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A model of Herod's Temple adjacent to the Shrine of the Book exhibit at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple (Hebrew: בֵּית הַמִקְדָּשׁ, Beit HaMikdash ; "House of the Holy"), refers to one of a series of structures located on the Temple Mount in the old city of Jerusalem. Historically, two temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of ancient Jewish worship. According to classical Jewish belief, the Temple acted as the figurative "footstool" of God's presence and a Third Temple will be built there in the future.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the First Temple was built by King Solomon (reigned c.970-c.930 BCE).[1] As the sole place of Jewish sacrifice, the Temple replaced the local sanctuaries and crude altars in the hills.[2] The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE when they sacked the city.

Construction of the Second Temple begun in 538 BCE and was dedicated 23 years later in 515. According to the Book of Ezra, rebuilding of the Temple was authorized by Cyrus the Great and ratified by Darius the Great. Centuries later in around 20 BCE, the building was renovated by Herod the Great, and became known as Herod's Temple. It was subsequently destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE during the Siege of Jerusalem. It is believed that only part of the Western Wall of the complex remains standing. During the last revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 132-135 CE, Simon bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva wanted to rebuild the Temple, but bar Kokhba's revolt failed and the Jews were banned from Jerusalem by the Roman Empire.

An Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, has stood on the site of the Temple since the late 7th Century CE, and the al-Aqsa Mosque, from roughly the same period, also stands on the Temple courtyard. The mount bears significance in Islam as it acted as a sanctuary for many Biblical prophets. Islamic tradition says that a Temple was first built on the Temple Mount by Jacob and later renovated by Solomon, son of David.[3]


The Hebrew name given in Scripture for the building is Beit HaMikdash or "The Sanctified House", and only the Temple in Jerusalem is referred to by this name. The temple is also called by a variety of other names in the Hebrew Bible, such as Beit YHWH (House of God) or simply Beiti (My house) or Beitechah (Your House)


There are basically three theories as to where the Temple stood:

  • The Temple was where the Dome of the Rock is now located.
  • The Temple was located a little to the north of the Dome of the Rock (Professor Asher Kaufman).
  • The Temple was located a little to the east of the Dome of the Rock (Professor Joseph Patrich of the Hebrew University. See article in the World Jewish Digest, April 2007).

Other theories have the Temple either to the north or to the south of the Temple Mount. Scholars generally reject more outlandish theories that claim the Temple was located somewhere else than Jerusalem or even outside the Land of Israel.

Physical layout

Excavated steps on the South side of the Temple Mount

According to the Talmud, the Temple had an Ezrat Nashim (Women's Court) to the east and main area to the west. The main area contained the butchering area for the sacrifices and the Mizbaeach (Outer Altar) on which portions of most offerings were burned and blood was poured or dashed. An edifice contained the Ulam (antechamber), the Heichal, and the Kodesh Kodashim (Holy of Holies). The Heichal and the Kodesh Kodashim were separated by a wall in the First Temple and by two curtains in the Second Temple. The Heichal contained the Menorah, the table of Showbread and the Incense Altar.

The main courtyard had thirteen gates. On the south side, beginning with the southwest corner, there were four gates:

  • Shaar Ha'Elyon (the Upper Gate)
  • Shaar HaDelek (the Kindling Gate), where wood was brought in
  • Shaar HaBechorot (the Gate of Firstborn), where people with first-born animal offerings entered and fathers and children entered for the Pidyon HaBen ceremony
  • Shaar HaMayim (the Water Gate), where the Water Libation entered on Sukkot.

On the north side, beginning with the northwest corner, there were four gates:

  • Shaar Yechonyah (The Gate of Yechonyah), where kings of the Davidic line enter and Yechonyah/Yehoyachin left for the last time to captivity
  • Shaar HaKorban (The gate of the Offering), where priests entered with kodshei kodashim offerings
  • Shaar HaNashim (The Women's Gate), where women entered into the Azara or main courtyard to perform offerings[4]
  • Shaar Hashir (The Gate of Song), where the Levites entered with their musical instruments

On the east side was Shaar Nikanor, between the Women's Courtyard and the main Temple Courtyard, which had two minor doorways, one on its right and one on its left. On the western wall, which was relatively unimportant, there were two gates that did not have any name.

Temple services

The Temple was the place where offerings described in the course of the Hebrew Bible were carried out, including daily morning and afternoon offerings and special offerings on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Levites recited Psalms at appropriate moments during the offerings, including the Psalm of the Day, special psalms for the new month, and other occasions, the Hallel during major Jewish holidays, and psalms for special sacrifices such as the "Psalm for the Thanksgiving Offering" (Psalm 100).

As part of the daily offering, a prayer service was performed in the Temple which was used as the basis of the traditional Jewish (morning) service recited to this day, including well-known prayers such as the Barchu, the Shema, and the Priestly Blessing. The Mishna describes it as follows:

The superintendent said to them, recite the Barchu, and they read the Ten Commandments, and the Shema, "And it shall come to pass if you will hearken", and "And [God] spoke...". They pronounced three benedictions with the people present: "True and firm", and the "Avodah" {"Accept, Lord our God, the service of your people Israel, and the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer receive with favor. Blessed is He who receives the service of His people Israel with favor" (similar to what is today the 17th blessing of the Amidah), and the Priestly Blessing, and on the Sabbath they recited one blessing; "May He who causes His name to dwell in this House, cause to dwell among you love and brotherliness, peace and friendship" on behalf of the weekly Priestly Guard that departed.

Mishna Tamid 5:1

Isaiah spoke of the importance of prayer as well as sacrifice in Temple, and of a universal purpose:

Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make joyful in My house of prayer,
Their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar
For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7, JPS translation).
"My House shall be a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)

Model of Second Temple made by Michael Osnis from Kedumim.

In Christianity

In addition to the Hebrew Bible, the Temple is mentioned many times in the New Testament. In these scriptures, Jesus prays there (Mark 11:25-26) and chases away money changers and other merchants from the courtyard, turning over their tables and accusing them of desecrating a sacred place with secular ways. According to the New Testament Gospels, it was to the Temple Court that Jesus was brought as a child, to be presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22) and to attend festivals (Luke 2:41). Jerusalem historian Dan Mazar reported in the Jerusalem Christian Review on the numerous archaeological discoveries made at this location by his grandfather, Prof. Benjamin Mazar, which included the first century stairs of ascent, where Jesus and his disciples preached, as well as the "mikvaot" (or baptismals) used by both Christian and Jewish pilgrims. The events of Pentecost, which are recorded in the Book of Acts, also took place at this location. At the area in which Jesus cleanses the Temple of the moneychangers, chasing various commercial traders of doves necessary for the sacrificial rituals away from the sacred precincts (Mark 11:15, see also Mark 11), remarkable findings were uncovered by the elder Mazar, such as a first century vessel with the Hebrew word "Korban", meaning sacrifice(s). It is believed{{by whom?}} that inside this vessel, merchants would have stored the sacrifices sold at the Temple Court.

Jesus also predicts the destruction of the Second Temple (Matthew 24:2) and allegorically compares his body to a temple that will be torn down and raised up again in three days. This idea, of the temple as the body of Christ, became a rich and multi-layered theme in patristic and medieval Christian thought (where temple/body can be the heavenly body of Christ, the ecclesial body of the Church, and the Eucharistic body on the altar).[5]

In the Talmud

The Talmud (Yoma 9b) provides theological reasons for the destruction: Why was the first Temple destroyed? Because the three cardinal sins were rampant in society: idol worship, licentiousness, and murder… And why then was the second Temple – wherein the society was involved in Torah, commandments and acts of kindness – destroyed? Because gratuitous hatred was rampant in society. This teaches that gratuitous hatred is equal in severity to the three cardinal sins: idol worship, licentiousness, and murder.[6]

Role in contemporary Jewish services

The heart of the traditional Jewish morning service, the part surrounding the Shema prayer, is essentially unchanged from the daily worship service performed in the Temple. In addition, the Amidah prayer traditionally replaces the Temple's daily tamid and special-occasion Mussaf (additional) offerings. They are recited during the times their corresponding offerings were performed in the Temple.

The Temple is mentioned extensively in Orthodox services. Conservative Judaism retains mentions of the Temple and its restoration, but removes references to the sacrifices. References to sacrifices on holidays are made in the past tense, and petitions for their restoration are removed. Mentions in Orthodox Jewish services include:

  • A daily recital of Biblical and Talmudic passages related to the korbanot (sacrifices) performed in the Temple (See korbanot in siddur).
  • References to the restoration of the Temple and sacrificial worships in the daily Amidah prayer, the central prayer in Judaism.
  • A traditional personal plea for the restoration of the Temple at the end of private recitation of the Amidah.
  • A prayer for the restoration of the "house of our lives" and the shekhinah (divine presence) "to dwell among us" is recited during the Amidah prayer.
  • Recitation of the Psalm of the day; the psalm sung by the Levites in the Temple for that day during the daily morning service.
  • Numerous psalms sung as part of the ordinary service make extensive references to the Temple and Temple worship.
  • Recitation of the special Jewish holiday prayers for the restoration of the Temple and their offering, during the Mussaf services on Jewish holidays.
  • An extensive recitation of the special Temple service for Yom Kippur during the service for that holiday.
  • Special services for Sukkot (Hakafot) contain extensive (but generally obscure) references to the special Temple service performed on that day.

The destruction of the Temple is mourned on the Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av. Three other minor fasts (Tenth of Tevet, 17th of Tammuz, and Third of Tishrei), also mourn events leading to or following the destruction of the Temple.

Archaeological evidence

A stone (2.43×1 m) with Hebrew writing "To the Trumpeting Place" excavated by Benjamin Mazar at the southern foot of the Temple Mount is believed to be a part of the Second Temple.

Archaeological excavations have found one hundred ritual immersion pools surrounding the Temple Mount. This is strong evidence that this area was considered of the utmost holiness in ancient times and could not possibly have been a secular area.

Building a Third Temple

Ever since the Second Temple's destruction, a prayer for the construction of a Third Temple has been a formal part of the thrice-daily Jewish prayer services. However, the question of whether and when to construct the Third Temple is disputed both within the Jewish community and without; groups within Judaism argue both for and against construction of a new Temple, while the expansion of Abrahamic religion since the 1st century CE has made the issue contentious within Christian and Islamic thought as well. Furthermore, the complicated political status of Jerusalem makes initiation of reconstruction presently difficult, while the traditional physical location of the historic Temple is presently occupied by the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

See also

  • Jewish Temple at Elephantine
  • Jewish Temple of Leontopolis


  1. "Temple, the." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  2. Durant, Will. Our Oriental Heritage. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1954. p. 307. See 1 Kings 3:2.
  3. Ibn Kathir (2008). «Stories of the Prophets», p. 164-165 (Translation by Rafiq Abdur Rahman, Idara Isha'at-e-diniyat publishers, India ed.). ISBN 81-7101-558-1. 
  4. Sheyibaneh Beit Hamikdash: Women in the Azara?
  5. See Jennifer A. Harris, "The Body as Temple in the High Middle Ages", in Albert I. Baumgarten ed., Sacrifice in Religious Experience, Leiden, 2002, pp. 233-256.
  6. Gratuitous Hatred - What is it and Why is it so bad?

External links

Further reading

  • Biblical Archaeology Review, issues: July/August 1983, November/December 1989, March/April 1992, July/August 1999, September/October 1999, March/April 2000, September/October 2005
  • Ritmeyer, Leen. The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Carta, 2006. ISBN 965-220-628-8
  • Hamblin, William and David Seely, Solomon's Temple: Myth and History (Thames and Hudson, 2007) ISBN 0500251339
  • Yaron Eliav, God's Mountain: The Temple Mount in Time, Place and Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005)

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