What Did the Second Temple’s Floor Look Like?

During his reign, which lasted from 37 to 4 BCE, King Herod undertook major renovations of the Temple Mount and the Temple itself. Recent archaeological findings suggest that these included repaving the floors with a kind of polished stone tile known as opus sectile. Frankie Snyder, Gabriel Barkay, and Zachi Dvira write:

Opus sectile—Latin for “cut work”—is a technique for paving floors and walls in geometric patterns or figurative scenes using meticulously cut and polished polychrome stone tiles. These tiles were crafted and laid with such precision that there was hardly space to insert a knife-blade between them. Opus sectile floors were more prestigious than mosaic ones and were typically used in more important areas of buildings. Along with using frescoed walls, stucco decorations and elegantly carved columns, Herod introduced this paving technique to Israel to decorate many of his palaces, including Masada, Jericho, Herodium, and Cypros.

The 1st-century-CE Jewish historian Flavius Josephus comments about the pavements [on] the Temple Mount [thus], “The open courtyard was from end to end variegated with paving of all manner of stones.” . . . Continued research has allowed [archaeologists] to distinguish the time period in which many of the recovered opus sectile tiles were crafted and mathematically to reconstruct possible floor patterns. . . .

A key characteristic of Herodian tiles is their size, which is based on the Roman foot, 11.6 inches. In the floor patterns, each tile was surrounded by tiles of contrasting colors. Dark tiles were frequently made from bituminous chalk quarried locally just northwest of the Dead Sea, around Nebi Musa. Some of the contrasting light-colored tiles were made from local limestone and calcite-alabaster, while others were made of imported alabaster, africano, breccia coralline, breccia di Aleppo, breccia di Settebasi, giallo antico, pavonazzetto, and portasanta from Greece, Asia Minor, Tunisia, and Egypt.

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More about: Archaeology, Herod, History & Ideas, Josephus, Second Temple

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East