Ancient Jewish History: The Cult of Moloch
Evidence concerning Moloch worship in ancient Israel is found in the legal, as well as in the historical and prophetic literature of the Bible. In the Pentateuch, the laws of the Holiness Code speak about giving or passing children to Moloch (Lev. 18:21, 20:2–4) and the law in Deuteronomy speaks of “passing [one’s] son or daughter through fire” (18:10). Although Moloch is not named in the Deuteronomy passage, it is likely that his cult was the object of the prohibition.
The author of the Book of Kings speaks about “passing [one’s] son and daughter through fire” (II Kings 16:3 [son], 17:17, 21:6 [son]). II Kings 23:10 speaks about “passing [one’s] son or daughter through fire to Moloch.” Some scholars interpret the phrase lә-haʿavir ba-esh, as a reference to a divinatory or protective rite in which children were passed through a fire but not physically harmed. However, the same phrase lә-haʿavir ba-esh is found in an unmistakable context of burning in Numbers 31:23.
Other biblical texts refer to the sacrifice of children. Psalms 106:37–38 speaks of child sacrifice to the unnamed idols of Canaan. In prophetic sources, Jeremiah 7:31 and Ezekiel 20:25–6 speak disapprovingly of sacrificing children to Yahweh (for the “bad statutes” referred to by Ezekiel, see Ex. 22:28–29; but see Friebel); Jeremiah 19:5 speaks of sacrificing children to Baal; Ezekiel 16:21, 20:31, 23:37, 39 of sacrificing children to unnamed divinities; as does Isaiah 57:5. In none of these is there a mention of Moloch. Only in Jeremiah 32:35 is Moloch mentioned by name and there he is associated with Baal.
Distinction should be made between human sacrifice as a sporadic deed at a time of crisis and distress, such as the holocaust of the son of Mesha king of Moab (II Kings 3:27), or as an act which serves to express an unusual degree of religious devotion as the binding of Isaac (cf. Micah 6:7), on the one hand, and the Moloch cult which was an established institution with a fixed location (the Topheth), on the other. As the classical sources have it, the sacrifices of children at Carthage, a colony founded by Phoenicians on the coast of Northeast Tunisia, usually came after a defeat and a great disaster – a religious practice based upon an ancient mythological tradition. Thus Phoenician tradition ascribed to Sanchuniaton relates that the god Elos (= El) sacrificed his son following a war which brought disaster upon the state. If the classical reports are accurate, it could be maintained that there is no real connection therefore between the Phoenician-Punic child sacrifices which are sporadic and conditioned by crisis and the Moloch worship which was an institution or cult. In contrast though to the classical reports, the archaeological discoveries at Carthage, which attest some 20,000 burials of infant bones along with animal bones in what are evidently not instances of natural death appear to conflict with the classical reports. There is as yet no evidence of child sacrifice in the Carthaginian homeland, the cities of Phoenicia (Lebanon) proper, where far less excavation has been done.
The accepted view since Abraham Geiger is that Moloch is a tendentious mis-vocalization of the word melekh, “king,” the original vowels being changed and patterned after the vocalization of boshet, “shame,” which was often used as an intentional substitute for Baal (see Euphemism and Dysphemism ). It is true that the names Moloch (I Kings 11:7) and Milcom occur in the Bible in reference to an Ammonite god, and that deities by the name Malik/Muluk are attested to from the 18th century B.C.E. onward. However, the laws and warnings against the worship of the Moloch could hardly refer to these particular deities. It is unlikely that one particular god who is not especially famous would be singled out for mention, while other prominent gods, e.g., Baal, are not mentioned by name in the Torah even once. That the original vocalization was melekh may be learned from Isaiah 30:33, which undoubtedly alludes to the fiery ceremony of the Moloch rites. The fact that the Septuagint of the Pentateuch (which was the first to be translated by the Greek translators) translates molekh as “king” (archon) seems also to indicate that at the time of the translation of the Torah, the reading molekh instead of melekh was as yet unknown.
A new dimension was added to the problem of the name Moloch with the discovery of some Latin dedicatory inscriptions in North Africa. In these inscriptions the term molchomor – which has been equated with מלכ אמר in the Punic inscriptions, the meaning of which was also unclear – occurs in the context of a lamb offering. The context has provided a clue to the meaning of both molchomor and מלכ אמר. Molchomor has been interpreted as molech immer, i.e., molech, “sacrifice” (see below) and ommor, “a lamb.” This interpretation, however, is beset by difficulties. First, it is hard to explain how immer (Aram. and Akk. “lamb”) became ommor; no less difficult is the interpretation of molech as sacrifice. O. Eissfeldt argued (on the basis of Syriac) that molech means “vow,” but this can hardly be reconciled with the biblical text. It would be futile to translate li-znot ʾaḥare ha-molekh (לזנות אחרי המלך) in Leviticus 20:5: “to go astray after the vow.” Besides, it is methodologically unsound to explain a Hebrew word in the Bible on the sole basis of a late Aramaic word. Another expression occurring in the Punic inscriptions מלכאדם, turned out to be even more crucial for the understanding of the Hebrew molekh. Here again some scholars understood the term as human sacrifice. However, as in the case of מלכ אמר, no objective evidence has been found for this interpretation of מלכאדם. The most plausible explanation is, as has already been suggested, that the term means “king of humankind,” and is the epithet of the god to whom the inscription is dedicated. The word “king” was indeed a common attribute of the deities in the Phoenician-Punic sphere, e.g., Melkart (“king of the city,” i.e., Tyre), מלכבעל, etc. El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, later identified with Kronos, was named Malkandros (Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride, 16) which means “king of man” (Greek aner [gen. andros], “man”), in other words מלכאדם. This is corroborated by evidence from the Assyrian-Aramean sphere where the epithet “King” is applied to the god Adad/Hadad, who is identified with the Canaanite-Phoenician Baal – was also called “King,” cf. מלכבעל – “Baal is king.” The identification of Hadad-Baal with Moloch provides the background to Jeremiah 32:35, which fulminates against the bamot-altars of Baal in the valley of Ben-Hinnom where male and female children were burnt to Moloch, i.e., Baal-Hadad. Furthermore, a series of Assyrian-Aramean documents analyzed by K. Deller showed that Adadmilki or Adadšarru (“Adad the king”) was actually the god to whom children, sometimes firstborn, were burned (see below). The Assyrian material sheds new light on II Kings 17 where Adadmelech (to be read instead of Adrammelech) is the god to whom the Sepharvites burn/dedicate their children (verse 31). Adadmelech in this verse stands next to Anammelech who has been correctly related by scholars to Anath who bears the title “Queen of Heaven,” the standard term for Ishtar in Akkadian (šarrat šamê; cf. Sum. nin.anna.ak = Inanna). The pair Adad and Ishtar, or the “king” and the “queen,” are the ones to whom children are dedicated in the Assyrian-Aramean documents quoted above. Adad and ʿAshtart were actually the dominant gods in Syro-Palestine until the beginning of the common era, as may be deduced from the passage preserved by Philo of Byblos (ascribed to Sanchuniaton): “Ashtart the great and Zeus Demarus who is Hadad, the king of the gods, were enthroned on the earth” (Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 1:10, 31; cf. O. Eissfeldt, Kleine Schriften, 3 (1966), 335–9). Another instructive example is the second century B.C.E. Greek inscription, found in Acre, that is dedicated to Hadad and Atargatis (= combination of Ishtar and Anath) who listen to prayer (M. Avi-Yonah, in: IEJ, 9 (1959), 1–2). As will be shown below, the introduction of the Moloch coincided with the introduction of the worship of the “queen of the heaven,” although the latter persisted after the reform of Josiah whereas the Moloch cult seems to have perished following the reform. The worship of the Moloch along with the worship of the “queen of the heaven” are therefore to be seen against the background of the widespread worship in the Assyro-Aramean culture of Adad/Hadad, the king, and Ishtar Ashtarth/Anath, the queen, that began in the ninth-eighth century B.C.E. This sheds new light on the controversial passage Amos 5:26: “… You carried the canopy [Heb. sikkut is a deliberate misvocalization of sukkat or sukkot to make it resemble to שִׁקּוּץ; shikkuẓ, “abhorrence,” cf. LXX and 6QD 14–17] of your king and the kaiwanu [changed deliberately into kiyyun, as skikkuẓ] of your image[s] the star of your god[s] which you made for yourselves.” The kamānu/kawānu, found in Jeremiah 7:18, and 44:19, is a cultic cake in the form of a star which is the image of Ishtar, who is called in Akkadian kakkab šamê, “the star of the Heaven.” The image of Ishtar צלמיכם כוכב אלהיכם, is depicted here as having been carried under a canopy in a procession, a procedure attested in the Assyrian documents (cf. L. Waterman, Royal Correspondence of the Assyrian Empire, 1 (1930), no. 1212, rev. 1–10 = SAA XIII: 192; for corrected reading see A.L. Oppenheim, in: BASOR, 107 (1947), 8, n. 4), but unrecognized until now. “Your king” in this verse is none other than her consort, Adad the king, sometimes identical with the sun-god Shamash.
The Nature of the Worship
As already indicated above, the legal and historical sources speak about passing children to Moloch in fire. According to the rabbinic interpretation, this prohibition is against passing children through fire and then delivering them to the pagan priests. In other words, according to this interpretation, this refers to an initiation rite. This kind of initiation or consecration is actually attested to in various cultures (see T.H. Gaster, in bibl.) and the Septuagint interprets Deuteronomy 18:10 in a similar manner. This is a Midrash of the rabbis likewise attested by the Septuagint. A similar non-sacrificial tradition, perhaps more ancient, is found in the Book of Jubilees. The Book of Jubilees 30:7ff. connects intermarrriage or rather the marrying off of one’s children to pagans with the sin of Moloch. This tradition seems to be echoed in the dissenting opinion of R. Ishmael (cf. Meg. 4:9) in Sifrei Deuteronomy 18, who explains the prohibition of Moloch as the impregnation of a pagan woman, an interpretation lying behind the Syriac translation in Leviticus 18 and 20. The common denominator of all these traditions is the understanding of Moloch worship as the transfer of Jewish children to paganism either by delivering them directly to pagan priests or by procreation through intercourse with a pagan woman. This tradition is in keeping with the general rabbinic tendency to make biblical texts relevant to their audiences, who were more likely to be attracted to Greco-Roman cults and to intercourse with pagan women than to the sacrifice of humans to a long-forgotten god.
In the framework of the penalty clauses of some neo-Assyrian contracts, there is the threat that if one of the parties violates the contract, he will burn his son to Adad the king and give his daughter to Ishtar, or Belet-ṣēri. Some of these documents showed that Adadmilki or Adadšarru (“Adad the king”) was actually the god to whom children, sometimes firstborn, were burned. Ch.W. Johns, who first published these documents, contended that burning is used here in the figurative sense, meaning dedication (Assyrian Deeds and Documents, 3 (1923), 345–6). This figurative interpretation was accepted by Deller and Weinfeld, but context indicates that they are to be taken literally (see CAD Š/II, 53; SAA VI: 102). From the fact that Ahaz, who opened the door to Assyria and Assyrian culture and religion (see e.g., II Kings 16:6ff.), was the first king to indulge in the worship of Moloch, it may be deduced that this was introduced through Assyrian influence, along with other practices such as the burning of incense on the roofs (II Kings 23:12), the sun chariots (23:11), and the tents for the Asherah (23:7). There is no reason to suppose that the Moloch was introduced as a result of Phoenician influence, as is commonly supposed. Were this true, one would expect to find the Moloch worship in Northern Israel, which was overwhelmed by Phoenician influence, especially at the period of the Omri dynasty. No allusion, however, to this practice in the Northern Kingdom has been found. The worship of Moloch, which was practiced at a special site (outside the walls of Jerusalem in the valley of Ben-Hinnom) called Topheth, became firmly established in the time of King Manasseh, his son Amon, and at the beginning of Josiah’s reign. If it was completely eradicated by Josiah within the framework of his reform activities (II Kings 23:10), then Jeremiah’s references to this worship (7:31, 19:1ff., 32:35) might apply to the days of Manasseh and also to the time of Josiah before the reform (see Y. Kaufmann , Toledot, 3 (1960), 382–90).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Ḥ. Albeck, Das Buch der Jubiläen und die Halacha (1930), 26ff.; O. Eissfeldt, Molk als Opferbegriff im Punischen und Hebräischen… (1935), 46ff.; N.H. Tur-Sinai, Ha-Lashon ve-ha-Sefer, 1 (19542). 81ff.; H. Cazelles, in: DBI Supplément, 5 (1957), 1337–46; R. de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice (1964), 52–90; M. Buber, Malkhut Shamayim (1965), 99–100; K. Deller, in; Orientalia, 34 (1965), 382–6; T.H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (1969), 586–8. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Weinfeld, in: UF, 4 (1972), 133–54; M. Smith, in: JAOS, 95 (1975), 477–79; M. Held, in: ErIsr, 16 (1982), 76–77; B. Levine, JPS Torah Commentary Leviticus (1989), 258–60; R. Clifford, in: BASOR, 279 (1990), 55–64; A. Millard, in: DDD, 34–35; G. Heider, in: DDD, 581–85, incl. bibl.; K. Friebel, in: R. Troxel et al. (eds.), Seeking Out the Wisdom of Ancients..Essays … M. Fox (2005), 21–36.
The Jewish Temples: The First Temple – Solomon’s Temple
The crowning achievement of King Solomon’s reign was the erection of the magnificent Temple (Hebrew- Beit haMikdash) in the capital city of ancient Israel – Jerusalem. His father, King David, had wanted to build the great Temple a generation earlier, as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments. A divine edict, however, had forbidden him from doing so: “You will not build a house for My name,” God said to David, “for you are a man of battles and have shed blood” (I Chronicles 28:3).
The Bible’s description of Solomon’s Temple (also called The First Temple) suggests that the inside ceiling was was 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 50 feet high. The highest point on the Temple that King Solomon built was actually 120 cubits tall (about 20 stories or about 207 feet).
3:3- “The length by cubits after the ancient measure was threescore cubits, and the breadth twenty cubits”.
3:4- “And the porch that was before the house, the length of it, according to the breadth of the house, was twenty cubits, and the height a hundred and twenty; and he overlaid it within with pure gold.”
Solomon spared no expense for the building’s creation. He ordered vast quantities of cedar wood from King Hiram of Tyre (I Kings 5:2025), had huge blocks of the choicest stone quarried, and commanded that the building’s foundation be laid with hewn stone. To complete the massive project, he imposed forced labor on all his subjects, drafting people for work shifts that sometimes lasted a month at a time. Some 3,300 officials were appointed to oversee the Temple’s erection (5:2730). Solomon assumed such heavy debts in building the Temple that he is forced to pay off King Hiram by handing over twenty towns in the Galilee (I Kings 9:11).
When the Temple was completed, Solomon inaugurated it with prayer and sacrifice, and even invited nonJews to come and pray there. He urged God to pay particular heed to their prayers: “Thus all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built” (I Kings 8:43).
Sacrifice was the predominant mode of divine service in the Temple until it was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years later, in 586 BCE. Seventy years later, after the story of Purim, a number of Jews returned to Israel – led by the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah – and the Second Temple was built on the same site. Sacrifices to God were once again resumed. During the first century B.C.E., Herod, the Roman appointed head of Judea, made substantial modifications to the Temple and the surrounding mountain, enlargening and expanding the Temple. The Second Temple, however, met the same fate as the first and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., following the failure of the Great Revolt.
As glorious and elaborate as the Temple was, its most important room contained almost no furniture at all. Known as the Holy of Holies (Kodesh Kodashim), it housed the two tablets of the Ten Commandments inside the Ark of Covenant. Unfortunately, the tablets disappeared when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and, therefore, during the Second Temple era the Holy of Holies was reduced to small, entirely bare room. Only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would enter this room and pray to God on behalf of the Israelite nation. A remarkable monologue by a Hasidic rabbi in the Yiddish play The Dybbuk conveys a sense of what the Jewish throngs worshiping at the Temple must have experienced during this ceremony:
God’s world is great and holy. The holiest land in the world is the land of Israel. In the land of Israel the holiest city is Jerusalem. In Jerusalem the holiest place was the Temple, and in the Temple the holiest spot was the Holy of Holies…. There are seventy peoples in the world. The holiest among these is the people of Israel. The holiest of the people of Israel is the tribe of Levi. In the tribe of Levi the holiest are the priests. Among the priests, the holiest was the High Priest…. There are 354 days in the [lunar] year. Among these, the holidays are holy. Higher than these is the holiness of the Sabbath. Among Sabbaths, the holiest is the Day of Atonement, the Sabbath of Sabbaths…. There are seventy languages in the world. The holiest is Hebrew. Holier than all else in this language is the holy Torah, and in the Torah the holiest part is the Ten Commandments. In the Ten Commandments the holiest of all words is the name of God…. And once during the year, at a certain hour, these four supreme sanctities of the world were joined with one another. That was on the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and there utter the name of God. And because this hour was beyond measure holy and awesome, it was the time of utmost peril not only for the High Priest but for the whole of Israel. For if in this hour there had, God forbid, entered the mind of the High Priest a false or sinful thought, the entire world would have been destroyed.
To this day, traditional Jews pray three times a day for the Temple’s restoration.
Over the centuries, the Muslims who eventually took control of Jerusalem built two mosques on the Temple Mount, the site of the two Jewish Temples. (This was no coincidence; it is a common Islamic custom to build mosques on the sites of other people’s holy places.) Since any attempt to level these mosques would lead to an international Muslim holy war (jihad) against Israel, the Temple cannot be rebuilt in the foreseeable future.
Sources: Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy. NY: William Morrow and Co., 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author.
The Jewish Temples: The Second Temple
by Shelley Cohney
What stopped the rampaging Roman army? Which structure was built of stones weighing up to 400 tons and capable of accommodating up to one million people? The answer to these questions is the Temple of Jerusalem. The Second Temple was not only awe inspiring because of its religious significance, but also for its physical dimensions, its grandeur and its beauty. Thus, as the Roman generals sat surveying Jerusalem and considering the Temple’s future they hesitated before ordering its destruction. Jews, from that day to this, have yearned and prayed for its rebuilding, and tourists and religious people alike have come to behold the site on which it once stood.
Unfortunately our impressions of the Temple are at best incomplete. Since its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE, the only available sources of information about the Temple have had some religious or political bias. The New Testament, the Mishna [the rabbinical exegesis of the Old Testament], and the works of the Judeo-Roman historian Josephus provide the bulk of our knowledge of the Temple. These in association with archeological evidence at the site all point to a building so wondrous that even today its construction remains a mystery.
An appreciation of the Temple is enhanced by a clearer understanding of the geographical and historical setting in which it was extended. During the period in question, Jerusalem was under Roman rule but remained the capital of Judea and the international centre of Judaism. Normally a city of 100 to 200 thousand people, three times a year on the pilgrim festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Jerusalem’s population swelled to 1 million souls (the exact number depending on the source of population estimates). On these occasions this small ancient city had to cope not only with the throng of people but also their sacrificial animals and offerings, necessitating temporary increases in food supplies, accommodation, ritual bathing facilities, and all aspects of commerce. It was Herod, installed by the Romans as governor of Jerusalem, who faced these logistical problems, and who consequently set about renovating the city and the Temple to accommodate this massive periodic influx.
In order to meet the enormous increase in capacity the Temple required for these festivals and to comply with the limitations placed on its dimensions by Jewish law, Herod built a great plaza around the Temple. This plaza is the Temple Mount of today where the Dome of the Rock and the El Aqsa mosque stand. To construct this platform, Herod built a box around Mount Moriah and filled it in. The plaza covered this box and expanded the available land at the peak of the mountain. The plaza is approximately 480 x 300m (about the size of six football fields). The retaining walls of this box were themselves cause for wonder and the “Kotel” or Western Wall (the holiest site in modern Judaism) is one part of the western retaining wall (but not actually a wall of the Temple proper). The walls are 5m thick and made up of enormous stones weighing between 2 and 100 tons (there is even one that weighs 400 tons) with an average stone being about 10 tons. There is no mortar between the stones and they sit so closely together that not even a piece of paper can fit between them. Such fine maneuvering of the stones is incomprehensible given that even today’s modern machinery cannot move such heavy stones.
Also worthy of comment was the overall appearance of the walls which were about the height of a 20 storey building. Normally, standing at the base of a twenty storey building an illusion is created in which the building appears to be falling down on top of the viewer, but standing at the base of the Temple’s retaining walls this did not happen. It was prevented by the fact that the margins carved around the edge of the stones differed, being slightly wider on the bottom than on the top. In addition, each level was staggered with successive courses of stones indented 3 cm relative to the course below. The precision with which stones weighing over 100 tons were placed 2000 years ago is astounding and mystifying. Furthermore, these stones were merely part of the retaining walls that supported the plaza on which the Temple stood and thus only a prelude to the even more incredible sight of the Temple itself.
Before work began on the Temple, Herod spent eight years stockpiling materials for its construction. Then, a workforce of over 10,000 men began its construction including a contingent of 1,500 specially trained priests who were the only ones permitted to work on the innermost and holiest parts of the Temple. Building continued for a further twenty years, though the Temple was in a sufficiently ready state within three and a half years of its commencement to be dedicated.
If one was a pilgrim coming to Jerusalem, one would probably first go to the bank to change money as the coins of the realm, engraved with the head of Caesar were unacceptable for use in the Temple. The central “bank” in Jerusalem and some of the Law courts could be found on the Temple mount platform in a building called the royal portico or stoa. To reach this building (from which there was no direct access to the rest of the plaza) one climbed the stairs to an overpass that crossed over the main road and the markets that ran by the western wall. This overpass was another unique feat of engineering being the width of a four lane highway and possessing an arch made with stones having a combined weight of over 1,000 tons. In order to build this overpass the workers had to literally build a hill, construct the overpass on it, and then remove the hill leaving the overpass standing. Josephus describes the stoa that one reached via the overpass as follows: “…It was a structure more noteworthy than any under the sun. The height of the portico was so great that if anyone looked down from its rooftop he would become dizzy and his vision would be unable to reach the end of so measureless a depth….”; this from a man who had seen Rome in all its glory. He also describes the one hundred and sixty two columns that stood in the stoa as being so large that three men standing in a circle could just hold hands around one of their bases.
After changing money and before entering the Temple, the people were required to immerse themselves in a ritual bath. Despite the arid climate and meager natural water sources there were many such baths in the city, filled using a series of aqueducts and pipes that stretched over 50 miles, 80km. After ritual immersion the Temple was then accessed via the southern or Hulda gates. These gates led to tunnels built under the plaza that then emerged on to the plaza itself. The walls of these tunnels were lined with candles and the ceilings were carved and painted with intricate geometric designs simulating a Persian carpet.
Despite the magnificence of all that has already been detailed, undoubtedly the centrepiece of this majestic complex was the Temple itself. A building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you. The attention to detail in its construction is exemplified by the placing of gold spikes on the roof line of the building to prevent birds sitting on the Temple and soiling it.
On their arrival pilgrims could hear the sounds of the Levites who sang and played musical instruments at the entrance. The pilgrims would circle around the Temple seven times and then watch the various rituals, sit under the columned porticos that surrounded the plaza and listen or talk to the rabbis. The Temple area was divided into various areas for study, sacrifices, libation etc. and further divided according to a social hierarchy for gentiles, women, Israelites, Levites and Priests. Finally, in the centre of the Temple was the holy of holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple where the ark of the Law was kept. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter this inner sanctum, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. So strict was the law governing entry to the holy of holies that the High Priest had to wear a belt around his waist so that in case of his unexpected death he could be pulled out without anyone else entering.
In the construction of the Temple nothing was overlooked. For example, in order to stop the inevitable crowding at the gates that would follow the conclusion of a service, the exiting stairs were designed to encourage people to spread out over a larger area. This attention to detail and the extraordinary feats of engineering were mirrored in the planning of the remainder of the city and its unique surrounds. The roads were made of paving stones weighing up to 19 tons, so stable that they hardly moved even when the massive stones from the walls above fell on them during the Temple’s destruction. Beneath these pavements was a complex sewerage and water system that enabled collection of the run off water and conserved a resource whose scarcity and value was accentuated by its requirement for ritual bathing and the performing of sacrifices.
This abbreviated description of the Second Temple can only convey a semblance of the majestic sight that must have greeted the people of its time. Although it is impossible to recapture their experience in its entirety, the opportunity to visit the site in today’s Jerusalem should not be missed.
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