The Talmud (from the Hebrew, to “study”) is a written compendium of oral law completed by about the fifth century and is composed of the Mishnah and the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishnah. The Talmud exists in two versions: the Jerusalem and the Babylonian.


Middot (4:7) makes it plain why the Second Temple staircase could not circumvent its walls. Obviously, it could not be on the east side because that was the entrance to the Temple. The description of the Temple’s east-west cross-section says nothing of a staircase; so it was not on the west side either. The description of the north-south cross-section does mention the staircase. The wording is critical: “From the north to the south [across the entire Temple structure] 70 cubits. The wall of the staircase was 5 [cubits] and the staircase 3 [cubits] … ” Since there is no mention of the staircase on the southern wall, that side too must be eliminated for its location. Moreover, the 3 cubits allotted to the staircase on the northern wall cannot possibly refer to the staircase itself, but rather to the elevated corridor leading to the staircase on the northern side of the Temple (drawing 2), further implying that the staircase itself was not contained within the Temple walls but, as Magen cogently proposes, was an adjoining structure (drawing 2).


See “Synagogue Excavation Reveals Stunning Mosaic of Zodiac and Torah Ark,” BAR 10:03, for pictures of the sun god in a synagogue and a discussion of the problem.—Ed.



Smith adduces this evidence in even greater detail in a more technical article in Eretz Israel, Vol. 16 [1982], 199–214.


Eretz Israel, Vol. 17 [1983], 227–350.


Tosefta Kelim Baba Qama 1:11; cf. Sipra Emor 3:11.


Ibid, 1:7; b. Pesahim 86a [baraita].


Mishnah Yoma 5:2.


Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 71 [1980], 90.