Herod’s Temple

Praying by the remains of Herod's Temple

Herod’s Temple, the Second Temple in Jerusalem, replaced Solomon’s temple that, which was destroyed in 586 BCE. Upgrading the earlier temple built when the Jews under the Persians had returned from exile, which was dedicated in 515 BCE. That Temple was often called Zerubbabel’s temple.

Herod’s temple is one of the most significant religious and historical sites in Judaism. Built during the Second Temple period (515 BCE to 70 CE), this temple was a symbol of Jewish power and influence throughout the region.

Under King Herod’s rule, it underwent extensive renovation and expansion, which resulted in an impressive architectural structure. Playing a central role in worship for the Jews of the time. The only sanctioned place for sacrifices, and often the focus of Jewish festivals.

Built near the end of the Second Temple Period (516 BCE–70 CE) was the jewel of the Jewish faith.

But it wasn’t always so.

Why Did Herod Build a Jewish Temple?

If you only read about Herod in the Gospel, you might be surprised that a man who ordered the execution of baby boys would build such a significant place of worship.

But Herod hoped that such a significant temple would gain him appreciation from the Jews. And win them to his side as loyal subjects. Bringing worshipers from throughout his kingdom and drawing admiration throughout the Roman empire.

Josephus tells of how he had hoped that the temple would “assure his eternal remembrance” (Antiquities 15.380).

Further, sucking up to the Jewish leadership in a speech given by Herod when proposing to build a new temple, he suggested that construction should begin was to be done because “by the will of God, brought the Jewish nation to such a state of prosperity as it has never known before” (Antiquities 15.383).

And because of that, he sought the best architects and materials in his kingdom for this project. Making the Jewish temple one of the wonders of the world.

Herod’s temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world—a beautiful building and a marvel of engineering.

Which he largely achieved as described by Josephus, one of our best sources about the Jewish world of Jesus. A contemporary of Jesus off by only a generation or so.

He writes about the temple, “The exterior of the building lacked nothing that could astound either mind or eye. . . . To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white” (Jewish War 5.222–23).

It must have been awe-inspiring for the thousands of pilgrims as they approached Jerusalem.

When Did Herod the Great Finish Rebuilding the Temple?

But this masterpiece was not built in a day.

Josephus writes that Herod began renovation of the temple in the eighteenth year of his reign (20-19 BCE).

I say renovation because the current temple of the Jews. Built by Zerubbabel almost 500 years before stood in the same location. The sacred Mount Moriah, which was the original temple built by Solomon, was built in a year and half

The centre of the temple was quickly built with over 10 000 craftsmen in under a year and a half (Antiquities 15.420–21), with material preassembled to calm the fears of the Jews that after the demolition of the previous temple that it would not be forgotten.

The surrounding porticos and courtyards took 8 years to complete. This part of the temple is where Jesus later cleanse.

The main temple was completed in 10 BCE before Jesus was born and offered sacrifices and was a place of worship for his entire life.

But work would continue till 63 CE when the final decorative touches were complete. Long after, both Herod and Jesus had passed. Unfortunately, it would be destroyed again in the Roman-Jewish war in 70 CE.

How Big Was Herod’s Temple?

Herod’s Temple was enormous.

Josephus writes that it was 1 575 feet long from north to south, and about 985 feet wide from east to west, about thirty-six acres in area. (Antiquities Book 15, Ch.11). Making it more than twice the size of Solomon’s original temple, and roughly 3 times the size of Zerubbabel’s Temple.

In fact, it was so big that the temple mound had to be enlarged to have enough room for the construction of the temple.

Larger than many Roman temples, such as the temple of Zeus, which was only 236 by 98 ft.

For modern comparison.

  • An American football field is 1.32 acres, so roughly 26 football fields in size.
  • Cross Iron Mall, one of the biggest single-level malls in Alberta, is over 32 acres. Slightly smaller than Herod’s temple
  • For a Texas reference, Austin Shopping Malls Barton Creek Square is roughly the same size.
  • Michigan Stadium’s record fan attendance is 115,109. The stadium is built on 21 acres of land.  Can you imagine how many people could crowd into Herod’s temple during Passover?

The Holy of Holies, the main focal point of the temple, was a square room measuring 34’4″ with a height of 69 feet(Middot 4.7).

The Temple proper, or the inner temple, was constructed with the same dimensions as that of Solomon’s temple, 88’6″ long, 29’6″ wide, and 59′ high. 

Faith Twin Cities site has some amazing images of Herod’s temple. If you would like a visual of this amazing temple.

What Was Inside the Holy of Holies?

Nothing.

This was the strangest part about the temple to non-Jews.

There was no image of their god. After the original destruction of the temple event, the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle was missing.

All that remained was a single stone on the floor of the temple with a height of three-finger breadths in which the priest would sprinkle the sacrificial blood.

Who Could Visit the Temple?

The temple was open to everyone.

One of the significant innovations of Herod and a significant portion of the temple was the Gentiles Court. Which everyone could visit, including foreigners.

At the entrance to the inner court, a sign was posted warning all.

“No Gentile shall enter inward of the partition and barrier around the Temple, and whoever is caught shall be responsible to himself for his subsequent death.”

But this only limited a small portion of the temple to Jews who were ritually clean.

An even smaller portion surrounding the Holy of Holies and where the altar was located was limited to ritually pure male Jews.

And finally, the Holy of Holies was limited to only the Priest. Possibly where Zachariah received his angelic visit and announcement of the birth of John the Baptist (Lk.1:5-25).

These 3 courts, the Holy of Holies, The Men’s court and the Women’s courts, were considered restricted areas, and even King Herod did not enter these areas of the temple (Antiquities 15, 420).

What amazed me about this was the amount of area that was open to all.

In some ways, Herod had fulfilled Isaiah’s prayer that “for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Is.56:7)

When Did Jesus visit the Temple?

It depends on who you ask.

Luke has possibly 6 times if you include his trial in front of the Sanhedrin, which was part of the temple.

  • Dedication (Luke 2:22–38)
  • As a youth (Luke 2:41–52)
  • During his temptation, but this could possibly be only a vision(Lk.4:9–11; Matt.4:5)
  • Clearing of the temple (Matt.21, Mk. 11, Lk.19)
  • Trial by the Sanhedrin (Matt.26, Mk.14, Lk.22)

Between Jesus’ clearing of the temple and his trial, it appears that Jesus goes to the temple courts to teach. It is a little harder to nail down exactly how many times in these 4 days, but Luke does record multiple times that Jesus is at the temple.

The Gospel of John has Jesus at the temple 5 times.

  • Clearing the Temple (Jn.2)
  • Meeting a Paralyzed man, he had healed (Jn.5)
  • Feast of Tabernacles (Jn.7,8)
  • Festival of Dedication (Jn.10)
  • Trial by the Sanhedrin (Jn.18)

Mark and Matthew also have Jesus in the temple during the passion week, both clearing the temple, teaching and finally, his trial.

So we can fairly confidently say Jesus visited the temple multiple times during the last week of his life.

I have heard and read multiple times that Jesus would have visited the temple annually or possibly 3 times a year, being a good observant religious Jew, but I find that hard to believe.

If Jesus was a lower middle-class carpenter barely making a living. It would be next to impossible for him to be able to take time off from earning a living and then paying for the trip down to Jerusalem annually. If you take him for barely above destitute (Matt.8:20, Lk.9:58), as many scholars do, this would be even harder to manage.

All four gospels agree that Jesus was at the temple during the last week of his life. If you take both Luke’s childhood accounts and John’s holiday visits. Jesus visited the temple 5 times before that.  

SOURCES

  • https://rsc.byu.edu/new-testament-history-culture-society/temple-herod
  • https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14304-temple-of-herod
  • https://www.faithtwincities.com/jerusalem-map-at-time-of-jesus#