Archaeologists with the Temple Mount Sifting Project believe they have discovered the floor that made up the court-yard of Herod’s temple. This was the floor Jesus walked on when He visited the temple in the Gospels.
They made the announcement at a news conference today.
The first Jewish Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, who then sent most of the Jews into captivity.
After Persia’s King Cyrus conquered Babylon, he allowed the Jews under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah to return to Israel and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. The construction of the smaller second temple started around 538 BC and was eventually completed in 515 BC (Ezra 6).
Though it survived near destruction in 332 BC, after quelling a Jewish rebellion Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215 BC – 164 BC) desecrated this second temple by setting us an idol of Zeus inside it and sacrificing a pig.
But the temple continued and it was this version that King Herod restored and expanded in 20 BC. The transformation was so extensive, it became known as Herod’s temple. This was the temple Jesus visited and the one the Romans totally destroyed in 70 AD.
At one point Roman Emperor Caligula, arguably one of the most evil of the Roman emperors, wanted to set up a statue of himself in the temple courtyard. but others talked him out of doing this.
Archaeologists today announced they discovered the flooring that made up the outer courtyard of Herod’s temple. However, it was not discovered on the Temple Mount, but rather at a nearby garbage dump.
In 1996, the Jordan Waqf, that operates the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock that now sit on the Temple mount, decided to do some major renovations on the mosque.
Between 1996 to 1999, they illegally hauled out 400 truckloads of dirt rich in ancient artifacts without properly screening the material.
In 2005, an organization called the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP) was set up to sift through this dirt.
On September 6th, 2016, TMSP archaeologists announced they had pieced together parts of the original floor to the temple’s courtyard discovered at this site.
Speaking on behalf of the TMSP, Director Zachi Dvira stated this was the first element ever found that belonged to the original Herodian complex.
Using geometric principles and following designs used in other Herod construction projects, archaeologists put together seven patterns used in the floor. The tiles called “opus sectile” were much more intricate and expensive than the mosaic floor typically used at this time.
According to TMSP researcher Frankie Snyder, you could not put a thin knife blade between the pieces.
The tiles, composed of polished multi-colored rock imported from Rome or Asia minor, are similar to those used used in Herod’s palaces. At 29.6 cm, they were also the same size – the equivalent of a Roman foot.
The tiles fit the description provided by ancient Jewish historian Josephus who said the courtyard “was completely paved with stones of various types and colors.”
According to Dr David Barklay, the discovery also reveals how impressive Herod’s temple must have looked. Early Jewish writers, though admittedly biased, stated “Whoever has not seen Herod’s building has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”
Last week, the Temple Mount Sifting Project released a pamphlet (see below) being distributed by Muslim organizations that states a Jewish Temple never existed on the Temple Mount.
- For the first time, archaeologists restore flooring from second temple courtyard in Jerusalem: The Temple Sifting Project
The Sifting Project and the Temple Denial at Megalim Conference: Temple Mount Sifting Project