Monday, April 23, 2012

Tour of the Temple: Class 2

Walls of the Temple Mount
King Darius (wikimedia)
   Both the Temple Mount and the courtyards within it were surrounded by tall walls, 40 cubits (60 feet) in height. These walls stood 5 cubits (7½ feet) thick at their base and tapered slightly as they rose to give them greater stability. In King Solomon's First Temple the walls were composed of a repeating pattern of three courses of stone followed by one course of wood. In the Second Temple, the Persian king Darius — who was the one to grant the Jews permission to rebuild the Temple — commanded that the walls mimic that original design but with the following changes: 1) the walls should begin with one course of wood and then three courses of stone, 2) the wood should not be set completely within the walls, and 3) the wood should not be covered with plaster. No mortar was used to hold the massive stones together rather they were carefully fitted to one another and then locked into place with iron braces.
Line of sight from the Mount of Olives
to the opening of the Sanctuary Building
   The eastern wall of the Temple Mount was much lower than the others and stood less than 26 cubits (39 feet) high. The reason for this was a Scriptural requirement connected to the Parah Adumah [red heifer, whose ashes have the ability to purify people and objects from corpse-tumah]. The Parah Adumah was prepared on the Mount of Olives, located due east of the Temple, and the Torah writes that while the Kohen is carrying out the preparations he must have a direct line of sight to the opening of the Sanctuary. From his vantage point in the east the Kohen would look over the lower eastern wall of the Temple Mount, through the eastern gate of the Women's Courtyard, and through the Nikanor Gate to the opening of the Sanctuary.
   The Temple was not squarely centered within the four walls of the Temple Mount but was offset towards the northwest corner. Although in many models of the Temple the Temple Mount is shown as a large, open expanse of space, this is not accurate. The space between the walls of the Temple Mount and the Temple itself was packed with numerous chambers, storehouses, workshops, and offices which were necessary for the day-to-day operation of the Temple. Since we do not know the names and locations of these many chambers they are often omitted from the depictions of the Temple.
Just inside the walls of the Temple Mount ran a cedar-covered portico supported by marble columns, each of which was hewn from a single block of stone and adorned with flowered capitals. The columns stood 25 cubits tall and each measured “as wide as three men can reach.” A man’s reach is about 4 cubits, thus the columns had a circumference of 12 cubits and a diameter of 3.8 cubits. The columns were spaced approximately 15 cubits apart and arranged in three rows along the walls of the Temple Mount, with the first row of columns set into the walls. 
   The cedar roof covering this portico extended 30 cubits from the inside of the Temple Mount walls. It was carved with flower designs and had a fence on top to prevent anyone who might be walking there from falling off. The entire area of the portico was set upon a raised platform a few steps higher than the floor of the Temple Mount and, like the entire expanse of the Temple Mount, was paved with marble stones.


  1. In all your pictures you show that the walls of the beis hamikdash were made of a row of wood, and three rows of regular stone, but the Passuk in Ezra says it was three rows of marble.

  2. I believe you are referring to Ezra 6:4 which uses the term "galal" and Rashi translates as mirmera, correct? As I understand it, Biblical references to shayish or mirmera from this period almost surely mean "polished limestone" as marble was not locally available and was very expensive to import. During the later Roman period marble may have been more common, but even then to suggest that they used it for building material as opposed to decoration is hard to imagine. For further reading see "Art, History and the Historiography of Judaism" by Steven Fine.

  3. then how did they have marble tiles for the whole floor?

  4. I think you make a good point. In the last sentence of this post I write, "the entire expanse of the Temple Mount was paved with marble stones" and based on what I wrote in the comment just above this should probably be changed to "polished limestone."


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