November 24, 2011, Updated September 11, 2012

History may be in need of a re-write after newly found coins underneath Jerusalem’s Western Wall seem to suggest that King Herod did not build the compound for which he has always been credited.

Western Wall

Photo by Vladimir Naykhin
The first course of the wall resting on the bedrock.

Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority found four bronze coins, stamped around 17 A.D. by the Roman official Valerius Gratus, during an excavation under the Western Wall.

Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and a co-director of the dig said the coins were found inside a mikve, or Jewish ritual bath, that predated construction of the renovated Temple Mount complex and which was filled in to support the new walls.


Photo by Vladimir Naykhin
A coin of the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus, which helped in dating the construction of the Western Wall.

“It became apparent during the course of the work that there are rock-hewn remains of different installations on the natural bedrock, including cisterns, ritual baths and cellars. These belonged to the dwellings of a residential neighborhood that existed there before King Herod decided to enlarge the Temple Mount compound,” said Professor Reich. “The Jewish historian Josephus, a contemporary of that period, writes that Herod embarked on the project of enlarging the compound in the 18th year of his reign [that is in 22 BCE] and described it as ‘the largest project the world has ever heard of’.”

Now the archaeologists say that their findings suggest that construction of the Western Wall had not even begun at the time of Herod’s death and that it was likely completed only generations later by his heirs.

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