| The Pre-ministry Years: Age 12
April, 8 AD
4 BC - 6 AD - All during Jesus' youth growing up in Nazareth, Herod Archelaus, the ethnarch of Samaria, Judea and Idumea, was at odds with his subjects. In quick succession he deposed three high priests (a lifetime appointment prior to the Hasmonean era): Eleazar son of Boethus (4-3 BC), Jesus son of See (c. 3 BC-6 AD) and Joazar son of Boethus (6 AD for a second term, after previously deposing him by demand of the people). Furthermore, he angered the Pharisees by marrying his sister-in-law (forbidden by Jewish law) and taxing the people beyond reason to restore his father's burned palace at Jericho in splendid fashion.
6 AD (Jesus now 12 years old) - After ten years of tyrannical rule, complaints were levied against Archelaus by his subjects, also by his brothers Philip and Antipas, charging him with oppression of the Jews and Samaritans. Emperor Augustus banished him to Vienne, in Gaul (on the Rhone River in southeastern France). He died there in 18 AD. His territory was brought under direct Roman rule, administered by a special officer called a "prefect" (praefectus), who resided in the Mediterranean port city of Caesarea, the Roman seat of occupation. The prefect commanded auxiliary military units, had full powers of criminal and civil jurisdiction and was responsible for the collection of imperial taxes. The first appointee to this position was Coponius, and he held office 6-9 AD.
Quirinius, the Roman legate or governor of Syria, came to Judea to attend to the incorporation of Archelaus' territory into the Roman province of Syria and he appointed Annas, son of Seth, to succeed Joazar, Archelaus' last appointee, as high priest (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 2:1).
Also 6 AD - As part of the Roman takeover of Palestine, Quirinius, working in conjunction with the new prefect, Coponius, called for a provincial census to determine tax assessments, an action that proved quite unpopular. The idea of paying tribute directly to a heathen ruler was so offensive to many pious Jews that two men, Judas (or Judah) of Gamala and the Pharisee Zaddok, led a revolt against Roman rule. They argued that God alone was Israel's true king, and that to him alone, through God's appointed representatives, should tribute be paid. The revolt was crushed.
Also in 6 AD (Jesus 12 years old) - Luke 2:41 tells us that every year, Mary and Joseph "went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover." At the age of 12, Jesus accompanied Mary and Joseph — the only incident of his youth recorded in the gospels.
Devout Jewish families were obligated to acquaint their sons to the religious obligations of adulthood, one of them being a pilgrimage to the Holy City. Deuteronomy 16:16-17 named three festivals that required pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem: Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot) and Tabernacles (Sukkot). Distance prevented many from attending all three, but most Jews tried to make Passover. This obligation fell to all males, who were commanded not to appear empty-handed: "Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you" (Deuteronomy 16:17). Furthermore, because of concerns for safety on the road, it was customary for Galileans to travel in large groups.
Modern Road 60 follows the route possibly taken by Joseph, Mary and Jesus on their pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem:
A direct journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem took from three to four days, depending on the quickness of pace, and led across the Jezreel Valley into the hilly terrain of Samaria to the south, then past the hilltop city of Samaria, the ancient capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, from which the region took its name. Built on a 300-foot high hill, it had been restored to magnificence by Herod the Great, and renamed Sebaste (Greek form of the Latin "Augustus") in honor of the emperor Augustus.
The road then passed through the ancient town of Shechem lying in the east-west valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Here the Samaritans sometimes expressed their hostility by refusing their hospitality to Jewish visitors. They were partly of mixed race; after the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, people from abroad settled among and intermarried with the remaining population not sent off into exile, so that the "half-breed" Samaritans (a name derived from Samaria, the long-time capital of the Northern Kingdom) were not allowed to take part in the rebuilding of the Temple when the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile. The Samaritans therefore built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and brought their sacrifices there.
On the outskirts of Shechem was Sychar, where caravans have paused since ancient times, keeping alive the memory of Jacob, who watered his flocks at a well in a field there. Near it lay buried the bones of Joseph which the children of Israel had brought with them from Egypt. Almost certainly, the pilgrims rested there.
(Right) Mount Gerizim (left) and Mount Ebal (right) with the modern Palestinian city
of Nablus (successor to ancient Shechem) in the valley between.
Along the route were a number of such resting places, a day's journey apart. The last of them, about ten miles outside Jerusalem, is today the town of El-Bireh (just outside the Palestinian city of Ramallah). Soon afterward, they came to the steep "Ascent of Lebonah" where they caught their first glimpse of Jerusalem, sitting atop two hills, rimmed by its great protective walls. It was the largest, most beautiful place Jesus had seen in his life. The flow of pilgrims made a surging human river flowing toward the deep valleys below the city. It was as if another city had suddenly formed as countless families from everywhere grouped by kin or village, clustered into tents and temporary shelters among the olive groves on the Mount of Olives and other surrounding hills.
Entering the Shechem Gate in the northern city wall, Joseph, Mary and Jesus (and any younger brothers and sisters?) rubbed shoulders with red-caped Roman soldiers, tax collectors, merchants and peasants driving flocks of bleating sheep. Jesus noted that most of the people, like him, spoke Aramaic, but he also heard Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The family walked along streets of shops where craftsmen made what they sold. Jesus heard the jingle of silver coins minted in Tyre and Rome and the bronze small change of Judea. Each trade had a special location. Dried-fish dealers congregated at the Fish Gate, fullers processed cloth outside the city wall near the Pool of Siloam at the southeastern corner.
In the footsteps of Jesus...
Modern-day pilgrims can still experience this atmosphere coming into the Old City from the north via the Damascus Gate (below left), the entrance to the Muslim Quarter . Arabs call it Bab al-Amoud, the Gate of the Column, possibly referring to a large column topped with a statue of the emperor Hadrian which stood inside the Roman-era gate on the same site, at a lower level. The Shechem Gate of Jesus' time was in this area, but nothing remains; (below right) remaining portal of a gate dating to the 2nd century AD, but at a lower level.
Early this morning we assemble on the amphitheater of steps going down to the bridge leading to the portal of the Damascus Gate, watching the crowds gathering outside. One man, carrying a huge golden teapot on his back, sells a strange cold liquid tasting like old tea mixed with licorice. Bedouin women toting boxes and bags assume their usual places where they sit all day, their patient, beautiful faces framed by black, blue, red and white head-coverings, selling fresh figs, grapes and okra.
Walking toward the gate we are soon surrounded by shouting men and boys urging us to buy everything from produce to tennis shoes, socks, T-shirts, intricately designed candles and leather sandals. The group bunches tighter, hoping to not be separated by the swarms of strangers speaking a babble of languages. But the nervousness passes quickly as we walk through the portal of this, the most ornate of the Old City's seven gates (an eighth, the Golden Gate in the east wall, has been walled up for centuries).
Passing through the 16th century AD gate's angled entrance (designed to break the path of potential attackers) we encounter more vendors. There is an occasional "welcome" or a wink from an Arab man. If anyone shows even the slightest interest vendors follow him or her, the price magically falling with each step: "Three dollah... two dollah... one dollah..."
The open area inside the gate nearly becomes a tunnel as the road forks. To the left, Tariq al-Wad leads into the heart of the Muslim Quarter and on to the Western Wall. We choose the road on the right, known in Arabic as Souk Khan al-Zeit (Market of the Inn of the Olive Oil). Separating the Muslim and Christian Quarters, it is the busiest of the Old City's shopping streets and we find ourselves swept along, rubbing shoulders with Arab men, their heads swathed in keffeyahs (headdresses). We pass Franciscans in brown habits, Greek Orthodox priests in black, devout Americans with prayer books in hand and Hasidic Jews who, despite the warm day, wear the long black coats and wide fir hats of their Polish ancestors. Everywhere people are touching, smelling, tasting and haggling. One minute we are jostled by a Catholic priest, the next by uniformed Israeli soldiers carrying Uzi rifles and submachine guns. We pass veiled Arab women, maneuver around Arab shopkeepers carrying poultry crates and brush against giggling Arab school girls.
In below times, the area inside the Holy City's gates was where merchants from outside the walls come to hawk their wares. It is no different today. The narrow streets are lined with carts piled high with fruits and vegetables from home gardens. Entrepreneurs hawk garlic, fish, meat, leather goods, pots and pans, compact discs, eggplants and embroidered dresses. Some of us stop to buy desserts — baklava and chewy rolled pancakes filled with nuts — sharing them among ourselves while maneuvering through the crowded street, our hands sticky from the honey and sugar. Men sit at small tables in front of a coffee shop play sheshbesh (backgammon), talking politics and weather. Stray cats wander everywhere.
Except for the addition of electricity, little has changed from the time of Jesus. Each shop displays its wares, creating a canopy that blocks out the sun. The sounds and smells of life are all around you as you head past the clothes stores, hibachis cooking kebabs and shashliks and butcher shops, with goat carcasses hanging from the ceiling. Frankish Crusaders, unhappy with the Middle Eastern specialties sold here, called this street, Malcuisinart, or Street of Bad Cookery. The crowds thin as we enter an area filled with stores with all sorts of Holy Land souvenirs. We get offers from the shopkeepers whose livelihoods depend on tourism. "Would you like to see my shop? No charge for looking." Someone asks about the price of a crucifix. "One dollah, just one dollah," is the reply. Everything, it seems, is "one dollah." We smile politely and say, "no thanks." But sometime during this day each of us will succumb to temptation and try the time-honored tradition of bargaining over crosses for a son's or daughter's confirmation, or buy bags of exotic spices for a Middle Eastern-style banquet to accompany our mass photo-showing upon our return home.
Apart from the space around the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, the Old City is a maze of stairs and narrow tunnel-like passages. Children play everywhere: we wonder what growing up within these walls is like, so many places to hide-and-seek, so many adventures, so many nooks and crannies connected to bits of history. Wandering these crowded streets we begin to see a different Jesus from the one we imagined back home. No longer do we see a six-foot tall blue-eyed Protestant with long, wavy brown hair. He is here before us, reflected in the beautiful dark-haired, olive-skinned people hurrying past us.
Our guide, Doran, directs us into one of the shops, whose owner seems genuinely happy to see us. "Wa sahlan," he tells us. "Welcome." Soon, trays of strong, sweet coffee in small cups are passed around and we are invited to sit for awhile. For the ladies, there is a collection of beads from which to choose and the owner makes each a ring — free of charge, as is the coffee. We look around the shop, deciding on purchases — "Jerusalem crosses" in gold and silver, blue Hebron glass, hats, wall-hangings, chess sets, carved olive-wood nativity scenes, ceramic and glass crafts and tons more. "I sell everything," the owner says.
Why all this prosperity in this city off the great caravan routes, no longer even the capital of a province? In Jesus' time, as now, Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish world. Heart of a religious community with its own laws, worship and customs, unique in the Roman Empire; Jews were exempted from military service (because they wouldn't fight on the Sabbath), and were allowed to govern themselves — within limits.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus (and the rest of the family?) were undoubtedly greeted with a similar barrage of vendors as they entered Jerusalem through the ancient predecessor of today's Damascus Gate around 6 AD. Like us they now turned east toward the massive Temple Mount. Herod's spectacular plan for rebuilding the Temple complex, begun in the eighteenth year of his reign (20/19 BC), was still underway. Although the sanctuary itself had been completed in just 18 months, work was still being done on the surrounding courtyards, enclosing a total area of some thirty-five acres. Work continued throughout Jesus' lifetime and would not be completed until 64 AD — a total of 46 years. Only six years later, in 70 AD, it would be totally destroyed.
Eight gates led into this vast area, the largest temple complex in the ancient world. Everyone entering this sacred enclosure had to first bathe by immersion. The entire southern slope going up to the two Huldah Gates was developed with a system of channels, cisterns and public bathing pools (mikvot; singular mikvah) so that all Temple-goers could make themselves ritually clean before making the final ascent into the presence of God. Larger mikvot had separate entrances and exits; some could facilitate only one person at a time. Jesus and the other members of his family stepped into one of the bathing pools; a pool attendant handed them each a towel for drying. A wide stairway led up to the Huldah Gates (below left), named for Huldah, a prophetess in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22).
Today, these immersion facilities are visible in the excavations known as the "Ophel Archaeological Park," on the southern and southwestern sides of the Harem esh-Sarif (Temple Mount). The photo (above right) shows the eastern half of the southern retaining wall of the Temple Mount. At the time of Jesus it rose 100 feet above street level; none of the upper wall or the Royal Stoa that then stood atop this wall remain in place, as they were totally destroyed and toppled by the Romans in 70 AD.
At the base of the wall is the 200-foot-wide staircase that once carried pilgrims up to the Huldah gates, the major entrances used to reach the Temple Mount. The risers of the 30 steps are low, between 7 and 10 inches, and the treads alternate from 12 to 35 inches, requiring you to walk in slow, measured steps. Some have suggested that the fifteen wide steps may have been the locations where pilgrims sang the fifteen "Psalms of Ascent" (Psalms 120 through 134) as they went up to worship. One row of Herodian stones is visible at the top landing of the stairs (lighter colored in the photo); those above it date from reconstructions during four later eras.
Passing through the Huldah Gates, windowless ramps, dark as a cave despite the torches flaming alongside, climbed up beneath the Royal Porch. The smoky darkness and the driving crowd of strangers pressed in on Jesus and his family. Perhaps they sang a favorite psalm to ease their fears:
"Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior." (Psalm 24:3-5)
Surprisingly, parts of the underground tunnel leading up from the western "Double" Huldah Gate to the Temple Mount have survived intact, despite the various destructions that have ravaged the city. Just inside the doorways are the elaborately carved domes and columns, some standing today in their original form. Complex rosettes resembling chrysanthemums and other local flowers, with intricate carvings of vines and grape clusters cover every inch of the domes. Save for one exception (mentioned by Josephus), no representation of a living being, either human or animal, has been found by explorers or excavators in or on the Temple Mount. No doubt Jesus, his disciples and other figures of the early church would have entered the Temple precincts through these gates, and marveled at the skilled craftsmanship.
Interior of the western Huldah Gate (right). According to one reference ("The Holy Land, an Indispensable Archaeological Guide for Travelers" by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor) those visitors with a sufficient charm and persistence can sometimes prevail on officials of the Supreme Muslim Council to visit this area, which includes the ramp once used by worshipers entering the Temple Mount in the 1st century AD — most notably Jesus and his family.)
Exiting the ramp leading up from one of the Huldah Gates, the Holy Family emerged onto the southern end of the Court of Gentiles. Here, as at all the Temple's portals, stood guards under the high priest's command, ready to bar troublemakers and control the flow of the crowds. Once inside, the Court of Gentiles was open to all visitors, Jews and Gentiles, males and females alike. This giant, slightly trapezoidal platform was bordered by four mammoth retaining walls, measuring 1,595 feet on the west, 1,020 feet on the north, 1,562 feet on the east and 921 feet on the south. It was surrounded on three sides (east, north and west) by great colonnades or stoas, supported on the outside by the upper part of the retaining walls, and on the inside by rows of Corinthian columns over 37 feet high. All had cedar roofs, including the one on the east side, known as Solomon's Colonnade. The Temple with its courts, galleries and stoas occupied the whole of the present site of the Haram esh Sherif (the Arabic name for the Temple Mount, meaning Noble Sanctuary).
(Below left) Temple Mount at the time of Jesus; (below right) Temple Mount as it appears today, as seen from the Mount of Olives, with the Dome of the Rock in the center
Extending along most of length of the southern end of the platform was the high Royal Stoa or Porch, a basilica-style building with 160 columns arranged in four rows, forming a long nave flanked by two side aisles (below left, as seen from the Court of Gentiles). Each column was 27 feet high and about 17 feet in diameter. The middle two column rows forming the central hall were topped by two additional rows of Doric columns to support the upper roof. It was the largest building on the giant Temple Mount, measuring 600 feet long and soaring to 100 feet at its highest point. Jewish historian Josephus praised the Royal Stoa:
"[It] deserves to be mentioned better than any other under the sun" (Antiquities of the Jews, book 15, chapter 11:5).
Inside the vast Court of Gentiles was a smaller enclosure reached by a few steps and surrounded by a low stone wall called the balustrade or sorek, with several entries posted with warning notices, some inscribed in Hebrew, some in Greek, one of which is now in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey (above right). It reads:
"No Gentile is to enter within the partition wall and enclosure around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be responsible for his own subsequent death."
Inside the sorek, thirteen steps led up to the Court of the Women where the poor boxes were kept. This court had four "chambers" in its corners, each a little court by itself and each with a different function: one served the Nazirites (people who had made special vows), one was for storing wood for burning sacrifices, one was used for storing oil and the fourth served for the purification of the Lepers and had its own ritual bath. The Court of Women was surrounded by galleries, where women assisted at some ceremonies. The whole court was surrounded by porticoes.
(Below) model of the Herodian Temple at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. View looks west; the Royal Stoa (red roof); the Temple and the inner courts (center) surrounded by the Court of Gentiles; the square towers of the Antonia Fortress (called "the barracks" in Acts 21:3 and Acts 23:16) at the northwest corner of the Temple compound.
From the Court of Women a semicircular stairway of fifteen steps led up to the famous Nicanor Gate, made of polished Corinthian bronze, the gift, according to both Josephus and the Mishna, of a wealthy Alexandrian Jew named Nicanor (probably the "gate called Beautiful" in Acts 3:2). This was where Mary had brought Jesus as a child at the time of his presentation. Later, this was also where Peter healed a man crippled from birth (see Acts 3:2).
Beyond was the Court of the Men, then the narrow Court of the Priests which was surrounded by porticoes, behind which were various chambers, including the Chamber of Hewn Stone (Lishkat ha-Gazit), the meeting place of the Sanhedrin. Another important chamber was the Chamber-of the Hearth (Beth ha-Moqed) where the priests on duty spent the nights. Also in the Court of Priests stood the great altar made of unhewn stones for the burnt offerings and a large basin for cleansing of sacrifices called the Bronze Sea resting upon twelve bulls. The altar was whitewashed and was ascended by a ramp without steps. It stood off-center to allow the priest sacrificing the Red Heifer on the Mount of Olives to see the Temple portal.
Lastly, in the midst of ongoing construction, partially hidden by a shroud of incense and smoke from sacrifices, Jesus saw the soaring, 15-story-high sanctuary, sheathed in white marble and the purest of gold. Sunlight gleaming off the gold facades made the Temple blaze like a second sun. For Jews everywhere this was the end of their pilgrimage, the holiest spot on earth.
The entrance to the sanctuary had no doors. Inside was a small entrance hall (vestibule), at the back of which was the main doorway to the sanctuary. It had double doors of cedar covered with gold, as was the surrounding wall. High above the lintel hung a golden vine with huge clusters of grapes as tall as a man. In front of the doors hung a Babylonian tapestry embroidered with colors signifying elements of the earth: blue (air), linen (flax of the earth), scarlet (fire) and purple (sea). Its pattern depicted a panorama of the heavens and twelve signs representing living creatures.
Only officiating priests were allowed to draw this veil aside and enter. Inside were two halls. The first was a long gallery called hekal ("house" or "temple"), or qodesh ("Holy Place") paneled with cedar and cypress. It was surrounded by three stories of rooms containing offices and lodgings. Here stood a seven-branched Menorah, or lampstand, a table for 112 loaves of shew-bread and the gold-covered incense altar where "thirteen kinds of sweet-smelling spices" were placed twice daily.
Last, but not least, came the almost dark, perpetually silent debir ("sanctuary"), or godesh haggodashim ("Most Holy Place" or "Holy of Holies"), God's earthly throne, the link between heaven and earth, between creator and creation. The entrance as hidden by a veil and inside it was completely empty — an enclosed space with no statue, no symbols — nothing. No one but the high priest could enter, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur) to stand face-to-face with the invisible presence of God. No ritually unclean person was allowed near the sanctuary. Ordinary priests wore white linen; the high priest wore vestments trimmed in gold and precious stones, and more elaborate garments on the Day of Atonement.
Inside the Court of Men, Jesus and Joseph watched, both fascinated and repulsed, as the priests and Levitical helpers efficiently sliced the throats of animals or turned the necks of birds, drained their blood, then burned them on the altar. Jesus then walked toward Solomon's Porch on the eastern end of the Court of Gentiles and sat down among the group gathered around a number of rabbis. Several times the boy spoke up, asking questions and speaking his mind on Scripture passages, astonishing everyone who heard him with his wisdom.
After the feast was over, Jesus' parents — thinking he was among the friends and relatives who accompanied them from Galilee — journeyed for a day. As they camped for the night, they discovered that their son was missing. They returned to Jerusalem and "after three days they found him in the Temple courts among the teachers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, 'Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.'"
"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:46-49)
A DESCRIPTION OF THE TEMPLE (from Josephus' Wars of the Jews):
Now this temple, as I have already said, was built upon a strong hill. At first the plain at the top was hardly sufficient for the holy house and the altar, for the ground about it was very uneven, and like a precipice; but when king Solomon, who was the person that built the temple, had built a wall to it on its east side, there was then added one cloister founded on a bank cast up for it, and on the other parts the holy house stood naked. But in future ages the people added new banks, and the hill became a larger plain. They then broke down the wall on the north side, and took in as much as sufficed afterward for the compass of the entire temple. And when they had built walls on three sides of the temple round about, from the bottom of the hill, and had performed a work that was greater than could be hoped for, (in which work long ages were spent by them, as well as all their sacred treasures were exhausted, which were still replenished by those tributes which were sent to God from the whole habitable earth,) they then encompassed their upper courts with cloisters, as well as they [afterward] did the lowest [court of the] temple. The lowest part of this was erected to the height of three hundred cubits, and in some places more; yet did not the entire depth of the foundations appear, for they brought earth, and filled up the valleys, as being desirous to make them on a level with the narrow streets of the city; wherein they made use of stones of forty cubits in magnitude; for the great plenty of money they then had, and the liberality of the people, made this attempt of theirs to succeed to an incredible degree; and what could not be so much as hoped for as ever to be accomplished, was, by perseverance and length of time, brought to perfection.
Now for the works that were above these foundations, these were not unworthy of such foundations; for all the cloisters were double, and the pillars to them belonging were twenty-five cubits in height, and supported the cloisters. These pillars were of one entire stone each of them, and that stone was white marble; and the roofs were adorned with cedar, curiously graven. The natural magnificence, and excellent polish, and the harmony of the joints in these cloisters, afforded a prospect that was very remarkable; nor was it on the outside adorned with any work of the painter or engraver. The cloisters [of the outmost court] were in breadth thirty cubits, while the entire compass of it was by measure six furlongs, including the tower of Antonia; those entire courts that were exposed to the air were laid with stones of all sorts. When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple, there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that "no foreigner should go within that sanctuary" for that second [court of the] temple was called "the Sanctuary," and was ascended to by fourteen steps from the first court. This court was four-square, and had a wall about it peculiar to itself; the height of its buildings, although it were on the outside forty cubits, was hidden by the steps, and on the inside that height was but twenty-five cubits; for it being built over against a higher part of the hill with steps, it was no further to be entirely discerned within, being covered by the hill itself. Beyond these thirteen steps there was the distance of ten cubits; this was all plain; whence there were other steps, each of five cubits a-piece, that led to the gates, which gates on the north and south sides were eight, on each of those sides four, and of necessity two on the east. For since there was a partition built for the women on that side, as the proper place wherein they were to worship, there was a necessity for a second gate for them: this gate was cut out of its wall, over against the first gate. There was also on the other sides one southern and one northern gate, through which was a passage into the court of the women; for as to the other gates, the women were not allowed to pass through them; nor when they went through their own gate could they go beyond their own wall. This place was allotted to the women of our own country, and of other countries, provided they were of the same nation, and that equally. The western part of this court had no gate at all, but the wall was built entire on that side. But then the cloisters which were betwixt the gates extended from the wall inward, before the chambers; for they were supported by very fine and large pillars. These cloisters were single, and, excepting their magnitude, were no way inferior to those of the lower court.
Now nine of these gates were on every side covered over with gold and silver, as were the jambs of their doors and their lintels; but there was one gate that was without the [inward court of the] holy house, which was of Corinthian brass, and greatly excelled those that were only covered over with silver and gold. Each gate had two doors, whose height was severally thirty cubits, and their breadth fifteen. However, they had large spaces within of thirty cubits, and had on each side rooms, and those, both in breadth and in length, built like towers, and their height was above forty cubits. Two pillars did also support these rooms, and were in circumference twelve cubits. Now the magnitudes of the other gates were equal one to another; but that over the Corinthian gate, which opened on the east over against the gate of the holy house itself, was much larger; for its height was fifty cubits; and its doors were forty cubits; and it was adorned after a most costly manner, as having much richer and thicker plates of silver and gold upon them than the other. These nine gates had that silver and gold poured upon them by Alexander, the father of Tiberius. Now there were fifteen steps, which led away from the wall of the court of the women to this greater gate; whereas those that led thither from the other gates were five steps shorter.
As to the holy house itself, which was placed in the midst [of the inmost court], that most sacred part of the temple, it was ascended to by twelve steps; and in front its height and its breadth were equal, and each a hundred cubits, though it was behind forty cubits narrower; for on its front it had what may be styled shoulders on each side, that passed twenty cubits further. Its first gate was seventy cubits high, and twenty-five cubits broad; but this gate had no doors; for it represented the universal visibility of heaven, and that it cannot be excluded from any place. Its front was covered with gold all over, and through it the first part of the house, that was more inward, did all of it appear; which, as it was very large, so did all the parts about the more inward gate appear to shine to those that saw them; but then, as the entire house was divided into two parts within, it was only the first part of it that was open to our view. Its height extended all along to ninety cubits in height, and its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty. But that gate which was at this end of the first part of the house was, as we have already observed, all over covered with gold, as was its whole wall about it; it had also golden vines above it, from which clusters of grapes hung as tall as a man's height. But then this house, as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. 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.
When any persons entered into the temple, its floor received them. This part of the temple therefore was in height sixty cubits, and its length the same; whereas its breadth was but twenty cubits: but still that sixty cubits in length was divided again, and the first part of it was cut off at forty cubits, and had in it three things that were very wonderful and famous among all mankind, the candlestick, the table [of shew-bread], and the altar of incense. Now the seven lamps signified the seven planets; for so many there were springing out of the candlestick. Now the twelve loaves that were upon the table signified the circle of the zodiac and the year; but the altar of incense, by its thirteen kinds of sweet-smelling spices with which the sea replenished it, signified that God is the possessor of all things that are both in the uninhabitable and habitable parts of the earth, and that they are all to be dedicated to his use. But the inmost part of the temple of all was of twenty cubits. This was also separated from the outer part by a veil. In this there was nothing at all. It was inaccessible and inviolable, and not to be seen by any; and was called the Holy of Holies. Now, about the sides of the lower part of the temple, there were little houses, with passages out of one into another; there were a great many of them, and they were of three stories high; there were also entrances on each side into them from the gate of the temple. But the superior part of the temple had no such little houses any further, because the temple was there narrower, and forty cubits higher, and of a smaller body than the lower parts of it. Thus we collect that the whole height, including the sixty cubits from the floor, amounted to a hundred cubits.
Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men's minds or their eyes; for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun's own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white. On its top it had spikes with sharp points, to prevent any pollution of it by birds sitting upon it. Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth. Before this temple stood the altar, fifteen cubits high, and equal both in length and breadth; each of which dimensions was fifty cubits. The figure it was built in was a square, and it had corners like horns; and the passage up to it was by an insensible acclivity. It was formed without any iron tool, nor did any such iron tool so much as touch it at any time. There was also a wall of partition, about a cubit in height, made of fine stones, and so as to be grateful to the sight; this encompassed the holy house and the altar, and kept the people that were on the outside off from the priests. Moreover, those that had the gonorrhea and the leprosy were excluded out of the city entirely; women also, when their courses were upon them, were shut out of the temple; nor when they were free from that impurity, were they allowed to go beyond the limit before-mentioned; men also, that were not thoroughly pure, were prohibited to come into the inner [court of the] temple; nay, the priests themselves that were not pure were prohibited to come into it also (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 5, chapter 5).
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