I happened to be in Israel not long after a shocking discovery had been made. The Islamic Waqf — authorities in charge of the Temple Mount — had been illegally digging underneath the Al Asqa mosque on the Temple Mount.
We’re not talking about a little bit of digging. In a place where every stone is carefully handled in the few archeological projects that are allowed, the Waqf had been using bulldozers to remove tons of soil in what has to be the most sensitive property on earth.
“Approximately 400 truckloads saturated with the history of Jerusalem were illicitly removed – barbarically removed … to promote a political agenda,” Gabriel Barkay said in a Jerusalem Post interview. “All of that was dug up with bulldozers in a place where even a toothbrush is too large a tool to carry out excavations.”
Somehow, the bulldozers did their work for some weeks without drawing the attention of the Israeli authorities. When it was discovered, the dumped dirt in the Kidron Valley was removed by the truckload. To be specific, there were 400 truckloads! The fury in Jerusalem in the first few weeks of history’s “greatest archeological crime,” as the media began to call it, was fierce.
Part of the Temple Mount retaining wall at the southeastern corner even began to bulge dangerously outward because of the dirt’s removal. The Islamic Waqf had the nerve to blame the Israelis for the bulging wall, as if their enemies had somehow been trying to damage the mosque. Instead, it was the Israelis who repaired the wall.
In those days, few people had an inkling of what should be done next.
Barkay decided to make the best of a bad situation. Even though some priceless treasures had no doubt been lost, he decided to search every square inch of the debris. He called it the “Temple Mount Sifting Project” and set up shop near Mt. Scopus. Volunteers from around the world have flocked to the site, sifting through every piece of sand in search of ancient treasures. By 1996, he’d found so many priceless discoveries, he was awarded a national honor.
This week Barkley made another stunning announcement to the international media.
For the first time, part of the floor covering of the Second Temple complex has been recovered and reconstructed.
This isn’t part of the Temple flooring, mind you. These tiles were found near the area of what was then called Solomon’s Colonnade, at the southeastern corner of today’s Temple Mount. It was a long way from the Temple, and yet even there, there was amazing and expensive artistry.
To date, approximately 600 colored stone floor tile segments have been uncovered, with more than 100 of them definitively dated to the Herodian Second Temple Period. If you need help with the dating, this was the same temple Jesus knew!
“This style of flooring is consistent with those found in Herod’s palaces at Masada, Herodian, and Jericho, among others, as well as in majestic palaces and villas in Italy, also attributed to the time of Herod,” said Frankie Snyder, a member of the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s team of researchers and an expert in the study of ancient Herodian-style flooring. “The tile segments were perfectly inlaid, such that one could not even insert a sharp blade between them.”
The flooring would have been far more expensive to produce and install than mosaic tile, and must have been an overwhelming sight to poor pilgrims who’d traveled so far to visit Jerusalem for a religious holiday. No wonder they washed before daring to enter the Temple Mount complex!
The Temple Mount Sifting Project continues its work, now 16 years after the first piles of “trash” were removed. Stay tuned for more treasures that are sure to be discovered!