Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Temple Warning Sign: Trespassing Equals Death Penalty


This is a picture of a temple warning sign that Josephus spoke about.  (See prior blog post that discusses this here )  Archeologists discovered this one, written in Greek, in 1871.  The words above is the actual inscription.  This offense is what led to Saint Paul's ultimate death.

King Herod allowed the 'gentiles' (any non-Jew) in the outer courts, referred to as the Court of the Gentiles, but the inner courts were reserved strictly for practicing Jews.  In Paul's defense, he tells his captors that he has violated no religious law, that though he believed in Christ and the Resurrection, he still practiced the Jewish traditions.  This got him off the hook for awhile, but ultimately he did pay the penalty of death.

The block of limestone uncovered in 1871 was 22-inches high and 33-inches long.  Each letter was 1.5 inches high and painted with red ink against the white limestone.  This discovery confirms the accounts of  Flavius Josephus and confirms events outlined in Scripture, such as:

Ephesians 2:13-14
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our apeace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle bwall of partition between us;

Matthew 23:13
13 ¶ But woe unto you, ascribes and bPharisees, chypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Isaiah 56:7
7 Even them will I bring to my holy amountain, and make them joyful in my bhouse of cprayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be daccepted upon mine altar; for mine ehouse shall be called an house of prayer for fall gpeople.

Mark 11:17-18
17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might adestroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

Unlike Paul who thought he may get away with a light punishment, Jesus Christ very well knew that this inscription would cost him his own life in his pursuit for the Gentiles to cross this barrier.

*picture used by permission from

Was the Temple So Important the Apostle Paul Would Die For It?

Some thirty-plus years after the death of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul was arrested, charged, and imprisoned for at least two years before ultimately being martyred.  What was the charge?  Entering the temple and preaching that non-Jews should be allowed to enter the temple, a serious breach of the law.

This was no oversight or mistake by Paul.  He had to have known the gravity of this offense.  Gentiles could walk within the temple area but they were forbidden to go any farther than the outer court.  To be sure, there were warning signs in both Greek and Latin explaining the penalty for such a trespass was death.  Paul was attacked by an angry mob, but because he was a Roman citizen, he probably anticipated a privileged quick handling of his case.  He did get to go to Rome to receive his sentence, but instead of a quick resolution, he lived for two years under house arrest while he awaited trial.  Scholars believe he was ultimately beheaded near or around 68 C.E. (subsequently around the same time Peter was believed to be martyred, also in Rome).

Many modern-day Christians believe that temples are to remain a thing of the past until the second coming, that they purposely went away with the Old Covenant.  Because Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:16 that we are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us, many Christians make an appending assumption to that statement by believing that temples made of stone are no longer relevant.

So why then, did the same man who spoke the words, "ye are the temple of the living God", before the Temple Mount was destroyed, also in fact continue to visit the temple for some thirty-years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ?  To take it a step farther, why did he die fighting for the rights for Gentiles to go?  Has mainstream Christianity perhaps misunderstood something, somewhere along the way?  Based on the example of Paul, would common sense tell us that temples are in fact important?

Ironically (the timing relative to the death of Paul), the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans.  Here is an excerpt from Josephus:

{heartbreaking}: "As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes."*

"Most of the slain were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, and they were butchered where they were caught. The heap of corpses mounted higher and higher about the altar; a stream of blood flowed down the Temple's steps, and the bodies of those slain at the top slipped to the bottom."*

Against Caesars wishes and Titus's efforts to restrain the frenzied soldiers, it was to no avail and the whole interior shot up in flames.  Meanwhile the soldiers slaughtered and butchered anyone that stood in their way, with no regard to age or gender.

"The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives."*

What would have been the fate of temples?  Was the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem a foreshadowing of the great apostasy to come as predicted by Saint Paul?

Do mainstream Christians believe that the Romans had God's favor in destroying the temple?  If not, why the glum attitude about them?  Saint Paul set the example for us by continuing temple worship thirty years after the death of Christ.  If it weren't for the destruction by the Romans, would the tradition have stopped otherwise?

*References:  Josephus' account appears in: Cornfield, Gaalya ed., Josephus, The Jewish War (1982); Duruy, Victor, History of Rome vol. V (1883)