The Courtyard of the Tabernacle
What was the courtyard of the tabernacle?
The courtyard of the tabernacle is a clear space enclosed by curtains or walls, or surrounded by buildings. It was always an uncovered enclosure, but might have within its area one or more edifices.
1. The Tabernacle
The first occurrence of the word is in Exodus 27:9 , where it is commanded to "make the court of the tabernacle." The dimensions for this follow in the directions for the length of the linen curtains which were to enclose it. From these we learn that the perimeter of the court was 300 cubits, and that it consisted of two squares, each 75 ft., lying East and West of one another. In the westerly square stood the tabernacle, while in that to the East was the altar of burnt offering. This was the worshipper's square, and every Hebrew who passed through the entrance gate had immediate access to the altar (compare W. Robertson Smith, note on Exodus 20:26 , Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church , 435). The admission to this scene of the national solemnities was by the great east gate described in Exodus 27:13-16 (see EAST GATE ).
2. Solomon's Temple
The fundamental conception out of which grew the resolve to build a temple for the worship of Yahweh was that the new structure was to be an enlarged duplicate in stone of the tent of meeting (see TEMPLE ). The doubling in size of the holy chambers was accompanied by a doubling of the enclosed area upon which the holy house was to stand. Hitherto a rectangular oblong figure of 150 ft. in length and 75 ft. in breadth had sufficed for the needs of the people in their worship. Now an area of 300 ft. in length and 150 ft. in breadth was enclosed within heavy stone walls, making, as before, two squares, each of 150 ft. This was that "court of the priests" spoken of in 2 Chronicles 4:9 , known to its builders as "the inner court" (1 Kings 6:36 ; compare Jeremiah 36:10 ).
Its walls consisted of "Three courses of hewn stone, and a course of cedar beams" (1 Kings 6:36 ), into which some read the meaning of colonnades. Its two divisions may have been marked by some fence. The innermost division, accessible only to the priests, was the site of the new temple. In the easterly division stood the altar of sacrifice; into this the Hebrew laity had access for worship at the altar. Later incidental allusions imply the existence of "chambers" in the court, and also the accessibility of the laity (compare Jeremiah 35:4 ; Jeremiah 36:10 ; Ezekiel 8:16 ).
3. The Great Court
In distinction from this "inner" court a second or "outer" court was built by Solomon, spoken of by the Chronicler as "the great court" (2 Chronicles 4:9 ). Its doors were overlaid with brass (bronze). Wide difference of opinion obtains as to the relation of this outer court to the inner court just described, and to the rest of the Solomonic buildings - particularly to "the great court" of "the house of the forest of Lebanon" of 1 Kings 7:9 , 1 Kings 7:10 . Some identify the two, others separate them.
Did this court, with its brass-covered gates, extend still farther to the East than the temple "inner" court, with, however, the same breadth as the latter? Or was it, as Keil thinks, a much larger enclosure, surrounding the whole temple area, extending perhaps 150 cubits eastward in front of the priests' court (compare Keil, Biblical Archaeology , I, 171, English translation)? Yet more radical is the view, adopted by many modern authorities, which regards "the great court" as a vast enclosure surrounding the temple and the whole complex of buildings described in 1 Kings 7:1-12 (see the plan, after Stade, in G. A. Smith's Jerusalem , II, 59). In the absence of conclusive data the question must be left undetermined.
4. Ezekiel's Temple
In Ezekiel's plan of the temple yet to be built, the lines of the temple courts as he had known them in Jerusalem are followed. Two squares enclosed in stone walling, each of 150 ft., lie North and South of one another, and bear the distinctive names, "the inner court" and "the outer court" (Ezekiel 8:16 ; Ezekiel 10:5 ).
5. Temple of Herod
In the Herodian temple the old nomenclature gives place to a new set of terms. The extensive enclosure known later as "the court of the Gentiles" does not appear under that name in the New Testament or in Josephus What we have in the tract Middōth of the Mishna and in Josephus is the mention of two courts, the "court of the priests" and "the court of Israel" (Middōth , ii.6; v. 1; Josephus, BJ , V, v, 6).
The data in regard to both are difficult and conflicting. In Middōth they appear as long narrow strips of 11 cubits in breadth extending at right angles to the temple and the altar across the enclosure - the "court of Israel" being railed off from the "court of the priests" on the East; the latter extending backward as far as the altar, which has a distinct measurement. The design was to prevent the too near approach of the lay Israelite to the altar. Josephus makes the 11 cubits of the "court of Israel" extend round the whole "court of the priests," inclusive of altar and temple (see TEMPLE ; and compare G. A. Smith, Jerusalem , II, 506-9, with the reconstruction of Waterhouse in Sacred Sites of the Gospels , 111ff). For the "women's court," see TREASURY .
Many expressions in the Psalms show how great was the attachment of the devout-minded Hebrew in all ages to those courts of the Lord's house where he was accustomed to worship (e.g. Psalm 65:4 ; Psalm 84:2 ; Psalm 92:13 ; Psalm 96:8 ; Psalm 100:4 ; Psalm 116:19 ). The courts were the scene of many historical events in the Old Testament and New Testament, and of much of the earthly ministry of Jesus. There was enacted the scene described in the parable of the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18:10-14 ).
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).