1. The Pre-Herodian Temple
2. The Herodian Temple
   2.1. References to Events Relating to the Herodian Temple

   2.2. Description of Herod's Temple
      2.2.1. Introduction

      2.2.2. Situation and Dimensions
      2.2.3. The Outer Courts
         A. The Temple Walls
         B. The Temple Gates
         C. Beyond the Outer Walls

      2.2.4. The Inner Courts

3. Attitudes Towards the Temple in the Second-Temple Period



1. The Pre-Herodian Temple

The second Temple underwent many partial renovations and even a complete dismantling and rebuilding until its destruction by the Romans in 70. Unfortunately, information on the history of the second Temple is meager.

The second Temple was built on the ruins of Solomon's Temple on the Temple mount. A very incomplete description of the plan of the structure built under the direction of Zerubbabel is found in a copy of the original decree by Cyrus (Ezra 6:3-4; 1 Esdras 6:24-25; see Ant. 11.4.6; 99).

Ezra 6:3 In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: "Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained, its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits; 4 with three layers of huge stones and one layer of timbers. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. 5 Also let the gold and silver utensils of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be returned and brought to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; and you shall put them in the house of God."

The Temple was to be a place of sacrifice—so that the altar was to be rebuilt—and was to be ninety feet (i.e., sixty cubits) high and ninety feet wide with three courses of well-polished stones and one of timber. The gold and silver utensils from Solomon's Temple were to be returned in order to be used in the rebuilt Temple.

The history of the Temple during the Persian and early Hellenistic periods is largely unknown, owing to a lack of sources. Presumably, it still existed and operations went on within it as normal. There is one reference from this period to consider.  Josephus claims to quote from a work written by a certain Hecataeus of Abdera, a philosopher who lived in the fourth and third centuries BCE who wrote a work about the Jews. In his work, Hecataeus describes the Jerusalem Temple (Apion 1.22; 198-99).

The same man describe our city Jerusalem also itself as of a most excellent structure, and very large, and inhabited from the most ancient times. He also discourses of the multitude of men in it, and of the construction of our temple, after the following manner: "There are many strong places and villages (says he) in the country of Judea; but one strong city there is, about fifty furlongs in circumference, which is inhabited by a hundred and twenty thousand men, or thereabouts; they call it Jerusalem. There is about the middle of the city a wall of stone, whose length is five hundred feet (five plethra), and the breadth a hundred cubits, having a pair of gates; wherein there is a square altar, not made of hewn stone, but composed of white stones gathered together, having each side twenty cubits long, and its height ten cubits. Hard by it is a large edifice, wherein there is an altar and a lampstand, both of gold, and in weight two talents: upon these there is a light that is never extinguished, either by night or by day. There is no image, nor any thing, nor any donations therein; nothing at all is there planted, neither grove, nor any thing of that sort. The priests abide therein both nights and days, performing certain purifications, and drinking not the least drop of wine while they are in the temple."

He says that the Temple encompassed an area of five plethra (one plethron = c. 100 feet) long and one hundred cubits broad, access to which was through a pair of gates (The implication is that the Temple is surrounded by a wall).  He describes the altar, which was square (twenty cubits by twenty cubits and ten cubits high) and made of unhewn stones, and beside it, a building containing an (incense) altar and a lampstand, both made of gold.  The lamps on the lampstand are never extinguished.  He remarks that in the Temple there are no statues or votive offerings, and no vegetation, in the form of sacred groves.

Palestine, which included Judea, passed over from the Ptolemaic kingdom to the Seleucid kingdom in c. 198 BCE.  It seems that during the war between the two kingdoms the Temple was damaged, so that Antiochus III, the king of the Seleucid kingdom, decreed that work on the Temple be completed under favorable political conditions. The goal was to make it more splendid than it was before (Ant. 12.3.3; 139-41). The only reference to a specific feature of the Temple is to the stoa (portico): "I would also have the work about the temple finished, and the stoa, and if there be any thing else that ought to be rebuilt" (Ant. 12.3.3; 141). Whether these stoa were already existent before the renovations sponsored by Antiochus III or were architectural innovations is impossible to determine. The edict published by Antiochus III concerning the Temple, as cited by Josephus, implies that there was an outer court, into which gentiles may enter, provided that they have purified themselves: "He [Antiochus III] also published a decree through all his kingdom in honor of the temple, which contained what follows: 'It shall be lawful for no foreigner to come within the limits of the Temple round about; which thing is forbidden also to the Jews, unless to those who, according to their own custom, have purified themselves'" (Ant. 12.3.4; 145).  Surely the decree of Antiochus III would not have allowed gentiles to enter the inner courts, so that there must have existed an outer court into which ritually-pure gentiles were allowed to enter, but proceed no further.

It seems that it was Simon (the Just), High Priest from 219-196 BCE, who was responsible for overseeing the Temple repairs and renovations (Sirach 50.1-3). In particular it is said, "In his time the wall was built, for the residence in the Temple of the King.  In his day the reservoir was dug, the pool with the vastness like the sea's" (50:2-3). The wall that Simon built seems to be the outer wall, which would encompass the outer court. Simon also dug a reservoir, presumably to hold water used for sacrifice or other purposes. In his eyewitness description of Simon's high-priestly service in the Temple, most likely on the Day of Atonement, Sirach mentions "the house of the curtain" (oikos katapetasmatos) (i.e., the holy of holies) (50:5) as well as the altar and the court of the sanctuary (50:11).

How was he honoured in the midst of the people in his coming out of the house of the curtain (Sirach 50.5)

When he put on the robe of honour, and was clothed with the perfection of glory, when he went up to the holy altar, he made the court of the sanctuary glorious. (Sirach 50.11)

Succeeding Antiochus III was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who in 168 BCE plundered the Jerusalem Temple. He also built another altar on the altar already in the Temple. After several years of armed struggle, Judas Maccabees took control of the Temple, but found it in a state of disrepair. The description of the state of the Temple after the Antiochan persecution and Judas' restoration of it in 1 Macc 4.36-51 provides valuable data for a historical reconstruction of the second Temple.

36 Then Judas and his brothers said, "See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to  cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it." 37 So all the army assembled and went up to  Mount Zion. 38 There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the  mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. 39 Then they tore their  clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes 40 and fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven. 41 Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the  sanctuary. 42 He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, 43 and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. 44 They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. 45 And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, 46 and stored the stones in a convenient place on the Temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. 47 Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. 48 They also  rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. 49 They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the Temple. 50 Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the Temple. 51 They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

The Temple desecrated by Antiochus had gates, which were burnt down; in addition, it seems that there were living quarters for priests on duty, which were in ruins. All the furniture and utensils were missing, including the curtains separating the holy place from the holy of holies (see also Ant. 12.317-18 = War 1.39). Both 1 Macc 4:51 and Ant. 12.318 refer to "curtains" (katapetasmata / empetasmata), implying that there was more than one curtain separating the holy place from the holy of holies. Judas removed both the original altar and the altar that Antiochus placed upon the original, replacing these with another altar made with unhewn stones. Judas and his followers made a new lampstand, altar of incense and table (of shewbread). It seems also that a new curtains were manufactured. (In 2 Macc 4.12, 28; 5.5 references are made to the citadel adjacent to the Temple.)

The Letter of Aristeas may be a historical fiction written in the early part of the second century either before or during the Antiochan persecution, as opposed to the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphius (283-247 BCE).  Nevertheless, the description of the Jerusalem Temple found in Letter of Aristeas (83-91) is credible and seems to be that of an eyewitness. If he is writing around the time of Antiochus IV, then the author is probably describing the Jerusalem Temple as it appeared in the early second century. How similar the Temple in this description was to the Temple a century earlier during the reign of Ptolemy II is impossible to determine.

83 I have given you this description of the presents because I thought it was necessary. The next point in the narrative is an account of our journey to Eleazar, but I will first of all give you a description of the whole country. When we arrived in the land of the Jews we saw the city situated 84 in the middle of the whole of Judea on the top of a mountain of considerable height. On the summit the temple had been built in all its splendor. It was surrounded by three walls more than seventy cubits high and in length and breadth corresponding to the structure of the edifice. All the buildings 85 were characterized by a magnificence and costliness quite unprecedented. It was obvious that no expense had been spared on the door and the fastenings, which connected it with the door-posts, and 86 the stability of the lintel. The style of the curtain too was thoroughly in proportion to that of the entrance. Its fabric owing to the draught of wind was in perpetual motion, and as this motion was communicated from the bottom and the curtain bulged out to its highest extent, it afforded a pleasant 87 spectacle from which a man could scarcely tear himself away. The construction of the altar was in keeping with the place itself and with the burnt offerings which were consumed by fire upon it, and the approach to it was on a similar scale. There was a gradual slope up to it, conveniently arranged for the purpose of decency, and the ministering priests were robed in linen garments, down to their 88 ankles. The Temple faces the east and its back is toward the west. The whole of the floor is paved with stones and slopes down to the appointed places, that water may be conveyed to wash away the 89 blood from the sacrifices, for many thousand beasts are sacrificed there on the feast days. And there is an inexhaustible supply of water, because an abundant natural spring gushes up from within the Temple area. There are moreover wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, as they pointed out to me, at a distance of five furlongs all round the site of the temple, and each of them has countless pipes 90 so that the different streams converge together. And all these were fastened with lead at the bottom and at the sidewalls, and over them a great quantity of plaster had been spread, and every part of the work had been most carefully carried out. There are many openings for water at the base of the altar which are invisible to all except to those who are engaged in the ministration, so that all the blood of the sacrifices which is collected in great quantities is washed away in the twinkling of an 91 eye.

The author of Letter of Aristeas says that the Temple sat upon the tallest hill in Jerusalem and faced east; it had three enclosing walls over seventy cubits high, while the west wall of the sanctuary served as the fourth enclosing wall.  In general, the author was impressed by the quality of the workmanship and the material used in its construction, giving as examples the doors, their fastenings and the lintels. He mentions the curtain (katapetasma) and describes how air currents would cause it to be in a gentle but perpetual motion, which created quite the spectacle for the on-looker. The foundation of the Temple was said to be covered with precious stones. He also makes reference to the altar, which one approached by a ramp, and how there was a method devised to wash away sacrificial blood from the altar using water from a spring and a system of underground reservoirs that channeled water to the altar; the blood was washed out through discrete holes at the base of the altar through which the water would wash away the sacrificial blood. Presumably, the water and blood would flow underground and exit somewhere beyond the outer walls. The author also claims to have toured the citadel adjacent to the Temple; he describes seeing towers and catapults (100-104).

Later, as the conflict between the Seleucid kingdom and the Maccabeans continued, Antiochus V Eupator, the son of Antiochus IV, is said to have pulled down the walls of the Temple:  "But when the king entered  Mount Zion and saw what a strong fortress the place was, he broke the oath he had sworn and gave orders to tear down the wall all around. " (1 Macc 6.60-63; see Ant. 12.9.7; 382-83). These walls were probably the outer walls surrounding what was known as the outer court, because In 1 Macc 9.54, it is said that the high priest Alcimus, hostile to the Maccabeans, tore down the walls of the inner court: "In the one hundred and fifty-third year, in the second month, Alcimus gave orders to tear down the wall of the inner court of the sanctuary." Exactly which walls these were is not clear, but probably they were the walls surrounding the priests' court and sanctuary. Jonathan, a brother of Judas, rebuilt the outer Temple wall (1 Macc 10.11; Ant. 13.2.1; 41); presumably the inner walls were also rebuilt at some point after Alcimus' death. According to Josephus, Jonathan later repaired the Temple walls and added high towers to the Temple precincts:  "When Simon and Jonathan had finished these affairs, they returned to Jerusalem, where Jonathan gathered all the people together, and took counsel to restore the walls of Jerusalem, and to rebuild the wall that encompassed the temple, which had been thrown down, and to fortify the Temple precincts by very high towers" (Ant. 13.5.11; 181). Presumably, parts of the outer walls of Temple were destroyed during Jonathan's conflicts with the Seleucids, since he had repaired the outer Temple wall earlier.

John Hyrcanus, the son of Simon, inherited the high priesthood from his father. Josephus describes how, on what seems to be the Day of Atonement, Hyrcanus burned incense alone in the Temple, no doubt in the holy place: "Hyrcanus, who was alone in the Temple, burning incense as High Priest, heard a voice saying that his sons had just defeated Antiochus (IX Cyzicenus)" (Ant. 13.10.3; 282). During the reigns of Aristobolus I, the son of Hyrcanus I and the reign of Alexandra, references are made to the citadel adjacent to the Temple: "For he was ill lying in the fortress (baris) afterwards called Antonia..."(Ant. 13.11.2; 307 = War 13.3; 76; Ant. 13.16.5; 426-27 = War 1.5.4; 117-19; see Ant. 14.1.2; 5, 14.3.4; 51). Alexander Jannaeus, the second husband of Alexandra, is said to have erected a wooden barrier around the altar and the Temple as far as the wall in order to keep the people away from him and the other priests (Ant. 13.13.5; 372-73).

As to Alexander, his own people were seditious against him; for at a festival which was then celebrated, when he stood upon the altar, and was going to sacrifice, the nation rose upon him, and pelted him with citrons [which they then had in their hands, because] the law of the Jews required that at the feast of tabernacles every one should have branches of the palm tree and citron tree; which thing we have elsewhere related. They also reviled him, as derived from a captive, and so unworthy of his dignity and of sacrificing. At this he was in a rage, and slew of them about six thousand. He also built a partition-wall of wood round the altar and the temple, as far as that partition within which it was only lawful for the priests to enter; and by this means he obstructed the multitude from coming at him.

This innovation was precipitated by the fact that some Jewish men observing Alexander Jannaeus offering the required sacrifices at the festival of Tabernacles pelted him with kitra (citrus fruits) during the feast of Tabernacles. This barrier to keep the people at a distance from the High Priest seems to be a wall designed to keep non-priests at a safe distance from the priests (i.e., out of throwing range). It is not clear, however, how this new barrier related to the one that must have already been in place before the kitra-throwing incident. Perhaps what is being described is an enlargement of the area where only priests could enter. Or perhaps the wooden barrier was higher than the previous wall and so could prevent people from having access to him.

Josephus says that during the Hasmonean period, the ravine between the Temple mount and the city was filled in to give better access to the Temple; in addition, the hill on which the Akra (fortress) stood was lowered, so that the Temple would be the tallest structure in Jerusalem and not be blocked from view by the Akra (War 5.4.1; 139-40).

The faction loyal to Aristobolus II took refuge in the Temple when the Roman general Pompey marched on Jerusalem in 63 BCE.  In his description of Pompey's siege, Josephus describes the Temple and its situation (Ant. 14.4.1-4; 58-73 = War 1.7.2-6; 143-53). The rebels took refuge in the Temple and cut the bridge that led to the Temple from the city: "It was this party that made the first move and occupied the Temple, and cutting the bridge that stretched from it to the city, prepared themselves for a siege" (Ant. 14.4.2; 58). This bridge was probably on the western side of the outer wall, and seems to have been a suspension-type bridge. The Temple is said to have have been a natural fortress since it was surrounded by a ravine; in addition, the Temple was fortified with towers, which may refer to towers attached to the fortress later called Antonia or to other towers built into the outer wall of the Temple. During the siege and even when Pompey's troops had breached the outer wall, the priests faithfully carried out their duties of offering the morning and evening sacrifices, the Tamid offering. Pompey eventually breached the largest towers: "Now when the siege-engine was brought up, the largest of the towers was shaken and fell, making a breach through which the enemy poured through" (Ant. 14.4.3; 68). Josephus says that Pompey and some of his troops entered the inner court of the Temple and even inspected the holy place. They saw the golden table, the sacred lampstand, the libation vessels, and a great quantity of spices, but took nothing, not even the deposits in the Temple treasury.

And not light was the sin committed against the sanctuary, which before that time had never been entered or seen. For Pompey and not a few of his men went into it and saw what was unlawful for any but the High Priests to see. Bit though the golden table was there and the sacred lampstand and the libation vessels and a great quantity of spices, and besides these, in the treasury, the sacred moneys amount to two thousand talents, he touched none of these because of piety. (Ant. 14.4.4; 71-2)

The author(s) of the Psalms of Solomon refers disapprovingly to Pompey's siege of the Temple, especially as he desecrated it (Ps. Sol. 2.1-2, 26-27; 8.16-18; 17.12).

The Roman Crassus, proconsul of Syria from 54-53 BCE, intending to march against the Parthians and needing funds for this campaign, took money on deposit in the Temple and is said to have planned to strip all the gold off the Temple also (Ant.. 14.7.1; 105-109 = War 1.8.8; 179).

Now Crassus, as he was going upon his expedition against the Parthians, came into Judea, and carried off the money that was in the Temple, which Pompey had left, being two thousand talents, and was disposed to spoil it of all the gold belonging to it, which was eight thousand talents. He also took a beam, which was made of solid beaten gold, of the weight of three hundred minae, each of which weighed two pounds and a half.  It was the priest who was guardian of the sacred treasures, and whose name was Eleazar, that gave him this beam, not out of a wicked design, for he was a good and a righteous man; but being entrusted with the custody of the curtains belonging to the temple, which were of admirable beauty, and of very costly workmanship, and hung down from this beam, when he saw that Crassus was busy in gathering money, and was in fear for the entire ornaments of the temple, he gave him this beam of gold as a ransom for the whole, but this not till he had given his oath that he would remove nothing else out of the temple, but be satisfied with this only, which he should give him, being worth many ten thousand [shekels or drachmas]. Now this beam was contained in a wooden beam that was hollow, but was known to no others; but Eleazar alone knew it; yet did Crassus take away this beam, upon the condition of touching nothing else that belonged to the temple, and then brake his oath, and carried away all the gold that was in the temple.

Apparently the gold covered the interior and/or exterior of the walls of the Temple buildings. Eleazar gave Crassus the golden beam or rod that held up the curtains in the sanctuary. The purpose of these curtains (katapetasmata) is not clear; possibly this is a reference to other curtains than the one thatseparated the holy place from the holy of holies. Josephus explains that the Temple contained much wealth, some of which was used as ornamentation, because Jews from outside of Palestine sent money to the Temple (Ant. 14.109-13).

Antigonus, a Hasmonean, the son of Aristobolus II, allied with the Parthians took control of Jerusalem from the Romans. Herod, with Roman support, in 39 BCE began a campaign to retake Jerusalem. Herod laid siege to the Temple, and eventually gained access to the outer courts of the Temple and the lower city. When he took the outer court of the Temple and the lower city, Herod's enemies fled into the inner courts and the upper city. Once the Romans gained access to the inner courts, a massacre ensued, but Herod restrained the Roman soldiers from entering into the sanctuary (Ant. 14.15.14; 465-83 = War 1.17.8-18.3; 342-57). Josephus says that some of the porticos were burnt, which may be porticos in the inner courts or the outer courts.

2. The Herodian Temple

2.1. References to Events Relating to the Herodian Temple

In 20-19 BCE, in the eighteenth or the seventeenth year of his reign, Herod announced that he planned to renovate the Temple (Ant. 15.11.1-2; 380-90 = War 1.21.1; 401). Actually, it seems that what he intended was its dismantling and complete reconstruction, so that one could call it a new Temple; some feared that Herod would pull down the old structures but would not be able to rebuild them.  Josephus' detailed description the Herodian Temple will be considered later.

When Herod was on his death bed, Josephus says that some youths, at the instigation of their teachers Judas and Matthias, pulled down a golden eagle that Herod had erected over the great gate of the Temple as a dedicatory offering (Ant. 17.6.1-3; 151-63 = War 1.33.2-4; 649-55). The Temple gate referred to is probably the eastern gate leading into the inner courts of the Temple, called the Beautiful Gate. In their view, the biblical prohibition against images justified their action. The youths responsible climbed onto the roof, lowered themselves and cut the image down with axes.

Upon Herod's death, Archelaus, one of Herod's sons, went to the Temple, ascended a platform and sat on a golden throne (Ant. 17.8.4; 200 = War 2.1.1; 1-2). Where exactly in the Temple this took place is not clear. This pretentious act was for the purpose of staking a claim to power. When Archelaus was in Rome petitioning Augustus to confirm the last will of his father, Herod, a riot broke out in the Temple during the Festival of Weeks; Varus, proconsul of Syria, attempted to quell the disturbance (Ant. 17.10.2; 254-64 = War 2.3.2-3; 45-50). According to Josephus, the rioters climbed atop the porticos surrounding the outer court and attacked the Roman legionnaires from above. In retaliation, the Romans burned the porticos feeding the fire with combustible materials until the porticos collapsed (Josephus says that the porticos had some wooden components and even gold ornamentation). Pushing their way through the fire, the Romans made their way into the Temple treasury, which they proceeded to plunder; where exactly in relation to the porticos the treasury was situated is difficult to determine. Probably, however, as will be seen, the Temple Treasury was located in the women's court.

Josephus gives an account of how Samaritans scattered human bones throughout the Temple during Passover, when the priests were accustomed to throwing open the gates of the temple after midnight; this had the effect of ritually contaminating the Temple (Ant. 18.2.2; 29). When he was procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate illegally expropriated funds from the Temple treasury to build an aqueduct (Ant. 18.3.2; 60-62 = War 2.9.4; 175-77). Josephus also explains, in some detail, how, when he became emperor, Gaius (Caligula) ordered Petronius, proconsul of Syria, to erect a statue of him in the Temple. Petronius protested and delayed, and Gaius died before the former carried out the order, to the relief of all sensible people (Ant. 18.8.2-9; 261-309 = War 2.10.1-5; 184-203). Finally, Josephus relates how once during a Passover celebration, a Roman soldier standing on exterior temple walls exposed himself to the Passover crowds, thereby causing a riot. As a result a massacre ensued as the Roman legionnaires attempted to restore order (Ant. 20.5.2; 104-12).

During the reign of Agrippa II (52-66 CE), the Temple was to undergo renovations because its foundation had begun to sink. Importing huge timbers from Lebanon, Agrippa hoped to underpin the sanctuary and raise it up twenty cubits, but the war with Rome interrupted his work (War 5.1.5; 36). On behalf of the unemployed construction workers, whose jobs were terminated with the completion of the Temple, the people requested that Agrippa II allow the workers to raise the height of the east portico, which Josephus says was built by Solomon. No doubt, he means that the eastern wall was pre-Herodian, that Herod did not rebuild this part of the outer wall (Ant. 20.9.7; 219-22).

2.2. Description of Herod's Temple

2.2.1. Introduction

Herod's Temple was under construction from c. 20/19 BCE until 63 (see John 2:20), but most of the work was completed earlier rather than later. Josephus says that the Temple proper (ho naos) was completed after a year and a half, whereas the construction of the stoa and the outer courts took eight years (Ant. 15.11.5-6; 420-21). The rest of the time was spent finishing the task. He also claims that during the time the Temple proper (ho naos) was under construction, no rain fell during the day, but only at night, so as not to hinder progress (Ant. 15.11.7; 425).  Josephus records Herod's speech to the people on the eve of his massive renovation project (Ant. 15. 382-87); probably Josephus copied it from the court archives.

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; for 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; and for the particular edifices belonging to your own country, and your own cities, as also to those cities that we have lately acquired, which we have erected and greatly adorned, and thereby augmented the dignity of your nation, it seems to me a needless task to enumerate them to you, since you well know them yourselves; but 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 height; for 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 they were 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 height; but 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, who, if I may so say, are the rulers of the whole world, I will do my endeavor to correct that imperfection, which hath arisen from the necessity of our affairs, and the slavery we have been under formerly, and to make a thankful return, after the most pious manner, to God, for what blessings I have received from him, by giving me this kingdom, and that by rendering his temple as complete as I am able.

Herod's Temple was under construction from c. 20/19 BCE until 63, just before its destruction by the Romans, but most of the work was completed earlier rather than later. Josephus says that the Temple proper (ho naos) was completed after a year and a half, whereas the construction of the stoa and the outer courts took eight years (Ant. 15.11.5-6; 420-21). The rest of the time was spent finishing the task. He also claims that during the time the Temple proper (ho naos) was under construction, no rain fell during the day, but only at night, so as not to hinder progress (Ant. 15.11.7; 425). The Roman historian Tacitus describes the Temple as "possessing enormous riches" (Hist. 5.8.1).


Simon the Temple Builder

One of the ossuaries found in a tomb in the Old City of Jerusalem bore the inscription in Aramaic of "Simon the Temple [hklh] Builder" on two sides. Presumably, this man was involved in the construction of Herod's Temple, a fact for which he wanted to be to be remembered.

No one knows for certain what Herod's temple looked like in all its detail, nor its exact dimensions, but one can form a general idea of its layout from recent archaeological excavations (see M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple), accounts of authors contemporary with Herod's Temple and from the Mishnah. The major literary sources are Josephus (War 5.5.1-8; 184-247; Ant. 15.11.5-7; 410-25) and the Mishnaic tractate Middot (m. Mid.), as well as other tractates. The problem is that the literary sources are all incomplete and somewhat contradictory at points; the Mishnah is suspect on some counts because it was written long after living memory of the Temple. In this study, where these sources diverge, either both are given as options or one of the two options is determined to be the most likely.

2.2.2. Situation and Dimensions

The Jerusalem Temple was situated on top of the Temple Mount, also known as Mt. Moriah. To the west of the Temple was the Tyropoeon valley and to the south and east was the Kidron valley, possible identical to the Hinnom valley (Gehinnom). 

Temple Mount

Beginning in 19/20 BCE, Herod the Great began to enlarge the existing Temple Mount to be able to accommodate larger crowds of Jewish festival pilgrims.

The north provided easiest access to the Temple. Josephus describes the city as laying before the Temple as a "theater," by which he means that the city was situated as on the west and south sides of the Temple, in a sort of semi-circle (Ant. 15.410). Archaeological investigation reveals the outer wall of Herod's Temple itself was an irregular quadrangle:  south wall = 280 m.; west wall = 485 m.; north wall = 315 m.; east wall 460 m. The total circumference of the temenos or sacred precincts, was 1,540 m., and the total area = c. 144,000 sq. m. (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 77). These dimensions were large by ancient standards; most temples in the ancient world were much smaller. Herod had the the old foundations of the Temple removed (Ant. 15.391). Archaeological evidence suggests, however, that he kept the eastern wall in tact, for there is a "seam" visible near the southern corner of the eastern wall separating the Herodian stonework and what is presumed to be the pre-Herodian eastern wall. From the seam southward is thirty-two meters (out of a total of 460 meters) of Herodian wall, from which it may be inferred that Herod's builders extended the outer wall this distance to the south (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 101-103). There is also archaeological evidence of an elaborate drainage system.

In the Mishnah it is said that the Temple mount—the outer wall—was 500 cubits square (m. Mid. 2.1) (A cubit is c. 22 inches or 56.1 centimeters), and Josephus says that the east portico was 400 cubits long (Ant. 20.9.7; 221-22).  Obviously there is a discrepancy between the archaeological and the literary evidence concerning the size of the Temple. (The Mishnah may base its measurements on Ezek 42:16-20, which specifies that the Temple should be 500 cubits square.)  In another place, Josephus said the circumference of the outer walls was four stadia (stadion = c. 607 ft. or 184 m.) with each side being one stadion, which would make the outer courts a square (Ant. 15.401).


This mikveh (ritual bath of purification) is located to the south of the Temple close to the Huldah gates, and dates to the second-Temple period. Jews would cleanse themselves from ritual impurity in this mikveh in order to be qualified to enter the Temple (see Lev 14, 15; Num 19).

In Apion 2.8; 103-109, Josephus gives a brief description of the layout of the Temple. He says that the Temple had four courts, each with restrictions on who could enter. The outer court was open to all, including non-Jews, except menstruating women. Into the second court were allowed all Jewish men and menstrually clean Jewish women. Beyond the second court was the third court into which ritually pure Jewish men could enter. Finally the fourth court was restricted to priests who were properly attired. Josephus also indicates that only the high priest dressed in his high priestly raiment could enter the sanctuary (adytum). Similarly, the Mishnah distinguishes degrees of holiness possessed by various areas of the Temple: the Temple mount was holier that the city, whereas the terrace surrounding the inner courts was holier than the Temple mount. The court of women is holier than the terrace and the court of the Israelites is holier than it. Finally, the court of the priests is holier than all (m. Kelim 1.8-9). It should also be noted that one ascended as one went up to the Temple and, once in the Temple, moved upwards towards the sanctuary (War 5.1.1; 9-11). When they came to visit for festivals, Jews in the second-Temple period brought to Jerusalem second-tithe money, ten percentage of their income after the first tithe (see Deut 14:22-26; Jub. 32:11 Tobit 1:7; Ant.. 4.205; m. Ma'aser Sheni). This meant that many Jews spent sizable sums of money in the city, which no doubt included purchases of types of sacrifices that they themselves could eat (fellowship and peace offerings).
2.2.3. The Outer Courts

A. The Temple Walls

The outer courts were surrounded by a high and thick wall. Josephus says that this wall was the "greatest ever heard of," which, although exaggerated, is not far from the truth (Ant. 15.11.3; 396). Parts of this wall still survive today and have recently been excavated down to their original street level. Not surprisingly the stones used were large, especially those used in the lower courses and the corners. Josephus says that some of the stones were 40 cubits long (c. 20 m.) and six cubits (c. 3 m.) high (War 5.5.1; 189; Ant. 20.9.7; 221); the largest stone found to date is 12 m. x 3 m. x 4 m., weighing c. 400 tons (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 88). The outer wall consisted of three rows of blocks and was about five meters thick (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 90-91); the blocks were fitted together using the "dry construction" method, which means that no mortar was used in the construction. Each block had a "marginal dressing," meaning that each had a frame or margin chiseled around its edge (M. ben Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 96). The stones used are described by Josephus as "hard and white" (lithoi leukoi te kai krataioi) (Ant. 15.11.3; 392). According to Josephus, Roman battering rams were unable to cause a breach in the outer western wall (War: 6.4.1; 220-22).

Marginal Dressing

The outer face of each block used in the construction of the outer wall was smoothed. Herod's masons then chiseled a margin around the edge of each block; in this way, anyone could easily see that the wall was composed of individual blocks. The margin varied from between one to two centimeters deep and nine to eighteen centimeters wide.

The height of the wall varied, but on the exterior to the south it extended more than thirty meters above ground level (Sanders, Judaism, 68). In some places, the actual height of the wall is fifty meters, because the foundation is twenty meters below street level (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 77, 92). (Josephus says that the actual height of the wall in some places was as high as 300 cubits (= c. 150 meters), but this seems to be in error; he is is correct, however, in noting in general that, "The whole depth of the foundations was not apparent; for they filled up a considerable part of the ravines, wishing to level the narrow alleys of the town" [War, 5.188].) On the top of the outer wall, there was probably a parapet on either side, in order to allow people safe access to the top of the wall.

"To the Place of Trumpeting" Sign

This inscription on what is probably part of the parapet of the outer wall is translated as "For [or to] the place of trumpeting to...." The last word may have been "to announce" (lhkryz). It was discovered during B. Mazar's excavations at the base of the Herodian wall at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. It probably served to indicate where a priest would stand to blow the trumpet to begin and end the Sabbath. Josephus explains the procedure: "And the last [tower] was erected above the roof of the Priest's Chambers, where it was the custom for one of the priests to stand and to give notice, by the sound of a trumpet, in the afternoon of the approach, and on the following evening of the close, of every seventh day, announcing to the people the respective hours for ceasing work and for resuming their labors" (War 4.582-83). This inscribed stone was found at the southwest corner of the Temple.

Josephus describes how the outer wall was constructed (Ant. 15. 397-400). The outer walls were built around the base of the Temple mount, starting from the lowest point; the blocks were fastened to one another with lead (He also says that iron clamps were used on the inside of the blocks to join them together, giving the outer walls greater strength). When the wall reached the designated height, the summit of the Temple mount was leveled off, and fill was brought in to fill up the empty space between the walls and the Temple mount, so that the outer walls functioned as retaining walls. This provided a level surface for the Temple complex. Actually, the empty space between the summit and the outer walls was not completely filled in, for under the Temple complex towards the southeastern corner of the Temple are three stories of vaulted chambers, what is known today as "Solomon's Stables" (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 91). The empty space underground reduced the pressure exerted against the outer walls from within. These vaulted chambers were connected to the Triple Huldah Gate passageway and supported the floor of the Temple on the southeast side of the Temple complex. (see also m. Para 3.3: "The Temple Mount and the Temple Courts had a hollow space beneath them in case there was a grave in the depths"). Obviously the outer wall would be almost impenetrable, especially since the Temple was surrounded on three sides by ravines; only the access from the north was relatively level. This explains why so frequently the Temple was used as a citadel.

Western or Wailing Wall

What is known as the Western Wall or the "Wailing Wall" is a portion of the outer western wall of the Herodian Temple; it is the traditional Jewish place of prayer. At present, the Western Wall measures c. 50 m. wide and c. 20 m high; the original ground level of this portion of the Herodian Temple, however, is several meters below present ground level.

B. The Temple Gates

According to the Mishnah, one entered the Temple complex, surrounded by the outer wall, through one of five gates, two on the south and one each other side (m. Mid. 1.3); according to m. Mid. 2.3 the gates were ten cubits wide by twenty cubits high (c. five meters by ten meters). The gate on the west was known as the Coponius (Kiphonus) Gate (m. Mid. 1.3), which may correspond to what is today known as Barclay's Gate, named after the American J. T. Barclay, who identified the remains of the lintel and arch of this Herodian gate (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 116, 140-41). Contrary to the Mishnah, however, archaeological evidence confirms that there was more than one gate on the west side, bordering the Tyropoeon valley. In fact, Josephus says that there were four gates leading into the Temple from the west (Ant. 15.11.5; 410). The most southerly of these four gates was situated twelve meters north of the southwest corner of the outer wall. In 1838, Edward Robinson identified the remains of an archway, now known as "Robinson's Arch," that once led to the place where this gate once stood; the supporting pier for the western edge of this arch was uncovered thirteen meters from the western wall.

Robinson's Arch and Supporting Pier for Staircase

To the south of this pier, perpendicular to the archway, was uncovered the foundations of a row of vaults that rose gradually from south to north; these vaults supported a staircase connecting the street running along the Tyropoeon Valley with the Temple. Josephus may be describing this gate when he writes, "The last [gate] led to the other part of the city, from which it was separated by many steps going down to the ravine and from here up again to the hill" (Ant. 15.11.5; 410). It is clear both from Josephus' description and the archaeological evidence that one used this staircase in order to enter this southern most gate on the western side of Temple complex. North of "Robinson's Arch" and "Barclay's Gate," which is probably the Coponius Gate, is located what is now known as "Wilson's Arch," named after the man who explored it in the late 1860's. This structure probably dates from the post-destruction period, but marks the location of another western gate (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 169-78). The northernmost gate along the western wall may have been situated at what is now known as "Warren's Gate," named after its discoverer, Charles Warren, who led the British expedition under the auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund. What is visible at present is the upper portion of a blocked-up gate, which is probably a later Muslim reconstruction of a gate original to Herod's Temple (The arched lintel of "Warren's Gate" dates from the Muslim period, but the gate posts are probably from the second-Temple period [M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 145]). Josephus describes how, during the siege of the Temple, Titus burned some of the outer gates and how their silver plating melted to revealed a wooden interior, which soon caught fire; this fire soon spread to the porticoes (War 6.4.2; 232-35). On the outside of the outer western wall of the Temple ran a street paved with stones; along the eastern side of the street, adjacent to the outer western Temple wall were many shops (see M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 80, 114).

Street Along Western Wall

In the 1990's, further excavations were carried out along the outer western wall of Herod's Temple. After the removal of much debris, the street that ran along the west side of the Temple was uncovered.  The street is 10 m. wide, and is paved with stones.  Along the outer wall there are the remains of shops that opened onto the street.  Across from "Robinson's Arch" there was uncovered a pier that once supported it; it contains four cells that were probably used for the purpose of commerce.  

Remains of Shops Along Western Wall

A staircase led to a walkway that ran along the top of the shops along the western wall; it led to the two lower gates through which one entered into the Temple underground.

Staircase along the Western Wall



Reconstruction of Southwest Corner of Temple
Urban Simulation Team

The two sets of southern gates are known as the two Huldah Gates, the double Huldah gate and the triple Huldah gate. It seems that the southern gates became the de facto main entrance to and exit from the Temple, because they were the most used. A paved street seven meters wide ran along the southern outer wall of the Temple in front of the Huldah gates for a distance of 280 meters. Access to the both Huldah gates was by means of staircases.

View of the Temple
Mount from the South

Beginning in 1968, Benjamin Mazar excavated the southern wall of Herod's Temple down to its original foundation. He discovered paved street and a staircase that provides access to a set of gates leading called the Double Huldah Gates.

The staircase in front of the double Huldah gate was 65 m. wide, while that in front of the triple Huldah gate was 15 m. (The staircase in front of the double Huldah gate alone still exists.) The risers on the steps are low, between seven and ten inches, and the treads vary between twelve and thirty-five inches, which forces a person to adopt an slow and deliberate gate when using the staircase, as if in a procession. The double Huldah gate served as an exit from the Temple, while the triple Huldah gate was used as an entrance (m. Mid. 1.3; 2.2) (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 113). The Mishnah says, "They entered from the right and exited to the left" (m. Mid. 2.2). The staircase in front of the double Huldah gate was wider than that in front of the triple Huldah gate in order to accommodate the simultaneous exit of people from the Temple when ceremonies or festivities ended and perhaps their lingering for the purpose of socializing. Entrance into the Temple would be more staggered and so a more narrow staircase sufficed. Both gates opened into highly-decorated tunnels that led upwards into the outer courts (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 136-37). As indicated, the passageway of the triple Huldah gate was connected to the vaulted chambers beneath the southeastern part of the Temple, what is now called "Solomon's stables," where there were stalls for animals. Presumably, those entering the Temple from the south could buy animals for sacrifice that were certified as valid by the Temple authority.

Double Huldah Gates

At present only half of the the right wing of the double Huldah gate is visible from the exterior. The lintel is probably original to Herod's Temple, but the arch and ornamentation are likely from the early Muslim period (H. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 138).

Reconstruction of the Double Huldah Gate
Urban Simulation Team

Reconstruction of the Passageway into Outer Court from Double Huldah Gate
Urban Simulation Team

Triple Huldah Gates

To the east of the Double Huldah Gates was situated a set of three gates, called the Triple Huldah Gates. Leading up to these gates was a staircase.The present gates are not original to the Herodian period, but were built on their ruins (H. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 138). All that remains of the Herodian gates is part of the doorjamb on the bottom left.

The eastern gate led to the Mount of Olives, whereas the gate on the north, the Tadi Gate, was not used (m. Mid. 2.1). There are also the remains of an arch near the "seam" on the eastern wall, indicating that there used to be a entrance into the Temple at this point and that there was a street that ran under this arch parallel to the eastern wall (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 115-16).

C. Beyond the Outer Walls

The area inside the outer walls is known as the outer courts or, as Josephus expresses, "the first court" (ho prôtos peribolos) (The Mishnah refers to the outer courts as the "Mount of the House"); the largest area within the outer court was to the south, then the east, then the north and finally the west (m. Mid. 2.1). It was paved with stones (War 5.11.2; 192-93). Any person who was ritually pure could enter into the outer courts.

Looking Out from the Royal Portico
Urban Simulation Team

Looking South towards Royal Portico
Urban Simulation Team

The outer court was surrounded by a portico adjacent to the inside of the walls (War 5.5.2; 191-93; Ant. 15.11.5; 410-416) (A portico is a porch or walkway with a roof supported by columns). The portico consisted of three rows of columns, except along the southern wall where there were four rows of columns (Acts 2:46). The outermost columns were pilasters, columns set into the Temple wall (M. ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, 93). The portico consisting of four rows of columns on the south was called the Royal Portico. Another one of these porticoes is called Solomon's portico, which probably was situated along the east side of the outer court (John 10:23; Acts 3:11; Acts 5:12).

Stoa of Attalos in Athens

The stoa of Attalos was originally built along the Athenian Agora in 150 BCE. It functioned as a commercial center and a shelter for wealthy and influential Athenians. The photograph above is of the lower level of a modern reconstruction of this ancient structure. The stoa of Attalos consisted of two stories with a Doric colonnade on the ground floor, and an Ionic upper colonnade with a balustrade. On both levels, there exist rooms behind the colonnades. The stoas in Herod's Temple no doubt resembled the stoa of Attalos in many respects.

With the exception of those along the southern wall, each column was twenty-five cubits high and made of a single piece of white marble; the ceiling of the portico was lined with cedar. On the three sides of the outer court the portico was thirty cubits wide (c. 30 x c. 18 inches =  45 feet or 30 x .5 m. = c. 15 m.) (War 5.11.2; 190). As indicated, the  portico on the south side of the Temple, the Royal Portico, consisted of four rows of columns, thereby creating three aisles; the two outer aisles were thirty feet (podes) wide and over fifty-feet high, whereas the middle aisle was one and half times wider than each of the outer aisles (i.e., forty-five feet wide) and twice as high (100 feet high). (Josephus uses the "foot" as a unit of measurement in this section rather than the cubit; this foot is approximately equal to the English foot.)  (This implies that the columns used in the construction of the Royal Portico were taller than those used in the other porticoes.)  The wooden ceilings of the Royal were decorated with carvings of different figures (Ant. 15.11.5; 413-17). Josephus says that there were 162 columns used in the Royal Portico, each with an impressive Corinthian capital; each of these columns was so wide that "it would take three men with outstretched arms touching one another to envelop it" (Ant. 15.11.5; 413). (Whether this was true for the columns used in the other porticoes is not said.) According to War 5.11.2; 192, the total circumference of the the stoa adjacent to the inner wall of the outer court was six stadia (i.e., 6 x c. 607 feet or 184 m.), and in Ant. 15.11.5; 415, the length of the Royal Portico was one stadion (c. 607 feet or 184 m.). (His other statement that each side of the wall was one stadion conflicts with this.) These porticoes are not mentioned in the Mishnah, possibly because these were typically Greek architectural feature; but archaeologists have uncovered parts of the columns used as part of the porticoes (Sanders, Judaism, 59).  According to Josephus, if one stood on the roof of the Royal portico and looked down into the Kidron valley one would become dizzy, so great was the height (Ant. 15.11.5; 410). He also relates how, during the Roman attack on the Jewish revolutionaries who were in the Temple, some 6,000 women and children took refuge on the top of the one remaining portico not yet on fire; without orders, some Roman soldiers set fire to this portico, resulting in the deaths of those who had taken refuge there (War 6.5.1 277-78; 6.5.2; 283-85).

Reconstruction of the Royal Portico
Urban Simulation Team

2.2.4. The Inner Courts

Around the inner courts was a partition separating it from the outer court. Josephus says that this partition was three cubits high, whereas m. Mid. 2.3 says that it was only ten handbreadths high, or almost half as high. This partition is called the soreg in the Mishnah, which derives from the verb srg, which means to interlace or plait, so that it seems to refer to some type of lattice work, the implication possibly being that it was made of wood. Josephus, however, calls this balustrade a druphaktos, by which is meant a railing or balustrade, and says that it was made of stone. So the two sources are divergent about the nature of this partition. Since he was an eyewitness, Josephus' account should be preferred. It is possible that the partition was a free-standing structure, but it may also have formed part of the vertical extremity of the terrace that lay beyond it. Regardless, it had warning signs regularly spaced along it advising gentiles that entrance into the inner court was forbidden on pain of death (War5.193; m. Mid. 2.3) (see also Josephus, War 6.124-26; Ant. 15. 417; Philo Leg. ad Gaium 212).

Temple Warning Sign

One complete and two fragmentary copies (all in Greek) of the warning to gentiles to proceed no further have been discovered. The inscription translates as follows: "No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows." Both Greek (above) and Latin versions of this warning were posted at regular intervals around the soreg (balustrade).

Beyond the soreg were stairs leading up to a terrace (called the chel in m. Kelim 1.8), ten cubits wide, which was bounded by the walls of the inner court. According to Josephus, there were fourteen steps leading up to the terrace, while the Mishnah states that there were only twelve steps (m. Mid. 2.3). The number in the Mishnah, however, is suspect because of the symbolic importance of the number twelve. Josephus explains that beyond the terrace lay other sets of five steps leading up to gates opening up into the inner courts (War 5.5.2; 196-97), but the Mishnah describes the terrace as bounded by the walls of the inner court with no additional steps (m. Mid. 2.3). On the exterior, the height of the wall (including the steps) separating the two courts was forty cubits, while on the inside it was twenty-five cubits, since the inner courts were elevated above the outer courts. According to the Mishnah, when Nisan 14 fell on the Sabbath (and carrying the sacrificed paschal offering out of the Temple was forbidden) the first group to offer the Passover remained in the outer court, the second group on the terrace surrounding the inner courts, inside of the soreg, whereas the last group waited where they sacrificed their lambs until sundown, when the Sabbath was concluded (m. Pesah. 5.10).

According to Josephus, there were ten entrances into the inner courts, four on the south, four on the north, one on the east and one leading east to west from the Court of Women to the court of the Israelites, called the Nicanor Gate (War 5.5.2; 198; m. Mid. 1.4). This is confirmed by the Mishnah, for m. Sheqal. 6.3 and m. Mid. 2.6 both indicate that there are four gates each on the south and north sides of the inner courts, in addition to the Nicanor Gate. According to m. Sheqal. 6.3 and m. Mid. 2.6, on the south side, from west to east, are found the Upper Gate, the Fuel Gate, the Firstling Gate and the Water Gate; on the north side, from west to east, are located the Jeconiah Gate, the Offering Gate, the Women Gate and the Song Gate. Only three of these gates actually lead into the women's court from the outer courts, one from the east (see below), the Song Gate from the north and the Water Gate from the south. There is a discrepancy in the Mishnah, however, concerning the number of gates leading into the inner courts. M. Mid. 1.4-5 says that there were only seven gates, three on the south, three on the north and one on the east. But this text may refer only to the gates on the north, south and east sides that lead into the Court of the Priests or the Court of the Israelites (what Josephus calls the "sacred [court]" and the "third court" Ant. 15.11.5; 419), omitting to mention that there were three more gates, one on the north, one on the south and one on the east, each of which leads into the Court of Women. In addition, there is some disagreement on the names of the gates in this parallel passage. According to m. Mid. 1.4, the gates on the south were called the Fuel Gate, the Firstling Gate and the Water Gate. These three names also occur in m. Sheqal. 6.3 and m. Mid. 2.6. Only one of the names of the three gates on the north side in m. Mid. 1.5, however, matches the names of the four northern gates mentioned in m. Sheqal. 6.3 and m. Mid. 2.6: the Offering Gate. The other two gates on the north side in m. Mid. 1.5 are called the Light Gate and the Gate of the Chamber of the Hearth. In m. Mid. 1.5, the Light Gate is said to be a peristyle (court enclosed by columns, or a portico) on the ground level with an entrance on to the surrounding terrace and also had an upper story that was used to maintain guard by the priests and Levites. With the exception of the Nicanor Gate, these gates were thirty cubits high and fifteen wide, and each had two doors and a gate room. (In Apion 2.8; 119, Josephus says that the gates were sixty cubits high and twenty wide, which seems to be an exaggeration.) The Nicanor Gate was forty-cubits wide and fifty cubits high. The nine gate rooms (exedra) were thirty cubits wide, thirty cubits deep and forty cubits high, each supported by two columns (War 5.5.3; 202-203). Elsewhere, Josephus says that these gate rooms each consisted of three rooms (Ant. 15.11.5; 418). According to m. Mid. 1.4 (see m. Mid. 2.6), the Nicanor Gate had two gate rooms, one on either side of it; one was called the Chamber of Phineas where the priest responsible for the distribution of priestly raiment carried out his duties, while the other room was used for the preparation of the meal-offering cakes. In m. Mid. 1.6, the Chamber of the Hearth, connected somehow to the gate by the same name, is said to have four rooms opening into a reception room (Heb. trqlyn = Lat. torcularium), which were used for different purposes. The room to the southwest was the "Chamber of the Lamb Offerings," the one to the southeast the "Chamber of Shewbread," the one to the northeast the place where the Hasmoneans hid the defiled altar stones, and the room to the northwest was a chamber which led down to the "Chamber of Immersion," where priests would cleanse themselves ritually when needed. The two rooms on the south were considered to be on sacred ground, whereas the two on the north were in non-sacred ground. The Chamber of the Hearth also had two gates, one opening on to the terrace and the other on to the Priest's Court. The gate that opened on to the Priest's Court had a small wicket (pšpt), i.e., a small door built into or near a larger gate, that allowed priests access to the Priest's Court for the purpose of inspecting the court (m. Mid. 1.7). It also had a vault and a large room, presumably the reception room referred to in m. Mid. 1.6, which was surrounded by what is called stone rwbdyn, which seem to be steps. The room served as sleeping quarters for the elders of the priests' divisions who had in their possession the keys to the Priest's Court (m. Mid. 1.8).

The gate to the east leading into the Court of Women may have been the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-10) and was the principal entrance into the inner courts. (The inner courts were situated along an east-west axis, though the main entrance to the outer courts was from the south.)  Women were required to enter through the north or south gates (War 5.5.2; 199). Like the other gates, they that were overlaid with silver and gold (War 5.5.3; 201). The Beautiful Gate led into the Court of Women, where all Jews could enter, except those who were ritually impure (Apion 2.8; 104). The walls of the Court of Women were lined by porticoes, thereby creating a corridor from east to west (War 5.5.2; 200); along the walls of the Court of Women were storage chambers where Temple property or perhaps private property was stored (War 5.5.2; 200).

Somewhere among the chambers in the Court of Women was located the Temple treasury (gazophulakia), a place where money donated to the Temple or deposited privately was kept (War 5.5.2; 200; 6.5.2; 282; see Ant. 19.6.1; 294). According to the Mishnah there were located in the Temple thirteen horned-shaped depositories (shoparoth) designated for different types of offerings; people would deposit money in these depositories for different purposes (m. Sheq. 2.1; 6. 1, 5). It is probable that these thirteen depositories were located near the Temple treasury; the contents of these depositories were periodically emptied and stored in the Temple treasury.  (The same name is used for these depositories as for the Temple treasury itself.)  Probably, another name for the Temple treasury is "Storehouse of God" (tou theou thesauros) (see Ant. 17.10.2; 264; War 2.3.3; 50).

According to the Mishnah, which may be correct, there were four unroofed chambers in the four corners of the Court of Women. One was the place where unclean priests inspected the firewood removing wood that was worm-eaten; another was the room where those taking the Nazarite vow would cut their hair and cook their peace-offerings. A third was the place where lepers would cleanse themselves before presenting themselves before the priest (see Lev 14; Mark 1:44). According to t. Neg. 8:9 and m. Neg. 14:8, the leper who came to the Temple for final cleansing would immerse himself in "the chamber of the lepers" (lshkth hmtswr'im). This means that there must have been a ritual bath (mikveh) in this chamber. The Mishnah seems to refer to this chamber as being one of the two chambers closest to the eastern (i.e., Beautiful) gate; if so, in addition to the inspection of lepers, this chamber was also used for women to be purified after childbirth (Lev 12) and for the carrying out the ordeal for the suspected adulteress (Num 5:5-31) (m. Sotah 1.5; m. Tamid 5.6). (How often the latter was done is not known.) The fourth of these chambers was the place where drink offerings and grain offerings were kept (m. Mid. 2.5). Also, according to the Mishnah, which again may be correct, there was an elevated gallery in the Court of Women, probably on top of the portico roof on the south, east and north sides. It was meant for women to use in order to keep men and women from commingling (m. Mid. 2.5).

The Court of Women led into the Court of the Israelites via a curved staircase of fifteen steps, which led up to the Nicanor Gate (m. Mid. 1.4; 2.6). As indicated, according to Josephus, this gate was larger than the other nine gates (being fifty cubits high with doors forty cubits wide); its doors were supposed to have been made of Corinthian bronze (War 5.201) and it took twenty men to open and close it (War 6.5.3; 293). The Levites would stand on these steps when they sang the Song of Ascents (m. Mid. 2.6). One first entered into the Court of Israelites, where only ritually pure Jewish men could enter (Ant. 15.11.5; 419). (According to Josephus, during the Roman attack on the revolutionaries who had taken refuge in the Temple, the Nicanor Gate opened of its own accord after having been closed and bolted [War 6.5.3; 293-94].) Under the Court of the Israelites there were chambers that opened out into the Court of the Women; these underground rooms were used for storage equipment and musical instruments used by the Levites (m. Mid. 2.6). According to the Mishnah, the Court of the Israelites was 135 cubits wide and eleven cubits deep, and was separated from the Court of the Priests by a low balustrade, which was elevated above the Court of the Israelites by a few steps (War 5.5.6; 226; m. Mid. 2.6). The Mishnah also claims that the Court of Priests was 135 cubits wide and eleven cubits deep, whereas the entire Temple Court (seemingly excluding the Court of Women) was 135 cubits wide and 187 cubits deep (m. Mid. 2.6). If true, then probably what is referred to as the Court of Priests ("Hall of Priests") in m. Mid. 2.6 does not include the area in which the altar is found, because the altar would seem to be too large to fit comfortably into a space of eleven cubits; rather the eleven cubits is probably a space separating the altar from the Court of Israelites (see below).

The Mishnah indicates that there were six chambers (lškwt) along the north and south sides of the Court of Priests, three on the north side and three on the south side, corresponding to the six gates, set aside for special purposes. On the north side there was the "Salt Chamber" where salt used for sacrifices was stored, the Parvah Chamber where the hides of the sacrifices were salted and the "Rinsing Chamber" where sacrifices were rinsed (probably the innards of sacrifices). On the south side, were located the "Wood Chamber," the function of which was forgotten, the "Diaspora Chamber," where the water supply for the Temple was controlled, and the "Gazith Chamber" (i.e., Hewn Stone Chamber) where the Sanhedrin used to meet to judge the priesthood (m. Mid. 5.3-4). Around the courtyard and between the gates there were porticos (War 5.200).

    In the Court of Priests stood the altar, the ramp, the shambles, and the laver among other things needed for sacrifice (War 5.5.6; 225; m. Mid. 3.1, 6; 5.2; m. Tamid 1.4). (There is also a reference to the "Chamber of Utensils" in m. Tamid 3.4.)  According to m. Mid. 3.1, the base of the altar was thirty-two cubits square, rose one cubit from the ground and had a one cubit wide ledge around it; on the base stood the altar itself, five cubits high with a one cubit ledge around it. Josephus, who may be more credible, however, indicates that the altar was fifteen cubits high and fifty cubits square (War 5.5.6; 225). On each corner of the altar there were four "horns." Leading up to the altar on the south side was a ramp; on the west side of the ramp was a "cavity" where disqualified bird offerings were thrown (m. Mid. 3.3). The Letter of Aristeas describes a drainage system connected to the altar in the pre-Herodian Temple for the purpose of washing away sacrificial blood (89-90); since the Mishnah also refers to a system for the elimination of sacrificial blood (m. Mid. 3.2), likely this indispensable feature was retained in the Herodian Temple. According to m. Mid. 3.2, at the southwest corner of the altar there were two holes through which blood was flushed away by water into the Kidron valley. Also at the same corner of the altar there was a pit covered by a paving stone functioning as a lid; the paving stone had a ring in it with which to remove it (m. Mid. 3.3). Priests probably poured what remained of libations into this pit. According to Josephus, there was a day set aside in the year for the people to bring an offering of wood to be used for the altar (War 2.425). To the north of the altar there were rows of rings affixed to the ground, which were used in the slaughtering of animals. (It seems that the animal's head was put into the ring to keep it immobile.)  In the same location was found the shambles ("House of Slaughter") where the animal was killed and flayed (m. Mid. 3.5). To the south, between the sanctuary portico and altar was situated the laver (m. Mid. 3.6). According to biblical prescription, priests would wash their hands and feet in the laver before making sacrifices.

The sanctuary (hykl), consisting most importantly of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, was situated west of the Court of the Priests; to the west of the altar was a portico functioning as a propylaeum (an entrance or vestibule) to the building behind it (War 5.5.3; 206). (The Mishnah refers to this as the 'wlm [m. Mid. 3.7].) According to m. Mid. 4.7, the portico was called the "Chamber of the Slaughter-knives" because knives used for killing sacrificial animals were stored there. The entire sanctuary was wider in front and narrower behind (War 5.5.4; 207; m. Mid. 4.7 "like a lion"). The portico was 100 cubits across and 100 cubits high; the width of the building behind the portico was sixty cubits  (War5.5.4; 207; 5.5.5; 221); according to m. Mid. 4.7, from east to west, the sanctuary was 100 cubits. The exterior of the building was covered with gold so that it reflected the sunlight (War 5.5.6; 222); this part of the Temple was the most elevated so that the gold would be visible from afar off. There were golden spikes affixed to the roof of the sanctuary to keep birds from landing on it (War 5.5.6; 223-24; m. Mid. 4.6).

Image of Temple on Coin Minted during the "Bar Kochba" Revolt

During the revolt of 132-135 CE led by Simon ben Kosiba, who become known as "Bar Kochba" or "Son of a Star" (see Num 24:17), Jews began to mint their own coinage. On the obverse of this coin is represented the facade of sanctuary; the inscription written in ancient Hebrew letters is "Jerusalem." Since only relatively few years had elapsed between the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the minting of this coin, it is conceivable that the image represents how the sanctuary appeared before its destruction by the Romans.

The reverse of the coin displays a lulav (myrtle, palm branch, and willow tied in a bundle) and ethrog (citron), which are used in the celebration of the Jewish holiday Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles. The inscription reads: "Year 2 of the freedom of Israel."



One ascended twelve steps up to the portico into which one entered through a gate with no doors; this entrance was seventy cubits high and twenty five cubits wide (War 5.5.4; 208). (The Mishnah states the dimensions of this entrance, however, as forty cubits high and twenty cubits wide [m. Mid. 3.7].)  Moving westward, one entered through the portico into the Holy Place, where only priests could enter. There were two doors fifty-five cubits high and sixteen wide, separating the portico from the Holy Place, each covered with gold, and above these were golden vines (War 5.5.4; 210; Ant. 15.9.2; 394; m. Mid. 3.8; see also Tacitus. Hist. 5.5). These golden vines may have hung from free-standing columns on either side of the doorway (Shanks, Jerusalem's Temple Mount, 95). In front of the doors, but presumably not obscuring them, hung a tapestry (War 5.5.4; 210). According to m. Yoma 3.10, Queen Helena donated a golden lamp that hung over the entrance of the sanctuary (hykl). In m. Mid. 4.1, it is specified that there were actually two sets of two doors separating the Holy Place from the portico; moreover, each of the four doors was a double door and would fold back on itself (m. Mid. 4.1). To open both sets of doors, a priest would enter through a small door on the north side of the portico and make his way into a room that led to a corridor between the two doors where he would open each set of doors; the smaller door also provided access into the Holy Place (m. Mid. 4.2). One could see through the entrance of the portico to the doors separating the portico from the Holy Place (War 5.5.4; 208). In the Holy Place stood the menorah, the incense altar, and the table of shewbread (War 5.5.5; 217) (see Luke 1:5-25). In one of the bas-reliefs of the arch of Titus, the table of shew-bread is depicted being carried as part of the Temple plunder in a triumphal procession; also included are trumpets, censers and the Menorah (see below).


Depicted on one the bas-reliefs of the Arch of Titus in Rome is Titus' soldiers carrying plunder from the Temple, which included the menorah. The depiction is credible since the menorah was probably still in Rome at the time when the arch was constructed. Josephus describes the menorah as "made of gold but constructed on a different pattern from those we use in ordinary life. Affixed to a pedestal was a central shaft, from which there extended slender branches, arranged trident-fashion, a wrought lamp being attached to the extremity of each branch; of these there were seven, indicating the honor paid to the number among the Jews" (War 7.148-50).

Two fragments of a representation of a menorah in unpainted plaster were discovered in the debris of a house in Jerusalem from the Herodian period. Most likely, it is a copy of the menorah used in the Temple.

Inside the central chamber of the ruins of a recently discovered ancient synagogue at Migdal, or Migdala, in Aramaic, near the Sea of Galilee, dating from between 50-100 CE, was found a decorated stone with a depiction of menorah flanked by amphorae (earthenware vessels) on either side. inside its central chamber. The central chamber is about 120 square meters in size with stone benches along the sides. The dig was conducted by Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najer of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

To the west of the Holy Place lay the "shrine" (debir) or Holy of Holies (qodesh qodashim) where only the High Priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement; there was nothing in the Holy of Holies (War 5.5.5; 219; m. Mid. 4.7). The fact that there was no image of God in the holy of holies (or anywhere else in the Temple) was unusual in the ancient world and was incomprehensible to non-Jews. In fact, Josephus explains in some detail how, when he became emperor, Gaius (Caligula) ordered Petronius, proconsul of Syria, to erect a statue of him as in the sanctuary (naos) because he wanted the Jews to venerate him as a god. Petronius protested and delayed, and Gaius died before Petronius carried out the order, to the relief of all sensible people. (The Jews did agree to offer two sacrifices daily for the benefit of Caesar [Ant. 18.8.2-9; 261-309 = War 2.10.1-5; 184-203].) In m. Yoma 5.2, it is explained that there was a stone called "Foundation" (shetijah) three finger breadths high in the Holy of Holies. A curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place (War 5.5.4; 212-13; 5..5.5; 219). Josephus describes this curtain in some detail.

"It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures" (War 5.5.4; 212-13).

There is some evidence that there were in fact two curtains, a cubit apart (half a meter), separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (m. Yoma 5.1; see Heb 9:3). Philo explains that the outer curtain was called the "covering" (kalumma) whereas the inner curtain was called the "curtain" (katapetasma) (Vita Mos. 2.101).

To the north, south and west sides of the sanctuary (the Holy Place and Holy of Holies) (sixty cubits in height) were three stories of interconnected widowless rooms, thirty-eight in all; access to these rooms was from the two sides of the portico (War 5.5.5; 220-21). The Mishnah describes these rooms and their functions in some detail. According to this source, there were three stories of five rooms on the north and the south; on the west side there were two stories of three rooms and a third story of two rooms, for a total of thirty-eight rooms. These rooms were connected to one one another on either side and above and below. In addition, there was a winding staircase that led from the lower northeast corner to the upper northwest corner; one then traveled along a corridor on the west side moving south and, reaching the end, one turned east and traveled along the south side until one reached the entrance to the story above the sanctuary. From this upper story one could ascend a ladder until one reached the roof. In the upper story there were openings into the Holy of Holies from which workers could be lowered facing the wall in order to make repairs (m. Mid. 4.3-5).  The use to which the upper portion of the sanctuary (forty cubits in height) was put is not known (War 5.5.5; 221).

In the north west corner of the Temple mount stood the Antonia citadel, a Roman garrison where the procurator resided when in Jerusalem; it was connected to the outer court of the Temple by an underground passage (Ant. 15.11.7; 424).  This citadel was formerly called the baris (Heb. birah) (see Ant. 15.11.4; 403). There was an secret underground passage from the Antonia to the inner courts of the Temple (Ant. 15.11.7; 424). It seems also that there was access to the top of the outer walls of the Temple from the Antonia (War 2.15.6; 330; 6.2.9; 165).



3. Attitudes Towards the Temple in the Second-Temple Period

Most Jews during the second Temple period recognized the Temple as a Jewish cultic center and made use of it, according to their interpretation of the biblical prescriptions. Evidence of this is the positive references to the Temple and its religious significance in Sirach, Letter of Aristeas and the writings of Philo of Alexandria (Spec. Laws, 1.141-44; 66-345; Embassy 156).

Some Jews during the second-Temple period believed that the second Temple would be replaced by a third, eschatological Temple. The author of Tobit, writing sometime in the second century BCE, states that the Temple rebuilt under Nehemiah will be replaced by a third Temple, built at the final restoration of Israel to the land "according to what the prophets of Israel have said":

And that again God will have mercy on them, and bring them again into the land, where they shall build a temple, but not like to the first, until the time of that age be fulfilled; and afterward they shall return from all places of their captivity, and build up Jerusalem gloriously, and the house of God shall be built in it for ever with a glorious building...(Tobit 14.5).

Although many of the Hebrew prophets foretell the rebuilding of the Temple, only Ezekiel gives a detailed description (Ezek 40-48). In a more polemical context, the author of the Animal Apocalypse found in 1 Enoch affirms that at the end God will remove the "old house" and replace it with a "new house":

And I stood up to see till they folded up that old house; and carried off all the pillars, and all the beams and ornaments of the house were at the same time folded up with it, and they carried it off and laid it in a place in the south of the land. And I saw till the Lord of the sheep brought a new house greater and loftier than that first, and set it up in the place of the first which had beer folded up: all its pillars were new, and its ornaments were new and larger than those of the first, the old one which He had taken away, and all the sheep were within it. (90.28-29).

By house is meant either Temple or the city of Jerusalem, which would include the Temple. The former Temple is said to have been defiled (89.73). Instead of a Temple built by God, however, the Jews got Herod's Temple. Likewise, in the Apocalypse of Weeks in 1 Enoch (93:1–10 + 91:11–17) , in the eighth week, the time of the eschaton, it is said that "a house shall be built for the Great King in glory for evermore" (91:13). Presumably, the existing Temple, the pre-Herodian, second Temple, is to be replaced. The Temple Scroll found at Qumran distinguishes the present Temple from the eschatological Temple yet to be built and destined to last forever:

I shall sanctify my [T]emple with my glory, for I shall make my glory reside over it until the day of creation, when I shall create my Temple, establishing it for myself for all days, according to the covenant which I made with Jacob at Bethel (11QTemple 29.8-10)

See also 4Q174 1; Jubilees 1.15-29; 25.21; Testament of Benjamin 9.2; Sybilline Oracles 3.294, 702-20, 772-74; 5.414-33. The Qumran sectarian community forbade its members from entering or making use of the second Temple "during the age of wickedness" (CD 6.11b-14). If it is a sectarian document, the Temple Scroll represents a description of the Temple that is to replace the present defiled one. It seems, however, that the community understood "the council of the community," the ruling body of the community, as a temporary replacement of the Temple. The council of the community is described in terms befitting the Temple and said to provide atonement for the community (1QS 8.5-8; 9.3-6).

  Back to Index Page

Last Modified On: