Coins Help Date Jerusalem Temple|
January 17, 2012
This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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A coin discovery is assisting archaeologists in their understanding of when the construction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was completed.
A contemporaneous account by retired general and historian Josephus Flavius cites that the temple built by King Herod I was not completed within Herod’s lifetime. However, many people today think that Herod did indeed complete it prior to his death in 4 A.D.
Josephus described the construction as “the largest project the world has ever heard of,” and that once the project was completed about 18,000 workmen were consequently unemployed. Some historians have suggested this unemployment could have led to the First Revolt in 68 to 70 A.D., involving Judaea against Rome.
The coin find suggests the Western Wall that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. was completed by Herod’s great grandson, King Agrippa II.
The find was accompanied by contemporary oil lamps, pots and a sword scholars have suggested were likely left by Jewish rebels as they fled the Romans.
Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Eli Shakoun along with Haifa University professor Ronny Reich led the excavations that unearthed the coins.
Shakoun commented, “Until today, accepted wisdom said that all the walls were built by Herod. When we found these coins, which were dated about 20 years after Herod’s death, we understood that it couldn’t have been him who built this part of the wall. Herod started building in the 18th year of his reign, which was around 22 B.C., and here we have coins [underneath the wall] which date back to at least 15 A.D., which show it was at least 40 years.”
An official Israel Antiquities Authority statement reads, “This bit of archaeological information illustrates the fact that the construction of the Temple Mount walls and [the adjacent] Robinson’s Arch was an enormous project that lasted decades and was not completed during Herod’s lifetime.”
These conclusions are based on the discovery of four bronze prutah or “widow’s mite” coins of Roman Procurator Valerius Gratus who governed from 15 to 26 A.D. during the reign of Tiberius. They were found at a mikveh or ritual bath that dating from before the time of the temple. The mikveh had been filled in to make way for the protective outer wall around the temple. The coins were found in the half of the mikveh that was not covered by the foundation stones.
Collectors would not consider these coins to be expensive. Their true value is their aid to researchers due to the evidence and documentation they provided.
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