Court of the Gentiles
Josephus states that the area of Herod's temple was double that of its predecessor (BJ, I, xxi, 1). The Mishna (Mid., ii.2) gives the area as 500 cubits (roughly 750 ft.); Josephus (Ant., XV, xi, 3) gives it as a stadium (about 600 Greek ft.); but neither measure is quite exact. It is generally agreed that on its east, west and south sides Herod's area corresponded pretty nearly with the limits of the present Haram area (see JERUSALEM), but that it did not extend as far North as the latter (Kennedy states the difference at about 26 as compared with 35 acres, and makes the whole perimeter to be about 1,420 yards, ut supra, 66). The shape was an irregular oblong, broader at the North than at the South. The whole was surrounded by a strong wall, with several gates, the number and position of some of which are still matters of dispute. Josephus mentions four gates on the West (Ant., XV, xi, 5), the principal of which, named in Mid., i.3, "the gate of Kiponos," was connected by a bridge across the Tyropoeon with the city (where now is Wilson's Arch). The same authority speaks of two gates on the South. These are identified with the "Huldah" (mole) gates of the Mishna--the present Double and Triple Gates--which, opening low down in the wall, slope up in tunnel fashion into the interior of the court. The Mishna puts a gate also on the north and one on the east side. The latter may be represented by the modern Golden Gate--a Byzantine structure, now built up. This great court--known later as the "Court of the Gentiles," because open to everyone--was adorned with splendid porticos or cloisters. The colonnade on the south side--known as the Royal Porch--was specially magnificent. It consisted of four rows of monolithic marble columns--162 in all--with Corinthian capitals, forming three aisles, of which the middle was broader and double the height of the other two. The roofing was of carved cedar. The north, west, and east sides had only double colonnades. That on the east side was the "Solomon's Porch" of the New Testament (Jn 10:23; Acts 3:11; 5:19). There were also chambers for officials, and perhaps a place of meeting for the Sanhedrin (beth din) (Josephus places this elsewhere). In the wide spaces of this court took place the buying and selling described in the Gospels (Mt 21:12 and parallel's; Jn 2:13 ff).
Wall, "Chel," "Coregh," Gates.
In the upper or northerly part of this large area, on a much higher level, bounded likewise by a wall, was a second or inner enclosure--the "sanctuary" in the stricter sense (Josephus, BJ, V, v, 2)--comprising the court of the women, the court of Israeland the priests' court, with the temple itself (Josephus, Ant, XV, xi, 5). The surrounding wall, according to Josephus (BJ, V, v, 2), was 40 cubits high on the outside, and 25 on the inside--a difference of 15 cubits; its thickness was 5 cubits. Since, however, the inner courts were considerably higher than the court of the women, the difference in height may have been some cubits less in the latter than in the former (compare the different measurements in Kennedy, ut supra, 182), a fact which may explain the difficulty felt as to the number of the steps in the ascent (see below). Round the wall without, at least on three sides (some except the West), at a height of 12 (Mid.) or 14 (Jos) steps, was an embankment or terrace, known as the chel (fortification), 10 cubits broad (Mid. says 6 cubits high), and enclosing the whole was a low balustrade or stone parapet (Josephus says 3 cubits high) called the coregh, to which were attached at intervals tablets with notices in Greek and Latin, prohibiting entry to foreigners on pain of death (see PARTITION, THE MIDDLE WALL OF). From within the coregh ascent was made to the level of the chel by the steps aforesaid, and five steps more led up to the gates (the reckoning is probably to the lower level of the women's court). Nine gates, with two-storied gatehouses "like towers" (Josephus, BJ, V, v, 3), are mentioned, four on the North, four on the South, and one on the East--the last probably to be identified, though this is still disputed (Waterhouse, etc.), with the "Gate of Nicanor" (Mid.), or "Corinthian Gate" (Jos), which is undoubtedly "the Beautiful Gate" of Acts 3:2,10 (see for identification, Kennedy, ut supra, 270). This principal gate received its names from being the gift of a wealthy Alexandrian Jew, Nicanor, and from its being made of Corinthian brass. It was of great size--50 cubits high and 40 cubits wide--and was richly adorned, its brass glittering like gold (Mid., ii.3). See BEAUTIFUL GATE. The other gates were covered with gold and silver (Josephus, BJ, V, v, 3).
This area was primarily a bazaar, with vendors selling souvenirs, sacrificial animals, food, as well as currency changers, exchanging Roman for Tyrian money because the Jews were not allowed to coin their own money and they viewed Roman currency as an abomination to the Lord, as also mentioned in the New Testament account of Jesus and the Money Changers. Guides that provided tours of the premises were also available. Jewish males had the unique opportunity to be shown inside the temple itself.
The Kohanim (Priests), in their white linen robes and tubular hats, were omnipresent, directing pilgrims and advising them what kinds of sacrifices were to be performed.
Behind one as they entered the Court of the Gentiles was the Royal Portico, which contained a marketplace, administrative quarters, and a synagogue as well. On the upper floors, the great Jewish sages held court, Cohanim and Levites performed various chores, and from there tourists were able to observe the events.
To the east of the court was the Portico of Solomon, and to the north, the Soreg, a giant stone structure separating the public area from the area where only Jews could enter. Within the soreg was the temple itself.
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.
The outer court was surrounded with a high wall having several gates on its W side. It had porticoes running all around it, those on three of the sides having double and that on the S side having triple piazzas. These porticoes were covered with roofs of cedar supported on marble pillars, 25 cubits high, and were paved with mosaic work. This outer court, which could be frequented by Gentiles and unclean persons, had on its inner side and extending all around a rampart surrounded with a stone parapet, i.e., a mound 10 cubits broad, the top of which was reached by a flight of fourteen steps. This constituted the outer boundary of the inner Temple area (to deuteron hieron, Josephus Wars 5.5.2). Some distance back from the rampart was the wall by which the Temple and its inner courts were surrounded. On the outside this was 40 cubits high, while on the inside it was only 25, the level of the inner space being so much higher.
The entire Temple compound was considered holy, but it became increasingly more holy as one entered farther in, from east to west. King Herod had enclosed the outer court with colonnades and it was referred to as the Court of the Gentiles because the "gentiles" (non-Jews) were permitted to enter the Temple area. They could walk within in it but they were forbidden to go any further than the outer court. They were excluded from entering into any of the inner courts, and warning signs in Greek and Latin were placed that gave warning that the penalty for such trespass was death. The Romans permitted the Jewish authorities to carry out the death penalty for this offence, even if the offender were a Roman citizen. It was for this alleged crime that Paul was attacked and nearly beaten to death by an angry crowd during his last visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-32).