Not in Herod’s Lifetime

Just came back from a press conference with Ronny Reich, archaeologist and professor at Haifa University. Probably every guide talks about the Western Wall, the supporting wall of the Temple Mount built by King Herod in 22BCE. According to the historian Josephus, Herod elongated the square Hasmonean platform (250 meters by 250m) by rebuilding new northern, western and southern supporting walls. The eastern wall was extended and the “seam” between the earlier Hasmonean wall and Herod’s can be seen near the south-eastern corner. Along the western wall Herod designed a main street (Ronnie Reich calls it the original Wall Street, the Palestinians probably call it occupied) and a vault supporting a large staircase crossing over the street and leading to the Royal Stoa, a building 288 meters long with 160 columns (it takes 3 people with arms extended to go around a single column). When Herod moved the western wall he had to move some residences that were in the way, at the bottom of the slope from the Western Hill. These buildings were destroyed but the basements, underground cisterns and mikvaot (ritual baths) were just filled in with debris/earth. One mikva directly under the path of the planned western wall, was filled in and covered with 3 large stones. In clearing out the drainage channel under Robinson’s Arch, the mikva was discovered under the Herodian stones of the western wall.

Some clay oil lamps and a small pottery jug typical of the Second Temple period were found.

When the mikva was emptied and the soil sifted 19 coins were found, the latest ones were from the rule of Valerius Gratus, the Roman Prefect (governor) of Judaea province under Tiberius from 15 to 26CE. He was succeeded by Pontius Pilate.

   

Reich said four small bronze coins were found with dates of 15CE and 16CE (IAA press release says 17 coins with dates of 17/18CE). Since the coins were found in the fill in the mikva under the wall, the first (lowest) row of stones in the wall must have been placed there after 16CE so the wall was built more than 20 years after the death of Herod (who died in 4BCE). If that is the case, then the Herodian street, the staircase and probably the Royal Stoa were all later additions, not completed in Herod’s lifetime!

By the way, these stones have the frame but were left with the boss (protuberance) since they were underground and would never be seen.

This confirms Josephus’ account in the last book of Jewish Antiquities that the Temple building project was the largest project the ancient world had ever heard of and was not completed until about 50CE in the rule of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great grandson (even though some 15-18,000 workers were employed on the project).

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