The image of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” comes from to the ancient Jerusalem Temple, built after the exile, during the years 20-19 BC. Within this temple, in addition to the areas reserved to the People of Israel, a space was reserved for non-Jews, the «Gentiles», who wanted to get closer to the holy space and question Rabbis and masters of the Law on spirituality, mystery, religion and God.
This was the “Courtyard of the Gentiles”, an area that could be entered by whosoever, without distinction of culture, language, religious vocation, where it was possible to discuss the great questions about life and society in order to come near to the “Unknown God”.
The Jerusalem Temple was composed of four courtyards or delineated areas: the Holy of Holies, a sacred place dedicated to the cult towards which the people of Israel moved to “meet God”; then a space reserved to the Israelite men; one to women; and finally one open to the pagans, who were interested in meeting priests and scribes to inquire from them about their faith and to pray to the “Unknown God”.
A plaque marking the boundary between the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” and the space reserved for Hebrew people announced the threat of the death penalty to those who dared to cross the dividing wall: “No stranger may enter within the railing around the sanctuary and within the enclosure. Whosoever should be caught will render himself liable to the death penalty which will inevitably follow”.
From prohibition to invitation.
Recalling the symbol of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles”, Pope Benedict XVI invites us to transform the prohibition into an invitation. According to Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians (2, 14-17), Christ has torn down the separating wall which divided Hebrews and Gentiles and “has made the two groups one”.
Creating spaces for meeting and for dialogue between believers and non-believers, the “Courtyard” wants to bring the Gentiles closer to the sacred place and, by the matching of reason, open horizons for joint search for truth, for the good of mankind and of the society of our time.