Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority/Rockefeller Museum

Gentiles, keep out. This 19-inch-high limestone fragment bears a portion of a Herodian-period inscription in Greek that prohibited gentiles from entering the Jerusalem Temple. It was found in 1935, outside the wall around Jerusalem’s Old City, near St. Stephen’s Gate (the Lion’s Gate). A complete version of the same inscription (see drawing) was discovered in the late 19th century. Now held in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, it enabled scholars to reconstruct the text of this fragment. The drawing shows the position of the fragment (tinted) in relation to the complete text. The full inscription once read, “Let no gentile enter within the partition and barrier surrounding the Temple, and whosoever is caught shall be responsible for his subsequent death.”

The discovery of this inscription confirmed what the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus had said in The Jewish War, that “upon [the partition wall of the Temple court] stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that ‘no foreigners should go within that sanctuary’ … ” (5.193–194). The existence of this inscription suggests a substantial presence of Greek-speaking gentiles in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time.