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Western Wall likely completed later than previously believed

From Izzy Lemberg, CNN
updated 8:33 PM EST, Thu November 24, 2011
These bronze coins, found in a ritual bath beneath the Western Wall, are dated A.D. 16.
These bronze coins, found in a ritual bath beneath the Western Wall, are dated A.D. 16.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Coins found by archaeologists shed light on construction of one of Judaism's holiest sites
  • King Herod started the wall, but the new evidence indicates he died before it was finished
  • Until now, the wall was believed to have been completed during Herod's reign

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Newly discovered artifacts beneath the huge stones of Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, indicate it took longer to build than previously believed.

Until now, the wall constructed as part of King Herod's enlargement of the Temple Mount area was thought to have been completed before he died in 4 B.C.

However, the discovery of three oil lamps from the first century and 17 bronze coins, four of which were dated A.D. 16, in a ritual bath beneath the Western Wall appears to confirm the writings of a first-century Jewish historian, who said the project was completed decades after Herod's death.

"This is important because now we would not speak any more of the Temple Mount being built by Herod" alone, said University of Haifa professor Ronny Reich, an archaeologist working on the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. "This is an archaeological finding that indeed the works of the Temple Mount took a long time, far after Herod's death."

A statement by the antiquities authority said the ancient historian, Flavius Josephus, wrote that Herod began constructing and enlarging the Temple Mount area in 22 B.C., which was the 18th year of his reign. Josephus wrote that it was "the largest project the world has ever heard of," according to the authority's statement.

Josephus also wrote that the completion of the building project, which included the Western Wall and Robinson's Arch as part of the Temple Mount complex, did not end until A.D. 50, the statement said.

"This bit of archaeological information illustrates the fact that the construction of the Temple Mount walls and Robinson's Arch was an enormous project that lasted decades and was not completed during Herod's lifetime," the authority's statement said. "This dramatic find confirms Josephus' descriptions which state that it was only during the reign of King Agrippa II (Herod's great-grandson) that the work was finished, and upon its completion there were 8,000-10,000 unemployed in Jerusalem."

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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