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The Second Temple

It is probably no exaggeration to say that more has been written regarding the Temple at Jerusalem than in respect to any other building in the known world, and unfortunately it may be added, more that is wild and utterly untenable. The Temple at Jerusalem was quite unique. Not only had the Jews only this one temple, but, so far as we know, it was entirely of their own invention and utterly unlike the temples of any of the nations around them. It certainly, at atll events, was quite unlike the temples of the Egyptians or Greeks. It may have had affinities with those of the Babylonians or Assyrians.

Cyrus, immediately on his becoming master of Babylon, had shown himself favorably inclined towards the Hebrews, and had permitted those of the captives scattered through the various provinces of the Chaldaean empire, who desired it, to return to Jerusalem; and had appointed Sheshbazzar as governor, with authority to rebuild the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The temple continued buried in its ruins for the space of fifty-two years, untill the first year of Cyrus, at Babylon, BC 532. Then; Cyrus gave permission to the Jews to return to Jerusalem, and there to rebuild the temple of the Lord. Ezra i. The following year they laid the foundation of the second temple.

Sheshbazzar met with opposition in carrying out his work from the neighboring nations, — an opposition exhibited both in hostile attacks and also in complaints at the court of Persia. During the life of Cyrus these complaints met with no attention; but when, after his death, his son Cambyses succeeded him, the Cutheans of Samaria, with whom the Jews had declined all intercourse on their wishing to take part in the rebuilding of the Temple, considering them as foreigners, revenged themselves by making two successive reports to the king, pretending that the chief who was established at Jerusalem was rebuilding the walls of the city instead of the Temple, and preparing to raise an insurrection and declare himself independent. Cambyses, suspicious by nature, listened readily to this report, which he believed, and commanded that the Jews should cease their work until further orders. The governors of Samaria, armed with the royal firman, hastened to Jerusalem, and put a stop to the works on the Temple, then hardly commenced.

On the death of Cambyses, the false Smerdis, and then Darius, succeeded him, and the Jews did not venture to contravene the prohibition that had been laid on their work. The long interruption of the building of the Temple had discoraged the most zealous, who supposed that the full time for the rebuilding of the Temple of Jehovah had not yet arrived. Every one at Jerusalem was busied with his own affairs; they were building houses, and employing every method of increasing their own well-being, in entire forgetfulness of the Temple.

However, in the midst of the disorders of the first years of the reign of Darius, a great revival of national spirit took place among the Jews in Babylon and the neighboring countries; a great desire was manifested to return to the Holy City; though what causes brought about this movement are not all known. A descendant of David, the Prince Zerubbabel, grandson of Salathiel, son of Jehoiachin, united with Jeshua, grandson of the high-priest Seriah, and heir to the high-priesthood. Availing themselves of the terms of the proclamation of Cyrus, they organised a great caravan of more than 50,000 persons of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with many hundreds of priests, Levites, and those servants of the sanctuary who were called Nethinim. This body of exiles took the road for Jerusalem, where they arrived after a journey of four months. This occurred in the second year of Darius (520).

Immediately on the arrival of the new colony in Judea, Zerubbabel and Joshua occupied themselves in organising a new community, as much in conformity with the Mosaic law as circumstances would permit. A provisional system of worship was organised, but Zerubbabel was prevented from beginning his work on the Temple by fear of his hostile neighbors. Matters remained in this position for two years; but, in 518, the prophet Haggai came to Zerubbabel and the high-priest Joshua, and pressed them to commence at once the restoration of the Temple, on which depended both the unity of the nation and its faith. There had been a famine in the previous year, and the prophet represented this as a divine punishment on those who had built their own houses, and allowed the house of God to remain in ruins. These words made so much impression on the people, that in a few days the works were commenced. In the course of the year Haggai, on two occasions, brought encouragement to the chiefs of the people, and announced that the glory of the second Temple should surpass that of the first. At this time also Zechariah began to prophesy, and to urge the people to re-establish completely their legal worship, the Mosaic law, and especially to cultivate a truly religious spirit.

These works, carried on zealously, before long attracted the attention of Tatnai, satrap of the province of Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine. He came to Jerusalem, accompanied by the other officers of the province, and asked the Jews what authority they had for carrying on these works. The Hebrews appealed to the edict of Cyrus, but they had no official copy, and the satrap did not know it. Tatnai, however, was not illdisposed towards them; without ordering the suspension of the works, he made a report to Darius, and requested him to direct a search to be made in the archives of the kingdom, to see if there really was such a decree in favor of the Jews. The proclamation was found at Ecbatana, and Darius ordered strict attention to be paid to the wishes of Cyrus, and that all the assistance the Jews required should be given them. The building of the Temple then advanced with speed, and in the sixth year of Darius (516), on the third day of the twelfth month (February, March), the works were completed, and the new sanctuary solemnly inaugurated. From all parts the people repaired to Jerusalem, to assist at the solemnity. A great sacrifice was offered of one hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs; and besides this, as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats, according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel; and thus the Temple was symbolically consecrated by the whole Hebrew people.

The Temple described as seen in a vision by Ezekiel tallied so exactly with what was learnt from the earlier books of the Bible, leaving very little doubt that what he intended was to leave such a record of the divinely-inspired form of their peculiar Temple, that if ever restored to Jerusalem, the Jews might reproduce it, without deviation from what they considered supremely sacred, as revealed to them by God Himself. This presumption becomes almost a certainty when we read in the Book of Esdras the description of the Temple as restored by Zorobabel, and is more than confirmed by the measurements accidentally supplied by Hecateus.

There is no precise description of the Temple built by Zerubbabel, and its dimensions are not known with certainty. By the decree of Cyrus it should have been larger than that of Solomon; but circumstances did not allow these ambitious projects to be carried out, and it is certain that both in dimensions and splendor the second Temple was inferior to the first. according to Hecataeus of Abdera, a contemporary of Alexander, the enclosure round the Temple was about 500 Greek feet long, and 100 cubits broad. According to a speech ascribed by Josephus to Herod, the building of Zerubbabel was not so lofty as that of Solomon. Above the eastern gate leading to the enclosure there was, according to a Jewish tradition, a bas-relief representing the city of Susa, as a compliment to the Persian king. The great altar in the court was built of large white, undressed stones; according to Hecataeus, it measured twenty cubits square and twelve cubits high. In the interior of the sanctuary there were only the articles appointed for the tabernacle of Moses—the altar of incense, the candlestick, and the table of shewbread, all of gold. The holy of holies was empty, for the ark of the covenant was lost in the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. It was said that the prophet Jeremiah had hidden it in a cave in Mount Nebo, and that the place could not be found.

Pilgrimages to the Temple at Jerusalem were a great feature of Jewish life. Families journeyed together, making bands which increased at each haltingplace; they camped in sunny glades, sang in unison along the roads, toiled together over the hills, and as they went along stored up happy memories which would never be forgotten. Traversing thus joyfully the road to the great assembly, at the pools of water the happy pilgrims found refreshment at intervals on their toilsome journey.

The Jews say that the five following things were wanting in this second temple, viz. 1. The Ark and Mercy-seat. 2. The Shekinah, or manifestation of the Divine Presence in the holy of holies. 3. The Sacred Fire on the Altar, which had been first kindled from heaven. 4. The Uriru and Thuramim. And, 5. The Spirit of Prophecy.

This temple was profaned by order of Antiochus Epiphanes, BC 163, who caused the daily sacrifice to be discontinued, and erected the idol of Jupiter Olympius on the altar of burnt offering. In this condition it remained for three years, when Judas Maccabeus purified and repaired it, and restored the sacrifices and the worship of Jehovah, BC 160.

Herod's Temple

Herod the Great undertook to repair, or rather gradually to rebuild this second temple, which had become decayed in the lapse of five centuries: he began to provide materials for building in the eighteenth year of his reign, and laid the foundation in the following year. This is not saying that Herod had employed forty-six years in erecting it; for Josephus assures us that he finished it in nine years and a half; during which period no less than eighteen thousand workmen were employed upon it, and no expense was spared to render it superior, in magnitude and splendor, to any thing among men. Josephus, who had himself officiated in this temple as priest, relates that it was a work the most admirable of any that had ever been seen or heard of, both for its curious structure and its magnitude, and also for the vast wealth expended upon it, as well as for the universal reputation of its sanctity. The same author further tells us, that, after the time of Herod, the Jews continued to ornament, and to make some new additions to it, expending the sacred treasure for the purpose, and that they went on working upon it, even to the beginning of the Jewish war.

The second temple, originally built by Zerubbabel after the captivity, and repaired by Herod the Great, differed in several respects from that erected by Solomon, although they agreed in others. The following is the description that Josephus has given of it, who himself had seen it: The temple, properly so called, was built sixty cubits high, and as many broad; but there were two sides of front, like two arms, or shouldering*;, which advanced twenty cubits on each side, which gave in the whole front one hundred cubits wide, and as many in height. The stones made use of in this building were white and hard; fifty feet long, twenty-four broad, and sixteen thick. The front of this magnificent building resembled that of a royal palace. The two extremes of each face were lower than the middle, which middle was so exalted, as to be seen from a great distance. The gates, which were nine in number, were almost of the same height with the temple; and on the top of the gates were veils, or tapestry, of several colors, embellished with purple flowers: and the gates themselves were on every side thickly coated with gold and silver.

The Emperor Caligula gave a rude shock to the wise principle of non-interference as far as possible with the religious liberty of the Jews. He com maided the erection of his image in the temple at Jerusalem. To imperial honors he desired to add divine. Naturally the Jews revolted at this projected outrage and met it by absolute refusal. Fetronius, the governor of Syria, championed their cause. He obtained a postponement of the evil day. Mediation was also undertaken by Agrippa I., who succeeded in getting the Emperor to withdraw his mandate. At length Cestius Oallus, the Syrian prefect, marched his troops towards Jerusalem. In the Holy City, the Zealots, as the war party was named, prepared to defend the temple. All attempts to promote peace proving vain, there was, finally, open war between the Jews and the Romans. The Emperor Nero sent his greatest general, Vespasian, to quell the rebellion, and Galilee and other provinces fell into his hands. The famous historian, Josephus, showed great courage and determination in the defense of Galilee.

Vespasian having assumed the purple there was a lull in the campaign, but at last he despatched his son Titus to undertake the siege of Jerusalem. Before marching against the capital of Judea, the Roman generals had wisely resolved to subdue the whole country. By this plan Jerusalem was isolated, the defenders of Jewish nationality were ultimately shut up in it, all supplies cut off, while the fall of the city necessarily put a period to farther resistance.

This plan of operations, and the fact that the siege of Jerusalem overtook the Jews during the celebration of the Passover, when multitudes came to worship in the temple, will also account for the large number of captives taken in that city. When it is said that these amounted to not less than 97,000, that 1,100,000 had fallen since the commencement of the war, while multitudes escaped from the city during its protracted siege, it will be understood what gigantic proportions the war had assumed.

All the captive Jews were ranged on the summit of the temple-mountain, to have their respective sentences awarded by one of the Roman captains, Fronto, a freedman of Titus, to whom their adjudication had in the first place been committed. Influence with the victors secured the release of many. Amongst others, the historian Josephus, before his surrender to the Romans one of the Jewish generals, obtained a free pardon for 190 of his personal friends.

The heroism of the defenders of Jerusalem was of the highest order, though disunion was a great hindrance to them. Wall after wall was taken by the victorious Romans, until the temple itself was taken and burned to the ground, August, 15th, AD 70. It has well been said that "the history of the world knows of no other catastrophe so mortal as was the combat of the Jewish people with the Roman power."

The Temple, as Herod had rebuilt it, was destroyed to its foundations, but these, consisting of the mighty blocks of stone brought by Solomon from Tyre, remain unto this day. At their foot is the Wall of Wailing, to which the Jews of Jerusalem (excluded from that part of the city where their Temple stood of old) come on occasions of solemnity to wail and pray.

Rome greeted the victorious Vespasian and Titus with a triumph, in which the envious Domitian took an unwilling part, following the victors' car, mounted on a white charger. The captive Jews, who were to grace the triumphal entry, had already arrived. They consisted of seven hundred of the noblest and fairest of the youth of Palestine, and of the two leaders of the insurrection, Simon Joras, and John of Giscala. The sacred roll of the law, the table of shewbread, the golden candlestick, and other parts of the temple furniture, were exhibited in the triumph, and then deposited amongst the spoils.

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Page last modified: 13-12-2015 20:34:08 ZULU