Building the Second Temple

Zeev Lewy published an interesting article about the use of stone from Solomon’s Quarries during the building of Herod’s Temple. These underground quarries are located near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. At the conclusion of his article he wrote:

Subsurface quarrying of building stones in biblical times which formed the Zedekiah Cave in Jerusalem while numerous quarries operated nearby on the ground is explained by geological criteria and religious aspects which also date the opening of the cave as a quarry. The peculiar qualities of this rock type in subsurface facilitated its rapid quarrying in blocks of different sizes and shapes for the grandiose construction of the Second Temple by King Herod. These could be fitted to each other on the Temple Mount without using metal tools according to the religious restrictions. The combined experience of Jewish quarrymen and Roman engineers enabled them to keep the religious spirit in this holy mission and complete the monumental construction of the Second Temple in a short time (Lewy, 2005).

Several quarries have been found in the last few years, but they were all surface quarries. There are many references in the Bible to stones and stone cutting, e.g. 1 Kings 5.17, Matthew 21.42 and 1 Peter 2.5. The mountains around Jerusalem are composed of limestone that has a characteristic layering. To quarry this limestone, the face of the stone first had to be straightened.

Surface quarrying. © Leen Ritmeyer

In the picture, we see the stonecutter on the right cutting 4-inch wide channels on all sides of the rock except the bottom. Another worker pours water over dry wooden logs that have been jammed into the channels. The water causes the wood to swell and the lateral pressure on the stone block makes it split away from the rock. Because the limestone lies in natural horizontal layers, the blocks would split along relatively clean horizontal lines.

HT: Bible and Interpretation

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