Both the Temple Mount and the courtyards within it were
surrounded by tall walls, 40 cubits (60 feet) in height. These walls stood 5
cubits (7½ feet) thick at their base and tapered slightly as they rose to
give them greater stability. In King Solomon's First Temple the walls were
composed of a repeating pattern of three courses of stone followed by one
course of wood. In the Second Temple, the Persian king Darius — who was the
one to grant the Jews permission to rebuild the Temple — commanded that the
walls mimic that original design but with the following changes: 1) the
walls should begin with one course of wood and then three courses of
stone, 2) the wood should not be set completely within the walls, and 3) the
wood should not be covered with plaster. No mortar was used to hold the
massive stones together rather they were carefully fitted to one another and
then locked into place with iron braces.
Line of sight from Mount of
Olives to the opening of the Sanctuary
The eastern wall of the Temple Mount was much lower than the
others and stood less than 26 cubits (39 feet) high. The reason for this was
a Scriptural requirement connected to the Parah Adumah [red heifer,
whose ashes have the ability to purify people and objects from
corpse-tumah]. The Parah Adumah was prepared on the Mount of
Olives, located due east of the Temple, and the Torah writes that while the
Kohen is carrying out the preparations he must have a direct line of
sight to the opening of the Sanctuary. From his vantage point in the east
the Kohen would look over the lower eastern wall of the Temple Mount,
through the eastern gate of the Women's Courtyard, and through the Nikanor
Gate to the opening of the Sanctuary.
The Temple was not squarely centered within the four walls of
the Temple Mount but was offset towards the northwest corner. In the space
between the walls of the Temple Mount and the Temple itself were numerous
chambers, storehouses, workshops, and offices which were necessary for the
day-to-day operation of the Temple.
For more information on this topic, and to submit questions or comments for
the author, please visit the blog post of this class.