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Within the Holy Place
'There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'--Matthew 24:2
Of the four principal entrances into the Temple--all of them from the west--the most northerly descended, perhaps by flights of steps, into the Lower City; while two others led into the suburb, or Parbar, as it is called. But by far the most magnificent avenue was that at the south-western angle of the Temple. Probably this was 'the ascent...into the house of the Lord,' which so astounded the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:5) *
* According to Mr. Lewin, however (Siege of Jerusalem, p. 270), this celebrated 'ascent' to the house of the Lord went up by a double subterranean passage, 250 feet long and 62 feet wide, by a flight of steps from the new palace of Solomon, afterwards occupied by the 'Royal Porch,' right into the inner court of the Temple.
It would, indeed, be difficult to exaggerate the splendor of this approach. A colossal bridge on arches spanned the intervening Valley of the Tyropoeon, connecting the ancient City of David with what is called the 'Royal Porch of the Temple.' From its ruins we can reconstruct this bridge. Each arch spanned 41 1/2 feet, and the spring-stones measured 24 feet in length by 6 in thickness. It is almost impossible to realise these proportions, except by a comparison with other buildings. A single stone 24 feet long! Yet these were by no means the largest in the masonry of the Temple. Both at the south-eastern and the south-western angles stones have been found measuring from 20 to 40 feet in length, and weighing above 100 tons.
The view from this 'Royal Bridge' must have been splendid. It was over it that they led the Savior, in sight of all Jerusalem, to and from the palace of the high-priest, that of Herod, the meeting- place of the Sanhedrim, and the judgment-seat of Pilate. Here the city would have lain spread before us like a map. Beyond it the eye would wander over straggling suburbs, orchards, and many gardens--fairest among them the royal gardens to the south, the 'garden of roses,' so celebrated by the Rabbis--till the horizon was bounded by the hazy outline of mountains in the distance. Over the parapet of the bridge we might have looked into the Tyropoeon Valley below, a depth of not less than 225 feet. The roadway which spanned this cleft for a distance of 354 feet, from Mount Moriah to Mount Zion opposite, was 50 feet broad, that is, about 5 feet wider than the central avenue of the Royal Temple- Porch into which it led. These 'porches,' as they are called in the New Testament, or cloisters, were among the finest architectural features of the Temple. They ran all round the inside of its wall, and bounded the outer enclosure of the Court of the Gentiles. They consisted of double rows of Corinthian pillars, all monoliths, wholly cut out of one block of marble, each pillar being 37 1/2 feet high. A flat roof, richly ornamented, rested against the wall, in which also the outer row of pillars was inserted. Possibly there may have been towers where one colonnade joined the other. But the 'Royal Porch,' by which we are supposed to have entered the Temple, was the most splendid, consisting not as the others, of a double, but of a treble colonnade, formed of 162 pillars, ranged in four rows of 40 pillars each, the two odd pillars serving as a kind of screen, where the 'Porch' opened upon the bridge. Indeed, we may regard the Royal Porch as consisting of a central nave 45 feet wide, with gigantic pillars 100 feet high, and of two aisles 30 feet wide, with pillars 50 feet high. By very competent authorities this Royal Porch, as its name indicates, is regarded as occupying the site of the ancient palace of Solomon, to which he 'brought up' the daughter of Pharaoh. Here also had been the 'stables of Solomon.' When Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple, he incorporated with it this site of the ancient royal palace. What the splendor and height (Professor Porter has calculated it at 440 feet) of this one porch in the Temple must have been is best expressed in the words of Captain Wilson (Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 9): 'It is almost impossible to realise the effect which would be produced by a building longer and higher than York Cathedral, standing on a solid mass of masonry almost equal in height to the tallest of our church spires.' And this was only one of the porches which formed the southern enclosure of the first and outermost court of the Temple--that of the Gentiles. The view from the top of this colonnade into Kedron was to the stupendous depth of 450 feet. Here some have placed that pinnacle of the Temple to which the tempter brought our Savior.
These halls or porches around the Court of the Gentiles must have been most convenient places for friendly or religious intercourse-- for meetings or discussions. Here Jesus, when still a child, was found by His parents disputing with the doctors; here He afterwards so often taught the people; and here the first assemblies of the Christians must have taken place when, 'continuing daily with one accord in the Temple,...praising God, and having favor with all the people,...the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.' Especially do we revert to Solomon's Porch, that ran along the eastern wall of the Temple, and faced its great entrance. It was the only remnant left of the Temple built by the wise King of Israel. In this porch 'Jesus walked' on that 'Feast of the Dedication,' (John 10:23) when He 'told it plainly,' 'I and my Father are one'; and it was thither 'that all the people ran together' when 'the notable miracle' on the lame man had been wrought at the 'Beautiful Gate of the Temple.'
Court of the Gentiles
It was the rule when entering the Temple to pass in by the right, and when leaving it to go out by the left hand. The great Court of the Gentiles, * which formed the lowest or outer enclosure of the Sanctuary, was paved with the finest variegated marble.
According to Jewish tradition, it formed a square of 750 feet. Its name is derived from the fact that it was open to all--Jews or Gentiles--provided they observed the prescribed rules of decorum and reverence. In this court tradition places eating and sleeping apartments for the Levites, and a synagogue. But, despite pharisaic punctilliousness, the noise, especially on the eve of the Passover, must have been most disturbing. For there the oxen, sheep, and doves selected as fit for sacrifices were sold as in a market; and here were those tables of the money-changers which the Lord overthrew when He drove from His Father's house them that bought and sold (Matt 21:12; John 2:14). Within a short distance, in the court, a marble screen 4 1/2 feet high, and beautifully ornamented, bore Greek and Latin inscriptions, warning Gentiles not to proceed, on pain of death. One of those very tablets, bearing almost the same words as those given by Josephus, has been discovered in late excavations. It was because they thought Paul had infringed this order, that the infuriated multitude 'went about to kill him' (Acts 21:31). Beyond this enclosure a flight of fourteen steps, each 9 inches high, led up to a terrace 15 feet broad, called the 'Chel,' which bounded the inner wall of the Temple. We are now approaching the Sanctuary itself, which consisted, first, of three courts, each higher than the former, and, beyond them, of the Holy and Most Holy Places, with their outbuildings. Entering by the principal gate on the east we pass, first into the Court of the Women, thence into that of Israel, and from the latter into that of the Priests. This would have been, so to speak, the natural way of advancing. But there was a nearer road into the Court of the Priests. For both north and south, along the terrace, flights of steps led up to three gates (both north and south), which opened into the Court of the Priests, while a fourth gate (north and south) led into the middle of the Court of the Women. Thus there were nine gates opening from 'the Terrace' into the Sanctuary--the principal one from the east, and four north and south, of which one (north and south) also led into the Court of the Women, and the other three (north and south) into that of the Priests.
These eight side gates, as we may call them, were all two-leaved, wide, high, with superstructures and chambers supported by two pillars, and covered with gold and silver plating. But far more magnificent than any of them was the ninth or eastern gate, which formed the principal entrance into the Temple. The ascent to it was from the terrace by twelve easy steps. The gate itself was made of dazzling Corinthian brass, most richly ornamented; and so massive were its double doors that it needed the united strength of twenty men to open and close them. This was the 'Beautiful Gate'; and on its steps had they been wont these many years to lay the lame man, just as privileged beggars now lie at the entrance to Continental cathedrals. No wonder that all Jerusalem knew him; and when on that sunny afternoon Peter and John joined the worshippers in the Court of the Women, not alone, but in company with the well-known cripple, who, after his healing, was 'walking and leaping and praising God,' universal 'wonder and amazement' must have been aroused. Then, when the lame man, still 'holding by' the apostles, again descended these steps, we can readily understand how all the people would crowd around in Solomon's Porch, close by, till the sermon of Peter--so fruitful in its spiritual results--was interrupted by the Temple police, and the sudden imprisonment of the apostles.