There is a series of steps at the southern end of the Temple Mount called the “Southern Steps.” The astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon and he came to Jerusalem. He was being shown around Jerusalem by the mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek. They go to the southern steps that led up to the Temple and the Huldah Gate and Armstrong began to cry. Mayor Kollek asks him if there was something wrong and why was he crying, and Armstrong said, “You have no idea. Of all the places I have ever stood, this is the most significant.” That is the feeling people had when they came to the Temple (and in this case, only the remains of it).
You can see the Huldah passageways from these steps. In Acts 3.2 we have the story of a healing that took place there. A man was sitting at the gate called Beautiful and this was the Huldah Gate where people entered the Temple. Peter heals him, and he entered the Temple with him walking up the very stairs that have been found. There are pictures on the Internet of the Huldah Gate and you can see why they called it that because it is very ornate. We know this was the gate because they were entering the Temple and after he was healed, they continued on into the Temple, so they weren’t in yet.
After going into the gate there was a southern stoa called the Royal Portico. It was a covered portico and the eastern 1/3 was the second headquarters for the Sanhedrin, after they moved out of the Lishkat Ha Gazit (Chamber of Hewn Stone). They could not give a death sentence there because that could only be done in the Lishkat Ha Gazit. The western 2/3 was called the Bazaars of Chanan, the Annas of the Gospels. This is where Yeshua drove out the moneychangers. If you walked down to the extreme eastern corner of this stoa you would come to what was called “The Pinnacle of the Temple.” This was where Ha Satan took Yeshua and told him to cast himself down from. This is the southeastern corner. At the other end of this stoa, the southwestern corner, you will have the “Place of Trumpeting” to announce the Sabbath and the festivals. They have actually found the trumpeting stone with an inscription on it for the “place of trumpeting” as well as the corner piece the stone fit into at the base of the southwestern corner after excavating there.
There was a stairway that went up to the southwest corner called “Robinson’s Arch.” Of course that wasn’t what they called it during Temple times but remnants of this stairway was found by Edward Robinson in 1838. This stairway is described in detail by Josephus. You will have two other gates at the southern end and they were the Huldah Gate passageways, otherwise known as the Beautiful Gate. Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15, Chapter 11, Paragraph 5 describes the Royal Stoa and says, “This cloister deserves to be mentioned better than any other under the sun; for while the valley was very deep, and it bottom could not be seen, if you looked from above into the depth, this farther vastly high elevation of the cloister stood upon that height, inasmuch that if anyone looked down from the battlements, or down both those altitudes, he would be giddy, while his sight could not reach to such an immense depth. This cloister had pillars that stood in four rows one over against the other all along, for the fourth row was interwoven into the wall, which also was built of stone; and the thickness of each pillar was such, that three men might, with there arms extended, fathom it around, and join their hands again, while its length was 27 feet, with double spiral at its base; and the number of all the pillars in that court was 162. Their capitals were made with sculptures after the Corinthian order, and caused an amazement to the spectators, by reason of the grandeur of the whole. These four rows of pillars included three intervals for walking in the middle of this cloister; two of which walks were made parallel to each other, and were contrived after the same manner; the breadth of each of them was 30 feet, the length was a furlong, and the height 50 feet; but the breadth of the middle part pf the cloister was one and a half of the other, and the height was double, for it was much higher than those on each side; but the roofs were adorned with deep sculptures of wood, representing many sorts of figures: the middle was much higher than the rest, and the wall of the front was adorned with beams, resting on pillars, that were interwoven into it, and that front was all of polished stone, insomuch that its fineness, to such as had not seen it, was incredible, and to such as had seen it, was greatly amazing.”
According to Josephus, the pillars in the Royal Stoa were gigantic. The capitals for these pillars would not fit into the bed of a pick-up truck. When you think of the Temple, think “big”, then think “bigger.” As you would continue into the Temple complex, you would come to the wall around the the 500 cubit x 500 cubit square called the Temple Mount. Then you came to the buildings that held the mikva’ot and the toilets. The Soreg was next and this was a wall several feet high, made of stone but cut with elaborate lattice work, right before the steps that led to the Chel. No foreigner could enter the inner courts and the Soreg was a warning. Some people think that the Soreg was instituted by the Rabbi’s but it was built in the Mishkan and the Temple by Solomon, an it was a literal interpretation of Num 15.1. During the time of the Hasmoneans, the stone Soreg was breached in 13 places to show their disdain for being restricted from entering. These breaches were repaired and when you passed by one of the places that was breached, you did a prostration and thanked God for delivering the people from those who did not follow the Lord The Soreg is usually described by the Rabbi’s as a wooden lattice fence. However, when they do it in paintings it is a stone fence and that is how it is described in Josephus. There would be no reason by the Syrian Greeks in the time of the Maccabee’s to make breaches in a wooden fence, they would just push it over. It had to be made of stone. We know at this time it was stone, with lattice work cravings made into the stone. It is a barrier which tells you you cannot go beyond this fence if you had corpse impurity or were a foreigner.
The word Soreg comes from the word “sarug” which means a “net” and this alludes to the pattern on the stone. It was two cubits high. There were signs on top the Soreg one cubit high written in Greek and Latin. Here is an important point about the Temple and the cubit. There were three cubit sizes used in the Temple. The 500 cubit x 500 cubit Temple Mount used the Royal cubit of 20.67 inches. The Court of the Women, the outer courts and coming up to the Chel a 19.2 inch cubit was used. Then there was the 6 handbreadth cubit of 23.04 inches.
Two of these Soreg warning signs have been found, one was still intact and it is in the Istanbul Museum. The other was just part of a sign and it is in the Israel museum. They were written in Greek for the non-Jews who didn’t read Hebrew, and for Jews from the Diaspora who didn’t read Hebrew or were aware of the protocol about not bringing a non-Jew inside. Paul was accused of doing just that in Acts 21.27-30. These two Soreg signs were written and worded exactly the way Josephus described them. The stone measured exactly 19.2 inches, the size of the cubit used in the outer courts. After you enter the Soreg, you come to the monumental stairway. We have discussed this before and how remnants of the stairway were photographed in 1870. Right after the photo was taken, the Moslems did some renovations on the Temple Mount and this stairway “disappeared.” A small retaining wall was built over the site on the photo, but we know exactly where it was. These stairs led up to the Chel, which was a stabilizing platform. There were 10 cubits between the last step of the Chel and the buildings. Another photo was taken looking the opposite direction, and you can see the top of the stairs and a pavement. This was the Chel of the Temple What is amazing when studying the Temple is that the Lord has provided the design and the measurements of the Temple in the Tanach, the Mishnah, Josephus, the Temple Scroll (part of the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 1800’s.
In Part 3 we will pick up and begin to talk about the Chel.