Jerusalem in the Days of the Apostles
BACK in the first century C.E. Jerusalem was already an ancient city, with a recorded history from around 1943 B.C.E. That this city (also called Zion) existed in the days of the apostles of Jesus Christ was not a matter of chance. It was essential in order for the Messianic prophecies to be fulfilled.—Isa. 28:16; 52:7; Zech. 9:9.
Though situated over 2,500 feet above sea level, Jerusalem does not stand out from the surrounding hilly terrain. Only when one is quite close does one get a full view of the city.
Located on Israel’s central mountain range, Jerusalem has a pleasant climate. The nights are cool and the average temperature is about 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Mainly between November and April, Jerusalem gets a rainfall of about twenty-four inches.
In the days of the apostles the city of Jerusalem was less than a square mile in area. The steep valley walls on the east, south and west served as a part of the city’s defensive wall system. Only the north side lacked a natural defense, but there the constructed walls were especially strong.
The most important structure in Jerusalem was the temple, rebuilt by Herod the Great. Including all the courts, the temple area encompassed fifteen to twenty acres. The area could be entered through one of eight or ten gates. Four or five were on the west side, two or three on the south, and one each on the east and north. The eastern gate may have been the same as the “Beautiful Gate,” where Peter healed a man lame from birth.—Acts 3:1-10.
Colonnades occupied the outer perimeter of the temple area. The most impressive of these, the Royal Colonnade on the south, consisted of 162 tremendous pillars with Corinthian capitals. It took three men with outstretched arms to reach around one of them. The pillars were arranged in four rows, with three aisles, and supported a carved wooden ceiling. The outer walkways were about fifty feet high, but the middle one was higher, for the roof was raised in the center. The colonnades on the east, north and west consisted of two rows of marble pillars that likewise supported a ceiling. It was in the sheltered area of the colonnade of Solomon, on the east, that Jesus and his disciples on various occasions made known God’s truth.—John 10:22-24; Acts 3:11; 5:12.
The immediate area surrounded by colonnades was the Court of the Gentiles. Being readily accessible through a number of gates, it became a thoroughfare. Instead of going around the temple area, people would pass through the Court of the Gentiles, carrying vessels as they went about life’s daily routine. Also in this court or in the Royal Colonnade, money changers set up their tables and others sold sacrificial animals. Jesus Christ, however, did not approve of using any part of the temple area as a thoroughfare or a place for business transactions. On two occasions he put a stop to such things.—Matt. 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17; John 2:13-16.
As a person passed through the Court of the Gentiles from the south, he came to a stone barrier having openings at various intervals. This stone barrier was about four and a half feet high. Atop this barrier were large stones bearing an inscription in Greek and Latin that warned Gentiles not to pass, on pain of death. Thus this wall fenced off Jew from Gentile.—Compare Ephesians 2:14.
The next court, the Court of Women, was fourteen steps higher than the Court of the Gentiles. This was the court that Jewish women could enter for worship. Here were the treasury chests, into which were dropped contributions for the sanctuary.—Luke 21:1-4.
From the Court of Women, ceremonially clean Israelite males entered the Court of Israel. Fifteen large semicircular steps led up to this court, with its storage chambers against the outside wall.
The court having the greatest sanctity was the Court of Priests, encompassing the temple sanctuary itself. Here were found the molten sea and the altar of burnt offering.
The sanctuary itself was situated twelve steps above the Court of Priests. Golden doors, measuring some eighty feet high and twenty-three feet wide, closed the entrance. The front of the building was wider than the back, with wings extending approximately twenty-nine feet on each side. Chambers were built on the sides of this structure, and an upper chamber was located over both the Holy and the Most Holy. The inside of the Holy was about fifty-eight feet long and about twenty-nine feet wide, and the Most Holy was about twenty-nine feet square. The entire structure was built of white stone and beautified with panels of gold.
CASTLE OF ANTONIA
Near the temple area, at the northwest corner, was the Castle of Antonia. It occupied a rocky eminence about seventy-three feet high. Its stone walls rose to a height of more than fifty-eight feet. At each of the castle’s four corners there was a tower. Three of these were about seventy-three feet high. The fourth, located at the southeast corner, rose to a height of over one hundred feet and overlooked the entire temple area. The Roman garrison was stationed at the Castle of Antonia.
A passageway connected the castle with the temple area. This enabled Roman soldiers to act quickly in putting down disturbances there. That evidently explains why Claudius Lysias and a group of his soldiers were able to rescue the apostle Paul from an enraged mob just “outside the temple.”—Acts 21:30-32.
Some believe that within a central court of the Castle of Antonia, Jesus Christ appeared before Pilate for judgment. A stone pavement in this area may have been the Gabbatha referred to at John 19:13. But it could be that an open area in front of Herod’s palace, west of the temple area, was the site of Jesus’ judgment.
POOL OF BETHZATHA
Near the Sheep Gate, likely to the north of the temple area, was the pool of Bethzatha with its five colonnades. It was there that Jesus Christ healed a man afflicted with sickness for thirty-eight years. (John 5:2-9) Archaeological evidence about the existence of such a pool came to light in 1888. Excavators found a double pool divided by a rock partition and having an overall area of about 150 feet by 300 feet. They also discovered a faded fresco showing an angel moving the waters, and evidence of five colonnades.
POOL OF SILOAM
South of the temple area was the pool of Siloam, where Jesus Christ had a blind man wash in order to receive sight. (John 9:6, 7, 11) The spring of Gihon, which has its fountainhead in a natural cave in the Kidron Valley, supplied the water for this pool through a tunnel cut in the hillside.
MOUNT OF OLIVES AND GETHSEMANE
Along the eastern side of Jerusalem stretches a chain of rounded limestone hills. Anciently this ridge was covered with olive trees and was therefore known as the Mount of Olives. In part, it lies more than 400 feet above the general elevation of Jerusalem and enables one to view the entire temple area.—Mark 13:3.
Somewhere on or near the Mount of Olives was the garden of Gethsemane. In this garden Jesus Christ often met with his disciples. (John 18:1, 2) On Passover night of 33 C.E., Judas Iscariot, with a kiss, betrayed him there.—Matt. 26:36, 48, 49.
GOLGOTHA, GARDEN TOMB AND THE POTTER’S FIELD
The site of Jesus’ impalement was Golgotha or “Skull Place.” It may have been situated to the north of the Castle of Antonia. About 250 yards northeast of the Damascus Gate lies a cliff having prominent holes that make it resemble a skull. Not far from this cliff there is a large garden, bounded on the north by a hill. A tomb containing one finished grave is cut out of a huge stone protruding from a side of this hill. The site fits the Bible’s description of the place of Jesus’ impalement and burial. (Matt. 27:57-60; Mark 15:22-24; Luke 23:33; John 19:38-42) Whether it is the actual site, however, cannot be determined today.
Tradition places the “potter’s field to bury strangers” on the south side of the Hinnom Valley near its junction with the Kidron. Many tombs are situated in the area. The “potter’s field” was the plot bought with the “thirty silver pieces” for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. It came to be known as Akeldama, “Field of Blood.”—Matt. 27:5-8; Acts 1:18, 19.
NO SPECIAL SANCTITY TODAY
Today many of the sites associated with the public ministry of Jesus and his apostles are not precisely known. This is evidently in harmony with God’s purpose, for true worship does not now depend upon any particular geographical locations. (John 4:21-24) The truly important thing is the message that Jesus and his apostles proclaimed. That message has survived in the Sacred Scriptures, and the work that Jesus and his apostles began in the first century C.E. has reached to the ends of the earth.
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JERUSALEM DURING THE MINISTRY OF JESUS AND HIS APOSTLES
Pool of Bethzatha
Castle of Antonia
Court of Israel
Court of Priests
Court of Women
Court of the Gentiles
Pool of Siloam
MOUNT OF OLIVES
VALLEY OF HINNOM OR GEHENNA