Construction of the Temple

The work began in 20 BC, the construction of the temple was one of Herod's most ambitious projects. The old temple mount first had to be cleared and enlarged to about twice its original size. The new area was roughly 1000 by 1500 feet, girded by a massive retaining wall of huge fitted stones. Herod used the same type of soft white stones that were used for Solomon's Temple, each more than 15 feet long and 13 feet thick. As Solomon had done earlier, Herod imported the best stone masons and architects from Phoenicia to direct the construction. Only the finest materials were used: cedar from Lebanon, the purest marble and limestone and the finest gold. "One of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!'" (Mk 13:1) When Herod the Great rebuilt Jerusalem's temple in 20 BC, he erected a great retaining wall to extend the temple's base. Taking thousands of workers many years to build, the huge wall was made of limestone blocks (some of them over 30 feet long) hauled from a quarry on rollers and hoisted aloft by wooden cranes. Its fine masonry is apparent in unweathered, newly excavated portions, where the unmortared stones still show their smooth original faring. The project required the services of more than 10,000 laborers. Herod had 1,000 priests specially trained as carpenters and masons to work on the sanctuary building: by law no layman was allowed to handle the sacred building materials. They shaped the stones a few hundred feet away to prevent noise around the Holy Place. The sanctuary was completed in 18 months, but the outer courtyards were not finished for another 80 years, in 64 AD. During this entire time the temple ritual was never interrupted. The entire complex was enclosed in the Court of the Gentiles, which corresponds today with the great platform of the Haram al-Sherif. The Court of the Gentiles covered about 35 acres, which is much larger than the court of the previous temple, and it was extended from its former square shape and made into a huge rectangle, paved and enclosed by a wall on all four sides. Greco-Roman Corinthian columns surrounded the interior. On the south side of the interior, Herod erected a triple colonnade extending 800 feet called the Royal Stoa (Portico). It was given this name because it was the place where Solomon was crowned. (See also The Temple Illustration) Inside the Court of the Gentiles was the Court of Women, which represented the point at which women could not pass. The Court of Women led into the Court of Israel, or Court of Men, and any male Jew was allowed in this area. Inside the Court of Men was the Court of the Priests, which housed the sacrificial altar. The Sanctuary, in the back of the Court of the Priests, had two chambers. The first was the holy place, which held the table of shewbread and the Menorah. The second chamber, the Holy of Holies was set apart by two curtains, and was only entered by the High Priest once a year, on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. To the north, a deep valley between the temple area and the Antonia Castle (northwest corner) was filled in to make the extension of the temple mount possible. A second tower was added at the northeast corner called the Golden Gate. On the West Side of the precinct, parts of the enclosure wall still stand, forming the nine lowest levels of the Western Wall (Wailing Wall). Jews came to offer their prayers here. The Pinnacle, which was the summit of the enclosure wall at the southeastern corner, was at a height of 450 feet above the level of the Kidron Valley. The vaults known as Solomon Stables are situated below the Pinnacle. The southern side of the precinct was supported by a massive structure built into the hill. The largest of its stone blocks is more than 16 feet long and can be seen from the opposite side of the valley. It was reached by ramps leading upward from the Triple and Double Gates. The construction of the temple ended in 63 AD, long after Herod grew ill and died at Jericho in the spring of 4 BC. The people made Archelaus their king because that was what was put in Herod's last (sixth) will. It was under Archelaus's direction that the rebuilding of the temple was finished.