None of the restorations or extensions of the Second Temple of Zerubbabel could compare with the work begun by King Herod I (the Great) at the beginning of 19 BC. Herod complained that the Temple of Zerubbabel was built like a fortress and was shorter than that of Solomonís Temple by about 90 feet because of a decree made by Darius, the Persian king. King Herod no doubt wanted to be remembered forever as the builder of the greatest temple of the Jews.Although the reconstruction was equal to an entire rebuilding, still the Herodian Temple cannot be spoken of as a third Temple, for Herod even said himself, that it was only intended to be regarded as an enlarging and further beautifying of that of Zerubbabelís.
The work of rebuilding the Temple began in 19 BC which was the 18th year of King Herodís reign. There were 10,000 skilled laborers and according to Josephus (Ant. 15.11.2) the laity could not enter certain parts of the building, therefore 1000 Levites were specially trained as builders and masons, and carried out their work so efficiently and carefully that at no time was there any interruption in the sacrifices and other services. The work was started by leveling larger portions of the Temple Mount, so that the new building might be erected on a broader base. It was also made much taller, so that the white stone gleamed in the bright Palestinian sun and could be seen from miles away.Wealthy Jews of the dispersion (those living outside Israel) sent costly offerings to enhance the magnificence of the place.
The construction began with the Holiest building in the Temple called The Holy Place, which contained the Holy of Holies. Then closest to the Holy Place was the portion set aside for the altar of burnt offering and the officiating priests. Next to it was the court for the Israelites who came to watch the service. By the side of that was the court of the women, and behind it was the court of the Gentiles with the royal porticos of Solomon. All around the Temple Mount beautiful marble porticos were constructed.A wall surrounded the whole area and a small portion of it remains to this day, known as "The Wailing Wall."
Two large bridges connected the Temple with the city on the west.While the main part of Herod's rebuilding was completed before his death in 4 BC, the work went on for more than 60 years after that. When Jesus visited the Temple at the first Passover of his ministry it was said that the place had by then been under construction for 46 years. The work was not entirely finished until 63 AD, only 7 years before the destruction of the entire Temple in 70 AD.
The following words appear on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs:"From the times of King Solomon to the return from the Babylonian exile and the Hasmonean period (tenth to first centuries BCE), the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was a relatively small platform built on top of Mount Moriah and its highest point was the Stone of Foundation; this was the site of the Temple. King Herod's greatest building project was to double the area of the Temple Mount by incorporating part of the hill to the northwest (which had to be leveled and on which he built the Antonia Fortress) and by filling up parts of the surrounding valleys. Herod transformed the Second Temple into an edifice of splendor and surrounded the Temple Mount on its four sides with massive retaining walls. The walls, founded on bedrock, were built of large ashlar stones with beautifully dressed margins. Each course was set back about 2 - 3 cm. from the course below it; the stones weigh some five tons each, the corner blocks tens of tons....."
Index of Topics
Rebuilding the Temple
Court of the Gentiles
Court of Israel
Court of the Priest's
Altar of Sacrifice
Holy of Holies
Jesus and the Temple
Schematic Plan of the Temple
The Jewish Temple in the First Century A.D.It is interesting that in the Middle East certain places have remained holy throughout the centuries, even if another religion may have taken possession of them. Today the Moslem Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is the prominent building where the Jewish temple once stood. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, the Temple had just been marvelously rebuilt by Herod the Great. The Temple area had been enlarged to a size of about thirty-five acres. Around the Temple area were double colonnades. The Jewish historian Josephus describes the colonnades: "All the cloisters were double, and the pillars to them belonging were twenty-five cubits in height, and supported -the cloisters. These pillars were of one entire stone each of them, and that stone was white marble; and the roofs were adorned with cedar, curiously graven. The natural magnificence, and excellent polish, and the harmony of the joints in these cloisters, afforded a prospect that was very remarkable; nor was it on the outside adorned with any work of the painter or engraver. The cloisters -(of the outmost court) were in breadth thirty cubits, while the entire compass of it was by measure six furlongs, including the tower of Antonia; those entire courts that were exposed to the air were laid with stones of all sorts" (Jewish War 5. 5. 2). The eastern portico was named after King Solomon and the part to the south, which overlooked the Valley of Kidron, was called "Royal." On the east side the high corner was possibly the pinnacle of the temple, mentioned in the story of the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:5). There were eight gates leading into the temple. There were the two Huldah Gates or "mole" Gates from the south, which passed underneath the Royal Porch. To the east was the Gate of Susa, still visible as the Golden Gate which was walled up by the Byzantines. In the western wall was the main gate named the Gate of Coponius after the first procurator; it was decorated with the golden eagle as a sign that the Temple had been placed under the protection of Rome. Anyone was allowed to enter the outer area, which was therefore called the Court of the Gentiles. The actual Temple was enclosed by a balustrade, and at the entrances to it were warning notices, one of them is now in a museum in Istanbul. It says that foreigners have freedom of access provided they do not go beyond the balustrade which went all around the central edifice and which no uncircumcised could cross without incurring the death penalty. Fourteen steps led through the Beautiful Gate to the Court of the women where the poor boxes were, into one of which the poor widow cast her two mites (Luke 21:1-4). Another fifteen steps led up to the famous Gate of Nicanor, to which Mary had brought the child at the time of his presentation; this led through the Court of the Men to that of the priests, which had in its center the altar for the burnt offerings and to the left of it a large basin called the Brazen Sea resting upon twelve bulls cast in bronze. Further steps led up to the actual temple, a comparatively small building. A priceless curtain, embroidered with a map of the known world, concealed from view what lay beyond, and none except the priest on duty was allowed to go farther. It contained the golden altar at which incense was offered and next to it the seven-branched candelabrum and the table with the twelve loaves of shewbread, which were replaced by fresh ones every sabbath. Beyond it, behind another large curtain, lay the Holy of Holies, which none except the high priest was allowed to enter, and he only on the Day of Atonement. A stone designated the place where once the Ark of the Covenant had stood. Jesus came to the Temple at a very young age and in Solomon's Porch the boy argued with the rabbis, astonishing them with his questions and with his answers. He remained behind when his parents left, and when his worried mother at last found him he said to her enigmatically: "'Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"' (Luke 2:49). It is one of the most original sayings of Jesus, in which he speaks of God for the first time as "avi" (My Father) which was an expression reserved for the Son of God. Today the Western Wall, the so-called Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the ancient walls of Herod's Temple; one can still see the pilaster and the beginning of Robinsonís Arch, which was part of a large viaduct leading to the upper city. Excavations in 1967, led by the well-known archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, revealed the cornerstone. Adjacent to it on the southern side remain traces of the road from which the pilgrims entered the gates. Archaeology
The Story of the Bible
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