Skip to content

5.3 Judae

At the time of Jesus Jerusalem was the capital of the separate province known as Judaea. Jerusalem was about seventy miles South of Nazareth and was also the capital of the Jewish faith as well as the seat of an important Roman garrison. A Galilean coming here for the first time would have been surprised by the architecture and by the strength of the Roman presence. The main building was the Temple of Herod that was well described by Josephus who was there when it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Its inner sanctum contained the Holy of Holies, that is the remains of the old Temple of Salomon built in 986 BC. Herod built the large courts around it and Gentiles were only admitted in the outer courts. The construction of the main Temple was completed in 18 months in 20-19 BC but the whole complex was not finished before 64 AD, six years before it was destroyed. During Jesus’ life construction work were still in progress. To reach the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest could enter once a year, one had to go through nine gates. Women were restricted to an outer court. It was, of course, expensive to built and to run and many Jews complained about these costs as well as about the corruption of the priests who managed it. Some were also dissatisfied by the way the sacrifice of animals and birds was done as well as by their number. Moreover the animals and birds had to be bought on the spot after that the pilgrims had exchanged their money for local currencies in the Temple itself. These practices brought money to the Temple and allowed the Jewish church to run it, but it also brought corruption.

It is in this Temple that Jesus, like every practising Jew, must have come regularly all his life, in particular on the Jewish feast days. According to Luke he was presented here and circumcised when he was eight days old, after his parents made the usual offering of two pigeons. The wise old priest Simon predicted that Jesus would be the cause of many changes in Israel. Here too, Jesus, as a boy, is said to have debated with the doctors of the Law.