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Nicholas of Lyra's 'Temple Diagram' from the Commentary on Ezekiel

Although the history of the mapping of Jerusalem is dominated by Christian iconography, there are some aspects of Jerusalem's imagery that demonstrate Jewish influence on these Christian traditions. One such example appears the writings of Nicholas of Lyra, a Christian theologian whose work was highly indebted to contemporary Jewish scriptural interpretation. Indeed, Lyra himself informs readers of his influential commentary on the Bible, Postilla litteralis et moralis in totam bibliam, that he not only relied on the works of prominent Christian theologians but also and ‘especially Rabbi Solomon’, now known as Rashi. Rashi influenced Lyra’s use of illustrations to accompany his commentary, with the Postilla ultimately including around 35 drawings. These included a number of different elevations and plans for the Temple, some based on descriptions found in Kings and Chronicles and others on the prophetic vision of Ezekiel. The plan here is one of Lyra’s diagrams of Ezekiel’s Temple. It is clear from the layout that Lyra was visually quoting both Rashi and Maimonides, weaving Jewish images of the Temple into his own Christian context. At the centre of Nicholas’ rendering is the altar used for sacrifice, with a river flowing past—a crucial part of Ezekiel’s vision of the New Jerusalem (Ezekiel 47:1). Notably, the river does not feature in the plan produced by Maimonides, suggesting that Lyra was more strongly influenced by the Ezekiel vision—or, perhaps, inclined to include it because of the significance of the River of Life in Revelation (compare, for example, the Angers Apocalypse tapestry). Although Lyra was clearly informed by Jewish tradition concerning the Temple's layout, his theological understanding of the significance of this now lost part of Jerusalem differed meaningfully: while Jews such as Rashi continued to long for the restoration of the Temple in a future messianic age, Christians such as Lyra understood Ezekiel’s Temple as a prophetic precursor of the Church.