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either Moses or Solomon made any of them. They are therefore conjectured to have been erected either on extraordinary occasions in the wilderness, when the Israelites were at a distance from the tabernacle, and wished to offer up an occasional sacrifice to God, as the altars of stone better suited the rocky country of Judea;“ or that they were in aid of the ordinary altar at the great festivals, at the conclusion of which they could be easily removed. But as this militates against the injunction concerning one altar only, it has been suggested, that the altar of Moses in the wilderness, and in Judea, might have been placed on a mound of earth, or a heap of rude stones, so as to set it more in view of the worshipping Israelites, and so high as not to endanger the curtains of the tabernacle.
In Deut. xvi. 21, we read, that groves were forbidden to be planted in the neighbourhood of the altar of the Lord : a circumstance which might have happened in places where the tabernacle, or any of the above temporary altars, chanced to be erected, but which could not have taken place in the temple at Jerusalem. What then was the meaning of the prohibition? We answer, that the word n WVX, Asherè, which is translated “ a grove," has various significations in Scripture. Thus, it sometimes signifies a grove of large shady trees, adorned with altars dedicated to some deity; and sometimes, not only a grove, but a wooden image in that grove. Thus Gideono destroyed the altar of Baal, and cut in pieces the image (1770x77) which was above it, or upon it (en avtov LXX.) In 2 Kings xxiii. 4–6, Josiah ordered that they should bring out from the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove or carved image, which Ahab had set up.
• Spencer de Legib. Heb. Rit. lib. i. cap. v. vi. vii.
6 Judg. vi. 25.
it signifies a single tree, as in Deut. xvi. 21; sometimes the statue of Astartè, Ashtaroth, or the moon (compare Judg. ii. 13; iii. 7; 1 Sam. vii. 3;) and sometimes the wooden shrines, or moveable habitations of Venus, or any other heathen dignity. From these various significations, therefore, we may perceive the meaning of the law. It was intended to discourage idolatry, and to keep them from those obscene rites which were often performed in the thick groves that surrounded the heathen temples. Even Horace takes notice of the “ parum castos lucos” of the heathens.
The last thing we shall mention, connected with the altar, is the prohibition against erecting any pillar near it: in Deut. xvi. 22, where our translators have rendered it “any image,” the idea is changed. For the heathens were in use to have asa, Metsebè, or pillars of different kinds in the neighbourhood of their altars. Thus, in Syria, they had them of wood; and in Egypt, of stone. They were large when dedicated to the Dii Superi, and small when dedicated to the Dii Minorum Gentium. They were sometimes in the form of cones, or oblong, and sometimes served as pedestals to the statues of their deities. They were always, however, accounted sacred, and often received divine honours. Thus Pausanias says, that “ by ancient usage, it happened among the Greeks, that rude stones obtained divine honours in place of images.” And in the same book, when speaking of Mercury, he tells us, that " near the statue of the god about thirty stones were erected of a four-sided figure, which they worshipped, and called by the names of certain gods.” Hence we may
" perceive the origin of the law. It was evidently intended,
* 1 Kings xiv. 23.
6 Carmen. lib. i. Carm. xii.
« Lib. vii.
like the former ones, to discourage the Jews from introducing idolatry into the temple of God.
Having thus considered the altar of burnt-offering, and the laws which guarded its sanctity, let us next proceed to examine the objects that stood on either side of it during the second temple : beginning with the north, or right-hand side, if we have our backs to the gate Nicanor on the east, and our faces to the temple on the west. On this side, we are told, the most holy offerings were slain ; viz. the bullock and goat on the day of expiation; the bullocks and goats that were to be burnt at other times; the goats at the beginning of the months and of the solemn feasts; the whole burnt-offering; peace-offerings of the congregation; trespass-offering, &c.-All these, and in general, the greatest number of sacrifices, were slain on this side of the altar; so that it is natural to expect several accommodations for these purposes. Accordingly we have the three following :the place of the rings (marked No. 19, in Plate II.); the tables for washing and dividing the sacrifices (marked No. 20;) and the pillars with hooks on which to hang them (marked No. 21.)
But to be more particular, we may remark, that, for the space of eight cubits on the north side of the altar, there was nothing particular, because room was required to go round about it. But from the eighth cubit to the thirty-second was the place of rings, just mentioned. They were fixed strongly in the stones of the pavement, in order that, by means of cords passed through them, they might bind down and keep fast the heads of the animals intended to be slain. It is
generally allowed that they were twenty-four in number, but it is not agreed whether they were placed in six rows of four each, or four rows of six each. Indeed the matter is trivial, but we may remark, that the first opi
nion suits the space allotted them better than the second ; for their length in front was only twenty-four cubits, whereas their depth was thirty-two, or the same as the altar. On extraordinary occasions, when a greater number of animals were slain than these rings could admit, they still slew them on the north side of the altar, by taking in the whole space that was between the place of rings and the porch, or even the west end of the Court, if necessary, and occupying it as a temporary place of slaughter, as Solomon did at the dedication of the temple.“ Four cubits from the north side of the place of rings were occupied by the marble tables on which they washed the inwards of the sacrifices, and cut them in pieces. In Ezekiel's vision of the temple these tables were eight in number, of hewn stone, one cubit and ahalf long, one cubit and a half broad, and a cubit high. And four cubits father north still, was the place of the pillars, on which they hung the animals in order to flay them. These were not the pillars which separated between the Court of the Priests and the Court of Israel, but low.ones placed before them, eight in number, with three rows of beams across, filled with hooks, at different heights from the ground, to answer the different sizes of the animals. In Ezekiel's vision of the temple these hooks were a hand breadth each. And before these pillars and hooks were more marble tables, which, on emergencies, could be used like the others.
Thus we are come to the north side of the Court of the Priests, or to those pillars which supported the covered walk or piazza of the Court of Israel.
But before we leave it, we may observe, that although there is no molten sea mentioned in the second temple, yet its place in the first temple was in the north-east corner, of which we are speaking, as may be seen by perusing 1 Kings vii. 39, and 2 Chron. iv. 10. It was made, we are told, of the brass that was taken from Hadadezer, King of Zobah, and was intended for the priests to wash in ;' that is to say, to wash their hands and feet when at any time they entered the Court of the Priests, or when their hands and feet needed washing from the slaying of the sacrifices. During the times of the tabernacle there was no molten sea, and the laver served the double purpose of washing the hands and feet of the priests, and the parts of the sacrifices;c but when Solomon built the temple these were divided, and the molten sea was reserved for the priests, and the ten lavers for the sacrifices. The molten sea was indeed a wonderful mass; its depth being five cubits, its diameter ten cubits, and its circumference thirty cubits, supported on a beautiful pedestal of twelve brazen oxen, and cast in the clay of the plain of Jordan.' There is, however, a considerable difference as to its contents : for in 1 Kings vii. 26, it is said to contain two thousand baths, and in 2 Chron. iv. 5, no fewer than three thousand; a circumstance which has occasioned no small difficulty among commentators. But the common way of reconciling it is, either to suppose, in the first place, that the bath, in liquid measure, being the same as the ephah in dry, the molten sea could contain two thousand baths of liquid measure, and three thousand of dry, by means of heaping. Or, secondly, that it referred to the quantity of water necessary for the service of the priesthood, and the quantity it could hold when filled to the brim.
". 1 Kings viii. 64. 2 Chron, vii. 7.
b Ch. xl. 39-42.
« Ch. xl. 43.