According to Jewish historian Josephus, the Judean king of Idumean descent, Herod the Great (74/73 BC-4 BC) decided to build a magnificent temple of God in the 18th year of his reign (listed as 20 BC on the Biblical Timeline). He proposed an expansion of the original second temple (one built under the leadership of Zerubbabel) first built during the time of the Achaemenids and continued during the time of the Macedonians. Herod spoke to the people of Jerusalem about this idea, but they were not enthusiastic at first because they feared that Herod might tear it down again. After he had reassured them that he would not tear it down, the people agreed to this magnificent building project.
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As much as ten thousand workmen were chosen to help build the temple, according to Josephus, and it was one of the biggest construction projects at the time. It was located on the northern portion of Mount Moriah and dominated the Kidron and Tyropoeon Valleys. The retaining walls were made of large cut stone blocks that were skillfully put together so well that they can still be visited today. However, the inner courts and temple themselves were destroyed many years ago. The inner portion of the walls were enclosed with porticoes or cloisters.
It had the same dimensions as that of Solomon’s temple which measured 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide, and 40 cubits high. The courts were divided into four: one for priests, one for Jewish males, one for women, and the last one for Gentiles. Four storage chambers were built at each corner of the women’s courtyard: the Chamber of Lepers, Chamber of Wood, Chamber of the Nazarites, and the Chamber of Oils.
Herod enlarged the length of the temple area, but not its width and according to Josephus and the Mishnah, had several gates that led to the outer court. It had an inner court which led to the sanctuary where the altar was located and where non-Jews were forbidden to enter. The enclosure had nine gates: four on the northern wall, four on the southern wall, one on the eastern wall, and none on the western portion. Two were reserved for women (one on the north and one on the southern end) while six were reserved only for men. Next to the women’s courtyard was the Gate of Nicanor, the largest gate leading to the temple, which measured 50 cubits high and 40 cubits wide.
The temple itself towered up to 15 stories high and divided into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Holy Place contained the altar of incense, the seven-branched golden candlestick, and the table of the shewbread. It led to an inner sanctuary called the Holy of Holies, which the Jews considered as the dwelling place of God. The Ark of Covenant was located inside, and divided from the Holy Place by a curtain or veil. The magnificent decorations of the temple were covered in with silver, gold, and bronze.
According to John 2:20, it took forty-six years for the temple to be completed, but it was only completed during the procuratorship of Albius. Which means it took more than eighty years to complete the temple. It was destroyed by fire less than a decade later by the Romans when Jerusalem was besieged by Titus.
Picture By Berthold Werner – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5333254
“JewishEncyclopedia.com.” TEMPLE OF HEROD –. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2016
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