Tag Archives: Herodian street

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).

Tisha b’Av

Yesterday evening marked Tisha b’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple built by King Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians razed Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from their land. But Babylon fell to the Persians shortly thereafter and Cyrus, the Persian king gave permission to the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple. So a remnant of the Jewish people came back to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile 50 years later and built the Second Temple, a much more modest structure. A young person living in Jerusalem could have seen the splendor of the First Temple, lived through the Babylonian exile and seen the Second Temple.

Almost 500 years later, King Herod built four stone supporting walls around the Temple Mount and filled the area with earth and a series of arches to expand the quadrilateral platform (about 250 meters on each side); the longest supporting wall is 488 meters long. Herod rebuilt the temple, a magnificent structure, decorated with gold and marble that stood 50 meters high. Even the Rabbis who were not great fans of Herod record that “whoever has not seen Herod’s Temple has not seen a beautiful building in his life” (Baba Batra 4a). Herod built a main street with a drainage channel underneath that runs along the length of the western wall and at the southern end a staircase that begins parallel to the street and crosses over the street (like a highway interchange) that led to the Royal basilica; today the remains of the vault that supported the staircase is known as Robinson’s Arch. The same street continues south all the way to the Siloam Pool. The Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem on the 9th of Av in 70CE.

The supporting walls of the Temple Mount are standing to this day and you can walk on the 2000 year old Herodian street and see the large ashlar stones with their signature frames in a pile from when the Romans pushed them off the top of the wall. I sat on the paving stones of the street yesterday evening to read Eicha (the book of Lamentations) and remember the destruction and our return.

Yesterday the Israel Antiquities Authority announced two new finds in a press release.

During the course of work the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out in Jerusalem’s ancient drainage channel, which begins in the Siloam Pool and runs from the City of David to the archaeological garden (near the Western Wall), impressive finds were recently discovered that breathe new life into the story of the destruction of the Second Temple. …

A 2,000 year old iron sword, still in its leather scabbard, was discovered in work the Israel Antiquities Authority is doing in the channel, which served as a hiding refuge for the residents of Jerusalem from the Romans at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction. In addition, parts of the belt that carried the sword were found.

Roman sword made of iron used by soldier stationed in Jerusalem in 66CE. Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to the excavation directors Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “It seems that the sword belonged to an infantryman of the Roman garrison stationed in Israel at the outbreak of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE. The sword’s fine state of preservation is surprising: not only its length (c. 60 cm), but also the preservation of the leather scabbard (a material that generally disintegrates quickly over time) and some of its decoration”.

A stone object adorned with a rare engraving of a menorah was found in the soil beneath the street, on the side of the drainage channel.

Stone inscribed with five-branched menorah. Photo by Vladirim Naykhin.

According to Shukron and Professor Reich, “Interestingly, even though we are dealing with a depiction of the seven-branched candelabrum, only five branches appear here. The portrayal of the menorah’s base is extremely important because it clarifies what the base of the original menorah looked like, which was apparently tripod shaped”. The fact that the stone object was found at the closest proximity to the Temple Mount to date is also important. The researchers suppose a passerby who saw the menorah with his own eyes and was amazed by its beauty incised his impressions on a stone and afterwards tossed his scrawling to the side of the road, without imagining that his creation would be found 2,000 years later.