The L-shaped Tower of Antonia, being 105 feet high and standing atop a 75 foot rock was definitely one of the first great sites that you would see as you came into Jerusalem. This was discussed more fully in the text written in the previous month’s article. (See Archives of Previous Texts for 4-2003, also picture at bottom of article of Tower of Antonia).
All the wonders and beauty of Jerusalem could be seen coming out from the Mount of Olives (covered in archives). Even though the Mount of Olives was one of the most beautiful places imaginable, it was only a preview of beauty for the magnificent city of Jerusalem.
If Jewish tradition on the subject may be trusted, a gate opened that went to the Mount of Olives through the eastern wall of the Temple. It is called the Shushan Gate. From this gate an arched roadway, by which the priests brought out the ‘red heifer’, and on the Day of Atonement the scapegoat, is said to have led to the Mount of Olives.
Near the spot where the red heifer was burned were extensive lavatories, and booths for the sale of articles needed for various purifications for sacrifice. Up a crest at one of the higher elevations was the Lunar Station. This was the official place of proclaiming the New Moon. With each one a fire signal was sent like a telegraph from high hill to high hill into far countries, because Jerusalem was the time piece for every significant thing.
Jewish tradition says that there was an unused gate in the Temple towards the north, but there were definitely five gates for sure that are known to open into the outer Temple enclosure or Court of the Gentiles – one from the south and four from the west. The southern gate was a double gate and chiefly served the priests as they went about their duties. Coming from Ophel where they lived, they would pass through its gigantic archway and vestibule (40 feet each way), and then by a double tunnel nearly 200 feet long, where they emerged at a flight of steps leading straight up from the Court of the Gentiles that was close to the spot where they did their daily duties. The Shushan gate was said to have been lower than the others so that the priests could look over it into the temple. In a chamber above the Shushan gate, the standard measures of the ‘cubit’ were kept.
The Temple Plateau had been artificially leveled at immense labor and cost, and was also enlarged by gigantic substructures that were used to extend its area. The substructures were made partly for the purpose of purification. They wanted it built above the ground in case there might be a dead body beneath the surface. According to their customs, if there was not air in between then the whole place above could be defiled.
Herod the Great enlarged the Temple Plateau into a square of approximately 1,000 feet long and 1,000 feet wide. It was not in the center of the square as you would think, but in the north-west corner where the Temple itself and its special courts were placed. Nor were they on one level, but rose terrace upon terrace until the Temple itself was reached with its porch protruding ‘shoulder-like’ on either side, perhaps rising into two flanking towers and covering the Holy and Most Holy Places. (See diagram below) It surely must have been visible from all parts of the city with all its gold and jewels glittering in the sun.
The Rabbis thought of their city in the following way: ‘The world is like unto an eye. The ocean surrounding the world is the white of the eye; its black is the world itself; the pupil is Jerusalem; but the image within the pupil is the sanctuary.’ Jerusalem, they say, belonged to no tribe in particular – it was all of Israel’s. It seems that the people of the day thought that Jerusalem would be the city that was blessed by God forever.
But as had been predicted in prophecy, Jerusalem was reduced to rubble. Some of the archaeological digs have had to dig down through from 60 to over 125 feet through the rubbish of accumulated ruins before reaching the last of the ancient city foundations.
The four principal entrances into the Temple were all from the West, with the most northwesterly one descending into the lower city. The two others led into the suburb, or Parbar, as it is called. But by far the most magnificent avenue was that at the south western angle of the Temple. Probably this was ‘the ascent into the House of the Lord’ which so astounded the Queen of Sheba in I Kings 10:5. It would even difficult to exaggerate the splendor of this approach. A colossal bridge on arches spanned the intervening Valley of the Tyropoeon, connecting the ancient City of David with what is called the ‘Royal Porch of the Temple’. From its ruins the bridge can be reconstructed. Each arch spanned 41 1/2 feet and the spring stones measured 24 feet in length by 6 inches in thickness. It is almost impossible to realize these proportions, except by a comparison with other buildings. A single stone 24 feet long!! Yet these were by no means the largest in the masonry of the Temple. At two other angles of the temple stones were found measuring from 20 to 40 feet per each stone in length, and weighing above 100 tons.
The above example shows how part of the temple stood on top of Mount Zion and the rest of it was built on platforms that helped it all to be more on the same level even though it was built up gradually higher and higher until you at last came to the Temple itself.
Even though the picture is not clear, you can see the massive size of the Tower or as it was often called, the Fortress of Antonia. The tower is located in the left middle of the picture with 4 massive towers comprising its totality, with all the space inside the towers. The Temple is just to the left of it and you can see the gold dome. Josephus the Jewish historian describes it as having spacious apartments, elaborate baths, and beautiful courtyards. The tower served as an official residence for the Roman procurators. It was capable of accommodating 500-600 men and housed portions of the Roman army at different times. Herod required that the vestments of the high priest be kept in the tower to maintain control over the worship festivals of the Jews.