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At the opposite, or north-eastern corner of Mount Zion, was the palace of the High-priest. Being built on the slope of the hill, there was under the principal apartments a lower story, with a porch in front, so that we can understand how on that eventful night Peter was 'beneath in the palace.' (Mark 14:66) Beyond it, probably on the slope of Acra, was the Repository of the Archives, and on the other side of the cleft, abutting on the Temple, with which it was probably connected by a colonnade, the Council Chamber of the Sanhedrim. Following the eastern brow of Mount Zion, south of the High-priest's palace, and opposite the Temple, was the immense Xystus, which probably extended into the Tyropoeon. Whatever may have been its original purpose, * it was afterwards used as a place of public meetings, where, on great occasions, the populace was harangued.
Here Peter probably addressed the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost when the multitude had hurried thither from the Temple on hearing 'the mighty rushing sound.' The Xystus was surrounded by a covered colonnade. Behind it was the palace of Agrippa, the ancient palace of David and of the Maccabees, and again, in the rear of it, that of Bernice. On Acra stood afterwards the palaces of certain foreign princes, such as those of Queen Helena, King Monobasus, and other convert. In this quarter, or even beyond it to the north-west, one would naturally look for the Theatre and the Amphitheatre, which, being so essentially un- Jewish, must have been located as far as possible from the Temple. The space around the Temple was no doubt kept clear of buildings. On the south-eastern corner behind it was the great Sheep Market, and to the south of it the Hippodrome. Originally, the king's house by the horse-gate, built by Solomon, and the royal stables, had occupied the southern area of the Temple Mount, where Herod afterwards built the 'Royal Porch.' For the Temple of Solomon was 300 feet shorter, from north to south, than that of Herod. Transversely, between Xystus and the Fish Gate, lay the quarter of Maktesh, (Zeph 1:10,11) occupied by various bazaars, chiefly connected with the Temple. Lastly, south of the Temple, but on the same hill, was Ophel, the crowded suburb of the priests.
The Shushan Gate
Such must have been a first view of Jerusalem, as 'beheld' from the Mount of Olives, on which we are supposed to have taken our stand. If Jewish tradition on the subject may be trusted, a gate opened upon this Mount of Olives through the eastern wall of the Temple. *
It is called 'the Shushan Gate,' from the sculptured representation over it of the city to which so many Jewish memories attached. From this gate an arched roadway, by which the priests brought out the 'red heifer,' and on the Day of Atonement the scapegoat, is said to have conducted to the Mount of Olives. Near the spot where the red heifer was burned were extensive lavatories, and booths for the sale of articles needed for various purifications. Up a crest, on one of the most commanding elevations, was the Lunar Station, whence, by fire signals, the advent of each new moon was telegraphed from hill to hill into far countries. If Jewish tradition may further be trusted, there was also an unused gate in the Temple towards the north--Tedit or Tere--and two gates towards the south. We know for certain of only a subterranean passage which led from the fortress Antonia on the 'north-western angle' of the Temple into the Temple Court, and of the cloisters with stairs descending into the porches, by one of which the chief captain Lysias rushed to the rescue of Paul, when nearly killed by the infuriated multitude. Dismissing all doubtful questions, we are sure that at any rate five gates opened into the outer Temple enclosure or Court of the Gentiles--one from the south, and four-- and these the principal--from the west. That southern gate was double, and must have chiefly served the convenience of the priests. Coming from Ophel, they would pass through its gigantic archway and vestibule (40 feet each way), and then by a double tunnel nearly 200 feet long, whence they emerged at a flight of steps leading straight up from the Court of the Gentiles into that of the priests, close to the spot where they would officiate. *
* Jewish tradition mentions the following five as the outer gates of the Temple: that of Shushan to the east, of Tedi to the north, of Copponus to the west, and the two Huldah gates to the south. The Shushan gate was said to have been lower than the others, so that the priests at the end of the 'heifer-bridge' might look over it into the Temple. In a chamber above the Shushan gate, the standard measures of the 'cubit' were kept.
But to join the great crowd of worshippers we have to enter the city itself. Turning our back on Mount Zion, we now face eastwards to Mount Moriah. Though we look towards the four principal entrances to the Temple, yet what we see within those walls on the highest of the terraces is not the front but the back of the sanctuary. It is curious how tradition is here in the most perceptible error in turning to the east in worship. The Holy Place itself faced east-wards, and was approached from the east; but most assuredly the ministering priests and the worshippers looked not towards the east, but towards the west.
The Temple Plateau
The Temple plateau had been artificially levelled at immense labor and cost, and enlarged by gigantic substructures. The latter served also partly for the purpose of purification, as otherwise there might have been some dead body beneath, which, however great the distance from the surface, would, unless air had intervened, have, according to tradition, defiled the whole place above. As enlarged by Herod the Great, the Temple area occupied an elongated square of from 925 to 950 feet and upwards. *
* Many modern writers have computed the Temple area at only 606 feet, while Jewish authorities make it much larger than we have stated it. The computation in the text is based on the latest and most trustworthy investigations, and fully borne out by the excavations made on the spot by Capts. Wilson and Warren.
Roughly calculating it at about 1,000 feet, this would give an extent more than one-half greater than the length of St. Peter's at Rome, which measures 613 feet, and nearly double our own St. Paul's, whose extreme length is 520 1/2 feet. And then we must bear in mind that the Temple plateau was not merely about 1,000 feet in length, but a square of nearly 1,000 feet! It was not, however, in the center of this square, but towards the north-west, that the Temple itself and its special courts were placed. Nor, as already hinted, were they all on a level, but rose terrace upon terrace, till the sacred edifice itself was reached, its porch protruding, 'shoulder-like,' on either side--perhaps rising into two flanking towers--and covering the Holy and Most Holy Places. Thus must the 'golden fane' have been clearly visible from all parts; the smoke of its sacrifices slowly curling up against the blue Eastern sky, and the music of its services wafted across the busy city, while the sunlight glittered on its gilt roofs, or shone from its pavement of tesselated marble, or threw great shadows on Olivet behind.
Fables of the Rabbis
Assuredly, when the Rabbis thought of their city in her glory, they might well say: 'The world is like unto an eye. The ocean surrounding the world is the white of the eye; its black is the world itself; the pupil is Jerusalem; but the image within the pupil is the sanctuary.' In their sorrow and loneliness they have written many fabled things of Jerusalem, of which some may here find a place, to show with what halo of reverence they surrounded the loving memories of the past. Jerusalem, they say, belonged to no tribe in particular--it was all Israel's. And this is in great measure literally true; for even afterwards, when ancient Jebus became the capital of the land, the boundary line between Judah and Benjamin ran right through the middle of the city and of the Temple; so that, according to Jewish tradition, the porch and the sanctuary itself were in Benjamin, and the Temple courts and altar in Judah. In Jerusalem no house might be hired. The houses belonged as it were to all; for they must all be thrown open, in free-hearted hospitality, to the pilgrim-brethren that came up to the feast. Never had any one failed to find in Jerusalem the means of celebrating the passover festivities, nor yet had any lacked a bed on which to rest. Never did serpent or scorpion hurt within her precincts; never did fire desolate her streets, nor ruin occur. No ban ever rested on the Holy City. It was Levitically more sacred than other cities, since there alone the passover lamb, the thank- offerings, and the second tithes might be eaten. Hence they carefully guarded against all possibility of pollution. No dead body might remain in the city overnight; no sepulchres were there, except those of the house of David and of the prophetess Huldah. No even domestic fowls might be kept, nor vegetable gardens be planted, lest the smell of decaying vegetation should defile the air; nor yet furnaces be built, for fear of smoke. Never had adverse acident interrupted the services of the sanctuary, nor profaned the offerings. Never had rain extinguished the fire on the altar, nor contrary wind driven back the smoke of the sacrifices; nor yet, however great the crowd of worshipperes, had any failed for room to bow down and worship the God of Israel!
Thus far the Rabbis. All the more impressive is their own admission and their lament--so significant as viewed in the light of the Gospel: 'For three years and a half abode the Shechinah' (or visible Divine presence) 'on the Mount of Olives,'--waiting whether Israel would repent--'and calling upon them, "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near." And when all was in vain, then the Shechinah returned to its own place!'
Jerusalem in Ruins
The Shechinah has withdrawn to its own place! Both the city and the Temple have been laid 'even with the ground,' because Jerusalem knew not the time of her visitation (Luke 19:44). 'They have laid Jerusalem on heaps' (Psalm 79:1). 'The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street' (Lam 4:1). All this, and much more, did the Savior, the rightful King of Israel, see in the near future, when 'He beheld the city, and wept over it.' And now we must search very deep down, sinking the shaft from 60 to over 125 feet through the rubbish of accumulated ruins, before reaching at last the ancient foundations. And there, close by where once the royal bridge spanned the deep chasm and led from the City of David into the royal porch of the Temple, is 'the Jews' Wailing Place,' where the mourning heirs to all this desolation reverently embrace the fallen stones, and weep unavailing tears--unavailing because the present is as the past, and because what brought that judgment and sorrow is unrecognised, unrepented, unremoved. Yet--'Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh and also the night. If ye will inquire, inquire! Return, come!'