Jerusalem Archeological Park 2nd Temple Ruins – Jerusalem, Israel

Not far from the Wailing Wall is the entrance of the Jerusalem Archeological Park. A visit here affords a close up look at the devastation that befell the Jewish Temple during the Roman siege of 70AD.   

Historical Significance

1st Century Jewish historian Josephus describes within his work, The War of the Jews, the fate of the Temple and the rest of Jerusalem:

…as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, Titus Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers of feet [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.

The ‘Wall’ Josephus references, as having been spared is the Wailing Wall.  We know from the rest of his account, as many as 1,100,000 inhabitants were slain by the Roman Army.  Another 97,000 were sold into slavery. The rest of Jerusalem and its Temple were razed to the ground.

Scriptural Significance

In one of the most remarkable prophecies of Scripture, the Lord Jesus Christ predicted that the Temple would be destroyed. During His Olivet Discourse, the Lord specifically references the casting down of the stones of the great structure:

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?

Matthew 24:1-3

In the past few decades, archeologists have dug down below the present ground level in front of the Southernmost portion of the Western Wall. In fact, they have dug down as far as 4 stories to get to what would have been street level at the time of Christ.

Sure enough, the ruins of the Temple and its associated buildings were uncovered. Amazingly, the stones were literally cast off of the Temple platform and thrown down to the street below.  

Just as Christ has predicted, the stones which made up the Temple had all been cast from off its platform.

This photo is taken a couple of stories up from 1st Century street level. Notice that the rocks are almost at eye level – this is how deep they were piled on top of one another.  

The Roman Army during sieges would often build up fires at the base of walled structures that were made out of limestone – as is the case with much of the Temple complex.  These would be primarily set around keystones and corner portions of the walls. If the fire gets hot enough, it causes the limestone to turn to dust and collapse any structure on top of it.  This is clearly what happened in 70 AD.  

It is also clear that the Temple itself was set ablaze by the Romans. As a result, the gold-leaf ornamentation found within the Temple and specifically on its ceiling began to melt. The melting gold flowed down the walls and settled into crevices between the stones comprising the building. The Romans pried apart the stones in an effort to extract the gold. 

What’s the Point?

The Lord’s prophecy concerning how the Temple would be destroyed and the timing of it were fulfilled in exact detail.  The fulfillment of Bible prophecy is yet more evidence that the Bible is divinely inspired!

It’s also worth mentioning that Jesus’ prophecy and subsequent fulfillment were not lost on historians of His day. Phlegon is a 1st Century historian who wrote a work called Chronicles roughly one decade after Jerusalem’s destruction. That work has been lost to history.  However, Origen, an Egyptian Christian scholar from the 2nd Century, refers it to. Origen cites this in his work, Origen Against Celsus:

Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events . . . but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.

In context, this seems to be a direct reference to the Lord’s prediction regarding Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple’s destruction.

Digging Deeper

The stones of the Temple (and its associated complex), hit the 1st Century road with such force, that it caused tremendous buckling.  These indentations are still clearly evident.

One particular stone found bears a significant engraving. Written in Hebrew is the inscription, “To the Place of the Trumpeting”. This stone is considered by some to be the pinnacle stone of the Temple. Regardless, it would be the place where the trumpeter would indicate with his blowing the start of Shabbat or some other Festival or Holiday.  

This too serves as tremendous proof to the existence and historical presence of the Jewish Sanctuary.

Once Jerusalem fell, the plight of the Jews only got worse. For it was at this time that the Diaspora took place – that is, the Jews were spread throughout much of the world. The Romans undertook massive deportations of the Jewish People. Even those who weren’t forcibly expelled fled due to fear of persecution. The Romans took many Jewish slaves.

The Arch of Titus in Rome commemorates Rome’s War against the Jewish People. It actually depicts in one relief the looting of some of the Jewish Temple Treasures by Roman forces.

Prior to the sacking of Jerusalem, in 68AD, Emperor Nero had committed suicide. This was on the heels of his having burned his own capital city to the ground.  Vespasian had been in command of the Roman forces arrayed against the Jews. He was then recalled by the Roman Senate and crowned Emperor. Vespasian left his son, Titus, in command.

Vespasian decided to construct a huge Coliseum to pacify and entertain the Roman people. It was clear however that Vespasian and Rome lacked the necessary funding to build the massive sports complex.

This is where the sacking of Jerusalem and its Temple treasures come into play. Once Titus had stormed Jerusalem, his forces were ordered to confiscate any gold and treasure found within the city (and particularly the Temple).

At least 30,000 Jewish slaves were brought to Rome to help build the Coliseum. Many others were sold to raise additional funds. The Jewish treasury was used as well to finance construction.  

It took just over ten years to complete the project and by the time it was finished, it was the largest structure of its type in the world. The elliptical shaped venue stood over 160 feet high and had four stories of windows, arches and columns. Each of the exterior floors consisted of 80 arches. More than 50,000 spectators could enter the stadium though 76 entranceways. In total, an area the size of 7 football fields was encompassed.

Roman historian, Gezah Alfody, discovered an inscription in Latin near one of the Coliseum entrances. Interestingly, there are peg marks all around this inscription. These indentations betrayed the fact that there was an earlier inscription on this stone.  At one point, bronze letters would have been held in place here. By arranging the peg holders, the earlier inscription could be reconstructed.

In short, Alfody concluded that the previous inscription commemorated the building of the Coliseum. And that it was accomplished due to the spoils Titus brought home from war (no doubt, the Jewish War).

Did You Know?

In the Gospel accounts, the Lord speaks in a parable about His rejection as Messiah by the Jews and their leadership.

Then He began to tell the people this parable: “A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out. 

Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Probably they will respect him when they see him.’ But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!” 

Then He looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

‘ The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone?

Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder,” And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.

Luke 20: 9 – 19

The word translated ‘cornerstone’ above comes from the Greek word “gonia”.  This means the corner, headstone or capstone. It can be translated at times to also mean keystone, as in an archway. The keystone is really a trapezoid and bears the weight of both sides of the arch. If builders weren’t careful, they might reject this most important stone when it came from the masons and the quarry.

The Jewish Prophets predicted Messiah’s coming. The Jewish leadership was without excuse. They should have known through Bible prophecy that the Messiah had to be on the scene at that time. They should have known through the things Jesus did, that He was the Messiah! Instead, they rejected the One Who was the Chief Cornerstone and plotted His demise.

It is ironic that within one generation of crucifying the Lord, the Jews were scattered throughout the world by the Romans. The structure Rome built with looted Temple Treasure was filled with banks of archways, each one possessing a capstone or cornerstone!

Perhaps in some strange way, the Coliseum itself was a witness to the fact that the Stone Who the builders rejected was in fact the Chief Cornerstone. Messiah had come for the Jewish People who He loves so very much!