Sidebar: Where Were the Vendors?

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This article originally appeared in the JP magazine as a sidebar attached to Joseph Frankovic’s “Remember Shiloh!

Nearly all New Testament commentaries identify the outer-most court of the Temple, sometimes referred to as the Court of the Gentiles, as the location for the “Cleansing of the Temple” incident. It seems odd, however, that buying and selling would have been permitted even in this court. Professor Shmuel Safrai states that it is unthinkable that any commercial activity took place in the Temple courts, including the Court of the Gentiles. It was not even permitted to ascend the Temple Mount with a purse (Mishnah, Berachot 9:5). Safrai maintains that the most likely places for the “Cleansing” are the Royal Portico or the shops in the vicinity of the southern stairway (private communication).

One would expect that worshippers approaching the Temple first passed the vendors, then proceeded to public mikva’ot where they could ritually immerse, climbed the massive southern stairway, entered the Huldah Gates (compare Mishnah, Middot 1:3), and ascended an underground ramp from which they exited into the Court of the Gentiles. Shops built into vaults supporting a walkway running flush with the southern wall from its western to eastern corner have been found in archaeological excavations. The southern stairway ascended to this walkway opposite the Huldah Gates. The vendors mentioned in Luke 19:45 may have been conducting business in the shops built into the vaults adjacent to the stairway.[1]

Two other sites within the Temple environs where business transactions occurred were the halls of the Royal Portico and the shops around the base of Robinson’s Arch.[2]

Put yourself in the picture! Imagine yourself standing on Valley Street, about 65 meters south of the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, late in the morning of an ordinary day between 10 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. The broad stairway to your left leads over a series of arches, the last and highest of which is known today as Robinson’s Arch. This stairway leads to the Royal Stoa, also known as Solomon’s Colonnade or Portico (John 10:23; Acts 3:11; 5:12), a huge hall that stretches along the top of the Temple platform’s southern wall. The Valley Street runs from the area of today’s Damascus Gate in the north, passes by the Antonia Fortress (at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount), and continues south to the Siloam Pool in the City of David, at the junction of the Kidron and Tyropean Valleys. The street is flanked on both sides by shops. When excavated (since 1968), these shops yielded the finds one would expect—coins, storage jars and stone weights. Through Robinson’s Arch you can see Wilson’s Arch, which forms the eastern part of a bridge that connects the upper city on the western hill with the Temple Mount. On the pavement beside a manhole, you see an employee of the Department of Public Works. Herod the Great’s urban renewal includes not only vast building projects above ground, but also an extensive system for water collection and drainage.

  • [1] See Hillel Geva, “Jerusalem” in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land [Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Carta, 1993], 2:739-40.
  • [2] See Meir Ben-Dov, The Ophel Archaeological Garden [Jerusalem: East Jerusalem Development Ltd., 1987], 13-14.

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