What did people see beneath their feet when walking on the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago? What surface did people stand on during events such as the Passover, or when listening to a favorite rabbi’s discourse?
The Temple Mount today is mostly paved with the honey-colored stone typical of Jerusalem, but this was not the case in the time of Jesus. The walking surface of the ancient temple courtyards appears to have been made of imported stones, cut and polished to create ornate geometric designs.
In 1999, tons of Temple Mount sediments were illegally removed and dumped by Islamic authorities during construction of an underground mosque. To sift and analyze the massive piles of dumped debris, archaeologists Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira established the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Volunteers working at the project have since found thousands of objects from all periods of Jerusalem’s history. Among the finds are, currently, more than 100 pieces of floor tile that can be dated to the time of Herod’s temple.
This article in the Jerusalem Post contains many interesting details and is worth reading in full.
The image below shows a section of reassembled floor tiles from the Temple courtyards. They are made of cut, polished, high-quality stone imported from across the Roman world. This is what priests, worshippers, Christians, and Jesus Himself walked on while visiting the Temple Mount.
When I think of New Testament events such as Jesus teaching in the Temple, or 12 year-old Jesus staying behind to discuss the Law with scholars of the day, or of the early church meeting underneath the porticos that surrounded the temple platform, these elaborate stone surfaces will now come to mind. With such costly and labor-intensive courtyard floors, it is no surprise the buildings themselves were remarkable to behold. The words of Mark 13:1-2 really come to life.
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
We can see evidence of both the beauty and the destruction in these recovered floor stones. Below are additional examples of reconstructed floor tiles from the 1st centuryTemple Mount.