Chapter 2 Section E
The Temple of Herod
In the year 37 B. C. Herod I, known in history as Herod the Great, was established on the throne as King of Judea. He had already served successively as procurator and tetrarch, and, indeed, had been king in name for some time prior to his enthronement, during which period he had been in hostile conflict with the people over whom the decree of the Roman Senate had made him ruler. He came to the throne noted for arrogance and cruelty; and his reign was one of tyranny, in which even family relationship and the closest ties of blood proved unavailing to protect the victims of his displeasure. In the early part of his reign he put to death nearly all the members of the Sanhedrin, the great Jewish Council, and throughout he ruled with increasing severity. Nevertheless he was successful in maintaining peace with other governments, and by his Roman masters was accounted an able ruler. Among his acts of cruelty was the slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem, a murder planned and executed in the hope of including among the victims the Child Jesus.
Such is the character of the man who proposed to replace the time-worn Temple of Zerubbabel by a new and more splendid structure. Can it be thought that a proffered gift from such a donor could be acceptable to the Lord? David had aforetime offered to build a House to the Lord, but had been restrained, for he was a man of blood. Herod’s purpose in the great undertaking was that of aggrandizing himself and the nation, rather than the rendering of homage to Jehovah. His proposition to rebuild or restore the Temple on a scale of increased magnificence was regarded with suspicion and received with disfavor by the Jews, who feared that were the ancient edifice demolished, the arbitrary monarch might abandon his plan and the people would be left without a Temple. To allay these fears the king proceeded to reconstruct and restore the old edifice, part by part, directing the work so that at no time was the Temple service seriously interrupted. So little of the ancient structure was allowed to stand, however, that the Temple of Herod must be regarded as a new creation. The work was begun about sixteen years before the birth of Christ; and while the Holy House itself was practically completed within a year and a half, this part of the labor having been performed by a body of one thousand priests specially trained for the purpose, the temple area was a scene of uninterrupted building operations down to the year 63 A. D. We read that in the time of Christ’s ministry the Temple had been forty-six years in building; and at that time it was unfinished.
The Biblical record gives us little information regarding this the last and the greatest of ancient temples; for what we know concerning it we are indebted mainly to Josephus, with some corroborative testimony found in the Talmud. In all essentials the Holy House or Temple proper was similar to the two earlier houses of sanctuary, though externally far more elaborate and imposing than either; but in the matter of surrounding courts and associated buildings, the Temple of Herod preeminently excelled. In proceeding from the outer wall to the innermost enclosure occupied by the Holy House one would traverse successive courts, each at a higher level than the last, to which arrangement the slopes of Mount Moriah were favorable. The courts extended as enormous platform-terraces, supported by foundations of massive masonry, which rose vertically in some places seven hundred feet from the foot of the hill.
The outer wall enclosing the entire temple area, which approximated the form of a square, measured four hundred cubits, or one stadium, (about six hundred feet) along each side. The east wall, constituting the principal defense of the city on that side, was unbroken by gates; on each of the other three sides one or more large and beautiful portals afforded passage through the fortress-like wall. The four sides of the great enclosure, immediately within the outer wall, were occupied by a series of magnificent porticoes, of Grecian design, forming a covered colonnade in which every pillar was a massive monolith of white marble. This colonnade was interrupted at the north-west corner, where the continuity of the wall was broken by the Tower of Antonia, in reality a fortified castle, from which a subterranean passage led into the inner enclosure where stood the Holy House. The colonnade or line of porticoes along the south side was particularly elaborate, and was known as the Royal Porch. Here were four rows of huge columns, and consequently three corridors, of which the inner was forty-five feet wide and one hundred feet high, while each of the side corridors measured thirty feet in width and sixty feet in height. The imposing effect of the Royal Porch is dwelt upon by Josephus, who states that its beauty was incredible to those who had not seen it, and amazing to those who beheld.
The east colonnade or row of porticoes was known as Solomon’s Porch, the name having reference to a tradition that the porch covered and included part of the original wall erected by the builder of the first Temple. Within the colonnade was a spacious area, to which general admission was allowed; this was the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this court that money-changers and traffickers in animals used for sacrifice had established their stalls at the time of our Lord’s ministry, and from which they were expelled through His righteous indignation, the while He declared: “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Between the Court of the Gentiles and the inner courts rose a wall twenty-five cubits high; this marked the boundary of the more sacred precincts within which no Gentile could be lawfully admitted. At intervals along the wall were inscription tablets, warning all who were not of Israel to enter not on pain of death. A literal translation of such inscription reads: “Let no alien enter within the balustrade and embankment about the sanctuary. Whoever is caught makes himself responsible for his death which will follow.”
The inner courts were accessible from the Court of the Gentiles through nine gates, of which one was on the east, and four were on the north and south respectively; as in the earlier Temples the west wall was without a gate. Of these portals the principal one was on the east; this was an elaborate structure built of the costly Corinthian brass, and known as the Corinthian Gate, though sometimes called from the name of its donor, the Gate of Nicanor; furthermore this is held by many authorities to be the Beautiful Gate, before which sat the lame man who was healed through the ministrations of Peter and John.
Part of the space within the inner courts was open to Israelites of both sexes, and was known distinctively as the Court of the Women. This was a colonnaded enclosure, and constituted the place of general assembly in the prescribed course of public worship. Chambers used for ceremonial purposes occupied the four corners of this court; and between these and the houses at the gates, were other buildings, of which one series constituted the Treasury wherein were set trumpet-shaped receptacles for gifts.
Beyond the Court of the Women and really a continuation thereof, was a section sufficiently described by its name, the Court of the Men; these two courts are sometimes referred to as one and designated the Court of Israel. Within this court were numerous buildings re- served for the storage of sacred things or devoted to special assemblies. Within and above the Court of Israel was the Court of the Priests, wherein was placed the great altar of sacrifice, and to which were admitted none but duly appointed priests and laymen who came to make offerings. The altar was a large structure of unhewn stones, forty-seven feet square at the base, and diminishing upward to the hearth which was a square of thirty-six feet. The inclined way of approach was on the south side. A laver or font, reserved for the prescribed ablutions of the officiating priests, stood nearby on the west.
Within the Court of the Priests, on an elevation reached by twelve steps, stood the Holy House, the Temple itself. In comparison with its many and massive outliers, this was a small edifice, but in the architectural plan it was made the most impressive, if not the most imposing feature of the whole. It has been properly described as “a glittering mass of white marble and gold.” Like the earlier Temples, this comprised Porch, Holy Place, and Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. The Porch measured one hundred cubits both in width and height. The Holy Place was forty by twenty cubits, as in the Temple of Zerubbabel, but its height was increased to forty cubits. By adding side chambers, with a passage between them and the main building, Herod made the new Temple greater and grander than either of its predecessors. The Holy of Holies retained the original form and dimensions, making it a cube, twenty cubits in each measurement. Between this and the Holy Place hung a double veil, of finest material, elaborately embroidered. The outer of the two veils was open at the north end, the inner at the south; so that the high priest who entered at the appointed time once a year could pass between the veils without exposing the Holy of Holies. The sacred chamber was empty save for a large stone upon which the high priest sprinkled the sacrificial blood on the Day of Atonement; this stone occupied the place of the Ark and its Mercy Seat. Outside the veil, in the Holy Place, stood the altar of incense, the seven-branched candle-stick, and the table of shewbread.
That the Temple of Herod was by far the grandest structure ever erected as a Temple in any age is generally admitted; yet its beauty and grandeur lay in architectural excellence rather than in the sanctity of its worship or in the manifestation of the Divine Presence within its walls. Its ritual and service were largely man-prescribed; for while the letter of the Mosaic Law was professedly observed, the law had been supplemented and in many features supplanted by rule and priestly prescription. The Jews professed to consider it holy, and by them it was proclaimed as the House of the Lord. Devoid though it was of the Divine accompaniments of earlier shrines accepted of God, and defiled as it was by priestly arrogance and usurpation, as also by the selfish interest of traffic and trade, it was nevertheless recognized even by our Lord the Christ as His Father’s House. Therein the Boy Jesus was presented as required by the Law, thereto came He with His people at the time of the Passover; within its precincts He declared Himself and the Father who sent Him. When at last, rejected by His own, and by them brought to the cross, He wrought the sacrifice through which salvation was made possible to man, the veil of the Temple was rent by an unseen power and the last vestige of supreme sanctity departed from the place.
As long as it stood, however, the Temple was held by the Jews in high veneration. An utterance of the Savior, construed by the dark-minded as an aspersion upon the Temple, was used against Him as one of the chief accusations on which His death was demanded. When the Jews clamored for a sign of His authority He predicted His own death and subsequent resurrection, saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They blindly regarded this remark as a disrespectful allusion to their Temple, a structure built by human hands, and they refused to forget or forgive. That this veneration continued after the crucifixion of our Lord is evident from accusations brought against Stephen, and still later against Paul. In their murderous rage the people accused Stephen of disrespect for the Temple, and brought false witnesses who uttered perjured testimony saying, “This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place.” And Stephen was numbered with the martyrs. When it was claimed that Paul had brought with him into the temple precincts, a Gentile, the whole city was aroused, and the infuriated mob dragged Paul from the place and sought to kill him.
For thirty or more years after the death of Christ, the Jews continued the work of adding to and embellishing the temple buildings. The elaborate design conceived and projected by Herod had been practically completed; the Temple was well-nigh finished, and, as soon afterward appeared, was ready for destruction. Its fate had been definitely foretold by the Savior Himself. Commenting on a remark by one of the disciples concerning the great stones and the splendid buildings on the Temple hill, Jesus had said, “Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.”
This dire prediction soon found its literal fulfilment. In the great conflict with the Roman legions under Titus, many of the Jews had taken refuge within the temple courts, seemingly hoping that there the Lord would again fight the battles of His people and give them victory. But the protecting presence of Jehovah had long since departed therefrom and Israel was left a prey to the foe. Though Titus would have spared the Temple, his legionaries, maddened by the lust of conflict, started the conflagration and everything that could be burned was burned. The slaughter of the Jews was appalling; thousands of men, women and children were ruthlessly butchered within the walls, and the temple courts were literally flooded with human blood. This event occurred in the year 70 A. D.; and according to Josephus, in the same month and on the same day of the month as that on which the once glorious Temple of Solomon had fallen a prey to the flames kindled by the king of Babylon. Of the temple furniture the golden candlestick and the table of shewbread from the Holy Place were carried by Titus to Rome as trophies of war; and representations of these sacred pieces are to be seen on the arch erected to the name of the victorious general.
Since the destruction of the splendid Temple of Herod no other structure of the kind, no Temple, no House of the Lord as the terms are used distinctively, has been reared on the eastern hemisphere. Sometime between 361 and 363 A. D. the Roman emperor Julian, surnamed because of his reversion from Christianity to paganism Julian the Apostate, attempted to reconstruct the Temple at Jerusalem. His purpose was not that of devotion to nor love for God; but that of controverting prophecy, and thus proving false the Christian belief. So ends the category of Temples reared to the name of the living God prior to the dispensation of the fullness of times.