Herod rebuilds Jerusalem's Temple

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Jewish historian Josephus, in his work "The Antiquities of the Jews," offers reasons why Herod the Great sought to rebuild Jerusalem's temple after hundreds of years of neglect. He also records his words in announcing the rebuilding and describes, in detail, the dimensions and makeup of his enhanced version of God's house of prayer.

And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign, undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God in Jerusalem. He decided to make it larger in compass, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude, as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection; and that this would be sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him.

As Herod knew, however, the multitude were not ready nor willing to assist him in so vast a design as rebuilding the temple, he thought to prepare them first by making a speech to them, and then set about the work itself.

Herod announces rebuilding temple

"I think I need not speak to you, my countrymen, about such other works as I have done since I came to the kingdom, although I may say they have been performed in such a manner as to bring more security to you than glory to myself. I have neither been negligent in the most difficult times about what tended to ease your necessities, nor have the buildings.

"I have made been so proper to preserve me as yourselves from injuries; and I imagine that, with God's assistance, I have advanced the nation of the Jews to a degree of happiness which they never had before . . . As to that undertaking which I have a mind to set about at present, and which will be a work of the greatest piety and excellence that can possibly be undertaken by us, I will now declare it to you . . .

"Our fathers, indeed, when they were returned from Babylon, built this temple to God Almighty, yet does it want sixty cubits of its largeness in altitude. So much did that first temple which Solomon built exceed this temple; nor let any one condemn our fathers for their negligence or want of piety herein, for it was not their fault that the temple was no higher.

"For it was Cyrus, and Darius the son of Hystaspes, who determined the measures for its rebuilding; and it hath been by reason of the subjection of those fathers of ours to them and to their posterity, and after them to the Macedonians, that they had not the opportunity to follow the original model of this pious edifice, nor could raise it to its ancient altitude.

"Since I am now, by God's will, your governor, and I have had peace a long time, and have gained great riches and large revenues, and, what is the principal filing of all, I am at amity with and well regarded by the Romans, I will do my endeavor to correct that imperfection . . ."

Destruction of Jerusalem's Temply by Titus
Destruction of Jerusalem's Temply by Titus
Johann Georg Platzer

Concerns are voiced

Herod's speech affrighted many of the people, as being unexpected by them and because it seemed incredible. It did not encourage them, but put a damp upon them, for they were afraid that he would pull down the whole edifice, and not be able to bring his intentions to perfection for its rebuilding. This danger appeared to them to be very great, and the vastness of the undertaking to be such as could hardly be accomplished.

Herod the Great, however, encouraged the people, and told them he would not pull down their temple till all things were gotten ready for building it up entirely again. And as he promised them this beforehand, so he did not break his word with them, but got ready a thousand wagons, that were to bring stones for the building.

Herod also chose out ten thousand of the most skillful workmen, and bought a thousand sacerdotal garments for as many of the priests. Additionally, he had some of them taught the arts of stonecutters, and others of carpenters, and then began to build.

Rebuilding the foundations

So Herod took away the old foundations of the temple, and laid others, and erected the temple upon them, being in length a hundred cubits, and in height twenty additional cubits, which [twenty], upon the sinking of their foundations fell down.

Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits. Their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve. The whole structure, as also the structure of the royal cloister, was on each side much lower, but the middle was much higher, till they were visible to those that dwelt in the country for a great many furlongs.

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. Over these, but under the crown-work, was spread out a golden vine, with its branches hanging down from a great height, the largeness and fine workmanship of which was a surprising sight to the spectators.

Herod also encompassed the entire temple with very large cloisters, contriving them to be in a due proportion thereto. He laid out larger sums of money upon them than had been done before him, till it seemed that no one else had so greatly adorned the temple as he had done. There was a large wall to both the cloisters, which wall was itself the most prodigious work that was ever heard of by man.

The hill was a rocky ascent, that declined by degrees towards the east parts of the city, till it came to an elevated level. This hill it was which Solomon, who was the first of our kings, by Divine revelation, encompassed with a wall. It was of excellent workmanship upwards, and round the top of it.

Herod also built a wall below, beginning at the bottom, which was encompassed by a deep valley. At the south side he laid rocks together, and bound them one to another with lead, and included some of the inner parts, till it proceeded to a great height, and till both the largeness of the square edifice and its altitude were immense.

When this work [for the foundation] was done in this manner, and joined together as part of the hill itself to the very top of it, he wrought it all into one outward surface, and filled up the hollow places which were about the wall, and made it a level on the external upper surface, and a smooth level also.

This hill was walled all round, and in compass four furlongs, [the distance of] each angle containing in length a furlong. Within this wall, however, and on the very top of all, there ran another wall of stone also, having, on the east quarter, a double cloister, of the same length with the wall, in the midst of which was the temple itself. This cloister looked to the gates of the temple. It had been adorned by many kings in former times and round about the entire temple were fixed the spoils taken from barbarous nations. All these had been dedicated to the temple by Herod, with the addition of those he had taken from the Arabians.

Temple sides

Now on the north side [of the temple] was built a citadel, whose walls were square, and strong, and of extraordinary firmness. This citadel was built by the kings of the Asamonean race, who were also high priests before Herod, and they called it the Tower. In it were reposited the vestments of the high priest, which the high priest only put on at the time when he was to offer sacrifice.

The tower itself, when Herod the King of the Jews had fortified it more firmly than before, in order to secure and guard the temple, he gratified Antonius, who was his friend, and the Roman ruler, and then gave it the name of the Tower of Antonia.


Now in the western quarters of the enclosure of the temple there were four gates. The first led to the king's palace, and went to a passage over the intermediate valley. Two more led to the suburbs of the city. The last led to the other city, where the road descended down into the valley by a great number of steps, and thence up again by the ascent for the city lay over against the temple in the manner of a theater, and was encompassed with a deep valley along the entire south quarter.

The fourth front of the temple, which was southward, had indeed itself gates in its middle, as also it had the royal cloisters, with three walks, which reached in length from the east valley unto that on the west.

This cloister had pillars that stood in four rows one over against the other all along, for the fourth row was interwoven into the wall, which [also was built of stone]; and the thickness of each pillar was such, that three men might, with their arms extended, fathom it round, while its length was twenty-seven feet, with a double spiral at its basis.

The number of all the pillars [in that court] was a hundred and sixty-two. Their chapiters were made with sculptures after the Corinthian order, and caused an amazement [to the spectators], by reason of the grandeur of the whole.

These four rows of pillars included three intervals for walking in the middle of this cloister; two of which walks were made parallel to each other, and were contrived after the same manner; the breadth of each of them was thirty feet, the length was a furlong, and the height fifty feet. The breadth of the middle part of the cloister was one and a half of the other, and the height was double. The roofs were adorned with deep sculptures in wood, representing many sorts of figures.

The middle was much higher than the rest, and the wall of the front was adorned with beams, resting upon pillars, that were interwoven into it, and that front was all of polished stone. Thus was the first enclosure. In the midst of which, and not far from it, was the second, to be gone up to by a few steps. This was encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription, which forbade any foreigner to go in under pain of death.

Now this inner enclosure had on its southern and northern quarters three gates [equally] distant one from another. On the east quarter, towards the sun-rising, there was one large gate.


Herod's temple itself was built by the priests in a year and six months. The people feasted and celebrated this rebuilding of the temple, and for the king, he sacrificed three hundred oxen to God, as did the rest every one according to his ability.

There was also an occult passage built for Herod. It led from Antonia to the inner temple, at its eastern gate, over which he also erected for himself a tower. He did this that he might have the opportunity of a subterraneous ascent to the temple, in order to guard against any sedition which might be made by the people against their kings. And thus was performed the work of the rebuilding of Jerusalem's temple.

Our Notes

20 B.C.
Herod the Great begins rebuilding Jerusalem's temple.

c. 4 B.C.
Herod the Great dies in Jericho and is buried in Herodium, Judea. After his death Roman Emperor Augustus divides up his kingdom among some of his sons. The work on the temple continues.

65 A.D.
The last remaining work to rebuild Jerusalem's temple is completed.

70 A.D.
Roman legions, under the command of General Titus (later Emperor Titus), level and destroy both Jerusalem and her glorious temple. The destruction takes place on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Ab. This is the same day when Solomon's temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.

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Biblical History by Josephus
with Background Notes!
The Tower of Babel
Saul is made Israel's king
Solomon builds Jerusalem's temple
Babylon destroys Jerusalem and temple
Alexander the Great visits Jerusalem!
Herod the Great conquers Jerusalem
Herod the Great rebuilds temple

Excerpts taken from
Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus
Book 15, Chapter 11
Edited, expanded and © Biblestudy.org

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