The Court of the Israelites:
I venture here into forbidden territory so wish me luck.

King Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem.  The Bible says as much, so let’s go with that.  The temple was destroyed when the people of Judea were conquered and carried off into captivity.  I think that’s pretty well supported by the Bible.  They got freed by the Persians, who then sponsored them coming back and rebuilding it under a man named Zerubabel.  Now it’s getting tricky, because that means Persia created Judea and Iran should by rights be the best friend of Judea (or Israel as it is now mistakenly called for reasons that are totally beyond me or at least inexcusable if you go by the Bible).  That temple was taken down and replaced by a man named Herod; I think there was more than one, but the lasts temple is called Herod’s Temple.  It was quite new at the time of Christ and was soon thereafter razed by the Romans after Judea revolted.  That makes two temples so far.

Now I know there are narrow minded pettifogging little nitpickers out there who will ludicrously claim that that makes three temples.  But there was a prophecy somewhere that something important was supposed to happen at the time of the third temple.  And we are assured that that has not been built yet.

So there.

Newton’s book Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms is a careful review of ancient history as best Newton could do it.  The next to the last chapter is called “A Description of the Temple of Solomon.”  I’m not sure which of the four temples (including the next one) is really being described.  And it is most odd that Newton should include an architectural digression in what is otherwise pretty straight forward history plus myth plus astronomy plus scripture all being juggled with wild glee.  And there is a diagram, which I am taking to be dependable although it’s probably not by Newton’s hand. 

So I look at the diagram and think, “Newton thought this was important.  Why?” 

The center of interest at the temple was of course the blood sacrifices made in the court out front.  There was more fresh air in a court than in an enclosed temple.  A lot of other things went on in the temple complex such as administration, records, judicial decisions, treasure rooms, security, music, money changing, souvenirs, sacrificial animals being sold, guided tours, purification rites, rites of passage, weddings, funerals, preaching, debates, scholarship, finding the nearest latrine, cleaning, repairs, making sure the right people were in the court when their animals were being sacrificed, meat being preserved and maybe some praying on the side.  (Some days I think it would be nifty if somebody built “Temple Land” as a tourist attraction that would do a historical reenactment.)  But the big deal was the sacrifice.

So you come up to Jerusalem to visit the temple.  You are a yeoman farmer, hard worker, respectable, reasonably prosperous, pretty much like everybody you know.  Since coming to the temple is a big deal, you tend to do it on some special day, and your friends come with you, probably your whole village.  There are buildings and a number of courts, for Gentiles, for women, for lepers, for men and for priests.  The sacrifice happens in the Priests’ Court.  Nobody goes there but Levite priests.  The only other place with a good view is the Court of the Israelites.  You and your buddies go there.  There are in fact two such courts, and they flank the Priests’ Court, which measures about 100 cubits on a side, a cubit being about 22 inches or the distance from your bent elbow to your extended middle finger.  (No, it has nothing to do with that gesture, I think.) 

Each court of the Israelites is two cubits deep.  Now if there is any dimension that is important here it is the size of the Court of the Israelites.  That is what determines how many men can watch the sacrifice, which is the point of the whole shebang.  If you put me in a space measuring a cubit square, I’ll be unhappy, but I’ll probably survive. 

Let’s say there are 100 men in your village along with a dozen each of grandfathers, bachelors and youths technically adult but not done growing.  That’s 136 who can be admitted to the Court of the Israelites.  The first row fills up with 68, men who can stand comfortably shoulder to shoulder in 100 cubits.  Behind is a second row, looking over the shoulders of the first row, 68 strong.  There really isn’t room for a third row, and besides they would have trouble seeing.  You might be able to squeeze in a few more, but double the number, go to 272 men in there?  That’s about 360 square inches per man or 19 inches square.  That’s close to the limit.  So somewhere between 100 families and 200 families the men are literally under pressure to split the village in half or ruin the biggest occasion, virtually the only occasion, of the year, of their lives. 

Persist in this and eventually everybody in each village is related to about fourth or fifth cousin, which is just about idea for fertility. 

Notice how subtle it is.  In all the excitement of the temple and in hustling in and out of the Court of the Israelites (there being likely to be several thousand who need to get through in the course of the day), nobody much says, “Wait.  This is silly.  Aren’t we a priority, too?  Can’t we build a few galleries up there?  We could increase the number of places five fold, easily.”  But of course if you take the pressure away the villages could expand to say five hundred families, which will cause catastrophic infertility. 

The very structure, the architecture of the temple complex itself dictates a social arrangement that optimizes the fertility of the people. 

Was it deliberate?  I doubt it.  I imagine they were maintaining village size by other means and the size of the courts was and remained ample. 

Did it work?  Well certainly there were periods when Israel had remarkable military success, so they probably had the young men to make it happen.  On the other hand, if the prophets are to be believed Israel and Judah were just about always, backsliding, going for the local pagan gods.  They could be worshipped under every tree and on every green hill.  Except for maybe an idol and an altar there was no capital investment and no upkeep.  There was no long pilgrimage to the Temple.  The air was fresher. 

Of course it can’t have been nearly as interesting.

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