I could play devil’s advocate and suggest that from the east there were 15+4+12 steps, which still would make a difference of 16 cubits. Many researchers have fallen into this trap. Although this may be surprising at first, it is nevertheless in agreement with the writings of Josephus, where we read that the 15 steps in the Court of the Women were shallower than all the others (Jewish War 5.206). In contrast to the other steps of the Temple court, which had a height of half a cubit (Middot 2.3), Middot is silent about the height of the 15 steps. It states only that they are “corresponding to the fifteen Songs of Ascents in the Psalms, and upon them the Levites used to sing. They were not four-square, but rounded like the half of a round threshing-floor” (Middot 2.5).

Starting at the top, the 12 steps leading to the Temple porch are 6 cubits high and the barrier 2.5 cubits. This makes 8.5 cubits, or 16 feet 8 inches, leaving 6 feet 4 inches for the 15 semicircular steps, giving a height of just over 5 inches to a step, which is in harmony with the observations of Josephus. The height of these steps also comes close to that of the usual Herodian steps, many of which were found in Benjamin Mazar’s excavations.