Bible Affirming Truth

Robinson's Arch

The Robinson's Arch is the name given to a monumental staircase carried by an unusually wide stone arch, which once stood at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. It was built as part of the expansion of the Second Temple initiated by Herod the Great at the end of the 1st century BCE. Recent findings suggest that it may not have been completed until at least 20 years after his death. The massive stone span was constructed along with the retaining walls of the Temple Mount. It carried traffic up from ancient Jerusalem's Lower Market area and over the Tyropoeon street to the Royal Stoa complex on the esplanade of the Mount. The overpass was destroyed during the Great Jewish Revolt, only a few decades after its completion.

The arch is named after Biblical scholar Edward Robinson who identified its remnants in 1838. Robinson published his findings in his landmark work Biblical Researches in Palestine, in which he draw the connection with a bridge described in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War, concluding that its existence proves the antiquity of the Walls of Jerusalem. Excavations during the second half of the 20th century revealed both its purpose and the extent of its associated structures. Today the considerable surviving portions of the ancient overpass complex may be viewed by the public within the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. As it is adjacent to Jerusalem's Western Wall worship area, a portion is used by some groups as a place of prayer.

Remnants of the Robinson’s Arch (middle of picture) at the south west side of the old Jerusalem city wall and the underground structures and debris

Close-up of the Robinson’s Arch

Josephus the historian noted that of the gates built into the western enclosure of the Temple Mount, there was a bridge that also ascended to one of these gates and which same bridge was broken-off by the insurgents during their war with Rome, most likely the bridge leading to the only serviceable gate.

Artist reconstruction of the bridge and staircase in the Herodian period

The original arch spanned 15 metres (49 ft) and had a width of 15.2 metres (50 ft). The stepped street it bore over a series of seven additional arches was more than 35 metres (115 ft) in length. Robinson's Arch itself stood 12 metres (39 ft) to the north of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount's retaining wall, soaring some 17 metres (56 ft) over the ancient Tyropoeon street that once ran along the Temple Mount's western wall. It was among the most massive stone arches of classical antiquity.

Although Herod's renovation of the Second Temple was initiated in late 1st century BCE, excavations beneath the street near the arch revealed three oil lamps of a type common in the first century CE and 17 identifiable coins, several of which were struck by Valerius Gratus, Roman procurator of Judea, in the year 17/18 CE. This means that the arch and nearby sections of the Western Wall were constructed after this date.

South of the Temple Mount, excavators have uncovered an inscribed Roman milestone bearing the names of Vespasian and Titus, fashioned from one of the staircase handrails which stood on top of the arch. This places the destruction of the arch at no later than 79 CE.

Excerpts from Robinson's description of the discovery of the Arch:
.....we observed several of the large stones jutting out from the western wall... the stones had the appearance of having once belonged to a large arch. At this remark a train of thought flashed upon my mind, which I hardly dared to follow out, until I had again repaired to the spot, in order to satisfy myself with my own eyes, as to the truth or falsehood of the suggestion. I found it even so!... This arch could only have belonged to The Bridge, which according to Josephus led from this part of the temple to the Xystus on Zion; and it proves incontestably the antiquity of that portion of the wall from which it springs…. The existence of these remains of the ancient bridge, seems to remove all doubt as to the identity of this part of the enclosure of the mosk with that of the ancient temple......

...Here then we have indisputable remains of Jewish antiquity, consisting of an important portion of the western wall of the ancient temple area... We have, then, the two extremities of the ancient southern wall ; which, as Josephus informs us, extended from the eastern to the western valley, and could not be prolonged further. Thus we are led irresistibly to the conclusion, that the area of the Jewish temple was identical on its western, eastern, and southern sides, with the present enclosure of the Haram.
------ Edward Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, 1841.

Four stone courses of the eastern spring of the arch, consisting of a row of impost blocks and three layers of voussoirs, have survived to modern times This remnant was first identified in 1838 by Biblical scholar Edward Robinson and now bears his name. At that time, prior to any excavations, remains of the arch were at ground level. The ancient street level lay far underground, buried by debris from destruction of structures on the Temple Mount and later fill dumped into the Tyropoeon Valley over the centuries (cf. the PAD on The cleaning of the Temple). Robinson believed he had identified the eastern edge of a bridge that linked the Temple Compound with the Upper City which lay on the ridge to the west.

Visitors Guide illustration at the site of the original Architecture

Only during Benjamin Mazar's excavations between 1968 and 1977 was it discovered that the pier was in fact the western support of a single great arch. The uncovered pier, 15.2 metres (50 ft) long and 3.6 metres (12 ft) wide, was preserved to a height of 5 metres (16 ft). Within its base were found four small hollow spaces, possibly for shops opening onto the Herodian–era street that passed beneath the arch.

Excavations near the arch resumed between 1994 and 1996, directed by Ronny Reich and Yaacov Billig. These have uncovered much of the debris from the collapse of the arch. The remains include both stairs from the staircase and stones from its rounded handrails. Some of these are still visible where they were found, at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park now occupying the site.

The Archaeological Park with ongoing excavation and the Robinson’s Arch on the Western wall

Information, text and images excerpted in part from at:

At the Archaeological Park, it was a marvel to look at the Robison’s arch face to face, and reminiscent of the great bridge and staircases that was once present 2000 years ago at this site. And truly, it testifies to the authenticity of this being the southern end of the Western wall of the first century Temple Mount Enclosure.

So what has the Robinson’s Arch got to do with our faith?

A lot of people would doubt the authenticity of the Bible as many of the constructions, sites and relics mentioned therein were never recovered or found. We ought to remember that the amount of destruction throughout these thousands of years (as we can see at the Park) have indeed been so tremendous that without something acting as a “landmark”, we might never be able to recognize with any certainty antiquity structures or sites described in the Bible. The Robinson’s Arch is perhaps one of the rarities that points us to one of them.

There is hope for many more excavational finds that affirms the many great Truths in the Bible. Between 1968 and 1977, Mazar's excavations uncovered street level shops from amongst underground debris near the site. More recently, between 1994 and 1996, other debris of the remains of the bridge and staircase from Reich and Billig’s excavations were also discovered (see above).

For Bible scholars and believers, archaeologically, there is now so much to look forward to.