The Court of the Women in the Temple
Women in Ancient Israel
Jewish Women and the Temple
In the Temple
proper the females occupied, according to Jewish tradition, only a raised
gallery along three sides of the court. They were allowed to observe the
ceremonies but never to participate in them.
was filled with contempt for women. The rabbis taught that women were not to be
saluted, or spoken to in the street, and they were not to be instructed in the
law or receive an inheritance. A woman walked six paces behind her husband and
if she uncovered her hair in a public place she was considered a harlot.
Women in the First Century A.D.
In ancient Israel
the Jewish culture was one of the most male dominant cultures in the whole
world. In ancient Judaism the woman only had rights in the home and even that
was very limited. The man had authority over his wife and daughters establishing
their activities and their relationships. Women were passed from the control of
her father to the control of her husband with little or no say in the matter.
They were sold for a dowry settlement usually when they came of age. The Mishnah
taught that a woman was like a gentile slave who could be obtained by
intercourse, money or writ (m. Qidd 1:1).
Women could not
play a significant role in the synagogue because they were levitically unclean
for several days every month during their menstrual cycle. Women were not even
counted as members in a synagogue count. They did not recite the daily shema,
they did not read the Torah in the synagogue (Ber 3:3), they were not required
to come to any feasts or festivals, and the Mishnah says:
"The observance of
all the positive ordinances that depend on the time of year is incumbent on men
but not on women…"
Women were only
allowed to receive very little education on religion and the main religious
instruction in the home was given by the man and not the woman. They could not
be disciples of any great rabbi, they certainly could not travel with any rabbi.
In court a woman’s
testimony was considered suspect (m. Ned. 11:10). Women also did not have the
right to divorce.
Jesus the Radical
In light of what we
know about Jewish life in the first century A.D. Jesus’ teaching must have
seemed very radical. He was not one to show partiality. In fact many women
followed Jesus… including prostitutes. There is mention of Mary Magdalene, Mary
the mother of James and Joseph, the "other Mary", the mother of the sons of
Zebedee, and of course Mary and Martha. Jesus was very concerned with the
treatment of women and in fact a great portion of His ministry was in direct
relationship with women. One of the first people that Jesus healed was Peter’s
mother (Mark 1). Jesus also healed the woman with the hemorrhage (Luke 8), He
raised the widow of Nain’s son from the dead (Luke 7), He healed the Syro-Phoenician
woman’s daughter (Mark 7), and when Mary and Martha pleaded with Him He raised
Lazarus from the dead (John 11).
In Jesus’ teachings
He focused on women quite often and used women as illustrations of spiritual
truths in His teachings. One woman loses a coin (Luke 15), two women are
grinding at the mill just before His return in glory (Luke 17). On his journey
to Galilee He passed through Samaria and comes to Jacob’s well at Sychar and
ministers to a woman of questionable reputation (John 4). Jesus also ministered
to the woman caught in adultery (John 7). Notice also that many women followed
Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem:
Matt 27:55-56 "And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to
Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the
mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons."
And these women
were there at His crucifixion. After Jesus was crucified the women prepared His
body for burial with spices and ointments (Matt 27).
On the morning of
the resurrection the women were the first to the tomb and the first to see the
risen Lord (Matt 28).
After Jesus rose
from the dead and ascended into heaven, He commissioned His apostles and
breathed the Holy Spirit into them. As the 120 were waiting in the Upper Room in
Jerusalem there is mention of Mary, the mother of her Savior, and "the women":
Acts 1:14 "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with
the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers."
Jesus showed no
partiality to men even in the fact that He chose 12 male apostles. In Christ
women are liberated in order to serve Jesus in an equal manner.
Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there
is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
More about The Jerusalem Temple.
Edersheim - The
musical instruments used by the Levites were deposited in two rooms under the
Court of the Israelites, to which the access was from the Court of the Women. Of
course the western colonnade of this court was open. Thence fifteen easy steps
led through the so-called Gate of Nicanor into the Court of Israel. On these
steps the Levites were wont on the Feast of Tabernacles to sing the fifteen
'Psalms of Degrees,' or ascent (Psalms 120 to 134), whence some have derived
their name. Here, or, rather, in the Gate of Nicanor, all that was ordered to be
done 'before the Lord' took place. There the cleansed leper and the women coming
for purification presented themselves to the priests, and there also the 'water
of jealousy' was given to the suspected wife.
Edersheim - Court of the Women. The Court of the Women obtained its
name, not from its appropriation to the exclusive use of women, but because they
were not allowed to proceed farther, except for sacrificial purposes. Indeed,
this was probably the common place for worship, the females occupying, according
to Jewish tradition, only a raised gallery along three sides of the court. This
court covered a space upwards of 200 feet square. All around ran a simple
colonnade, and within it, against the wall, the thirteen chests, or 'trumpets,'
for charitable contributions were placed.
The Women's Court in the
Temple in Jerusalem
Mark 12:41-44 "Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people
put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one
poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called
His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that
this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the
treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her
poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."
If you were to approach the Temple in
Jerusalem in the first century A.D. you would pass through the eastern gate
where Jesus made His triumphal entry. Then you would come to the Court of
the Gentiles which was a large court paved with stones of various colors. It
was open to all comers including the cattle-dealers and the money-changers
who desecrated the Temple. This court was also called the Outer Court, the
Lower Court, and the rabbi’s usually called it "the Mountain of the Lord’s
House." All around the Temple proper was a 9 foot high terrace with stairs
which was higher than the Court of the Gentiles. It was surrounded by a 5
foot high wall which was designed to keep out the gentiles. There was also
pillars in the wall at various distances (the Soreg) with inscriptions in
Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, warning all gentiles to come no further under
penalty of death.
Going beyond the Court of the Gentiles and at the top of the terrace there
was a platform for about 15 feet and then there was another wall. On the
east side stood the magnificent 60 foot wide "Gate Beautiful" mentioned in
Acts 3:2,10. It was also referred to as the "Gate Susan" because it
contained a beautifully sculptured relief of the city of Susa. During the
time of the morning and evening sacrifices this great entrance was the place
of public worship.
Entering through the Susan Gate you would come to a large court called "the
Court of the Women" not because there were only women there but because
women could not go beyond it. There were smaller courts with columns in the
four corners of the court.
According to the Mishnah (Middoth 2,5) the Women's Court was was just over
200 feet square between bounding lines. Each court on the outside was 60
In front of these columns were the eleven treasure chests of the Temple for
the voluntary offerings of money, and there were also two at the Gate of
Susan, for the half-shekel tax. Jesus was sitting ‘opposite the treasury'
when he saw the widow put into one of the containers the two copper coins
which were all that she had (Mark 12:41-44; Lk 21:1-2).
It was near these treasure chests that the man healed of his blindness came
up to Jesus in John 8:20 and worshipped Him.
Continuing eastward there was a magnificent circular staircase and the
Nicanor Gate. Entering through the gate there was a narrow hall filled with
beautiful cloistered columns called "Court of the Israelites" and it was
also through a wall and up a flight of stairs. The Court of the Israelites
surrounded the "Court of the Priests" which was where the altar of sacrifice
was. The women could only glance over a balcony from the Court of the Women
to see the ceremonies inside the Inner Court (According to Middoth).
Oil of Yah Court
Leper's Chamber Court
The Temple Treasury
Woman - A Heart Message