Monday, May 14, 2018

Where Did Israel's Temples Stand?

(Part One of a Series)

With the recent news of renewed clashes between Jews and Muslims over the right to occupy Jerusalem's so-called "Temple Mount", your Curmudgeon has thought it timely to remind people of all the historical evidence that bears on that site as a place of worship. This post will introduce a series in which we will carefully and thoroughly examine all of that evidence.

By the time we have gone through everything that is on point, you should have a good understanding of the issues at stake -- far better, alas, than those who are currently fighting over the Mount. The traditional views are by now so entrenched (going on 1,100 years) that one despairs of ever freeing them from the deep investment that so many have in them.

Daunts, however, never stopped this Curmudgeon from proceeding ahead. If readers will bear with me to the end of the series, I hope to have demonstrated to them the strong support that exists for the following claims:

A. Neither Solomon's Temple, nor Zerubbabel's, nor Herod's Temple ever stood upon what is now called "Temple Mount".

B. Solomon's Temple was burned and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Zerubbabel's rebuilding of that Temple, begun around 538 B.C., was replaced beginning in 19 B.C. by Herod's restoration of it. The latter stood until 70 A.D., when -- exactly as predicted by Jesus (Mt. 24:2) -- the Romans tore it down and dug up all its foundations in reprisal for the Jewish rebellion that started in 66 A.D.

C. What is now called "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem is the foundation that remains of the Roman pretorium and fortress there, as finally enlarged by Herod and then by the Romans themselves, and that was known to Josephus (the first-century historian of the Jewish War) as "the Antonia Fortress", named by Herod after his patron Mark Antony.

D. The site for the three great Jewish temples was downslope from the Antonia Fortress, on a lower plateau that was originally a threshing floor when King David, on God's direct command, purchased it from its Jebusite owner as the site for the future "House of God" which it fell to Solomon to build. (See the diagrams at the previous link; see 1 Chr. 21:15-18.)

E. This site was very close to old Jerusalem's only natural spring, the Gihon, whose clear and abundant waters were used to clean the altar and Temple after the regular animal sacrifices that took place there.

F. The so-called Temple Mount had (and has) no such natural water source. The Roman camp there was at first entirely dependent on cisterns constructed by King Herod, but at the time Solomon built his temple, the rocky crag that Herod eventually leveled to build the Antonia Fortress had no water source of any kind, and would therefore never have been considered as the site for a temple.

G. The actual Temple site, which the Romans destroyed utterly so that there was not one stone left even of its foundations, will never be capable of being verified through archaeological excavations. In contrast, over 10,000 huge stones still remain of the foundation walls for the Antonia Fortress, which the Romans naturally left intact, as they continued to use it as an army camp until around 329 A.D.

H. Thus the much-revered "Wailing Wall" -- the western wall of the Antonia foundations at which so many pious Jews gather each day and lift their prayers to God for the rebuilding of their Temple is -- if only they knew it! -- not part of Herod's former temple at all.

I. When Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem in 638 A.D., the Christians had earlier built a church over the rock at the center of the Antonia platform. This church venerated the supposed site upon which Jesus stood when Pilate sentenced him -- since Pilate was in the pretorium with his troops at the time of the Passover festival. Some Christians even claimed that there was a footprint of Jesus still visible on the rock. Omar, naturally enough, wanted to honor Mohammed rather than Jesus, so he built the Al Aqsa mosque at the southern end of the Antonia platform, where it stands today.

J. But Omar's son had no such compunctions about the Christian church over the rock. Abd al-Malik claimed that the rock in fact was the one from which Mohammed departed this earth for heaven on horseback. He and his successors invented a number of other myths about the rock, and began the cult that causes Muslims today to recognize the spot as Islam's third holiest place.  Abd al-Malik erected the Dome of the Rock above it in 691, where it stands today; the tip of the rock is visible from a viewing platform in the center of the building.

K. Given that the actual site for the Jews' own temples lies in an area of the City of David that Israel both owns and controls, there is nothing to hinder the Jews of today from rebuilding their temple -- nothing, that is, except well-entrenched tradition. There is a growing body of scholars, however, who today are reassessing that tradition in light of all the evidence that points to the Temple's true site near the spring of Gihon. Perhaps some day soon, the Jews' recognition of that site will lead to an end to the pointless disputes over the remains of an old Roman fortress.

Have I whetted your appetite? Stay tuned as this series gets under way.

5 comments:

  1. This is very interesting. It would certainly eliminate a lot of arguments, but the key would be convincing people that this is true.

    The other question that interests me is whether today's Jews would really wish to rebuild the Temple and revive the sacrifices at the altar. It seems to me that rabbinic Judaism and the practice of about 1900 years are quite different from the Temple rituals.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wonder where the new American Embassy stands in relation to the possible temple site.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As you may see from this map of the city of Jerusalem, UP, the new embassy is at the site of the former American consulate in Jerusalem, well to the south of the City of David and the Al Aqsa mosque, which is several hundred feet north of the former temples' site above the Gihon spring.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maps show an archaeological park just south of the Mount. Was the Temple in that place? This is north of the City of David but below the fortification walls. If so, perhaps there might be some sort of archaeological evidence remaining (artifacts).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Katherine, we can never know for sure anymore exactly where the Temple stood, because the Romans were very thorough in destroying it along with all of its foundations. That said, we can know the general area in which it must have stood: if you click on the link to the Google map in my previous comment, then enlarge it to the maximum centered on the marker for the "City of David", you will see two present-day objects that can serve as the northwestern-most and southeastern-most points of the possible Temple area -- the first is just below the "Giv'ati Parking Lot" (the site of some very important recent archaeological finds that precede even the time of Solomon, as I will report in a subsequent post), some 600 feet south of the southern wall of the Al Aqsa mosque, and the second is just above and to the left of the "Gihon Spring" to the southeast, at the northern starting point for Hezekiah's Tunnel.

    ReplyDelete