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Court (in Scripture)

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The word court, in the English Bible, corresponds to the Hebrew haçer enclosed space. The latter is used to designate: (1) 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" (Genesis 25:16), "cities of the desert" (Isaiah 42:11), "private places" (i.e. places of ambush near the settlements, Psalm 9:29).


The word village usually expresses the second meaning (Leviticus 25:31; Joshua 13, 15, 16, etc.; 1 Chronicles 4:33, etc. However, in Exodus 8:13, village is a mistranslation for court-yard). In connexion with this sense it may not be amiss to notice that the Hebrew, either in the form Haçer, or in the slightly different form Haçor was not infrequently used in proper names. One of the first encampments of the Hebrews after their departure from the foot of Mount Sinai was at a place called Haseroth (Numbers 11:34). There was a Chanaanite city of Asor near the waters of Merom (Joshua 11:5; Josephus, Ant. Jud., V, 5:1); this city, taken and burned by Josue (Joshua 11:10-11), was allotted to the tribe of Nephtali (Joshua 19:36), but probably rebuilt by the Chanaanites (Judges 4:2), fortified by Solomon (1 Kings 9:15), and seized by Theglathphalasar (2 Kings 15:29). This Asor or Aser was, according to the Greek text, the native place of Tobias (Tobit 1:2), and at a short distance from it Jonathan Machabeus defeated the army of Demetrius (1 Maccabees 11:67). We read (Joshua 15:23) of another Asor, called Esron, in Joshua 15:3, and Hesron, 15:25 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 (Nehemiah 11:33). Among the compound proper names may be mentioned: Hasar Adar (Douay Version, "the town called Adar", Numbers 34:4); Asergadda (Joshua 15:27); Hasersusa or Hasarsusim (Joshua 19:5; 1 Chronicles 4:31); Hasar Enon (Douay Version, "court of Enan", Ezekiel 47:17; 48:1; "village of Enan", Numbers 34:9-10); Hasersual or Hasarsuhal (Joshua 15:28; 19:3; Nehemiah 11:27; 1 Chronicles 4:28); Hasar hattikhon (Douay Version, "the house of Tichon", Ezekiel 47:16); Baalhasor (2 Samuel 13:23); Enhasor (Joshua 19:37).


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 centre a well (2 Samuel 17:18) 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 22:61) could easily look outside (Matthew 26:69) on Peter. Then the latter, smitten with remorse, betook himself to the outer court (Mark 14:68; 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 (1 Kings 7:9, etc.), Ezechias (2 Kings 20:4), and Sedecias (Jeremiah 32:2, 12; 33:1; 36:20; 38:6), as well as those of Assuerus at Susan (Esther 2:11; 4:11; 5:2; etc.) and of Seleucus at Tyre (2 Maccabees 4:46). In connexion with sacred places, courts are most frequently mentioned. We learn from Exodus 38:9 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 layer (Exodus 40:6, 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 balls, namely: the "house of the forest of Libanus", the "Porch of pillars", and the throne-hall; farther in from the throne-hall (1 Kings 7:8, Heb. text) and on a higher level another court, called "middle court", 2 Kings 20:4 (Heb.; D. V., "the middle of the court"), contained the king's mansion and the house built for Pharao's daughter (1 Kings 7:8). North of the middle court, on the top of the hill, was the "inner court" (1 Kings 6:36), also called "upper court" (Jeremiah 36:10) and "court of the priests" (2 Chronicles 4:9). 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 (2 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Kings 16:17, has no reference to this point; pavement in the English Bibles ought to be understood here: stone basement). The descriptions of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles 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 Jeremiah 38:14; 2 Kings 25:18 (cf. Jeremiah 52:24). An eastern gate is said (1 Chronicles 9:18) to have existed; it was called "the king's gate". To Joatham is attributed (2 Kings 15:35) the construction of "the highest gate of the house of the Lord", most probably the same as the "upper gate of Benjamin" of Jeremiah 20:2, or the "new gate" of Jeremiah 26:10, 36:10, 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 layers. All the walls encircling these various courts "were made of three rows of hewn stones and one row of cedar beams" (1 Kings 7:12). Modern archæologists 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 hel, to which thirteen openings gave access; on the parapets tablets warned, under penalty of death, the non-Jews against trespassing. From the hel 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.

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 (Genesis 45:16; 2 Kings 7:9; Esther 11:3). It then stands generally for the Hebrew hel, "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 New Testament exercitus (Luke 23:11). Although mention of a court is seldom made in connexion with the kings of Israel and Juda, they nevertheless naturally had their court, consisting, besides their family and body-guard, of counsellors, 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 splendour of the court of such kings as David (2 Samuel 23; 1 Chronicles 11) and Solomon (Cant., iii, 7, 8); they furnished to later Jewish writers the colours 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 (Tobit 12:15; Isaiah 6:2, 6; Psalm 82-89). 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 layer represents the purifying penance, whereas the altar of holocausts signifies Christian mortification and its necessary sacrifices.


JOSEPHUS, Bell. Jud., V, v; IDEM, Ant. Jud., VI, ii, iv, XIV. iv, xi; Talmud, tr. MIDDOTH (Amsterdam, 1690-1703), V; WILSON, WARREN, etc., The Recovery of Jerusalem (London. 1870); STADE, Gesch. des Volkes Israel (1888); DE VOGÜÉ, Le temple de Jérusalem (Paris, 1864); PERROT AND CHIPIEZ, Histoire de l'art dans l'antiquité (Paris), IV; VINCENT, Canaan d'après l' exploration récente (Paris, 1907); Revue biblique internat., II, VII, etc.

About this page

APA citation. Souvay, C. (1908). Court (in Scripture). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Souvay, Charles. "Court (in Scripture)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kevin Coleman.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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