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The Jerusalem Temple at the Time of Jesus

The reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple was begun by Herod the Great, king of Judea, in about 18-20 BC. By the time of Jesus minstry the temple complex had been under construction for forty six years (John 2:20). and wasn't completed until around 63 AD. Just seven years later in 70 AD, the temple and much of its courts would be destroyed during the first Jewish Revolt.
 
Scroll down the page for further information about each image. Click on each image to bring up a full sized picture (some of the images on this page are cropped). You can right click on each image and save using 'save background as'.
 

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This cast resin model on display at Bibleworld shows how the temple and its inner courts likely looked at the time of Jesus.

 

Modern depictions like this are based on detailed descriptions of the temple by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. He had visited and seen the temple and was present during the Jewish revolt. Here is how Josephus described the temple.

 

Viewed from without, the Sanctuary had everything that could amaze either mind or eyes. Overlaid all round with stout plates of gold, the first rays of the sun reflected so fierce a blaze of fire that those who endeavoured to look at it were forced to turn away as if they had looked straight at the sun. To strangers as they approached it seemed in the distance like a mountain covered with snow; for any part not covered with gold was dazzling white... (The Jewish War, p. 304)

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This view of the Temple from above shows the three inner courts. The court to the right shaped like a + was known as the court of the women. This was as close as Israelite women could get to the temple. The smaller court at the centre contained the altar of burnt offerings and equipment used for making sacrifices. This was known as the court of the priests. Squeezed in between these two courts was a small covered area known as the court of the men. From here the Israelite men could observe the priests going about their daily duties.  Surrounding these inner courts was a low fence that marked the boundary between the much larger court of the Gentiles (not depicted) and the Jewish only areas. At the gates along this fence were signs warning Gentiles not to enter (see images of two of these signs discovered in excavations below).
 

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The main sanctuary contained the Holy place with its lampstands, table of shewbread and incense altar, and the Most Holy place. By New Testament times there was no Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy place. Josephus records that in 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey entered the temple's Most Holy place and was disappointed to find it empty. 

 

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The court of the women was the scene of a couple of episodes in Jesus life. It was likely here that he was dedicated as a child (Luke 2:21ff). It was also here that Jesus and his disciples witnessed the poor widow placing her two lepta into the temple treasury (Luke 21:1-4).

 

The semicircular staircase leading up to the Nicanor gate was where the Levite singers and musicians are believed to have sung the Psalms of ascent (Psalms 120-134).

 

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Gentiles Warning Inscription

 

This is a replica of a fragment of one of the signs marking the boundary between the Jewish and Gentile areas of the temple courts. The original is found at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This sign was written in Greek and read as follows:

 

No outsider shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will only have himself to blame for the ensuing death

 

The original of this was discovered in 1935 and is now displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This and the second one below are refered to as the 'Gentile warning inscriptions'.

 

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Gentiles Warning Inscription

 

Date: Early 1st century AD.

Place: Jerusalem, [Israel]

 

Photographed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey.

 

This is the second of the Gentile warning inscriptions discovered. It was found in 1871.  Unlike the fragment  above, this inscription is complete. 

 

There were also signs written in Latin, but to date only these two Greek signs have been found.

 

In Acts 21:27ff, the Apostle Paul is falsely accused of bringing Gentiles beyond these signs and into Jewish courts. This incident sparks a riot which eventualy sees Paul arrested. During one of his trials he appeals to Caesar and is evntually shipped to Rome to appeal his case. 

 

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Place of Trumpeting Inscription (Inscription Section is Replica)

 

Date: Early 1st century AD.

Place: Ophel Archaeological Park, Jerusalem [Israel]

 

This block of worked masonry and its inscription were discovered during excavations at the southwest corner of the temple mount. The inscription reads: '... to the place of trumpeting.'

 

According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, every Sabbath a priest would sound a trumpet from the southwest corner to announce the start and end of the Sabbath (Jewish War, IV, ix, 12). This stonework may have once been where the priest stood.

 

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Place of Trumpeting Inscription (Replica)

 

Date: Early 1st century AD.

Place: Original discovered at Ophel Archaeological Park, Jerusalem [Israel]

 

The original of this inscription is housed at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

 

See previous image for further details.

 

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Southwest Corner of Temple Mount

 

Date: ca 18 BC - 70 AD

Place: Ophel Archaeological Park, Jerusalem [Israel]

 

This photograph shows the southwest corner of the temple platform built by Herod the Great. The lower half of the blocks in the wall are still the original blocks laid by Herod (the upper blocks are later repairs).

 

The line of blocks jutting out from the wall at the centre of the photo are part of a huge arched stairway which once gave access to the outer court of the temple (court of the Gentiles). Today this feature is called Robinson's arch after Edwin Robinson who rediscovered it in 1838. 

 

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Roman Street and Stone Blocks

 

Date: 1st century AD.

Place: Ophel Archaeological Park, Jerusalem [Israel]

 

This excavated Roman street ran alongside the temple platform. It passed under the huge staircase supported by Robinson's arch (see pevious image)

 

The blocks in the background are some of the remains of structures from atop the temple mount that were 'thrown down' by the Romans. This fulfils Jesus' response when his disciples said:

 

"Look Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" "Do you see all these great buildings?" Jesus replied "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Mark 13:1-2)