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Jerusalem: the second Temple    

Bible Study Resource

1st TempleAfter King David captured the hill fortress of Jerusalem, the Ark of the Covenant was installed in a sanctuary on the Temple Mount. David's son Solomon constructed the First Temple, completed in 957BC. The building was not large. It had three rooms: a porch, the main room of worship, and the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept. A storehouse surrounded three sides of the Temple. This Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586BC. The Temple treasures, including the Ark, were lost.

2nd Temple:  The Second Temple was completed in 515BC. It was a rebuilding of the previous Temple, but on a more modest scale because the Jewish population, and Jerusalem, had been decimated. 

Herod's Temple: Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple on a grand scale. It took 46 years to build, and was completed in 26AD. It was used not only for worship, but as a repository for the Scriptures and a meeting place for the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish law court. This Temple was destroyed in 70AD after the Jewish Revolt, and its treasures taken to Rome. All that remains of it today is the Western or Wailing Wall.

TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM: BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: coin showing the facade of the Temple

Facade of the Temple, from a coin struck by Bar Kochba in 132AD

 


Second, Post-exilic, & Herodian Temple

When Cyrus, King of Persia gave permission to the Jews to rebuild their ruined Temple in Jerusalem (538 BC), it was a heavy burden. The Jewish people had been scattered, and had lost virtually everything. Their Temple, built by Solomon, was in ruins. But they set to work, determined to restory its glory.

Their new Temple (the Post-exilic Temple) was completed in 515 BC. It was small and insignificant compared to the First Temple. But it occupied a more important place in the life of the nation: it became the religious and rituaCourt of Israel, Court of the Priests at the Temple in Jerusaleml centre of all Jews, wherever they were, and pilgrims flocked to it. In the pre-Exilic period, almost to the end of the Monarchy, sacrifices had been offered in many local sanctuaries as well as in the Temple; now, in post-Exilic times, sacrifices were offered only in the Temple. 

Temple Services: The Temple priests, headed by the High Priest, occupied the highest position in the religious leadership of the nation. 

  • The Temple enjoyed considerable revenue from tithes, taxes, contributions and occasional gifts from foreign kings in return for its support. 

  • Tremendous numbers of the faithful flocked to Jerusalem during the three pilgrimage festivals

  • The priests serving the Temple were divided, as in late pre-Exilic times, into 24 watches; the Levites were assistants to the priests, musicians and doorkeepers, while menial tasks were performed by the Nethinim.

  • Ordinary Jewish citizens were associated with the regular cult through the organization of 24 ďmaĎamadotĒ, each of which was assigned its specific time of service in the Temple, accompanying a corresponding watch of priests. The function of the laymen was to participate in the public sacrifices and to bring in the first fruits. 

The supreme significance of the Temple came from its position as the centre for the fulfilment of the Pentateuchal injunction to offer sacrifice. Every good Jew was bound to obey these Laws. 

The Temple in Graeco-Roman Times: The Temple was not only the supreme Jewish sanctuary, it could also be the scene of political struggle. For example, 

  • in 167-164BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes issued his 'Infamous Edicts', under which the Temple was desecrated. As a result, the holy rituals were suspended and conservative Jews engaged in civil war with the Jewish 'Hellenizers'. 

  • The Temple was reoccupied by Judas Maccabaeus who rebuilt the altar and purified and rededicated the Temple. lt resumed its lofty position in the life of the independent Jewish state, under the High Priests of the Hasmonean house. 

  • During one upheaval between the people and Alexander Jannaeus, the crowd of worshippers stoned him with citrons (thick-skinned citric fruit) during the Feast of Tabernacles. When Pompey invaded Palestine (63 BC), the supporters of Aristobulos entrenched themselves behind the Temple walls and fought the Romans. Pompey stormed the Temple and penetrated into the Holy of Holies. 

Herodís Temple: Until the lst century BC, the Second Temple remained a modest and battle-scarred sanctuary. lt was given to Herod the Great to complete one of the most glorious architectural tasks of his time, a period noted for its magnificent palaces and buildings. 

The project was begun in 20BC (the 17th or 18th year of Herodís reign). The major part of the reconstruction was accomplished in ten years, though additional work went on for many years after. The Herodian Temple was constructed over and around the existing modest building. Built on a high esplanade and surrounded by columns and beautiful gates, its shining white stone could be seen for miles in every direction. 

The southern face of the Temple, showing the grand stairway leading to the stoa or entrance portico.

The southern face of the Temple, showing the grand stairway leading to the stoa or entrance portico. Model by Professor Avi-Jonah

Herod did not alter the size of the inner Temple, i.e. the one rebuilt by the post-Exilic community, probably a later version of Solomonís Temple, nor did he change its general pattern. But he doubled the area of the outer courts by smoothing the rock surface and filling in the steep south- eastern slope (work which had actually begun in the days of Solomon). He levelled and filled the area between the Tyropeon Vale and the Temple mount at the southwestern corner. The remains of the southeastern supporting walls and those of the western end of the esplanade (the Wailing Wall of today) are still visible.

Inscription forbidding Gentiles to go past a certain point in the Temple precinctsTemple Area and Courts: The Temple was not just for worship. It was also a military stronghold. The whole area was surrounded by a strong outer wall for purposes of defence. 

lnside this outer wall was a free belt, the outer court, which in HerodĎs time was known as the Court of Gentiles. Then came a strong fence marking the boundary of the inner sanctuary. No alien was permitted to cross this boundary, as attested to by an inscription dating from Roman times which read ďNo foreigner is allowed within the balustrade and embankment about the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death." (see Acts 21:31ff). A photograph of this inscriptions is shown at right.

The court was surrounded by internal porticoes which were connected with the Tower of Antonia to the north-west. In the largest of the porticoes, money changers and merchants carried on their business (Mark 11:15-17). 

The inner court contained a section for women, another for male worshipeers, and still another court for the priests. It contained the main altar and was surrounded by chambers used for various purposes connected with sacred ritual, sacrifice, ablutions, etc. 

 

The Women's Court (with patterned floor) and surrounding Court of the Gentiles in the Jerusalem Temple

The Women's Court (with patterned floor) and surrounding Court of the Gentiles in the Jerusalem Temple (reconstruction by Alec Gerrard)

At least eight gates opened onto the sacred area and it was approached by two bridges from the east and two from the west. The women's court communicated, via the Nicanor Gate, with the Gate of the Israelites, and was in effect part of the court of the Priests and the scene of mass-assembly during the festivals. Also adjoining were the priestsí quarters and the Chamber of Hewn Stone (lishkat hagazit) where the Sanhedrin sat. Most sacred of all, as in the First Temple, was the Holy of Holies. 

Layout of the Temple precinct in the 1st century AD

The Temple: The Temple itself was divided into 

  • a hall (Eilam), 

  • a shrine (Holy Place) containing the incense altar, shewbread table and the seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), and 

  • the Holy of Holies, dark and empty and entered only by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement through a veil consisting of two parallel curtains.

  • Store chambers for treasures were in the north, west and south sides of the Temple building. They were used as deposit vaults, protected chiefly by the sanctity of the place and the awe inspired by the sacred surroundings. 

The area of the completed Temple and grounds was 34 acres in extent. The northern wall was 351 yards long and the southern wall 309 yards long, while the eastern and western walls were respectively 518 and 536 yards in length. Despite the bitterness against Herod as a person and as a ruler, Jewish writers (in the Mishnah, the New Testament, and Josephus) could not minimize his achievement in rebuilding the Temple. There was a popular saying, 'He who has not seen Herodís Temple has never seen a stately structure' (Sukkah 516). 

TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM: BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: reconstruction of the main facade of reconstructed Temple of Herod the Great

Modern-day reconstruction of the Temple built by Herod the Great

The Destruction of the Second Temple: After Herodís time, Jerusalem and the Temple were under foreign domination much of the time. The High Priests were civil rulers, appointed by the central authority; they collaborated with Rome, became worldly, and were compromised by these connections. 

Under the rule of the Roman procurators, the Temple area became the scene of bloody clashes which usually took place during the three pilgrimage festivals. TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM: BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: The Arch of Titus in Rome with image of the Menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem One act of overt opposition against Rome was the cessation of the daily sacrifice in honour of the Roman emperor. This act may be regarded as a prelude to the Great Rebellion. During the siege of Jerusalem, the Temple was the chief bastion of the Zealots who conducted a desperate struggle against the Romans. 

But all the heroism of the Zealots was to no avail. The Romans stormed the Temple area after long and bitter engagements attended by heavy losses, and in 70AD the Temple went up in flames. The great menorah and other temple trophies were taken as booty by the Roman troops to Rome, depicted on the Arch of Titus (see right). 

The day of the destruction of the Second Temple, the 9th of Ab, also the date of the destruction of the First Temple, became from then on a day of mourning and fasting among Jews everywhere. 


 

The Western or Wailing Wall

TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM: BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: Western or Wailing Wall

The only remaining section of the Temple buildings erected by 
Herod the Great is the Western or Wailing Wall (see also below)

TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM: BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: Western or Wailing Wall



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Reconstruction of the Temple Mount in 1st century Jerusalem

Temple of Jerusalem  - Archaeology of The Bible - Bible  Study Resource: plans, reconstruction, information

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