Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The tragedy of Calvary. Part 40.

The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920

This was the greatest and most famous of the temples of earth. It could hold two amphitheaters the size of the Coliseum, Rome, and contain within its area 210,000 persons. Its revenues were enormous, and it was plundered at different times by strangers, Assyrians, Syrians, and Romans From all lands the Jew sent money to Jerusalem, and statesmen, including Cicero, protested against the gold which flowed from all countries to the Holy City.

The wood, incense, wine, oil, silver, gold, sacred vessels, and things required for the services were contributed with lavish hands by rich Jews, and Jewish traders, and wealthy families vied with each other in their gifts. Often persons willed their whole fortune to the Temple, (Shek. iv.) and the Scribes and Pharisees were very avaricious in collecting such bequests, for a part went into their own pockets.

People coming up to the Sabbath services, and to the great Feasts, brought their offerings. The flour, oil, wine, etc., not used were sold, and the money divided among the priests. The meat-offerings brought by the worshipers, when prepared by the priests and Levites, were sold again to the givers.

But the chief revenue came from the half-shekel, which every Hebrew had to pay each year after he became of age. On the first of Adar before the Passover, proclamation was by messengers sent from Jerusalem, and on the fifteenth the money-changers opened stalls for the change of coins, because the custom was to receive only the regular half-shekel of the sanctuary, the coin being worth about thirty-six cents. It would not be received from Sara-tans, " Gentiles." On the twenty-fifth of the month these money-dealers opened their stalls in Jerusalem, and after that day, those persons who had not paid were sued, their personal property forcibly taken and even their lands could be seized.

After this date the money-changers moved their stalls into the Temple area. The law fixed the rate of discount they charged, and the total yearly sum the priests derived from this extortion of discount amounted to $45,000, an enormous amount for those times. The total yearly sum the Temple derived from this tribute was about $380,000. 1 This was a great amount in that day, when a man received only from twelve to fifteen cents for a day's labor. The Good Samaritan gave the hotel-keeper only about fifty-five cents for the care of the wounded man.

About 78 B. C., during the reign of Salome-Alexander, the Pharisees passed an enactment by which the Temple taxes could be collected by law, and they used this with terrible force, oppressing the poor, the widows, the sick, and the orphans. Scribes, Pharisees, Priests, Levites, and a host of lazy worthless people lived on these extortions. The richest gifts came from the wealthy money-lending and merchant Jews of Rome, Alexandria, and the cities in Babylonia, Assyria, Media, Persia, etc. which they sent to Jerusalem as : " the ransom of their souls," by men chosen to carry the gifts and offer sacrifices for them.

The Temple treasury was overflowing with money coming from the half shekel each Jew contributed, from the sale of the victims for sacrifices bought there, from gifts, bequests, and other ways of collecting and exacting revenues. This money was expended in buying public sacrifices offered for the whole congregation of Israel morning and evening, and on festivals. There was a continual controversy between the Pharisees and Sadducees on this question. When the three great money-chests were opened, they divided the gifts into three parts, one for the u land of Israel," one for the " neighboring land," and one for "distant lands." This money was to purchase sacrifices for the people who lived in these places.

From the treasury they paid for all animals sacrificed, all services of the temple, the repairs of the building, the salaries of the priests and Levites, the regular officials, those who prepared the proposition bread, incense, and wood; the Scribes who copied the Law and other Books of the Old Testament, those who examined into the legal fitness of the sacrifices, teachers who instructed the ministers in their official duties, Rabbis who taught the people, day and night guards of the Temple, the repairs of the city walls, and roads, the whitewashing of the tombs before the feasts, the repairs of public buildings of the city, etc.

On Feasts and Sabbaths nearly five hundred priests, and as many Levites ministered in the Temple, and half that number attended on ordinary week days. To the south of the Temple area was a densely populated quarter of the city called Ophel. Here priests lived when in the Holy City; Jericho was filled with others; but half of the twenty-four " courses" into which they were divided lived permanently in Jerusalem. Priests and Levites were always sons of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron. In the division of the land among the tribes, they received no part, for they were to be devoted entirely to the service of religion, and they lived on the Temple revenues.

David found that twenty-four families descending from Aaron lived in his day, and he divided them into twenty-four " courses." But only four " courses " returned from Babylonia, consisting of four thousand two hundred and eighty-nine priests, while less than four hundred Levites returned, and they were augmented by two hundred and twenty Nethinim, "Given ones," coming from other tribes Priests and Levites were free from taxes, military service and manual labor. Esdras divided the four "courses" which returned into twenty-four, so as to carry out David's method.

After, the evening sacrifice, at three P. M., all the priests of a course stood in a row, held up one or more fingers, on each hand, and the high priest or his assistant counted fingers, and pointed out the persons who were to go on service the next day. Each "course" of priests and Levites went on duty for a week, beginning on the Sabbath, each course having its own chief.

While engaged in the service, they were not allowed to drink wine, except at night, as they might be called on at any time. Their clothes, cassocks, vestments, etc., were to be properly kept neat and clean. 2 The idea was that Israel was " a nation of priests. (Exod xix. 5. 6.) At first the priest was much honored, but with the rise of the Pharisees who were teachers more zealous for the Law than for the sacrifices, their influence declined. Still at the time of Christ, they were honored, and marriages with sacerdotal families were much sought.

1 Winer, Beal-Wortterb., II., 589.

Comp. Relandus. Antiq. p. 169.