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In Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2 and Luke 21:6, Jesus seems to indicate that in the coming temple destruction, "not one stone will be left upon another". And, indeed, this seems to be the case from the current ruins. However, I have come across several commentaries that state that because the temple was burned, the gold that was on the walls, melted and ran between the stones, as well as into them. The Roman solders then took stone from stone in a effort to retrieve the gold, thus giving literal fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy.

Having encountered this explanation several times in the course of my studies, I wanted to find the source for this story, but, as of this date, am unable to do so. I don't find anything in Josephus relating to that gold-seeking activity.

Does anyone know of a source document or documents that can authenticate this story?

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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’ historyJewish 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.

Josippon?

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.

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Large parts of the Holy Temple both inside and outside were covered in sheets of gold. The doors to the Temple were also heavily plated with gold. A huge gold vine/garland hung over the first doors of the Temple. When the Temple was put to fire, large amounts of gold melted and poured into the stones surrounding the area. Although there is no direct eye-witness accounts, archaeological evidence suggests the Temple was dismantled stone by stone as well as the surrounding area. Gold fever was certainly responsible for the thoroughness of the destruction.

  • Welcome, please take the tour to see how SE sites work. If you could provide some support/references for this answer (which looks like something you learned from a source) that would make it a better answer. – KorvinStarmast Mar 10 at 1:17
  • This response supports the information given in the original question, but it doesn't actually answer the question itself, which is a request for authoritative sources for this information. You perhaps have read such documents, but your answer failed to provide them. – Ray Butterworth Mar 14 at 1:21
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The following is a quote from http://www.templemount.org/destruct2.html

During the long siege a terrible famine raged in the city and the bodies of the inhabitants were literally stacked like cordwood in the streets. Mothers ate their children to preserve their own strength. The toll of Jewish suffering was horrible but they would not surrender the city. Again and again they attempted to trick the Romans through guile and perfidy. When at last the walls were breached Titus tried to preserve the Temple by giving orders to his soldiers not to destroy or burn it. But the anger of the soldiers against the Jews was so intense that, maddened by the resistance they encountered, they disobeyed the order of their general and set fire to the Temple. There were great quantities of gold and silver there which had been placed in the Temple for safekeeping. This melted and ran down between the rocks and into the cracks of the stones. When the soldiers captured the Temple area, in their greed to obtain this gold and silver they took long bars and pried apart the massive stones. Thus, quite literally, not one stone was left standing upon another. The Temple itself was totally destroyed, though the wall supporting the area upon which the Temple was built was left partially intact and a portion of it remains to this day, called the Western Wall.

The site itself is interesting reading and has many different sources for research in regard to its contents. A little research on your part will lead you to the exact source for that particular statement.

If I find any other information I will put it in a comment attache

Hope this helps.

  • The reference given for that paragraph is: 2. Ray C. Stedman, What's This World Coming To? (An expository study of Matthew 24-26, the Olivet Discourse). Discovery Publications, 3505 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94306. 1970. The link does not work; I will see if I can learn more. – b and d restore Monica Dec 26 '14 at 5:31
  • See raystedman.org for more about Ray and the church he pastored. – b and d restore Monica Dec 26 '14 at 5:54
  • Thank you for the information. I have ordered the book that contained the quote in hopes that Rev. Stedman cited a source for this story and that it is not just a plausible story made up for illustration. – SysJames Dec 27 '14 at 15:02
  • @SysJames Once you obtain the book, please let us know the result of your research. – Mr. Bultitude Dec 30 '14 at 8:36
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    I'm sorry to report that the book contains NO citations of any kind. I appears to be a collection of sermons on the end times. On page 12, Mr. Stedman seem to attribute the story to Josephus by saying "With Titus was a Jewish historian named Josephus who recorded the terrible story in minute detail." Then goes on to say "When the soldiers captured the Temple area, in their greed to obtain this gold and silver they took long bars and pried apart the massive stones." – SysJames Jan 6 '15 at 1:39
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From Josephus, Wars, Chapter 5 #7 Describing the burning of the temple and the Roman's motives: "their hatred of the Jews, and a certain vehement inclination to fight them too hard for them also. Moreover, the hope of plunder induced many to go on; as having this opinion, that all the places within were full of money: and as seeing that all round about it was made of gold." So, he doesn't say it melted as described, but that is probably not an unreasonable inference. What would happen to gold in a hot fire?

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, please see: How we are different than other sites. Meanwhile, thanks for offering an answer. I hope you'll stick around and browse some of the other questions and answers here. – Lee Woofenden Aug 12 '16 at 16:26
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The question isn't whether the Romans "pried apart each stone." They did. Archaeological evidence shows they did. In those days, cement was not used. So they left "not one stone standing on another." The question is, "Why did they take apart every stone so that none was left standing on another?" The gold hypothesis makes sense. It is based on Josephus' record that the Romans believed gold was hidden within the walls of the Temple. Whether gold melted from the fire or it was simply thought to be hidden is immaterial. They did tear the whole Temple apart once it burned. There was a reason they did that. The most likely reason is that they were looking for treasure.

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    Welcome! Could you provide a citation in Josephus's works that establishes that he recorded this, specifically the melted gold? If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel is protesting Sep 14 '16 at 15:49
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    @Nathaniel He didn't say Josephus wrote that the gold melted. He said "It is based on Josephus' record that the Romans believed gold was hidden within the walls of the Temple." - That's what he should add a citation for. =) – Jamin Grey Sep 15 '16 at 2:32

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