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Nicanor's Gate

NICANOR'S GATE, one of the gates leading to the Temple courtyard during the period of the Second Temple. According to the Mishnah, "There were seven gates in the Temple courtyard.… In the east there was the gate of Nicanor, which had two rooms attached, one on its right and one on its left, one the room of Phinehas the dresser and one the room of the griddle cake makers" (Mid. 1:4). This gate was one of the best known of the gifts made to the Temple and "miracles were performed in connection with the gate of Nicanor and his memory was praised" (Yoma 3:10). Of these miracles the Talmud states: "What miracles were performed by his doors? When Nicanor went to Alexandria in Egypt to bring them, on his return a huge wave threatened to engulf him. Thereupon they took one of the doors and cast it into the sea but still the sea continued to rage. When they prepared to cast the other one into the sea, Nicanor rose and clung to it, saying 'cast me in with it.'" The sea immediately became calm. He was, however, deeply grieved about the other door. As they reached the harbor of Acre it broke the surface and appeared from under the sides of the boat. Others say a sea monster swallowed it and ejected it out onto dry land. Subsequently all the gates of the Sanctuary were changed for golden ones, but the Nicanor gates, which were said to be of bronze, were left because of the miracles wrought with them. But some say that they were retained because the bronze of which they were made had a special golden hue. R. Eliezer b. Jacob said, "It was Corinthian copper which shone like gold" (Yoma 38a). Corinthian gold was the name given to a family of copper alloys with gold and silver which were depletion-gilded to give them a golden or silver luster (see Jacobson ). An important production center for Corinthian gold was in Egypt, where, according to tradition, alchemy had its origins.

Scholars disagree over where the gates stood. Some claim that they were on the western side of the Court of Women which was to the east of the Court of Israelites; others maintain that they were on the eastern side of the Court of Women. The basis of this conflict is in the interpretation of a passage in Josephus (Wars, 5:204). Schalit's discussion of the problem concludes that the words of Josephus are to be explained as meaning that the gates of Nicanor were "beyond" the entrance to the Sanctuary and facing "the gate that was larger," i.e., that it was on the eastern side of the Court of Women. The gates were undoubtedly made after the time of Herod (the most reasonable date being about the middle of the first century, a generation before the destruction) and were the work of an Alexandrian craftsman. Nicanor is also recorded in a first century C.E. inscription on an ossuary found in October 1902 in a cave on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem ("the Cave of Nicanor"). The Greek inscription reads: "the remains of the children of Nicanor of Alexandria who made the doors." Nicanor's name also appears in a Hebrew inscription as well. Nicanor's gift was so well known that no additional explanation was necessary. Nicanor was an Alexandrian, though he may have gone to live in Jerusalem. It seems more likely, however, that his remains were brought from Alexandria to Jerusalem, where he had a family tomb. The ossuary mentioning Nicanor is now in the collections of the British Museum. Klein (1920; see also Tal 2002) expressed certainty that the Nicanor of the ossuary was the same as the Nicanor who made the set of gates of the Temple according to rabbinic sources; Schwartz (1991), however, has expressed some doubts about this.


H. Graetz, in: MGWJ, 25 (1876), 434f.; A. Buechler, in: JQR, 11 (1898/99), 46-63; W. Dittenberger, Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae, 2 (1905), 295f., no. 519; E. Schuerer, in: ZNW, 7 (1906), 54ff.; O. Holtzmann, ibid., 9 (1908), 71-74; idem (ed.), Die Mischna Middot (1913); H. Vincent and F.M. Abel, Jérusalem, 2 (1914), 45ff.; S. Klein, Juedisch-palaestinisches Corpus Inscriptionum (1920), 17f., no. 9; Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, 8 (1937), 30, no. 200; Frey, Corpus, 2 (1952), 261f., no. 1256; M. Avi-Yonah, Sefer Yerushalayim, 1 (1956), 412; E. Wiesenberg, in: JJS, 3 (1952), 14-29; E. Bammel, ibid., 7 (1956), 77-78; A. Schalit, Koenig Herodes, 1 (1969), 389ff. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Dickson, "The Tomb of Nicanor of Alexandria," in: PEFQSt (1903), 326-31; C. Clermont-Ganneau, "The 'Gate of Nicanor' in the Temple of Jerusalem," in: PEFQSt (1903), 125-31; R.A.S. Macalister, "Further Observations on the Ossuary of Nicanor of Alexandria, in: PEFQSt (1905), 253–57; R.D. Barnett, Illustrations of Old Testament History (1977), 93–94; J. Schwartz, "Once More on the Nicanor Gate," in: HUCA, 62 (1991), 245–83; T. Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish names in Late Antiquity. Part I: Palestine 330 B.C.E.200 C.E. (2002), 297–98; D.M. Jacobson, "Corinthian Bronze and the Gold of the Alchemists," in: Gold Bulletin, 33 (2) (2000), 60–66.

[Uriel Rappaport / Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.