Not a stone upon a stone
Joseph A. Komonchak November 16, 2013 - 4:32pm
Just some notes as background for tomorrow’s Gospel. It begins with the admiration being expressed by some people at the Temple in Jerusalem, with its “costly stones and votive offerings.” To which Jesus replies: “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Lk 21:5-6).
The Temple in question was the third on the site. Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. A second Temple was built after the return from Exile and completed around 515 B.C. Herod the Great decided it was not grand enough and embarked on a reconstruction of it that doubled its area. This work took decades, and in fact it was still under way in the time of Jesus. Completed about 63 A.D., it would be destroyed only seven years later.
Joseph Fitzmyer’s commentary on Luke, from which I took those details, has also this:
According to Josephus, the Temple was built of “hard, white stones, each of which was about twenty-five cubits in length, eight in height, an twelve in width.”
The exterior of the structure lacked nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner upon it than it radiated so fiery a flash that people straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the rays of the sun. To approaching strangers it appeared from afar like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white. From its summit protruded sharp golden spikes to prevent birds from settling upon and befouling the roof. Some of the stones in the structure were forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth.
(The biblical cubit is commonly taken to be around eighteen inches in length.)
You can find here various scale-model reconstructions of Herod’s Temple offered by various archaeologists and architects. I've given two of them here, but rather clumsily. I can't figure out how to put images into a post where I would like them to be. UPdate: Well, I had two, but one of them has now disappeared!)
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.