There were many gates to the temple. Those in the extent of the outer wall were surrounded by gate-houses thirty cubits high, and therefore rising five cubits beyond the wall itself, which was twenty-five cubits feign. The breadth of these gate-houses was half the height; and the entrance itself was twenty cubits high, and ten broad. These outer gates were of timber, plated with brass, and led into the spacious court called the Court of the Gentiles. No particular sanctity was attached to this court, and hence Gentiles were freely admitted, mendicants were allowed to beg, and dealers to buy and sell. A person was not considered properly to enter “the Temple,” in the more definite sense, until he had passed this court, and entered into the interior enclosure. This also had a wall, with gate-houses and gates, covered, not with brass but with gold and silver, and leading into the Court of the Women, which (notwithstanding its name) was the common place for worshippers, both men and women. Beyond this, and above it—for it was over an ascending site, crowned by the Holy House—lay the Court of the Priests, wherein the sacred services were celebrated. This had the same wall of general enclosure with the Court of the Gentiles, but was separated from it by a cross wall, which was pierced by one large and ponderous gate, exactly fronting that of the Holy House. This is the general description. It remains to state, that the Holy House itself fronted the east, and that consequently the principal entrance, in each of the successive walls, was on the same side. On that side there was but one gate to either of the courts; and these standing directly opposite the Holy House, were deemed entitled to particular distinction from the others, in their materials, proportions and ornaments.
The gate on this side, in the outer enclosure, had, however, the singular distinction of having the least elevated gate-house, the upper part rising not more than six cubits above the entry, whereas the others rose ten cubits; and, instead of being like the others, five cubits higher than the wall, this was no more than one cubit. There was a reason for this. The red heifer directed by the Law to be burned “without the camp,” in order that “the water of purification” might be prepared from its ashes, was, after the foundation of the temple at Jerusalem, burned without the city, upon the Mount of Olives; and as it was conceived that the blood of the heifer was to be sprinkled before, or in presence of, the temple, this gate was kept low, because if it had been as high as the others, the clear view of the temple by the officiating priest would have been intercepted. In another respect, however, this gate, though low, was not undistinguished. It was called “the Gate of Shushan,” because the city or palace of Shushan (memorable in the history of the captivity) was represented thereon; or, according to other accounts, was depicted in one of the side-chambers of the gate-house. This was, as some say, by order of the Persian government, to keep the Jews in remembrance of their allegiance to the power reigning in Shushan, or, as others state, as a voluntary memorial of the captivity. The nature of the representation may be guessed, from the mode in which towns and palaces are represented in the Assyrian sculptures, of which some specimens were given in the second volume of our Evening Series.
The gate opposite this, across the Court of the Gentiles, and leading into the Court of the Women, being the front and therefore the most distinguished of the entrances into what was properly regarded as the temple, was considered the most splendid of all the gates. In comparison with the gate Shushan, this gate “was goodly and lofty (as Lightfoot observes), and stood bravely mounted upon the far higher ground;” but was mainly distinguished by its materials. The other gates in this enclosure were of wood plated with gold and silver—the posts and lintels, as we apprehend, of silver, and the valves of gold; but this gate was wholly of “Corinthian brass, more precious than gold.” So says Josephus; and as it was doubtless of the best kind of Corinthian brass, other ancient writers support his testimony to its extreme costliness. “This Corinthian brass” was of several varieties of different values: one which took a golden hue from the quantity of gold; one of paler hue from the predominance of silver: one wherein the component metals, gold, silver, copper, and tin, were combined in equal proportions. The use of this metal was probably rare in a country which did not tolerate statuary, and hence this gate would attract, from the unusualness, special attention and admiration.
The gate opposite to this, leading directly into the court where the temple stood, was also of bronze, probably of a different quality, and seemingly not Corinthian bronze; and it seems to have farther differed from the other in that it was not wholly of bronze, but had its posts and lintel of, or overlaid with silver. This gate was, however, distinguished from all others by its large proportions, and the immense weight of its valves. It is said that it required the strength of twenty men to close it; and of it this wonder is recorded, that notwithstanding the force thus required to shut it, and being besides firmly bolted and barred, it one night flew open of its own accord. This is declared to have been forty years before the destruction of the city; and as that date coincides with the death of our Lord, it is open to a suggestion that this incident (if correctly reported) took place at the same time that the veil of the temple was rent, and an earthquake shook the city.
Now of these three gates, which was “the Beautiful Gate,” mentioned in Act_3:2, where we read that “a certain man, lame from his mother’s womb, was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple?”
We have no doubt that, judging from the descriptions which we have given, any one would declare for the second or Corinthian gate, which certainly was regarded by those who lived while the temple was standing, as the most magnificent of them. We are ourselves of this opinion. There is, however, probably from imperfect information respecting these gates, a general impression that the outer gate was meant; founded perhaps on the notion that beggars were not likely to be admitted into the temple court, and that it is expressly said that this beggar was placed there to ask alms of those “that entered in at the temple.” But we have shown that no particular sanctity was attached to the other court, and that the second gate was properly the entrance into the temple. There was nothing to prevent a beggar from being stationed there; and if he could be placed there, he was more likely to go there than to remain at the outer gate. These grounds of doubt cannot therefore stand; and we are at liberty to suppose that the gate really most beautiful was the one distinguished as the Beautiful Gate.
The object of stationing beggars, especially maimed beggars, at the gate of the temple, was evidently in the calculation that the feelings of those who were proceeding to, or had been engaged in, an act of solemn worship, would be more strongly inclined to charity and benevolence than at ordinary times. It is in the same calculation that at the present day the gates of the great continental churches, as well as the approaches to Mohammedan mosques, are thronged with beggars at the hours of prayer. We know also that the Pharisees and others in those days bestowed much alms in the most public places, that their ostentatious charity might “be seen of men;” and the perception of this weakness in a class of people so wealthy, had doubtless considerable influence in causing the beggars of Jerusalem to resort in large numbers to places so public, and through which the Pharisees were so continually passing as the gates of the temple—these people being more constant than others in their attendance at the sacred courts.