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Excavations reveal destruction of Second Temple


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Yuval Avivi Translator Danny Wool

July 31, 2015



People stand at an excavation site in Jerusalem's Old City, Sept. 3, 2008. The wall, on Mount Zion at the southern edge of Jerusalem's Old City, dates back to the Second Jewish Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. (photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)


After 20 years of excavating in the City of David, archaeologist Eli Shukrun quickly realized one day what an important find he had made. It was 2011, and he was digging at an Israel Antiquities Authority site — to be exact, a drainage tunnel of several hundred meters, running from the Siloam Pool, a rock-cut pool on the slopes of the ancient city of King David, to the foot of Robinson’s Arch, a stone staircase in the Old City's market area. It was a rare find, well preserved amid all the mud.


Shukrun had unearthed a Roman “gladius,” or sword, waiting 2,000 years to be found. It apparently belonged to a Roman soldier who dropped it when he climbed into the tunnel to search for Jewish rebels who had fled there in a panic after realizing their revolt had failed. Jerusalem had just been taken, and the Second Temple destroyed.


At the time, Shukrun recalled what is practically the only contemporary source describing the battle for Jerusalem, “​The War of the Jews against the Romans,” by Josephus Flavius. The text reads, “After the Romans killed some of the people that rose against them and took the remainder captive, they sought out the people hiding in the tunnels, and ripped up the ground over them. Everyone they captured was put to the sword.” It continues, “There were some men there, who were driven by avarice to descend into the tunnels and force their way through the piles of corpses. Many precious objects had been hidden there, and no way of obtaining them was considered excessive to the greedy.


Avi Solomon, archaeologist for the Western Wall tunnels on the Temple Mount, told Al-Monitor that the sword “is archaeological evidence of descriptions of the final days of the battle over Jerusalem, right after it was put to the torch and the Upper City fell. Jewish fighters entered the fetid drainage tunnels, filled with the feces and sewage of Jerusalem, in an attempt to flee for their lives. Some of them took valuables, including gold coins and jewelry. Roman legionnaires chased after them. They lifted the stone manhole covers, slaughtered the fighters, and seized their valuables.”

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