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Court (in Scripture)

In the English Bible, corresponds to the Hebrew (haver) enclosed space

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Court (in SCRIPTURE).—I. OPEN SPACE.—The word court, in the English Bible, corresponds to the Hebrew (haver) enclosed space. The latter is used to designate: (I) an encampment of nomads; (2) a space protected by a stockade or palisades, or by a rampart of stones or earth, hence a village; (3) the court-yards of the houses or temples. In the first sense the Hebrew term is, in the D.V., rendered in various ways: “castle” (Gen., xxv, 16), “cities of the desert” (Is., xlii, 11), “private places” (i.e. places of ambush near the settlements, Ps. ix, 8). The word village usually expresses the second meaning (Lev., xxv, 31; Jos., xiii, xv, xvi, etc.; I Par., iv, 33, etc. However, in Ex., viii, 13, village is a mistranslation for court-yard). In connection with this sense it may not be amiss to notice that the Hebrew word, either in the form Hager, or in the slightly different form Haror, was not infrequently used in proper names. One of the first encampments of the He-brews after their departure from the foot of Mount Sinai was at a place called Haseroth (Num., xi, 34). There was a Chanaanite city of Asor near the waters of Merom (Jos., xi, 5; Josephus, Ant. Jud., V, v, 1); this city, taken and burned by Josue (Jos., xi, 10, 11), was allotted to the tribe of Nephtali (Jos., xix, 36), but probably rebuilt by the Chanaanites (Judges, iv, 2), fortified by Solomon (III K., ix, 15), and seized by The glathphalasar (IV K., xv, 29). This Asor or Aser was, according to the Greek text, the native place of Tobias (Tob., i, 2), and at a short distance from it Jonathan Machabeus defeated the army of Demetrius (I Mach., xi, 67). We read (Jos., xv, 23) of another Asor, called Esron, in Jos., xv, 3, and Hesron, xv, 25 on the southern frontier of Juda. The same text (xv, 25) even mentions in the same borders a New Asor. A third Asor existed, at least after the Captivity, near Jerusalem, in the territory of Benjamin (II Esd., xi, 33). Among the compound proper names may be mentioned: Hasar Adar (D. V., “the town called Adar“, Num., xxxiv, 4); Asergadda (Jos., xv, 27); Hasersusa or Hasarsusim (Jos., xix, 5; I Par., iv, 31); Hasar Enon (D. V., “court of Enan”, Ez., xlvii, 17; xlviii, 1; “village of Enan”, Num., xxxiv, 9, 10); Hasersual or Hasarsuhal (Jos., xv, 28; xix, 3; II Esd., xi, 27; I Par., 28); Hasar hattikhon (D. V., “the house of Tichon”, Ez., xlvii, 16); Baalhasor (II K.,) iii, 23); Enhasor (Jos., xix, 37).

The recent excavations in Syria and Palestine, as well as the modern customs inherited from olden times, give precise indications concerning the house-courts, not seldom alluded to in Holy Writ. When, as occurs frequently, the house does not open directly on the street, there is a first court-yard extending between the outer wall and the building. From this outer court an entrance doorway leads into the inner court, around which the various apartments are located. The inner court sometimes contains in the center a well (II K., xvii, 18) or a fountain surrounded with fine trees; the walls, porches, and verandas are usually covered with vines and creepers, and an awning may be stretched overhead to keep off the sun. From the narration of the Passion we may infer that such was the arrangement in the high-priest’s house. While Jesus was being tried in one of the halls, the servants and ministers had gathered around a fire of coals in the inner court; thither Peter came to warm himself, and there he denied his Master. From the judgment-hall, Jesus turning (Luke, xxii, 61) could easily look outside (Matt., xxvi, 69) on Peter. Then the latter, smitten with remorse, betook himself to the outer court (Mark, xiv, 68; D. V., “before the court”, a literal translation of the awkward Latin rendering: ante atrium), there to weep freely. Royal residences displayed, on a larger scale and in a more elaborate way, a similar general arrangement. The Bible speaks of the courts of the palaces of Solomon (III K., vii, 9, etc.), Ezechias (IV K., xx, 4), and Sedecias (Jer., xxxii, 2, 12; xxxiii, 1; xxxvi, 20; xxxviii, 6), as well as those of Assuerus at Susan (Esth., ii, 11; iv, 11; 2; etc.) and of Seleucus at Tyre (II Mach., iv, 46).

In connection with sacred places, courts are most frequently mentioned. We learn from Ex., xxxviii, 9 sq. that the place of meeting in the wilderness was a court, a hundred cubits long and fifty cubits wide, encompassed by pillars supporting hangings of fine twisted linen. The sacred precincts contained, besides the tabernacle and its furniture, the altar of holocausts and the brazen laver (Ex., xl, 6, 7). Still more famous are Solomon‘s constructions. All the buildings erected by this prince on Mount Sion were surrounded by a wall encompassing what may be styled “the greater court”. Southernmost in the lowest court were the public halls, namely: the “house of the forest of Libanus”, the “Porch of pillars”, and the throne-hall; farther in from the throne-hall (III K., vii, 8, Heb. text) and on a higher level another court, called “middle court”, IV K., xx, 4 (Heb.; D. V., “the middle of the court”), contained the king’s mansion and the house built for Pharaoh’s daughter (III K., vii, 8). North of the middle court, on the top of the hill, was the “inner court” (III K., vi, 36), also called “upper court” (Jer., xxxvi, 10) and “court of the priests” (II Par., iv, 9). No information is supplied by the Sacred Text about the extent and form of this latter court. Judging, however, from the second and third temples, it would seem to have been rectangular; the rabbis say that it measured 135 (N. to S.) by 187 (E. to W.) cubits; but these figures, obtained from the traditions concerning the second temple, can claim no certainty. The floor of the inner court was paved with stones (II Par., vii, 3; IV K., xvi, 17, has no reference to this point; pavement in the English Bibles ought to be understood here: stone basement). The descriptions of III K. and II Par. mention no gates, but some must have existed; one, very likely, on the south side, connecting the temple court with the middle court, and others probably on the north and east sides for the accommodation of the people. At any rate, that some time before the Exile there were gates is evidenced by such passages as Jer., xxxviii, 14; IV K., xxv, 18 (cf. Jer., 24). An eastern gate is said (I Par., ix, 18) to have existed; it was called “the king’s gate”. To Joatham is attributed (IV K., xv, 35) the construction of “the highest gate of the house of the Lord”, most probably the same as the “upper gate of Benjamin” of Jer., xx, 2, or the “new gate” of Jer., xxvi, 10, xxxvi, 10, and perhaps also the “gate of the altar” of Ez., viii, 5; all these passages point out a gate on the north side. Within the inner court were the temple proper, the altar of holocausts, the brazen sea, and lavers. All the walls encircling these various courts “were made of three rows of hewn stones and one row of cedar beams” (III K., vii, 12). Modern archaeologists are inclined to attribute to the son of David these courses of huge stones which may be seen in various places of the walls of the Haram esh-Sherif.

We possess little information concerning the second temple; but there are reasons to believe that, with the exception of the temple-house, which was certainly smaller, the arrangement and dimensions were about the same as those of Solomon‘s temple. In Herod‘s time the temple area was extended towards the north, according to some; towards the south, in the opinion of others, so that the outer court had probably the same form and dimensions as the actual Haram. This court was surrounded by a high wall covered with spikes. Along the walls on the inside, north, west, and east (Solomon‘s Porch), were double porticoes, and on the south a triple portico, the “royal porch”. Eight gates gave access from the outside: four on the west, two on the south (Huldah gates), one on the east, and one on the north (Tadhi gate); between the gates, along the outer walls, halls and chambers had been erected, among which we may mention the Beth-Din, or meeting-place of the Sanhedrin. Within this outer court, towards the north, a wall forty cubits high, limited the inner court. All around this wall extended a terrace (the hel) ten cubits wide and reached by a flight of fourteen steps. A stone parapet, about a cubit high, encircled the inner edge of the to which thirteen openings gave access; on the parapets tablets warned, under penalty of death, the non-Jews against trespassing. From the nine gates and stairways led the Israelites into the inner courts. On the inside, along the walls, twenty-five cubits high (the ground was some fifteen cubits higher than the court of the Gentiles), ran porticoes, and cells for sundry purposes had been erected between the gates. The walls of the inner court encompassed two distinct spaces: the eastern part, called “the women’s court”, which, among other things, contained the boxes for the various collections; thence a gate, preceded by a flight of fifteen steps, led to the western part, or “men’s court”. There a balustrade separated the “priests’ court”, containing the temple proper and the altar of holocausts and all their appurtenances, from the place assigned to the lay people.

II. ATTENDANCE OF A KING.—In the English Bible the word court is occasionally used also to mean the retinue of a person of high rank and authority (Gen., xlv, 16; IV K., vii, 9; Esth., xi, 3). It then stands generally for the Hebrew word f’2, “house”, the only word which, in the sacred language, might in some instances, receive the sense with which we are now concerned. The Latin Bible in such places usually has the noun aula, and once in the N. T. exercitus (Luke, xxiii, 11). Although mention of a court is seldom made in connection with the kings of Israel and Juda, they nevertheless naturally had their court, consisting, besides their family and body-guard, of counselors, secretaries, recorders, chancellors, ministers, superintendents of public works, governors of the house, even the high dignitaries of the temple. Glowing descriptions are given of the splendor of the court of such kings as David (II K., xxiii; I Par., xi) and Solomon (Cant., iii, 7, 8); they furnished to later Jewish writers the colors wherewith to describe the glory of the palace of God. For Yahweh is king, not only over Israel, but over the whole world, and as becomes a king, he must have his court. This is constituted by the innumerable host of the angels, ever ready to do his will. Several (seven, in the received text) unceasingly stand in His presence; legions of seraphim surround his throne, as a body-guard; thousands of heavenly spirits form his council (Tob., xii, 15; Is., vi, 2, 6; Pss. lxxxii, lxxxix). Ecclesiastical writers, developing this idea, oftentimes describe the heavenly court, made up not only of the angels, but also of the host of all those blessed souls who enjoy the beatific vision. On the other hand the courts of the Temple have sometimes been regarded by mystic writers as a figure of the souls striving for Christian perfection: the brazen laver represents the purifying penance, whereas the altar of holocausts signifies Christian mortification and its necessary sacrifices.


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