The Jerusalem Temple

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Temple column: once part of Herod's great building

by Victor Hoagland, C.P.

The temple in Jerusalem, brilliantly restored and expanded by Herod the Great (+ 4 B.C..) played a key role in Jewish religious, political and economic life at the time of Jesus. Its massive walls and buildings dominated the city itself; during the great Jewish feasts it was a magnet drawing Jews from beyond the city and from all over the world, who tripled Jerusalem's existing population.

Ever sensitive to possible danger from a volatile mix of religious fervor and revolutionary politics at such times, Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, left his administrative center at Caesarea Maritima and came to Jerusalem with extra troops to maintain order and act quickly in case of trouble. Some of those troops were stationed at the Fortress Antonia adjacent to the temple.

The gospels report that Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover. He taught regularly in the temple area, and his teaching gravely concerned the rulers of the city. On one occasion, he upset the tables of the temple vendors which further provoked the city's religious leaders. Those actions were a major factor leading to his condemnation and death.

Today nothing remains of the temple and its surrounding buildings which were destroyed by the Roman legions of Titus in 70 A.D. except some broken pieces and the great platform created as the site for the temple by Herod the Great. Now that site is dominated by the impressive Moslem shrine, the Dome of the Rock, built after the Moslem conquest of Palestine in the 7th century, which presides over Jerusalem's skyline today.

The Temple as Reconstructed: Its innermost room was the Holy of Holies. In the surrounding porticoes, people congregated and listened to teachers and rabbis. Jesus and the apostles taught there. On the left, the Royal portico where the moneychangers' tables stood and animals and birds were sold for sacrifice. On the right, the towers of the Antonia fortress, rebuilt by Herod the Great and used by the Romans to control Jerusalem, especially the temple area. (Model of Jerusalem: Holyland Hotel.)

Model

South side of the Temple (Holy Land Hotel Model)

The Temple Steps: The Southern side of the Temple

Excavations begun on the southern side of the temple platform in 1967 revealed parts of the original great stairway of thirteen steps leading to the southern entrances of the temple as well as ritual baths for purification that vistors used before they went to worship. Since this entrance was the main entrance for pilgrims, it is likely Jesus and his disciples walked these steps.

 

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