Leave no Stone unturned
This is an oft-repeated saying, but what was its origin? “After the defeat of the Persian general Mardonius at Plataea in BC477 a report was current that he had left much treasure in his tent. Polycrates, the Theban victor, searched long and hard to find that treasure, but failed. Then he consulted the oracle at Delphi, and was told to “leave no stone unturned”. As a result the treasure was eventually found”. [From a news cutting of April 3rd, 1930]
But for us this saying has a particular connection with the destruction of the Temple in AD70, as recorded by Josephus in yesterday’s reading. But first of all, what was that Temple like? Do we have a description of it? We remember the Pharisees reminding Jesus that it had already taken some 46 years in building. Here is part of the lengthy description given by Josephus (Book V, Chapter 5, Section 4)
“As to the holy house itself, which was placed in the midst [of the inmost court], that most sacred part of the temple, it was ascended to by twelve steps: and in front its height and its breadth were equal; and each an hundred cubits: though it was behind forty cubits narrower. For on its front it had what may be styled shoulders on each side, that passed twenty cubits farther. Its first gate was seventy cubits high, and twenty five cubits broad: but this gate had no doors: for it represented the universal visibility of heaven, and that it cannot be excluded from any place. Its front was covered with gold all over; and through it the first part of the house, that was more inward, did all of it appear. Which as it was very large, so did all the parts about the more inward gate appear to shine to those that saw them. But then as the entire house was divided into two parts within, it was only the first part of it that was open to our view. Its height extended all along to ninety cubits in height; and its length was fifty cubits; and its breadth twenty. But that gate which was at this end of the first part of the house, was, as we have already observed, all over covered with gold: as was its whole wall about it. It had also golden vines above it: from which clusters of grapes hung as tall as a man’s height. But then this house, as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of fifty five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth: but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple: and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colours without its mystical interpretation: but was a kind of image of the universe. For by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire; by the fine flax, the earth; by the blue, the air; and by the purple, the sea. Two of them having their colours the foundation of this resemblance: but the fine flax, and the purple have their own origin for that foundation. The earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens; excepting that of the signs, representing living creatures.”
This is sufficient for us to visualize the extreme magnificence of the structure which the Roman soldiers would have seen on entering the Temple compound, and probably taking their breath away as they saw just how much gold was used in the construction. And we read that Titus wanted to preserve the Temple rather than destroy it, but due to the mischief of just two soldiers, this was not to be. The whole place was suddenly gutted by fire. And as the flames rose, the gold would have melted (M.P. 1064 degrees C). As one writer put it, “The magnificent Temple that Herod had built was completely destroyed as the fires raged inside and out. These fires were so hot that the gold fittings, and the gilding inside and on its outside walls melted and ran into the cracks between and in the stones. During the pillaging of the Temple these stones were broken up to get at the gold. Therefore, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that no stone would be left on another—the destruction was total, just as Jesus foretold.”
And so the Master’s words concerning the fate of the temple in Jerusalem were completely fulfilled: “Do you see these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2.) Indeed, for the Roman soldiers, the ancient saying “leave no stone unturned” was carried out to the letter, due to their frenzied impatience to get as much gold as they find. We are told that the price of gold in Syria dropped to nearly half its former value after AD70.