he center of ancient Judaism, Jerusalem was home to the great Temple. Founded on a site chosen by King David himself, the Temple drew pilgrims from around the Empire, Jews and Gentiles alike. They would go up to Jerusalem -- the city was built on a rise in the land -- at 2,300 feet above sea level, it held a commanding view of its surroundings. The population could swell by tens of thousands during the great festivals. The first Temple, known as the Temple of Solomon, had been reduced to ashes by Nabuchodonosor in 586 BCE. The second Temple was dedicated in 516 BCE, and starting in 20 BCE, Herod the Great had undertaken massive renovations on the Temple that continued for decades. This was the Temple Saul would have known, with a fašade of marble and gold, and courtyards ringed in porticoes of Corinthian columns.
The Temple sanctuary was situated in the center of a large complex of courtyards, each more exclusive than the last. Both Jews and non-Jews -- called Gentiles -- were allowed into the outermost courtyard; Jewish men and women in the second; Jewish males in the third; and finally priests in the sanctuary. Only the high priests could enter the innermost chamber of the sanctuary, called the Holy of Holies. The Temple was the only site in the world where Jews could offer sacrifices to their God. On the altar in front of the sanctuary, priests offered sacrifices on behalf of individuals and the community. Sacrifices had different purposes, including atonement, thanksgiving, fulfillment of a vow, or supplication, and could consist of a variety of offerings, including grain or flour, wine, doves or pigeons, sheep, goats and cattle. Jewish law prescribed specific rules and procedures for each type of sacrifice, but most involved the burning of part or all of the offering on the altar. By practicing ritual sacrifice, Judaism shared much in common with other religions of the ancient Mediterranean, including those of Greece and Rome. Gentile sacrifice encompassed these purposes, as well as requests for oracles and healing. The Temple itself was also very similar to Gentile temples in structure, except that most Gentile temples would have housed a statue or other representation of their deity. Judaism, however, was aniconic -- representations of their god was prohibited. Another difference with their polytheistic contemporaries was that first century Jews maintained a single Temple, a single place for sacrifice. The annual half-shekel tax paid by every Jewish male worldwide paid for Temple upkeep and communal sacrifice, and allowed the Jews of the diaspora communities to participate in the daily rituals.
Outside the Temple, but within the city walls, the city was divided into districts. Wealthier residents lived in villas in the upper city, on the ridge facing the Temple. Markets and more humble residential quarters were in the lower city. As the population grew, it may have necessitated multi-story apartment living as was common in other large cities, but traditional houses in the region were low level courtyard homes built of stones with wood beams covered with straw and clay. The climate allowed people to spend much of their time outdoors, in courtyards or on rooftops. Herod's massive building program reached out from the Temple to the city at large, including facilities for Roman style public spectacles and an Imperial military presence. Among these were a theater, amphitheater, hippodrome, palace, and barracks for Roman troops. Aqueducts and reservoirs provided the fluctuating population with water for their daily needs, and rituals of purification.