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  • THE TEMPLE - CH. 8 - B

    Preparing the Altar

    But to return. While the assistant priests were waiting, the first priest had taken the silver chafing-dish, and scraped the fire on the altar, removing the burnt coals, and depositing them at a little distance north of the altar. As he descended, the other priests quickly washed hands and feet, and took shovels and prongs, with which they moved aside what of the sacrifices had been left unburned from the previous evening, then cleaned out the ashes, laying part on the great heap in the middle of the altar, and the rest in a place whence it was afterwards carried out of the Temple. The next duty was to lay on the altar fresh wood, which, however, might be neither from the olive nor the vine. For the fire destined to feed the altar of incense the wood of the fig-tree was exclusively used, so as to secure good and sufficient charcoal. The hitherto unconsumed pieces of the sacrifice were now again laid upon the fire.

    The Second Lot

    These preliminaries finished, the priests gathered once more for the second lot. The priest on whom it fell was designated, along with the twelve who stood nearest to him, for offering the sacrifice and cleansing the candlestick and the altar of incense. Immediately after casting this second lot, the president directed one to ascend some 'pinnacle,' and see whether it was time to kill the daily sacrifice. If the priest reported, 'The morning shineth already,' he was again asked, 'Is the sky lit up as far as Hebron?' If so, the president ordered the lamb to be brought from the chamber by the Beth-Moked, where it had been kept in readiness for four days. Others fetched the gold and silver vessels of service, of which the Rabbis enumerate ninety-three. The sacrificial lamb was now watered out of a golden bowl, and anew examined by torch-light, though its Levitical fitness had been already ascertained the evening before. Then the sacrificing priest, surrounded by his assistants, fastened the lamb to the second of the rings on the north side of the altar--in the morning in the western, in the evening in the eastern corner. *

    * The sacrifice was always offered against the sun.

    The sacrifice was held together by its feet, the fore and hind feet of each side being tied together; its head was laid towards the south and fastened through a ring, and its face turned to the west, while the sacrificing priest stood on the east side. The elders who carried the keys now gave the order for opening the Temple gates. As the last great gate slowly moved on its hinges, the priests, on a signal given, blew three blasts on their silver trumpets, summoning the Levites and the 'representatives' of the people (the so-called 'stationary men') to their duties, and announcing to the city that the morning sacrifice was about to be offered. Immediately upon this the great gates which led into the Holy Place itself were opened to admit the priests who were to cleanse the candlestick and the altar of incense.

    The Slaying of the Lamb

    The opening of these gates was the signal for actually slaying the sacrificial lamb. The sacrifice was offered in the following manner. One priest drew forward the windpipe and gullet of the sacrifice, and quickly thrust upwards the knife, while another caught the blood in a golden bowel. Standing at the east side of the altar, he sprinkled it, first at the north-east, and then at the south-west corner, below the red line which ran round the middle of the altar, in each case in such manner as to cover two sides of the altar, or, as it is described, in the form of the Greek letter (gamma). The rest of the blood was poured out at the base of the altar. Ordinarily, the whole of this service would of course be performed by priests. But it was valid even if the sacrifice had been killed by a layman, or with an ordinary knife. Not so if the blood were caught up in any but a consecrated vessel, or sprinkled by other than the hands of a priest who at the time was Levitically fit for the service.

    The Altar of Incense and the Candlestick

    We proceed to describe the service of those whose duty it was to cleanse the altar of incense and to dress the golden candlestick in the Holy Place. A few particulars as to each of these will not be out of place. The triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome bears a representation of the golden mortars in which the incense was bruised, and of the golden candlestick, but not the altar of incense. Still, we can form a sufficiently accurate idea of its appearance. It was square, one cubit long and broad, and two cubits high, that is, half a cubit higher than the table of shewbread, but one cubit lower than the candlestick, and it had 'horns' at each of its four corners. It was probably hollow, and its top covered with a golden plate, and like an Eastern roof, surrounded by what resembled a balustrade, to prevent the coals and incense from falling off. Below this balustrade was a massive crown of gold. The incense burned upon this altar was prepared of the four ingredients mentioned in Exodus 30:34, with which, according to the Rabbis, seven others were mixed, besides a small quantity of 'Ambra,' and of a herb which gave out a dense smoke. To these thirteen substances (Jos. Wars, v. 5. s.) salt was of course added. The mode of preparing the incense had been preserved in the family of Abtinas. The greatest care was taken to have the incense thoroughly bruised and mixed. Altogether 368 pounds were made for the year's consumption, about half a pound being used every morning and evening in the service. The censer for the Day of Atonement was different in size and appearance from that for ordinary days. The golden candlestick was like that delineated in Exodus 25:31, etc., and is sufficiently known from its representation on the Arch of Titus.

    Now, while one set of priests were busy in the Court of the Priests offering the sacrifice, the two on whom it devolved to trim the lamps of the candlestick and to prepare the altar of incense had gone into the Holy Place. As nearly as possible while the lamb was being slain without, the first of these priests took with his hands the burnt coals and ashes from the golden altar, and put them into a golden vessel--called 'teni'--and withdrew, leaving it in the sanctuary. Similarly, as the blood of the lamb was being sprinkled on the altar of burnt-offering, the second priest ascended the three steps, hewn in stone, which led up to the candlestick. He trimmed and refilled the lamps that were still burning, removed the wick and old oil from those which had become extinguished, supplied fresh, and re-lit them from one of the other lamps. But the large central lamp, towards which all the others bent, and which was called the western, because it inclined westward towards the Most Holy Place, might only be re-lit by fire from the altar itself. Only five, however, of the lamps were then trimmed; the other two were reserved to a later period of the service.

    Salting the Sacrifice

    Meantime in the Court of the Priests the sacrifice had been hung on one of the hooks, flayed, cut up according to rules, cleaned, and handed to the six priests who were successively to carry up the pieces to the rise of the altar, where they were salted and deposited. For 'every sacrifice must be salted with salt'--nay, everything that was laid on the altar, except the drink-offering. At the same time, three other priests carried up to the rise of the altar the daily meat-offering, that of the high-priest, and the drink- offering. The skins of the sacrifices were salted, and on the eve of each Sabbath distributed among the 'course' of priests that had been on ministry. *

    * This in the case of burnt-, sin-, or trespass-offerings. The skins of the other offerings belonged to the offerers themselves.

    Prayer Before the Third Lot

    And now the most solemn part of the service was about to begin. For the third time the priests assembled in the 'Hall of Polished Stones,' to draw the third and the fourth lots. But before doing so the president called on them to join in the prescribed prayers. Tradition has preserved these to us. Subjecting them to the severest criticism, so as to eliminate all later details, the words used by the priests before the third and fourth lots were as follows:

    'With great love hast Thou loved us, O Lord our God, and with much overflowing pity hast Thou pitied us. Our Father and our King, for the sake of our fathers who trusted in Thee, and Thou taughtest them the statutes of life, have mercy upon us, and enlighten our eyes * [in Thy law; cause our hearts to cleave to Thy commandments; unite our hearts to love and to fear Thy name, and we shall not be put to shame, world without end. For Thou art a God who preparest salvation, and us hast Thou chosen from among all nations and tongues, and hast, in truth, brought us near to Thy great name, Selah, in order] that we in love may praise Thee and Thy Unity. Blessed be the Lord, who in love chose His people Israel.'

    * The words here and afterwards within square brackets are regarded by Jost (Gesch. d. Jud.) as a later addition.

    After this prayer the ten commandments were (at one time) wont to be repeated, a practice discontinued, however, lest the Sadducees should declare them to be the only essential part of the law. Then all assembled said the so-called 'Shema' * which may be designated as a sort of 'credo' or 'belief.' It consisted of these three passages--Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; and Numbers 15:37-41.

    * So named from the first word, Shema, 'Hear,' viz. 'O Israel,' etc. By one of the strangest mistakes, Lightfoot confounds the contents of the 'Shema' with those of the phylacteries.

    The Lot for Incense

    After this the lot was cast for burning the incense. No one might take part in it who had ministered in that office before, unless in the very rare case that all present had previously so officiated. Hence, while the other three lots held good for the evening service, that for the incense required to be repeated. He on whom this lot fell chose from among his friends his two assistants. Finally, the third was succeeded by the fourth lot, which designated those who were to lay on the altar the sacrifice and the meat-offerings, and to pour out the drink-offering.

    Offering the Incense

    The incensing priest and his assistance now approached first the altar of burnt-offering. One filled with incense a golden censer held in a silver vessel, while another placed in a golden bowl burning coals from the altar. As they passed from the court into the Holy Place, they struck a large instrument (called the 'Magrephah'), at sound of which the priests hastened from all parts to worship, and the Levites to occupy their places in the service of song; while the chief of the 'stationary men' ranged at the Gate of Nicanor such of the people as were to be purified that day. Slowly the incensing priest and his assistants ascended the steps to the Holy Place, preceded by the two priests who had formerly dressed the altar and the candlestick, and who now removed the vessels they had left behind, and, worshipping, withdrew. Next, one of the assistants reverently spread the coals on the golden altar; the other arranged the incense; and then the chief officiating priest was left alone within the Holy Place, to await the signal of the president before burning the incense. It was probably while thus expectant that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias. As the president gave the word of command, which marked that 'the time of incense had come,' 'the whole multitude of the people without' withdrew from the inner court, and fell down before the Lord, spreading their hands * in silent prayer.

    * The practice of folding the hands together in prayer dates from the fifth century of our era, and is of purely Saxon origin. See Holemann, Bibel St. i. p. 150, quoted by Delitzsch, u.s.


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