Court of the Gentiles by Edersheim

It was the rule when entering the Temple to pass in by the right, and when leaving it to go out by the left hand. The great Court of the Gentiles, * which formed the lowest or outer enclosure of the Sanctuary, was paved with the finest variegated marble. We have adopted this name as in common use, though Relandus (Antiq. p. 78) rightly objects that the only term for it used in Jewish writings is the 'mountain of the house.' According to Jewish tradition, it formed a square of 750 feet. Its name is derived from the fact that it was open to all--Jews or Gentiles--provided they observed the prescribed rules of decorum and reverence. In this court tradition places eating and sleeping apartments for the Levites, and a synagogue. But, despite pharisaic punctilliousness, the noise, especially on the eve of the Passover, must have been most disturbing. For there the oxen, sheep, and doves selected as fit for sacrifices were sold as in a market; and here were those tables of the money-changers which the Lord overthrew when He drove from His Father's house them that bought and sold (Matthew 21:12; John 2:14). Within a short distance, in the court, a marble screen 4 1/2 feet high, and beautifully ornamented, bore Greek and Latin inscriptions, warning Gentiles not to proceed, on pain of death. One of those very tablets, bearing almost the same words as those given by Josephus, has been discovered in late excavations. It was because they thought Paul had infringed this order, that the infuriated multitude 'went about to kill him' (Acts 21:31). Beyond this enclosure a flight of fourteen steps, each 9 inches high, led up to a terrace 15 feet broad, called the 'Chel,' which bounded the inner wall of the Temple. We are now approaching the Sanctuary itself, which consisted, first, of three courts, each higher than the former, and, beyond them, of the Holy and Most Holy Places, with their outbuildings. Entering by the principal gate on the east we pass, first into the Court of the Women, thence into that of Israel, and from the latter into that of the Priests. This would have been, so to speak, the natural way of advancing. But there was a nearer road into the Court of the Priests. For both north and south, along the terrace, flights of steps led up to three gates (both north and south), which opened into the Court of the Priests, while a fourth gate (north and south) led into the middle of the Court of the Women. Thus there were nine gates opening from 'the Terrace' into the Sanctuary--the principal one from the east, and four north and south, of which one (north and south) also led into the Court of the Women, and the other three (north and south) into that of the Priests.

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