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

9 thoughts on “A smooth stone found in the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem”

  1. 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. 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. Hello,
    Ive was reading an article Burning Stones by Rabbi Liebel Reznick. Found at the following link http://www.ou.org/jewish_action/06/2003/burning-stones/

    He posits that though the wooden portions of the Temple would have burned, the marble and stone work would have remained intact. And that Bar Kochba was able to select a Cohen, Eleazar, also mention on his coins and a picture of only the part of the Temple facade that would fit onto the stamped coins, ergo the larger columns are not depicted. Nobody stamps pictures of a non existent Temple for their currency since if it was all destroyed, how could symbolize it. No Jewish coins depicted something not in existence.
    He gives a lot of very likely reasons as to why, until the city became Christianized under Constantine, the Temple Ruins, converted into Hardrians Temple to Jupiter was still visible. Though afterwards the whole structure was torn down and not a single shred of the Temple edifice could be seen.

    How do you, with your vast study of the Temple and the History of the Mount itself and all its stages of building, adding and subtracting and destruction itself jibe with the Rabbis belief that the rededicated Bar Kochba Temple was really the ruins of the Second Temple resantified for sacrifices and prayer, hence his appointment of a High Priest and answers the question as to how Bar Kochba could have built a Third Temple depicted on the coin, in so short a time of the duration of his recapture of the Temple Mount.

    If he had something already in place that just needed albeit a lot of work but still could be used as a Temple, as even the Maccabees needed 8 days to re-sanctify the Temple from the Greek abomination that took place there.

    Appreciate any thought you may have and wish to share on the theory of the Bar Kochba Temple and or The the almost 3 century visibility of the Temple ruins after 70as

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. My brother suggested I may like this website. He was once entirely right. This submit actually made my day. You can not imagine just how a lot time I had spent for this info! Thank you!

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