A Byzantine Church on the Temple Mount?

Two unique Byzantine weights discovered

Temple Mount

The glass weight from the Temple Mount. Courtesy TMSP, Zev Radovan/Razia Richman.

Workers at the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP) have uncovered two unique weights that hint at the existence of a Byzantine church on the Temple Mount before the early Islamic period (c. 634–1099 CE). Publishing their findings in the journal Israel Numismatic Research, the team suggests the unique finds were official weights of the sort that were kept in major churches according to Byzantine law.

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Weighing a Byzantine Church

Both weights discovered during sifting were rare four keratia denominations, each weighing just 0.02 ounces, with one made of purple glass and the other of brass. These types of weights were used in the Byzantine period (c. 324–634 CE) to measure gold coins and coin fragments during transactions. In this period, the law required each city to keep an official set of weights in the most holy church of the city. According to the TMSP, it is likely that these weights belonged to such a set of official weights.

Given that the weights and a range of other impressive Byzantine-period finds have come from the area of the ancient Temple Mount, the team believes there was very likely a Byzantine church built there in antiquity. This counters the generally held view that the Temple Mount was largely abandoned at that time.

Around 0.7 inches in diameter, the glass weight was made by impressing a small glob of molten glass with a stamp. The impression depicts a haloed imperial bust above a cross-shaped monogram flanked by two smaller busts, along with a Greek inscription reading “of Euthalios.” According to the team, Euthalios was likely a high-ranking Byzantine official who had the weight manufactured. The weight was probably made in the sixth or seventh century, at an official workshop in the capital of Constantinople.

Temple Mount

The Brass Weight. Courtesy TMSP, Zev Radovan/Razia Richman.

The second weight, made of brass with a silver inlay, is about 0.5 inches wide and nearly square. The inlay of the weight consists of the Greek letters kappa delta. The first letter is the abbreviation for keratia, and the second letter stands for the number four, thus clearly showing that it was a four keratia weight. Like the glass weight, the brass one is well made and was likely part of a larger official set.

During the Byzantine period, the primary gold coin used was the solidus, first minted under Constantine the Great in 309. This coin equaled 24 keratia, with eight keratia typically being the lowest accepted denomination. However, due to inflation towards the end of the Byzantine period, it became normal to cut coins into ever smaller parts, thus necessitating the use of smaller weights.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project works to sift debris that was dumped in the Kidron Valley following a construction project on the Temple Mount (Noble Sanctuary) in 1999. As all sifted debris comes from unstratified contexts, it is largely impossible to establish the archaeological context for the finds. If the team’s conclusions are correct, however, it could be yet more evidence for the existence of a church built on the site of the ancient Temple Mount during the Byzantine period.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Temple Mount in the Herodian Period (37 BC–70 A.D.)

Sifting Antiquity on the Temple Mount Sifting Project

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Illuminating Byzantine Jerusalem

Jesus’ Tomb Depicted on a Byzantine Gold Ring from Jerusalem

Temple Mount Excavations Unearth the Monastery of the Virgins

The Temple Mount Sifting Project

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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