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A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix XIII – The Temple

God's world is great and holy. The holiest land in the world is the land of Israel. In the land of Israel the holiest city is Jerusalem. In Jerusalem the holiest place was the Temple, and in the Temple the holiest spot was the Holy of Holies... Of the peoples of the world the holiest is the people of Israel. The holiest of the people of Israel is the tribe of Levi. In the tribe of Levi the holiest are the priests. Among the priests, the holiest was the High Priest... Of all the days in the year, the holidays are holy. Higher than these is the holiness of the Sabbath. Among Sabbaths, the holiest is the Day of Atonement, the Sabbath of Sabbaths... Of the languages in the world, the holiest is Hebrew. Holier than all else in this language is the holy Torah, and in the Torah the holiest part is the Ten Commandments. In the Ten Commandments the holiest of all words is the name of God... And once during the year, at a certain hour, these four supreme sanctities of the world were joined with one another. That was on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and there utter the name of God. And because this hour was beyond measure holy and awesome, it was the time of utmost peril not only for the High Priest but for the whole of Israel.  Adapted from “The Dybbuk” by Shloyme-Zanvl Rappoport (aka S. Ansky), a traditional Yiddish play written in 1914.


In the beginning, the dwelling place (or “Shekinah”) of God was a portable shrine known as the “Ark of the Covenant”. This shrine was placed in a Tabernacle (a structured tent known as “משכן” or “mishkan”, pictured below) and was the focal point for Jewish ritual and sacrifice. Before Solomon built the first Holy Temple (Hebrew: בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ, Beit HaMikdash; "House of the Holy") in Jerusalem, the designated priests (“Kohanim”) performed most services in the Tabernacle[1].

In this appendix we will focus on the primary and best known Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. However, we will also look at three other Jewish Temples: The Samaritan Temple at Mount Gerizim, the Elephantine Temple on the Nile, and the Egyptian Temple of Onias. It is not possible here to offer any resolution to the very long-standing debates regarding these Temples or the related issue of the High Priesthood (covered more completely in Appendix VII). Suffice it to say that history has given prominence to the Jerusalem Temple and it is the one of greatest interest in our story. For those who are interested in the details of the debate regarding God’ preferred home on Earth, I have provided links to other sources (at the end). Following the material related to the specific Temples and their history, I provide details of the ancient and 1st century Temple practices and functions – particularly as related to the Jerusalem Temple and the life of Jesus.

The Jerusalem Temple:

Jerusalem was the ancient Salem, the capital of Melchisedech, king and first named priest of the Bible (Genesis 14:18).  After the time of Abraham, Jerusalem passed under the domination of Egypt until around 1400 when the Khabiri invaded Palestine and took possession of the city. It was possibly during  this period that Jerusalem fell into the power of the Jebusites, who called it Jebus.

When the Hebrews came into the Land of Promise, Jerusalem maintained its independence. In the distribution of the land among the children of Israel, it was assigned to the descendents of Benjamin. Juda and Benjamin tried to gain possession of it, put many of its inhabitants to the sword and put much of the city to flame (Judges 1:8), but they only captured the lower city and some suburbs (Josephus, Antiq. Jud., v, ii, 2). Jerusalem remained independent of Israel until the reign of David (Judges 19:12).

 King David unified all of Israel and brought the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital, Jerusalem. There he wanted to build a permanent home for the Ark. After he purchased a threshing-floor for the site of the Temple, God told him that he would not be permitted to build a temple (because he had spilled blood). Instead, God instructed David:

Behold, a son shall be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies all around. His name shall be Solomon, for I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever. (I Chron. 22:9-10).

David chose the site of the Jerusalem Temple and purchased the land (supposedly a former threshing area) situated on top of Mt. Moriah (which was to the north and above the city at that time). To the west of the Temple was the Tyropoeon valley and to the south and east was the Kidron or Hinnom valley.

The construction and dedication of “Solomon’s Temple” (completed around 960 BCE) is described in some detail in the Bible (1 Kings 6:1-38, 1 Kings Chapters 7 & 8)[2]. Based upon those descriptions, the following model was built by Michael Osnis



The key feature of the Temple was the “Kodesh Hakodashim” or Holy of Holies, (1 Kings 6:19; 8:6) and was considered the dwelling-place of the "name" of God. The buildings were erected upon a great platform, constructed by means of immense containing walls. I would also note the two brass pillars in the porch of the Temple that were named Boaz and Jachin. (1 Kings 7:15; 7:21; 2 Kings 11:14; 23:3). These two pillars had parallels at Tyre, Byblus, Paphos, and Telloh. In Egypt obelisks were used to express the same phallic emblems originating from the primitive Hamito-Semitic "maẓẓebah".

It wasn’t long however before the people began to complain of the burdensome taxation and forced labour. After Solomon died, his successor was unable to hold the tribes of Israel together and a series of kings brought corruption to the Temple (a focus of 2nd Kings chapters 14-23). Nevertheless, Solomon’s Temple on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem (the “Jerusalem Temple”) was the focus of Judaism for almost 900 years and as the House of God, it served as gathering place, the place or worship, the place for sacrifice, and the home of both the High Priest and the Jewish High Court (Sanhedrin). Its significance to the Jews is incomparable to any other Temple of the time or any time. But the unimaginable happened at least twice.

The Temple was plundered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar during the brief reign of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:13). The Babylonians attacked Jerusalem again and burned the Temple along with most of the city in 597 BCE (2 Kings 25). The Jews who survived were taken as captive to Babylon (for the “Exile”). We don’t know what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. Fortunately, when Cyrus the Great became King of Persia in 538 BCE, he favored the re-establishment of the city of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4, 2 Chron. 36:22-23). Zerubbabel was designated by the King to lead the project which began (535 BCE) with the clearing of the original Temple site (which had remained a devastated heap during the captivity (Dan. 9:1-2)). The reconstruction suffered a number of set-backs (supposedly caused by the Samaritans) before being completed in 515 BCE. The Temple was re-consecrated and services resumed in the spring of 516 BCE (the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius).

The Second Temple was greatly welcomed by the people, but lacked much of the “spirit” of the first Temple. In part this was due to the missing Ark of the Covenant, Moses’ Tablets of Stone, the pot of manna, Aaron's rod, the Urim and Thummim, the holy oil, and the sacred fire. And even though the Second Temple included the Menorah (golden lamp), the Table of Showbread, and the golden altar of incense (with golden censers)[3], according to Jewish tradition the Second Temple lacked the Ruach HaKodesh  (Holy Spirit) present in the First Temple. Of course, it didn’t help that the Jews were still under Persian control and that the High Priesthood had become uncertain (see Appendix VII).

Solomon’s Temple on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem served as gathering place, the place or worship, the place for sacrifice, and the home of both the High Priest and the Jewish High Court (Sanhedrin) for the next 300 years. The political situation for Jerusalem – sitting in the middle of major post-Alexandrian Empires – was anything but peaceful during this period. Palestine, including Judea, was surrendered by Ptolemy to the Seleucids in 198 BCE.  During the war between the two kingdoms the Temple was damaged such that the Seleucid King Antiochus III decreed that the Temple be repaired and made more splendid (Ant. 12.3.3; 139-41). In this decree, we have reference to a specific feature of the Temple- the stoa (portico). The decree also implies the existence of an outer court into which purified gentiles could enter. Josephus states that Antiochus published an additional decree stating: 'It shall be lawful for no foreigner to come within the limits of the Temple round about; which thing is forbidden also to the Jews, unless to those who, according to their own custom, have purified themselves'" (Ant. 12.3.4; 145). 

In 175 BCE, the unimaginable happened again -  God’s anointed High Priest (Onias III) was replaced by an usurper who was not qualified to hold the post – his brother (or nephew) Jason (aka Jesus bar Simon). When Antiochus Epiphanes ascended to the throne of the Seleucid Empire (which controlled Judea at the time), Jason bribed the new King for appointment to the position of Jewish High Priest (aided by his cousin Menelaus bar Manasseh).

When Onias III was killed in 172 BCE, loyalists managed to save his son (Onias IV in some writings) and take him to Egypt. There, Ptolemy VI (an enemy of Antiochus) and Cleopatra V gladly granted him asylum and even approved his building of a Temple at an ancient temple site in the Nome of Heliopolis (some say the City of Leontopolis, the modern Tell al-Yahudi[4]). Supposedly, Onias sold the idea to the royal court based upon the prediction of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 19:19) that a Jewish temple would be erected in Egypt[5].

Menelaus and Jason were both corrupt and careless, raiding the Temple treasures to buy armies and pay bribes. By 170 BCE, the Jerusalem Temple was hardly recognizable as a Jewish institution. In 168 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes finally became fed up with the Jews and decided it was time to utterly destroy Judaism. He went to Jerusalem, devastated the city and its citizens, defiled the temple (sacrificing swine on the altar), destroyed all the holy writings that could be found, erected an altar to Zeus in the temple and forbade circumcision or worship of the Shabbat (Sabbath) on pain of death[6].  The city was fully converted to Hellenistic ways, including the building of a gymnasium (with nude athletics). Judaism in Jerusalem was essentially dead. Was it merely fortunate “coincidence” that a new Temple had just opened in Leontopolis with the legitimate High Priest and a large body of Levites and priests?

The Onias temple was only similar to the Temple at Jerusalem: it was smaller and had at its center a high tower (obelisk?) – a remant of the ruined temple of Bubastis. The interior arrangement was also simpler: it had a hanging lamp instead of a candelabrum. We don’t know if it had a “Holy of Holies”, but it would be surprising that it wouldn’t. There was a court (τέμενος) which was surrounded by a brick wall with stone gates. The entire Temple area was surrounded by fortifications (χύρωμα) and there was a separate fortress (θρωύριον).

For five years (the “inter-sacerdotium” period), the Egyptian Temple was the only place where Jews could worship and sacrifice to their God. But then, in 165 BCE, Judas Maccabeus re-captured Jerusalem and purified and rededicated the Jerusalem Temple (the origin of the Jewish "Festival of Lights" or Hannukkah). Many Jews believed that this would lead to the restoration of the proper High Priesthood in Jerusalem, but Judas had other ideas – he appointed his younger brother Jonathan to the post instead. However, neither the war nor the dispute was over.

Many Jews were tired of war and, having their Temple restored, saw little reason to continue fighting. Judas and his brothers sought to expand Jewish control in a larger region, had control of the military, and also had great popularity. The new Seleucid king, Demetrius I Soter, found favor with Alcimus[7]  of the Hellenizing party. According to 1 Maccabees (7: 14) he was an Aaronite but not in the high-priestly line. Demetrius sent an army to establish Alcimus in the high priesthood at Jerusalem, but soon after the Syrian army left, Judas Maccabee attacked and drove Alcimus to Syria. Two armies and attacks on Jerusalem later (in 163 BCE), the Syrians defeated and killed Judas and restored Alcimus as high priest. They also left a strong garrison in Jerusalem to ensure his power and their Hellenistic control[8]. The Jews had been granted “religious freedom” by Demetrius, but their religious leader was still in Egypt.

Then along came the Romans…

The Jews enjoyed a reprise during a large part of the Hasmonean rule (165 BCE-63 BCE): territories were regained, wealth accumulated, and they were the conquerors. The reign of Queen Alexandra (75-67 BCE) was considered one of the most prosperous ever for the Jews (Ta'anit, 23a; Sifra, uḲḲat, i. 110). But political intrigue and fighting between the successors of Alexandra  led to their being overtaken by the Romans

In 63 BCE, a group loyal to Aristobolus (II) took refuge in the Temple when the Roman general Pompey marched on Jerusalem.  In his description of the siege, Josephus describes the Temple and its situation (Ant. 14.4.1-4; 58-73 = War 1.7.2-6; 143-53). "It was this party that made the first move and occupied the Temple, and cutting the bridge that stretched from it to the city [to the west], prepared themselves for a siege" (Ant. 14.4.2; 58). The Temple was a natural fortress because of its height and surrounding ravines. The Temple had its own towers and adjoined the ancient Baris (fortress) which also had defensive towers. There were also smaller tower built into the outer wall of the Temple.

Pompey eventually breached the largest towers with a siege-engine and when the Romans poured through, a massacre ensued (Ant. 14.4.3; 68). Josephus says that Pompey and some of his troops entered the inner court of the Temple and even inspected the Holy of Holies, seeing the golden table, the sacred lampstand, the libation vessels, and the deposits in the Temple treasury. Josephus says that piety kept them from stealing these things, but other sources credit Herod with bribing the soldiers to forego their normal bounty.

Nevertheless, the Romans now controlled Judea, Jerusalem, and the Temple and the Jewish High Priesthood was lost to political appointees (although it had never been properly restored after Onias IV left for Egypt).

And then there was Herod…

Herod (the Great) assumed the position of client king of the Roman provinces of Judea, Galilee and Samaria in 36 BCE (he was named earlier, but didn’t oust Antigonus from Jerusalem until 36 BCE). His reign was marked by murder, intrigue, pogroms, corruption, and a remarkable building program (continued by his successors). Since Jesus was born sometime shortly before Herod’s death (in 4 BCE), he would have witnessed one of the greatest transformations of antiquity – the restoration of Jerusalem and the building of “Herod’s Temple” (or the building of its surrounds as the Temple itself was finished just before Jesus’ birth).

Much has been made of this structure and if it hadn’t been destroyed soon after being finished, we would know it better. Because so much was written about it, we are able to develop reasonable facsimiles…


It is the size and scale of the Temple surrounds that are most impressive. The Baris (aka Akra and later Antonia) is the citadel next to the Temple. Not shown (and generally unknown) were the massive catacombs and passages that existed beneath the surface of the main court. We should remember that the “Temple” was far more than the centerpiece, it was a meetingplace, home of the Sanhedrin, a place of higher learning, and both the national treasury and archives. Several times the older Temple had served as a fortress and there should be little doubt that its designers would have built in defensive features.

There are several ancient writers who offer us descriptions of Herod’s Temple, but none are as detailed as the descriptions offered by Josephus. Since he was well travelled (and had been to Rome), his comments have an unique perspective. The royal portico or stoa was only accessible if one climbed the stairs to an overpass that crossed over the main road and the markets that ran by the western wall. This overpass was the width of a four lane highway and possessing an arch made with stones having a combined weight of over 1,000 tons. Josephus describes the stoa that one reached via the overpass as follows: “...It was a structure more noteworthy than any under the sun. The height of the portico was so great that if anyone looked down from its rooftop he would become dizzy and his vision would be unable to reach the end of so measureless a depth.” He also describes the one hundred and sixty two columns that stood in the stoa as being so large that three men standing in a circle could barely reach around one of their bases. The Temple itself was a building of shining white marble and gold with bronze entrance doors. It was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you. “The Second Temple During the Time of Jesus” by Shelly Cohney from jcrelations.net (2011).

Upon Herod's death a riot broke out in the Temple during the Festival of Weeks. Varus, proconsul of Syria, attempted to quell the disturbance (Ant. 17.10.2; 254-64 = War 2.3.2-3; 45-50). According to Josephus, the rioters climbed atop the porticos surrounding the outer court and attacked the Roman legionnaires from above. In retaliation, the Romans burned the porticos feeding the fire with combustible materials until the porticos collapsed. Pushing their way through the fire, the Romans made their way into the Temple treasury (see below), which they proceeded to plunder.

Josephus also offers other stories regarding odd affairs in the Temple. In one account, he describes how Passover service was disrupted when Samaritans scattered human bones throughout the Temple (ritually contaminating it - priests traditionally opened the Temple gates after midnight) (Ant. 18.2.2; 29). Pontius Pilate created one of his many stirs when he expropriated funds from the Temple treasury to build an aqueduct (Ant. 18.3.2; 60-62 = War 2.9.4; 175-77). Emporer Gaius (Caligula) ordered Petronius, proconsul of Syria, to erect a statue of him in the Temple. Petronius protested and delayed, and Gaius died before the order was carried out. Otherwaise we would have had yet another Roman symbol in the Temple revolt. (Ant. 18.8.2-9; 261-309 = War 2.10.1-5; 184-203). And, Josephus relates how once during a Passover celebration, a Roman soldier caused a riot by standing on the exterior wall of the Temple (grounds) and exposing himself (rear end) to the  crowds. When the Roman legionnaires attempted to restore order, another massacre ensued (Ant. 20.5.2; 104-12). It seems that plenty of odd things happened in the Temple during Passover (as per our story).

It is difficult to imagine the size and grandeur of Herod’s Temple. There are numerous books and articles available describing it in great detail and many include models and reconstructions. While our primary interest here is its workings, we should take a short “tour” of some key features (if for no other reason, we can define some necessary terms).

The general size and placement of the Temple and its Surrounds:

Here, a picture (or diagram) is worth a thousand words so the following drawing shows the basic position of the Temple in relation to Jerusalem.

    Jerusalem in the First Century A.D. (Map)

No one knows what Herod's Temple looked like or exactly where it was located.  We combine general ideas from archaeological excavations (i.e. http://www.ritmeyer.com/about), accounts from eyewitnesses to Herod's Temple (e.g. Josephus War 5.5.1-8; 184-247; Ant. 15.11.5-7; 410-25), and details offered in the Mishnah (Middot and other tractates) to guess about its details However, the literary sources are incomplete and sometimes contradictory[9]. Thus, there are a number of on-going debates fueled by the significance of the possible “Third Temple” (a subject worthy of entire books – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Temple.

Dr. Ernest L. Martin offers an alternative interpretation of Josephus and other ancient authors in his "The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot" (2000). The key assumption in his work is that the Temple was built over the Spring of Gihon – which would place the Temple site south of the Haram-esh-Sharif (site of the Dome of the Rock). His debate with Leen Ritmeyer about this topic is most informative (in part at http://www.askelm.com/temple/t010513.htm). I would agree with Dr. Martin’s view that we have made too many assumptions about the Temple based upon what remains. Almost all the visible construction at Haram-esh-Sharif (including the gates and sealed gates) is much newer than that of Herod’s time. If the ancient reports are given weight, then we must accept that Herod’s Temple was removed down to its foundations while Antonia was left intact. However, these authors may well have been referring to the actual Temple and not the surrounding structures and walls – which would have made a nice extension to the adjoining fortress.








                 Above, is an alternative concept of the Temple based upon Earnest Martin’s reading of Josephus.

The other key information used by Dr. Martin focuses upon water. The Letter of Aristeas[10] makes it clear that there was abundant water “conveyed” into Solomon’s Temple and Dr. Martin presumes that this had to come from the only natural water source in Jerusalem – Gihon spring. Instead, archeological finds indicate the Wisdom of Solomon in planning for the Temple’s water needs (and that of the expanding city itself). As part of the building project, Solomon also had an elaborate aqueduct, piping, and storage system built to bring water from Hebron. This system made use of siphons, “lead sealed piping” and other advanced technologies to bring water into a “fountain” within the Temple[11] (see http://www.bible.ca/archeology/bible-archeology-jerusalem-temple-mount-threshing-floor-aqueduct.htm). Nevertheless, the issue of the Temple’s location is far from settled since we still have contradictory historical information regarding its site. I suggest the following article as a worthy starting point in this discussion: http://www.templemount.org/theories.html.

The Samaritan Temple:

The Jewish Temple on Mount Gerizim is often overlooked in discussions of Temple history since the victors write history and Judean Judaism is prevalent. Besides, the Jerusalem Temple was the one chosen by Jesus and thus it is the one studied in Christianity. The Mt. Gerizim Temple (“Samaritan Temple”, hereafter) has a rich history and tradition and the dispute between Samarian Jews and mainstream Judaism continues to this day – the Samaritan Temple is still in use. The dispute is based upon different readings of the Torah. The Book of Deuteronomy mentions the place where God will choose to establish “His Name” and Judaism takes this to refer to Jerusalem (Deut 12:5). However, the Samaritan version of the same book speaks of the place where God has chosen to establish His Name: Mt. Gerizim.

The split between Judean and Samaritan Judaism occurred around 930 BCE when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was formed (the northern tribes rejecting the House of David). The tribe of Manasseh was part of the kingdom until the Assyrians extorted, invaded, conquered, and took captive the tribes of the Northern Kingdom in 723-22 BCE (taking almost 30,000 captives but leaving the Judeans and Benjamites who held up in Jerusalem). Shalmanesser, the Assyrian King, allowed an unknown people called the Cuthites to occupy “Shomron” ; they became known as “Samaritans” (Greek form of Shomronim). These new Samaritans found themselves plagued by “lions” and asked the King for assistance. He asked some of the captured priests from Israel what they would recommend and they advised him that anyone living in Hashem's Holy Land would be plagued if they didn’t obey the Torah.

So, Shalmanesser sent Kohanim (priests) to teach the Samaritans the Torah. The majority of Samaritans (whether out of fear of God, fear of lions, or fear of Shalmanesser) decided to accept the Torah and began to worship Hashem/Yaweh. And when the lions went away, the Samaritan version of Judaism took hold. (II Kings, Ch. 17). Not surprisingly, the Samaritans declined to accept any book of the Torah which labeled David as King or which was written by a Davidic supporter. That left them with only the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch or Chumash) and a different Book of Joshua[12] as their scripture. They also built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, and there they worshiped according to their version of the Chumash (and apparently tolerated the idolatry of those who didn’t accept the Torah).

When Assyria was later conquered by Babylon and Babylon had been conquered by the Medo-Persians (Cyrus the Great), the same edict that freed Judeans from the Babylonian captivity also freed the other tribes of Israel, restoring members of various northern tribes to their homelands (~ 536 BCE; see http://www.beingjewish.com/mesorah/ageoftorah.html). Zerubbabel, the Prince of the Davidic line, and Joshua, a descendant of the line of the former High Priests, formed the first expedition to Jerusalem to begin re-construction of the Second Temple (see Ezra Ch. 1). What they encountered was a mess – politically and religiously. Jerusalem had been occupied by a mix of Jews and Gentiles: Judeans who hadn’t been captured, Arabs, Samaritans, Ammonites, and Philistines. Few of them were pleased to have Judeans returning from exile to reclaim their city and violence erupted. The old rivalry between Israel and Judah was renewed as the first goal of both returning peoples was to rebuild a proper Temple. Although the Samaritans argued that the Temple on Mt. Gerizim was the proper place[13], they appeared to offer assistance in re-building the Jerusalem Temple (which was refused) . They employed spokesmen and counselors to argue their case before Cyrus and his successors, delaying building until 520 BCE. A crude Temple[14] in Jerusalem was completed around 515 BCE (although the Judeans had their altar in place and worshiped there as early as 535 BCE). Meanwhile, the Samaritans continued to improve their Temple on Mt. Gerizim[15].

The political and religious battles continued between the Samaritans and the Judeans over the next 75 years, but there were several families seeking reconciliation. The governor of Samaria under Darius I[16] was Sanballat[17], a rich Tobiad in the descendancy of Manasseh (descended from Joseph). Ezra (the Prophet) petitioned Artaxerxes for permission to improve the Jerusalem Temple and after the original decree from Cyrus was found, Ezra headed to Jerusalem (457 BCE) with a new decree to take charge of the ecclesiastical and civil affairs of the Jewish nation. (A copy of this decree may be found in Ezra 7:13-28).  Ezra left Babylon with a company of Jews that included priests and Levites. (Nehemiah6 would follow in 444 BCE).

Arriving in Judea with the King’s decree, Ezra was disturbed to find the corruption[18] that had permeated Jews in Judea: intermarriage was common and traditional festivals were being ignored. Ezra sought to repopulate Jerusalem with Judeans and purify the Jewish community. He rigorously promulgated the "law of Moses" (as the “reforms of Ezra”) and enforced both old and new rulings: the cancellation of debts, reinstituting the Feast of Tabernacles, and requiring Jewish men to divorce their non-Jewish wives. It was this last ruling that caused the biggest stir and returns our focus to the Samarians.

Another man named Manasseh, the son of the High Priest Joiada/Eliashib (at Jerusalem) was married to Nicaso, the daughter of Sanballat (the Samarian governor). When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he found that Eliashib had leased storerooms of the temple to Tobiah and had deprived the Levites of their share of the Temple offerings.  He drove Manasseh from the temple, such that he went over to Samaria (Neh. 13:28) and was instrumental in enhancing the Mt. Gerizim Temple (relying mostly on Sanballat's money)[19]. Manasseh's expulsion had the effect of fixing the Israeli and Samaritan religious divide, and separating two kindred peoples who accepted the same God and most of the same beliefs. (The claims that the Samaritans brought in heathen practices after this time are without grounds).

When Alexander the Great entered the region (333 BCE) the Samaritans had their capital at Shechem, (beside/beneath) Mt. Gerizim. Alexander first went to Jerusalem where he was received with a splendid display and while he there the Samarians (“Shechemites” to Josephus) went to him to ask that he also come to their city and honor their temple. He promised to do so upon his return.  They then asked him to forgive their tribute every seventh year (as had the Jews) and Alexander asked if they were also Jews. They answered that instead of Jews, they were Hebrews. Alexander then adorned both Temples.

The Samaritan Temple remained on Mt. Gerizim and the Samaritans granted refuge to those charged (“unjustly banished”) by Jerusalemites with some offense or sin (e.g. eating unclean things or violating the Sabbath). Josephus, Ant. 11.342-346. Later (~180 BCE) Jews and the Samaritans debated about their temples before Ptolemy (VI Philometer - in Alexandria, Egypt). The Judeans said that their Temple in Jerusalem was built according to laws of Moses and the Samaritan Temple on Mt. Gerizim was an affront to God.  They called upon the King to put the Samarians to death. Andronicus persuaded the King that the temple in Jerusalem had been built according to laws of Moses and to execute their Samaritan opponents.  Josephus, Ant. 13.74, 77-79. We have no other indication that any such executions took place.

In 168 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes ordered the Jews to rededicate their temples to the Greek god Zeus. The Judeans, under Judas the Maccabaean, organized a revolt, captured Jerusalem, and re-purified the Temple of Jerusalem. The Samaritans were more open to Greek culture and chose not to resist Antiochus. The Judeans, liberated from Seleucid rule, became an independent state ruled by Hasmonaeans who also declared themselves the High Priests. This provided further evidence to the Samaritans that the Judean Temple was impure and not the House of God.

When the Judean John Hyrcanus I (the son of Judah Maccabee's brother, Simon) heard of the death of Antiochus VII (129 BCE), he promptly marched out to enlarge his kingdom. He captured Shechem, Mt. Gerizim and the Samaritan nation – destroying the Temple there[20]. But when the Romans took control of Palestine, they made use of religious divisions. For example, they recruited military units from Samaria and used them to occupy Judean towns (including Jerusalem). Not unexpectedly, the Judeans resented having other Hebrews (which they referred to derogatorily and offensively as “Cuthaeans”/foreigners) placed over them.

Meanwhile, under Roman control, the Samaritan community sought to restore their sanctuary and was given permission to do so (when Gabinius was governor of Syria (55-57 CE), he repaired Samaria and called it by his own name). In 36 CE a man known as the Samaritan prophet gathered a small army and occupied Mt. Gerizim. Pontius Pilate retook the Temple and “dispersed the crowd”, but his actions were dee4med too harsh by Emperor Tiberius and Pilate was recalled to Rome. During the Jewish War (66-74 CE), the Fifth Macedonica legion stormed Mt. Gerizim and probably ended yet another attempt to rebuild the temple.

The Samaritan community all but disappeared along with the Judeans until the 3rd or 4th century when the son of the Samaritan High Priest Nethanel, named Baba Rabba (circa 300-362 CE), reorganized the Samaritans and expounded their ideas. With the religious reforms of Constantine, the Samaritans regained a foothold and flourished into late antiquity with synagogues in several places (e.g. Thessalonica and Sicily). The legacy of Baba Rabba was not only the rebuilding of the Temple of Mt Gerezim, but a new state of Sarmara that would remain until the revolt (527CE) and conquests of the Messianic Sarmatian High Priest Julianus ben Sabar.  . 

Emperor Justinian I suppressed the insurrection (531 CE) with ferocity and dispersed the Samaritans/Sarmatians again (Procopius, Secret History, 11.24). The Samaritans fled across the Mediterranean to escape the Holy Roman Empire. The surviving High Priest bloodlines went to the marshes at the mouth of the Po and Piave rivers at the top of the Adriatic Sea. Others landed in Aremorica (Spain) and some went inland into the Caucus mountains - later to become known as the Khazars.  The dispersed Samaritans refuges demonstrated amazing cohesiveness, renaming themselves the “Enetoi” (Greek for "praisworthy/chosen" or “Veneti” in Latin) since to be known as a Samaritan was a capital crime under the Holy Roman Empire. The colony in the north Adriatic was named Enetoi , becoming one of the most famous cities in history --Venice. 

Today, the Samaritans number in the hundreds and they continue to worship at Mt. Gerizim. . Archeological digs continue there.

*** There are three other related notes that I will mention here for reference: 

  1. Simon Magnus was a Samaritan (see Appendices XIV and XI); Around 400 BCE,
  2. the Jews of Elephantine asked for the help of Sanballat's sons (Delaiah and Shelemiah) in rebuilding their own Temple which had been damaged or destroyed by rioters. The Samaritans answered, “Our own land bears no nation that is not conversant in the law or will not be circumcised. Thus, we will send two teachers who may go and instruct the people”. So they sent Rabbi Dosthai the son of Jannai and Rabbi Sabia, who taught them the book of the written law."
  3. There was a known relationship between the Keriates and the Samaritans---

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land and helps you take possession of it, you must pronounce the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal.” (Deut. 11:29; note Deut. 27:12).

Jewish Temple at Elephantine:

Known to the Ancient Egyptians as Abu or Yebu, the island of Elephantine sat in the Nile river at the border between Egypt and Nubia (now Sudan). The island measures 3/4th of a mile from north to south and is about 1/4th a mile across at its widest point. It was an excellent defensive site and its location just below the Aswan cataract (lowest on the river) made it a natural cargo transfer point for river trade. In ancient times, the island was an important stone quarry providing granite materials that would be transported widely within Egypt for monuments and buildings. It was the site of the ancient Temple of  Khnum.

A Jewish military installation at Elephantine was probably a Samaritan group founded during Manasseh's reign (circa 650 BCE) to assist Pharaoh Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign (See “Investigating the Origin of the Ancient Jewish Community at Elephantine”, noted below). As part of their long-term encampment, the Jews there built a Temple. This Temple would be one of the few temples in Egypt to be spared destruction by Nebuchadrezzar. Most of what we know about it comes from the Elephantine papyri, a cache of Aramaic legal documents and letters covering the period 495 to 399 BCE.

The Jewish Temple apparently functioned alongside the Temple of Khnum (the Egyptian ram-headed deity). The "Petition to Bagoas" is a letter written in 407 BCE to Bagoas, the Persian governor of Judea, appealing for assistance in rebuilding the Jewish temple at Elephantine. The letter states that the Temple had been badly damaged by a riot of the Elephantine community. In the course of this appeal, the letter speaks of the antiquity of the damaged temple:

'Now our forefathers built this temple in the fortress of Elephantine back in the days of the kingdom of Egypt, and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it built. They (the Persians) knocked down all the temples of the gods of Egypt, but no one did any damage to this temple."

The Elephantine community also appealed for aid to Sanballat I, the Samaritan potentate, and his sons Delaiah and Shelemiah, as well as to Johanan ben Eliashib, the sone of the Judean High Priest (who was exiled in Samaria because he had married Sanballat’s daughter. (See the Book of Nehemiah, 2:19, 12:23-4). According to the Elephantine documents, both Bagoas and Delaiah responded in the form of a memorandum to give permission to rebuild the temple:

"Memorandum of what Bagohi and Delaiah said to me, saying: Memorandum: You may say in Egypt ... to (re)build it on its site as it was formerly... Our own land bears no nation that is not conversant in the law or will not be circumcised. Thus, we will send two teachers who may go and instruct the people”. So they sent Rabbi Dosthai the son of Jannai and Rabbi Sabia, who taught them the book of the written law."

We don’t know what happened that led to the final destruction of the Temple at Elephatine, but by the middle of the 4th century BCE, it had ceased to function. There is evidence by the excavations that the rebuilding and enlargement of the Khnum temple under Nectanebo II (360-343) filled the place of the former Jewish Temple. It may well be that the Jewish sacrificing of rams at their Temple caused sufficient hatred on part of the Egyptians to cause the ouster of the Jews.

It is an oddity that the community had its own temple since it seems to be in opposition to biblical law (Deuteronomy 12) where ritual sacrifices are banned at sites other than the one place “where God chooses to establish his name” (using a term that literally points to the mobile Tabernacle). We don’t know who presided over the rituals since many of those services are specifically reserved to the (one and only) High Priest. But, we are not only told that the Elephantine community offered the full range of animal sacrifices, grain offerings, and incense offerings at their Temple, we have a later document stating that permission to rebuild the Elephantine Temple had been granted by the religious authorities in Israel. (This document specifically gives permission to perform grain and incense offerings while not mentioning animal sacrifice).

I would propose that this gives us a strong indication of Samaritan ideas prevailing at the time.

                                 Image:Elephantine.jpg    (The ruins at Elephantine)

For more information, I suggest http://www.ancientsudan.org/articles_jewish_elephantine.html.

The Egyptian Temple of Onias:

The major rift between the Judeans and the Samaritans had to do with the scriptural location of the Jewish Temple first and a legitimate priesthood second. The Onias Temple in Egypt was just the opposite. Because its story focuses upon the Jewish High Priesthood and that story is told in Appendix VII, I will summarize it here. But first, another warning: most of the information we have about the Onias Temple comes from Josephus and Judean sources that sought to downplay its significance and minimize the matter of the illegitimate High Priesthood in Jerusalem. We must read their history with that in mind.

We should also note the importance of ritual sacrifice (and offerings) within Judaism – and the scriptural limitation regarding its practice. In essence, the specific rituals involving Jewish sacrifice require a functioning priesthood and that priesthood may only be led by an Aaronite in proper descendancy. In other words, a Jewish temple offering sacrifice that didn’t have a proper priesthood wasn’t a Jewish Temple at all and those who sacrificed there could receive no divine benefit. Thus, the greatest claim the Onias Temple could make was this it was the only legitimate place for divine ritual sacrifice[21] and the fact that many went there for that purpose (and that the Judeans didn’t argue that sacrifice there was illegitimate[22]) speaks volumes. Regardless of what was said by the Judeans, it is readily apparent that many Jews during that time believed that the Onias Temple was the legitimate one[23].

Origins:  The story of the Onias Temple begins in 195 BCE with the signing of a treaty after a series of wars between Ptolemy (Egypt) and Antiochus (Syria). The treaty left the Seleucid King Antiochus III in possession of Coele-Syria and Judea. Meanwhile, the Samaritans took land claimed by the Judeans (Josephus). The High Priest Simon II chose a course of conciliation and assigned many Tobians (Samaritans and Benjamites) to important posts. Jason’s son, Onias III, would be the last High Priest of his line to serve in Jerusalem until the reign of Herod.

Onias III (known as “the Pious One”) was surrounded by international conflicts and confronted by increasing intra-family tensions, but he repeatedly demonstrated his ability to preserve the prosperity of the country along with the religious and secular authority of his family (contrary to the history written by his opponents). With the Egyptians and the Syrians wanting Jewish support they honored both the Jewish Temples (Jerusalem and Mt. Gerizim) by presenting them with expensive gifts. Onias then allegedly withheld payment of the Egyptian tribute (against the advice of his Tobian advisors and tax collectors)[24].

The Tobians sought favor with the Syrians in a contest for power and wealth against the Oniades. The contest reached a turning point when the head[25] of the Temple - a Tobian named Simeon (bar Bilgah, a Benjamite) - demanded the post of commissioner (“Agoranomos”)[26]  from Onias. (II Macc. 3:4). Onias refused and Simeon went to the Syrian King Seleucus and told them about "untold sums of money[27]" held in the Temple treasury. Seleucus dispatched Heliodorus, his chancellor, to investigate and take the money if it was found. Onias remonstrated that the funds held in the Temple were primarily "deposits of widows and orphans" but also included a substantial sum belonging  to Hyrcanus, son of Joseph bar Tobias[28] (supposedly consisting of 30,000 pounds of silver and 15,000 pounds of gold) (II Mac. 3).

The traitor Simeon then advised Seleucus that Onias had actually tricked Heliodorus to avoid giving up the treasure. His led to bloodshed between the Oniades and Tobians resulting in the Tobiads being chased out of Jerusalem. Simeon (and followers) ran to Seleucus with further allegations against Onias and asked him to make use of them as his leaders of an expedition into Judea to settle the dispute. Instead, Seleucus allowed the Tobians their own little empire east of the Jordan River (in the vicinity of Heshbon) where they built the castle of Tyre (some sources term this a “temple”), carried on war with the Arabs, and ruled during the remaining seven years of Seleucus’ reign.

With victory over the Tobians came defeat within Onias’ family. With the Tobians gone, other members of Onias’ family assumed vacated positions. Onias’s son Jason obtained access to Temple funds and then went to Seleucus offering an extraordinary sum[29] for the title of High Priest. Even that might not have been enough, but Jason was as willing to sell out his religion as his family and so he also promised to convert Jerusalem into a Hellenized city and to do away with Jewish services. Seleucus took the deal and Onias III was forced into exile (at the sanctuary in Daphne).

Jason proved good to his promises: he built a gymnasium near the Temple and instituted the full range of Greek culture[30] and corruption. He set aside the existing Syrian and Roman concessions[31] to the Jews and modified the Temple and its services. Seleucus was so pleased that he granted the citizens of Jerusalem the privileges and title of citizens of Antioch. But then intrigue shifted the Syrian leadership
and the new King Antiochus required Jason to pay in order to remain High Priest in Jerusalem. Jason continued the conversion of Jerusalem into a Greek-style Polis (re-named Antioch after the king) and abandoned ordinances granting the Judeans religious freedom. Orthodox Jews, including the later Essenes, would view Jason as “the Evil One” and imposter to the High Priesthood.

But then, in 172 BCE, Jason's sent Menelaus, the brother of Simon the Benjaminite, to deliver tribute to Antiochus. Menelaus took this opportunity to "outbid" Jason for the priesthood[32] and Antiochus appointed Menelaus (who was not an Aaronite), as the “High Priest” (given the title but not the religious authority). At this point, we see the unquestionable bifurcation of the High-Priest lineage and the trigger of much confusion among historians regarding the name Onias. After receiving the king's orders he returned to Jerusalem possessing no qualification for the high priesthood, but having the decree of the Syrian King and the enforcement of his army. Thus, Jason supplanted his own brother by bribery and was then supplanted by another through greater bribery.

Menelaus held the title to the office but he was unable to pay the promised bribe. In 171 BCE, Antiochus required Menelaus to appear before him and with his life on the line and desperate for funds, Menelaus stole the golden vessels belonging to the Temple. He left his brother Lysimachus to act as the High Priest while he was away. This started a revolt in Jerusalem and Onias decided that he must go to Antioch and intercede on behalf of his people. But an attempted coup failed when Antiochus IV Epiphanes returned from Rome and installed himself as King Antiochus IV Epiphanes[33]. Menelaus took advantage of the timing and conspired to have Onias assassinated. This action caused great indignation among both the Jews and the Greeks (2 Macc 4:34)[34]. Nevertheless, Menelaus managed to remain in office[35] and further abrogate the Jewish observances.

Upon the killing of Onias III, a group of supporters took his young son, Onias IV, to seek sanctuary from the Court of Alexandria: King Ptolemy VI Philometor and Queen Cleopatra I[36]. The Egyptian royals gladly gave refuge to such a prominent personage who was the enemy of an enemy[37]. Onias IV requested permission to build a Temple in Egypt modeled after the Temple at Jerusalem, reinstating the legitimate Jewish priesthood based upon orthodox traditions. He sold the idea to Ptolemy by suggesting that building an alternative Temple and place of offering would draw many Jews away from the Syrians and the Jewish oppression in Jerusalem. For Ptolemy, a big selling point for accepting the Jewish Temple was  the claim that the Jews it attracted would be willing soldiers ("B. J." vii. 10,§2). This was clearly indicated by the fact that Onias also proposed to build a fortress around the temple in order to protect the surrounding territory and to serve Ptolemy with his Jewish army[38]. Ptolemy not only agreed to Onias’ plans, but also provided substantial funding for the "Oneion" project ("B. J." vii. 10, § 3). Thus, in 170 BCE, Leontopolites[39]   became a Jewish center within Egypt and construction began on a new Jewish Temple.

Then, in 167 BCE, the deposed High Priest Jason gathered a small army and made a surprise attack on the city of Jerusalem forcing Menelaus to flee. Antiochus took his army to Jerusalem and restored Menelaus as “High Priest”. As punishment for the complicity on the Jews, Antiochus  executed thousands of men, women and children, built a citadel near the Temple called the Acra (used later by the Romans as “Antonia”) and decreed most Jewish religious practices unlawful. (See 2 Maccabees 6:1-11). The Temple was desecrated and services were stopped. Judaism in Judea was outlawed and there was no Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem.

All of this seemed to support the prophecy of Isaiah:  “In those days, five of Egypt's cities will follow the Lord of Heaven's Armies. They will even begin to speak Hebrew, the language of Canaan. One of these cities will be Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them. (Is. 19:18-21).

Just as the Onias Temple (with the legitimate High Priest) was consecrated (in 169-168 BCE), the corrupted Temple in Jerusalem was closed. The Judean historians conveniently neglect to record the historical fact: there were several years during this time when Jews who wanted to practice their temple-based religion had no choice but to go outside of Jerusalem. Some would have gone to the Samaritan Temple, but most would have gone to Leontopolis and in doing such would have accepted its Temple’s legitimacy.

The Temple at Leontopolites:

When Onias appeared before Ptolemy and Cleopatra, he not only had the prophecy of Isaiah as a basis for a Jewish Temple in Egypt, he had an ancient history and a modern foundation to build upon. Egypt had special significance to the Jews as “Goshen” was the home of Abraham[40], Joseph[41], and Moses[42]. The part of Egypt which included the area southeast from the Pelusian arm of the Nile towards Arabia and the Red Sea[43], with the Wilderness of Shur on the Sinai Peninsula forming a “no-man’s land” region eastward, was the home of the Israelites from the time of Jacob to that of Moses. Israelites shared Egyptian blood and had deep roots in Egyptian soil.

The ancient capital city with the hieroglyphic name "Oon" (Heliopolis as it was known later in Greek) was a center of worship and place of great learning[44]. The Pharaoh Sesostris I erected a number of obelisks at On[45] and he may well have been the Pharaoh under whom Joseph was vizier. This helps make sense of Genesis 41:45: "Then Pharaoh gave Joseph a new Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah. He also gave him a wife, whose name was Asenath. She was the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. So Joseph took charge of the entire land of Egypt."

Ptolemy I Soter captured Judea around 320 BCE and led some 100,000 Jewish captives to Egypt (Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates, 12-13). From these captives, he armed tens of thousands and made them part of his army (who were often rewarded for their service with land). Ptolemy II Philadelphus (~285 BCE) initiated a program which freed the Jews and offered them religious tolerance. That combined with favorable immigration practices attracted many Jews away from the Judean battlefield (due to the Syrian Wars) to the fertile soil of the Nile Delta. Egypt became home to over a million Jews, most of who lived in Alexandria[46] and the ancient land of Goshen.

Ptolemy made Onias Ethnarch and Alabarch of the Jews and gave Onias much more than a place to build a temple; he offered an entire region (known as the “Land of Onias” or “Oneion” in Greek) which included “numerous Jewish villages”[47]. The Land of Onias was located in the Nome[48] of Heliopolis and included one of the ancient cities known as “Leontopolis”. (Josephus says that the Onias Temple was in Leontopolis in the Heliopolite Nome and makes reference to Bubastis. There was more than one Egyptian city called “Leontopolis” (city of the lion)[49] and more than one “Heliopolis” (city of the sun). In Ptolemy and Onias' time, the best known Leontopolis was the capital of the Leontopolite Nome and Jospehus confused this). The archeological site of the city of Onias is north of the best known Heliopolis[50] at a place called “Tel el-Yahood or Yahudiya” (“Mound of the Jews" in Arabic) in the cultivated land near Shibbeen.


In more ancient times, Heliopolis, Leontopolis (modern Tel el-Muqdam), and Bubastis were primary religious centers. Heliopolis was once the spiritual centre of ancient Egyptian sun (“Ra”) worship. Tefnut[51] was worshiped there as one of the members of that city's great Ennead[52] (related to the purification of the wabet or priest). Her sanctuary there was known as the “Lower Menset”. Heliopolis flourished as a seat of learning during the Greek period; the schools of philosophy and astronomy are claimed to have been frequented by Orpheus, Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Solon, Eudoxus and other philosophers. It was there that the Greek mathematician Ichonuphys, lecturing in 308 BCE, learned the true length of the year and month.

The Bubastis temples (in use through the time of King David) also included obelisks and a tower-like structure built with large stones (recorded as 60 cubits or 120 feet in height). Herodotus provided us with an eye-witness description of Bubastis as it appeared shortly after the period of the Persian invasion (circa 525 BCE) (Herodotus ii. 59, 60).

"Temples there are more spacious and costlier than that of Bubastis, but none so pleasant to behold. It is after the following fashion. Except at the entrance, it is surrounded by water: for two canals branch off from the river, and run as far as the entrance to the temple: yet neither canal mingles with the other, but one runs on this side, and the other on that. Each canal is a hundred feet wide, and its banks are lined with trees. The propylaea are sixty feet in height, and are adorned with sculptures (probably intaglios in relief) nine feet high, and of excellent workmanship. The Temple being in the middle of the city is looked down upon from all sides as you walk around; and this comes from the city having been raised, whereas the temple itself has not been moved, but remains in its original place. Quite round the temple there goes a wall, adorned with sculptures. Within the enclosure is a grove of fair tall trees, planted around a large building in which is the effigy (of Bast). The form of that temple is square, each side being a stadium in length. In a line with the entrance is a road built of stone about three stadia long, leading eastwards through the public market. The road is about 400 feet (120 m) broad, and is flanked by exceeding tall trees. It leads to the temple of Hermes."

Here is a sketch of the basic layout of the ruins[53].


                              Plan of Tel Basta

And this map shows the location in general…


According to Josephus, the Temple of Leontopolis was situated in the Heliopolitan Nome (Ant. 13:3, 2), 180 stadia (20 miles) northeast of Memphis (Wars, 7:10, 2-4). Thus, it could not have been far from the city of Heliopolis itself. At this place, the modern Bilbeis (map above), there was a temple to the goddess Bast and in the neighborhood there is a Tell el-Yehudiyyeh. Another Tell el-Yehudiyyeh with a Jewish cemetery has been found near Heliopolis. French archaeologist Edouard Naville (~1900) identified this as the capital of “the land of Onias” while Josephus’ “Camp of the Jews” (Ant. 14:8, 2) was also northwest of Memphis[54]. There is every reason to accept that an area resplendent with old pagan temples was given to Onias and remodeled by him. Given the historical strategic importance of this area and the variety of ruins and ancient settlements surrounding the cities of On[55], Tanis, and Memphis, we should recognize that the Onias Temple was only a part of a much larger fortified area that would have included the city and Temple of Bubastis as well as the “Babylonian Fort[56]” east of the Nile (in the modern suburb of Cairo known as Heliopolis). The Temple of Onias was built with stone and brick probably using material from other local ruins[57].  These ideas are supported in a letter written by Onias to Ptolemy (recorded by Josephus - Ant. 8:3):

"Having done many and great things for you in the affairs of the war, by the assistance of God, and that in Celesyria and Phoenicia, I came at length with the Jews to Leontopolis, and to other places of your nation, where I found that the greatest part of your people had temples in an improper manner, and that on this account they bear ill-will one against another, which happens to the Egyptians by reason of the multitude of their temples, and the difference of opinions about Divine worship. Now I found a very fit place in a castle that hath its name from the country Diana; this place is full of materials of several sorts, and replenished with sacred animals; I desire therefore that you will grant me leave to purge this holy place, which belongs to no master, and is fallen down, and to build there a temple to Almighty God, after the pattern of that in Jerusalem, and of the same dimensions, that may be for the benefit of thyself, and thy wife and children, that those Jews which dwell in Egypt may have a place whither they may come and meet together in mutual harmony one with another, and he subservient to thy advantages; for the prophet Isaiah foretold that "there should be an altar in Egypt to the Lord God; and many other such things did he prophesy relating to that place."

Some details regarding the construction of the Onias Temple was recorded by historians (Ant., 13.3.1-3; 6; Wars 7.10,3; and Against Apion 2.5). The main area was roughly triangular with a 767’ stone wall on the east side, an entrance to the enclosure at the west acute angle, and the temple at the south point. The entire enclosure covered between three and four acres. The temple had an inner court that was sixty-three feet long by thirty-two to twenty-seven feet wide and an outer court forty-four feet long by twenty-seven to twenty-one feet wide. The architecture was basically Corinthian with Syrian features. The area was generally proportioned like that of the Jerusalem Temple, but at a reduced scale[58].

But its position atop a hill made it appear larger…  


The entire circuit of the walls was some three miles in extent. Within the walled enclosure, archeologists have found a large pile of granite-blocks which appear, from their forms and sculptures, to have belonged to numerous obelisks and gigantic propyla. A long ramp (stairs?) led through the walls and up the 400’ vertical slope to the Temple and fortress. Rising above the surrounds, the Fortress and Temple would have appeared more formidable

The altar and the offerings were similar to those at Jerusalem, but in place of the seven-branched candlestick there was a single lamp of gold suspended by a golden chain. The service was performed by priests and Levites of pure descent; and the temple possessed considerable revenues, which were devoted to their support and to the adequate celebration of the divine ritual (War, 7:10,3; Ant. 13:3,3).

The reputation which the temple of Onias enjoyed is indicated by the fact that the Septuagint (Isaiah 19:18) terms the city of Onias as the "city of righteousness[59]" (πόλις σεδέκ or ‘ir-ha-zedek). The Judean view of the Temple of Onias was mixed: in later times, it was questioned whether the services there were idolatrous (Jeruf. Jinan, 43 ff) but the Mishna decided the point favorably as priests who had served at Leontopolis were forbidden to serve at Jerusalem, but were not excluded from attending the public services. To give us an idea of how mixed the feelings about the temple were, the rulings held that vows could be discharged rightly at Leontopolis as well as at Jerusalem, but it was not enough to discharge it at the former place only (Menach. 109 n, ap. Jost. as above).

Fate of the Temple:

Onias’ timing could hardly have been better since soon after work began on the new Temple and its altar the Jerusalem Temple was taken over by the Hellenists and Jewish services were cut off. With a temple in Egypt, Alexandrian Jews – the largest Jewish population in the world at that time – had a more convenient place for services. Judean Jews had no other choice; not only was their Temple desecrated, their fundamental religious practices were punishable by death. There was no dispute that Onias was a legitimate High Priest (if not the only legitimate one) and the Egyptian Temple became the center of Judaism for several years.

Antiochus's religious persecution proved to be a major miscalculation as it provoked a full-scale revolt (starting in 167 BCE). Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah (together known as the Maccabeans) led a rebellion against Antiochus. By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah (who became known as Yehuda HaMakabi "Judah the Hammer") became the leader of the revolt.  Through the heroic achievements of Judah (defeating two large and well-equipped armies of Antiochus in 165 BCE) the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy gained remarkable success: the Jerusalem Temple was liberated, rebuilt according to the Torah, and rededicated to worship (164 BCE) - the December festival of Hanukkah[60] was later instituted to commemorate this triumph. Josephus (Ant. 20:10) relates that the office of High Priest was vacant during this time, but this is highly unlikely since the High Priest was a necessary part of the rites on the Day of Atonement. We don’t know who presided over the Temple during this time, but it may well have been Onias IV.

Some think that “the Wicked Priest” of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Jonathan) attacked and killed the High Priest known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” on the Day of Atonement (when Jews were forbidden by the Law of Moses to defend themselves) and that the Teacher of Righteousness was an Oniade whose name was wiped out by the Maccabeans. That would make sense in the larger historical context.

Later, Ptolemy’s son-in-law Alexander Balas petitioned Jonathan Maccabeus for his support in his bid to become King of Syria and offered him appointment as High Priest and the title of Prince. Jonathan accepted Balas’ offer and during the Feast of Tabernacles in 153 BCE Jonathan put on the High Priest's garments and officiated for the first time (1 Maccabees 9:73-10:66). This was the start of the Hasmonean dynasty in Judea which combined civil rule with the High Priesthood. The orthodox Jews, however, never forgot that the legitimate High Priest was an Oniad.

Onias had not only enjoyed the favor of the Egyptian court, he had succeeded in elevating Egyptian Judaism to a position of greater respect and significance. As he had suggested, a large number of Judeans (called "inhabitants" by the Egyptians) had either accompanied him to Egypt or had followed later. These inhabitants performed military service and served the Ptolemies well enough to be given tracts of land for their own. ("Ant." 11:8,§6). Like the Maccabees and Tobiads, Onias had an army and had fought on behalf of his benefactors. Despite some efforts at reconciliation, the Oniads wouldn’t return to Judea without regaining the High Priesthood, so the Onias Temple continued in operation.

The situation in Egypt changed when peace came to Judea and Ptolemy VI Philometor died in 145 BCE.  His wife, Cleopatra II, proposed joint rule with Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (aka “Ptollemy II Physcon”) and he became Pharaoh in 144 (after murdering Cleopatra’s son). The new Pharaoh had been opposed by Alexandrian intellectuals and Jews[61] and he took his revenge on them, engaging in mass purges and expulsions. With the changes in politics in both Egypt and Judea, there were good reasons for the Egyptian Jews to think that it was the right time to restore the legitimate High Priest to the Jerusalem Temple.

It appears as though there was movement in that direction during the reign of Salome Alexandra (who ruled Judea from 75–67 BCE) as she was obviously unable to function as High Priest. But her son John Hyrcanus II was favored by the Sanhedrin (which was controlled by the aristocratic Hellenist Sadducees) and he was made High Priest. The Egyptian Jews supported Julius Caesar at Alexandria, leading him to grant privileges to Jews throughout the Roman Empire in 47 BCE. Thus, when Herod I became King of Judea (37 BCE), he appointed Hananiel/Ananeel[62], an Egyptian Oniad, to the position of High Priest in Jerusalem (under what might be viewed as the worst of circumstances).

The Jewish troops in Egypt were taken over as Roman auxiliaries after 30 BCE and Jewish names in papyri from several places in the Nile Delta suggest a continued Jewish military presence into the 1st century CE.  Early in the 1st century, Strabo found the city and temples of Heliopolis almost deserted (unidentified priests were still present).

After the Jewish revolt in 66 CE and destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, some of the fugitives from Palestine attempted an uprising in Alexandria.  Although it failed entirely, it gave the Romans an excuse for plundering and (later, in 71 CE) closing entirely the temple at Leontopolis (Josephus, War, 7: 10)[63]. However, the closure of the temple at Leontopolis by Vespasian did not necessarily destroy the Jewish community around it. And although that community was dispersed after the revolt of 115-17 CE, we note that the Babylon Fort (noted above) was then occupied by Coptic “Christians”.

As a final note that has some tie to our story, I will mention “Atum of the sycamore tree” in Heliopolis. This tree was worked into Christian legend where it became “the Tree of the Virgin”, a sycamore that is said to have been planted in 1672 from the shoot of an older tree. According to Coptic Christian tradition, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus rested beneath it on their excursion to Egypt and, even today, it remains a place of pilgrimage. “Heliopolis: Egypt’s radiance“ by Philip Coppens at http://www.philipcoppens.com/heliopolis.html; see also “Gods of the Egyptians” by E. A. Wallis Budge, Kessinger Publishing, (2003), p.107.


Other sources used for this section include: “A Dictionary of the Bible” by Sir William Smith, S.S. Scranton & Co. (1898); "Temple and Rival Temple: The Cases of Elephantine, Mt. Gerizim, and Leontopolis" by Jorg Frey in Gemeinde Ohne Temple (1999); “Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue” by Bernadette Brooton (BJS 36, Chicho, Scholar’s Press – 1982) p. 78-83:  Tombstone inscription at Leontopolis: “O Marin, priest (“hierisa”) and good friend to all.” (feminine forms) – a female priest?? (1982), pp. 73f, 88f, 134; “Joseph and Aseneth and the Jewish Temple in Heliopolis” by Gideon Bohak, Atlanta (1996); “The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians” by John Garner Wilkinson, Volume 3, London: John Murray (1837); “Building Jewish in the Roman East” by Peter Richardson, Baylor Univ. Press (2004) - Women in priestly roles – Therapeutae, sacrificed at temple, diagram. @ p. 168-175.  



Temple Practices and Functions:

Much of what we know about Temple functions comes from ancient Jewish literature. Josephus is also very helpful. And, of course, the Bible provides surprising detail that we know was applicable. We start with a brief look at the key Temple functions and then discuss management and operational details that are interesting or informative for our story.


The Jewish Temple was a large and complex operation managed by a mixture of full time officers, priests, officials, and workers who took care of everything except the actual administration of rituals and services. Rituals and services were conducted by the part-time “priestly courses” established during the time of David. We should understand that it was considered a great honor and privilege to serve in the Temple and the organization created was intended to provide opportunity as opposed to obligation.

We will begin with an overview of the “full-time staff”. Many of the following details are from the 1st Book of Chronicles.

 The governing body overseeing Temple operations was a board of fifteen appointed officers ("Memunnim"). The priestly officials were: the High Priest, his deputy ("Segan"), and his two attendants ("Katoliin" = "Catholicus"). Seven trustees ("amarkelim") and three cashiers ("gizbarim") had charge of the Temple treasury.

The High Priest:

The best known official in the Temple was the High Priest or Kohen Gadol  (“כהן גדול”: Hebrew for "Great Priest"). He was more than the chief of all the priests - he was the anointed[64] religious leader of the Israelites. Initially, one only became High Priest through the right of succession (direct first, but indirect if the direct line failed)[65].  Aside from being free from defect, the high priest was expected to be superior to all other priests in physique,  wisdom, dignity, and  wealth; if he was poor his brother priests contributed to make him rich (Yoma 18a; "Yad," l.c. v. 1).

A high priest invested with the pontifical garments was known as "merubbeh begadim." This investiture consisted of arraying him in the eight pieces of dress and in removing them again on eight successive days, though anointing and investiture on the first day was sufficient to qualify him for the functions of the office. The only distinction between an "anointed" and an "invested" High Priest is that the only the former may offer the bull for an unintentional transgression (Hor. 11b).

The high priest was required to be mindful of his honor. He might not mingle with the common people, participate in a public banquet, or permit himself to be seen disrobed or in a public bath. He was allowed visits of consolation to mourners so long as he followed carefully prescribed etiquette (Sanh. 18-19; "Yad," l.c. v. 4). He alone entered the Holy of Holies, and then on only one day of the year - the Day of Atonement[66]. He alone could offer the sacrifices for the sins of the priests or of the people (Lev. iv.)  and only he could officiate at the sacrifices following his own or another priest's consecration (Lev. ix.). He offered a meal- offering every morning and evening for himself and for the whole body of the priesthood (Lev. vi. 14-15). He was privileged to take part at his own pleasure in any of the priestly rites. He almost invariably participated in the ceremonies on the Sabbath, the New Moon, and the festivals (Josephus "B. J." 5:5.7).  Talmudic law prescribed that the honor of being first called upon for the reading of the Torah belonged to the High Priest (comp. "Yad," Issure Biah, xx. 13; ib. Tefillah, xiv., xv.; Eben ha-'Ezer, 3, 1; Ora. ayyim, 128; 135, 3, 4; Soah 38b; Gi. v. 8; see, however, Hor. iii. 8).

Originally, the high priest was the presiding officer of the Sanhedrin. Later tradition had the Pharisaic tannaim (the Zuggim who headed the academies) preside over the great Sanhedrin (note ag. 2:2). However, the sources demonstrate that there were differing situations during and following the Hasmonean Dynasty  ("Ant." xx. 10; "Contra Ap." ii., § 23; comp. "Ant." iv. 8, § 14; xiv. 9, §§ 3-5 [Hyrcanus II. as president]; xx. 9, § 1 [Ananus]). During the Maccabean period, the high priest was both political and religious leader and was looked upon as the supreme authority exercising power over all things: political, legal, and sacerdotal. Thus, even without historical evidence to say such, it is fairly certain that the presidency of the Sanhedrin was vested in the High Priest after the return from exile and through the Maccabean period  (see Isidore Loeb in "R. E. J." 1889, xix. 188-201; Jelski, "Die Innere Einrichtung des Grossen Synhedrions," pp. 22-28, according to whom the "nasi" was the high priest, while the "ab bet din" was a Pharisaic tanna)[67].

Honoring the High Priest:

Special honor was paid to the high priest: he was attended by three priests, one on his right, one on his left, and one holding up the breastplate that was adorned with precious stones. The high priest entered the Hekal (Holy Place) alone, and after the curtain was lowered, he prostrated himself and retired. The officer who waited in the vestibule, on hearing the sound of the bells on the hem of the high priest's garment, raised the curtain. After the high priest had left, the officer who acted as sagan entered the Hekal and prostrated himself; and on his retirement the other priests entered and followed his example. In case the high priest desired to offer the incense he was assisted by the officer and two attendants.

At the conclusion the priests bearing the five empty vessels—the basket, pitcher, ladle, spoon, and cover—used in the service of the altar, and those carrying the candlestick and incense, stood in line on the staircase of the vestibule, and, raising their hands as high as their shoulders, recited the priestly benediction.


The high priest then offered the libation of wine ("nesakim"). The officer stood in the corner with kerchief (flag) in hand, and two priests; with silver trumpets by the table, the cymbals meanwhile playing between them. The trumpeters sounded "tei'ah, teru'ah, tei'ah"; the high priest commenced the ceremony of the libation; the officer unfurled the kerchief; the cymbals clashed; and the Levites sang hymns accompanied by music. During the pauses the trumpet sounded "tei'ah," and the people in the 'azarah prostrated themselves; at every pause a tei'ah and a prostration. The order of the daily Psalms from Sunday to Saturday was as follows: Ps. xxiv., xlviii., lxxxii., xciv., lxxxi., xciii., xciv.J


The Sagan' (or Segen,' or Segan') would officiate for the High Priest when he was incapacitated. In general, he acted as his assistance and oversaw all the priests (thus, in Scripture he is called “second priest” (2 Kings 25:18; Jer 52:24) and in Talmudical writings the “Sagan of the priests”). The two Katholikin were to the Sagan what he was to the high-priest, though in some administrations, their chief duty dealt with the treasury.  Similarly, the seven Ammarcalin were assistants of the Katholikin, though they had special charge of the gates, the holy vessels, and the holy vestments.


There were three or seven assistants of the Ammarcalin called Gizbarin'. The title Gizbar' occurs as early as Ezra 1:8, but its exact meaning is unknown. They appear to have had charge of all dedicated and consecrated things, of the Temple tribute, and of the redemption money (also acting as judges in such).


Next in rank to these officials were the heads of each course on duty for a week (as below), and then the heads of the families of every course. After them followed fifteen overseers, including  the overseer concerning the times (who summoned priests and people to their respective duties), the overseer for shutting the doors (under the direction, of course, of the Ammarcalin), the overseer of the guards (or “captain of the Temple”), the overseer of the singers and of those who blew the trumpets, the overseer of the cymbals, the overseer of the lots (which were drawn every morning for assignments), the overseer of the birds (who had to provide the turtledoves and pigeons for those offerings),  the overseer of the seals (who dispensed the four counterfoils for the various meat-offerings suited for different sacrifices), the overseer of the drink-offerings, the overseer of the sick (the Temple physician),  the overseer of the water (who had charge of the water-supply and the drainage), and the overseer for making the showbread, ; for preparing the incense; for making the veils; and for providing the priestly garments.


All these officers had, of course, subordinates, whom they chose and employed, either for the day or permanently; and it was their duty to see to all the arrangements connected with their respective departments. Thus, not to speak of instructors, examiners of sacrifices, and a great variety of artificers, there must have been sufficient employment in the Temple for a very large number of persons.


The Mishnah (She. v. 1; comp. Maimonides, "Yad," Kele ha-Midash, vii. 1) records the names of one set of officers of the Temple during the 1st century:

Johanan b. Phinehas, in charge of the seals given in exchange for money to purchase sacrifices;

Ahijah, of libations;

Mattithiah b. Samuel, of allotments (i.e., the selection of priests for the day);

Pethahiah, of the nests of fowls (for sacrifices);

Ben Ahijah, of the health department (treating especially a disease of the bowels caused by the bare feet touching the cold marble pavement);

Neunya, of the digging of wells (for the pilgrims on the highways leading to Jerusalem);

Gebini (Gabinimus), of announcements (the Temple crier);

Ben Geber, of the gates (opening and closing them at designated times);

Ben Babi, of the wicks for the candlestick ("menorah");

Ben Arza, of the cymbals (leading the music of the Levites);

Hugras (Hugdas) b. Levi, of the musical instruments;

the Garmu family, of the preparation of the showbread;

the Abinas family, of the incense;

Eleazar, of the curtains; and

Phinehas, of the vestments.

The ceremonial of consecration, extending through an entire week (Ex. xxviii.; Lev. viii.), included certain rites which all priests were required to undergo: purification; the sacrifices; the "filling" of the hands; the smearing with blood. But Aaron the high priest was anointed with sacred oil, hence the title of the "anointed priest"; other passages have it that all priests were anointed (Ex. xxviii. 41, xxx. 30; Lev. vii. 36, x. 7; Num. iii. 3). The high priest's vestments of office, which he wore, during his ministrations, above those prescribed for the common priests, were: the "me'il," a sleeveless, purple robe, the lower hem of which was fringed with small golden bells alternating with pomegranate tassels in violet, red, purple, and scarlet; the Ephod, with two onyx-stones on the shoulder-piece, on which were engraved the names of the tribes of Israel; the breastplate ("oshen"), with twelve gems, each engraved with the name of one of the tribes; a pouch in which he probably carried the Urim and Thummim. His Head-Dress was the "minefet," a tiara, or, perhaps, a peculiarly wound turban, with a peak, the front of which bore a gold plate with the inscription "Holy unto Yhwh." His girdle seems to have been of more precious material than that of the common priests.

The Courses:

In the time of Moses, when the Temple services were first established, the priesthood was confined to Aaron and his immediate sons. But by the time of Samuel and David, that family had grown so large that they could not all officiate together at one time in the temple. Thus, Samuel and David divided the priests into twenty-four separate groups, which were called “orders” or “courses” (1 Chron. 24:1 ff). Each course had a title associated with it.

Before Solomon’s Temple was built David showed Solomon how to divide the Kohanic clans (the priests) and the Levites to a weekly watch (משמרת) and how they were to serve in the Temple (1 Chron. 24:1-26:32)[68]. Their duties involved offering the daily and Jewish holiday sacrifices, collectively known as the korbanot in Hebrew, and blessing the people in a ceremony known as nesiat kapayim ("raising of the hands"), the ceremony of the Priestly Blessing. The primary functional divisions (detailed below), included…

  • Priests
  • Priests' Assistants 
  • Singers 
  • Musicians 
  • Gatekeepers 
  • Keepers of the Treasure 
  • Officers and judges who were assigned outside responsibilities.

However, after the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and the Jews returned to Judea from exile (as above), they discovered that representatives of only four of the original twenty-four courses could still be organized (Ezra 2:36–39). Ezra divided the four available courses back into the former number with each course retaining its original name (regardless of the family that headed the new courses)[69]. The length of each course was 7 days beginning and ending on the Sabbath (2 Chron. 23:8). In addition, all the priests served for 3 extra weeks during the year (Deut. 16:16)[70]. As the service was subdivided among the various families which constituted a course, not every priest and Levite in a course served every day. But, when a course was on duty all its members were obliged to be present at the Temple. Also, the number of families in a course varied: the singers had only one family in each course (1 Chron. 25:7-31) whereas the other classes had up to 9 families in a course.

There were a great number of priests and Levites in the Temple at all times: since there were 24,000 priests and priests' assistants, 4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 musicians, we know that there were more than 1,300 Levites in the Temple at any given time (even  although not all of them were serving on the same day (1 Chron. 23:4-5).

The Duties of the Priests:

Before the break of the day, the priests on duty were ready and they assembled to cast lots to decide the assignment of the various daily tasks. It started with filling the lavers and preparing the altar. At about 9:00 am, they opened the gates and blew the silver trumpets to announce the commencement of the morning service. The service included slaying the sacrificial lamb, salting the sacrifice, trimming the lampstand, burning the incense, presenting the burnt offering and drink offering, blessing the people and blasting the silver trumpets. This was followed by the Psalm of the day, presented by the singers, accompanied by instrumental music.

Immediately after the morning service, the Israelites might bring in their private sacrifices and offerings. This might continue till near the time for the evening sacrifice, which was about 2:30 pm. The evening service was similar to the morning service. It ended at about 4:00 pm. At night, the priests kept watch about the innermost places of the Temple, including the inner court and the Temple itself. They also opened and closed all the inner gates.

On a Sabbath day, there were the weekly renewal of the showbread and an additional burnt offering of two lambs. Before the actual Sabbath commenced, the service of the new course of priests and Levites had already begun. After the evening service, the outgoing course handed over the keys of the sanctuary, the holy vessels, and everything else they had in charge to the new course. At sunset on Friday, the Sabbath began. Immediately followed was the renewal of the showbread. It had been prepared by the incoming course before the Sabbath itself, in one of the side chambers of the Temple. Although the service of the incoming priests had begun, that of the outgoing had not yet completely finished. In fact, the outgoing priests offered the morning sacrifice on the Sabbath (Saturday morning), and then the incoming course performed the evening sacrifice. Both courses spent the Sabbath in the Temple. The Sabbath service was the same as on other days, except that at the close of the morning sacrifice two additional lambs were offered, along with its appropriate meal and drink offerings (Numbers 28:9-10). When the Sabbath was over, the outgoing course left the Temple and parted from each other with a farewell.

The Duties of the Priests' Assistants:

Of the various classes of Levites, the priests' assistants were the most numerous. They were in subordination to the priests. It was their duty to look after the sacred garments and vessels, the storehouses and their contents. They prepared the showbread, the meal offerings, and the spices. In general, they were to assist the priests in their work, to clean the sanctuary, and to take charge of the treasuries (tithes).

The Duties of the Gatekeepers and Guards:

The gatekeepers assumed the responsibilities of policing the Temple and guarding the outer gates and the storehouse, day and night. The laws of Levitical cleanness were most rigidly enforced upon worshippers and priests. If a leper, or anyone who was defiled had entered into the Temple area, or any priest officiated in a state of uncleanness, he would be dragged out and killed.

A strict watch over the Temple was maintained, the guard being composed of three priests and twenty-one Levites. The priests were stationed one at the Chamber of the Flame ("Bet ha-Nio"), one at the Chamber of the Hearth ("Bet ha-Moed"), and one at the Chamber (attic) of Abtinas. The Levites kept guard as follows: one at each of the five gates of the mount entrances; one at each of the four corners within the mount enclosure; one at each of the five important gates of the courts; one at each of the four corners within the court; one at the Chamber of Sacrifice; one at the Chamber of Curtains; and one behind the "Kapporet" (Holy of Holies). The captain of the guard saw that every man was alert, chastising a priest if found asleep at his post, and sometimes even punishing him by burning his shirt upon him, as a warning to others (Mid. i. 1).

The priests were divided into twenty-four patrols ("mishmarot"), which were changed every week. The patrol was quartered partly in the Chamber of the Flame and principally in the Chamber of the Hearth, both of which were on the north side of the inner court ("'azarah"). The latter chamber was a capacious one, surmounted by a dome. Half of the chamber extended outside the court to the "el," a kind of platform surrounding the courts, which was considered as secular, in contrast to the sacred premises within, where the priests were not allowed to sit down, much less to sleep. A fire was always kept burning in the outer extension, at which the priests might warm their hands and bare feet. Here also they might sit down and rest for a while. At night the elder priests slept here on divans placed on rows of stone steps one above another. The younger priests slept on cushions on the floor, putting their sacred garments under their heads and covering themselves with their secular clothing (Tamid. i. 1). The elder priests kept the keys of the Temple, putting them at night under a marble slab in the floor; to this slab a ring was attached for lifting it. A priest watched over or slept on the slab until the keys were demanded by the officer in the morning.

The Duties of the Singers and Musicians:

The singers and musicians were selected and set apart to their assigned function. There were a total of 288 singers (1 Chron. 25:7-31) and 4,000 musicians (1 Chron. 23:5). They were also divided into 24 courses. Therefore each course had 12 singers and more than 160 musicians. Unlike the singers, the 160 musicians came from several families. The ministry was subdivided among the families, and only one family of 20 to 30 musicians accompanied the 12 voice choir.

The real service of praise in the Temple was only with the voice. The instrumental music served only to accompany and sustain the song. The musical instruments used were mainly the Nevel (harp) and the Kinnor (lyre). The silver trumpets used in the Temple, blown by priests only, were not part of the instrumental music, but were intended for assembling Israel to worship at the Temple. The other musical instrument mentioned was the cymbal. But this "sounding brass" and "tinkling cymbal" also formed no part of the Temple music itself, and served only as the signal to begin that part of the service.

The Levite choir offered praises in the morning and evening services. They were trained in singing and were free from other duties.


In the courts were thirteen contribution-boxes in the shape of shofarim (ram’s horn), with narrow necks and broad bases (She. vi.). The half-shekel contribution or tithe for public sacrifices (and other services) was demanded on the first of Adar and was payable by the twenty-fifth of the same month (ib. i. 1, 3). There was a special room, called "Lishkat ashsha'im" (Secret Chamber), for anonymous donations, out of which fund the worthy poor were supported. People tossed donations into the Vessel Chamber at itsf silver and gold vessels. Every thirty days this chamber was opened by the cashiers; who selected such vessels as could be utilized in the Temple, the rest being sold and the proceeds applied to a fund for repairing the Temple building ("bede, ha-bayit"; ib. v. 4).


An eyewitness offers us a glimpse into the primary function of the temple – sacrifice to the Lord.

“The whole of the floor is paved with stones and slopes down to the appointed places, that water may be conveyed to wash away the blood from the sacrifices, for many thousand beasts are sacrificed there on the feast days. And there is an inexhaustible supply of water, because an abundant natural spring gushes up from within the Temple area. There are moreover wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, as they pointed out to me, at a distance of five furlongs all round the site of the temple, and each of them has countless pipes so that the different streams converge together. And all these were fastened with lead at the bottom and at the sidewalls, and over them a great quantity of plaster had been spread, and every part of the work had been most carefully carried out. There are many openings for water at the base of the altar which are invisible to all except to those who are engaged in the ministration, so that all the blood of the sacrifices which is collected in great quantities is washed away in the twinkling of an eye.” (“Letter of Aristeas”, date uncertain but cited by Jospehus).


The Roman historian Tacitus describes the Temple as "possessing enormous riches" (Hist. 5.8.1). Seven trustees ("amarkelim") and three cashiers ("gizbarim") had charge of the Temple treasury. Against the wall in the colonnade stood thirteen trumpet shaped chests, where contributions were made toward the upkeep of the temple. The chests were narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, so they looked like a trumpet. Coins could be thrown in, making a loud noise as they rolled around. Hence Jesus says not to sound a trumpet when giving alms (Mt 6:2). Each one was labeled for the different contributions:

The first nine were for the obligatory gifts. The first was for the half-shekel temple tax for the current year, and the second for last year’s temple tax. The third was for the money to buy the turtle doves used for the burnt offerings and sin offerings for women's purification after childbirth. For the sake of modesty, women gave the equivalent in money, then the offerings were all done together. Mary would have dropped her money in here for purification after the birth of Jesus (Lk 2:22-24). The fourth was for the offerings of young pigeons. The fifth, sixth and seventh were for  contributions for wood, incense and golden vessels used in the temple. The eighth and ninth were for the money left over after buying the sin and trespass offerings. The tenth to thirteenth chests were for voluntary gifts, for the money left over after buying offerings of birds, the Nazarite vow, for cleansed lepers, and for voluntary offerings.

It was in the treasury that Jesus taught on the Feast of Tabernacles, saying "I am the light of the world", and, "If you knew me you would know my Father also" (Jn 8:20). He also sat opposite the treasury and watched the crowd giving, the rich in their abundance, and the poor widow, who put in her last two small coins - the widow's mite (Mk 12:41).


What we might think of as the nation’s “Supreme Court”, the 71 member great Sanhedrin sat in the Chamber of Hewn Stone ("Lishkat ha-Gazit") on the extreme north of the priests' hall. Two tribunals of minor Sanhedrin, each composed of twenty-three members, sat one by the south gate of the mount and one in front of the hall on the north side. The judicial sessions were held from the morning sacrifice till that of the afternoon. On Sabbaths and holy days, to facilitate increased business, the major Sanhedrin sat outside on the el (Sanh. 88b), and the minor Sanhedrin assembled in the bet hamidrash situated on the mount (Tosef., ag. ii.).


“The Beit HaMikdash also served as the national archive and because so many nations occupied Israel the scribes took great care in fully preserving accurate genealogical records.” "Thought you would want to know" by Rabbi Ya'acov Farber, CMY Newsletter Vol. 9 No. 10 (Jun 10, 2004). People deposited family records, deeds, wills, and important possessions as we might in a “safe deposit box”. See “Ancient to Modern Jewish Classification Systems: An Overview from the Beit HaMikdash Temple Archive to H.A. Wolfson, G. Scholem, A. Freidus, D. Elazar, & LC”, by David B. Levy at http://www.jewishlibraries.org/ajlweb/publications/proceedings/proceedings2001/levydavidshort1.pdf.

Banking & Charity:

Pilgrims coming to Jerusalem would normally have foreign coins and needed to exchange their money for Temple shekels. (The coins of most realms were engraved with the figure of some leader and were unacceptable for use in the Temple). The central “bank” in Jerusalem was at the Temple in the royal portico. And, although we know that private money-changers worked from booths or tables around the Temple (and perhaps within its precincts[71]), banking was a long-standing institution of the Temple of greatest use to the Temple itself. In that, we find little distinction between the “bank” and the “treasury”. Early documents indicate that the Temple loaned money (although with the “jubilee” concept[72], where loans were forgiven in 49 year cycles, loans would also have to be cyclical). “Temple Cleansing and Temple Bank” by Neill Q. Hamilton, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 83, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 365-372.

It also appears that the Temple Treasury/Bank was involved in a variety of charitable endeavors, especially to the benefit of widows and orphans. “Then the high priest [Onias] told him [Heliodorus] that there was such money laid up for the relief of widows and fatherless children.” (2 Maccabees 3:10).


We know from NT references that instruction occurred within the Temple (John 7:14-31; Luke 2:39ff) and from other sources that “academies” were present within the Temple precincts. When we read of Jesus teaching in the temple (“heiron”) we know that it refers not to the Temple itself, but to one of the temple-porches or outer colonnades. “Word Studies in the New Testament”, Vol. I, Marvin R. Vincent, Hendrickson Publishers (1985) p.50. We also know that others (e.g. Hillel) used the Temple as the central academy of Judaism.


                                        Solomon’s Portico in Herod’s Temple (re-creation)


Entrance within the enclosure of the mount was permitted to any one who was decently attired and who carried no burden. Israelites when ritually unclean and Gentiles were not allowed to pass beyond the "soreg," a fence which surrounded the courts at a distance of ten cubits. The outer court, called "'Ezrat Nashim" (Women's Hall), was for the use of ordinary Israelites. The priests' hall was reserved for the priests and Levites; occasionally, however, men and women presenting sin-offerings, sacrifices on which they were required to place the hands ("semikah"), made use of it. At the festivals, to accommodate the large crowds, all Israelites were permitted to enterthe priests' hall, on which occasion the curtain of the vestibule was raised to show the people the interior of the "Hekal". The people, though tightly packed, were able to find sufficient space in which to prostrate themselves, this being one of the miracles associated with the Temple. The people crowded to within eleven cubits behind the Holy of Holies (Yoma 21a). The king when visiting the Temple had no rights beyond those of the ordinary Israelite; only the kings of the house of David were privileged to sit down in the 'azarah (Soah 41b; Tamid 27a).

Water-Supply & Bathing:

Another phenomenon was the water-supply. A spring rising below the Holy of Holies from an opening as narrow as the antennæ of a locust increased when it reached the entrance to the Hekal to the size of a warp-thread; at the entrance to the vestibule it assumed the size of a woof-thread; and at the house of David it became an overflowing brook (Yoma 77b, 78a). This spring is referred to in the passage "And behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house . . . at the south side of the altar" (Ezek. xlvii. 1, 2); it was the mysterious spring that filled the bath of Ishmael the high priest, situated by the attic of Abinas on the south of the court, at the water-gate. There was another bath, in a passage under the Chamber of the Hearth, for the use of any ordinary priest who might become ritually unclean. This was reached by a winding staircase. The priest, having bathed, dried himself by the fire; he then dressed and returned to his comrades above, with whom he waited until the gates were opened, when he left the 'azarah, being unfit for service till sunset of the same day.

Order of Service:

The order of the priests' daily service in the Temple was as follows: One of the priests arose early and bathed before the arrival of the officer, who usually came about cockcrow. The officer knocked at the door of the Chamber of the Hearth, and the priests opened it. He called for the priest who had bathed, and ordered him to decide by lot which of the priests should serve that day. The officer then took the keys and entered through the wicket ("pishpush") of the door to the 'azarah, followed by the priests who formed the patrol, each holding two torches. The patrol was divided into two sections; one going through the colonnade on the east, and one on the west, the sections meeting on the south side at the chamber where they prepared the "abittin" (the baked cake for the meal-offering). The priests now asked one another "Is all well?" and received the answer "All is well." The officer assigned by lot the making of the abittin. Similarly he selected a priest to clean the altar of ashes, his comrades uttering the warning: "Be careful not to touch the sacred vessels before thou sanctifiest [by washing] thy hands and feet at the laver; and see that the coal-shovel ["matah"] is in its place [near the "kebesh," the inclined plank or bridge leading to the altar]." Proceeding without any light save that of the pyre ("ma'arakah") on the altar, he disappeared below, and was next heard operating the machinery for raising the laver from the well. This consisted of a wooden wheel and shaft and a chain, a device designed by the high priest Ben aṭṭin. The noise caused by this operation fixed the time for washing hands and feet. The priest took the silver "matah" and ascended the altar; pushing the large coals aside, he took a shovelful of ashes and charred wood, and, descending, turned northward and deposited the ashes in a heap on the floor three handbreadths from the "kebesh," where also the ashes from the golden altar and the candlestick were placed. The authorities disagree as to the disposition of the ashes: some say they fell through a grate in the floor; others, that they were removed later. Observing his act, the priest's comrades hurried to wash their hands and feet at the laver. They then took large shovels ("magrefot") and made a heap ("tappua") of the ashes of the altar in the center, other priests meanwhile using flesh-hooks to place aside the portions of the sacrifices that had not been consumed during the night. When the heap of ashes was sufficiently large it was removed outside the city. The priests now brought pieces of all kinds of wood except olive and vine, and built a new pyre, on which they replaced the unconsumed portions of the sacrifices. For a second pyre, intended for the burning of incense, they selected the best fig-wood. Having lit the two pyres, they descended from the altars.

The Tamid Sacrifice:

The officer then ordered the priests to decide by lot who should slaughter the sacrificial victim, who should sprinkle the blood, who should clean the ashes from the golden altar and from the golden candlestick, and who should attend to the sacrifices in detail. This being done, the officer commanded: "Go ye and see if it is time to commence the sacrificial service!" Mounting to an eminence of the Temple, they looked toward the east, till at length one shouted, "Barai!" (the morning light has appeared). Mattithiah b. Samuel said they asked him, "Has the light in the east reached Hebron?" and he answered, "Yes." The mention of Hebron was made to honor the memory of the patriarchs buried there. The officer then said: "Go and fetch a lamb from the Chamber of the Lambs" (situated at the northeast corner of the 'azarah). The priests entered also the Vessel Chamber and took therefrom ninety-three vessels of silver and gold. The lamb was now examined by the light of torches to see whether it was free from blemishes; and water from a golden cup was given it to drink. The priest selected by lot then dragged the animal to the abattoir, north of the altar. Meanwhile other priests advanced with the "eni," a gold dish in the shape of a basket of a "tarab" measure; the "kuz," a gold pitcher; and two keys wherewith to open the Hekal, one from the outside and one from within through the wicket or lattice of a cell on the north side of the vestibule. The bolt was thrown back and the doors unlocked, causing a noise which was heard a long distance and which was the signal for the shoe to slaughter the perpetual morning sacrifice ("tamid shel shaarit.") at the abattoir, while the priest in the Hekal carefully gathered up all the ashes of the golden altar into the eni, put this on the floor, and went out. The priest with the kuz cleared the candlestick of ashes, leaving the two lights nearest to the east to burn till the evening. If he found them extinguished he renewed and relighted them, after which he trimmed the other lamps. In front of the candlestick were three marble steps, on the top one of which the priest stood to trim and light the lamps. When he had finished he put the kuz on the second step and went out. On the first step the tongs and snuff-dishes were placed (Maimonides, "Yad," Bet ha-Beirah, iii. 11). The eni was removed by the priest chosen to remove the ashes of the altar after the incense had been offered; the kuz, by the priest who in the afternoon attended to the two lights of the candlestick that had been burning all day.

The Abattoir:

The slaughter of the lamb occurred as follows: The front legs were bound to the hind legs, the head pointing south with its face toward the west. The shoe stood facing the west. The morning tamid was slaughtered at the northwest corner, that of the afternoon at the northeast corner, of the altar at the second ring. There were twenty-four rings, in four rows, fixed to the floor on hinges; in these the heads of the animals were held in position. The priest who received the blood in a basin stood facing the south. He sprinkled the blood on both sides of the northeast and south west corners of the altar. The removal of the hide and the dissection of the carcass were shared by the priests, and were followed by the meal-offering (Lev. vi. 13). This accomplished, the priests went to the Chamber of Hewn Stone. There the officer directed them to recite one benediction ("Ahabah Rabbah") and to read the Ten Commandments and the "Shema'," after which they blessed the people. On Sabbaths they blessed also with "love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship" the patrol that was about to go off duty.

The Incense Service:

Finally, the priests drew lots for the incense service, and the various assignments were made, only those who had not been previously selected being admitted to the ballot. The priests that were not to share in the service of the day now removed their priestly garments and then, having delivered them to an attendant who placed them in the proper lockers, dressed themselves in their secular clothes and retired from the 'azarah till their next turn.

During the sacrifice the Levites were at their stations on the steps leading to the priests' hall, and in front of the dukan; but they did not commence their music until the libation at the conclusion of the service. The musical instrument called the "magrefah," somewhat similar to the organ, stood between the altar and the vestibule. Its tones, which could be heard a long distance, were the signal for the priests to prostrate themselves: this took place after the incense-offering.

Based the growing population of Jews, David enlarged the number of vessels and furniture to be used in the Temple. For example, he designed not 1 lampstand, but 10, as well as 10 tables of showbread and 10 lavers. He also designed vessels that were unique to this Temple. He made special "carts" which transported the lavers from place to place within the Temple. The "brazen sea," a large reservoir of water resting on twelve oxen, was one of the wonders of the ancient world. This water was used by the priests to purify themselves before attending to their sacred duties.

The Temple Treasures and the Ark of the Covenant:

Throughout history the Jews have been blamed (wrongly) for many things and accused of plenty of misdeeds. But few, if any, have deemed them – as a people – stupid. Indeed, just the opposite has been the larger truth – the Jews have been known as forward thinking, intelligent, and wise. Thus, it would be highly unexpected for the Jews to be caught off-guard by something as large (and predictable) as the invasion and capture by the Babylonians, the Syrians, or the Romans. It is obvious to anyone that people who anticipate being killed or captured will hide their treasures and it is clear that some great treasures have been held and hidden by the Jews.

The mystery of the Ark of the Covenant and other Jewish treasures has been the fodder for books, movies, and legends. Their discovery remains one of the highest aspirations for archeologists and historians. Indeed, it is likely that the secret of their whereabouts has been lost entirely. There are a few tantalizing clues for those who would seek the treasures…

“It is also found in the records, that Jeremy the prophet commanded them that were carried away to take of the fire, as it hath been signified… when they see images of silver and gold, with their ornaments.  And with other such speeches exhorted he them, that… being warned of God, commanded the tabernacle and the ark to go with him, as he went forth into the mountain, where Moses climbed up, and saw the heritage of God.  And when Jeremy came thither, he found a hollow cave, wherein he laid the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door. And some of those that followed him came to mark the way, but they could not find it…As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time that God gathers His people again together, and receives them unto mercy.’ (II Maccabees 2:1-8).


Thus, Jeremiah the Prophet and Josiah the King appointed their most trusted friends with a divine mission:  to hide the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem in the Judean mountains. Those chosen for this secret operation were[73]:

                 Shimur HaLevi (the Levite), later the high priest (Ha Tzaddik) after the exile,

                Hezekiah whose identity is yet unknown,

                Zedekiah, son of King Jeconiah,

                Haggai (aka Chaggai) the Prophet, and

                Zechariah, the Prophet (son of Ido the Prophet).


Starting years before the first invasion by Nebuchadnezzar, these men secretly took large caches of sacred treasuries[74], including:

                ancient gold and silver vessels of the Temple, 

                ancient Temple furnishings including a golden table for showbread and altar of incense,

                the garment and vestments (sacred breast plate, Urim and Thummim) of the High Priest,

                the giant gold menorah,  a golden lampstand,

                the entire Mishkhan (the portable dwelling place for the divine presence),

                the Tabernacle of the Congregation,

                 Moses’ Ark of the Covenant, and

                the wealth of the treasures that were in Jerusalem,

to the well chosen caves and chambers where they could be preserved for future ages – particularly, the age of the Moschiach (Messiah).

The location of the treasures remains unknown, but the book of Deuteronomy gives us some good clues:

“And Moses went up from the plains of Moav to the peak (Pisgah) of Mount Nebo, facing Jericho, and God showed him all the land of Gil’ad, to Dan, and all of the Naftali, and the land of Efrayim and Manashe, and all the land of Yehudah, as far as the sea, and the Negev, and the plain; the Valley of Jericho, city of palms, as far as Zo’ar”.  Deut. 34:1-3


Mount Nebo in the land of Moab (now Jordan) has been identified with Jebel Nebah on the eastern shore and the northern end of the Dead Sea, five miles southwest of Heshbon. Its altitude and position offers a view of all of western Palestine including the plains of Moab.

Fortunately, those who hid the treasures didn’t rely solely upon word-of-mouth to record the secret location(s). Instead, the inventory of caches was documented in detail and preserved in mishnayots (records) called the Emeq HaMelekh (the “Valley of the Kings”). The record of this secret mission was carefully preserved in several engravings on copper scrolls (in bas relief inscription) and on white marble tablets (first discovered at Mount Carmel).


1 Kings 24:1213 – “Then Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his servants, his princes, and his officers went out to the king of Babylon; and the king of Babylon, in the eight year of his reign, took him prisoner.  And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and he cut in pieces all the articles of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said.”

As recorded in the Jerusalem Chronicle in the Nebuchadnezzar Tablet, we read

Jerusalem Chronicle – ‘Line 11 – In the seventh year (598/597 BCE), the month of Kislimu, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, -12 – and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king (Jehoiachin/Jeconiah); -13- He appointed there a king of his own choice (Zedekiah), received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon.”

Fate of Herod’s Temple:

During the reign of Agrippa II (52-66 CE), the Temple was to undergo renovations because its foundation had begun to sink. Importing huge timbers from Lebanon, Agrippa hoped to underpin the sanctuary and raise it up twenty cubits, but the war with Rome interrupted his work (War 5.1.5; 36). On behalf of the unemployed construction workers, whose jobs were terminated with the completion of the Temple, the people requested that Agrippa II allow the workers to raise the height of the east portico, which Josephus says was built by Solomon. No doubt, he means that the eastern wall that was pre-Herodian since Herod did not rebuild that part of the outer wall (Ant. 20.9.7; 219-22). Unfortunately, before these renovations could be completed, the Jewish revolt began.

Josephus tells us the details of the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE (shortened version):

The Romans routed the Jews and followed in hot pursuit right up to the Temple itself. Then one of the soldiers snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier's back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes. Crowded together around the entrances, many were trampled down by their companions; others, stumbling on the smoldering and smoked-filled ruins of the porticoes, died as miserably as the defeated. As the Roman soldiers drew closer to the Temple they pretended not even to hear Titus' orders and urged the men in front to throw in more firebrands.

Titus assumed correctly that there was still time to save the structure and so he ran out and by personal appeals he endeavored to persuade his men to put out the fire, instructing Liberalius, a centurion of his bodyguard of lancers, to club any of the men who disobeyed his orders. But their respect for Caesar and their fear of the centurion's staff who was trying to check them were overpowered by their rage, their detestation of the Jews, an uncontrolled lust for battle, and by the expectation of loot (convinced that the interior was full of money and dazzled by observing that everything around them was made of gold).

When the flames suddenly shot up from the interior, Caesar and his generals withdrew and no one was left to prevent those outside from kindling the blaze.  The attackers plundered it and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance. The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives.

Later… The countryside like the City was a pitiful sight; for where once there had been a lovely vista of woods and parks there was nothing but desert and stumps of trees. No one - not even a foreigner - who had seen the Old Judea and the glorious suburbs of the City, and now set eyes on her present desolation, could have helped sighing and groaning at so terrible a change; for every trace of beauty had been blotted out by war, and nobody who had known it in the past and came upon it suddenly would have recognized the place: when he was already there he would still have been looking for the City.

Hopes of rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple were dashed under the Emperor Hadrian when he had the Old City plowed up to make way for a new Roman city named Colonia Aelia Capitolina to be built.

Josephus' (Book V) account appears in: “Josephus, The Jewish War “ by Gaalya Cornfield, Ed. (1982); note “History of Rome”, Vol. V by Victor Duruy (1883); "The Romans Destroy the Temple at Jerusalem, 70 AD," EyeWitness to History at www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2005). Nota also http://www.templemount.org/destruct2.html#anchor621509


Other Jewish Temples:

Of course, there were sites other than “temples” where Jews worshiped. We have discussed the major sites where Jewish altars were erected, some form of High Priest was present, and sacrifices were offered to Yaweh. There are a few others that we should mention.

First would be the Qumran community where we know they opposed the Jerusalem Temple and its priesthood. It is unlikely that they would not have arranged some alternative way to worship and sacrifice, albeit in a more ancient manner with a tabernacle and smaller shrine. Given the presence of priests and possible even a legitimate High Priest (in exile), they would have viewed this as a duty.

Next would be the “Temple at Tyre” (near Heshbon or Araq el-Emir, 17km west of Amman in Jordan) built by Hyrcanus bar Joseph, the Tobiad[75], during the period that Onias III was in exile (Josephus Ant.  12:4).  We know from Josephus that Joseph bar Tobias (the Benjamite opponent of Onias III) borrowed a large sum (20,000 drachmae) from his “friends in Samaria” (Ant. 12:4) before going to Ptolemy, thus supporting  the likelihood that an “old Tobiad-Samaritan association persisted." "Jewish Shrines of the Hellenistic and Persian Periods" by E. F. Campbell, (Cambridge, MA 1979), pp. 162-63. Josephus reported that Hyrcanus had an army of 2,000 before he built his fortress in the TransJordan and warred against the Arabs of the region (Ant. 12.4.11; 230-36). The fortress/temple was two-storied (125 feet long, 62 feet wide, and 40 feet high), had greater than usual courts, was composed of white marble decorated with large images of animals, and was surrounded by a moat and other extensive waterworks. As with the Qumranians, it is unlikely that this substantial group of Jews (2,000?) at Tyre, which could not go to Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim, would forego ritual sacrifice. See http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/ntintro/ intest/Hist1.htm. Hyrcanus never finished this facility and after he committed suicide in 175 BCE, it was taken over by Antiochus.



Links & Resources:


                                                                                The Miskan or "dwelling place”   



[1] Kohanim are also called Levites.  Non-Kohen Levites (i.e. all those who descended from Levi, the son of Jacob, but not from Aaron) performed a variety of non-priestly Temple roles, including Shechita, song service by use of voice and Musical instruments, and various tasks in assisting the Kohanim in performing their service. Most religious services (i.e. the Korbanot) could only be conducted by Kohanim.

[2] Hiram, King of Tyre, supplied cedar wood and cypress wood; 70,000 men were employed in transporting wood from Joppe (Jaffa) to Jerusalem and 80,000 more in quarrying stone. The splendid monument was completed, as to its essential details, in seven years and a half, and with great pomp the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the City of David to the new sanctuary (2 Samuel 6).

[3] All of which had been restored by Cyrus the Great.

[4] In the Flinders Petrie dig of 1905/6, he identified remains of this temple.

[5] Actually there had already been a Jewish Temple at Elephantine a century or so after the time of Isaiah.

[6] The “abomination of desolation” referenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[7] Also called Jacimus, or Joachim (άκειμος); Alcimus is from the Greek Alkimos (λκιμος), "valiant" or Hebrew Elyaqum, "God will rise". 

[8] Because of conflicting historical references and the dispute over the high priesthood, there is some question of whether or not Alcimus actually held the title of High Priest. Thus, the listing of Jewish High Priests for this period varies or is incomplete. Alcimus died in 161 BCE - while the wall of the Temple that divided the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Israelites was being torn down.

[9] For a start, I recommend the following: “On The Location of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem” by Lambert Dolphin and Michael Kollen available at http://www.templemount.org/theories.html, “The Jerusalem Temple and the New testament” at http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/ntintro/jerusaltempl4.htm, “Herod’s Mighty Temple Mount” by Meir Ben-Dov, BAR 12:06, Nov/Dec 1986, and http://www.templemountonline.com for Temple related general archeological information.

[10] “The Temple faces the east and its back is toward the west. The whole of the floor is paved with stones and slopes down to the appointed places so that water may be conveyed to wash away the blood from the sacrifices (for many thousands of beasts are sacrificed there on the festival days). There is an inexhaustible supply of water because an abundant natural spring gushes up from within the temple area. There are also wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, [] and each of them has countless pipes so that the different streams converge together. These were fastened with lead at the bottom and at the sidewalls and over them a great quantity of plaster had been spread. [] There are many openings for water at the base of the altar which are invisible to all except to those who are engaged in the ministration so that all the blood of the sacrifices which is collected in great quantities is washed away in the blink of an eye.” Letter of Aristeas (~ 250 BCE), adapted from R.H. Charles (1913).

[11] Given the historical record (Josephus) regarding Pilate’s raiding of the Temple Treasury to build (re-build?) an aqueduct to the city and the Temple, we can hardly deny the feasibility of such. The presence of ancient pools and the many ritual baths around the Temple bespeak an abundant availability of water (although it may not have been refreshed as often as we might think). But it was the washing away of blood that required the most water and we should appreciate the elaborate system that must have existed to process the vast quantities of carcasses resulting from a festival day’s sacrifice of (tens of ?) thousands of animals.

[12] There continues to be a long existing debate regarding the Torah and Book of Joshua between Samaritans and Judeans. For a starting point on that debate, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan_Torah. It is also significant that the Samaritans reject the Judean Talmud and have developed their own body of post-biblical law and tradition called “hillukh”. (The Karaites have done similarly, calling theirs “sevel ha-yerushah” (the burden of tradition)).

[13] Cyrus died and was replaced by Bardiya, then Darius I, followed by Xerxes I ('Ahasuerus') and then Artaxerxes.

[14] “Does anyone remember this house--this Temple--in its former splendor? How, in comparison, does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all!” (Hag. 2:3; Ezra 3:12).

[15] For a good general refence in this area, I suggest “Archaeology and Bible History” by Joseph P. Free, Howard F. Vos, Zondervan (1997), especially chapter 22).

[16] Esther, a Jewress, became Queen of Persia with King Ahasueraus (Xerxes). She was unable to convince him to permit the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, but when her husband died she convinced her son Darius to let the Jews rebuild the Holy Temple. (Book of Esther,

[17] Sanballat the Horonite was a very wealthy and opulent contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah bar Hachaliah was probably a resident of Hawara (Horon - located near Mt. Gerizim) before he was taken into exile. While in exile, he became “cup-bearer” (or perhaps the eunuch mentioned in Esther) for Artaxerxes.

[18] The primary offense was that the Jews failed to separate themselves from the impure Gentiles and their idolatry.

[19] This proved fateful for the Judeans because in 410 BCE, Manasseh’s younger brother became High Priest.  Johanan was a wicked man, having murdered his brother Jesus (who had been promised the High Priesthood) in the Temple precincts to secure that position. Artaxerxes II's general Bagoses forbid Johanan to enter the temple and commanded the Jews be charged a tribute and the temple dismantled. Another brother, Manasseh, built the Samaritan temple.

[20] There is linguistic evidence that the Samaritan Torah was rewritten at about this time – perhaps as a direct response to the destruction of their Temple.

[21] As well as the fact that the Temple tribute was collected in Egypt with no less punctuality than in Palestine. (Philo, de monarch. ii. 3).

[22] “The Jews of Egypt: from Rameses II to Emperor Hadrian” by Joseph Modrzejewski, Jewish Publication Society, (1995), p.128; but compare m. Menah. 13:10.

[23] We might also recall that over 1 million Jews lived in Egypt – more than in Palestine. In the 1st century, more Jews lived in Alexandria than in Jerusalem.

[24] Since Jerusalem was under Syrian control, the tribute to Ptolemy made little sense.

[25] An administrative position instead of a priestly one – remember the Temple was more than a religious institution.

[26] The commissioner controlled such things the price of goods and public employment – acting effectively as mayor of Jerusalem.

[27] “In the treasuries of Jerusalem are stored many thousands of private deposits, not belonging to the temple account, and rightfully the property of King Seleucus.” (IV Mac. 2:19).

[28] Joseph had seven sons by his first wife but then married the daughter of his Alexandrian brother Solymius. Their son, Hyrcanus, was his father's favorite and primary heir.

[29] 440 talents of silver and other bribes.

[30] “He induced the noblest of the young men to wear the Greek hat.”

[31] The Roman concessions had been secured under the leadership of Onias by John, the father of Eupolemus, who had travelled to Rome and established friendship and alliance with the Romans.

[32] By three hundred talents of silver.

[33] Seleucus' true heir, Demetrius, was still a hostage in Rome.

[34] Josephus also makes it clear that the death of Onias III was a fact of historical importance: As a result, not only the Jews, but many people of other nations as well, were indignant and angry over the unjust murder of the man. It’s said that the Greeks and Jews told Antiochus IV about this and that the king wept in memory of the noble Onias and had Andronicus led around the city and put to death in the same spot Onias was killed.

[35] Josephus (Ant., XII, v, 1) says that "on the death of Onias the high priest, Antiochus gave the high-priesthood to his brother Jesus (Jason)," but the account of 2 Macc given above is the more probable and is followed herein.

[36] Antiochus (III) knew that the Romans would not permit him to keep the lands taken during his attack in 200 (and victory at Panium 198 BCE), so he told them that he wanted to make peace with Ptolemy (V) and offered the marriage of his daughter Cleopatra (I) as a showing of good faith.

[37] The Ptolemy and Seleucid families had been at war almost continuously since the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. See the Syrian Wars… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_Syrian_War.

[38] The sons of Onias Chelkias ben Onias and Ananias ben Onias, performed military service and acted as generals under Cleopatra III.

[39] There were two ancient cities named Leontopolis in Egypt and a nome named Leontopolites (the 11th nome). They are often confused by historians. The nome of Leontopolites was the site of the City of Onias and the Temple. However, Ptolemy mentions “Onias” as the capital of the Heliopolite Nome. See “A Dictionary of the Bible” by Sir William Smith, S.S. Scranton & Co. (1898) under “Onias”.

[40] Abram was born in Ur, but traveled to Egypt and married Hagar, the daughter of a Pharaoh (Gen. 16). Among his sons were Ishmael and Isaac (or Yitzchak in Hebrew) – the father of the Jewish people and grandfather of Jacob (aka Yisrael or "Israel"), the father of Joseph/Yosef).  

[41] Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery by his jealous brothers, but managed to become the most powerful man in Egypt next to the Pharaoh. He married Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah the Priest of On. He brought the “sons of Israel” down to Egypt, where they settled in the Egyptian country called “Goshen” (Gen. 31; 41ff).

[42] Moses was adopted as a foundling by the Egyptian royal family near Rameses/Tanis, where the exodus began.

[43] Cellaring, Shaw, and others, suppose it to be the region around Heliopolis, not far from the modern Cairo, whereas Bryant places it in the Saitic Nome. But most modern interpreters agree that it was the part of Egypt eastward of the Delta. Josephus evidently reckons Heliopolis to Goshen (Ant. ii. 7:6) and the Septuagint version of Exodus (1: 11) lists the cities built by the Israelites including On. Dictionary of the Holy Bible By Augustin Calmet, Crocker and Brewster, 1832, pp. 464, 714.

[44] Alexander the Great, on his march from Pelusium to Memphis, visited Heliopolis (Arrian, iii. 1).

[45] Although most of the obelisks were removed (London, Paris, and New York) one still stands where it did thousands of years ago and is known today as the Pillar of On.

[47]Il tempio di Leontopoli in Egitto: Identità politica e religiosa dei Giudei di Onia” by Livia Capponi, Pubblicazioni della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Università di Pavia 118, (2007).  

[48] Today's use of the Greek Nome rather than the Egyptian term Sepat came about during the Ptolemaic period.

[49] Eustathius of Thessalonike (probably citing Stephanus of Byzantium) (12th century) reported that Leontopolis was even an alternative name for Alexandria. See “Notes on the Temple of Onias at Leontopolis” by Abraham Wasserstein, Illinois Classical Studies Vol. 18 (1993), p. 126.

[50] This Heliopolis was well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, being noted by most major geographers of the period, including: Ptolemy, iv. 5. § 54; Herodotus, ii. 3, 7, 59; Strabo, xvii. p. 805; Diodorus, i. 84, v. 57; Arrian, Exp. Alex. iii. 1; Aelian, H. A. vi. 58, xii. 7; Plutarch, Solon. 26, Is. et Osir. 33; Diogenes Laertius, xviii. 8. § 6; Josephus, Ant. Jud. xiii. 3, C. Apion. i. 26; Cicero, De Natura Deorum iii. 21; Pliny the Elder, v. 9. § 11; Tacitus, Ann. vi. 28; Pomponius Mela, iii. 8. The city also merits attention by the Byzantine geographer Stephanus of Byzantium.

[51] Who was also worshiped with Shu as a pair of lions in Leontopolis.

[52] The group of nine gods that embodied the creative source and chief forces of the universe.

[53] These ruins are situated southwest of Tanis to the east of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile. The tombs at Bubastis were the principal depository of the mummies of various feline deities.  On the north side of the city, Pharaoh Neco’s Great Canal (between the Nile and the Red Sea) began. In 352 BCE, Bubastis was taken by the Persians who dismantled its walls. Significant ruins would have remained.

[54] According to James Strong, the town of Onias was probably only twelve miles distant from Heliopolis in a northerly direction, but a little to the eastward. “Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature”, Volume 7 by James Strong (1894).

[55] On (or Onion by Ptolemy) was also known as Heliopolis (where Moses was from). In Genesis (41:45 and 46:20) it is known as “Beth Shemesh” - the temple or city of the sun. Jeremiah (43:13) also agrees with the Egyptian name.

[56] The so called Babylon Fortress was an ancient fortress city located in the area known today as Coptic Cairo. It was situated in the Heliopolite Nome near the commencement of the Pharaonic Canal (also called Ptolemy's Canal and Trajan's Canal) which linked it with the Red Sea. The fort was expansive with forty foot high outer walls, two monumental gates, a moat, and a very successful port (taxes for river traffic and use of the canal were collected there). The fort's name has been a matter of controversy - the dominant is that the name was a corruption of the ancient Egyptian “per-hapi-n-On” (House of the Nile of On). See “Fort Babylon In Cairo” by Jimmy Dunn at http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/babylon.htm.

[57] Other masonry material came from an immense stone wall of an ancient Hyksos cam which was close to the Onias settlement. See “Hyksos and Israelite Cities” by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, John Garrow Duncan, British School of Archaeology University College, London (1906) – the definitive archeological work on the area.

[58] “The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge” by Johann Jakob Herzog, Philip Schaff, Albert Hauck (1901), pp. 458-59.

[59] The intensely jealous Judeans altered “cheres” to “heres” to make “city of the sun” read “the city of destruction”. There is an issue regarding the timing of the related references – whether the reference was written before Onias came to Egypt or afterwards.

[60] An eight day celebration of songs and sacrifices.

[61] We don’t know how well Physcon distinguished Alexandrian from Oneon Jews, but we do know that but both Chelkias and Ananias, the sons of Onias, performed military service and acted as generals under Cleopatra III. (117-81; "Ant." xiii. 10, § 4). Thus, it is reasonable to assume that Onias did not suffer the same disfavor as most Alexandrian Jews.

[62] Although termed “the Babylonian”, this was an incorrect reading or misunderstanding – he was from Egypt.

[63] Josephus says that the Onias Temple had existed "343 years" at the time of its destruction, but it is clear that the text is corrupt and should have said 243 years (War, 7:10, 4).

[64] Scripture stated emphatically that every new high priest must be anointed and commands that the official garments worn by his predecessor shall be worn by the new incumbent while he is anointed and during the seven days of his consecration (Lev. 21:10; Ex. 29:29ff; Comp. Num. 20:28; Ps. 133:2).

[65] One could succeed as High priest via a collateral line only if the minimal fitness requirements were fulfilled (ib. 20; Ket. 103b; Sifra, edoshim).

[66] The High Priest was distinguished by the fact that his sins were regarded as belonging also to the people (Lev. iv. 3, 22) and on the Day of Atonement, he atoned for both his house and for the people (Lev. xvi.).

[67] There was an obvious exception during the reign of Salome Alexandra and the circumstances were much different under the Romans.

[68] When the Temple existed, most services (i.e. the korbanot) could only be conducted by kohanim. Non-kohen Levites (i.e. all those who descended from Levi, the son of Jacob, but not from Aaron) performed a variety of other Temple roles, including washing the hands and feet of the kohanim before services.

[69] As examples, Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) belonged to the Abijah course. Josephus, the Jewish historian, was also a priest of the Jehoiarib course.

[70] Since the Jewish calendar had only 51 weeks in a year and each of the 24 courses served twice a year plus 3 weeks they all served, their schedule filled a normal year. However, every 2 or 3 years there is a leap year which adds a leap month. We don’t know how these extra days were handled.

[71] It is from the “heiron” or the court of the Gentiles that Jesus expelled the money-changers and merchants. See “The Temple Mount and Fort Antonia” at http://www.askelm.com/temple/t980504.htm.

[72] At the end of each seven year cycle and of seven Sabbatical years (“Shmita”), a collection of scriptural laws were applied. Lev. Ch. 25) whereby slaves would be liberated, land is left to lie fallow, and personal debts which are due during that year are considered nullified and forgiven. See also Ex. 23:10-11; Deut. 15:1-6.

[73] Other names found within these Mishnahs include: Ezra the Cohen (priest) the scribe, Hilkiyah the Scribe (Mishnah 7), Beruch ben (son of) Neriah with Zidkiyah (Mishnah 9 and 10), and Hiluk, the son of Shimur HaLevi (Mishnah 12). 

[74] See http://www.templemount.org/TMTRS.html

[75] These Tobiads were probably associated the servant mentioned by Nehemiah as an Ammonite (Neh. 2: 19) who consequently came from the Transjordan area and with the Tubieni, who were the enemies of the Jews. “Juden und Griechen vor der Makkabäischen Erhebung” by Hugo Willrich, Göttingen (1895), pp. 64–107. II Macc. 12:17; I Macc. 5:13.


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