Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XXV

Where the Sanhedrin Condemned Christ


The Western Wall of the Temple Court at Jerusalem is constructed of great stones, which must have formed part of the circumvallation since the days of Solomon. It is beside these ancient stones that the Jews, either as individuals, or at stated times in groups, wail over the burned temple and the ruined city, and pray for restoration and for peace. From contemporary evidences we have shown elsewhere (cf. Article on "The Wailing Wall") that the Jew, in every century of the Christian Era, has wept and prayed at this ancient site, beginning with the Destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

Now, at the date indicated, some reconstruction of Judaism was found necessary. Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai (John of Acts 4:6) led the way. The site of the Sanhedrin for various purposes took the place of Jerusalem, and the principle was emphasised, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice," while prayer at the Western Wall took the place of prayer within the temple itself. Based on this substitution various questions have been brought forward.

Why should not the Jew, like men of every other creed or nation, tread the temple courts? The common answer given by the Jew is that the exact position of the Holy of Holies is unknown, and one might unwittingly tread on that sacred ground. But there are deeper reasons still, and when they are mentioned the Jew acquiesces--"Every Jew is ceremonially unclean since sacrifices ceased, and that excludes him from the sacred precincts." There can be no question or denial in the matter of this "uncleanness," and it has been a matter of discussion between Jews and Christians from the close of the first century. In the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 56 b-57 a) we read, "A min (Jewish Christian) said to Rabbi Chananya (fl. before and after 70 A.D.), 'Now ye are sons of uncleanness, for it is written, Her uncleanness is in her skirts.'" He said, "Come and see what is written (Lev. 16:16): 'He dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleanness,' which means, even in their uncleanness the Shechinah is resting among them."

And what does this mean in the matter of building a temple in the days to come, "a pious hope of the Jew," often spoken about in our time. There is no one ceremonially clean to lay the foundation, no one clean to erect the house, no red heifer for cleansing when built, and no clean priest to carry through the ceremonial. God has evidently closed that door, and all the Jew can say is, "When the time comes God will find a way." That may be faith, but it ignores the fact that when God closes one door He opens another, and it ignores revelation in both Old and New Testaments (Lev. 17:11), "It is the blood that maketh the atonement." (1 John 1:7) "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth."

The Jew was in the first instance self-excluded; but "use and wont" very soon made exclusion a legal regulation, and generally the Moslem forbids the Jew all access. Even Sir Moses Montefiore had to receive a special permit from the Sultan before he could visit the site of the old temple. All this has resolved itself into an Arabic proverb: "A dog may enter the temple court, a Jew may not." Significant fulfilment! "Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens" (Lam. 5:2).

But let us turn once more to the site of the Wailing Wall. Why was that site chosen? Evidently with the desire to be in the nearest possible proximity to what had been the Holy of Holies. Its position was well enough known at the close of the first century, and already it was being visited by distinguished rabbis. The nearness was so satisfactory to devout Israelites that it is declared in the Midrash on Exodus 3:1, "The Shechinah never moves away from the Western Wall."

And now we come to the chief part of our subject. There is one point in the topography that is more arresting than all that has been said. In his description of Jerusalem, Josephus (Bella, v. iv. 2; and II. xvi. 3) tells that the first wall crossed the city from the Tower of Hippicus, past the Xystus, and at its eastern end reached the Council House, adjoining the western cloister of the Temple. Then in B. Sanh. 15 a, we learn that "forty years before the Temple was destroyed, the Sanhedrin migrated and sat in Chanuyoth," which is described (Ab. Zar. 8, b, margin) as "a place on the Mount of the House." At the same time (J. Sanh. i. 1) the Sanhedrin lost the power of life and death. Accordingly there cannot be a doubt that, when the people shouted (John 18:31), "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death," the Sanhedrin was not meeting in their first chamber--the House of Hewn-stones in the Temple, but in the Council House, and it was there they pronounced their sentence of death against the Lord Jesus.

And the evidences are so definite that we can fix with certainty the position of this Council House. The only possible site is that now occupied by the "Mehkemeh" or "Court House," on the eastern side of the Wilson Arch, on the right hand side, just outside of the Temple Court, where it is entered by the Gate of the Chain. Its name has come down through the centuries, and the fact that in the East such buildings succeed one another, even with change of race and creed, should strengthen the evidence for identification, were that required.

Let us then enter the Mehkemeh, cross the floor, and look from the windows in its southern wall. There we see the Jews wailing and praying, and from his standpoint the Jew can look up, and through the branches of an old fig tree see these same windows. The whole relationship is striking, and constitutes one of "the ironies of history." Under the windows of the Council Chamber where the Sanhedrin condemned Christ, the Jew has wept and wailed down through all the centuries. Should he not see in this a fulfilment, at least by "remez" or "indication" of the cry uttered at the northern corner of that same Western Wall, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25).

But Israel even here might think of better things. We have record (B. Maccoth. 24 b) of an interesting incident at this very spot. "A number of rabbis were going up to Jerusalem (to pray). When they came to the Mount of the House, they saw a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies. They all wept except R. Akiba, who laughed for joy. They asked him, 'Why are you laughing?' He said, 'Why are you weeping?' They said to him, 'The stranger that cometh near shall be put to death (Num. 1:51), and now the foxes are walking within it. Shall we not weep?' He said, "On that account I am laughing. It is written: 'Zion shall be ploughed like a field' (Micah 3:12), and again, later, 'There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem' (Zech. 8:4). Until the first was fulfilled, I was fearing that the second should not be; but now I see the first prophecy fulfilled, I know the second will be established." They said to him, 'Akiba, thou hast comforted us.'"

May not Israel rejoice even in the fulfilment of the prophetic word: "Thy house is left unto you desolate," and then consider that when "they turn to the Lord their God, and David their King," and say, "Blessed be He that cometh in the Name of the Lord," they "shall see His face" and "enjoy His goodness in the latter days."

Return to W. M. Christie Page


© Copyright 2017 Rediscovering the Bible. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us | Email Webmaster