries 158 and 161, plus many others with the same “Bond” . See also page 79, entry 203, for “House, Exalted Door Socket” which conveys the image of an axis around which something turns).

The universe was driven by and ruled from this all-important axis; in addition, the constellations closest to it never sank below the horizon and were therefore naturally the "Immortals". The equally immortal God of Israël was also believed to dwell in the north, as his modern cartoon avatar of the all-seeing Santa Claus still does. The prophet Ezekiel saw his God coming from that direction in his most dramatic visions. Also, Psalm 48:2 says God had his city on a mountain in "the farthest reaches of the north". Its writer then goes on with an image that could well refer to the stars revolving in unison around the pole: "see how the kings all gather round her (the city), marching on in company". Verse 9 of the same Psalm appears to further confirm the proposed connection between the sky and its replica on Earth: "O God, we re-enact the story of thy true love within thy temple". 

Similarly, Solomon said in his Temple inauguration prayers that God had "chosen to dwell in thick darkness" (1 Kings 8:13). This fits the always dark Holy of Holies as well as the celestial north pole at night, the only time when observers could locate it. By day that region of the sky appears no different from most others, but darkness lets you deduce this hidden center of the world from the revolving of its surrounding stars, as illustrated on the labyrinth board. This darkness of the divine abode has again parallels in Mesopotamian temple names that included, for instance “House (inside) which none may see” and “House which knows not daylight” (A. R. George: "House Most High: The Temples of Ancient Mesopotamia", Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1993, pages 92, entry 366 from page 91, and 153, entry 1135).

This perfect fit of the pole projection into the Inner Sanctum suggests that it was not accidental but that the Temple layout had been planned in relation to that grid and the north pole on it. Moreover, there are further parallels. For instance: 

4.  The "Prison Gate" as formal north entrance

The Temple Mount was a busy place and had many gates, but only one of these was enhanced by a special gate building that set it apart from the others. This was the so-called Prison Gate in its north wall which was also singled out as the ceremonially most important entrance when the Governor Nehemiah rededicated the newly repaired walls of Jerusalem. He chose this gate as the destination for his western half of the double procession past the other gates. He also seems to have met there the group that had gone along the eastern wall because in the next sentence, both thanksgiving choirs then "took their place in the house of God" (Nehemiah 12:39 and 40).

Having the principal gate of the ancient Temple Mount open to the north may at first sight seem strange because the people of Jerusalem lived in the “City of David” to the south. However, we saw that God was believed to dwell in the north. Since the precinct was built for him, it would have made sense to place the formal entrance to his dwelling on Earth in his direction, and to make lesser openings for humans and livestock where needed, such as the nearby Sheep Gate which may have been built to keep animal traffic away from the gate dedicated to the Lord.

The size and location of the Prison Gate on the layout above are scaled from a ground plan of the ancient Temple Mount by Leen Ritmeyer (Leen Ritmeyer: "The Temple and the Rock", Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, Harrogate, England, 1996, see drawings on pages 15 and 17). The inside width of the gate house on his drawing is about the same as the width of a labyrinth field, and in exactly the same location as the entrance into the labyrinth board.

The name of this Prison Gate is another clue to its possible connection with the labyrinth because it could not have referred to a conventional prison. The path through this gate led out to open countryside; there was no place for a prison that would have to be guarded and protected against marauders or an inmates' friends. The gate building itself would not have been suitable for a prison either since such an entrance was more vulnerable to attack or escape than any building within the outer walls. Moreover, keeping prisoners there would have interfered with its role as gate house and defense stronghold.

The only logically possible place for a prison would have been within the fortified square reached through that Prison Gate. However, that square was the Temple Mount. It would seem strange if the consecrated ground there had been used for such a profane purpose. There is a mention in Jeremiah 32:2 that during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, this prophet was “imprisoned in the court of the guard-house attached to the royal palace”. However, using the court of such an auxiliary building as a prison sounds like an improvisation due to the siege and the urgent need to stop Jeremiah from spreading his demoralizing predictions of inescapable doom. It certainly does not seem to qualify as the major feature of the precinct that would justify this naming of its formal entrance, particularly since the royal palace was a long distance away on the southern half of the Temple Mount platform whereas the Prison Gate was in its north wall, near the Temple and pointing directly at the forecourt between the Temple porch and the outside Altar.

Some ancient Mesopotamian temples are said to have included prisons and even places of torture and execution, and some of them had indeed ceremonial names such as “Seizer of the arm of the wicked”, “House clad in terror and radiance”, “House which smites the wicked”, “Fearsome house”, “House which inspires dread in the land”, and many other variations on fear, dread, terror, sighs, and lamentations that seem to suggest violent enforcement there of divine or royal laws (A. R. George: "House Most High: The Temples of Ancient Mesopotamia", Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1993, pages 64, 71, 82, 102, 107, etc.). However, no similar stories or associations are reported about the Jerusalem Temple, unless you count the slaughter there of sacrificial animals. So why did its only formal gate have this odd “Prison” name?

5. Labyrinths as mythological prisons

The puzzle resolves itself when you consider that the mythological role of the labyrinth was to serve as a prison. The now best known example is the legendary one in Crete which was built to confine and hide the Minotaur. This Greek nickname for that Cretan divinity means simply "Bull of Minos". Its bearer had the shape of a man with the head of a bull, like many other gods in that time and region where people used this metaphoric image to express concepts such as strength and fertility. His actual name in Crete was "Asterion" which translates as "starry" or "ruler of the stars" and was the likely reason for the star in the center of the labyrinth shown on many Cretan coins from the later but still ancient Classical times.

This star-ruling name identifies that bull-headed being as a sky god. His dark and inextricable labyrinth was then in the sky, as his Wikipedia entry describes with a quote attributed to the mythologist Karl Kerenyi:

Coins minted at Cnossus from the fifth century [BCE] showed (...) on the reverse—the "underside"—a scheme of four meander patterns joined at the centre windmill fashion, sometimes with sickle moons or with a star-rosette at the center: "it is a small view of the nocturnal world on the face of the coin that lay downward in the printing process, and is, as it were, oriented downward".

The "windmill" pattern suggests of course rotation, so the part of the sky it represents is the area around the north pole, just as on the more elaborate labyrinth sky board from the Phaistos Disk. This was the area to which the "justified" souls ascended in Egypt and from which no one ever returned, just as no one could find the exit from the labyrinth.  

Unfortunately for that Cretan divinity's reputation, the Classical Athenian mythmakers thoroughly calumnied this "Bull of Minos" as a people-eating caged monster because they wanted to glorify their newly created local hero Theseus with a victory over that cruel beast. They also had an ax to grind with the Cretans for their lack of participation in the Persian wars, so they mocked their religion with that vicious caricature of their likely highest god (Sarah P. Morris: “Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art”, Princeton University Press, 1992, edition consulted paperback 1995, see pages 354 to 356). That Athenian smear campaign stuck and still survives in most of our textbooks as received wisdom.

Once you strip the anti-Cretan propaganda from the myth about Theseus the Athenian Minotaur-slayer and the labyrinth, then you find a supernatural bull-man conceived by the moon goddess Pasiphae from a divine bull for whom she had assumed the cow form which was then common for Egyptian sky goddesses. The bull-headed sky god born from this union was housed in the deepest recess of an elaborate structure built specially for him. All this makes him simply a Cretan version of the Apis bull whom the Egyptians venerated as a god engendered by a moonbeam upon a special cow and kept in a special temple built for him and sacred to Ptah.

Ptah was one of the Egyptian creator gods, particularly renowned as the patron of artists and craftsmen. He was a forerunner in that to Daedalus the alleged crafty architect of the Cretan labyrinth. The supernatural bull-headed being in its dark abode in Crete resembled also many of the chief gods in other ancient Near Eastern pantheons. Like the Ugaritic Baal who had asked the Syrian divine counterpart of Daedalus to construct him a palace without windows to dwell in (Cyrus H. Gordon: “The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations”, The Norton Library, New York, 1965, pages 196 and 197), these gods often had their statues in a dark cell in their temples. They also typically wore horns and were addressed as "mighty bull".  

We find this widespread belief in gods symbolized by bulls or some of their features also reflected in Mesopotamian temple names such as “House, Wild Bull of the Lands”, and “Court of the Wild Bull” (A. R. George: "House Most High: The Temples of Ancient Mesopotamia", Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1993, pages 66, entry 56, and 114, entry 652). This group of divinities with bull connections included the God of the Hebrews for whom Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple with a windowless and dark Holy of Holies and whom the Bible calls repeatedly the "Bull of Jacob"(Genesis 49:24. Harper's Bible Dictionary says that this title is usually translated as "Mighty one of Jacob" but means "Bull of Jacob" in Hebrew. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1985, entry on bull, page 144. See also

The Hebrew God appears five times in the scriptures as the “Mighty One of Jacob” (Gen 49:24; Isa 49:26; 60:16; Ps 132:2; 5) but that name is a mistranslation of the “Bull of Jacob”. The same word is a bull in Isaiah 10:13, 34:7, Psalms 50:13, and Psalms 68:31(30). So, the God of the fathers, or of one among them, was the Bull of Jacob. Even the Bible asserts that such images of Jehovah were set up at Dan and Bethel (1 Kg 12:28-29; 2 Kg 10:29), and the Jacob traditions in Genesis seem to center on Bethel (Gen 28:10-22; 35:1-15) where the Hebrew God was worshipped as a bull. Some of his followers venerated him as a golden calf or a young bull, and the Hebrew altars which symbolized his presence had horns.

The analogy with the Cretan bull-god hidden in a dark and inextricable maze in the sky suggests that the references to the labyrinth design in the Temple ground plan was intended, in the metaphorical thinking of the time, to reflect and maintain the hidden presence of Jacob's "mighty bull" God within its innermost and darkest recess.

Indeed, this was the purpose of putting up the Temple in the first place since it was to be the dwelling of God. His throne room in it was as dark, and for all practical purposes as inaccessible, as the Minotaur's hideaway in the Cretan labyrinth, or as the pole in the sky which that dark throne room represented. In the Book of Enoch’s Journeys through Hell and Heaven, composed during the last two centuries BCE but appearing to rely on older traditions, its author also identified that celestial pole as a prison during his vision of that sky region, “a place of darkness and a mountain whose summit reached to heaven, (…) the place where no flesh walks (…) it was a horrible wasteland”:

“There I saw seven stars like great burning mountains, and when I asked about them the angel told me: ‘This place is the end of Heaven and Earth. It has become a prison for the stars and the Host of Heaven. And the stars which roll over the fire have transgressed the Lord’s commandment in the beginning of their rising, for they did not appear at their appointed times. And God was angry with them and bound them for ten thousand years until their guilt was appeased.” (The Book of Enoch, as published in Willies Barnstone, editor: “The Other Bible -- Ancient Esoteric Texts”, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1984, page 488 right.)

The seven stars near the end of Heaven and Earth are traditionally those of the Big Dipper which cannot escape from their tight circle around the pole and so are trapped in the “prison” up there, a counterpart to the dark “prisons” in some of the labyrinths built on earth. In sum, the “prison” behind the “Prison Gate” was the dark Inner Sanctum of the labyrinth which represented the celestial North Pole.

6.  King Solomon's ancient connections with Labyrinths

Hints for a connection between the ancient labyrinth and the Jerusalem Temple pop up here and there, but some of them are misty and hard to nail down. For instance, there is the legend that some of the medieval church labyrinths in northern Italy and France were copied from a design the biblical King Solomon had allegedly used in the Jerusalem Temple. The labyrinth researcher W. H. Matthews cited an earlier author who had asserted in 1817 that the pavement labyrinth in the cathedral of Reims in France was the emblem of the Jerusalem Temple's interior. Unfortunately, that author had not given his source for that identification, and there seems to be no known earlier record of that story (W. H. Matthews: "Mazes & Labyrinths, their history & development", London, 1922, edition consulted Dover, New York, 1970, pages 67 and 68).

Similarly, the French church labyrinths were often called "chemin de Jérusalem", meaning "path of (or to) Jerusalem", but this designation is documented only from post-Renaissance times on. So is the custom of penitents following the winding labyrinth path on their knees to the heavenly spot at the center, a performance which in later times was said to have counted as a substitute for a pilgrimage to the real Jerusalem (Penelope Reed Doob: “The Idea of the Labyrinth, from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages”, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1990,  pages 119 to 121).

Such tales of links between labyrinths and Solomon's Temple appear therefore at first sight as if they might be late inventions. However, this easy dismissal does not explain why we find several similarly late but apparently independent connections again in widely separated places. The late Hermann Kern, an art historian who assembled a large collection of labyrinths from all over the world in a monumental work titled "Labyrinths: manifestations and interpretations, the 5000-year presence of an archetype", devoted a chapter to "The Labyrinth of Solomon" and mentioned there several examples (Hermann Kern:"Labyrinthe: Erscheinungsformen und Deutungen, 5000 Jahre Gegenwart eines Urbilds", Prestel Verlag, Munich, 1982, pages 178 to 181. An English translation of this work is now available from the Caerdroia Foundation at

King Solomon was an eminent figure in Ethiopia, as central to that country as the Founding Fathers are to the United States of America, but of much older standing. The kingdom of Ethiopia had been ruled since the second century CE by the family of Solomonids, with only two relatively brief interruptions. The last member of that exceptionally enduring dynasty, Emperor Haile Selassie I, even added in 1955 a clause to the Ethiopian constitution that the monarchy was founded by the son whom King Solomon had sired with the Queen of Sheba, and that it must therefore remain in his line forever. (He was deposed in 1974, and the Ethiopian monarchy was abolished a year later.)

With traditions about Solomon once so deeply woven into that country's life, and with the often attested longevity of magical lore, the link between him and the labyrinth in that late amulet was therefore quite likely based on earlier legends. The story about Solomon's labyrinth as harem, built to hide and confine its female inmates, and one wife's abduction through a tunnel, matches again its designation as a prison. It further echoes the many tales about labyrinthine fortresses, from India and Afghanistan to England and Scandinavia, inside which a fair maiden to be won had been imprisoned (John Kraft: "The Goddess in the Labyrinth", Åbo Akademi, Åbo, Finland, 1985).

Similarly, the ritual at some surviving turf mazes in Sweden and England involves one or more young men trying to reach without stumbling the girl waiting in the center. In at least one of these mazes, the winner then had to carry her out the same way, another surviving faraway echo of  the same labyrinth lore as in the Ethiopian tale, and probably more helpful than that amulet (John Kraft: “The Goddess in the Labyrinth”, Religionsvetenskapliga Skrifter NR 11, ÅBO 1985, Åbo Academi, pages 15 ff. The example cited of the winner having to carry out the girl was reported to the Åbo Academi Department of Folklore in 1985 from Munsala, Sweden, 55 km north of Vasa).

Interestingly, the Jewish traditions personified the presence of God as a beautiful lady who appears in the folklore and Kabbalah as the Shekinah, the radiant bride of the expected Messiah, and in the Bible as Woman Wisdom. The Shekinah's name comes from a root that means "dwelling"; she was believed to have dwelt in the Temple but was then exiled from Jerusalem by its destruction, a possible inspiration for that Ethiopian harem wife's abduction from Solomon's labyrinth.

7.  The Inner Sanctum as labyrinth with the ladder to heaven

Even the biblical Hebrew name of the dark Holy of Holies in the deepest recess of Solomon's Temple associates it with the equally dark and inaccessible Cretan labyrinth. That name appears in 1 Kings 6 as "debîr" which is commonly transliterated as "debir". However, the value "e" for the first vowel in that word is an arbitrary convention since ancient Hebrew was written without vowels. The Italian linguistic scholar Francesco Aspesi pointed out in 1996 that this word is very similar to the Mycenaean, and presumably also ancient Cretan, word for "labyrinth" which shows up on three of the Linear B tablets from Knossos as the archaic genetive "da-pu2-ri-to-jo".

The corresponding nominative "daburito" has long been translated as the later Greek word "labyrinthos" because the replacement of an earlier "d" with an "l" was a common phenomenon throughout the Mediterranean world. Already ancient Roman writers such as Terentius Varro (116 to 27 BCE) mentioned this substitution in a few terms of his Latin lexicon "Lingua Latina" (V, 26, 3) and slightly later Marcus Fabius Quintilian (about 35 to 100 CE) pointed out the now well- known example of Odysseus having become Ulysses (Giulia Sarullo: "The Cretan Labyrinth: Palace or Cave?", Caerdroia 37 : 2008, pages 31 to 40, see page 34 for the shift from "d" to "l", and page 36 for Francesco Aspesi's comparison of Hebrew "debir" for the dark biblical Holy of Holies with Mycenaean "daburito" for the equally dark labyrinth).

Both "debir" (or possibly "dabir"?) and "daburito" were thus likely to become “labir” and “laburito” as forerunners of our “labyrinth”, and both designated in each of their respective neighboring cultures and languages an inaccessible and innermost dark space in a building erected for a supernatural being associated with a bull.  

That dark space is even associated with a literary labyrinth, or chiasm, in which the elements of a story appear to reflect each other across its center in nested pairings, just like the successive layers of a labyrinth. The most famous example of this sophisticated scholarly device in the Bible is the story of the Patriarch Jacob which is carefully constructed as such a mirror-symmetrical labyrinth (Paul J. Achtemeyer, general editor: “Harper’s Bible Dictionary”, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1985, entry on “Jacob”, pages 443 and 444).

The ladder to heaven which symbolized the celestial north pole is off-center in Jacob’s story, just as the pole is on the labyrinth sky board and in the sky. The center of the story was the birth of his sons and his acquisition of herds, and the counterpart to the ladder was his wrestling during the night until daybreak with an unnamed man who claimed to be God and changed his name to Israël.

Although the Bible reports in Genesis 28:11-22 that Jacob had his famous dream about the ladder to heaven at Bethel, which is about ten miles north of Jerusalem, Jewish legends claim that the Foundation Stone on which the Holy of Holies is built is also the stone that Jacob anointed and called “Bethel”, or “House of God” because it had served as his pillow where he had seen this direct tie to heaven (Zev Vilnay: “Legends of Jerusalem”, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1973, page 11). These legends further affirm that this was the same spot on that rock where King David later saw that same linkto heaven and then bought the site for the future Temple. Once this Temple was built, there could be only one “House of God”, so Jacob’s “Bethel” had to be transferred to the one in Jerusalem.

On the sky side, the spot for this sky connection was of course the celestial north pole, the axis of heaven that had linked sky and earth ever since the earliest shamans began to use it for their ascents, and ever since the first of many mythological world trees and world mountains had reached that privileged place in the sky. This is consistent with all the other reasons why the celestial north pole had to be projected into the Inner Sanctum of the Temple where that ladder had reportedly stood.

All these parallels appear too numerous and too close for mere coincidence, and their accumulation adds weight to the proposed connection between Solomon's Temple and the ancient labyrinth sky board that appears to have guided its layout.

8.  Biblical Urim and Thummim divining tools

The proposed use of the labyrinth sky board as model for the Temple layout may also shed some light on the “breast plate of judgment” attached to the vestments of the High Priest. That breast plate was a pouch used to contain the mysterious “Urim and Thummim” which are mentioned several times in the Bible without description. However, the way they were used shows that they were tools for divination. They were therefore most likely an early form of dice or staves or similar early generators of random numbers that could be interpreted like oracles and were flat enough to fit into that pouch. Most often they supplied yes-no decisions, as in 1 Samuel 14:37-43 where they respond to Saul’s questions:  

“If this guilt lie in me or my son Jonathan, O Lord God of Israël, let the lot be Urim. If it lie in thy people Israël, let it be Thummim. (…) Then Saul said, ‘Cast lots between me and my son Jonathan’, and Jonathan was taken.”

However, just before the above verses Saul complained that the Lord had given him “no answer” to one or more previous questions, so the U&T must have offered more options than a heads-or-tails coin toss and allowed at least the equivalent of a tossed coin landing to stand on its edge.

The Urim and Thummim are closely connected with the ephod, a part of the sacred vestments God commanded in Exodus 28 to be made for Aaron as High Priest. To the front of this ephod is attached with golden chains the square “breast-piece of judgment” that functions as a pouch for the Urim and Thummim and that verses 15 to 29 describe further:

“… it shall be made, like the ephod, by a seamster in gold, with violet, purple, and scarlet yarn, and finely woven linen. It shall be a square folded, a span long and a span wide. Set in it four rows of precious stones, (…) all set in gold rosettes. The stones shall correspond to the twelve sons of Israël, name by name; each stone shall bear the name of one of the twelve tribes engraved as on a seal. (…) Then the breast piece shall be bound by its rings to the rings of the ephod with violet braid, just above the waist-band of the ephod, so that the breast piece will not be detached from the ephod. Thus, when Aaron enters the Holy Place, he shall carry over his heart in the breast piece of judgment the names of the sons of Israël, as a constant reminder before the Lord.

Finally, put the Urim and the Thummim into the breast piece of judgment, and they will be over his heart as he enters the presence of the Lord. So shall Aaron bear these symbols of judgment upon the sons of Israël over his heart constantly before the Lord.”   

If the Temple precinct layout was inspired by the labyrinth sky board then it seems likely that this folded square breast piece of judgment would have been an elaborately embroidered replica of that same sky board embodied in the square Temple precinct. A span is about six inches, so the unfolded piece would have been a foot square, large enough for an actual practical gameboard and for displaying the signs on all its fields. Keeping this image of the sky on the chest of the High Priest would also have served to remind the Lord of his splendid creation and of his followers’ praise for his superb handiwork.

The Hebrew word “kohen” for “priest” also meant “diviner” because one of the main functions of early priests was to obtain divine oracles for guidance in a world of uncertainties, before the rise of prophets and seers did away with the mechanical tools for asking God and allowed these to claim direct communication. The prominent display of the “breast piece of judgment” seems therefore to imply that it was involved in the process of divination not only as a folded pouch for the dice but also in other important ways.

Board games have long been used as tools for divination, as attested in the survival of this custom in the Oui-Ja board. It seems therefore likely that the labyrinth sky board and inspiration for the Temple plan had some oracular function together with the U&T. For instance, it may have offered a symbolic value for each field, according to its signs and context. Specific fields could then be picked at random by using enough dice or staves to produce numbers between one and 61, or maybe between six and 61 if the first five days were excluded and the dice or staves had no zero face.

A field so picked could then be interpreted in a variety of ways, just as in the I Ching which had its hexagrams organized on the same 8 x 8 board at around the same time but a large continent away. This “Book of Changes” gave random selection methods for picking fields as well as an often cryptical written prediction plus many appended comments and notes for each of these fields. The simple signs on the fields of the labyrinth sky board and their contexts within its cycles would have made it much easier to memorize those meanings for each field than the abstract hexagrams composed only of six full and broken lines in all their permutations.

The twelve different precious stones affixed in four rows to that linen breast plate of judgment as place holders for the twelve tribes could then be seen as representations of the game pieces on fields marked with rosettes. As we saw earlier, such rosettes often marked special fields on ancient gameboards, so their presence here reinforces that connection. The twelve stones may have stood there for the pieces that could be used for playing an actual game on that unfolded square breast plate, or for re-enacting a sky simulation in case some readers would find it sacrilegious to play games with or on such once highly sacred objects.

I am not suggesting that the breast plate itself was meant to be used mainly as a gameboard, only that it may have reproduced the same image of the sky as on the actual gameboards and as on the Temple designers’ grids. The U&T random number generator stored inside that square folded pouch would have allowed a great variety of predictions from the fields on that board, particularly if the selections obtained from several U&T consultations were interpreted in combination, with each one influencing the others as planets are said to do in the much later horoscopes. 

Another clue about the breast plate as an image of the sky comes from the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (about 20 BCE to about 50 CE). He described the vestments of the High Priest as “a likeness and copy of the universe” and said that the two onyx stones on the shoulders were symbolic of the sun and the moon whereas the twelve stones of the breast plate represented the signs of the zodiac (William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely: “Solomon’s Temple, Myth and History”, Thames & Hudson, London, 2007, page 59).

This suggests that the zodiac signs were not originally a part of that breast plate image to which the twelve stones had been added as representations of the tribes. However, reinterpreting those stones as zodiac signs also means that this breast plate represented the sky as the proper place for adding this celestial feature even if Philo's proposed new meaning for those stones did not appear to stick to them. This brings us to yet another likely depiction of that sky board, this time in Herod’s Temple.

9.  The curtain that hid the Holy of Holies in Herod's Temple

The Roman-era Jewish historian Josephus offers another independent and tantalizing tidbit about a possible role of the labyrinth sky board in the Jerusalem Temple of his time which had been renovated or rebuilt by King Herod. According to him, the golden doors to the inner sanctum were hidden behind a curtain which was a:

"... Babylonian tapestry embroidered with blue, scarlet, linen thread, and purple, a marvelous example of the craftsman's art. The mixture of materials had a clear mystic meaning. (...)  Worked into the tapestry was the whole vista of the heavens, except for the signs of the zodiac." (Flavius Josephus: "The Jewish War", Excursus VI, as quoted in Helen Rosenau: "Vision of the Temple: The Image of the Temple of Jerusalem in Judaism and Christianity", Oresko Books, London, 1979, page 186.) 

That curtain was square because the Inner Sanctum behind it was as high as it was wide and deep, and the “whole vista of the heavens, except for the signs of the zodiac” again describes the same labyrinth sky board as the proposed image on the High Priest's breast plate. If that ancient summary of the sky and its motions was deemed to be a hallowed replica of what God himself had designed, then it would likely have served as a model for the plans of the original Temple and been worthy to grace the new one.

If the oracular breast plate echoed and commemorated this sacred design, then replicating the precinct's overall design in that prominently worn plate would have been an obvious choice for the original architects. It would also have been a natural reaction of the later builders to enshrine that same sanctioned image in the new Temple curtain as a glorified relic and link with the essence of the past, even though it did not yet incorporate the by then very popular feature of the zodiac.

By displaying this traditional and reportedly God-given image of the sky in such a privileged place before the Inner Sanctum the architects would have emphasized their respect for God's design as well as the continuity of their Temple with its venerated earlier model. That ostensible continuity included the choice for that curtain of the same blue, scarlet, and purple yarns embroidered on linen as on the earlier breast plate of judgment. The latter was much smaller but was made from the same materials and colors and had most likely the same image of the sky on it that Herod's artists could then simply have scaled up.

This entire scenario is based on circumstantial evidence and even on some speculation. None of it amounts to a formal proof for the proposed relationship between the reported layout of King Solomon's Temple and the labyrinth sky board reconstructed from the Phaistos Disk. The puzzle still has gaps. However, the pieces assembled so far all converge to suggest that the ground plan of this religious precinct was built to replicate heaven and was therefore based on the best then available and astronomically accurate diagram of heaven. That diagram was advanced for its time, and it is now recovered as the 8 x 8 labyrinth sky board derived from that Disk.

The picture that emerges from this long puzzled-over ancient document now shows the beliefs about heaven behind King Solomon's Temple in a broader context than the one on which the Bible and the Rabbinic as well as Kabbalistic traditions tended to focus. The roles of the Egyptian-inspired gods depicted on the Disk may have faded by Solomon's time among his people, but the heavenly bodies they had represented continue to follow the cycles their signs describe on the reconstructed labyrinth path. The information embedded in those signs remained valid even though newer narratives may have changed or replaced some of the initial myths surrounding them. Those signs and their sequence on the sky board give us now the oldest surviving coherent account of the ancient Near Eastern cosmology and can add to our understanding of the often still influential beliefs behind it. 

That same sky board also continued its career as a gameboard, and you will find a proposed scenario for its game’s further development into modern chess in the next part of this series.


For the next 30 days, interested readers may access the online copy of the entire book at  


Cover Photo, Top Left: Phaistos Disk inscription detail. Wikimedia Commons

All illustrations not otherwise credited are © 1987 to 2014 by Peter Aleff and are reproduced here with his permission.

*See the previous parts of this series:

The Phaistos Disk, Part 1

The Phaistos Disk, Part 2

The Phaistos Disk, Part 3

The Phaistos Disk, Part 4

The Phaistos Disk, Part 5


A more complete interpretation of the Phaistos Disk can be read in Solomon’s Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
authored by Peter Aleff.

For the next 30 days, interested readers may access the online copy of the entire book at  

Cover Photo, Top Left: Phaistos Disk inscription detail. Wikimedia Commons


Read the entire series of this article:
Part 1: The case for the Phaistos Disk as an ancient game board, 12/1/2012,

Part 2: The reconstructed ancient labyrinth gameboard and its chart of the northern sky. 3/5/2013,,

Part 3: The race between the light and dark sides of the moon on the Phaistos gameboard. 6/1/2013,

Part 4: Eclipses and lunar standstill cycles on the Disk, 9/1/2013

Part 5: Created 1600 years BCE, the Phaistos Disk records parallels to the life of Jesus
December 1, 2013

Part 6: The Labyrinth sky chart as a Model for the layout of Solomon's Temple,
March 1, 2014

Part 7: The evolution of the game on the Labyrinth board into Chess,
to be published in the 6/1/2014 issue of Popular Archaeology


A complete reading of this new interpretation of the Phaistos Disk is about to be published in Peter Aleff’s upcoming book “Solomon’s Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk

For the next 30 days, interested readers may access the online copy of the entire book at  

All illustrations not otherwise credited are © 1987 to 2013 by Peter Aleff and are reproduced here with his permission. Cover Photo, Top Left: Detail of the Phaistos Disk. Wikimedia Commons


Peter Aleff started inquiring about history and mythology even before he learned to read, and he has continued ever since. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Basel in Switzerland as well as mathematics and the dismal science of economics. Then he decided to earn a living and took technical courses at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers in Paris, France, to begin a career in engineering and managing manufacturing companies. He worked first in France and then in several American states where he was awarded three U.S. patents for some of his inventions.

In his free time, he researched in particular the history and meanings of board games and wrote in 1982 the rough but essentially entire draft outline of the present story about the Phaistos Disk under the title "The Labyrinth Game", then re-created that ancient game for modern users. Over the next three decades, during a busy work life but in anticipation of some day finding the time to compile and publish this fascinating story, he collected relevant books and articles and notes to flesh out the context and ramifications of the information found on the Disk. Then he pulled it all together in "Solomon's Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
" for your surprise and delight.


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