The Court of the Women in the Temple
The Court of the WomenIndex to the Women's Court in the Temple

Jewish Encyclopedia






By : Executive Committee of the Editorial Board. George A. Barton




The Temple Courts.

The Cloisters.

The Gates.


In the eighteenth year (20-19 B.C.) of his reign Herod rebuilt the Temple on a more magnificent scale. There are many evidences that he shared the passion for building by which many powerful men of that time were moved. He had adorned many cities and had erected many heathen temples; and it was not fitting that the temple of his capital should fall beneath these in magnificence. Probably, also, one of his motives was to placate the more pious of his subjects, whose sentiments he had often outraged.


The Jews were loth to have their Temple pulled down, fearing lest it might not be rebuilt. To demonstrate his good faith, Herod acccumulated the materials for the new building before the old one was taken down. The new Temple was rebuilt as rapidly as possible, being finished in a year and a half, although work was in progress on the out-buildings and courts for eighty years. As it was unlawful for any but priests to enter the Temple, Herod employed 1,000 of them as masons and carpenters.




The Temple proper as reconstructed by Herod was of the same dimensions as that of Solomon, viz.: 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide, and 40 cubits high. This space was divided into the Holy of Holies and the "Hekal." The former measured 20 x 20 cubits; the latter, 20 x 40 ("B.J." v. 5, § 5). At the entrance to the outer Temple hung a veil embroidered in blue, white (byssus), scarlet, and purple; the outer Temple was separated from the Holy of Holies by a similar curtain. The outer curtain was folded back on the south side, and the inner one on the north side, so that a priest in entering the Holy of Holies traversed the outer Temple diagonally. The Holy of Holies was quite empty. In the Holy Place stood the altar of incense, near the entrance to the Holy of Holies the seven-branched golden Candlestick to the south, and the table of showbread to the north. Above the gate of the Temple were golden vines and grape-clusters as large as a man ("Ant." xv. 11, § 3; "B. J." v. 5, § 4). The Temple building had an upper story similar in size to the lower ("B. J." v. 5, § 5). Side-structures, as in Solomon's Temple, afforded space for three stories of chambers on the north, south, and west sides of the Temple. These chambers were connected by doors; and trapdoors afforded communication from those of one story to those of the story immediately above or below. The whole breadth of the structure including the side-buildings was 70 cubits (Mid. iv. 7).

(see image) Greek Inscription, Found on Site of Temple Area, Forbidding Gentiles to Enter Within the Inner Temple Walls.(In the museum at Constantinople.)


East of Herod's Temple there was, as in Solomon's, a porch, 100 cubits wide, 100 cubits high, and 20 cubits deep, thus extending 15 cubits on either side of the Temple ("B. J." v. 5, § 4). Its gateway, which had no gates, was 20 cubits broad and 70 cubits high. Over this gateway Herod erected a golden eagle, which was afterward pulled downby the Jews ("Ant." xvii. 6, § 2). The front of the porch was covered with gold ("B. J." v. 5, § 4); and it was most brilliant when the rays of the morning sun fell upon it.


In front of the Temple, 22 cubits distant from the porch, stood the altar of burnt offering, constructed of unhewn stones. Its length and breadth were each 50 cubits, and its height 15 cubits ("B. J." v. 5, § 5). To the north of the altar twenty-four rings were fixed in the ground, to which the sacrificial animals were tied. Near by were eight pillars supporting cedar beams, on which the car-casses of the animals were hung. There were also eight marble tables for preparing sacrificial flesh (Mid. iii. 5, v. 2; Tamid iii. 5; She?. vi. 4). On the south was a bronze laver for the priestly ablutions (Mid. iii. 6; Yoma iii. 10).


The Temple Courts.

(see image) Substructure of Temple of Herod, Now Called "Solomon's Stables."(From a Photograph by the American Colony at Jerusalem.)


If sacred tradition compelled Herod to conform closely to the ancient plan of the holy house, allowing him to vary little from precedents save in its façade, his Grecized taste and his genius for building found ample scope in the Temple courts and cloisters. First of all, he greatly enlarged the Temple area. Josephus says that before the time of Herod the Temple area was square, each side being a stadium ("Ant." xv. 11, § 3—conflicting with the statement of Hecatæus, see Jew. Encyc. xii. 97b), and that Herod so enlarged the courts that the perimeter was increased to six stadia ("B. J." v. 5, § 2). If the first part of this account is true, only the length of the Temple area was enlarged, the width remaining the same. It is more probable that Herod enlarged the area in both dimensions, though it is possible that it had been enlarged to the size of a square stadium by one of the Hasmoneans. The size to which Herod increased the area was almost that of the present ?aram enclosure. The sacred territory has been increased since the time of Herod only on the north.

(see image) View of the Temple of Solomon.(Reconstructed by Schick.)

(see image) Sectional View of the Temple of Herod, Looking South.(Reconstructed by Sanday.)


In order to obtain space for this area on the top of a hill the sides of which sloped so steeply, it was necessary to extend artificially the surface of the hill itself. This was done, especially to the south, where the massive masonry (called by the Arabs "Solomon's Stables") which Herod constructed to support a pavement on a level with the surface of the hill farther to the north may still be seen. The whole was surrounded by a battlemented wall ("B. J." iv. 9, § 12). The number of gates which this wall contained is somewhat uncertain, as Josephus and the Mishnah differ. The former says ("Ant." xv. 11, § 5) that there were four gates in the western wall. Probably one of these was at the southwest corner and led to the upper city over the bridge where Robinson's arch may still be seen. This bridge, broken down by Pompey, was reconstructed; indeed, the remains of the arch in the modern wall are evidence that it was rebuilt. Probably there was another gate some 600 feet farther to the north, where Wilson's arch (comp. Warren and Conder, "Jerusalem," pp. 195 et seq.) supported a cause-way across the valley to the city. The gates in the south wall may be more easily traced. Josephus says ("Ant." xv. 11, § 5) that it had gates in the middle; these the Mishnah calls "gates of Huldah," and they may still be traced in the substructures of the present wall. From them a double tunnel leads by an inclined plane under the modern mosque Al-A??a to the level of the Temple courts. About 250 feet farther to the east a triple gate may also be traced. Josephus does not mention this; but perhaps it was the second Huldah gate of the Mishnah.


The Cloisters.


Around the entire interior of this wall were ranged porticoes or cloisters. The finest were those on the south. They consisted of four rows of Corinthian columns of white marble; and there were 162 columns in all. The ceilings were of carved wood ("Ant." xv. 11, § 5; "B. J." v. 5, § 2). The eastern cloister was known as "Solomon's Porch" (John x. 23; Acts iii. 11, v. 12); it must accordingly have been believed that there were here Solomonic substructures.


The Gates.


The open space beyond the cloisters was paved with various kinds of stone, probably forming a mosaic. This outer court was, strictly speaking, not a part of the Temple. Its soil was not sacred, and it might be entered by any one. Some distance within, one came to an interior court which was raised 15 cubits above the other. Access to it was gained by means of fourteen steps. This was the beginning of the sanctuary. It probably coincided with the elevated court still to be seen in the central part of the ?aram area. This raised court was surrounded by a terrace 10 cubits in breadth ("B. J." v. 5, § 2). A breastwork of stone ran around the whole at the level of the steps. On it were placed at frequent intervals inscriptions in Greek and Latin forbidding a non-Jew to enter farther on pain of death. One of these has been recovered. It reads: "No foreigner may pass within the lattice and wall around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught, the guilt for the death which will follow will be his own" (comp. "Pal. Explor. Fund, Quarterly Statement," 1871, p. 132; Benzinger, "Arch." p. 404; Nowack, "Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie," ii. 77). This enclosure was penetrated by nine gates. Four of these were on the north, four on the south, and one on the east, the western side having none. The eastern part of this court was separated from the western, and formed the court of the women. Women might pass beyond the court of the Gentiles into this court alone. The Temple proper might be entered by men only. One of the four gates on the north and one on the south gave entrance to the women's hall, as did likewise the sole gate which led on the east from the court of the Gentiles. The remaining six of the nine gates led into the court of the men. A large gate led from the court of the women into the court of the men. The gates had double doors which were covered with silver and gold donated by a certain Alexander of Alexandria. The gate on the east was especially magnificent, and wascovered with Corinthian bronze. The greatest of all the gates was, however, the "gate of Nicanor," which led from the court of the women into the court of the men. It was the "great gate," its height being 50 cubits and its breadth 40 cubits "B. J." v. 5, § 3); fifteen steps led up to it from the women's court. Whether this gate or the one directly east of it in the eastern wall of the women's court was the gate "Beautiful" of Acts iii. 2 can not now be determined. Each gate was porch-like in form.


Along the enclosing wall of the men's court was a series of chambers for storing utensils, vestments, and other articles. Within this western court, or court of the men, was another raised platform, to which access was gained by twelve steps, and on which the Temple, as already described, was situated. On the north the fortress which had existed from the time of Nehemiah was rebuilt and named "Antonia" in honor of Mark Antony. It was connected with the Temple by a secret passage ("Ant." xv. 11, § 7).


The construction of all this work occupied, according to John ii. 20, forty-six years; in reality, however, it was not completed until the procuratorship of Albinus (62-64 C. E.), more than eighty years after its commencement. Less than a decade later (70) it was destroyed by fire during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus.


Bibliography: Josephus, Ant. especially xv. 11;

idem, B. J. especially v. 5;

idem, Contra Ap. i. 22;

Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräichen Archäologie, 1894, ii. 71-83;

Benzinger, Arch. 1894, pp. 399-404;

Schick, Die Stiftshütte, der Tempel in Jerusalem und der Tempelplatz der Jetztzeit, 1896;

Sanday, Sacred Sites of the Gospels, 1903, pp. 58-63, 107-117.


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Jerusalem Temple - Court of the Women

Bible History Online

The Women's Court in the Temple in Jerusalem

Jerusalem Temple - Court of the Women

Mark 12:41-44 "Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."

The Jerusalem Temple

Small Widows Mite Coin If you were to approach the Temple in Jerusalem in the first century A.D. you would pass through the eastern gate where Jesus made His triumphal entry. Then you would come to the Court of the Gentiles which was a large court paved with stones of various colors. It was open to all comers including the cattle-dealers and the money-changers who desecrated the Temple. This court was also called the Outer Court, the Lower Court, and the rabbi’s usually called it "the Mountain of the Lord’s House." All around the Temple proper was a 9 foot high terrace with stairs which was higher than the Court of the Gentiles. It was surrounded by a 5 foot high wall which was designed to keep out the gentiles. There was also pillars in the wall at various distances (the Soreg) with inscriptions in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, warning all gentiles to come no further under penalty of death.

Going beyond the Court of the Gentiles and at the top of the terrace there was a platform for about 15 feet and then there was another wall. On the east side stood the magnificent 60 foot wide "Gate Beautiful" mentioned in Acts 3:2,10. It was also referred to as the "Gate Susan" because it contained a beautifully sculptured relief of the city of Susa. During the time of the morning and evening sacrifices this great entrance was the place of public worship.

Entering through the Susan Gate you would come to a large court called "the Court of the Women" not because there were only women there but because women could not go beyond it. There were smaller courts with columns in the four corners of the court.

According to the Mishnah (Middoth 2,5) the Women's Court was was just over 200 feet square between bounding lines. Each court on the outside was 60 feet square.

In front of these columns were the eleven treasure chests of the Temple for the voluntary offerings of money, and there were also two at the Gate of Susan, for the half-shekel tax. Jesus was sitting ‘opposite the treasury' when he saw the widow put into one of the containers the two copper coins which were all that she had (Mark 12:41-44; Lk 21:1-2).

It was near these treasure chests that the man healed of his blindness came up to Jesus in John 8:20 and worshipped Him.

Continuing eastward there was a magnificent circular staircase and the Nicanor Gate. Entering through the gate there was a narrow hall filled with beautiful cloistered columns called "Court of the Israelites" and it was also through a wall and up a flight of stairs. The Court of the Israelites surrounded the "Court of the Priests" which was where the altar of sacrifice was. The women could only glance over a balcony from the Court of the Women to see the ceremonies inside the Inner Court (According to Middoth).

Beautiful Gate
Nicanor Gate
Circular Steps
Levite Choirs
Oil of Yah Court
Nazarite Court
Leper's Chamber Court
Woodshed Court
The Temple Treasury
Historical Sources
Heart Message

An Old Woman - A Heart Message




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