The Chel was a stabilizing platform. From the top of the last step there was 10 cubits to the building. It was also the common area of the inner courts. The word for “common” is “chol” and so you can see the relationship between “cho”l and Chel in Hebrew. The inner courts have a kedusha and they have a common area outside. Josephus said that there were 14 steps on the southern side, and the Mishnah says there were 12 steps on the eastern side. In Book 5 of “Wars of the Jews” Josephus says there were no steps on the western side. We know that there were only a few steps on the northern side because it has higher than the southern and eastern side.
10 cubits was allowed for the stairs, then 10 cubits of the Chel, then you can enter into the four corner buildings. It is only these four corner buildings that come out all the way to the Chel. Between the two corner buildings on each side was a plaza called the “Rehov” which means “plaza.” You have to go up some stairs at these points and Josephus described these as well.
There are 13 gates into the inner courts. Starting with the southwest corner, you have the Shaar Ha Elyon that was in the Beit Ha Otzrot; the Shaar Ha Delek (firewood brought through that gate). The Ark is under the chamber just west of this gate; Shaar Ha Bechorot; the Shaar Ha Mayim ran through Beit Avtinas. On the east you have the Shaar Ha Nicanor with two small doors on the north and south. Then starting in the northeast corner, we have the Shaar Ha Nitzotz that ran through the Beit Ha Nitzotz where a fire was kept in case the fire on the altar went out, and it was also called the Shaar Ha Shir (Song Gate) because the singers and musicians would go through that gate to get to the Duchan. Then we have the Shaar Ha Nashim where women would stand when their offerings were being done, also, priestly women would go into a building there to eat certain korbanot because they had a right to them, being kohanim. Then we have the Shaar Ha Korban where the korbanot were brought in. The Shaar Ha Yeconiah ran through the Beit Ha Moked and it was the gate that King Yeconiah was led through on his way to captivity. Of course this building was destroyed later by the Babylonians and rebuilt, but htat at least tells us that there was a building there in the First Temple. The two western gates had no names as far as we know (Middot).
The four corner buildings were 100 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 40 cubits high. At the southwest corner you had the Beit Ha Otzrot, which means the “House of the Treasuries.” The treasury for the Temple was there and it had storehouses and an armory, also guard chambers. The gate running through this building was called the Shaar Ha Elyon, or “upper gate.” However, it was also called the Shaar Ha Ratzim or “Gate of the Guards/Runners.” In the First Temple Period this building was known as the “Beit Yair Ha Levanon” or “House of the Forest of Lebanon.”
The southeast corner building was called the Beit Avtinas. We know more about this building than any other building in the Temple complex. It is named after the family that made the incense for the Temple in this building. The Sanhedrin met in the Lishkat Ha Gazit or “Chamber of Hewn Stone.” There were lockers for the kohanim to use when they took their street clothes off and put on their priestly garments after being interviewed by the Sanhedrin. We have the Beit Kior or “House of the Laver” there where the kohanim washed their hands and their feet. There was a chamber for the musicians and sleeping quarters in this building. A chamber for the High Priest was called the “Wood Chamber” because the of the elaborate wood working on the walls and ceiling. It was also called the Palhedrin, or Parhedrin, and it is really a derogatory name which means “politicians” because the High Priesthood was was “paid for” by those who wanted it and the money was given to the Romans (in other words a bribe). There were two families that were quite good at this in the last 100 years of the Temple that dominated the High Priesthood. Those two families were the the family of Boethus and the family of Chanan, the Annas of the Gospels and Acts. In order to get this money to pay the Romans, they had to extort money from the people by renting space to set up there booths to sell things associated with Temple worship and they overcharged the people in order to pay the fees that the families demanded so that they could bribe the Romans, and that is why Yeshua overturned the tables in the area called the “Bazaars of Chanan” (Annas) in and around the Royal Stoa. There was also a bakery in this building where the Chavitin bread was made and the Lishkat Ha Golah or the Returnees chamber.
In the northeast corner the building was called the Beit Ha Nitzotz which means “House of the Spark/Flame.” There was a fire in this building just in case the fire on the altar went out. They could process the hides from the korbanot here and there was a chamber called the “Beit Even” or House of Stone. The priest who would officiate in the Red Heifer ceremony was sequestered there for seven days so that he would not become ritually impure with corpse impurity. Stone cannot convey corpse impurity. The korbanot portions that needed to be rinsed were also taken into this building and rinsed, and there was a chamber for storing salt, which was also used on the hides mentioned earlier. On the roof the was a mikvah that was used by the High Priest on Yom Kippur.
In the northwest corner there was a building called the Beit Ha Moked. It had a dome on it called a “kippah” made of brass. In the southwest corner of this building they kept the lambs for the Tamid service. In the southeast corner there was a bakery for the Lechem Ha Pannim or “Bread of the Faces.” In the northwest corner there was a dorm for the kohanim called the “Lishkat Beit Ha Moked.” There was a fire in there for the priests to keep warm and they also slept in there. There was a mesibah (stairway) that went down to an underground tunnel where there was a mikvah and some restrooms. In the northeast chamber there was a place called the Chamber of Tokens. Antiochus Epiphanes IV of Chanukah fame desecrated the Temple altar by killing a pig on it. When the Maccabee’s came in and cleansed the Temple, they tore down that altar but they could not just throw away the stones because of kedusha. So, below this Chamber of Tokens they stored those stones and they are probably still down there even today. They were going to wait till the Messiah or Elijah came to tell them what to do with them.
Behind the Temple building itself there was a building called the Parbar (colonnade). Researchers just found out about this building a few years ago and it is mentioned in 1 Chr 26.18. As a result, they had to change the layout of the Temple buildings in the Azarah to make room for it. The building was full of columns in two sections. The sin offerings and trespass offerings of the community were on one side and the sin offerings and trespass offerings of the kohanim were on the other side.
Inside the Azarah there was a platform for the Levitical choir called the Duchan. The Ma’amad (standing men) stood in the Court of Israel, which was 135 cubits long and 11 cubits wide. Right in front of this court was a 1 cubit high step, then three half cubit steps on top of that, and that was the Duchan. At various spots you will have what is called Tashai Pispesin. These were along the walls to tell you when the kedusha was changing. They poked out of the walls like knobs. There was an inner portico that ran around the inner courts called the Achsadrah (Portico). The leading rabbinical authority on the Temple is a man called Rabbi Ariel. He believes that there was colored tiles on the floor also, along with the Rashai Pispesin, to tell you when the kedusha was changing.
The Altar had three ramps and the Altar itself was big enough to drive an 18 wheeler onto it. It was 61.44 feet on each side and 15 feet high. It had three fires going all the time and next to the Altar there was a place called the Beit Ha Mit B’Chaim” or “slaughter house.” The name means “The House to/or from life” because the Temple was a place of life, not death. The Beit Ha Mit B’Chaim had walls, with 24 rings to stabilize an animal, 8 tables and 8 flaying posts. But, there is much more to learn about this area. We think of a slaughtering area as death, but there is a whole different concept here. As we said before, everything, and we mean everything, associated with the Temple speaks of and teaches life. The word for the inner court was “Azarah” in Hebrew and it comes from the word “ezrecha” which means “to help” (Psa 20.2).
In Part 4 we will pick up here and begin to talk about the Altar ramps, called a “kevesh.”