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  • THE TEMPLE - CH. 3 - B
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    Its Penalties

    To these two Divine punishments corresponded other two by the hand of man--the 'forty stripes save one,' and the so-called 'rebels' beating.' The distinction between them is easily explained. The former were only inflicted after a regular judicial investigation and sentence, and for the breach of some negative precept or prohibition; while the latter was, so to speak, in the hands of the people, who might administer it on the spot, and without trial, if any one were caught in supposed open defiance of some positive precept, whether of the Law of Moses or of the traditions of the elders. The reader of the New Testament will remember such popular outbursts, when the men of Nazareth would have cast Jesus over the brow of the hill on which their city was built (Luke 4:29), and when on at least two occasions the people took up stones in the Temple to stone Him (John 8:59; 10:31). It is a remarkable fact, that when the Lord Jesus and when His martyr Stephen were before the Sanhedrim (Matt 26:59,68; Acts 7:57,58), the procedure was in each case in direct contravention of all the rules of the Rabbinical criminal law. In each case the sitting terminated in 'the rebels' beating,' both when they 'buffeted the Master' and 'smote Him with the palms of their hands,' and when 'they ran upon' Stephen 'with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.' For the rebels' beating was really unto death. The same punishment was also to have been inflicted upon Paul, when, on the charge of having brought a Gentile beyond the enclosure in the court open to such, 'the people ran together, and they took Paul, and drew him out of the Temple,' and 'went about to kill him.' This summary mode of punishing supposed 'rebellion' was probably vindicated by the example of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar (Num 25:7,8). On the other hand, the mildness of the Rabbinical law, where religious feelings were not involved, led to modifications of the punishment prescribed in Deuteronomy 25:2, 3. Thus because the words were, 'by a certain number, forty stripes he may give him,' instead of a simple direction to give the forty stripes, the law was construed as meaning a number near to forty, or thirty-nine, which accordingly was the severest corporeal punishment awarded at one time. If the number of stripes were less than thirty-nine, it must still be some multiple of three, since, as the scourge was composed of three separate thongs (the middle one of calf's leather, the other two of asses', with a reference to Isaiah 1:3), each stroke of the scourge in reality inflicted three stripes. Hence the greatest number of strokes administered at one time amounted only to thirteen. The law also most particularly defined and modified every detail, even to the posture of the criminal. Still this punishment, which St. Paul underwent not less than five times at the hands of the Jews (2 Cor 11:24), must have been very severe. In general, we can only hope that it was not so often administered as Rabbinical writings seem to imply. During the scourging, Deuteronomy 28:58, 59, and at its close Psalm 78:38, were read to the culprit. After the punishment he was not to be reproached, but received as a brother. *

    * Further details belong to the criminal jurisprudence of the Sanhedrim.

    Necessity for Discipline

    That strict discipline both in regard to priests and worshippers would, however, be necessary, may be inferred even from the immense number of worshippers which thronged Jerusalem and the Temple. According to a late computation, the Temple could have held 'within its colossal girdle' 'two amphitheatres of the size of the Coliseum.' As the latter is reckoned to have been capable, inclusive of its arena and passages, of accommodating 109,000 persons, the calculation that the Temple might contain at one time about 210,000 persons seems by no means exaggerated. * It will readily be believed what immense wealth this multitude must have brought to the great national sanctuary.

    * See Edinburgh Review for January, 1873, p. 18. We may here insert another architectural comparison from the same interesting article, which, however, is unfortunately defaced by many and serious mistakes on other points. 'The length of the eastern wall of the sanctuary,' writes the reviewer, 'was more than double that of the side of the Great Pyramid; its height nearly one-third of the Egyptian structure from the foundation. If to this great height of 152 feet of solid wall you add the descent of 114 feet to the bed of the Kedron, and the further elevation of 160 feet attained by the pinnacle, we have a total of 426 feet, which is only 59 feet less than the Great Pyramid.'

    The Temple Treasury

    Indeed, the Temple treasury had always been an object of cupidity to foreigners. It was successively plundered by Syrians and Romans, though at the last siege the flames deprived Titus and his soldiers of this booty. Even so liberal and enlightened a statesman as Cicero inveighed, perhaps on the ground of exaggerated reports, against the enormous influx of gold from all lands to Jerusalem. From Biblical history we know how liberal were the voluntary contributions at the time of Moses, of David, and again of Joash (2 Chron 24) and of Josiah (2 Kings 22). Such offerings to the Temple treasury continued to the last a very large source of revenue. They might be brought either in the form of vows or of free gifts. Any object, or even a person, might be dedicated by vow to the altar. If the thing vowed were suitable, it would be used; if otherwise, sold, and its value given to the treasury. Readers of the New Testament know how fatally such spurious liberality interfered with the most sacred duties of life (Matt 15:5). From Jewish tradition we gather that there must have been quite a race for distinction in this respect. The wood, the incense, the wine, the oil, and all other things requisite for the sacred services, as well as golden and silver vessels, were contributed with lavish hand. Certain families obtained by their zeal special privileges, such as that the wood they brought should always be first used for the altar fire; and the case of people leaving the whole of their fortune to the Temple is so often discussed, that it must have been a by no means uncommon occurrence. To this practice Christ may have referred in denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees who 'devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers' (Matt 23:14). For a good deal of this money went in the end from the Temple treasury to them, although there is no evidence of their intriguing for personal gifts.

    The Tribute Money Besides these votive offerings, and the sale of the surplusage of incense, flour, etc., the people were wont on the Sabbaths and feast-days to bring voluntary contributions 'in their hand' to the Temple. another and very large source of revenue was from the profit made by the meat-offerings, which were prepared by the Levites, and sold every day to the offerers. But by far the largest sum was derived from the half-shekel of Temple tribute, which was incumbent on every male Israelite of age, including convert and even manumitted slaves. As the shekel of the sanctuary was double the ordinary, the half-shekel due to the Temple treasury amount to about 1s. 4d. (two denarii or a didrachma). Hence, when Christ was challenged at Capernaum (Matt 17:24) for this payment, He directed Peter to give the stater, or two didrachmas, for them both. This circumstance also enables us to fix the exact date of this event. For annually, on the 1st of Adar (the month before the Passover), proclamation was made throughout the country by messengers sent from Jerusalem of the approaching Temple tribute. On the 15th of Adar the money- changers opened stalls throughout the country to change the various coins, which Jewish residents at home or settlers abroad might bring, into the ancient money of Israel. For custom had it that nothing but the regular half-shekel of the sanctuary could be received at the treasury. On the 25th of Adar business was only transacted within the precincts of Jerusalem and of the Temple, and after that date those who had refused to pay the impost could be proceeded against at law, and their goods distrained, the only exception being in favor of priests, and that 'for the sake of peace,' that is, lest their office should come in disrepute. From heathens or Samaritans no tribute money was to be received, the general rule in reference to all their offerings being this: 'A votive and a free-will offering they receive at their hands; but whatever is not either a votive or a free-will offering (does not come under either category) is not received at their hands.' In support, Ezra 4:3 was quoted. The law also fixed the rate of discount which the money-changers were allowed to charge those who procured from them the Temple coin, perhaps to obviate suspicion of, or temptation to usury--a sin regarded as one of the most heinous civil offences.

    Annual Sum of Tribute

    The total sum derived annually from the Temple tribute has been computed at about 76,000 pounds. As the bankers were allowed to charge a silver meah, or about one-fourth of a denar (2d.) on every half-shekel, their profits must have amounted to nearly 9,500 pounds, or, deducting a small sum for exceptional cases, in which the meah was not to be charged, say about 9,000 pounds--a very large sum, considering the value of money in a country where a laborer received a denar (8d.) for a day's work (Matt 20:2), and the 'good Samaritan' left only two denars (1s. 4d.) in the inn for the keep of the sick man (Luke 10:35). It must therefore have been a very powerful interest which Jesus attacked, when in the Court of the Temple He 'poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables' (John 2:15), while at the same time He placed Himself in direct antagonism to the sanctioned arrangements of the Sanhedrim, whom He virtually charged with profanity.

    Tribute Enforced By Law

    It had only been a century before, during the reign of Salome- Alexandra (about 78 B.C.), that the Pharisaical party, being then in power, had carried an enactment by which the Temple tribute was to be enforced at law. It need scarcely be said that for this there was not the slightest Scriptural warrant. Indeed, the Old Testament nowhere provided legal means for enforcing any payment for religious purposes. The law stated what was due, but left its observance to the piety of the people, so that alike the provision for the Temple and for the priesthood must have varied with the religious state of the nation (Mal 3:8-10). But, irrespective of this, it is matter of doubt whether the half-shekel had ever been intended as an annual payment. Its first enactment was under exceptional circumstances (Exo 30:12), and the mode in which, as we are informed, a similar collection was made during the reign of Joash, suggest the question whether the original institution by Moses was not treated rather as affording a precedent than as laying down a binding rule (2 Chron 24:6-11). At the time of Nehemiah (Neh 10:32-34) we read only of a self- imposed 'ordinance,' and at the rate of a third, not a half-shekel. But long before the coming of Christ very different views prevailed. 'The dispersed abroad' regarded the Temple as the one bond of their national as well as their religious life. Patriotism and religion swelled their gifts, which far exceeded the legal dues. Gradually they came to regard the Temple tribute as, in the literal sense of the words, 'a ransom for their souls' (Exo 30:12). So many were the givers and so large their gifts that they were always first brought to certain central places, whence the most honorable of their number carried them as 'sacred ambassadors' to Jerusalem. The richest contributions came from those crowded Jewish settlements in Mesopotamia and Babylon, to which 'the dispersed' had originally been transported. Here special treasuries for their reception had been built in the cities of Nisibis and Nehardea, whence a large armed escort annually accompanied the 'ambassadors' to Palestine. Similarly, Asia Minor, which at one time contributed nearly 8,000 pounds a year, had its central collecting places. In the Temple these moneys were emptied into three large chests, which were opened with certain formalities at each of the three great feasts. According to tradition these three chests held three seahs each (the seah = 1 peck 1 pint), so that on the three occasions of their opening twenty-seven seahs of coin were taken.

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