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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

IV. THE TEMPLE OF HEROD

I. Introductory
.

  1. 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.

  2. Its Grandeur: 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, II, viii.

  3. Authorities: 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.

  4. Measurements: 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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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).

  2. 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).

  3. 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

  4. 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).

  5. 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.