Monday, June 27, 2022

The Temple That Herod Built

Dana McNeely

Herod the Great was known as a ruthless king who eliminated any threat to his power. The Bible records his slaughter of all male children under the age of two after the three Magi visited the Christ child and returned to their country by another route. In my post of May 27th, I wrote how he executed members of his family, even his beloved wife Mariamne. 

The Builder

But Herod was also known for magnificent building projects such as the Greco-Roman city of Sebastos, several fortified palaces (including Masada), and the sea-side city, palace, and artificial harbor at Caesarea Maritima. His most famous project was his rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, a project which faced serious opposition from the Jews.

Reconstruction of the Temple of Herod - Painting in Brooklyn Museum by James Tissot

Building a Legacy

Because of his many atrocities during his reign, Jews feared Herod would defile the temple by entering the holy places. They also worried he would raze the old temple and never rebuild it, leaving them without a temple at all. At this point wanting to both appease the Jews and improve his legacy, he took measures to reassure them on both counts. He trained over a thousand priests in building techniques so they could work in the holy places. And he assembled all necessary building materials and workers before starting the project.

A potentially confusing fact is that both Herod's temple and the temple it replaced, which was built after the Jews returned from exile, are known as the second temple. This is because the old temple was still standing when Herod began renovations, as opposed to Solomon's temple, which was merely rubble. But more than replacing the temple itself, Herod massively expanded the platform on which the temple stood.

Temple at center, Royal Stoa and Hulda Gates at left via WikimediaCommons

Innovative Engineering

Because the larger facility would not fit atop Mount Moriah's existing platform, Herod needed to adapt to the north-south slope of the bedrock. To accommodate a much larger, level platform, Herod did two things. At the top end where the bedrock was higher, he leveled it off. At the south end, he built a series of underground arches, or vaults, and enclosed the entire support structure within a wall.

Jerusalem Temple Underground Supports (AKA Solomon's Stables) via WikimediaCommons

These underground arches still support the south side of the structure. They are now called Solomon’s Stables, although they had nothing to do with Solomon, who built the first temple. The name came from the crusaders. The Knights Templars used this area for stabling their horses. Knowing the first temple was in this area, they christened the area Solomon’s Stables.

Jesus and the Moneychangers

Running around north, east, and west sides of the platform, Herod built beautiful porches with soaring columns and tiled roofs. During religious holidays and feasts, thousands of pilgrims sheltered there from the sun and rain. On the south side, he built a two-story structure called the royal stoa, a giant building similar to a basilica but open on one side, used for public meetings or business. Some historians consider this the likely location where Jesus removed the moneychangers, because they were overcharging poor devout Jews.

The Holyland Model of Jerusalem showing the Royal Stoa - via WikimediaCommons

The two Huldah gates, which would be at the bottom left of the image above, led from the city below and served as entrance and exit to the temple proper, which was situated in the center of the massive platform. Each gate had two massive doors and a set of steps. The right narrower set of steps led to an underground passageway decorated with carved stone and stucco that under the Royal Stoa and up into the temple mount. When emerging onto the platform, one would face the temple building in the middle of this open, paved platform. another double gate, covered with gold, that opened into the temple building itself.

By Ariely - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Although no archeological remains exist of the temple building itself, the Holyland Model depicts a guess of what it might have looked like based on comparisons with earlier temples and historical descriptions. In front would the altar for animal sacrifices. In front of that was the open "Court of Women" which both men and women could enter. This all would be surrounded by a fortification wall. This was as far as women could go, as they could not enter where sacrifices were offered. Note the high fortification wall surrounding the temple buildings in the model.

Although there are no remains of the actual temple building, there are remains of something connected with it.

Keep Out! Under Penalty of Death

A low wall or fence surrounded the high fortification wall. A part of this fence survived, including two inscriptions on the fence prohibiting Non-Jews from entering the temple itself, although they could go onto the platform and into the public areas such as the Stoa or Basilica. The inscription reads:

"No man of another nation is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the temple. And whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow."

The historian Josephus writes about this low stone wall and its inscriptions.

"Proceeding across this [the open court] toward the second court of the temple, one found it surrounded by a stone balustrade, three cubits high and of exquisite workmanship; in this at regular intervals stood slabs giving warning, some in Greek, others in Latin characters, of the law of purification, to wit that no foreigner was permitted to enter the holy place, for so the second enclosure of the temple was called."

Paul's Arrest 

Interestingly, the inscribed warning appears connected to Paul's arrest, recorded in Acts 21, when Paul was accused of bringing a Greek into this temple area. The Jews were aroused by this seeming sacrilege and tried to kill Paul, but the Romans intervened and took him to Caesarea, another of Herod's building projects.

Further Resources

A picture is worth a thousand blogs, so I want to include the following videos to expand upon my descriptions.

A fascinating YouTube video produced by The City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies relates history while showing animated 3-D videos.

A well-done video by Bible History Online.

The Great Courses: Holy Land Revealed, Professor Jodi Magness, Ph.D.

RAIN ~ Whispers in the Wind Book 1

Aban yearns to join the priesthood of Ba'al, unlock the power of the rain god, and hear the deity's voice. But first, he must survive a perilous initiation ceremony.

When the mysterious prophet Elijah interrupts the rites, overturns the idol, and curses the land with drought, Aban must choose a side in Yahweh's war against the Ba'als - and it may cost him his life.

Book 2, WHIRLWIND, December 2022.

Dana McNeely dreamed of living in a world teeming with adventure, danger and romance, but she had a problem - she also needed a lot of peace and quiet. She learned to visit that dream world by stepping into a book.

Inspired by the Bible stories of Elijah, Dana wondered about the widow of Zarephath and her son. Who were they? What was their life, before? How did the boy change after he died, saw the other world—and came back?

Those questions led to Dana writing RAIN, in which she built her dream world of adventure, danger, and romance. Peace and quiet, however, have remained elusive.
No stranger to drought, Dana lives in an Arizona oasis with her hubby the constant gardener, two good dogs, an antisocial cat, and migrating butterflies.

Learn more about Dana and her books at her website:
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  1. Thanks for posting today. I can't believe the sheer size of this building. Hard to believe it was built without machinery.

    1. The ancient methods they used to mine and move the massive blocks were amazing. Carts with oxen was interesting enough, but there was another system of several logs placed parallel under the larger blocks, while oxen pulled, the logs rolled, and strong men pushed. A third system must have been most cumbersome, where they made giant wooden wheels on each side of a block and rolled the contraption. I can imagine it settling on the flat side of the block and rolling out of control at each corner. Yikes!

  2. Thanks for sharing - very interesting!!

    1. Thanks, Linda. I was fascinated by those underground arches and vaults supporting the platform and providing storage areas as well.