The temple in Jerusalem

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It becomes desirable here to give a more particular description than we have yet done of the Temple area and the sanctuary which it enclosed. Some reference has been made to this subject in the account of Stephen's martyrdom, especially to that "Stone Chamber," the Hall Gazith, where the Sanhedrin held their solemn conclave.

Soon we shall see Apostle Paul himself summoned before this tribunal, and hear his voice in that temple hall where he had listened to the eloquence of the first martyr. But meantime other events came in rapid succession, for the better understanding of which it is well to form to ourselves a clear notion of the localities in which they occurred.

The position of the Temple on the eastern side of Jerusalem, the relation of Mount Moriah to the other eminences on which the city was built, the valley which separated it from the higher summit of Mount Zion, and the deeper ravine which formed a chasm between the whole city and the Mount of Olives. These facts of general topography are too well known to require elucidation. On the other hand, when we turn to the description of the Temple area itself and that which it contained, we are met with considerable difficulties.

Interior design of the temple
Why was the Sanhedrin important?
Map of Jerusalem's seven hills

It does not, however, belong to our present task to reconcile the statements in Josephus and the Talmud with each other and with present appearances. Nor shall we attempt to trace the architectural changes by which the scene has been modified, in the long interval between the time when the Patriarch built the altar on Moriah for his mysterious sacrifice, (Genesis 22) and our own day, when the same spot is the "wailing-place" of those who are his children after the flesh, but not yet the heirs of his faith.

Keeping aloof from all difficult details, and withdrawing ourselves from the consideration of those events which have invested this hill with an interest unknown to any other spot on the earth, we confine ourselves to the simple task of depicting the Temple of Herod as it was when Apostle Paul was arrested by the infuriated Jews.

That rocky summit, which was wide enough for the threshing-floor of Araunah, (1Chronicles 21:18; 2Chronicles 3:1) was levelled after David's death, and enlarged by means of laborious substructions, till it presented the appearance of one broad uniform area.

On this level space the temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel were successively built. In the time of the Apostles there were remains of the former work in the vast stones which formed the supporting wall on the side of the valley of Jehoshaphat, and of the latter in the eastern gate, which in its name and its appearance continued to be a monument of the Persian power.

The architectural arrangements of Herod's Jerusalem Temple were, in their general form, similar to the two which had preceded it. When we think of the Jewish sanctuary, whether in its earlier or later periods, our impulse is to imagine to ourselves some building like a synagogue or a church: but the first effort of our imagination should be to realize the appearance of that wide open space, which is spoken of by the prophets as the "Outer Court" or the "Court of the Lord's House;" and is named by Josephus the "Outer Temple," and, both in the Apocrypha and the Talmud, the "Mountain of the House."

That which was the "House" itself, or the Temple, properly so called, was erected on the highest of a series of successive terraces, which rose in an isolated mass from the center of the Court, or rather nearer to its northwestern corner.

In form, the Outer Court was a square; a strong wall enclosed it; the sides corresponded to the four quarters of the heavens, and each was a stadium or a furlong in length. Its pavement of stone was of various colors: and it was surrounded by a covered colonnade, the roof of which was of costly cedar, and was supported on lofty and massive columns of the Corinthian order, and of the whitest marble.

On three sides there were two rows of columns: but on the southern side the cloister deepened into a fourfold colonnade, the innermost supports of the roof being pilasters in the enclosing wall. About the south-eastern angle, where the valley was most depressed below the plateau of the Temple, we are to look for that "Porch of Solomon" (John 10:23, Acts 3:11) which it familiar to us in the New Testament. Under the colonnades, or on the open area in the midst, were the "tables of the money-changers and the seats of them who sold doves," which turned that which was intended for a house of prayer into a "house of merchandise" (John 2:16), and "a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:13).

Free access was afforded into this wide enclosure by gates on each of the four sides, one of which on the east was called the Royal Gate, and was perhaps identical with the "Beautiful Gate" of Sacred History, while another on the west was connected with the crowded streets of Mount Zion by a bridge over the intervening valley.

Nearer to the north-western corner than the center of the square, arose that series of enclosed terraces on the summit of which was the sanctuary. These more sacred limits of the temple were fenced off by a low balustrade of stone, with columns at intervals, on which inscriptions in Greek and Latin warned all Gentiles against advancing beyond them on pain of death. It was within this boundary that Apostle Paul was accused of having brought his Heathen companions.

Besides the above balustrade, a separation was formed in the temple by a flight of fourteen steps leading up to the first platform, which in its western portion was a narrow terrace of fifteen feet wide round the walls of the innermost sanctuary, - while the eastern portion expanded into a second court, called the Court of the Women. By this term we are not to understand that it was exclusively devoted to that sex, but that no women were allowed to advance beyond it.

This court of the temple seems to have contained the treasury (Mark 12:41, Luke 21:1) and various chambers, of which that at the south-eastern corner should be mentioned here, for there the Nazarites performed their vows. The whole court was surrounded by a wall of its own, with gates on each side, the easternmost of which was of Corinthian brass, with folding-doors and strong bolts and bars, requiring the force of twenty men to close them for the night. We conceive that it was the closing of these doors by the Levites, which is so pointedly mentioned by Luke (Acts 21:30) and we must suppose that Apostle Paul had been first seized within them, and was then dragged down the flight of steps into the Outer Court.

The interest, then, of this particular moment is to be associated with the eastern entrance of the Inner from the Outer Temple. But to complete our description, we must now cross the Court of the Women to its western gate. The Holy Place and the Holy of Holies were still within and above the spaces we have mentioned.

Two courts yet intervened between the court last described and the Holy House itself. The first was the Court of Israel, the ascent to which was by a flight of fifteen semicircular steps; the second, the Court of the Priests, separated from the former by a low balustrade. Where these spaces bordered on each other, to the south, was the hall Gazith, the meeting-place of the Sanhedrin, partly in one court and partly in the other.

A little farther towards the north were all those arrangements which we are hardly able to associate with the thoughts of worship, but which daily reiterated in the sight of the Israelites that awful truth that "without shedding of blood there is no remission." There was the rings at which the victims were slaughtered, the beams and hooks from which they were suspended when dead, and the marble tables at which the entrails were washed. Here, above all, was the Altar, the very place of which has been plausibly identified by the bore in the sacred rock of the Moslems, which appears to correspond exactly with the description given in the Mischna of the drain and cesspool which communicated with the sewer that ran off into the Kedron.

The house itself remains to be described. It was divided into three parts, the Vestibule, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. From the Altar and the Court of the Priests to the Vestibule was another flight of twelve steps, the last of the successive approaches by which the Temple was ascended from the east. The Vestibule was wider than the rest of the House: its front was adorned with a golden vine of colossal proportions: and it was separated by a richly-embroidered curtain or veil from the Holy Place, which contained the Table of Show-bread, the Candlestick, and the Altar of Incense.

After this was the "second veil" (Hebrews 9:3), closing the access to the innermost shrine, which in the days of the Tabernacle had contained the golden censer and the ark of the covenant, but which in Herod's Temple was entirely empty, though still regarded as the "Holiest of All."

The interior height of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was comparatively small: but above them and on each side were chambers so arranged that the general exterior effect was that of a clerestory rising above aisles: and the whole was surmounted with gilded spikes, to prevent the birds from settling on the sacred roof.

If we were to remount to the earlier history of the Temple, we might perhaps identify the tower of Antonia with the "palace" of which we read in the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:8, 7:2). It was certainly the building which the Asmonean princes erected for their own residence under the name of Baris. Afterwards rebuilt with greater strength and splendor by the first Herod, it was named by him, after his Romanizing fashion, in honor of Mark Antony. Its situation is most distinctly marked out by Josephus, who tells us that it was at the north-western corner of the Temple-area, with the cloisters of which it communicated by means of staircases (Acts 21:35, 40).

It is difficult, however, to define the exact extent of ground which it covered in its renewed form during the time of the Herods. There is good reason for believing that it extended along the whole northern side of the great Temple court, from the north-western corner where it abutted on the city, to the northeastern where it was suddenly stopped by the precipice which fronted the valley: and that the tank, which is now popularly called the Pool of Bethesda, was part of the fosse which protected it on the north.

Though the ground on which the tower of Antonia stood was lower than that of the Temple itself, yet it was raised to such a height, that at least the south-eastern of its four turrets commanded a view of all that went on within the Temple, and thus both in position and in elevation it was in ancient Jerusalem what the Turkish governor's house is now, whence the best view is obtained over the enclosure of the Mosque of Omar. But this is an inadequate comparison.

This imperfect description of the Temple area and of the relations subsisting between it and the contiguous fortress is sufficient to set the scene before us, on which the events we are now to relate occurred in rapid succession.

We left Apostle Paul at the moment when the Levites had closed the gates, lest the Holy Place should be polluted by murder, and when the infuriated mob were violently beating the Apostle, with the full intention of putting him to death.

The beginning and rapid progress of the commotion must have been seen by the sentries on the cloisters and the tower. The news was sent up immediately to Claudius Lysias, the commandant of the garrison, that "all Jerusalem was in an uproar" (Acts 21:31). The spark had fallen on materials the most inflammable, and not a moment was to be lost if a conflagration was to be averted.

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