The Construction of Herod's Temple
Rebuilding the Second Temple
None of the restorations or extensions of the Second Temple of Zerubbabel could
compare with the work begun by King Herod I (the Great) at the beginning of 19
BC. Herod complained that the Temple of Zerubbabel was built like a fortress and
was shorter than that of Solomonís Temple by about 90 feet because of a decree
made by Darius, the Persian king. King Herod no doubt wanted to be remembered
forever as the builder of the greatest temple of the Jews.
Although the reconstruction was equal to an entire rebuilding, still the
Herodian Temple cannot be spoken of as a third Temple, for Herod even said
himself, that it was only intended to be regarded as an enlarging and further
beautifying of that of Zerubbabelís.
The work of rebuilding the Temple began in 19 BC which was the 18th year of
King Herodís reign. There were 10,000 skilled laborers and according to Josephus
(Ant. 15.11.2) the laity could not enter certain parts of the building,
therefore 1000 Levites were specially trained as builders and masons, and
carried out their work so efficiently and carefully that at no time was there
any interruption in the sacrifices and other services. The work was started by
leveling larger portions of the Temple Mount, so that the new building might be
erected on a broader base. It was also made much taller, so that the white stone
gleamed in the bright Palestinian sun and could be seen from miles away.
Wealthy Jews of the dispersion (those living outside Israel) sent costly
offerings to enhance the magnificence of the place.
The construction began with the Holiest building in the Temple called The
Holy Place, which contained the Holy of Holies. Then closest to the Holy Place
was the portion set aside for the altar of burnt offering and the officiating
priests. Next to it was the court for the Israelites who came to watch the
service. By the side of that was the court of the women, and behind it was the
court of the Gentiles with the royal porticos of Solomon. All around the Temple
Mount beautiful marble porticos were constructed.
A wall surrounded the whole area and a small portion of it remains to this day,
known as "The Wailing Wall."
Two large bridges connected the Temple with the city on the west.
While the main part of Herod's rebuilding was completed before his death in 4
BC, the work went on for more than 60 years after that. When Jesus visited the
Temple at the first Passover of his ministry it was said that the place had by
then been under construction for 46 years. The work was not entirely finished
until 63 AD, only 7 years before the destruction of the entire Temple in 70 AD.
The following words appear on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign
"From the times of King Solomon to the return from the Babylonian exile and
the Hasmonean period (tenth to first centuries BCE), the Temple Mount in
Jerusalem was a relatively small platform built on top of Mount Moriah and its
highest point was the Stone of Foundation; this was the site of the Temple. King
Herod's greatest building project was to double the area of the Temple Mount by
incorporating part of the hill to the northwest (which had to be leveled and on
which he built the Antonia Fortress) and by filling up parts of the surrounding
valleys. Herod transformed the Second Temple into an edifice of splendor and
surrounded the Temple Mount on its four sides with massive retaining walls. The
walls, founded on bedrock, were built of large ashlar stones with beautifully
dressed margins. Each course was set back about 2 - 3 cm. from the course below
it; the stones weigh some five tons each, the corner blocks tens of tons....."