Photo credit: Vladimir Naychin
The capital of a carefully-adorned column that stood on the Temple Mount in the time of the Second Temple has been discovered through the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
The capital, whose size indicates that the column had a circumference of 75 centimeters (30 inches) at its top, is a section of one column that formed part of the double colonnade that surrounded the Temple Mount plaza.
Dr. Gabriel Barkay, the director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, said that “this is a capital in the Doric style, one of the characteristics of the art in the time of the Hasmonean dynasty. This appears to be the capital of a column formed part of the eastern colonnade of the Temple Mount, which Josephus and even the New Testament called ‘Solomon’s Porch.’ A column like this is impressive testimony of the immensity of the structures on the Temple Mount in the Second Temple era, and fits in well with Josephus’ narrative, which describes what he saw with his own eyes.”
Barkay explained that a 25-cubit column would have stood 12.5 meters (41 feet) high.
It is of course wonderful news that a capital of a column that most likely stood on the Temple Mount was found. I would agree with Barkay that the capital could have belonged to one of the columns that formed the eastern Hasmonean (pre-Herodian) colonnade. This colonnade was indeed known as Solomon’s Porch, where Jesus walked during Hanukkah (John 10.23). It was also the place where Peter and John healed the blind man (Acts 3.11) and where the apostles did many signs (Acts 5.12).
One must, however, be careful with dimensions. In the article it says that the circumference of the Doric column that supported the capital was 75 cm. That is probably a mistake. According to simple mathematics, a column with a circumference of 75 cm (30 inches) has a diameter of less than 24cm (9 inches). In ancient architecture, Doric columns had a 1:8 ratio between diameter and height. According to that rule, this column could not have been higher than 2m (6 feet, 6 inches), which would not have been exactly monumental. Barkay therefore probably meant that the column had a diameter of 75cm. In that case, the column would have been about 6m (20 feet, 11.4 cubits) high. Barkay estimated that a 25-cubit column would have stood 12.5 meters (41 feet) high, but this one would have much smaller, about half the size.
An additional problem is the use of units of measurement by Josephus. In War, he uses cubits and in Antiquities (Roman) feet. As a rule, his measurements in feet are more accurate than those in cubits, which are often exaggerated.
Josephus writes in War 5.190-192, that the columns of the Herodian porticoes were 25 cubits, which according to the Royal Cubit of 52.5 cm (20.67 inches), would be 13.12m, (43 feet) high, but in Ant. 15.413 he says that the columns of the porticoes were 27 feet high (8.23m, 15.67 cubits). Let us first look at the 25 cubits high columns and then at those of 27 feet high.
According to the Doric ratio of diameter and height, the diameter of a 25 cubit high Doric column must have been 1.64m (5 feet, 5 inches). Archaeological remains of parts of such thick columns have been found in secondary use in the Temple Mount excavations in front of a gate of an Umayyad palace. A complete column with a diameter of 1.46m (4 feet, 9 inches) has been preserved in the Double Gate underground passageway. Josephus mentions in Ant. 15.415 that the height of the Corinthian columns (which have a ratio of 1:10) of the Royal Stoa were 50 feet (15.24m or 29 cubits) high, probably including the capitals. This measurement is somewhat similar to the 25 cubits high columns of War 5.190-192 and must therefore relate to the columns of the Royal Stoa and not to those of the porticoes. Columns of that height could only have belonged to the Royal Stoa.
Going back to Ant. 15.413, where Josephus writes that the columns of the porticoes were 27 feet (8.23m) high, we found that this measurement is indeed correct for the Herodian porticoes. The preserved sockets of the northern portico can still be seen in the south wall of the Antonia Fortress (see drawing). They are located 8.84m (29 feet) above ground level. As the beams that were laid on top of the capitals were fixed in these sockets, Josephus’ measurement of 27 feet appears to be accurate.
The reconstructed height of the newly found Hasmonean column of 6m (20 feet) is a little lower than those of the Herodian columns. The older Hasmonean portico, also known as “Solomon’s Porch”, was apparently not as high as the Herodian colonnades, as indicated in this reconstruction model.