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From Augustus, Herod obtained the right to intervene on behalf of the Jews wherever in the Roman empire they might be annoyed. But, above all, he tried to prove that Greek temples were not his only concern by undertaking to rebuild and beautify the Temple in Jerusalem.
Almost five hundred years had elapsed since the Second Temple had been built by those who returned from the Babylonian Exile. After that the Temple had no doubt been repaired and enlarged, but it remained essentially the old building, inferior in beauty and grandeur to some of the pagan temples which were around.
Not only was it contrary to Herod's love of architecture to permit the Temple of his own God to remain so modest, but he thought to show his piety to the Jews by making their Temple grander than the rest.
The leading scribes at first opposed his plan being very suspicious of the whole thing. They actually believed that once he pulled the old building down he would never replace it. Herod had to promise that he would not touch the old building until he had built the new one around it.
Once things commenced, under no circumstances were the services to be interrupted. Herod hired workmen by the thousands. Among them were many priests to build those portions not accessible to ordinary Jews.
The work was started by leveling larger portions of the Temple Mount, so that the new building might be erected on a broader base. It was also made much taller, so that the white stone gleamed in the bright Palestinian sun and could be seen from miles away.
On the northern and southern sides of the building were the enclosed halls or rooms where the priests prepared for the service, and where the Sanhedrin met. The large open court on the east, facing the Temple proper, was divided into several parts.
Closest to the Temple was the portion set aside for the altar and the officiating priests. Next to it was the court for the Israelites who came to watch the service. By the side of that was the gallery for the women, and behind it was the court of the Gentiles.
The whole area was surrounded by a wall. This is the wall, part of which remains to this day, known as "The Wailing Wall," to which Jews have gone on pilgrimage during the recent centuries of exile.
See also Herod's Buildings
Herod's Roman Eagle
The Temple took many years to build. Begun in 19 BC, it was not finished till long after Herod's death. The Jews prided in Herod's accomplishment until Herod placed a huge Roman eagle over the most important gate of the new Temple.
Before long there was a conspiracy to pull the eagle down. When rumor circulated that Herod was dying, a group of young men gathered before the gate on which the golden eagle was set and began to pull it down. The soldiers interfered and arrested about forty of them. Herod was so enraged at this sign of insubordination and insult to Rome, that he had the "rebels" burned alive.