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Not a stone upon a stone

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.



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There is also a 3D tour (and game, but my connection is too slow to try it:

I couldn't get the sites to load properly.  

Where in the Temple complex is the Court of the Gentiles?  How come they were admitted, at least in the outer precincts?  What sort of interaction took place there?

I'm curious about the fact that God in the OT is sometimes referred to as Father of All, but whom did that "all" include?  Does it refer to all peoples everywhere?  If so, then how does the notion of the chosen people fit into salvation history -- were/are(?)  the Jews meant to be sort of the missionaries of Jahweh?  And if so, why don't the Jews proselytize now?

Ann:   Don't click on the two images, but on the high-lighted "here" in the last paragraph.

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.”

If a cubit is 1.5 feet, then the individual stones would have been 37 feet long, 12 feet high, and 18 feet wide.

Hardly seems possible...  A website on the Cheops Pyramid reports the stones there as being as being about 1.3 meters by 1.3m by .7m.

No, many ashlars would have been that long, or longer. But it's not as if all of the blocks would have been of that dimension.

I too wondered about the size of the stones as described by Josephus.  But then I thought of Stonehenge and Easter Island and the Pyramids and said, "Who am I to judge?"

Thanks, amazing.  I found this on another site:

Some of the quarried stones used in the Western Wall are so large that, to this day, archaeologists have trouble understanding how they could possibly have been transported. The smallest stones weight between 2 to 5 tons and the largest stone of them all – possibly the largest building stone in antiquity – is 13.6 meters long, 4.6 meters thick and 3.3 meters high, and is estimated to weigh 570 tons. The builders used dry construction – there is no cement between the stones. In fact, there’s nothing holding the stones together except their own weight.

Thanks for the site instructions, JAK.  The site is very informative!

About moving the heavy stones -- I read very recently that some archeologists in another country are not hypothesizing that there the ancient builders there  iced the roads in winter so that  heavy building materials were slid on them least part of the way.   Was there a mini Ice Age then?  In England at times it has been cold enough for the Thames to freeze over, e.g., in 250 and 1410 AD.  Maybe there were similar cold periods in Israel, at least cold enough for to ice the roads.

Oops --  "are not hypothesizing" should be "... are NOW hypothesizing that...."

Somebody needs to redo all those cheesy Bible illustrations and put Jesus and his disciples in parkas.

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