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Herod's Temple Overview

Overview

The Temple Jesus knew was the Temple renovated, enlarged and beautified by Herod the Great. Architecturally it was new; religiously it was still Zerubbabel's Temple, rebuilt after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile. The six centuries between the return from exile and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD are known in Jewish history as the age of the second Temple.

The Three Jewish Temples

Even though the synagogue was the commonplace of local Jewish life and worship, the Jerusalem temple was the commonplace of national Jewish life and worship. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem told the world the fact that there is only one God.

The synagogue was mainly a place of instruction, yet the Temple differed greatly, being a place of sacrifice. Jews within Israel, and those who lived outside Israel (the Diaspora), saw the Temple as the symbol of unity. Every year, Jews throughout the world send large contributions to the Temple, and most Jews longed for the opportunity to visit the Temple at least once in their lifetime.

The Temple courts were always crowded, and Temple worship and sacrifices happened every morning and every evening.

The Priests

The priests officiated at the altar of sacrifice. There were actually a multitude of priests from a long line of priestly families whose genealogies were recorded in the Torah. To be accepted into the priesthood strict measures were in order, since the Jews believed that true worship can only be conducted and led by properly qualified men. Only the descendants of the sons of Aaron could be priests, although the descendants of Levi can perform a limited number of functions.

At the head of the priesthood and head of the Jewish people was the High Priest who was also a political leader who negotiated with neighboring governments. From the beginning of Hebrew history the High Priest sprinkled the blood of sacrifice on the mercy seat at Yom Kippur and led the Jewish people in Temple worship. It is important to note that the high priest was different than the chief priests who were the heads of priestly families.

Herod's Temple - Introduction Herod's Temple - Overview Herod's Temple - The Site (Mount Moriah) Herod's Temple - Solomon's Temple History Herod's Temple - Zerubbabel's Temple History Herod's Temple - Herodian Temple History Herod's Temple - The Golden Gate Herod's Temple - The Court of the Gentiles Herod's Temple - Solomon's Porticos Herod's Temple - The Antonia Fortress Herod's Temple - The Inner Courts Herod's Temple - The Women's Court Herod's Temple - The Court of Israel Herod's Temple - The Court of the Priests Herod's Temple - The Altar of Sacrifice Herod's Temple - The Holy Place Herod's Temple - The Holy of Holies Herod's Temple - Jesus and the Temple Herod's Temple - Archaeology and the Jerusalem Temple Herod's Temple - Historical Writings Herod's Temple - Scriptures Dictionaries Herod's Temple - Encyclopedias Herod's Temple - Heart Message Herod's Temple in Jerusalem

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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.

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