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priests, when occasion served, to walk round it. But it is worthy of remark, that a cubit on the south-east corner was cut off, because the line which divided the tribe of Judah from Benjamin ran through it, and they entertained the idea that the whole of the altar should be in the portion of Benjamin, since it is said in Gen. xlix. 27, that Benjamin should raven as a wolf, that in the morning he should devour the prey, and in the evening divide the spoil; all of which they interpreted of his being a strong tribe, and of the altar's being within his tribe, where the priests, by the sacred fire, devoured so many sacrifices, from the morning till the evening; and

: where, in the evening, before leaving the sanctuary, they divided the portions allotted to the priests among themselves for their subsistence. Rather, therefore, than allow any part of the altar to be out of the tribe of Benjamin, they cut off a cubit from the south-east corner. But if there was something particular at the south-east 'corner of the base, so was there also at the south-west ; for in it were the two holes into which the blood that was to be poured out upon, or before the altar, ran by a conduit, and was conveyed to Kidron, which being dry in summer, the blood could not be carried away at that season, and was, therefore, sold to the neighbouring gardeners for manure.*

The foundation of the altar being thus raised a cubit high, and thirty-two cubits along the side, it was contracted to thirty cubits, or a cubit taken from each side like Ezekiel's, and rose at this breadth for five cubits more, thereby forming what was called the body of the altar. Thus, at the top of the sixth cubit, it was thirty cubits square; it then contracted again a cubit on each side, so that the seventh cubit made it only twenty-eight

Light. Heb, and Talm. Exer. John xviii. 1.

Ch, xliii. 13.

cubits square. This was called the circuit of the altar, because around this space, between the sixth and seventh cubits, did the priests walk when they sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on the horns of the altar. Their manner of doing which was as follows:

They began at the south-east horn, proceeded to the north-east, from that to the north-west, and then to the south-west, where, after sprinkling the blood on the horn of that quarter, like the rest, the remainder of the blood, if there was any, was poured over, so as to fall into the holes of the base which conveyed it to Kidron. Upon the top of the seventh cubit, at each corner of the altar, were the horns; they were hollow, a cubit square at the root, rose for a cubit upright, diminishing as they rose, and then bent outwards, to make them more worthy of the name. Here, also, was another space of a cubit round, so that the sides of the eighth cubit were only twenty-six cubits each ; but it is evident no person could walk round it, like the others, on account of the horns which arose from the corners. At the top of the eighth cubit was the last space of a cubit round, where the priests stood to stir up the fire and attend the sacrifices ; so that the ninth and tenth cubits were of the same dimensions, or twenty-four cubits on each side. On the top of the tenth cubit was the hearth, with a constant fire for consuming the sacrifices. Thus, the altar, in our Saviour's days, was a large mass of rude stones, brought from the valley of Bith Cerem, or Bethhaccerem, as it is rendered in Neh. iii. 14, on which an iron tool had not come, cemented with mortar, pitch, and lead, as the Jews themselves tell us, and consequently, differing from the altars erected by Moses and Solomon both in size



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Lightfoot's Chorographical Cent. lv. Joseph. Bello. lib. v. cap. v. • Exod. xx. 25,

and materials. It was, however, built in a substantial and regular form, whose base was thirty-two cubits, and which narrowed at different heights ; so that, at ten cubits from the ground, it was twenty-four cubits square. In other words, it was eighteen feet two inches high, sixty-one feet eight inches square at the bottom, and forty-three feet nine inches square at the top. The Jewish historians tell us, that on account of the number of sacrifices offered upon it, it was regularly washed with a mop on the eve of the sabbath, and whitewashed twice a-year; namely, at the passover, or the third of our April; and the feast of tabernacles, or the ninth of our October, allowing their year to have been begun on the vernal equinox, or twenty-first day of March.

It has been a matter of inquiry how the fire was obtained which continued to burn on the altar of the second temple. The most probable reason is, that they obtained it frem flint, as Judas Maccabæus did afterwards ;- but the Jews, who, in later times, were fond of the marvellous, tell us, that the priests hid the sacred fire in a hollow pit without water when they were led away captive; and Nehemiah, when they returned, sent the descendants of those who had hid it to fetch it out; which they did, but were astonished to find it not fire but thick water; which however, took fire when the sun shone on it. The above account is either a Jewish fiction, to make the people believe that the fire of the first temple, which came down from heaven, was not extinguished ; or a trick of the priests to deceive them by means of Naphtha, which appears to be confirmed by verse 36, where we are told, that Nehemiah called the substance that took fire Naphthar.o



a 2 Maccab. x. 3.

b Ib. i. 19-22. See an account of this substance, in part xii. sect. yi;


Bat how, it may be asked, did the priests ascend to the top of the altar, since the law forbade them to ascend by steps ? I answer, that they did it by means of an inclined plane, or gently-rising ascent, made of stone, and joined to the altar. It was thirty-two cubits long from the place where it touched the ground to the top of the altar, and sixteen cubits wide. The common name for it in the Talmudical writings is Cebesh (~23,) which signifies a footpath ; and the reason of its being so wide was to prevent confusion in going to the altar and returning from it. The utmost regularity, indeed, was necessary, both for the sake of decency and dispatch; and, accordingly, the priests commonly ascended on the east, or the right-hand side ; and descended by the west, or left-hand side. It is easy to see, that from the principal ascent to the altar, there would be, and actually were, side roads to the different spaces where the altar contracted, that the priests might easily get to them : nor should it be forgotten, that around the middle of the altar, or at the height of five cubits, there was a red line to direct the priests to sprinkle with precision the blood of the sacrifices. For some was to be poured or sprinkled at the bottom of the altar, and some upon the horns; some below, and some above.

Such was the altar of the Lord, which was often called Ariel, or the Lion of God, both from the vast number of animals which it devoured, and from its being a type of Christ, the lion of the tribe of Judah. Its sanctity was such, that whatever touched it was reputed holy, and there was none other allowed in all the land of Israel, to prevent idolatry, and to teach them the doctrine of the unity of God.

It has been frequently asked,-Why God forbade

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* Ex, xx. 26.


steps to his altar? And the common answer to it has been, that it was for the sake of decency, which was certainly true; but there was perhaps an additional reason ; viz. that it might be contrary to the practice of the Chaldeans, Egyptians, and other Zabians, whose altars were high, and with many steps, as the tower of Babel and the Egyptian pyramids sufficiently shew. Bellonius says of the largest pyramid, that “the steps on it, from the bottom to the top, were about two hundred and fifty; and that they were so high, individually, as to occasion much difficulty in ascending them.” Radziville says, that he ascended to the top of it, and found it a level space of ten cubits square. And Herodotus says, that " this pyramid was constructed in the form of steps, which some called stairs, and others altars.” Every one must see how modesty would be violated on altars much lower than these; and, accordingly, Martial' takes notice of the immodesty of a heathen priest while officiating.

The want of steps, therefore, to the altar of burntoffering, would answer the double purpose of preserving decency and discouraging a heathen practice.

But before we leave the altar, we may take notice of some particulars connected with it, which are mentioned in the law; and in the first place of the altars of earth :' 66 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen. In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and bless thee.”

I Now, although these are mentioned, we do not find, that

a De Admir. Oper. Antiq. cap. ii.

1 P. 162. < Lib. ii. cap. cxxv.

d Lib. i. Epigr. 24. . See a pretty distinct account of the altar in Prideaux Connect. A.A.C. 535. { Exod. xx. 24.

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