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Herod's Temple | Index

Smith's Bible Dictionary

TEMPLE OF HEROD. --Herod the Great announced to the people assembled at the Passover, B.C. 20 or 19, his intention of restoring the temple; (probably a stroke of policy on the part of Herod to gain the favor of the Jews and to make his name great.) if we may believe Josephus, he pulled down the whole edifice to its foundations, and laid them anew on an enlarged scale; but the ruins still exhibit, in some parts, what seem to be the foundations laid by Zerubbable, and beneath them the more massive substructions of Solomon. The new edifice was a stately pile of Graeco-Roman architecture, built in white marble gilded acroteria . It is minutely described by Josephus, and the New Testament has made us familiar with the pride of the Jews in its magnificence. A different feeling, however, marked the commencement of the work, which met with some opposition from the fear that what Herod had begun he would not be able to finish. he overcame all jealousy by engaging not to pull down any part of the existing buildings till all the materials for the new edifice were collected on its site. Two years appear to have been occupied in preparations --among which Josephus mentions the teaching of some of the priests and Levites to work as masons and carpenters --and then the work began. The holy "house," including the porch, sanctuary and holy of holies, was finished in a year and a half, B.C. 16. Its completion, on the anniversary of Herodís inauguration, was celebrated by lavish sacrifices and a great feast. About B.C. 9 --eight years from the commencement --the court and cloisters of the temple were finished, and the bridge between the south cloister and the upper city (demolished by Pompey) was doubtless now rebuilt with that massive masonry of which some remains still survive. (The work, however, was not entirely ended till A.D. 64, under Herod Agrippa II. So the statement in (John 2:20) is correct. --Schaff.) The temple or holy "house" itself was in dimensions and arrangement very similar to that of Solomon, or rather that of Zerubbabel --more like the latter; but this was surrounded by an inner enclosure of great strength and magnificence, measuring as nearly as can be made out 180 cubits by 240, and adorned by porches and ten gateways of great magnificence; and beyond this again was an outer enclosure measuring externally 400 cubits each way, which was adorned with porticos of greater splendor than any we know of as attached to any temple of the ancient world. The temple was certainly situated in the southwest angle of the area now known as the Haram area at Jerusalem, and its dimensions were what Josephus states them to be --400 cubits, or one stadium, each way. At the time when Herod rebuilt it, he enclosed a space "twice as large" as that before occupied by the temple and its courts --an expression that probably must not be taken too literally at least, if we are to depend on the measurements of Hecataeus. According to them, the whole area of Herodís temple was between four and five times greater than that which preceded it. What Herod did apparently, was to take in the whole space between the temple and the city wall on its east side, and to add a considerable space on the north and south to support the porticos which he added there. As the temple terrace thus became the principal defence of the city on the east side, there were no gates or openings in that direction, and being situated on a sort of rocky brow --as evidenced from its appearance in the vaults that bounded it on this side --if was at all later times considered unattackable from the eastward. The north side, too, where not covered by the fortress Antonia, became part of the defenses of the city, and was likewise without external gates. On the south side, which was enclosed by the wall of Ophel, there were notable gates nearly in the centre. These gates still exist at a distance of about 365 feet from the southwestern angle, and are perhaps the only architectural features of the temple of Herod which remain in situ . This entrance consists of a double archway of Cyclopean architecture on the level of the ground, opening into a square vestibule measuring 40 feet each way. From this a double funnel nearly 200 feet in length, leads to a flight of steps which rise to the surface in the court of the temple, exactly at that gateway of the inner temple which led to the altar, and is one of the four gateways on this side by which any one arriving from Ophel would naturally wish to enter the inner enclosure. We learn from the Talmud that the gate of the inner temple to which this passage led was called the "water gate;" and it is interesting to be able to identify a spot so prominent in the description of Nehemiah. (Nehemiah 12:37) Toward the west there were four gateways to the external enclosure of the temple. The most magnificent part of the temple, in an architectural point of view, seems certainly to have been the cloisters which were added to the outer court when it was enlarged by Herod. The cloisters in the west, north and east sides were composed of double rows of Corinthian columns, 25 cubits or 37 feet 6 inches in height, with flat roof, and resting against the outer wall of the temple. These, however, were immeasurably surpassed in magnificence by the royal porch or Stoa Basilica, which overhung the southern wall. It consisted of a nave and two aisled, that toward the temple being open, that toward the country closed by a wall. The breadth of the centre aisle was 95 feet of the side aisles, 30 from centre to centre of the pillars; their height 50 feet, and that of the centre aisle 100 feet. Its section was thus something in excess of that of York Cathedral, while its total length was one stadium or 600 Greek feet, or 100 feet in excess of York or our largest Gothic cathedrals. This magnificent structure was supported by 162 Corinthian columns. The porch on the east was called "Solomonís Porch." The court of the temple was very nearly a square. It may have been exactly so, for we have not the details to enable us to feel quite certain about it. To the eastward of this was the court of the women. The great ornament of these inner courts seems to have been their gateways, the three especially on the north end south leading to the temple court. These according to Josephus, were of great height, strongly fortified and ornamented with great elaboration. But the wonder of all was the great eastern gate leading from the court of the women to the upper court. It was in all probability the one called the "beautiful gate" in the New Testament. immediately within this gateway stood the altar of burnt offerings. Both the altar and the temple were enclosed by a low parapet, one cubit in height, placed so as to keep the people separate from the priests while the latter were performing their functions. Within this last enclosure, toward the westward, stood the temple itself. As before mentioned, its internal dimensions were the same as those of the temple of Solomon. Although these remained the same, however, there seems no reason to doubt that. the whole plan was augmented by the pteromata , or surrounding parts being increased from 10 to 20 cubits, so that the third temple, like the second, measured 60 cubits across and 100 cubits east and west. The width of the facade was also augmented by wings or shoulders projecting 20 cubits each way, making the whole breadth 100 cubits, or equal to the length. There is no reason for doubting that the sanctuary always stood on identically the same spot in which it had been placed by Solomon a thousand years before it was rebuilt by Herod. The temple of Herod was destroyed by the Romans under Titus, Friday, August 9, A.D. 70. A Mohammedan mosque now stands on its site.

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Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Temple'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". 1901.

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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