Remains of Roman odeon found in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority and The Western Wall Heritage Foundation made an important announcement today, reporting the discovery of the remains of a small Roman theatre or odeon in Jerusalem, just below Wilson’s Arch. This report includes a video in English. The Jerusalem Post also reports this find.

A view of the southwest corner of Herod’s Temple Mount. In the foreground is Robinson’s Arch with its monumental stairway that led up from the main street in the Tyropoeon Valley and entered the Royal Stoa through a gateway.
On the left of Robinson’s Arch is Barclay’s Gate with Wilson’s Arch at far left. The Temple towered high above the Temple Mount.

Photograph of Wilson’s Arch looking north. The new excavations are located deep below the floor in this photo. © Leen Ritmeyer

The discovery of the Roman odeon was made after removal of 8 meters of soil that exposed 8 stone courses of the Western Wall not previously seen:

The newly exposed stones of the Western Wall can be seen behind the remains of the odeon.

“After the removal of this layer of soil, the archaeologists were surprised to discover that it covered the remnants of an extraordinary theater-like structure from the Roman period confirming historical writings that describe a theater near the Temple Mount. These exciting findings will be presented to the public during a conference titled New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Environs, which will take place at the Hebrew University. This year’s conference will mark 50 years of archaeology since the unification of the city.”

This odeon was not completed and was abandoned before it could be used. The excavators suggest that that may have been the result of the Jewish uprising against the Romans during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, a rebellion of the Jews of the Roman province of Judea, led by Simon bar Kokhba in circa 132–136 CE.

Because of its proximity to the Western Wall, this odeon could not have been very large, but its discovery provides us with a clearer picture of what Jerusalem looked like as the rebuilt Roman city of Aelia Capitolina.

After the Roman destruction of 70 A.D., the 10th Legion set up an encampment south of the Hippicus Tower on the Western Hill of Jerusalem. After nationalistic uprisings, Hadrian flattened the city and in 135 A.D. built a new one on its ruins and called it Aelia Capitolina. The major buildings are the Damascus Gate in the north, a Temple of Aphrodite, two forums (market places) and there may have been a Temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount. The newly found odeon was located in the Tyropoeon Valley, just to the west of the Temple of Jupiter in the drawing.

A word of caution: some reporters have dubbed this find “Jerusalem’s Lost Theatre”, but this may give the wrong impression. Josephus indeed mentions that Herod built a theatre in Jerusalem (Antiquities 15.268), but this is not the one that has been found. Herod’s theatre, if it ever existed, must have been built before 70 AD, but the archaeological evidence associated with this newly found structure indicates that it was built after this date.

HT: Joe Lauer

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9 Responses to Remains of Roman odeon found in Jerusalem

  1. eli says:

    wasnt this the long searched for chamber of sanhedrin?

  2. Eli,
    No, it isn’t for this odeon was built after the Roman destruction of 70 CE.

  3. KTR says:

    odeon, but not a bouleuterion? It’s my understanding some structures served a dual purpose, but is there something about this one that says it did not?

  4. It could be either, depending on what it was used for

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  6. Avi says:

    LeHamechubad/To the HonorableDr Prof Ritmeyer.

    This may be a little personal, I hope not. If it is I will be understandable if you do not let this post stand.

    As a Jew who sees in you someone who has provided so much in terms of your studies and publications. Your sincere love of the land of Israel, where you have spent almost your whole life as an academic and researcher, trying to give the nation a lot of its history back, from defending the Temple grounds from shaky Theories as to where it stood , and finding unusual symbols above ground that nobody else would think twice about but you never let such thing pass, you wonder and ask why a particular lintel, jutting out of nowhere with nary a hint to its origins and you look for the reason for it being there.

    Last word is that you dwell in Wales. What I wonder if I may be so bold, is why you have not settled in the land of Israel itself. Your love of the land, its history, a place where you spent so much of your life. Why would you not dwell in the land that you and the Missus have given so much of yourselves that automatic citizenship ought to be granted you without much ado. Personally, I’m betting that in your ancestral past there are Jews, I thought you were just based on your name when I first encountered your writings and publication. But even you be a Christian in the manner of the Jerusalem Church under James. I would think that there would be no place for you and your wife except the land that has meant so much in your life, both spiritually and earthly. And I bet you speak a good amount of Modern Hebrew amongst all other languages that you are versed in.

    Again if I am too bold, please please do not take offense. But rather as a sign of the high regard I hold you and your wife, your helpmate in, that only is the land of Israel a fit dwelling for you.

  7. Avi,

    Thank you for asking. We indeed lived for many years in Jerusalem, married there and four of our five children were born in Jerusalem. They have Hebrew birth certificates. Although my wife Kathleen and I are Christians we do not belong to mainstream Christianity, but, as you suggest, to a group that identifies itself with the first century Jerusalem Church.
    Not being Jewish, we were never granted permanent residence. The only way for us to stay in the country was as temporary residents, having to renew our ארעי status every year. We do read and speak Hebrew fluently and have taught Hebrew in Australia for several years.
    We will always be Jerusalemites at heart, but are happy to live in Wales where we enjoy fellowship with like-minded believers and continue to work on the archaeology of Israel and visit the Land at least once a year to participate in excavations. We are glad that we have been able to contribute to the understanding of ancient sites, especially Jerusalem and its Temple Mount. We look upon it as a blessing from God and are glad that people like yourself find our research helpful.

  8. Raymond Smith says:

    Hello Leen Ritmeyer, I hope your well, for a couple of years ive been researching/reading the KJV bible and more recently The Ryrie Study Bible and online sources, although i am new to taking the word of God more seriously i would like to meet and speak with other Christians interested/following the “first century Jerusalem Church” and the true Sabbath . Shalom.

  9. John says:

    “Jerusalem Church under James” and “first century Jerusalem Church” ? Have you read The Tomb of James, Brother of Jesus, as Locus Memoriae by Yaron Z. Eliav ? It’s about The Temple Mount as a Sacred Cemetery.

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