Sites and Insights: Tisha Be’Av and the Burnt House

Wayne Stiles explores a first-century house in Jerusalem's Old City that the Romans had burned along with the Second Temple.

July 23, 2012 13:34
3 minute read.

Burnt House. (photo credit:

Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

After the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, archeologists were finally able to do extensive digging in the Jewish Quarter under the sponsorship of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Exploration Society, and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Among other things, they discovered a first-century house that the Romans had burned in AD 70 along with the Second Temple.

Measuring about 30 square feet, the Burnt House had a Mikveh, a kitchen, a courtyard, and four rooms. These seven spaces made up the first level of what would have stood as a much larger home.

Throughout the house, archeologists discovered scorched beams and stones and layers of ash that revealed the house had been destroyed by fire. The wooden ceiling collapsed under its own weight, burying this house for 20th-century archaeologists to find. Interestingly, the bones from a woman’s forearm were found in the kitchen area. After discovery, they were buried.

Burnt House (

Some call it coincidence. Some call it Providence. But according to tradition, both the First Temple in 586 BC and the Second Temple in AD 70 were destroyed on the same date in history.

Tisha B’Av marks the 9th day of the month of Av—the fifth Jewish month. The Babylonian Talmud lists no less than five tragedies that occurred on Tisha B’Av throughout history:
“Five calamities happened to our ancestors on . . . the 9th of Ab: . . . it was decreed that our ancestors should not enter the Holy Land; on that day the first and second Temples were destroyed, the city of Bethar was taken, and the site (of Jerusalem) was ploughed up (like a field).” (Babylonian Talmud, Book 4)

After the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah recorded a question they asked about Tisha B’Av:

“Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years?”  (Zechariah 7:3)

They instituted a fast to commemorate the Temple's destruction. Their question made sense. They observed the fast in exile, but should they continue to fast on Tisha B’Av now that they were building the Second Temple?  God’s reply took them another direction (Zechariah 7:5-6). The only fast the Hebrew Scriptures required occurred on Yom Kippur. The fast on Tisha B’Av was voluntary.

Ink Well (

The destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 also occurred on Tisha B’Av. Along with the Temple, the Romans torched the lavish homes on the Western Hill of Jerusalem.

Josephus described the Romans destroying this neighborhood as follows:

“They went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest.” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, VI 8.5)

The Burnt House was one of these homes.

Inside the Burnt House today, visitors can examine the rooms an the artifacts archaeologists discovered: inkwells, cooking utensils, a spear, and money—the latest coin dating to AD 69.  A weight bore the inscription of the family of Kathros. A video tells visitors the story.
It’s easy to miss the Burnt House if you’re not looking for it. Walking along the Tir’eret Israel Street in the Jewish Quarter, the Burnt House is just west of Misgav Ladach Street.

<Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

Related Content

Sarah Silverman
August 26, 2014
Jewish women take home gold at 2014 Emmys


Cookie Settings