The Mystery of the Temple's 'Molten Metals'
Two recent apologists told the story, apparently independently, of molten gold seeping between the temple`s foundation stones during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Both implied the source was Josephus, but neither provided references. Unfortunately, both had theological motivations for adding these details to their stories despite the lack of support.
On investigation, while much of their accounts of the destruction of the temple came from Josephus’ history – Jewish Wars 6.5.2, 6.6.1, 7.1.1, and 7.5.2 being particularly relevant – it seems the melted gold story did not. It’s possible, however, the Christian apologists were duped by a medieval forgery into thinking it did.
Pastor Ray Stedman
The earliest example of the story I can find is Ray Stedman’s 1970 sermon on Mt.24:1-3, later published in a book. Following on Jesus’ apparent prediction about the temple, that “there will not be left here one stone upon another,” Stedman told the story of the First Jewish-Roman War, suggesting his account was based on Josephus, including this:
“There were great quantities of gold and silver which had been placed
in the Temple for safekeeping. This melted and ran down between the
rocks and into the cracks of the stones that formed the Temple and the
wall around it. When the Roman soldiers finally took the city, in
their greed to obtain this gold and silver they took long bars and
pried apart these massive stones. Thus, quite literally, not one stone
was left standing upon another.”
For Stedman, “this remarkable fulfillment, confirmed so strongly by secular history, is convincing proof” of the authenticity of Jesus’ prophetic message, “fully and literally.” Though the story is unsubstantiated, Stedman’s telling of it is often quoted (and plagiarized).
Dr. Ernest Martin
Archeological enthusiast Ernest Martin told similar stories in his 1994 book, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot, and in posts to his ASK website, including, ‘New Evidence for the Site of the Temple in Jerusalem.’ Martin’s controversial hypothesis was that Jerusalem’s temples were not on the Temple Mount platform (which he thought was the former Roman fortress) but on a now-destroyed foundation to the south. His argument also emphasized Jesus’ phrase, ‘not one stone left upon another’, as well as genuine (and misquoted) passages from Josephus about the “utter ruin and thorough destruction of Jerusalem.” In ‘New Evidence’ he wrote:
“Josephus explained the reason why every stone was overturned in the
city (including those that made up the very foundations). The Jews
were accustomed to hide their gold and other valuables in the walls of
their homes. The Temple itself was also the treasury of the Jewish
nation. [JW 6.5.2] When the fires consumed the whole of the Temple and
City, the gold melted and descended into the cracks and crevices of
the stone foundations. In order to recover this melted gold, the Tenth
Legion had the Jewish captives uproot every stone of the Temple and
the whole of the City. So much gold was discovered in this fashion
that the price of the metal in the Roman Empire went down half of its
pre-war value. [JW 6.6.1] This action of looking for gold by
overturning the stones (including all foundation stones) left
Jerusalem as a vast quarry of dislodged and uprooted stones in a state
of unrecognized shambles.”
While the two footnoted sentences (and other bits) do comport with Josephus, the story about melted gold does not. His theory siting the temple on Ophel Mound rather than Temple Mount has not been embraced by scholars, but one can see why he’d need to emphasize the scope and greedy enthusiasm of the Roman destruction to explain the complete disappearance of the temple AND its entire foundation platform, as he imagined it.
An excited supporter of Martin’s theory has posted several quotes from his book online, and one offers a lead on the origin of the melted gold story (or not). Martin is quoted as writing, “In regard to the total destruction of the temple and all its outer buildings, a Hebrew version of Josephus (known as Josippon) states ...” And a few lines later: “And recall, Jewish authorities during the Middle Ages accepted this narrative of Josippon as that of Josephus, an eyewitness.” The quote continues with another version of the melted gold story.
The Jewish ‘history’ attributed to Josippon (aka Joseph ben Gorion, Yosippon, and Pseudo-Josephus) is regarded by modern scholars as a 10th century forgery (or pseudopigrapha). Though it may have preserved some early Jewish folklore, the portion in question is actually believed to be the work of Pseudo-Hegesippus, the 4th century forger. As history it’s quite unreliable.
Regardless, given Martin’s penchant for weaving together sourced and non-sourced material in the same paragraph, it’s unclear (from the available quotations) whether he intended to credit the melted gold story to the dubious Josippon. Martin's later essays retell the story without mentioning him. Perhaps Josippon said noting at all about melted gold.
So in the end we're left with a story that's either creative speculation, forged folklore, or unsubstantiated history – none of which counts as biblical scholarship. Perhaps someone with access to Martin’s book or Josippon’s ‘history’ can provide more insights in the comments.