The Royal Stoa of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

During the Herodian period, a colonnaded hall, known as the Royal Stoa, graced the whole length of the Southern Wall. Constructed in the shape of a basilica with four rows of forty columns each, it formed a central nave in the east end and two side aisles. The central apse was the place of meeting for the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish Council. The main part of this building was used for the changing of money and purchase of sacrificial animals.

In 19 BC King Herod the Great, began the most ambitious building project of his life, the rebuilding of the Temple in lavish style. To facilitate this, he undertook a further expansion of the Hasmonean Temple Mount by extending it on three sides, to the north, west and south. The Royal Stoa stood above the Southern Wall, on the left of the drawing.

Although the existence and location of this magnificent building was never doubted, questions remain about its plan and decoration. I was pleased therefore to hear of Dr. Orit Peleg-Barkat’s new publication, “Herodian Architectural Decoration and King Herod’s Royal Portico,” that appears in Qedem 57, edited by Eilat Mazar, The Temple Mount Excavations in Jerusalem, 1968–1978 Directed by Benjamin Mazar Final Reports Volume V.

The present volume publishes a rich corpus of 500 architectural decorative fragments from the Second Temple period found in the excavations. The stylistic, technological and historical study of these fragments clarifies issues concerning the architecture, decoration and date of some of the structures built in the southern part of the enclosure, mainly the Royal Portico, one of most elaborate buildings in Judea of this period, and the Double Gate vestibule.

It will be interesting to examine the publication of these decorative elements that were excavated during the time I worked as architect on the Temple Mount Excavations. I am, of course, intimately familiar with most of these elements, but it is good to see them all together. Orit also writes about the plan of the Royal Stoa.

To understand the layout of the Royal Stoa, she had to choose between two conflicting statements by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius:

Josephus admiringly describes a massive edifice that was a “stadium” long. That Roman unit of measure means that it was from 180 to 200 meters (roughly 600 to 650 feet) long. On the other hand, Josephus also wrote that it stretched the length of the Temple Mount’s southern wall, “from the eastern valley [Kidron] to the western valley [Tyropoeon],” which is about 280 meters.

 The historian also wrote that rows of massive columns divided the building into a wide central hall with two side halls: 162 columns in four rows, one built into the wall:

 “This cloister had pillars that stood in four rows one over against the other all along, for the fourth row was interwoven into the wall, which [also was built of stone]; and the thickness of each pillar was such, that three men might, with their arms extended, fathom it round, and join their hands again, while its length was twenty-seven feet, with a double spiral at its basis” (Jewish Antiquities 15.413-4)

Orit’s reconstruction of the Royal Stoa. Credit: Sheila Winograd, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Based on her study of these elements, Orit concluded that the intercolumniation (that is the space between the columns) of the Royal Stoa was 3.25 m. Secondly, as 162 (columns) cannot be divided by four, she concluded that, despite Josephus’ mention of four rows, this number refers to the three free-standing rows of columns only, i.e. three rows of 54 each. According to her, the Stoa was therefore one stadium long and didn’t stretch from the Western Wall to the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount. On the other hand, Josephus mentions four rows of forty, while the two remaining ones could have stood in an entrance porch inside Robinson’s Arch (see plan below).

In theory Orit’s suggestion sounds plausible, but the problem is that she relies on text and decorative elements only and doesn’t fully take the architectural remains of the Temple Mount into consideration.

Plan of the Royal Stoa. © Leen Ritmeyer

The Royal Stoa was built partly over the 33m (110 feet) deep Tyropoeon Valley and the equally steep western slope of the Kedron Valley.

The Southern Wall of the Temple Mount showing the Tyropoeon and Kedron Valleys in section.

A solid substructure would have been necessary to support the heavy columns of this vast Royal Stoa. As I have shown (The Quest, pp. 60-101), remains of this substructure can be seen in the Double and Triple Gate passageways.

Plan of the Herodian remains in the undergound passageway of the Double Gate. © Leen Ritmeyer

The gate pier, a central pier and one monolithic column with a diameter of 1.45m (4 feet 9 inches) has survived in situ. The Herodian underground passageways are 5.48m (18 feet) wide. The 5.48m reflects therefore the in situ preserved east-west intercolumniation of the Royal Stoa. 40 columns and 39 intercolumniations make approx. 270m, which is the length of the Southern Wall, minus the thickness of the Western and Eastern Walls of the Temple Mount. This makes a perfect fit for Josephus’ description that the “it stretched the length of the Temple Mount’s southern wall”.

At present, the Early Islamic and Crusader buildings of the Islamic Museum, the al-Aqsa Mosque and Solomon’s Stables are aligned along the Southern Wall.

Early Islamic and Crusader buildings along the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount

All of these buildings are supported by columns, which, of necessity, must rest on a substructure. It is inconceivable to think that they would have dug down to the bottom of the Tyropoeon Valley to built new foundation walls, while the Herodian substructure was still intact. There are 39 spaces between the columns of these present buildings, which correspond perfectly with the 39 intercolumniations of the Royal Stoa.

The study of ancient buildings needs to be based on four elements:

  1. The in situ architectural remains
  2. Comparative architectural styles
  3. Excavated elements that have belonged to that building
  4. Historical information

Fortunately, enough information on all of the four requirements is available to reach a satisfactory solution to the plan of the Royal Stoa.

This section of the Final Reports on the Temple Mount Excavations will be a very useful tool for every student of the Temple Mount. We look forward to its insights into the architecture of King Herod, Israel’s Master Builder.

HT: Joe Lauer, Agade




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Carta Jerusalem, the publishing house that has published so many of our books, has embarked on a new venture: BIBLEWHERE. This Online Visual Content Collection was developed by Shay Hausman, the present CEO of Carta and continues to expand.

Those who are attending the AAR/SBL Conference in Boston can see it demonstrated at Booth 2616.

All materials produced by Carta can be viewed in BIBLEWHERE. Searching by topic or Bible verse, brings up a page with relevant information in the form of articles, photos, videos and maps. This programme is very useful for studying the context of many Bible events.

Here are two links to a promotional video and a tutorial:



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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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Victims of Great Revolt against the Romans laid to rest in Ofra

It has been reported, eg. here (Hebrew with pictures) and here, that remains of Jews who perished in the Great Revolt against the Romans and were discovered in Binyamin were secretly buried in Ofra.

The bones of Jews who perished in the Great Revolt by Jews against the Roman Empire, and which were discovered at an archaeological site near the community of Givat Assaf in the Binyamin region, were recently brought to burial secretly in Ofra.

The remains were discovered in 2013 at the archaeological site, which is a Jewish village from the time of the Second Temple. Mikvahs, coins from the time of the Great Revolt and vessels made out of stone were discovered at the site.

The bones belonged to seven women and a boy who hid in a cave, and were killed by the Romans in 69 CE, one year before the destruction of the Second Temple.

The archaeological excavation in question is Kh. el-Maqatir and was carried out by the Associates for Biblical Research, headed by Dr. Scott Stripling and Dr. Bryant Wood. I served as architect of the Maqatir excavation.

Five skeletons were found in a large cave that housed an oilpress and possibly also a winepress and three in a secret cave that led off from it.

An oilpress was discovered inside a cave at Kh. el-Maqatir. The olives were deposited through the hole in the ceiling and put in circular baskets. These were stacked and placed under a beam that was weighed down with stone weights. Nearby stood two upright stones that supported a screw press that may have been used for pressing grapes. The liquids were stored in the large vat at the right of the reconstruction drawing. Five skeletons were found here.

The entrance to the cave was via a staircase that was cut into the rock:

The author standing at the bottom of the staircase that leads into the cave.

The drawing below shows people entering the oilpress cave CAV1 and two women sitting in the secret cave CAV3:

A secret hiding cave was uncovered in the excavations at Kh. el-Maqatir. This secret Cave 3 was accessed from the larger Cave 1 that contained the oilpress (above). The skeletons of three Jews who perished in the Great Revolt  against the Roman Empire were discovered inside this secret cave, turning it into a tomb.

No doubt they thought they were safe. However, that was not the case, as along with the bones, evidence of brutal killing was discovered, in the form of arrow heads and shoe studs of Roman soldiers.

The bones of the victims were identified in 2013, as noted above, and were examined in laboratories for the purpose of determining the date of death. Only this past January were they transferred to Hevra Kadisha and buried in Ofra.

The residents of Ofra built a monument using natural stone on the grave of the women, and placed an explanatory sign that tells their story. A second panel bears the story of the vision of the dry bones from the Book of Ezekiel:

HT: Joe Lauer

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A Temple Mount model made of Lego bricks

I have seen many models of the Temple Mount and designed some myself, but I have never seen a model made of Lego bricks. Joshua Hanlon made his model of the Second Temple of Jerusalem which is on display at Brickworld Fort Wayne 2016:

Model of the temple Mount made of Lego bricks

It must have been fun to make this model which is mainly based on the Temple Mount in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem that is now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem:

The Model of Second Temple Jerusalem in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

I do prefer, however, the more realistic model I designed a while ago and that is now in the Yeshiva University, New York:

An overall view of the Temple Mount from the southeast. The Eastern wall is in the foreground and the Temple with its buildings stands near the centre. The Antonia Fortress at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount is visible to the right of the Temple.

HT: Nathaniel Ritmeyer

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New Photo Collection on the Gospels

Todd Bolen of has finished a new DVD photo project to illustrate the Life of Christ. Many Bible teachers and scholars alike would benefit from this collection as it uses a variety of photographs, both modern and historic, to illustrate virtually every verse in the Gospels.

The Bible is first and foremost a book that helps us live a godly life, but many of its lessons can be better learned by looking at the historical and geographical context, together with information on daily life in Bible times.

Todd Bolen, professor at The Master’s University, and his team have amassed about 10,000 photographs:

This PowerPoint-based collection goes verse by verse through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, providing beautiful photographs, descriptive text, and explanatory notes to enhance Bible study and teaching.


The Photo Companion to the Bible is a unique collection of digital photographs that illustrates the biblical text verse by verse.

  • PowerPoint-based resource
  • Library of images provides broad selection
  • Created by team of professors and scholars
  • Organized by chapter and verse
  • Each chapter is illustrated by 40–230 photographs


  • New aerial photographs of Galilee and Jerusalem
  • Detailed markings of routes that Jesus traveled
  • Annotations explaining image selection and background
  • Free lifetime updates
  • Generous copyright permissions
  • Satisfaction guaranteed

I have learned by experience that lessons that are illustrated with appropriate slides enhance and deepen the understanding of the Scriptures. You will have a grateful and appreciative audience. Guaranteed!

An introductory discount price is offered from now through August 21.

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Finds from a new excavation in Shiloh

The Israel HaYom Newsletter announced today that new 10 ancient storage jars have been found in a new excavation in Shiloh:

Excavation at ancient Shiloh seeks to locate site of Jewish tabernacle that dates to the time the Jewish people first arrived in the land of Israel • “This is a very exciting find,” says Archaeology Coordinator in the Civil Administration Hanania Hizmi.

Storage vessels unearthed in Shiloh. Photo credit: Shiloh Association

These storage vessels look very similar to those found in the so-called Area C of Israel Finkelstein’s excavations from 1983 on the west side of the tel. Two buildings were found there containing many of similar looking storage jars.

During the excavations in Shiloh in the 1980’s, an Early Israelite house was excavated near the city wall. Evidence shows destruction by fire. The ritual nature of the objects found in the debris above the destruction level suggested a connection with a cultic complex, perhaps that of the Tabernacle that stood here during the time of the Judges.

The report continues:

An exciting find of 10 ancient jugs at Shiloh in southern Samaria could lead researchers to the Jewish tabernacle that existed there in the time of Eli the High Priest of Shiloh and the Prophet Samuel, before the First Temple was built in Jerusalem.

The jugs (storage jars), only some of which were broken, date to the time when the Jewish people first entered the land of Israel. The vessels were unearthed approximately half a meter (20 inches) underground in a large room that is part of an ongoing archaeological excavation.

In recent years, the Archaeological Unit of the Civil Administration, which operates under Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, has been excavating together with the Shiloh Association. The goal of the work is to locate the southern wall of the ancient city of Shiloh.

The jugs indicate that the place was vacated suddenly, with residents not having enough time to collect and pack up their belongings. Among the jugs, the archaeologists also found a goblet known as a kobaat, a type of ritual chalice. The discovery of the kobaat ties in with the stone altar that was unearthed in the vicinity a few years ago, and could indicate that researchers are closing in on the ancient temple.

Hanania Hizmi, coordination officer for archaeology for the Civil Administration, said, “This is a very exciting find. The destruction could have been caused by the Philistine invasion and the fire that raged [at Shiloh].”

HT: Agade list

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Conservation program at Tel Shiloh

During the months of May/June 2017, excavations were carried out at Tel Shiloh[1]. At the conclusion of the dig, conservation work[2] needed to be carried out on some walls that were in danger of deterioration or collapse.

One section of the Middle Bronze Age city wall, W17 in Square AC-30, was selected for conservation. This wall was built of large ashlars, but in between these large stones were patches of small stones that needed to be consolidated (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The MBA city wall, W 17, before conservation. Note the many smaller stones that were placed in between the large ashlars.

In addition, the walls belonging to MBA storage rooms in Square AE-30 were found to be in a poor state of preservation. The main conservation effort was therefore focussed on Walls 19, 20 and 21 (Fig. 2), and also on the westernmost wall of the MBA storerooms, in Square AD-30, that had been revealed in the Danish excavations (Fig. 3). These four walls formed two rooms that were interconnected by doorways.

Fig. 2. Walls 19 (at the back, below the blue water container), 20 (right) and 21 (left) during excavation.

Fig. 3. The “Danish” wall after conservation.

Ancient walls were made by placing fieldstones at the interior and exterior faces. The core of the wall usually consists of small stones held together by a soil-based mortar (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. W21 before cleaning. Note the soil in between the stones.

The basic process of conservation is first to remove all soil from between the stones with a small pick and brush (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. W21 after cleaning with small pick and brush.

The remaining soil was then removed with a strong water jet (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. W21 after cleaning with small pick and brush.

The latter made the walls dirty and therefore they needed to be cleaned by spraying water in between and over the stones. Only then were the walls ready for conservation (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. W21 after cleaning with water jet. Note that no soil is left between the stones.

Stones that were missing or that had fallen were replaced with suitably sized stones (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. A stone being placed in a large gap in W19.

After the wall was thoroughly cleaned, the mortar mixture needed to be prepared. We used imported heat-treated NHL 5 natural hydraulic lime, Class M2.5, which is a cement-free mortar (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9. The heat-treated NHL 5 natural hydraulic lime, Class M2.5, used in the conservation.

One shovel of quarry sand and half a shovel of sifted soil was added to one 25 kg bag of this mortar. The quarry sand was added to give texture to the smooth mortar and the sifted soil was added to give a more natural color to the mix. The mortar, sand and soil were thoroughly mixed with water in a wheelbarrow to a smooth consistency before application (Fig. 10).

The best way of conserving ancient walls is to inject the mortar as deep as possible into the core of the wall, so that the exterior faces of the wall remain clean and retain their authentic look. Mortar is usually put on a mortarboard or tray and pushed into the joints or gaps with a pointing trowel. Adequately sized stones were placed into large gaps and secured by the mortar. We found that a mortar pointing gun was much more effective (Fig. 11).

The wet mortar was inserted into the gun’s tube and then injected into the inner core of the wall (Fig. 12).

Fig. 12. Dave applying the mortar and Greg pushing it further in with a wet 1.5” paintbrush

The mortar was then pushed in between and against the stones with a wet 1.5” paintbrush. The advantage of this method is that the stones of the wall are bonded together by mortar from the inside. This prevents unsightly and unnecessary smearing of mortar on the outer faces of the wall, thus preserving the authentic look of the ancient walls. The most important part of the conservation of a wall is its top, or coping (Fig. 13). When the top of the wall is conserved well, rainwater cannot penetrate the core of the wall and thus its preservation is secured.

Fig. 13. Conservation of the top of W21.

After the mortar had set (see Figs 14-16), any remains of mortar that had flowed onto the stones was wire brushed so that the outer faces of the stones were clean and free from mortar (Fig. 17).

Fig. 14. Walls 19 and 21 after conservation.

Fig. 15. W20 after conservation.

Fig. 16. W21 after conservation.

Fig. 17. Final clean-up with wire brush.

Although it is not necessary to employ skilled labor, it is important to professionally supervise the conservation work so that it is carried out according to the procedures set out above. I was pleased to have Dr. Phil Silvia, Dr. David Graves and Greg Gulbrandsen as willing helpers, who quickly learned the ropes of the trade and put their hearts and souls into the conservation project (Fig. 18).

Fig. 18. The conservation team, standing behind Leen: Dave (L), Phil (C) and Greg (R).

Having conserved these storeroom walls, they are a beautiful testimony to the building techniques of the past and can now be enjoyed by the many visitors that come to Tel Shiloh.

[1] The excavations were directed by Dr. Scott Stripling on behalf of the Associates for Biblical Research.

[2] The conservation was directed and supervised by Dr. Leen Ritmeyer, MA (Conservation Studies), Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, University of York, UK. Conservation assistants were Dr.Phil Silvia, Dr. David Graves and Greg Gulbrandsen.

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Back online

We are pleased to say that we are back online after a week of outage. Will post soon again.

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Understanding The Holy Temple Jesus Knew

Carta, the well-known Jerusalem publishers, offers an introductory price on our latest, and eighth, Carta book, valid until June 30, 2017 (make sure to put in the discount code: “25-off”):

This title is part of the “Understanding” series of Carta:

“This book is a companion volume to Understanding the Holy Temple of the Old Testament. Its aim is to provide a backdrop to the Gospel scenes which depict the Lord Jesus moving through the Temple Courts, a place where he performed many of his most significant acts. Although the Temple complex that Jesus knew was a very different one to that rebuilt by the returning Jewish exiles fro Babylon, the site retained the name of Second Temple. This was because its builder, the Edomite King Herod the Great, was not allowed by the religious Jewish authorities to make any substantial changes to the Temple building proper. However, in the vastly enlarged and embellished platform on which the Temple stood, Herod was able to express his passion and creative genius for building.

Beginning at the Holy of Holies, the central focus of the complex, we follow Jesus and his contemporaries through the great Sanctuary of Israel. Stopping off at many points along the way, we reflect on scenes such as the Presentation in the Temple, Jesus’ visit at age twelve and the rending of the veil between the Holy and the Most Holy at his crucifixion. Our exploration is facilitated by the richly detailed reconstructive drawings that accompany the lively text of this latest publication by the Ritmeyers.”

Inside this book you will find this new new drawing of the widow with the two mites:

Reconstruction drawing showing three of the thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles for monetary offerings that were placed under the colonnades that surrounded the Court of the Women (Treasury). The widow, who is mentioned in Mark 12.42 and Luke 21.2, and who put in the two mites is shown next to the box in the middle.

In a previous post we showed another new drawing of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple at Passover that also appears in this new book:

In Luke 2.41-52 we read of Jesus’ first visit to the Temple. In this reconstruction drawing, we see young Jesus (in blue) on the steps of the Temple Terrace (hel) with the rabbis. This terrace bounded the wall of the Temple Courts on its southern, western and northern sides. It was 10 cubits (5.25m, 17 feet) wide, and was reached by a flight of steps of half a cubit high and deep. According to Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 88b, members of the Temple Sanhedrin would come out of the Chamber of Hewn Stone on Sabbaths and festival days to teach on the hel. Young Jesus must have eagerly made use of this opportunity.

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