Saturday, January 17, 2015

How Could Vespasian's Soldiers Have Recovered the Gold From the Burned Rubble of the Temple?

Dr Leen Ritmeyer, a UK archaeologist, is the author of an excellent book called The Quest. This is about his comprehensive research and work into the archaeology of the Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.

On 10 Jan 2015, I wrote: 
Dear Leen 
As an archaeologist, I wonder if you could shed any light on this problem which has interested me for many years?  The gold was attached to the building structure and not easily taken.  But according to Josephus, the Temple was made a raging fire which would have melted the gold.  The gold would have disappeared into every crevice in the ground. Yet somehow Vespasian recovered it to fund his takeover as Emperor and his massive building programme. 

On 10 January 2015, Leen replied: 
Dear Geoff  
The gold on the outside would have melted, but not disappear into the ground, as the Temple was built on bedrock. Apart from the external gold, which would have consisted of very thin plates, the interior of the Temple walls were decorated with many gold plates that were hung from the walls, see War 5.208 and Shekalim 4.4. Also The Quest, pp. 388,392-395.

On 12 January 2015, I wrote: 
Dear Leen
How do you know that the bedrock was a type that would have been impervious to molten gold at a temperature of the melting point of approximately 1000 deg C? The bedrock itself would have been heated to a high temperature, in a furnace like fire, well above 1000 deg.C. The temple design was that of a furnace.   

On 14 January 2015, I wrote:

Dear Leen
The temple was built on limestone rock. Limestone rock is porous to water. The cisterns on the mountain had to be plastered.  And the mountain had been subject to earthquake damage (one earthquake causing, for example, a massive landslip on the Mount of Olives).  So how do you answer these problems with regard to the temple gold disappearing into the ground during a very fierce fire?

On 14 January 2015, Leen replied:
Not all limestone is porous. There are different layers of hard and soft limestone in the Jerusalem area. Cisterns are cut into the soft rock, while the Temple was built on the harder (Mizi hillu) rock which is not porous.

On 15 Jan 2015, I replied:
Dear Leen
A paper on the web ( describes the upper Bina Formation (Mizi Hilu, 60-90 m thick) as well-bedded dense limestone acting as aquifer. So the Mizi Hilu on the temple mount must be porous.  In addition, the article refers to "structural fissuring and dissolution features, recognized throughout the Jerusalem Hills, that enhance the initial perforation of these rocks,... increasing the overall rock permeability."

So How Did Vespasian Recover the Gold from the Temple?

One thing that we can be sure of is that Vespasian's soldiers didn't go digging either in the dying embers of the temple or in the rocks upon which the temple was built.  Indeed, on a simplistic level, there is no record in any document of Roman digging activities.  One might have expected that there would be some heroic reference to the exploits of the soldiers in recovering such an enormous quantity of gold which was sufficient to fund Vespasian's army, and his later vast building programme in Rome.

Clearly, the experts of the Hebrew University Geography Department tell us that the rocks upon which the Temple was built were porous.  The molten highly dense gold at over 1000 deg.C with a low viscosity and a high surface tension would have slipped through every crack, crevice and fissure in the rock (Mizi Hillu) upon which the temple was built.  That rock was porous because, as the experts say, it was an aquifer.  The temple was built with very thick walls with many small openings.  Thick walls retained heat.  The design was like that of furnace, as the pictures in The Quest show.  There were were many rooms on three floors in the temple.  Each room had a ceiling supported by massive beams made from cedar trees.  The air would have rushed through the small openings in the walls to burn the timbers, reaching a very high temperature well above the melting point of gold, heating the very rock upon which the temple was built.  The fire would have quickly filled the temple with smoke. There would have been no chance of getting gold out before the smoke and fire increased. And Josephus did not say in War 5.208, as Ritmeyer wrote, that the gold in the temple was merely hung, implying that it could easily have been removed before the fire took hold.  But none of this happened.  The procedure was simple.  

In late 66 CE, after defeating the priests at Masada, Machaerus, Qumran, Nero left a garrison at Jerusalem with his general Vespasian and his son in charge.  Five or six years later, when all four of the previous emperors were dead, Vespasian seized his opportunity. He ordered the killing and capture of the prophets who guarded the temple and the slow systematic pillaging of it.  Then Vespasian (or his son Titus) gave the order to burn the temple to the ground.  In their history, written by a priest Josephus, they blamed the 'Jewish rebels' for causing the inferno.  That was not the case.  The prophets would not have burned the temple.   The 800 or so prophets that were left were taken to Rome to be paraded in his triumph as 'rebels'.

Finally, rewards were due to keep quiet.  Bassus was credited with taking Machaerus (War 7.6.4), and Flavius Silva Masada, in a famous siege (War 7.8.2,5)  . Vespasian and his son Titus had already claimed the siege of Jerusalem, of which there is no archaeological trace whatsoever.