The Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 51b) describes for us what the marble tiles of the Second Temple rebuilt by Herod looked like.
תנו רבנן: מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו. מי שלא ראה ירושלים בתפארתה לא ראה כרך נחמד מעולם. מי שלא ראה בית המקדש בבנינו לא ראה בנין מפואר מעולם. מאי היא? אמר אביי ואיתימא רב חסדא זה בנין הורדוס. במאי בניה? אמר רבה .באבני שישא ומרמרא. איכא דאמרי באבני שישא כוחלא ומרמרא. אפיק שפה ועייל שפה כי היכי דלקבל סידא. סבר למשעיין בדהבא. אמרו ליה רבנן שבקיה דהכי שפיר טפי דמיתחזי כאדותא דימא
The Rabbis taught: “He who has not seen the The Drawing of Water Party (Simchat Bet Hashoeva) [on the holiday of Sukkot], has not seen real rejoicing in his life. He who has not seen Jerusalem in its beauty, has never seen a beautiful city. He who has not seen the finished building of the [Second] Temple, has never seen a beautiful building.” Which one (i.e. which version of the building of the Second Temple) [is this referring to]? Said Abaye, and some say Rav Hisda: “It is [referring to] the building of Herod.” With what materials was it built? Said Rabba: “From yellow and white marble” There are some that say, “From yellow, black and white marble.” One tier of stones projected outward, and one tier of stones projected inwards in order to hold plaster (i.e. meaning “concrete”). He (i.e. Herod) wished to overlay it (i.e. the marble) with gold, but the Rabbis said to him: “Leave it alone! It is more beautiful this way, because it looks like the waves of the sea.
There is some debate as to how to translate the types of marble in this statement. I have chosen to translate them as it is translated in Marcus Jastrow’s dictionary (entry מרמרא), because as has been proven archaeologically his translation is correct.
In September 2016, the archaeologists from the Temple Mount Sifting Project, announced and publicized, at the annual Megalim Conference, in the City of David, the restored marble tiles from the Herod’s Second Temple building. The tiles have been restored over a period of nine years by Frankie Snyder, one of the archaeologists on the project. This find was externally exciting for me, because first of all I did not have to imagine anymore what this marble looked like, the tiles matched exactly what the Talmud described and I myself have participated on a couple of occasions as a volunteer for the Temple Mount Sifting Project, so this hit close to home.
Even more interestingly is the fact that the Talmud’s description of the marble is stated by Rabba, an Amora from the 4th century CE (lived approximately 270 – 330 CE), over 200 years after the destruction of the Temple. This shows that such late statements in the Talmud have been accurately passed orally for many generations and can be trusted.
In the following photos you can see various reconstructed tiles, many of which are made up from yellow, black and white marble, and some of the tiles have a pinkish, bluish wavy pattern which look like the waves of the sea. Notice that the faded pieces of marble are the actual original broken pieces retrieved from the rubble, where as the bright unfaded pieces are modern reconstructions put in as filler to make up the complete tile.
Many more types of rock were used in Herod’s Temple than were reconstructed on the tiles. Some samples are shown below. They were imported from a few different countries and match the description of the Talmud.
Of course you might wonder, how do we know that Frankie Snyder reconstructed the tiles accurately. The answer to that question is that prior to reconstructing the Second Temple tiles, she published, on December 22, 2015, reconstructed tiles from the Crusader construction of the Dome of the Rock, pieces of which were found in the same pile of rubble. Recently the Muslim Waqf published photos of the same tiles that are currently inside the Dome of the Rock and they matched exactly. So we can be pretty sure that her reconstruction is accurate.
For further reading see the detailed articles on the discovery written by the Temple Mount Sifting Project archaeologists.
- שיחזור הרצפות הצבעוניות של חצרות בית המקדש בשלהי ימי הבית השני by Zachi Dvira, Frankie Snyder, and Gabriel Barkay.
- Opus Sectile Foors on Jerusalem’s Herodian Temple Mount (English abstract of שיחזור הרצפות הצבעוניות של חצרות בית המקדש בשלהי ימי הבית השני) by Frankie Snyder, Gabriel Barkay, and Zachi Dvira.
- Frankie Snyder, Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira, “What the Temple Mount Floor Looked Like”, BAR Nov/Dec 2016.