Why did they need a warning on the gates of the Temple?
The Temple that Herod rebuilt in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life in the world. It was the place where man met God. It was the largest religious structure (35 acres of space) ever built by one man. And it was thought to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the ancient world.
With all this grandeur, however, it was still built in accordance with the ancient traditions of temple building which had existed in the Middle East for more than 3000 years before King Herod. The Temple was invariably aligned with the entrance to the east. It has an outer courtyard which led to an inner room, and from there to a closed-off inner sanctuary, or a niche in the wall, where the statue of the god being worshiped was placed. We find this arrangement in place as early as the fourth millennium BCE sanctuary at Ein Gedi.
A class of priests was always assigned to keep the shrine and organize the worship, and the sanctuary was therefore organized so that access to the various parts was limited. The closer one came to the central part of the Temple, the fewer the number of people allowed to be there. Anybody coming to Jerusalem could get to the outer courtyard, called “The Courtyard of the Gentiles”.
Then there was a balustrade, a low fence – called the /soreg/ in Hebrew – going up stairs to the Temple building. Only Jews could pass here and enter the Temple itself. Only a few priests, or people offering sacrifices, were allowed into the inner courtyard and rooms.
Only the High Priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies – the place where the spirit of God actually dwelt — to make atonement for the people once a year, on Yom Kippur.
A notice was carved in stone and posted at the entrance gates of the balustrade warning everybody that only Jews were permitted to pass this point. We have found two copies of this warning, one complete, and one fragment.
The Temple Warning Inscription is a block of limestone measuring 33.5 cm (13.19 inches) long, 22 cm (8.66 inches) high and 14.5 cm (5.7 inches) deep. It contains an inscription, 7 complete lines of Greek writing, on one face.
The inscription reads:
no outsider may enter
beyond the balustrade
around the holy place.
whoever is caught doing so will
only have himself
to blame for
his subsequent death
An exquisite reproduction of the complete inscription is now being offered by Biblical Reproductions. https://www.biblicalreproductions.com is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.