Temple Mount Pavements During the Herodian Period
Assaf Avraham, the manager of the sifting site, has conducted a research regarding the pavement technique of the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period. He displayed his very interesting and innovative results in the 13th conference of Jerusalem studies in Bar-Ilan university. Here is an abstract of the article he has published:
Addressing The Issue of Temple Mount Pavements During the Herodian Period
Recent archeological research has revealed a vast amount of data enabling a better understanding of building practice of the Herodian period. Josephus’ writings in relation to the Temple Mount mention aspects familiar to us from other sites in the country.
The present article studies the Temple Mount courtyards in Josephus’ “The Jewish War”:
The open court was form end to end variegated with paving of all manner of stones. (War V, V.2).
From this quote, it is possible to assume that Josephus” description may refer to a certain method of paving called Opus Sectile. This method that is well known from numerous Herodian period sites such as: Jericho (in Herod’s third palace), Masada (the Bath Hall), Jerusalem (in the excavations of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarters), Machaerus (in the bath house), Herodium (the bath house), and in Cypros (in the caldarium floor of the bath house).
Opus Sectile is a paving technique, practiced with multi-colored boards (some of them imported), which were integrated together to form varied compositions. When describing Herod’s palace, located close to the towers in the western side of the city, Josephus writes the following regarding the pavements:
The interior fittings are indescribable – the variety of the stones (for species rare in every other country) were here collected in abundance. (War V, IV.4)
Reference should also be made to the epigraphic evidence from the Ophel. We refer to a Greek inscription engraved upon a limestone board. This inscription was discovered in the excavations of Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount, and was found partly broken. The remains of the inscription were translated by Benjamin Isaac. The content of the inscription mentions a certain donation for a pavement. The donation was given by a man named Paris Son of Akeson, who originated from Rhodes. The year mentioned on the script was the 20th year to the ruling of a person whose name is missing, but is assumed by Isaak to be King Herod, since he was the only ruler of Judea whose regime lasted more than 20 years.
Donating an amount of money for carrying out the paving could be an indication of the quality of the stones, as Isaac has shown. This may be seen in keeping with the assumption regarding the use of the Opus Sectile technique in the Temple Mount. The donation was needed due to the cost of the paving boards, considering the enormous area that needed to be paved.
Further information has been found in the Temple Mount Sifting Project in which numerous pavement boards were found, including the Opus Sectile type.
In sum, it is possible to say that, today, we are able to asses the use of Opus Sectile in the Temple Mount. This site, which has never been properly excavated, is nevertheless not useless to learn from. Through the help of research and relevant scriptures, it is possible to reach a certain estimate as to the nature of the Temple Mount.
Assaf Avraham is my hero.