The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
In the middle of the Priests' Court rose the great Altar of Sacrifice resting on the very top of the rock of Moriah. It was forty-eight feet square and fifteen feet high and built of unhewn stones. Nine feet above the pavement around it ran a circuit or gallery for the ministering priests, who always passed by the right and returned by the left. A little balustrade one and a half feet high ran around the circuit, on the outside, and it was easy for the priest to reach up from it and feed and fix the never-ceasing fire. The four bronze horns of the altar, one at each corner, were eighteen inches high, straight, square and hollow—that on the southwest having two openings, into which, at the Feast of the Tabernacles, they poured water from the Pool of Siloam. The top of the altar was thirty-six feet square. On the top of the altar to the east burned the fire of the daily sacrifices, on the south that for the sacrifices on great feasts, and on the north a fire from which to kindle the others, if they went out. At the south of the altar was an inclined plane, forty-eight feet long, twenty-four feet wide, up which the priests walked to approach the altar.
Near by was a heap of salt. A red line all around the altar marked that the blood of the sacrifice eaten by the priests was to be sprinkled above it, and that the blood of victims wholly consumed was to be thrown below it. The system of flushing with water brought from Solomon's Pools was perfect, the blood and refuse being swept down through underground passages to the Cedron valley below the city.
All the victims were killed at the north side of the altar, the Jews holding that north, with its coldness typified the demon and the cold darkness of unbelief. There stood the implements of sacrifice ; marble pillars in six rows with four rings on each one with curious mechanism for raising up the victims to be skinned, as Christ was raised when scourged; eight tables on which the flesh was laid, the fat separated, the viscera cleaned and salted before being placed on the altar ; eight low columns on which were hooks for hanging up the flesh, a marble table on which victims were laid out, another of silver, arid still another table of gold; gold and silver chalices, called Cos, for the blood ; sacrificial knives with gold and jeweled handles, etc.
Beside the inclined plane rising to the altar, but to the west, towards the sanctuary, stood the great brass laver resting on twelve brazen colossal lions. It was washed and drained every evening, and in it twelve priests could bathe at once. The water supply was abundant. A rock-hewn tunnel, four miles long, leading towards Hebron, is described by Captain Wilson. Into this led the remarkable aqueducts Solomon made of stones like washers, dovetailing into each other, the hole about eighteen inches in diameter, the total over forty miles in length. You will find some of these stones now used for well-coping on the road to Bethlehem. Solomon's Pools are about three miles south of the latter city, three in number, fed by the "sealed fountain," they are still used to supply water to Jerusalem, and they would do honor to an engineer of to-day.
The aqueducts, the wise king made, were hidden under ground ; but were broken during some of the sieges, and to-day two iron pipes, each about four inches diameter conduct the water, one into the city, the other into the Temple area. In the days of Christ the Temple area and parts of the city were honeycombed with rock-hewn cisterns filled from the Pools connected by channels and with the roofs of houses. When one was filled it over flowed into another, so that more than 10,000,000 gallons of water was stored in Jerusalem.
West of the places we are describing stood the Holy House, the Temple proper. It was built on immense foundations. Solid blocks of white marble, measuring according to Josephus, sixty-seven and a half by nine feet, formed the walls of the sacred building. The crevices between the great stones were filled with wax, the surfaces smoothed, and within and without, the walls, sides and ceilings were covered with plates of solid gold. Even the roof was covered with gold, and spikes of gold like spear ends stood up all over the roof, to prevent birds from alighting on and soiling it. At the rising and setting of the sun, the great sanctuary was dazzling, and the south side, when the sky was clear, reflected back his beams over Ophel and Sion.
Twelve beautiful steps led up to the porch of the " Golden House," or Sanctuary, which was one hundred and fifty feet square, and four stories high. But rooms took up the spaces around, so that the length within was hundred and twenty feet and the width ninety feet. The room called the Holies was sixty feet from east to west, and thirty from north to south, while the room called the Most Holy, or Holy of Holies, was thirty feet square.
Before the Holies stood a splendid porch, the entrance covered with a beautiful veil. Right and left were depositories for sacrificial knives, and instruments used in the sacrifices. In the Holies was a gold candelabra, with seven branches presented by Queen Adiabene, a convert to Judaism, two gold crowns presented by the Machabees, two tables, one of marble, beautifully carved, on which they placed the proposition bread each Sabbath, and the other of solid gold on which they laid the bread, when removed from the Holies. A two-leafed door covered with gold plates gave access to the Holies. The entrance was covered with two rich Babylonian veils, sixty feet by thirty, an inch thick, woven with seventy-two strands of the five colors of the Covenant; " fine linen, white, blue, scarlet, and purple." Over this was a gigantic vine of pure gold, each cluster of grapes the height of a man,— the votive offerings of the wealthy Hebrews of the whole world. It was the symbol of Israel.
In the Holy Place, or Holies, to the south, was the golden seven-branched candlestick; to the north the altar of incense, of solid gold, and the gold table for the proposition bread. A cedar partition separated the Holies from the room farther in, called the Holy of Holies. This door was also closed with two great veils, sixty by thirty feet. They were not sure if the veil in Solomon's Temple was outside or inside of the door, and they put up two woven of seventy-two peats, as thick as and colored like the ones above, and it took three hundred priests to hang them. This was the veil torn from top to bottom by Angel hands the moment Christ died.
The whole woodwork of the arcades or cloisters, the roofs of all the inclosed buildings, were of the cedar of Lebanon, cut in the mountains and rafted to Joppa. This tree once covered the higher parts of Lebanon and Tarsus, its durability and fragrance caused it to be sought by Assyrians, Persians, etc., for their palaces. David and Solomon used it for the same purposes, and Herod brought it for the restored Temple. It became so rare that the Greek emperor Justinian found difficulty in procuring enough for a single church. One chapel of Constantine's Baptistery behind the Church of St. John Lateran, Rome, is ceiled with it, and its perfume scents the whole place. It is not a cedar proper, but a species of the larch, resembling very much the tamarack of the northern parts of America. But the leaves are longer, and the cones larger. Today only one grove on a hill remains of the great forests once covering the mountains of Lebanon. The trees are very old, and the Maronite priests guard them with almost religious veneration. This tree would thrive in different parts of America.