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Model of Herod's Temple - currently in the Israel Museum

Replica of Herod's Temple

Herod's Temple in Jerusalem was a massive expansion of the Temple Mount platform and major expansion of the Jewish Temple by King Herod the Great around 19 BCE. Another different temple to the goddess Roma[1] was built by Herod at about the same time in coastal Caesarea.

Herod's Temple to Yahweh is believed to have been a rennovation and reconstruction the Second Temple building, while religious worship and temple rituals continued during the construction process.[2]

Following the Great Revolt of the Province of Judah, the Temple was destroyed by Roman troops under Titus during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The most complete ancient account of this event is The Jewish War by Flavius Josephus. Later Roman and Byzantine governors used the remains to build palaces, a Temple of Jupiter, and a Church. It was not until the Dome of the Rock was built between 687 and 691 that the last remnants of the Temple were taken down. In addition to the platform, some remnants of the Temples remain above ground, including a step leading to the Dome of the Rock that is actually the capstone of the pre-Herodian wall of the Temple Mount platform.[3]

The Temple itself was probably located on the site of what today is the Dome of the Rock. The gates let out close to Al-Aqsa.[4]


Robinson's Arch - remains of the entrance built by Herod to the Royal Colonnade

A model of the Temple's Southern wall - the Royal Colonnade

Herod's Temple was one of the larger construction projects of the first century BCE. Herod was interested in perpetuating his name for all eternity through building projects, and his construction program was extensive. He had magnificent palaces in Masada, Caesarea and Tiberias. Herod built temples for various pagan gods to serve the gentile populations, which were paid for by heavy taxes on the local Jewish population.[5]

But his masterpiece was to be the Temple of Jerusalem. The old temple, built by Zerubbabel nearly half a millennium before, despite frequent renovation, most notably by the Maccabees in the century before, was still run down and relatively small.

In 20 BCE, Herod announced that the old temple would be torn down and replaced with something truly magnificent. The Cohanim, or Jewish priesthood, as well as the rest of the population, were skeptical, requiring Herod to quarry all the stones required for the project before the destruction of the Post-Exile structure could begin.

An agreement was made between Herod and the Jewish religious authorities: the sacrificial rituals, called korbanot, were to be continued unabated for the entire time of construction, and the Temple itself would be constructed by the Cohanim.

Mt. Moriah had a plateau at the northern end, and steeply declined on the southern slope. It was Herod's plan that the entire mountain be turned into a giant square platform. The Temple Mount was originally intended to be 1600 feet wide by 900 feet deep by 9 stories high with walls up to 16 feet deep, however it was never finished. To do this, a trench was dug around the mountain, and huge stone "bricks" were laid – some of these weighed well over 100 tons, the largest measuring 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighing approximately 567 to 628 tons,[6][7] while most were in the range of 2.5 by 3.5 by 15 feet (approximately 28 tons). Leen Ritmeyer, PhD and archaeological Architect and Max Schwartz a consulting civil engineer theorized about how the temple was built and how the stones were moved. King Herod had architects from Greece, Rome and Egypt to help plan the construction. The blocks were presumably quarried by using pick axes to create channels. Then they would hammer in wooden beams and flush them with water. This would force them out. Once they were removed they were carved into precise squares and numbered at the quarry to tell them where it would be installed. The final carving would have been done by using harder stones to grind or chisel them to create precise joints. They would have been transported using oxen and specialized carts. Since the quarry was uphill from the temple they had gravity on their side but care needed to be taken to control the descent. Final installation would have been done using pulleys or cranes. Roman pulleys and cranes weren't strong enough to lift the blocks alone so they may have used multiple cranes and levers to position them. [8] Several experiments moving megaliths with ancient technology were done at other locations some of them are listed here. As the mountainside began to rise, the western side was carved away to a vertical wall and bricks were carved to create a virtual continuation of the brick face, which was continued for a while until the northern slope reached ground level. Part of the Antonian hill to the north of Moriah was annexed to the complex and the area between was filled up with landfill.

The project began with the building of giant underground vaults upon which the temple would be built so it could be larger than the small flat area on top of Mount Moriah. Ground level at the time was at least 20 ft. (6m) below the current level, as can be seen by walking the Western Wall tunnels. The edge of this platform remains everywhere; part of it forms the Western Wall.

In 1967 Israel captured Old Jerusalem (and the Temple Mount) from Jordan. It was found that the wall extended all the way around the Temple Mount and is part of the city wall near the Lion's Gate. Thus, the Western Wall is not the only remaining part of the Temple Mount. Currently, Robinson's Arch (named after American Edward Robinson remains as the beginning of an arch that spanned the gap between the top of the platform and the higher ground farther away. This had been used by the priests as an entrance. Commoners had entered through the still-extant, but now plugged, gates on the southern side which led through beautiful colonnades to the top of the platform. One of these colonnades is still extant and reachable through the Temple Mount. The Southern wall was designed as a grand entrance. Recent archeological digs have found thousands of mikvas (ceremonial bathtubs) for the ritual purification of the worshipers, as well as a grand stairway leading to the now blocked entrance.

Inside the walls, the platform was supported by a series of vaulted archways, now called Solomon's Stables, which still exist and whose current renovation by the Palestinian authority is extremely controversial.

As for the temple itself, it was made, not of local stone, as was the rest of the complex, but imported white marble, which was in sharp contrast to the entire city and gleamed in the daylight.

Legend has it that the construction of the entire complex lasted only three years, but other sources such as Josephus say that it took far longer, although the Temple itself may have taken that long. During a Passover visit by Jesus the Jews replied that it had been under construction for 46 years.[9] It is possible that the complex was only a few years completed when the future Emperor Titus burnt the place to the ground in 70 CE.

Life in and around the temple

In the decades after the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt, the 2nd century AD/CE Jewish sage Judah ha-Nasi, fearing that a Third Temple would not be built in his lifetime, committed to writing the Mishnah in order to keep the "oral law," including the rules pertaining to the functioning of the temple ceremonials and precincts, intact for that day when the sacrifices might begin again.[10]

The Gemara, a commentary on the Mishnah, provides many details of the architecture of Herod's temple, as well as what life was like in and around the temple. This has aided modern researchers in painting a clear picture of what the Temple Mount was like during the time of Jesus.

Reaching Jerusalem

Christ drives the Usurers out of the Temple, a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder in Passionary of Christ and Antichrist.[11]

A Jew from distant parts of the Roman Empire would arrive by boat at the port of Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv), where he or she would join a caravan for the three day trek to the Holy City (a trip which only takes about an hour by automobile today), and would then find lodgings in one of the many hotels or hostelries. Once lodging was secured and money changed, the pilgrim would purchase a sacrificial animal, usually a pigeon or a lamb, in preparation for the following day's events.

Access to the temple

The gleaming white marble of the edifice was visible from well outside the walls of the city. The scale of the building was designed to impress, and it dominated the landscape, effectively becoming the focal point of Jerusalem. Even the three great towers near Herod's palace seemed small in comparison.

The first thing a pilgrim would do would be to approach the public entrance on the south side of the Temple Mount complex. He would check his animal, then visit a Mikva, where he would ritually cleanse and purify himself. The pilgrim would then retrieve his sacrificial animal, and head to the Huldah gates. After ascending a staircase three stories in height, and passing through the gate, the pilgrim would find himself in the "Court of the Gentiles."

The Court of the Gentiles

This area was primarily a bazaar, with vendors selling souvenirs, sacrificial animals, food, as well as currency changers, exchanging Roman for Jewish money, as also mentioned in the New Testament account of Jesus and the Money Changers. Guides that provided tours of the premises were also available. Jewish males had the unique opportunity to be shown inside the temple itself.

The Cohanim (Priests), in their white linen robes and tubular hats, were omnipresent, directing pilgrims where and advising them what kind of sacrifices were to be performed.

Behind one as they entered the Court of the Gentiles was the Royal Portico, which contained a marketplace, administrative quarters, and a synagogue as well. On the upper floors, the great Jewish sages held court, Cohanim and Levites performed various chores, and from there tourists were able to observe the events.

To the east of the court was the Portico of Solomon, and to the north, the Soreg, a giant stone structure separating the public area from the area where only Jews could enter. Within the soreg was the temple itself.

Inside the Soreg

A Greek language inscription from Herod's Temple, late 1st century BCE. It warns gentiles to refrain from entering the Temple enclosure, on pain of death.

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, named the Nicanor Gate.[12] The gates were: On the south side (going from west to east) the Fuel Gate, the Firstling Gate, the Water Gate. On the north side, from west to east, are the Jeconiah Gate, the Offering Gate, the Women's Gate and the Song Gate. On the Eastern side, the Nicanor gate, which is where most Jewish visitors entered via the Nicanor gate.

A few pieces of the Soreg have survived to the present day; see the photograph at right.

The Court of the Women

Within this area, all Jews, male and female, were permitted. Even a ritually unclean Cohen could enter to perform various housekeeping duties. There was also a place for lepers (considered ritually unclean), as well as a ritual barbershop for Nazirites. In this, the largest of the temple courts, there could be seen constant dancing, singing and music.

The Court of the Israelites

This area was exclusively for Jewish men to enter. The Jewish men could see the animal sacrifices made by the high priest in the court of the priests.

The Court of the Priests

The Court of the Priests was reserved for Levite priests who performed sacrifices, including lambs, doves, and pigeons.

The Temple itself

Between the entrance of the building and the curtain veiling the Holy of Holies were the famous vessels of the temple: the menorah, the incense-burning altar, and various other implements.


Detail from the Arch of Titus showing spoils from the Sack of Jerusalem

In 66 CE the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire. Four years later, in 70 CE, Roman legions under Titus reconquered and subsequently destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Temple. The arch of Titus was built in Rome to commemorate Titus's victory over Judea. It depicts Roman soldiers carrying off the Menorah from the Temple. This event is commemorated annually in the Jewish calandar with the fast of Tisha B'Av. Jerusalem itself was razed by the Emperor Hadrian at the end of the Bar Kochba Rebellion in 135 CE when he attempted to establish a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina.

Discovery of quarry

On September 25, 2007 Yuval Baruch, archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a quarry compound which may have provided King Herod with the stones to build his Temple on the Temple Mount. Coins, pottery and an iron stake found proved the date of the quarrying to be about 19 BCE. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer confirmed that the large outlines of the stone cuts is evidence that it was a massive public project worked by hundreds of slaves.[13]

See also

  • Bar Kochba Revolt
  • Jerusalem stone
  • Herodian architecture
  • List of artifacts significant to the Bible
  • List of megalithic sites
  • Replicas of the Jewish Temple
  • Second Temple
  • Siege of Jerusalem
  • Temple of Peace, Rome
  • Tisha B'Av

External links


  2. Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount‎, Leen Ritmeyer, Kathleen Ritmeyer, 1998
  3. The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, Gershom Gorenberg, Oxford University Press US, 2002, 78
  4. Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount‎, Leen Ritmeyer, Kathleen Ritmeyer, 1998
  5. Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War
  6. The History Channel cited the 16.5 depth 567 ton estimate in "Lost Worlds of King Herod"
  7. Dan Bahat: Touching the Stones of our Heritage, Israeli ministry of Religious Affairs, 2002
  8. "Modern Marvels: Bible tech" History channel
  9. Gospel of John 2:20
  10. Ariel, Israel and Richman, Chaim:Carta's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Holy temple in Jerusalem Carta Publishing, Jerusalem, Israel. 2005
  11. The references cited in the Passionary for this woodcut: 1 John 2:14-16, Matthew 10:8, and The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 8, Of the Church
  12. Josephus, War 5.5.2; 198; m. Mid. 1.4
  13., Report: Herod's Temple quarry found

fi:Herodeksen temppeli