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A Day In The Temple by Rev. A.J. Maas S.J.

The Hebrews, like the Greeks and Romans in their earlier history, ate sitting. A carpet was spread on which the meal was served. At a later period, however, particularly when Palestine came under the influence of Roman manners, the Jews reclined on cushions or couches. The custom of giving preference in point of seat or position to guests of high consideration appears to have been of ancient date. In the time of Jesus Christ the Pharisees, always eager for distinction, coveted the place of honor at meals and feasts. Women were not admitted to eat with men, but had their meals supplied in their private apartment. In Babylon and Persia, however, females mingled with males on festive occasions. In general, the manner of eating was similar to what it is in the East at the present day. Special care was taken of favored persons. Neither knives, forks nor spoons were employed for eating. The food was conveyed from the dish to the mouth by the right hand. The parties sat, with their legs bent under them, round a dish placed in the centre, and either took the flesh meat with their fingers from the dish, or dipped bits of their bread into the savory mess, and conveyed them to their mouths. This practice explains the language of our Lord: “He it is to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it.” This presenting of food to a person is still customary, and was designed originally as a mark of distinction, the choice morsels being selected by the head of the family for the purpose. Drink was handed to. each one of the guests in cups or goblets, and at a very ancient period, in a separate cup to each person. Hence the word cup is used as equivalent to what we term a man’s lot or destiny. We find this use of the word even in our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”

Not only the inhabitants of the East, but the Greeks and Romans also, were in the habit of taking a slight dinner about ten or eleven o’clock of our time, which consisted chiefly of fruits, milk, cheese and similar kinds of nourishment. Their principal meal was about six or seven in the evening; their feasts were always appointed for supper-time. For the burning heat of noon in the eastern climate diminishes the appetite for food and suppresses the disposition to cheerfulness. The hands were washed before meals, as was rendered necessary by the method of eating. The gospels allude to this when they say: “Then there came to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying: Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands, when they eat bread.” Prayers also were offered before and after meals, and the Talmud has preserved us their short formula: “Blessed be thou, O Lord, our God, the king of the world, who hast produced this food—or this drink—from the earth—or the vine.”

When Matthiah and Zachary and Samuel entered the dining room of the Beth-Moked, nearly all the officiating priests of Abijah’s course had finished their morning repast. The special and exceptional provision made for the support of the priesthood, was in accordance with their divine calling. Its principle is expressed by the words: “I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel,” and its joyousness, when realized in its full meaning and application, finds vent in the words of the royal Psalmist: “Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup; thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.”

Obed had thought it advisable to keep out of Samuel’s sight; but from what the young priest tells Matthiah and Zachary about the actions and words of his tempter, they have not the slightest doubt as to his identity.

“Obed’s description of our scanty resources,” says Matthiah, “is a positive misrepresentation of the facts. Though we have no direct means of enriching ourselves in Jehovah’s service, we never are in want of the necessities of life. There are as many as twenty-four sources from which we derive our support.”

“And are all of these available to any member of the priesthood?” inquires Samuel. “It appears to me that those should receive most who labor most.”

“The distribution of our resources does not depend on the amount of a priest’s actual work,” explains Matthiah, “but on his being in a place and condition to worthily partake of the holy. Ten of the priestly resources are available only in the Temple itself, four in Jerusalem, and the remaining ten throughout the Holy Land.”

“Since thou hast begun thy explanation of this matter,” interposes Zachary, “thou must continue it; I had great difficulty in understanding the distribution of our revenues as it now prevails, principally because my instructors imparted their lessons piecemeal.”

“Know then, Samuel,” continues Matthiah; “that in the Temple itself must be consumed the priests’ part of the sin-offering; that of the trespass-offering for known and for doubtful trespasses; public peace-offerings; the leper’s log of oil; the two Pentecostal loaves; the showbread; what is left of the meat-offering, and the omer at the Passover.”

“Must then every priest in the Holy City take his meals in the Temple, if he desires to eat of the sacrificial revenues?” inquired Samuel.

“I have already mentioned, Samuel,” replies Matthiah with some warmth, “that four of the sacrificial resources are available in any part of the Holy City. They are the firstlings of beasts, the Biccurim or the first natural products of the soil, the portion from the thankoffering and from the Nazarite’s goat, and finally the skins of the sacrifices. It is superfluous to add that these latter are commonly utilized for other than culinary purposes.”

“Are all the priests who do not reside in the Holy City equally well provided for?” asks Samuel.

“Any priest throughout the Holy Land,” eagerly continues Matthiah, “may profit by five sources of revenue: the second tithe, the heave-offering of the dough, the first of the fleece and the priests’ due of meat may be given to any priest. The priests of the course actually on duty have five more means of support: the redemption money for a first-born son, that for an ass, the ‘sanctified field of possession,’ what has been ‘devoted,’ and restitution due to a stranger or proselyte made after the owner’s death, are paid to the priests of the course ministering in the Temple.”

“Is then no distinction made between priest and priest in the distribution?” again inquires Samuel.

“Two most important distinctions are observed in distributing the sacrificial revenues,” continues Matthiah. “First, an unlettered priest may receive only the following dues: things ‘devoted,’ the first-born of cattle, the redemption of a son, that of an ass, the priests’ due, the first of the wool, the ‘oil of burning,’ the ten things which must be used in the Temple, and the Biccurim; all the other revenues are not available to the unlettered. Secondly, the high priest has the right to take what portion of the offerings he chooses, and one half of the showbread every Sabbath.”

While Matthiah thus explains to Samuel, the law regulating the distribution of the priestly revenues the little company has taken the simple refreshments served in the Beth-Moked. We have seen that no wine or other intoxicating drink could be had in the Temple. Besides the portions of the sacrifices due to the priests, there are almonds, grapes, figs and pomegranates. Zachary has paid little attention to all this variety of food; he is so absorbed in thought that Matthiah’s and Samuel’s rising escapes his notice.

“Hast thou not obtained thy heart’s desire, Zachary?” Matthiah addresses the venerable old man. “What anxiety can thus possess thy troubled soul?”

“Gladly would I say with Israel our father: Now let me die; I see my house revived and my family perpetuated in the Temple service. But I have not told thee all, Matthiah. Samuel has torn the royal contract which was to unite him to Herod’s niece in marriage.”

“Did Obed present the royal document?” inquires Matthiah with some uneasiness.

“Even so, Brother,” replies Zachary; “and what is more, the document was signed in my own handwriting, as Samuel testifies.”

“It is hard to foresee the king’s line of action, especially since his fearful disease has taken hold of him,” says Matthiah. “In the course of time I shall be able to conciliate him, whatever his present state of mind may be. Meanwhile we must take the safest course, and keep Samuel concealed, lest he be harmed by Herod in a fit of anger.”

With these words, surely not consoling for Zachary nor re-assuring for Samuel, Matthiah leaves the Beth-Moked with hurried steps, followed by his two companions.

So soon as Abiathar entered the Beth-Moked whither we saw him hasten after Samuel’s election he passed to the department in which the furnaces were kept: here Obed waited for his coming according to agreement. The latter, leisurely seated on a piece of carpet, has in his mind again and again gone over the pain and the disappointment which Zachary and Samuel would feel at the illegality of the genealogical record, and at the consequent exclusion of Samuel from the priestly ranks. If anything could have augmented his demon-like sense of delight, it would have been the sight of Zachary’s heart-broken figure and Samuel’s countenance clouded with grief and despair. On seeing Abiathar’s pallid look and agitated manner, Obed’s sense of supreme comfort lessens instinctively, and he feels irritated at the chief priest’s ingratitude.

“Like the chaff which the wind driveth away, the fool shall not stand in judgment, nor the rash man in the congregation of the wise,” Abiathar greets Obed. “Thy want of forethought is the strength of thy enemies, and thy lack of prudence is the ruin of thy friends.”

“Many a time,” answers Obed, “hath thy tongue outrun thy judgment, and many a time hath my counsel corrected thy rashness. Instead of speaking bitter words, thou oughtest to lay open thy needs, and obtain the necessary help, if help may be had.”

“The son of Ananiah hath been received among the ministering priests, and thou well understandest what will follow his admission.”

“Were all the points of law observed?” inquires Obed as soon as he has somewhat recovered from his state of stupor brought on by Abiathar’s communication.

“All has been done in legal form,” the chief priest answers.

“Was the genealogical register read?” repeats Obed.

“The document was found defective,” replies Abiathar; “but Hillel and Zachary testified, and their testimony prevailed.”

“Abiathar,” says Obed after a long pause, “there is one more expedient I shall try; if it fails, both of us are ruined and must leave this cursed city at once.”

“So long as the Lord is on our side,” Abiathar replies, “our contest will be victorious; Zachary’s childlessness and his constant exclusion from the office of offering incense are to me sure signs of the Lord’s anger against him.”

“What Zachary’s childlessness means, and how it is caused I know not,” says Obed; “as to his exclusion from the office of incense, I well know its cause. For these many years have I managed to be among the number of those who are admitted to the lot for the burning of incense, with the intention of preventing Zachary’s appointment for that office.

This revelation seemed to scandalize even the hardened Abiathar. Versed as he was in underhand dealing and scheming, he had never thought of attempting anything of the kind Obed had intimated. But for the present, the chief priest could not signify any displeasure at his accomplice’s way of acting. His services were too much needed just now. Hence Abiathar only replies: “Why dost thou tarry, if there is another way of saving thyself and me?”

“I cannot leave this place, Abiathar,” Obed answers, “till the lot has been cast for this afternoon’s incense offering. Were I to leave now, my careful vigilance of these many years might be all in vain.”

“As to the lot for the burning of incense,” Abiathar urges, “thou needest not fear. Matthiah the high priest has signified his intention of performing that duty himself in order to add more solemnity to the occasion of the new priests’ admission.”

While Abiathar was speaking, Obed approached the northern door of Beth-Moked, and passing into the Chel and the Court of Gentiles, he hurriedly directed his steps towards Herod’s royal palace.

Meanwhile, Matthiah has led Zachary and Samuel to the Court of Women where he pauses for a short while as if reflecting on the safest place of concealment. Thirteen chests or trumpets for charitable contributions are placed around the walls within the simple colonnade. Here Jesus will see “the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury—and a certain poor widow casting thither two mites.” The chests are narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, shaped like trumpets, whence their name. Nine are for the receipt of what is legally due by worshippers; the other four are for strictly voluntary gifts.

Trumpets I. and II. are appropriated to the half-shekel Temple-tribute of the current and the past year. Into trumpet III. the women who have to bring turtledoves for a burnt-offering and a sin-offering drop their equivalent in money, which is daily taken out and a corresponding number of turtledoves is offered. Trumpet IV. similarly receives the value of the offerings of young pigeons. In trumpet V. contributions for the wood used in the Temple, in trumpet VI. for the incense, and in trumpet VII. for the golden vessels of the ministry are deposited. Into trumpet VIII. is cast what is left over from the money set aside for the purchase of sin-offerings, into the trumpets X., XL, XII. and XIII. are similarly cast the remnants of the money destined for the purchase of trespass-offerings, offerings of birds, the offering of the Nazarites, of the cleansed lepers, and voluntary offerings.

It is in this court that by the light of four huge candelabra each fifty cubits high, and burning on the evenings of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus will declare: “I am the light of the world.” From the shape of the money-chests Jesus will take his ironical allusion to the blowing of trumpets, when describing the conduct of those who, in their almsgiving, seek glory from men rather than the honor of God.

Besides these single money-chests, there is at the centre of the northern wall a room into which at certain times the contents of the trumpets are carried. Opposite this chamber, at the centre of the southern wall, is the Chamber of the Silent where devout persons secretly deposit money, afterwards secretly employed for educating children of the deserving poor.

Matthiah throws a glance at the money-chests and the treasury-chambers, but considers them unfit for hiding places. He next looks upon the doors on the western side of the Court of Women, one on either side of the stairs leading up to the Nicanor Gate. They open into subterraneous rooms under the Court of Israel, where the Levites keep their musical instruments. The apartments are sufficiently ample, and even cheerful; but so many persons have access to them, that no one can hide in them for any length of time without detection.

Zachary suggests one of the thirty-eight rooms or, at any rate, one of the apartments surrounding the Temple proper. But not to speak of the law that none may be seated in these apartments, Matthiah knows by experience, that in case of peril no place on the whole Temple Mount is more scrupulously searched than those very chambers.

Nothing else remains than to conceal Samuel in one of the four rooms, or rather unroofed squares of forty cubits, occupying the four corners of the Court of Women. In the northeastern corner is the Lepers’ Chamber; its name is due to the fact that the lepers bathe in this room during the second stage of their purification. Before that period great precautions are taken to examine them thoroughly. The examination cannot be proceeded with early in the morning, nor “between the evenings,” nor inside the house, nor on a cloudy day, nor yet during the glare of midday, but from 9 a. m. to 12 o’clock noon, and from 1 p. m. to 3 p. m.; according to Rabbi Jehudah, only at 10 or 11 o’clock a. m., and at 2 or 3 o’clock p. m. The examining priest must neither be blind of an eye, nor impaired in sight, nor may he pronounce as to the leprosy of his own kindred. Furthermore, judgment is not to be pronounced at the same time about two suspicious spots, whether on the same or on different persons.

The rights of purification are twofold. The first restores the leper to fellowship with the congregation, the other introduces him anew to communion with God. In both respects, the leper has been dead, and has come to life again. The priest having declared the former leper clean, a quarter of a log of living water is poured into an earthenware dish. Then two birds are taken, the Rabbis say two sparrows, of whom one is killed over the “living water,” so that the blood may drop into it, after which the carcass is buried. Next, cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet wool are taken and tied together, and dipped, along with the living bird, which is seized by the tips of his wings and of his tail, into the bloodstained water, when the person to be purified is sprinkled seven times on the back of his hand, or, according to others, on his forehead. Upon this the living bird is set free, neither towards the sea, nor towards the city, nor towards the wilderness, but towards the fields. Finally, the leper has all the hair on his body shorn with a razor, after which he washes his clothes and bathes, when he is clean, though still interdicted his house for seven days.

The first stage of the leper’s purification is then completed, and a seven days’ seclusion serves as preparation for the second stage. The former may take place anywhere, but the latter must take place in the sanctuary. It begins on the seventh day itself; the purified leper has first again all his hair shorn, washes his clothes, and bathes. Three classes require this legal tonsure; lepers, Nazarites and Levites at their consecration. On the eighth day the leper brings three sacrifices: a sin, a trespass, and a burnt-offering, and the poor bring a sin, and a burnt-offering of a bird. We have already seen how the victim is slain, and how its blood is caught up and sprinkled. From what has been said, it appears that the leper’s room might have offered a safe hiding place, on account of the few persons who ever entered it; but at the same time, one ran the risk of defilement in it.

The chamber where the Nazarites polled their hairand cooked their peace-offering seemed better fitted to conceal Samuel, and Matthiah had walked a considerable distance towards the court’s southeastern corner where the chamber was situated. The offerings of a Nazarite on the completion of his vow are explicitly described in the Book of Numbers. Along with the “ram without blemish for a peace-offering,” he had to bring a “basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour, mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil,” as well as the ordinary “meat-offering and their drink-offerings.” After the various sacrifices had been offered by the priest, the Nazarite retired to the chamber in Court of Women, where he boiled the flesh of his peace-offering, cut off his hair, and threw it into the fire under the caldron. If he had cut off his hair before coming to Jerusalem, he must still bring it with him, and cast it in the fire under the caldron. This may throw light on what we read in the Acts. “And Paul having tarried after this yet many days, took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchreæ; for he had a vow.”

As Matthiah approaches the Nazarites’ Chamber his pace becomes slower, and at last he stops. No one knows how long Samuel will have to be concealed, and under such circumstances a room into which so many strangers enter, is no safe hiding place.

Zachary points to the southwestern corner of the court where the oil and wine are kept for the drink-offerings. The old priest has frequently assisted the officer in charge of the apartment and knows from experience that concealment in the place is easily effected.

“Knowest thou Obed, our enemy?” Matthiah replies to Zachary’s suggestions. And after a perceptible inward struggle, he continues: “Zachary, thus far I have left thee in ignorance about Obed’s designs against thee and thy house. Since he has made new efforts and designed new plots, thou must know his malice in order to defend thyself and thine against him. It was Obed who betrayed thy father to the royal scouts, when he lay concealed in yonder chamber. Josiah’s betrayer would have too easy a task, were we to conceal Samuel in the Chamber of Oil and Wine.”

“The Lord is good,” answers Zachary, “and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon him. But he also remembers and visits and takes vengeance on his persecutors; he takes them away in his long-suffering, and afflicts those who inflict reproach upon his faithful servants.”

Meanwhile they have reached the northeastern corner of the court and entered the chamber in which the priests unfit for other than menial services, pick out the worm-eaten wood from that destined for the altar. It so happened that at the time considerable quantities were piled up in the square. For the Feast of Wood-Offering had taken place on the 15th of Ab, being the last of the nine occasions on which offerings of wood were brought to the Temple. As early as the time of Nehemiah it was ordained that the priests, the Levites and the people were at certain periods of the year to furnish the necessary supply of wood for the altar. All was arranged according to houses and families, the respective turns being determined by lot. At a later period, the general wood-offering took place only once a year on the above stated day; certain families had, however, the privilege of offering wood on other occasions.

On the first of Nisan wood was furnished by the family of Arach, of the tribe of Judah; on the twentieth of Tammus by the family of David, of the tribe of Judah; on the fifth of Ab by the family of Pareosh, of the tribe of Judah; on the seventh of Ab by the family of Jonadab the Rechabite; on the tenth of Ab by the family of Senaa, of the tribe of Benjamin; on the fifteenth of Ab by the family of Sattu, of the tribe of Judah; on the twentieth of Ab by the family of Pachath-Moab, of the tribe of Judah.

But on the fifteenth of Ab, along with the family of Sattu, all the people, even proselytes, slaves, Nethinin and bastards, but notably the priests and Levites were allowed to bring up wood; hence the day is called “the time of wood for the priests.” From this fact and the other that five of the special seasons for wood-offerings fell in the month of Ab, the chamber in the northeastern corner is now fairly filled with material and thus affords ample opportunity for hiding in it. The month of Ab was chosen as the principal season for the wood-offerings, because the wood was then thought to be in the best condition. The fifteenth day of that month was called “the day on which the axe is broken,” signifying that after that date no wood might be felled for the altar, though part of what had been felled before was brought up after the fifteenth. Another account differs somewhat from the one here given. Jeroboam or Antiochus Epiphanes or some unnamed monarch had prohibited the carrying of wood and of the first-fruits to Jerusalem, when certain specially devoted families braved the danger, and on the fifteenth of Ab secretly introduced wood into the Temple, in acknowledgment whereof the privilege was forever after conceded to their descendants.

The wood was first deposited in the Wood Room in the Court of Women, where, as has been already stated, that which was worm-eaten or otherwise unfit for the altar was picked out by the priests who were disqualified for other ministries. The rest was handed over to the priests who were Levitically qualified for the service of the altar, and by them stored in the Wood Room in the Court of Priests. The fifteenth of Ab was observed as a popular and joyous festival. On this occasion, the maidens went dressed in white, to dance and sing in the vineyards around Jerusalem, when an opportunity was offered to the young men to choose their companions for life. For on the fifteenth of Ab the prohibition was removed which prevented heiresses from marrying out of their own tribe. This concession was well fitted for the peculiar festival. When all Israel without any distinction of tribe and family appeared to make their offerings at Jerusalem, it was but fitting that they should be at liberty similarly to select their partners in life without the usual tribal limitations.

Visitors in the Wood Room did not attract much attention. The family pride of those employed in the place and the painful sense of their physical shortcomings, together with the frequency of visiting strangers or priests made it possible for our little group of friends to pass unnoticed. But they were not entirely unobserved. At the very time they entered the room, the venerable old scribe to whom Matthiah had spoken in the Hall of Polished Stones, came in by the Beautiful Gate, and followed his friends without delay. In the Wood Room he had indeed some difficulty in picking out the exact passage Matthiah had chosen; but suspecting his friend’s purpose, he knew instinctively the hiding place intended for Samuel. Zachary has been looking anxiously around him, ever since they approached the place of concealment, and much to his alarm he sees the scribe follow them.

“All is lost, Matthiah,” says Zachary; “behold the scribe following and watching us.”

Matthiah walks up to his friend as soon as he recognizes him, and asks about the success of his errand.

“It is well; all is well,” the scribe answers; “Herod is much pleased at seeing Samuel received among the ministering priesthood.”

“But why then did he wish Samuel to enter the army, or to live at his court?” inquires Zachary, who has been anxiously listening to the words of the scribe.

“At first,” the latter continues, “I could not understand Herod’s surprise at hearing my report. But then I learned that Samuel’s chance to be received among the priesthood had been represented to the king as entirely hopeless. His genealogical record, Salome had told him, was lost and no way was left Samuel to prove his priestly descent.”

“This, too, is a scheme of Obed,” observes Matthiah; “may he perish with his plot.”

“The king spoke of other matters, that were riddles to me,” the scribe continues. “Samuel’s family might be raised by appointing him to the headship of Abijah’s course, the king said, and by raising Zachary to the dignity of the council. To all this I paid but little attention, being anxious to bring you the good news.”

“Shall I now be free to mingle among the ministering priests,” expectantly inquires Samuel, “without being obliged to lie concealed in this Wood Room?”

“Samuel,” says Matthiah, “all depends on Obed’s course of action; could I but know our enemy’s deceit, I should be able to advise thee prudently.”

“I saw Obed at the gate of Salome’s palace,” the messenger interposes; “but little help will he obtain from his patroness to-day. She has left this very morning for Caesarea, to be present at the new play written by her favorite, Gallus.”

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,” exclaim Zachary and Samuel with one accord; “for he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people.”

“And now we know,” continues Matthiah, “that the Lord can do all things, and that no purpose of his can be restrained. Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have we often uttered that which we understood not, things too wonderful for us, which we knew not. Hear, O Lord, I beseech thee, and I will speak; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I loathe my words and repent in dust and ashes.”

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