Circular Steps

The 15 Step Curved Staircase

Continuing eastward through the Court of the Women was a semicircular staircase and the magnificent Nicanor Gate. Josephus mentioned the Great Gate at this location in Wars 5. It was fashioned of magnificent brass and led down to a 15 step stairway to the Court of Women. According to the Mishnah (Middoth 2) these steps in front of the Nicanor Gate were curved. The stairs were located on the west end of the Women's Court and lined up with the portal of the porch. It was on these circular stairs in front of the Nicanor Gate that the Levites would sing choirs.


Some Commentary Notes:

Edersheim - The Chambers. In each of the four corners of the Court of the Women were chambers, or rather unroofed courts, each said to have been 60 feet long. In that at the right hand (on the north-east), the priests who were unfit for other than menial services on account of bodily blemishes, picked the worm-eaten wood from that destined for the altar. In the court at the farther angle (north-west) the purified lepers washed before presenting themselves to the priests at the Gate of Nicanor. At the left (south-east) the Nazarites polled their hair, and cooked their peace-offerings; while in a fourth court (at the south-west) the oil and wine were kept for the drink-offerings. The musical instruments used by the Levites were deposited in two rooms under the Court of the Israelites, to which the access was from the Court of the Women. Of course the western colonnade of this court was open. Thence fifteen easy steps led through the so-called Gate of Nicanor into the Court of Israel. On these steps the Levites were wont on the Feast of Tabernacles to sing the fifteen 'Psalms of Degrees,' or ascent (Psalms 120 to 134), whence some have derived their name. Here, or, rather, in the Gate of Nicanor, all that was ordered to be done 'before the Lord' took place. There the cleansed leper and the women coming for purification presented themselves to the priests, and there also the 'water of jealousy' was given to the suspected wife.

Lightfoot - The Court of the Gentiles compassed the Temple and the courts on every side. The same also did Chel, or the Ante-murale. "That space was ten cubits broad, divided from the Court of the Gentiles by a fence, ten hand-breadths high; in which were thirteen breaches, which the kings of Greece had made: but the Jews had again repaired them, and had appointed thirteen adorations answering to them." Maimonides writes: "Inwards" (from the Court of the Gentiles) "was a fence, that encompassed on every side, ten hand-breadths in height, and within the fence Chel, or the Ante-murale: of which it is said, in the Lamentations, 'And he caused Chel and the Wall to lament,'" Lamentations 2:8. Josephus writes, "The second circuit was gone up to by a few steps: which the partition of a stone wall surrounded: where was an inscription, forbidding any of another nation to enter, upon pain of death." Hence happened that danger to Paul because of Trophimus the Ephesian, Acts 21:29. "The Chel or Ante-murale" (or second enclosure about the Temple), "was more sacred than the Court of the Gentiles: for hither no heathen, nor any unclean by that which died of itself, nor who lay with a menstruous woman, might come." "From hence they ascended into the Court of the Women by twelve steps." On the east it had only one gate, called in the Holy Scripture, 'Beautiful,' Acts 3:2. In Josephus, the 'Corinthian' gate: saith he; "Of the gates, nine of them were every where overlaid with gold and silver, likewise the posts, and the lintels. But one, without the Temple, made of Corinthian brass, did much exceed, in glory, those, that were overlaid with silver and gold. And two gates of every court were each thirty cubits high, and fifteen broad." On the south was only one gate also, and one on the north: and galleries; or court-walks within, joining to the wall, in the same manner as in the outer court, but not double. Before which were the treasuries placed, or thirteen chests, called by the Talmudists, Shopharoth; in which was put the money offered for the various services of the Temple; and, according to that variety, the chests had various titles written on them: whence the offerer might know into which to put his offering, according to his quality. Upon one was inscribed, "The new shekels"; into which were cast the shekels of that year. Upon another, "The old shekels"; into which were gathered the shekels owing the last year. Upon another, "pigeons and turtles." Upon another, "The burnt sacrifice." Upon another, "The wood." Upon another, "Frankincense." Upon another, "Gold for the propitiation." And six chests had written on them, "Voluntary sacrifice." "The length of the Women's Court was a hundred thirty-five cubits, and the breadth a hundred thirty-five cubits. And there were four chambers in the four corners of it, each forty cubits, but not roofed." See Ezekiel 46:21,22. "At the south-east was the court of the Nazarites: because there the Nazarites boiled their thank-offerings, and cut their hair, and put it under the pot." "At the north-east was the chamber of wood: where the priests, defiled with any spot, searched the wood, whether it was unclean by worms. And all wood in which a worm was found was not fit for the altar." "At the north-west was the chamber of the Leprous." "At the south-west was the chamber of wine and oil." "On the highest sides" (we follow the version of the famous Constantine L'Empereur), "was the smooth and plain Court of the Women; but they bounded it round about with an inward gallery, that the women might see from above, and the men from below, that they might not be mingled." In this Court of the Women was celebrated the sacred and festival dance, in the feast of Tabernacles, called the "Pouring out of Water": the ritual of which you have in the place cited in the margin. "The Court of the Women was more sacred than the Chel; because any, who had contracted such an unclearness that was to be cleansed the same day, might not enter into it."

We will go up, at the east gate, out of the Chel, out of which there were five steps, that rose up to the gate to land you in it. The gate itself was exceeding sumptuous, and exceeding beautiful: and this was that which was called "the Beautiful gate of the Temple," Acts iii. 2, at which the cripple lay begging of alms, both of men and women, that went into the Temple. At this gate began To "the inner Temple," as Josephus doth often call it,—distinguishing between that space, that was enclosed within the boundary wall that encompassed the whole holy ground,—and that space, that was enclosed within the wall that encompassed the courts: the former of them was called, " the Outer Temple," and the latter was called, "the Inner and both of them bare the name of the Temple: and so, in the Scripture, whosoever went but within the compass of the holy ground, is said to have gone into the Temple. Now this gate being the very front and entrance into the inner Temple, or into that space, within which the choicest sanctity and bravery of the Temple was,—it was built and decked with such sumptuousness and singular gallantry, as was fitting for the frontispiece of so brave a place. And hence it came to bear the name of "Beautiful;" and that the rather, also, in comparison of the gate "Shushan," or the outmost east gate, that entered into the Mountain of the House; for that was but a low and homely gate-house,—for a reason that hath been observed heretofore: but this was goodly and lofty, and stood bravely mounted upon the far higher ground. This gate Josephus" calleth the "Corinthian Gate," because it was of Corinthian brass; whereas the rest of the gates were gilt with gold. And here occurreth a difference betwixt him and the Talmudical writers; for they do unanimously hold the brazen gate to be the gate of Nicanor (which we shall survey anon), which was the gate that went out of the Court of the Women into the Court of Israel: but he doth as confidently affirm on the other hand, that it was that, that went out of" the 'Chel' into the Court of the Women. "There was one gate without the Temple, of Corinthian brass, which exceeded in glory those of gold or silver." Now where this gate stood,—namely, in that place that we are upon, appeareth by this passage of his a little after; "The gate above the Corinthian gate, which opened east, over-against the gate of the Temple,"