Use of unique pyramid-shaped podium in Jerusalem baffles archaeologists
A stepped stone pyramid about 2 meters (6 feet) tall has been excavated in the City of David, and it has archaeologists speculating about its use. They say the structure, unlike any other in Jerusalem, was possibly a podium and cite other, public stones mentioned in the Talmud and used for auctioning slaves or collecting lost things.
The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the find in a press release this week. The dig, headed by Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel, is near the Second Temple and the Pool of Shiloam, which are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
The archaeologists found dozens of partial and whole stone pottery and some glassware at the foot of the pyramid.
In their statement, Szanton and Uziel said:
“The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it. For this reason, its exact use remains enigmatic. The structure is built along the street in a place that is clearly visible from afar by passers-by making their way to the Temple. We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know.”
The archaeologists said two British archaeologists unearthed a part of the step pyramid about a century ago and thought it was a set of steps leading into a house that had stood there.
The Talmud, which are rabbinic texts, sets out and interprets Jewish law. The announcement from Israel’s Antiquities Authority says scholars know from rabbinic sources that stones in public places were used for various purposes during the Second Temple period, including auctioning slaves.
The Pool of Siloam, which is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. (Photo by Daniel Ventura/ Wikimedia Commons )
“For example,” the IAA statement says, “one source cites the ‘auction block’ in connection with the street: ‘[A master] will not set up a market stand and put them (slaves) on the auction block’ (Sifra, BeHar 6). In the Mishnah and Talmud the ‘Stone of Claims’ is mentioned as a place that existed in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period: ‘Our Rabbis taught: There was a Stone of Claims in Jerusalem: whoever lost an article repaired thither, and whoever found an article did likewise. The latter stood and proclaimed, and the former submitted his identification marks and received it back. And in reference to this we learnt: Go forth and see whether the Stone of Claims is covered.’ (Bava Metzia 28:B).”
Szanton and Uziel said the structure has no archaeological parallel in Jerusalem, so it presents a mystery. They said further study of rabbinic sources may shed light.
The men said the pyramid is near a street built of large stone slabs that ran alongside the 2,000-year-old Second Temple. Pilgrims walked this street from the Siloam or Shiloah Pool to the temple on Temple Mount. They believe this street was constructed around in the 40s AD and said it was one of the biggest public works projects of the Second Temple period.
Temple Mount with Western wall and Dome of the Rock at Sunset, Jerusalem, Israel (Photo by Zairon/ Wikimedia Commons )
“The street most likely runs above the 2,000-year-old drainage channel, discovered a number of years ago, which carried rain water out of the city,” they said.
In the New Testament Jesus Christ was said to have healed a man of blindness at the Pool of Siloam. The pool is also mentioned in two places in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
Featured image: The pyramid had been partially excavated about 100 years ago, but now archaeologists have revealed the entire structure, which baffles them as to its possible use centuries ago. ( Israel Antiquities Authority photo by Shai Halevy )
By Mark Miller