International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
IV. THE TEMPLE OF HEROD
I. Introductory. –
- Initiation of the Work
: Herod became king de facto by the capture of Jerusalem in 37 BC. Some years
later he built the fortress Antonia to the North of the temple (before 31 BC).
Midway in his reign, assigning a religious motive for his purpose, he formed
the project of rebuilding the temple itself on a grander scale (Josephus gives
conflicting dates; in Ant, XV, xi, 1, he says "in his 18 th year"; in BJ, I, xxi,
1, he names his 15 th year; the latter date, as Schurer suggests (GJV (4), I
369), may refer to the extensive preparations). To allay the distrust of his
subjects, he undertook that the materials for the new building should be collected
before the old was taken down; he likewise trained 1,000 priests to be masons
and carpenters for work upon the sanctuary; 10,000 skilled workmen altogether
were employed upon the task. The building was commenced in 20 BC - 19 BC. The
naos, or temple proper, was finished in a year and a half, but it took 8 years to
complete the courts and cloisters. The total erection occupied a much longer
time (compare John 2:20, "Forty and six years," etc.); indeed the work was not
entirely completed till 64 AD - 6 years before its destruction by the Romans.
: Built of white marble, covered with heavy plates of gold in front and rising
high above its marble-cloistered courts-themselves a succession of
terraces-the temple, compared by Josephus to a snow-covered mountain (BJ, V, v, 6), was a
conspicuous and dazzling object from every side. The general structure is
succinctly described by G.A. Smith: "Herod's temple consisted of a house divided
like its predecessor into the Holy of Holies, and the Holy Place; a porch; an
immediate fore-court with an altar of burnt offering; a Court of Israel; in front
of this a Court of Women; and round the whole of the preceding, a Court of the
Gentiles" (Jerusalem, II, 502). On the "four courts," compare Josephus, Apion,
: The original authorities on Herod's temple are chiefly the descriptions in
Josephus (Ant, XV, xi, 3, 5; BJ, V, v, etc.), and the tractate Middoth in the
Mishna The data in these authorities, however, do not always agree. The most
helpful modern descriptions, with plans, will be found, with differences in
details, in Keil, Biblical Archaeology, I, 187 ff; in Fergusson, Temples of the Jews;
in the arts. "Temple" in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes) (T.
Witton Davies) and Encyclopaedia Biblica (G.H. Box); in the important series of
papers by A.R.S. Kennedy in The Expository Times (vol XX), "Some Problems of
Herod's Temple" (compare his article "Temple" in one-volume Smith, Dictionary of
the Bible); in Sanday's Sacred Sites of the Gospels (Waterhouse); latterly in
G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 499 ff.
: Differences of opinion continue as to the sacred cubit. A.R.S. Kennedy
thinks the cubit can be definitely fixed at 17,6 inches. (Expostory Times, XX, 24
ff); G.A. Smith reckons it at 20,67 inches. (Jerusalem, II, 504); T. Witton
Davies estimates it at about 18 inches. (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, IV, 713),
etc. W.S. Caldecott takes the cubit of Josephus and the Middoth to be 1 1/5
ft. It will suffice in this sketch to treat the cubit, as before, as
approximately equivalent to 18 inches.
II. The Temple and Its Courts.
- Temple Area-Court of Gentiles: Josephus states that the area of Herod's temple was double that of its
predecessor (BJ, I, xxi, 1). The Mishna (Mid., ii.2) gives the area as 500 cubits
(roughly 750 ft.); Josephus (Ant, XV, xi, 3) gives it as a stadium (about 600
Greek ft.); but neither measure is quite exact. It is generally agreed that on its
east, west and south sides Herod's area corresponded pretty nearly with the
limits of the present Haram area (see JERUSALEM), but that it did not extend as
far North as the latter (Kennedy states the difference at about 26 as compared
with 35 acres, and makes the whole perimeter to be about 1,420 yards, ut supra,
66). The shape was an irregular oblong, broader at the North than at the South.
The whole was surrounded by a strong wall, with several gates, the number and
position of some of which are still matters of dispute. Josephus mentions four
gates on the West (Ant, XV, xi, 5), the principal of which, named in Mid., i.3,
"the gate of Kiponos," was connected by a bridge across the Tyropoeon with the
city (where now is Wilson's Arch).
The same authority speaks of two gates on the South. These are identified with
the "Huldah" (mole) gates of the Mishna-the present Double and Triple
Gates-which, opening low down in the wall, slope up in tunnel fashion into the interior
of the court. The Mishna puts a gate also on the north and one on the east
side. The latter may be represented by the modern Golden Gate-a Byzantine
structure, now built up. This great court-known later as the "Court of the Gentiles,"
because open to everyone-was adorned with splendid porticos or cloisters. The
colonnade on the south side-known as the Royal Porch-was specially magnificent.
It consisted of four rows of monolithic marble columns-162 in all-with
Corinthian capitals, forming three aisles, of which the middle was broader and double
the height of the other two. The roofing was of carved cedar. The north, west,
and east sides had only double colonnades. That on the east side was the
"Solomon's Porch" of the New Testament (John 10:23; Acts 3:11; 5:19). There were also
chambers for officials, and perhaps a place of meeting for the Sanhedrin (beth
din) (Josephus places this elsewhere). In the wide spaces of this court took
place the buying and selling described in the Gospels (Matt 21:12 and parallel's;
John 2:13 ff).
- Inner Sanctuary Enclosure
(1) Wall, "chel," "coregh," gates
. - In the upper or northerly part of this large area, on a much higher level,
bounded likewise by a wall, was a second or inner enclosure-the "sanctuary" in
the stricter sense (Josephus, BJ, V, v, 2) - comprising the court of the
women, the court of Israeland the priests' court, with the temple itself (Josephus,
Ant, XV, xi, 5). The surrounding wall, according to Josephus (BJ, V, v, 2), was
40 cubits high on the outside, and 25 on the inside-a difference of 15 cubits;
its thickness was 5 cubits. Since, however, the inner courts were considerably
higher than the court of the women, the difference in height may have been
some cubits less in the latter than in the former (compare the different
measurements in Kennedy, ut supra, 182), a fact which may explain the difficulty felt as
to the number of the steps in the ascent (see below).
Round the wall without, at least on three sides (some except the West), at a
height of 12 (Mid.) or 14 (Jos) steps, was an embankment or terrace, known as
the chel (fortification), 10 cubits broad (Mid. says 6 cubits high), and
inclosing the whole was a low balustrade or stone parapet (Josephus says 3 cubits high)
called the coregh, to which were attached at intervals tablets with notices in
Greek and Latin, prohibiting entry to foreigners on pain of death (see
PARTITION, WALL OF). From within the coregh ascent was made to the level of the chel
by the steps aforesaid, and five steps more led up to the gates (the reckoning
is probably to the lower level of the women's court). Nine gates, with
two-storied gatehouses "like towers" (Josephus, BJ, V, v, 3), are mentioned, four on the
North, four on the South, and one on the East-the last probably to be
identified, though this is still disputed (Waterhouse, etc.), with the "Gate of
Nicanor" (Mid.), or "Corinthian Gate" (Jos), which is undoubtedly "the Beautiful Gate"
of Acts 3:2,10 (see for identification, Kennedy, ut supra, 270). This
principal gate received its names from being the gift of a wealthy Alexandrian Jew,
Nicanor, and from its being made of Corinthian brass. It was of great size-50
cubits high and 40 cubits wide-and was richly adorned, its brass glittering like
gold (Mid., ii.3). See BEAUTIFUL GATE. The other gates were covered with gold and
silver (Josephus, BJ, V, v, 3).
(2) Court of the women
. - The eastern gate, approached from the outside by 12 steps (Mid., ii.3;
Maimonides), admitted into the court of the women, so called because it was
accessible to women as well as to men. Above its single colonnades were galleries
reserved for the use of women. Its dimensions are given in the Mishna as 135
cubits square (Mid., ii.5), but this need not be precise. At its four corners were
large roofless rooms for storage and other purposes. Near the pillars of the
colonnades were 13 trumpet-shaped boxes for receiving the money-offerings of the
people (compare the incident of the widow's mite, Mark 12:41 ff; Luke 21:1 ff);
for which reason, and because this court seems to have been the place of
deposit of the temple-treasures generally, it bore the name "treasury"
(gazophulakion, John 8:20). See TREASURY.
(3) The inner court
. - From the women's court, the ascent was made by 15 semicircular steps
(Mid., ii.5; on these steps the Levites chanted, and beneath them their instruments
were kept) to the inner court, comprising, at different levels, the court of
Israel and the court of the priests. Here, again, at the entrance, was a lofty,
richly ornamented gate, which some, as said, prefer to regard as the Gate of
Nicanor or Beautiful Gate. Probably, however, the view above taken, which places
this gate at the outer entrance, is correct. The Mishna gives the total
dimensions of the inner court as 187 cubits long (East to West) and 135 cubits wide
(Mid., ii.6; v.1). Originally the court was one, but disturbances in the time of
Alexander Jannaeus (104 BC - 78 BC) led, as formerly told, to the greater part
being railed off for the exclusive use of the priests (Josephus, Ant, XIII,
xiii, 5). In the Mishna the name "court of the priests" is used in a restricted
sense to denote the space-11 cubits-between the altar and "the court of Israel"
(see the detailed measurements in Mid., v.1). The latter - "the court of Israel"
- 2 1/2 cubits lower than "the court of the priests," and separated from it by
a pointed fence, was likewise a narrow strip of only 11 cubits (Mid., ii.6;
v.1). Josephus, with more probability, carries the 11 cubits of the "court of
Israel" round the whole of the temple-court (BJ, V, vi). Waterhouse (Sacred Sites,
112) thinks 11 cubits too small for a court of male Israelites, and supposes a
much larger enclosure, but without warrant in the authorities (compare Kennedy,
ut supra, 183; G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 508 ff).
(4) The altar, etc
. - In the priests' court the principal object was the great altar of burnt
offering, situated on the old site-the Sakhra-immediately in front of the porch
of the temple (at 22 cubits distance-the space "between the temple and the
altar" of Matt 23:35). The altar, according to the Mishna (Mid., iii.1), was 32
cubits square, and, like Ezekiel's, rose in stages, each diminishing by a cubit:
one of 1 cubit in height, three of 5 cubits, which, with deduction of another
cubit for the priests to walk on, left a square of 24 cubits at the top. It had
four horns. Josephus, on the other hand, gives 50 cubits for the length and
breadth, and 15 cubits for the height of the altar (BJ, V, v, 6) - his reckoning
perhaps including a platform (a cubit high?) from which the height is taken (see
ALTAR). The altar was built of unhewn stones, and had on the South a sloping
ascent of like material, 32 cubits in length and 16 in width. Between temple and
altar, toward the South, stood the "laver" for the priests. In the court, on the
north side, were rings, hooks, and tables, for the slaughtering, flaying and
suspending of the sacrificial victims.
- The Temple Building
(1) House and porch
. - Yet another flight of 12 steps, occupying most of the space between the
temple-porch and the altar, led up to the platform (6 cubits high) on which stood
the temple itself. This magnificent structure, built, as said before, of
blocks of white marble, richly ornamented with gold on front and sides, exceeded in
dimensions and splendor all previous temples. The numbers in the Mishna and in
Josephus are in parts discrepant, but the general proportions can readily be
made out. The building with its platform rose to the height of 100 cubits (150
ft.; the 120 cubits in Josephus, Ant, XV, xi, 3, is a mistake), and was 60 cubits
(90 ft.) wide. It was fronted by a porch of like height, but with wings
extending 20 cubits (30 ft.) on each side of the temple, making the total breadth of
the vestibule 100 cubits (150 ft.) also. The depth of the porch was 10 or 11
cubits; probably at the wings 20 cubits (Jos). The entrance, without doors, was
70 cubits high and 25 cubits wide (Mid. makes 40 cubits high and 20 wide). Above
it Herod placed a golden eagle, which the Jews afterward pulled down (Ant,
XVII, vi, 3). The porch was adorned with gold.
(2) "Hekhal" and "debhir
." - Internally, the temple was divided, as before, into a holy place (hekhal)
and a most holy (debhir) - the former measuring, as in Solomon's Temple, 40
cubits (60 ft.) in length, and 20 cubits (30 ft.) in breadth; the height,
however, was double that of the older Temple-60 cubits (90 ft.; thus Keil, etc.,
following Josephus, BJ, V, v, 5). Mid., iv.6, makes the height only 40 cubits;
A.R.S. Kennedy and G.A. Smith make the debhir a cube-20 cubits in height only. In
the space that remained above the holy places, upper rooms (40 cubits) were
erected. The holy place was separated from the holiest by a partition one cubit in
thickness, before which hung an embroidered curtain or "veil" - that which was
rent at the death of Jesus (Matt 27:51 and parallel's; Mid., iv.7, makes two
veils, with a space of a cubit between them). The Holy of Holies was empty; only a
stone stood, as in the temple of Zerubbabel, on which the high priest placed
his censer on the Day of Atonement (Mish, Yoma', v.2). In the holy place were
the altar of incense, the table of shewbread (North), and the seven-branched
golden candlestick (South). Representations of the two latter are seen in the
carvings on the Arch of Titus (see SHEWBREAD, TABLE OF; CANDLESTICK, GOLDEN). The
spacious entrance to the holy place had folding doors, before which hung a richly
variegated Babylonian curtain. Above the entrance was a golden vine with
clusters as large as a man (Josephus, Ant, XV, xi, 3; BJ, V, v, 4).
(3) The side-chambers
. - The walls of the temple appear to have been 5 cubits thick, and against
these, on the North, West, and South, were built, as in Solomon's Temple,
side-chambers in three stories, 60 cubits in height, and 10 cubits in width (the
figures, however, are uncertain), which, with the outer walls, made the entire
breadth of the house 60 or 70 cubits. Mid., iv.3, gives the number of the chambers
as 38 in all. The roof, which Keil speaks of as "sloping" (Bib. Archaeology, I,
199), had gilded spikes to keep off the birds. A balustrade surrounded it 3
cubits high. Windows are not mentioned, but there would doubtless be openings for
light into the holy place from above the sidechambers.
III. New Testament Associations of Herod's Temple.
- Earlier Incidents: Herod's temple figures so prominently in New Testament history that it is
not necessary to do more than refer to some of the events of which it was the
scene. It was here, before the incense altar, that the aged Zacharias had the
vision which assured him that he should not die childless (Luke 1:11 ff). Here, in
the women's court, or treasury, on the presentation by Mary, the infant Jesus
was greeted by Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:27 ff). In His 12 th year the boy Jesus
amazed the temple rabbis by His understanding and answers (Luke 2:46 ff).
- Jesus in the Temple: The chronological sequence of the Fourth Gospel depends very much upon the
visits of Jesus to the temple at the great festivals (see JESUS CHRIST). At the
first of these occurred the cleansing of the temple-court-the court of the
Gentiles-from the dealers that profaned it (John 2:13 ff), an incident repeated at
the close of the ministry (Matt 21:12 ff and parallel's). When the Jews, on the
first occasion, demanded a sign, Jesus spoke of the temple of His body as
being destroyed and raised up in three days (John 2:19), eliciting their retort,
"Forty and six years was this temple in building," etc. (verse 20). This may date
the occurrence about 27 AD At the second cleansing He not only drove out the
buyers and sellers, but would not allow anyone to carry anything through this
part of the temple (Mark 11:15-17). In Jn His zeal flamed out because it was His
Father's house; in Mk, because it was a house of prayer for all nations
(compare Isa 56:7). With this non-exclusiveness agrees the word of Jesus to the woman
of Samaria: "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain (in Samaria), nor
in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father" (John 4:21). During the two years
following His first visit, Jesus repeatedly, at festival times, walked in the
temple-courts, and taught and disputed with the Jews. We find Him in John 5 at "a
feast" (Passover or Purim?); in John 7-8, at "the feast of tabernacles," where
the temple-police were sent to apprehend Him (7:32,45 ff), and where He taught
"in the treasury" (8:20); in John 10:22 ff, at "the feast of the dedication" in
winter, walking in "Solomon's Porch." His teaching on these occasions often
started from some familiar temple scene-the libations of water carried by the
priests to be poured upon the altar (John 7:37 ff), the proselytes (Greeks even) in
the great portico (John 12:20 ff), etc. Of course Jesus, not being of the
priestly order, never entered the sanctuary; His teaching took place in the several
courts open to laymen, generally in the "treasury" (see John 8:20).
- The Passion-Week: The first days of the closing week of the life of Jesus-the week commencing
with the Triumphal Entry-were spent largely in the temple. Here He spoke many
parables (Matt 21-22 and parallel's); here He delivered His tremendous
arraignment of the Pharisees (Matt 23 and parallel's); here, as He "sat down over
against the treasury," He beheld the people casting in their gifts, and praised the
poor widow who cast in her two mites above all who cast in of their abundance
(Mark 12:41 ff and parallel's). It was on the evening of His last day in the
temple that His disciples drew His attention to "the goodly stones and offerings"
(gifts for adornment) of the building (Luke 21:5 and parallel's) and heard from
His lips the astonishing announcement that the days were coming-even in that
generation-in which there should not be left one stone upon another (verse 6 and
parallel's). The prediction was fulfilled to the letter in the destruction of
the temple by the Romans in 70 AD
- Apostolic Church: Seven weeks after the crucifixion the Pentecost of Acts 2 was observed. The
only place that fulfils the topographical conditions of the great gatherings is
Solomon's Porch. The healing of the lame man (Acts 3:1 ff) took place at the
"door .... called Beautiful" of the temple, and the multitude after the healing
ran together into "Solomon's Porch" or portico (verse 11). Where also were the
words of Luke 24:53, they "were continually in the temple, blessing God," and
after Pentecost (Acts 2:46), "day by day, continuing stedfastly .... in the
temple," etc., so likely to be fulfilled? For long the apostles continued the
methods of their Master in daily teaching in the temple (Acts 4:1 ff). Many years
later, when Paul visited Jerusalem for the last time, he was put in danger of his
life from the myriads of Jewish converts "all zealous for the law" (Acts
21:20), who accused him of profaning the temple by bringing Greeks into its
precincts, i.e. within the coregh (verses 28-30). But Christianity had now begun to
look farther afield than the temple. Stephen, and after him Saul, who became Paul,
preached that "the Most High dwelleth not in houses made with hands" (Acts
7:48; 17:24), though Paul himself attended the temple for ceremonial and other
purposes (Acts 21:26).
- The Temple in Christian Thought: From the time that the temple ceased to exist, the Talmud took its place in
Jewish estimation; but it is in Christianity rather than in Judaism that the
temple has a perpetual existence. The New Testament writers make no distinction
between one temple and another. It is the idea rather than the building which is
perpetuated in Christian teaching. The interweaving of temple associations
with Christian thought and life runs through the whole New Testament. Jesus
Himself supplied the germ for this development in the word He spoke concerning the
temple of His body (John 2:19,21). Paul, notwithstanding all he had suffered from
Jews and Jewish Christians, remained saturated with Jewish ideas and modes of
thought. In one of his earliest Epistles he recognizes the "Jerus that is
above" as "the mother of us all" (Gal 4:26 the King James Version). In another, the
"man of sin" is sitting "in the temple of God" (2 Thess 2:4). The collective
church (1 Cor 3:16-17), but also the individual believer (1 Cor 6:19), is a
temple. One notable passage shows how deep was the impression made upon Paul's mind
by the incident connected with Trophimus the Ephesian (Acts 21:29). That
"middle wall of partition" which so nearly proved fatal to him then was no longer to
be looked for in the Christian church (Eph 2:14), which was "a holy temple" in
the Lord (verse 21). It is naturally in the Epistle to the Hebrews that we have
the fullest exposition of ideas connected with the temple, although here the
form of allusion is to the tabernacle rather than the temple (see TABERNACLE;
compare Westcott on Hebrews, 233 ff). The sanctuary and all it included were but
representations of heavenly things. Finally, in Rev, the vision is that of the
heavenly temple itself (Rev 11:19). But the church-professing Christendom?-is a
temple measured by God's command (11:1-2 ff). The climax is reached in
21:22-23: "I saw no temple therein (i.e. in the holy city): for the Lord God the
Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof .... and the lamp thereof is the
Lamb." Special ordinances are altogether superseded.
Schematic Plan of the Temple
Herod's Temple Illustration
Black and White Sketch
City of Jerusalem
Herod's Temple - A Heart Message
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Herod's Temple Home
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
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 Robinson’s 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.
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