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The Court of the Women obtained its name, not from its appropriation to the exclusive use of women, but because they were not allowed to proceed farther, except for sacrificial purposes. Indeed, this was probably the common place for worship, the females occupying, according to Jewish tradition, only a raised gallery along three sides of the court. This court covered a space upwards of 200 feet square. All around ran a simple colonnade, and within it, against the wall, the thirteen chests, or 'trumpets,' for charitable contributions were placed. These thirteen chests were narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, shaped like trumpets, whence their name. Their specific objects were carefully marked on them. Nine were for the receipt of what was legally due by worshippers; the other four for strictly voluntary gifts. Trumpets I and II were appropriated to the half- shekel Temple-tribute of the current and of the past year. Into Trumpet III those women who had to bring turtledoves for a burnt- and a sin-offering dropped their equivalent in money, which was daily taken out and a corresponding number of turtledoves offered. This not only saved the labor of so many separate sacrifices, but spared the modesty of those who might not wish to have the occasion or the circumstances of their offering to be publicly known. Into this trumpet Mary the mother of Jesus must have dropped the value of her offering (Luke 2:22,24) when the aged Simeon took the infant Savior 'in his arms, and blessed God.' Trumpet IV similarly received the value of the offerings of young pigeons. In Trumpet V contributions for the wood used in the Temple; in Trumpet VI for the incense, and in Trumpet VII for the golden vessels for the ministry were deposited. If a man had put aside a certain sum for a sin-offering, and any money was left over after its purchase, it was cast into Trumpet VIII. Similarly, Trumpets IX, X, XI, XII, and XIII were destined for what was left over from trespass-offerings, offerings of birds, the offering of the Nazarite, of the cleansed leper, and voluntary offerings. In all probability this space where the thirteen Trumpets were placed was the 'treasury,' where Jesus taught on that memorable Feast of Tabernacles (John 7 and 8; see specially 8:20). We can also understand how, from the peculiar and known destination of each of these thirteen 'trumpets,' the Lord could distinguish the contributions of the rich who cast in 'of their abundance' from that of the poor widow who of her 'penury' had given 'all the living' that she had (Mark 12:41; Luke 21:1). But there was also a special treasury-chamber, into which at certain times they carried the contents of the thirteen chests; and, besides, what was called 'a chamber of the silent,' where devout persons secretly deposited money, afterwards secretly employed for educating children of the pious poor.
It is probably in ironical allusion to the form and name of these treasure-chests that the Lord, making use of the word 'trumpet,' describes the conduct of those who, in their almsgiving, sought glory from men as 'sounding a trumpet' before them (Matt 6:2)-- that is, carrying before them, as it were, in full display one of these trumpet-shaped alms-boxes (literally called in the Talmud, 'trumpets'), and, as it were, sounding it. *
* The allusion is all the more pointed, when we bear in mind that each of these trumpets had a mark to tell its special object. It seems strange that this interpretation should not have occurred to any of the commentators, who have always found the allusion such a crux interpretum. An article in the Bible Educator has since substantially adopted this view, adding that trumpets were blown when the alms were collected. But for the latter statement there is no historical authority whatever, and it would contravene the religious spirit of the times.
In each of the four corners of the Court of the Women were chambers, or rather unroofed courts, each said to have been 60 feet long. In that at the right hand (on the north-east), the priests who were unfit for other than menial services on account of bodily blemishes, picked the worm-eaten wood from that destined for the altar. In the court at the farther angle (north-west) the purified lepers washed before presenting themselves to the priests at the Gate of Nicanor. At the left (south-east) the Nazarites polled their hair, and cooked their peace-offerings; while in a fourth court (at the south-west) the oil and wine were kept for the drink-offerings. The musical instruments used by the Levites were deposited in two rooms under the Court of the Israelites, to which the access was from the Court of the Women.
Of course the western colonnade of this court was open. Thence fifteen easy steps led through the so-called Gate of Nicanor into the Court of Israel. On these steps the Levites were wont on the Feast of Tabernacles to sing the fifteen 'Psalms of Degrees,' or ascent (Psalms 120 to 134), whence some have derived their name. Here, or, rather, in the Gate of Nicanor, all that was ordered to be done 'before the Lord' took place. There the cleansed leper and the women coming for purification presented themselves to the priests, and there also the 'water of jealousy' was given to the suspected wife.
Perhaps it will be most convenient for practical purposes to regard the two Courts of Israel and of the Priests as in reality forming only one, divided into two parts by a low balustrade 1 1/2 feet high. Thus viewed, this large double court, inclusive of the Sanctuary itself, would measure 280 1/2 feet in length by 202 1/2 feet in breadth. Of this a narrow strip, 16 1/2 feet long, formed the Court of Israel. Two steps led up from it to the Court of the Priests. Here you mounted again by three low semicircular steps to a kind of pulpit or platform, where, as well as on the 'fifteen steps,' the Levites sang and played during the ordinary service. The priests, on the other hand, occupied, while pronouncing the blessing, the steps at the other end of the court which led up to the Temple porch. A similar arrangement existed in the great court as in that of the Women. Right and left of the Nicanor Gate were receptacles for the priestly vestments (one for each of the four kinds, and for the twenty-four courses of priests: 4 x 24 = 96). Next came the chamber of the high-priest's meat-offering (Lev 6:20), where each morning before going to their duties the officiating priesthood gathered from the so-called 'Beth-ha- Moked,' or 'house of stoves.' The latter was built on arches, and contained a large dining-hall that communicated with four other chambers. One of these was a large apartment where fires were continually burning for the use of the priests who ministered barefoot. There also the heads of the ministering courses slept, and here, in a special receptacle under the pavement, the keys of the Temple were hung up at night. Of the other three chambers of the Beth-Moked, one was appropriated to the various counterfoils given as a warrant when a person had paid his due for a drink- offering. In another the shewbread was prepared, while yet a third served for the lambs (at least six in number) that were always kept ready for the regular sacrifice. Here also a passage led to the well- lit subterranean bath for the use of the priests. Besides the Beth- Moked there were, north and south of the court, rooms for storing the salt for the altar, for salting the skins of sacrifices, for washing 'their inwards,' for storing the 'clean' wood, for the machinery by which the laver was supplied with water, and finally the chamber 'Gazith,' or Hall of Hewn Stones, where the Sanhedrim was wont to meet. Above some of these chambers were other apartments, such as those in which the high-priest spent the week before the Day of Atonement in study and meditation.
The account which Jewish tradition gives of these gates and chambers around the Court of the Priests is somewhat conflicting, perhaps because the same chambers and gates may have borne different names. It may, however, be thus summarised. Entering the Great Court by the Nicanor Gate, there was at the right hand the Chamber of Phinehas with its 96 receptacles for priests' vestments, and at the left the place where the high-priest's daily meat-offering was prepared, and where every morning before daybreak all the ministering priests met, after their inspection of the Temple and before being told off to duty. Along the southern side of the court were the Water-gate, through which at the Feast of Tabernacles the pitcher with water was brought from the Pool of Siloam, with a chamber above it, called Abtinas, where the priests kept guard at night; then the Gate of the Firstlings, through which the firstlings fit to be offered were brought; and the Wood- gate, through which the altar-wood was carried. Alongside these gates were Gazith, the hall of square polished stones, where the Sanhedrim sat; the chamber Golah, for the water apparatus which emptied and filled the laver; and the wood-chamber. Above and beyond it were the apartments of the high-priest and the council- chamber of the 'honorable councillors,' or priestly council for affairs strictly connected with the Temple. On the northern side of the Priests' Court were the gate Nitzutz (Spark Gate), with a guard-chamber above for the priests, the Gate of Sacrifices, and the Gate of the Beth-Moked. Alongside these gates were the chamber for salting the sacrifices; that for salting the skins (named Parvah from its builder), with bathrooms for the high- priest above it; and finally the Beth-Moked with its apartments. The two largest of these buildings--the council-chamber of the Sanhedrim at the south-eastern, * and the Beth-Moked at the north-western angle of the court--were partly built into the court and partly out on 'the terrace.'
* It is very strange what mistakes are made about the localisation of the rooms and courts connected with the Temple. Thus the writer of the article 'Sanhedrim' in Kitto's Encycl., vol. iii. p. 766, says that the hall of the Sanhedrim 'was situate in the center of the south side of the Temple-court, the northern part extending to the Court of the Priests, and the southern part to the Court of the Israelites.' But the Court of Israel and that of the Priests did not lie north and south, but east and west, as a glance at the Temple plan will show! The hall of the Sanhedrim extended indeed south, though certainly not to the Court of Israel, but to the Chel or terrace. The authorities quoted in the article 'Sanhedrim' do not bear out the writer's conclusions. It ought to be remarked that about the time of Christ the Sanhedrim removed its sittings from the Hall of Square Stones to another on the east of the Temple-court.