ALTAR 361 ALTAR Sherif. Tho whole structure, base and altar proper, was entirely filled up with rocks and earth. A slope, whicli Tahnudic traditions suppose to have been broken three times by several steps, led to the top of the base, which was a few feet wiiler than the altar proper, in order that the priest might easily go around the latter. This altar, built up by Solomon (111 l., viii. G4), was the object of a new consecra- tion during A.sa's reign (II Par., xv, 8), which makes us think that some restoration had taken place. Achaz removed it towards the north, and in its place erected anotlier, similar to that which he had seen in Dama.scus (IV K., xvi, 10-1,5). A restoration of the former oriler of tilings very likely occurred untler Ezechias, although the .sacred text does not mention it explicitly. Again polluted by Ezechias' son Manasscs, it was later on repaired and dedicated again to Yahweh by the .same jirince (IV K., xxi, 4, 5; II Par., xxxiii, 4, ii, 1(5). The distruction of Jeru- salem by the liabylonian army (.')S7) was of course fatal to Doth the Temnle and the altar, and to both may be applied the sigh of the author of the Lamen- tations: "The stones of the sanctuary are scattered in the tops of every street". (c) .4/tar of h'dlocausl of the Second and Third Temples. — Tho Exile cured the Jews' propen.sity to idolatry; those who came back from Babylon with Zorobabel took it to heart to rebuild the altar as soon as pos.sible, in order that tliey might start over again the public worship of Yahweh. We read the account of the reconstruction in I Esd., iii, 2-6. This new altar was of tho same form and dimensions as the former, and was probably likewise built with unhewn stones. Some twenty years later, the new Temple, completed amidst dilhculties and opposition, stood behind the altar. But the iJivine service was poor, as we can infer from the scanty documents of that epoch. Those indeed were hard times for Israel. Nehemias — if, to unravel the intricate chronology of the Books of Esdras, we admit that Nehemias preceded Esdras to Jerusalem — spared no efforts to re-establish the Temple worship; but the resources of the .sanctuary were scarce, and after his return to Persia, the nriests fled, every man to his own country to find a living; the sacrifices, not provided for, were abandonetf, and the altar alone remained, a solitary witness to the misery of the times (II Esd., xiii, 10). Better days shone again with the coming of Esdras (I Esd., viii, 35), but the Persians were costly protectors. The Jews had a sorrowful ex- g;rience of this, especially when the Persian general agoses imposed for seven years a heavy tax upon every sacrifice (Josephus, Ant., XI, vii, 1). 'The reign of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) signalized itself by new profanations: "On the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in tho hundred and forty-fifth year [of the drecian era], king . tiochus set up the abom- inable idol of desolation upon the altar of Ciod " (I .Mach., i, 57; iv, 38). How the tyranny of this prince rou.sed the zeal and courage of the Alachabees and their followers, and how, through a long and hard struggle, they succeeded in shaking the yoke of the Seleucides cannot be narrated here. Suffice it to .say that Judas Machabeus, after having routed . tiochus' army, "considered about the altar of holocausts that had been profaned, what he should do with it. . d a good coun.sel came into their minds to pull it down: lest it shovild be a reproach to them, because the flentiles had defiled it; so they threw it down. And they laid up the stones in the mountain of the tem|)le in a convenient place. . . Then they took whole stones according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former . . . anil on the five and twentietli day of the ninth montli ... in the Inmdretl and forty-eighth year, . . . they offered .sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of holocausts which they had made " (I Mach., iv, 44-53). The anniversary of this new deification was thenceforward celebrated by a feast, ailded to the liturgical calendar. The altar in ques- tion remained until the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple by the Romans. Josephus and the Talmud disagree as to the dimensions of the base. Instead of being overlaid with plates of bra.ss, hke the brazen altar of Solomon's Temple, it was covered on the outside with a solid plastering which might be ea.sily replaced. By tho horn of the southwest corner there was an outlet for the blood of the vic- tims, and a hollow to receive libations. Such was the altar at the time of Jesus Christ (Matt., v, 23, 24; xxiii, 18); involved in the curse that hung over the Temple since the Saviour's hust days, it was wrecked with the Temple (a. d. 70) by Titus's army, never to be built up again. (rf) Altar of incense. — In the above description not a word has been said of the incense offenngs that were part of the Yahweh worship. There is indeed, on the subject of these offerings and the Temple furniture connected with them, a noteworthy diver- gence between the hitherto common opinion and that of the modern biblical critics. The latter consider the introduction of incense into the Yahweh worship as an innovation of relatively recent date (Jer., vi, 20); they remark that, with the exception of a few passages, the origin of which it is easy to determine, the biblical writers speak only of one altar, and that incense in the Law is supposed to be offered in censers, of which eadi priest pos.sesses one (Lev., xvi, 12, 18- 20; x; Num., xvi, 17; iii, 4-10). They argue, besides, from the adventitious character, the late date, and the priestly origin, of the so-called Mosaic texts referring to the altar of incense, as well as from the vacillating statements concerning it in the latest sources of Jewish history; and tliey conclude that neither in the tabernacle nor in the first Temple did there exist an altar of incense. We sliall presently give the indications which the opinion heretofore considered as common makes use of in the description of this piece of tabernacle and Temple furniture. The first altar of incense constructed in the wilder- ness was foursquare, niea.suring a cubit in length, as much in breadth, and two cubits in height. Made of setim wood, overlaid witli the purest gold (hence the name "golden altar"), it was encircled by a crown of the same material; it had likewi.se a golden brim, and, like unto the altar of holocaust, four horns and four rings of gokl; through the latter two bars of setim wood, overlaid witli gold, served to carrj' the altar (Ex., xxx. 4). When it had to be moved, it was covered with a purple veil an<l a ram- skin. Consecrafeil, like the altar of holocaust, by an unction of holy oil, this altar served every morn- ing and evening for the incense offering (Ex., xxx, 7-8) ami in certain ceremonies for the sin-offerings. Every year during the great Eeast of Atonement it was solemnly purified (Lev., xvi, 14-19). In the Temple of Solomon, the altar of incen.se was made, in shape and dimensions, similar to that of the tabernacle. The material alone differed; instead of setim wood, cellar wood was used in its construc- tion. According to a document attributed to Jcre- niias, and quoted in II Mach., ii, 5, the prophet, forewarned from on high of the wreck of the Temple, would have hidden this altar in a hollow cave on Mount Nebo. Po.ssibly. too. it was taken away in tho spoils galliiTcd by the Babylonian army that ran- sacked Jenisalcm (IV K., xxv, lli-l"). The fact is, the second Temple was furnishoil, like the former, with an altar of incense, dcstroyeil about IGS B. c, by .Antiodius IV (Epiphanes), who broke it to take ot'T the gold plating that covered it. Judas Macha- beus had a new one made and dedicated at the .same time as the altar of holocaust. It is by this altar that the scene described in Luke, i, 8-21, took place.
Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/403
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