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Unger's Bible Dictionary - Herod's Temple


TEMPLE. A building set apart for the worship of a deity. Here attention is especially called to the three buildings at Jerusalem that successively bore the name of Temple. As these were all built upon the same site and after the same general pattern, they were in nature and design the same, namely, that of the one built by Solomon. This latter was, in its essential features, a reproduction of the Tabernacle, in more lasting material and having the necessary adjuncts of a permanent building.

Name. The usual and appropriate Heb. term for temple is hekal, an old Akkad. word signifying "palace, a large building," frequently joined with Jehovah, and denoting "the palace of deity." Occasionally it is also qualified by qodesh ("sanctuary"), to designate its sacredness. Sometimes the simpler phrase "house of Jehovah" (Heb. beth yhwh) is used.

The Gk. terms employed are naos ("shrine"), and hieron (a "sacred" place).

Herod's Temple. The Temple as it existed after the captivity was not such as would satisfy a man as vain and fond of display as Herod the Great; and he accordingly undertook the task of rebuilding it on a grander scale. Although the reconstruction was practically equivalent to an entire rebuilding, still this Temple cannot be spoken of as a third one, for Herod himself said, in so many words, that it was only intended to be regarded as an enlarging and further beautifying of that of Zerubbabel. After the necessary preparation the work of building was begun in the eighteenth year of Herod's reign ( 20 or 21 B.C.). The Temple proper, in which priests and Levites were employed, was finished in a year and a half, and the courts in the course of eight years. Subsidiary buildings were gradually erected, added to through the reigns of his successors, so that the entire undertaking was not completed till the time of Agrippa II and the procurator Albinus (A.D. 64 AD).

For our knowledge of the last and greatest of the Jewish Temples we are indebted almost wholly to the works of Josephus, with an occasional hint from the Talmud. The Bible unfortunately contains nothing to assist in this respect.

The Temple and its courts occupied an area of 1 stadium (Josephus), or 500 cubits (Talmud). They were arranged in terrace form, one court being higher than another, and the Temple highest of all, so as to be easily seen from any part of the city or vicinity, thus presenting an imposing appearance (Mark 13:2-3).

The Outer Court. The outer court was surrounded with a high wall having several gates on its W side. It had porticoes running all around it, those on three of the sides having double and that on the S side having triple piazzas. These porticoes were covered with roofs of cedar supported on marble pillars, 25 cubits high, and were paved with mosaic work. This outer court, which could be frequented by Gentiles and unclean persons, had on its inner side and extending all around a rampart surrounded with a stone parapet, i.e., a mound 10 cubits broad, the top of which was reached by a flight of fourteen steps. This constituted the outer boundary of the inner Temple area (to deuteron hieron, Josephus Wars 5.5.2). Some distance back from the rampart was the wall by which the Temple and its inner courts were surrounded. On the outside this was 40 cubits high, while on the inside it was only 25, the level of the inner space being so much higher.

Women's Court. Entering by the E gate one came to the court of the women, a square of 135 cubits, separated from the court of the Israelites by a wall on the W side and having gates on the N and S sides for the women to enter by. These gates, as well as those on the E and W sides of this court, had rooms built over them to a height of 40 cubits, each room being ornamented with two pillars 12 cubits in circumference, and provided with double doors 30 cubits high and 40 wide, overlaid with gold and silver. According to Middoth 2.3, the gates, with the exception of the eastern one, were only 20 cubits high and 10 wide.

The eastern gate, called in the Talmud Nicanor's, or the great gate, was made of Corinthian brass and was regarded as the principal gate on account of its greater height (being 50 cubits) and width (40 cubits) and from its being more richly decorated with precious metals. It is undoubtedly the "gate of the temple which is called Beautiful" (Acts 3:2). Around the walls of the court, except the W side, ran porticoes (porches), the roof of which rested on lofty and highly finished pillars. In each corner was a room, used, respectively, for storing the wood deemed unfit to be burned on the altar; for those affected with leprosy to wash themselves; for storing sacrificial wine and oil; and that one in which the Nazirites shaved their hair and cooked the flesh of the consecration sacrifices. According to Josephus it was in some of the pillars of this court that the thirteen alms boxes were placed.

The Inner Court. The entrance to the court of the Israelites was the western gate of the outer court and was reached by a stair of fifteen steps. This inner court measured 187 cubits long (from E to W) and 135 wide (from S to N), and surrounded the Temple. Against its walls were chambers for storing the utensils required for the services. It had three gates on both the S and N sides, making seven entrances in all. Eleven cubits of the eastern end were partitioned off by a stone balustrade 1 cubit high, for the men (the court of the Israelites), separating it from the rest of the space that went to form the court of the priests. In this latter court stood the altar of burnt offering, made of unwrought stone, 30 cubits in length and breadth, and 15 high. West of this was the Temple, and between it and the altar stood the laver.

The Temple Proper. The Temple stood so much higher than the court of the priests that it was approached by a flight of twelve steps. It stood in the western end of the inner court on the NW part of the Temple mount and was built, according to Josephus (Ant. 15.11.3), upon new foundations of massive blocks of white marble, richly ornamented with gold both inside and out. Some of these stones were 45 cubits long, 6 broad, and 5 high. Its length and height, including the porch, were 100 cubits; on each side of the vestibule there was a wing 20 cubits wide, making the total width of this part of the building 100 cubits. The porch was 10 cubits deep, measuring from E to W, 50 wide, 90 in height, and had an open gateway 70 cubits high and 25 in width.

The interior of the Temple was divided into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. "The temple had doors also at the entrance, and lintels over them, of the same height with the temple itself. They were adorned with embroidered veils, with their flowers of purple, and pillars interwoven: and over these, but under the crown-work, was spread out a golden vine, with its branches hanging down from a great height" (Josephus Ant. 15.11.3). The holy place was 40 cubits long, 20 wide, and 60 in height. It contained one golden lampstand, a single table of the bread of the Presence, and one altar of incense. Separated from it by a wooden partition was the Holy of Holies, 20 cubits long and 60 high, which was empty. The rabbinical writers maintain that there were two veils over its entrance. It was this veil that was rent on the occasion of our Lord's crucifixion. As in the case of Solomon's Temple, side rooms three stories high were built on the sides of the main structure. For a discussion of recent excavation on the Temple mount, see Jerusalem.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. A. Cooke, Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (1924), pp. 105-15; F. J. Hollis, The Archaeology of Herod's Temple (1934); G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeologist 3 (1941): 17-31; L. Waterman, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 2 (1943): 284-94; H. K. Eversull, The Temple in Jerusalem (1946); L. Waterman, JNES 6 (1947): 161-63; id., JNES 7 (1948): 54-55; G. E. Wright, JNES 7 (1948): 53; C. G. Howie, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 107 (1950): 13-19; P. L. Garber, BA 14 (1951): 2-24; A. Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services (1954); A. Parrot, Le Temple de Jerusalem (1954); G. E. Wright, BA 18 (1955): 43-45; P. L. Garber, Journal of Biblical Literature 77 (1958): 123-27; G. E. Wright and W. F. Albright, JBL 77 (1958): 129-32; G. Schrenk, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1965), 3:230-47; O. Michel, TDNT (1967), 4:880-90.

(from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)

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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