A smooth stone found in the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Nadav Shagrai wrote a lengthy article, called A Heart of Stone, in Israel Hayom about the amazing feat of tunneling deep underground along the foundations of the Western Wall by Eli Shukron and his team. This uncovering has undoubtedly increased our understanding of how this mighty wall, and indeed all other walls too, were constructed. It was reported earlier that some coins dating from about 17-18 CE had been found in the fill of a mikveh below the Western Wall. This find was used to suggest that not Herod the Great, but one or more of his sons completed the project.

This stretch of foundation stones of the Western Wall is located right next to the main drain that runs the full length of the Herodian street that began at the Damascus Gate and ended at the southern gate near the Siloam Pool. One doesn’t need much imagination to understand that maintenance work would have frequently been carried out in and near the drain during the long period that it was in use. The filling in of the above mentioned mikveh, that was located in between the drain and the foundation of the Western Wall, could have been carried out during such work.

It is now also reported that one of the Herodian foundation stones had no margins, but a smooth finish. This what Eli has to say:

Photo of the smooth stone at upper left. Photo credit: Vladimir Neichin

“This stone came from the Temple Mount, from the surplus stones that were used in the construction of the Temple itself. Those stones were high-quality, chiseled and smooth, like this unusual one, which was discovered among the Western Wall’s foundations. This stone was intended for the Second Temple, and stones like it were used to build the Temple — but it was left unused. The builders of the Western Wall brought it down here because it was no longer needed up above — and this is how the other stones of the Temple looked,” he says, adding, “Anyone who passes a hand gently over this stone feels a slightly wavy texture, just like the Talmud describes.”

It is true that all the external faces of the Herodian stones have margins on all four sides, apart from this unique stone. The suggestion that this particular stone could have come from the Temple itself would have been a possibility if only the stones that were used to build the Temple had a smooth finish. That, however, is not the case. In studying Herodian architecture, one needs to differentiate between external and internal finishes of the stones. The internal parts of the stones that make up the retaining walls were never seen and therefore were roughly squared on the inside. The stones of the Western Wall above the level of the Temple Mount could be seen from inside the porticoes that were built all around. The interior finish of these stones was smooth. Several of these stones were found in the Temple Mount Excavations. One such stone was later reused in a Byzantine building. That stone was a pilaster stone, part of the outer wall of the porticoes that ran above the Temple Mount retaining walls. These stones had an external finish with margins, like the ones we see today, and a smooth internal finish. From the inside therefore, the portico wall looked smooth. It is quite possible, and indeed more likely,  that the newly discovered smooth stone came from the porticoes and not necessarily from the Temple itself.

It is necessary to exercise caution before suggesting that this smooth stone must have come from the Temple. Although it is exciting to find the first in situ stone without margins, one needs to be careful not to draw unwarranted conclusions.

HT: Joe Lauer

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8 Responses to A smooth stone found in the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

  1. Urban von Wahlde says:

    Thank you for a very informative blog. It is great to hear your views on the issue of the coins and the smooth stone! I personally had wondered about the possibility of the coins being “secondary”; it is nice to hear that from one with your experience and knowledge.
    In the picture you provide, it would seem that in addition to the smooth stone, the bosses of two other stones are in varying degrees of “finish.” Am I correct — and if so would that be because they were to be underground?

  2. vicki stone says:

    In the introductory article, it is said that Herod did not finish the Temple, but one, or more, of his sons did. I thought Herod had all his children murdered. Thanks. Vicki Stone

  3. Urban,

    You are right, many of the stones below the Herodian street have unfinished or rough bosses. As these stones were not meant to be seen, the builders left some of the bosses unfinished, or used other stones in secondary use, such as the smooth pilaster stone.

  4. Vicki, thankfully not all of them. After Herod’s death, the Romans divided his kingdom between three sons: Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Philip. Three of his other sons were executed: Antipater II, Alexander and Aristobulus IV.

  5. Abe,
    When buildings are destroyed by fire, they usually collapse. One can still see the burnt imprints of the vaulted shops along the Southern Wall. Stone can burn, for that is how lime mortar was made in the past. The Temple was not only burnt, but also razed to the ground, as were the buildings that surrounded them (War 6.281). There was a lot of timber in the Temple, not only the ceilings, the doors and the tie beams in the Porch, but also the floors of the 3-story high cells that surrounded the inner sanctuary, apart from all the curtains that hang over the doors. With all this timber and fabric blazing, most of the stones would have disintegrated into powder. The Temple did not completely disappear, of course, but little was left standing. Anybody who has seen a building set ablaze will know what I am talking about.

  6. Abe says:

    Thank you Dr Ritmeyer. I had no doubt that stone can be scorched. What I didn’t know till I researched it, was that intense heat can cause damage to the integrity of the stone’s such as used in the Temple. So many different material overall creating noxious fumes, the heat level rising quickly which in turn can cause marble to crack and limestone to possibly expand till it no longer fits exactly where placed. Thank you for the seed lesson regarding the concept that solid as a rock can at times be an oxymoron depending on the rock.

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