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Was Herod's Temple the Third Temple?

The Issue

For various reasons, all of the prophecies in the Old Testament need to be fulfilled before the Messianic age can begin. One such prophecy is Ezekiel's Third Temple. So theoretically, it would not be possible for Jesus to have been the Messiah if the Third Temple had not yet been built.

To deal with this issue some Christians make the claim that Ezra built the Second Temple when the Jews returned to Jerusalem after Babylonian captivity, and that Herod's temple was actually the Third Temple. In such a case then, there wouldn't be a problem about that particular prophecy being unfulfilled. One such story which insinuates this is found here.

Some conversations on this topic:

Summary of Claim

  • Solomon built the first temple.
  • The second temple was built under Ezra/Nehemiah
  • At the end of the 70 years of babylonian captivity is when the prophecies to rebuild restored Jerusalem took place
    • Prophecy for the rebuilding of Solomon's temple was therefore fulfilled under Ezra and Nehemiah
  • Therefore Herod's temple was the third temple.

Analysis of Claim

Since I've got to admit, this is not an area I am intimately familiar with, let's get an accurate timeline of the events we are dealing with and call that exhibit a.

Exhibit A: Timeline of Events

There is a discrepancy between the rabbinic and secular dates of the timeline surrounding the First and second temple's construction and destruction. Fortunately this discrepancy doesn't alter the order of events, so for the sake of consistency we have chosen to go with the Jewish sources on this one. In any case one would assume the Jewish sources are more interested in recording proper dates for Jewish events than the secular sources of the time.

Our particular source here is an article on (The First Temple) from unless otherwise marked.

Date Event
833 BCE Solomon's Temple was built
827 BCE Solomon dedicated the Temple and all its contents.
796 BCE the country was divided into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah (containing Jerusalem) in the south.
661 BCE the prophet Zechariah ben Jehoiada chastised the nation for their sins, warning them of the grave punishments that would befall them if they would not change their ways. Rather than accept his rebuke, the nation stoned Zechariah to death in the Temple courtyard. Incredibly, this occurred on Yom Kippur.
555 BCE Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, fell to the Assyrians. The people of the former Kingdom of Northern Israel were led into captivity. The Assyrians repopulated the land with exiles that had been uprooted from other countries, whose descendants came to be called the Samaritans or Kuttim. No trace has been found of the Ten Tribes.
463 BCE Beginning in 463 BCE, Jeremiah prophesied about the Babylonian threat and warned the Jews of the terrible devastation they would incur if they did not stop worshipping idols and mistreating each other.
434 BCE The Kingdom of Judah tries to form an alliance with Egypt, and in response Nebuchadnezzar pillages Jerusalem.
425 BCE King Zedekiah rebels against Babylon. In response Nebuchadnezzar lays seige to Jerusalem.
423 BCE Solomon's Temple was destroyed. (source)

The Beginning of the End

In 434 BCE, the Kingdom of Judah tried to form an alliance with Egypt. The Jews thought, despite Jeremiah's prophecies, that this would keep them safe. But instead, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, marched on Judah. He pillaged Jerusalem and deported tens of thousands of Jews to his capital in Babylon; all the deportees were drawn from the upper classes, the wealthy, and craftsmen. Ordinary people were allowed to stay in Judah, and Nebuchadnezzar appointed a puppet king over Judah, Zedekiah.

But Zedekiah, though G‑d fearing and righteous, was foolishly courageous, and (despite Jeremiah's repeated admonitions not to) he tried to break free from the Babylonians. So Nebuchadnezzar marched on Jerusalem again. This time he would not be content with making Judah into a vassal state. On the tenth of Tevet, 425 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem.

The End

Thirty months later, in the month of Tammuz, after a long siege during which hunger and epidemics ravaged the city, the city walls were breached. King Zedekiah tried to escape through an eighteen-mile long tunnel, but he was captured in the plains of Jericho by enemy soldiers who, while chasing a deer, saw him emerging. He was brought before Nebuchadnezzar in Riblah. There Zedekiah's sons and many other Jewish personages were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out, and he was led in chains to Babylon.

On the seventh day of Av, the chief of Nebuchadnezzar's army, Nebuzaradan, began the destruction of Jerusalem. The walls of the city were torn down, and the royal palace and other structures in the city were set on fire.

Our Sages say that when Nebuzaradan entered the Temple he found the blood of Zechariah seething. He asked the Jews what this phenomenon meant, and they attempted to conceal the scandal, but he threatened to comb their flesh with iron combs. So they told him the truth: “There was a prophet among us who chastised us, and we killed him. For many years now his blood has not rested.”

Nebuzaradan said, “I will appease him.” He then killed the members of the Great and Small Sanhedrins, then he killed youths and maidens, and then school-children. Altogether, he killed 940,000 people. Still the blood continued to boil, whereupon Nebuzaradan cried: “Zechariah, Zechariah! I have slain the best of them; do you want all of them destroyed?” At last the blood sank into the ground (Talmud, Gittin 57b).1

On the ninth day of Av, toward evening, the Holy Temple was set on fire and destroyed. The fire burned for 24 hours.

Our Sages taught: When the first Holy Temple was destroyed, groups of young priests gathered with the keys to the Sanctuary in their hands. They ascended the roof and declared: “Master of the World! Since we have not merited to be trustworthy custodians, let the keys be given back to You.” They then threw the keys toward Heaven. A hand emerged and received them, and the priests threw themselves into the fire (Talmud, Ta'anit 29b).

Everything of gold and silver that still remained was carried off as loot by the Babylonian soldiers. All the beautiful works of art with which King Solomon had once decorated and ornamented the holy edifice were destroyed or taken away. The holy vessels of the Temple that could be found were brought to Babylon. The high priest Seraiah and many other high officials and priests were executed. In addition to the 940,000 people killed in the aforementioned incident, millions more were killed inside and outside of the city. Many thousands of the people that had escaped the sword were taken prisoner and led into captivity in Babylon, where some of their best had already preceded them. Only the poorest of the residents of Jerusalem were permitted to stay on to plant the vineyards and work in the fields.

All this had been predicted in the Torah, and it came to pass with all the horror of which Moses had warnedThus ended the empire of David and Solomon; thus the magnificent city and Holy Temple were destroyed. Thus G‑d punished His people for deserting Him and His laws.

All this had been predicted in the Torah, and it truly came to pass with all the horror of which Moses had warned.

Exhibit B: After the First Temple

Dates for this section taken from the same source as above as found here and here and in other sections of that site as noted.

Date Event
423 BCE Solomon's Temple was destroyed. (source)
371 BCE In 371 the Persian emperor Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple, but the construction was halted the next year when the Samarians persuaded Cyrus to withdraw permission.
370 BCE Zerubabel and Joshua the High Priest began construction of the Second Temple, with permission from King Cyrus of Persia.
353 BCE Achashverosh II (of Purim fame) upheld the moratorium. Only in 353 (70 years after the first temple was destroyed) did the building of the Temple resume under Darius II.
349 BCE The Second Temple was completed in 349 BCE. (source)
348 BCE Ezra returns to Israel (source)
313 BCE The end of prophecy (source]) | | 190 BCE | Rome defeats Antiochus. ([[|source)
167 BCE Desecration of the temple. Maccabean revolt begins. (source)
140 BCE Hasmodean revolt (source) | | 63 BCE | Rome invades Jerusalem. ([[|source)
40 BCE Herod appointed King of Judea. (source)
20 BCE Herod expands the temple. (source)
4 BCE Herod dies. Herod Antipas becomes King.
6 CE The Roman province of Judaea was created with the Census of Quirinius.
39 CE Herod Antipas dies. Herod Agrippa becomes ruler of Galilee.
41 CE Herod Agrippa is promoted to rule all of Judea.
70 CE Roman forces destroy the Temple (source))
135 CE The Roman province of Judea was merged into Syria and was renamed “Syria-Palestina”.

The key events seem to be that Ezra returns to Jerusalem on or around 348 BCE, and is present for the building of the second temple. So our second major point of research is yes, the prophecy that the second temple would be rebuilt at that time was fulfilled; the Christian is not claiming Ezra built a temple on his own before the one Herod expanded. They are one and the same temple.

The Bone of Contention

The issue now seems to be over Herod's actions in 20 CE. Let us examine this issue in great detail. It is important to note first that this act is not mentioned in the bible, however, we do have reliable secular sources which tell us what happened. It should also then be noted that these secular sources are the only sources of information regarding Herod's expansion; the Christian making this claim relies on them too, so they are not up for dispute.

Here are three excerpts from a page discussing the extensions and modifications made in the second temple period:

In 19 B.C. the master-builder, King Herod the Great, began the most ambitious building project of his life—the rebuilding of the Temple and the Temple Mount in lavish style. To facilitate this, he undertook a further expansion of the Hasmonean Temple Mount by extending it on three sides, to the north, west and south. Today’s Temple Mount boundaries still reflect this

From this we see that Herod's action was to extend an existing temple and not to construct an entirely new temple. Nevertheless, we must examine whether or not Herod's extensions fulfilled the prophecies in Ezekiel and other places for the building of a third temple. Item 1 – Did Herod's extensions satisfy the prophecies regarding a Third Temple?

King Solomon built the First Temple on the top of Mount Moriah which is visible in the center of this drawing. This mountain top can be seen today, inside the Islamic Dome of the Rock. King Hezekiah built a square Temple Mount (yellow walls) around the site of the Temple, which he also renewed. In the Hasmonean period, the square Temple Mount was enlarged to the south (red walls). Finally, King Herod the Great enlarged the mount to double its size (grey walls) by building 15 feet-thick retaining walls, which are still standing today. The many cisterns cut into the mountain are also

From the above we learn the surprising and oft-overlooked point that King Hezekiah had also built modifications or additions to the Second Temple. We must now extend Item 1 above to 1A and 1B, and also ask if Hezekiah's modifications could have fufilled the prophecy. For if, for example, they did, then it is possible that Herod's extensions represented a fourth temple – and that the messiah came before 20 CE and everybody (Jews and Christians alike) missed the boat. Of course, we all feel this is unlikely, but in the same manner we must examine Herod's extensions we must also fairly example hezekiah's extensions – even if only to discredit one and credit the other. So, Item #2 – Did King Hezekiah's modifications or additions satisfy the prophecies regarding a Third Temple?

Once the platform was completed, double colonnades, or porticoes, were built above the outer walls to provide shelter from the elements. A huge hall called the Royal Stoa, with four rows of columns, was erected on the southern end. The pre-existing eastern portico that stood on the square mount was left unchanged. As it belonged to a pre-Herodian period, it was called Solomon’s Porch. Near the center of this platform a new gold-covered Temple was constructed that in turn was surrounded by many other buildings.

In 70 A.D., this splendid structure that had taken 46 years to build (John 2.20) was destroyed by the Romans. The only vestiges of the compound to survive the destruction were the four retaining walls that supported the Temple platform; the best known today is the Western

* under construction *

More information:

herod_s_temple_was_the_third_temple.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/07 09:36 by serena