Istanbul Archeological museum: Greek: “No intruder is allowed in the courtyard and within the wall surrounding the temple. Whoever enters will invite death for himself!”
This was a warning stone placed in the partition wall of the Herodian temple at Jerusalem. The wall was designed to partition access to the area for worship preserved for the Israelites, and separated access from the gentile. This was a literal interpretation of the intent of Num 1:51: “and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death“. The wall or “soreg” was described as being 3 cubits high by Josephus (1) Along the top of this wall at regular intervals were placed stones, an example seen in the photograph above. Interspaced was lattice-work or “a reticulated fence of sticks” ten hand-breadths high (7) which was perforated by 12 gates. The photographed stone was discovered by Clermont and Ganneau in 1871 at the northwestern corner of the graveyard abutting the temple mount wall. The court styled “hieron” or sacred is referred to in John 2:15 and Acts 21:28,29 and was the issue of the dispute with Paul that he had brought gentiles into the very sacred area of the temple itself. The reason for the dispute being his presence in the city previously with Trophemus. There was a progression in height of the court floors, with an elevation of 8 feet to the court of the women, then again another further 10 feet to the court of Israel, then another 3 feet to the court of the priests and then another 8 feet to the floor level of the holy place. (2) The wording on the stones was engraved some in greek, and others in latin (3) The intention of the partition was captured in a speech recorded by Josephus by Titus, that by “our” (roman) permission the wall was allowed to be constructed before the sanctuary. Have we not given you leave to kill such as go beyond it, though he were a roman? (3b).
Rabbinic traditions have Alexander the great coming to Jerusalem, and not crossing this wall of partition: “This far are we allowed to enter, but interior to this point we have no permission to penetrate” (4) Later in Hasmonean times, there was greek desecration of the fence in 13 places. These breeches were restored, but marked as to allow remembrance of the victory that deity had provided over the greek power. (8)
This middle wall of partition became a feature used by the apostle Paul in Eph 2:14 where he describes access through Christ to be not determined on national merit, but access through the merit of faith see also Rom 5:2. A willing gentile could not access temple worship even if wished to, and the character of his access to God relied not on ritual worship but through a system of acceptance outside the mosaic traditions.
This provision was written into the prophets when the Elohim of Israel would say that He would create peace for him that was near, and tho him that was far off Isa 57:19 and that the nations will bring an offering come into his courts Ps 96:7,8 and all flesh shall worship Isa 66:23 The testimony of Isaiah became the words of Christ in his cleaning of the temple: His house will be a house of prayer for all nations Isa 56:3-7; Luke 19:46 but the Jews had robbed Yahweh of service.
The spiritual obligation of permission of entrance was an important one, carefully guarded by the sons of Korah who learnt the lesson of thoughtless approach, and speaks loudly to us the importance of thinking before engaging in worship. The Soreg inscription is also a rich example of the confidence we can have in the reality of the structures spoken of in our scriptures.
- Josephus antiq: 15.11.3ff
- Eastons Illustrated dictionary pg660
- Josephus wars 5.5.2 (3b) 6.2.4
- Gen Rab 61:7
- GASmith: Jerusalem the topography, economics, the history from earliest times to AD70 1. pg 511
- Sharon E. J. Gerstel: Thresholds of the sacred pg 15
- Mishnah Middot 74; Kelim i. 8
- Tractate Middot 2.3