The Altar of the Jewish Holy Temple

Breaking Israel News reports on an altar that has been built by the Temple Institute. You can read the report here.

The altar built by the Temple Institute to be used in service in the rebuilt Third Jewish Temple. (Photo: The Temple Institute)

Priests carrying vessels near the Ramp of the Altar

According to this report, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem has completed the construction of the stone altar required for the sacrificial service in the Holy Temple. One thing that makes this altar unique is that it was designed to be disassembled and quickly reassembled in its correct position on the Temple Mount. According to the Temple Institute,

“The people of Israel are required to build an altar exclusively on the site of the original altar on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount. When circumstances become favorable, this new altar can be quickly re-assembled on the proper location, enabling the Divine service to be resumed without delay.”

It was a little strange to see the red tiles and bricks, but they are supposed to be the outer layer only, while the inner part was built with natural stones.

A few years ago, the Temple Institute asked me for lectures regarding the layout of the Temple and the location of the Altar. They appear to agree with our plan as shown in our new Temple Mount guide book. In our book we show a plan of the altar in relation to the Dome of the Rock and also a photograph with its location:

This plan shows Herod’s Temple, courts and Altar (beige) in relation to the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain (blue). The Rock inside the Dome of the Rock was the Foundation Stone of the First and Second Temples on which the Holy of Holies was built. The Dome of the Chain stands on the former Porch that was built in front of the magnificent Temple built by Herod and the great Altar of Burnt Sacrifices stood to its east.

A view of the Dome of the Rock, looking west, with the Dome of the Chain to its east. The Altar stood in the open space between the Dome of the Chain and the steps that lead up to the Raised Platform from the east.

One wonders when and how the Temple Institute will be able to build this altar in its original location.

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Jerusalem – The Temple Mount

Yesterday we received the first copies of our guide book to the Temple Mount. It has 160 pages and 184 illustrations and weighs only 350 grams (12 ounces). It measures 20.8 x 14.3 x 1 cm (8.1 x 5.6 x 0.4 inches), which is a handy size to carry around with you and would fit easily in a large pocket or small bag. It is now possible to order our guide book directly from our website. The cost is US$25.00 or UK£17.00 plus postage.

We hope and feel sure that our book will enhance your visit to the Temple Mount and deepen your understanding of the fascinating history of this important site!

 

 

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Jerusalem – The Temple Mount, A Carta Guide

We are pleased to announce that it is now possible to order our new guide book to The Temple Mount in Jerusalem from the Carta website. We thank all the people that have written to Carta to have this guide published.

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The Skull of Gordon’s Calvary lost its nose

Todd Bolen of BiblePlaces was alerted by one of his friends, Austen Dutton, that the bridge of the skull’s nose had collapsed. You can read Todd’s interesting post here.

Photo: Austen Dutton

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New archaeological discoveries on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Waiting for the publication of our Temple Mount guide book, we are excited to note that it will highlight remains of the ancient Temple platform that have not been identified previously. We have long known of a massive stretch of what appears to be Herodian pavement on the Temple Mount, which, as far as we know, has never been reported before. Here is a foretaste of some of the new discoveries described in our book.

In a previous post, we reported on some massive Herodian paving stones that are now covered by olive trees planted in a thick layer of soil that has been brought into the Temple Mount for that purpose. Another large Herodian paving slab can be seen beneath the Dome of the Spirits.

The Dome of the Spirits is built on a large Herodian paving stone, which measures 12 feet (3.70m) by 11.5 feet (3.50m). According to Warren’s survey maps, it is situated approximately 10 feet (3.00m) above the natural bedrock. It was part of the pavement that was laid north of the buildings that surrounded the Temple. Photo: Nathaniel Ritmeyer

This plan shows in yellow the large Herodian paving stone beneath the small Dome of the Spirits that stands on the Muslim platform of the Temple Mount. This paving stone was part of the paving of the Temple Courts of the Herodian Temple Mount. It has been erroneously claimed to be the location of the Holy of Holies by Prof. A. Kaufman.

This plan compares the size of the paving stone (1) beneath the Dome of the Spirits (Qubbat al-Arwah) with similar sized paving slabs in front of the Double Gate (2) and the Triple Gate (3). The projection at top right of paving stone 1 allowed a smaller stone to be laid next to it, a feature common in Herodian architecture.

We now like to report on a large stretch of ancient paving stones that are located in front of the Gate of the Cotton Merchants (Bab al-Qattanin), at a distance of 45 feet (13.70 m) from the Western Wall.

This picture shows a large stretch of Herodian paving stones that is located in front of the Gate of the Cotton Merchants. The rows, which are about 3 feet (1m) wide, run from east to west at a distance of 45 feet (13.70m) from the Western Wall. Some of these stones are 13 feet (4m) long!

These massive paving stones are different from the normal small paving stones one sees everywhere on the Mount and appear to be Herodian in origin.

What can we learn from the position of this stretch of pavers and what is the importance of its western termination?

This plan shows the stretch of large Herodian paving stones that is located in front of the Gate of the Cotton Merchants in relation to the Western Wall.

According to Josephus (War 5.190-2), the Herodian Temple Mount was surrounded by double porticoes. When reconstructing the double porticoes of the Temple Mount we need to take into consideration the width of the underground Herodian passageways, e.g. Barclay’s and Warren’s Gates and the Double Gate. These are 18 feet (5.50m) wide. This shows that the space in between the columns, which presumably stood in square bays, must have been 18 feet. To get the width of the Western Portico, we need to double this measurement plus the thickness of two columns (e.g. 2 feet or 0.60m approx.) plus the thickness of that part of the Western Wall which is above the platform (5 feet or 1.50m). This gives the measurement of 45 feet, which is exactly the distance between this pavement and the exterior of the Western Wall. We presume therefore that the western edge of this massive paving would have been laid next to the Western Portico.

This section through the double portico of the Western Wall looking north, shows its relationship to the pavement near the Gate of the Cotton Merchants. © Leen Ritmeyer

It is exciting to contemplate that this is one of the few places on the Temple Mount where one can walk on paving stones that have survived the Roman destruction of 70 AD and subsequent depredations of the site.

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The Temple Mount in the Early Muslim Period (638-1099)

Continuing our series on the historical development of Mount Moriah, we have now reached the Early Muslim period. The end of the Byzantine period in Jerusalem was heralded by the Persian invasion of 614 AD  and completed by the Muslim conquest twenty-four years later. Muhammad’s successor, Caliph Omar, accepted Jerusalem’s surrender in 638 AD. Muslims regarded Jerusalem as a holy city and Jews were again granted the right to live there and pray on the Temple Mount. Some sources record that Omar ordered the site of the Temple Mount to be cleared of rubbish, thus exposing the Foundation Stone of the Jewish Temple.

This cutaway drawing of the Dome of the Rock shows The Rock around which this Islamic structure is built. The Rock, shown in yellow, was the Foundation Stone of the First and Second Temples on which the Holy of Holies was built.

Caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705 AD) built a magnificent center for Muslim pilgrimage on the Temple Mount, called the Dome of the Rock.

Drawing of Herod’s Temple Façade and the silhouette of the Dome of the Rock (in blue). The height of Herod’s Temple was 172 ft./52.5 m, one and a half times higher than the Dome of the Rock, which is 115 ft./35 m high.

Completed in 691 AD, the Dome of the Rock was neither a mosque nor a place of prayer, but a shrine to the Foundation Stone of the Temple. Modelled after Byzantine centrally designed commemorative churches, the Muslims transferred to the Temple Mount the story of the Night Journey of Muhammad from Mecca to the “farthest shrine” (al-Aqsa). From here they believed he ascended into Heaven. Now one of the world’s most iconic buildings, known to virtually everyone on the planet, the golden dome that shimmers against the often cobalt blue sky and the blue tiled walls of the octagonal building are both contrasting and harmonious. Few visitors to the site today, however, realise how difficult it is to express its beauty in either geometrical designs or mathematical formulae, especially as we no longer have its original blueprint.

Writing this blog reminded me of the time I worked on the architectural reconstruction of a funeral monument called Gonbad-e-alawiyyan in Persia (Iran) for an Israeli colleague. From this I developed an analysis which is also valid for the plan and section of the Dome of the Rock, the crowning glory of early Islamic architecture.  Too complex to describe fully here, it is based on three concentric circles which closely bind together all the different constructional elements into one magnificently proportioned building.

This centrally designed building ranks among the most beautiful buildings in the world. Our new analysis requires the taking of one measurement only that is then divided into three equal sections (OA=AB=BC). From the centre (O), three concentric circles are drawn through A, B and C. The subsequent inner and outer octagons and star octagons of each circle create a pattern that can be used with many variations for the accurate location of walls, piers, columns and openings.

I later applied it successfully to other classical centrally designed buildings, such as the Round Temple at Baalbek, San Vitale at Ravenna, the Mausoleum of Diocletian at Spalato, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and many others. It is intriguing to think that here we may have a certain school of ancient architecture, which was in use for a long period, but whose traditions were eventually lost.

The Temple Mount in the Early Muslim Period. The Dome of the Rock was built on the site of the Jewish Temple and the al-Aqsa mosque on the location of  the Royal Stoa above the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount.

On completion of the Dome of the Rock, Caliph al-Walid (705-715 AD) built a mosque called al-Aqsa above the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, on the former site of the Herodian Royal Stoa. The Temple Mount was and still is known to the Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary). The Virtual Walking Tour of al-Haram al-Sharif  produced by Saudi Aramco World led by Oleg Grabar, the late Professor Emeritus of Islamic Art and Architecture at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, allows one to explore its jewels of Islamic architecture in a very informative way.

The reconstruction drawing above is the 10th and last in this series that was made specially for our new Temple Mount guide book that is awaiting publication. For the previous drawings see: Mount MoriahJebusitesSolomonHezekiahNehemiah, the Hellenistic and Hasmonean periods , the Herodian period, the Roman period and the Byzantine period.

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Going up and coming down from the Antonia Fortress on the Temple Mount

In our previous post, we wrote about the archaeological remains at the northwest part of the Temple Mount, most of which are now buried under a thick layer of earth. Most of the notable Herodian remains in this corner of the mount, however, can still be seen above ground level in the area where the Ghawanima minaret stands today.

The Antonia Fortress was built by Herod the Great in order to protect the Temple Mount. The fortress stood on the high rock plateau which is visible at ground level in between the trees. Today, the Umariyya School is located on the original site of the Antonia. The Ghawanima minaret is visible at left.

Here stood the Antonia, the large fortress at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, which was built by Herod the Great when he extended the pre-Herodian square Temple Mount to its present size. He named it after his friend Mark Antony. According to Josephus, it was located where the western and northern porticoes met.

A cutaway reconstruction drawing of the Antonia Fortress at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, based on archaeological remains and historical evidence. The stairway leading up to the Antonia can be seen on the left.  © Leen Ritmeyer

In the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 21 and 22, we read that the Apostle Paul went up and came down several times from this fortress, called in the New Testament the “castle” or “barracks”. The events described here took place when Paul was falsely accused in the Temple Mount of bringing a Gentile into the Sanctuary. A great commotion among the Jews ensued, with Paul being carried up the steps of the Antonia (21.35) by a unit of Roman soldiers that had earlier come down from the fortress (21.32). The only place from which the soldiers could have run down to the Temple Mount was the Antonia Fortress.

The Roman captain, Lysias, allowed Paul to address his fellow countrymen from the safety of the Antonia, probably from the top of the north portico, traces of which still be seen today. Paul delivered his impassioned defense in the Hebrew tongue before he was led into the Antonia. In the courtyard of this fortress, he was bound with cords and prepared for scourging, which was only averted by his appealing to his Roman citizenship. The next day, Paul was brought down from the fortress to the Temple Mount to stand before the Sanhedrin (22.30). After giving an account of his faith, the Roman soldiers came down again from the Antonia in order to bring Paul back up again. The last time that Paul descended from the Antonia was when he was taken to Caesarea for his own safety (23.24).

The question arises: how did the soldiers and Paul go up to and come down from the Antonia to the Temple Mount?

At the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, a rockscarp can be seen in the west wall, north of the Bab al-Ghawanima. This western rocky wall that forms a corner with the northern rockscarp on which the Umariyya School is located, stands to a height of 32 feet (9.75 m).

The west scarp of the Antonia Fortress.

These vertical rockscarps once formed the base for the Antonia Fortress that Herod built here. They show the considerable portion of the mountain he must have cut away to create a platform for a fortress that, according to Josephus, was a “guard to the Temple”.

South elevation of the Antonia rockscarp. Some of the sockets for the beams of the Herodian portico can still be seen in between the trees. The three lower arches of al-Isardiyya have been blocked off by walls, obscuring the view of the Antonia rockscarp

One of the sockets for inserting the roof beams of the northern portico. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

Behind the Ghawanima minaret, the rock is set back a little from the line of the northern wall of the Temple Mount. It is most likely that here, in the Herodian period, a staircase led up to the roof where the north and west porticoes joined.

Plan of the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, indicating the Herodian walls. The Ghawanima minaret is built in the re-entrant angle of the temple Mount. Plan after Michael Burgoyne.

This is the only place from which the fortress could have been entered from the mount. Seeing these remains before us helps us to imagine the momentous events that took place here on the Herodian Temple Mount of Jerusalem.

 

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Excavations in the northern part of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

The Temple Mount Sifting Project reported a significant improvement of the enforcement and supervision of the Israeli Antiquities laws on the Temple Mount. The Old City and the Temple Mount are part of the archaeological zone, in which no excavations are allowed without archaeological supervision. As far as the Temple Mount is concerned however, this rule has been ignored for too long. Happily, the construction work that is taking place at the moment, digging shallow channels in the area just northwest of the Raised Platform, is  being carried out under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Channels for new sewage pipes in the northern part of the Temple Mount. Photo: TMSP.

This is good news, as I believe that there are many archaeological remains still to be uncovered in the area under discussion and any fresh information may cast light on the historical development of the Temple Mount and the city of Jerusalem. We need to remember, of course, that this area became part of the Temple Mount for the first time only in the Herodian period. During the First Temple period, this area was located outside and north of the Temple Mount and the city of Jerusalem. The northern wall of the Temple Mount of that time was also part of the northern city wall of Jerusalem.

Charles Warren uncovered the most important archaeological remains in this area, namely the “Fosse” or “Moat” that separated the original square Temple Mount from the northern continuation of the Eastern Hill of Jerusalem. Although never excavated, the remains can clearly be seen in old photographs, taken from the Antonia Fortress.

View from the Antonia Fortress, indicating the location of the Fosse and the Herodian paving stones.

While working on the Temple Mount Excavations in the 1970’s, we also documented some archaeological remains in this area. We photographed a stretch of Herodian paving stones that had been recorded previously. The large size of these paving stones, which are now buried underneath a thick layer of soil planted with olive trees, is similar to other Herodian pavers found in the Temple Mount Excavations.

Some of the large Herodian paving stones, now buried.

Just north of the raised Platform and south of the Fosse, we also documented the remains of a wall and door sill.

The author next to the remains of a wall, the top of which was still visible in 1975.

A close-up of the door sill in the ancient wall. Unfortunately, without excavation, the date of the wall cannot be established.

At the northern edge of the Fosse, about 100 years before our excavations, Warren had discovered a long channel (which he labelled the “ditch cut in the rock”). This was designed to prevent running water from disappearing into the Fosse or “Excavated Ditch”(The Quest, p.42).

The northwest part of the Temple Mount with indications of Second Temple period remains. Plan: © Leen Ritmeyer

In the rock surface nearby are some other remains that are less well known, namely the cup marks that were recorded by Bellarmino Bagatti.

Cup marks cut in the bedrock, as observed by B. Bagatti in 1979.

Also on the western side of this area of the Temple Mount are the two cisterns, 18 and 22 (see plan above). We have suggested (The Quest, p.42) that the small Cistern 18 may have acted as a sump for the much larger Cistern 22, which received its water from the Rock-hewn Aqueduct that runs through the Tyropoeon Valley, starting north of the Damascus Gate. One wonders if and how these elements are connected.

There are several passages in the Hebrew Bible that mention “the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field”. But where was the “Fuller’s Field?” A fuller uses lye or alkali soap to bleach cloth (Jer. 2.22 and Mal. 3.2). These are smelly substances and therefore fuller’s fields are usually found outside cities. In order to wash out these ingredients, a lot of water is needed.

Is it possible that the archaeological remains have something to do with the location of the Fuller’s Field? In Isaiah 7.3 we read that the prophet was sent outside the city walls to meet with King Ahaz, who apparently was inspecting the city’s waterworks. At this time, the prophet Isaiah delivers his famous Immanuel prophecy.

Can it be that Cistern 22 is the Upper Pool, used by the fuller, who spread out his cloth on the bedrock in this area and used the cup marks in the rock to store his soap? In that case, the Rock-hewn Aqueduct would have been the conduit, or channel, that filled the pool or cistern. It was located in the Central Valley, later called the Tyropoeon Valley, where the road from the west would have come in.. This would have been the road taken by Rabshakeh and his army when he was sent from Lachish to Jerusalem by Sennacherib King of Assyria to request the city’s surrender  by Hezekiah (Isa. 36.2, 2 Kings 18.17), while he stood at “the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field”.

The prospects of excavations in this area are slim, but it is reassuring to know that there will be archaeological supervision on future construction projects on the Temple Mount. On this site, with all its sensibilities, any remains uncovered are doubly precious, being our only source of new information on how the area developed during its long and dramatic history.

HT: Joe Lauer

 

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The Date of the Destruction of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount

In our previous post, we attempted to marshall the archaeological evidence that shows that Shimon Gibson’s suggestion that the Western Wall of the Temple Mount was destroyed by an earthquake in 363AD is incorrect. In response, one of our readers, Richard Stadler, asked the following questions:

I am trying to picture this in my mind’s eye. If the earthquake of 363 CE caused the huge stones to fall, and if the Roman bath house was constructed before 363, when you dug down through the layers to reach the Roman bath house, you would have found the bath house pulverized by the stones, right?  Did you find the stones we see today on the Roman street next to the Western Wall, UNDERNEATH the bathhouse when you removed the bath house?  If so, it appears that they had to have fallen before the bath house was built over them, right? Is there a picture record of the excavations which uncovered the bath house and is it definitively dated to construction before the earthquake that Gibson is suggesting caused these stones to end up where they were found by archeologists digging down through the layers?

The bath house mentioned dates from the Roman period, as the many 10th Legion stamped bricks used in the construction of the hypocaust indicate (see: Eilat Mazar, The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations, pp. 72,73). Below is a picture of the cold water pool (frigidarium) of the Roman bath house in the Temple Mount excavations:

The frigidarium (cold water bath) of the Roman bath house was discovered just below the floor of an Umayyad building. This photo shows that it was not pulverised by the fallen Herodian stones, which were found underneath this bath. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer 1973

As can be seen, the paving of the pool was found intact, together with two sets of curved steps leading down to the bath (upper left and right). In the foreground are two piles of stones, built into the bath at a later period. These served as the foundations for two column bases of an Umayyad building.

Thus, the archaeological evidence proves that this bath, which was located only 8 meters from the Western Wall, was not destroyed by the earthquake of 363AD. The bath, in fact, was not destroyed at all, just covered over in the later Umayyad period.

When, in the process of excavation, this bath was removed, the Herodian street was found about 3 meters lower down:

The Herodian street that was found after the Roman bath was dismantled. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer 1973

On the right of the photo, the western edge of the stone pile visible in the excavations today can be seen. Compare with the photo below:

Herodian stones lying on the Herodian street, dating from the Roman destruction in 70AD. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The archaeological record described above makes it abundantly clear that the upper part of the Western Wall was not destroyed by the earthquake of 363 AD, but long before that, namely in 70AD, as the coins found below the Herodian destruction stones on this street also testify.

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The Western Wall was not destroyed by an earthquake!

Walking on the Herodian street alongside the Western Wall in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden and Davidson Centre, one sees an enormous pile of Herodian stones that clearly came from higher up the wall. The excavations in this area by the late Benjamin Mazar and later by Ronnie Reich have proved without a doubt that this destruction occurred in 70AD. The Herodian stones fell on a thin layer of destruction debris that contained many Herodian coins.

Herodian stones lying on the Herodian street, dating from the Roman destruction in 70AD. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

As reported first in Haaretz newspaper (in the Premium section which is available to subscribers only, but which was kindly forwarded by email to me by Joe Lauer) and later elsewhere, this view is now challenged by Shimon Gibson, who claims that these stones were destroyed by an earthquake that took place in 363 AD.

He reasons that a Roman bakery that was uncovered by Benjamin Mazar and published by his granddaughter Eilat, would not have been built next to a ruin.

“Who would buy bread in a place with damaged walls above it and fallen stones [adjacent to it]? You don’t build next to a four-story ruin.”

Obviously, people did build next to the four-story high Western Wall, as both the bakery and the Western Wall are still standing there today! We need to remember that the Temple Mount became a symbol of Jewish rebellion against Rome and therefore it was deliberately left in ruins.

The eastern wall of the Roman bakery that was built next to the pier of Robinson’s Arch in the Western Wall and at the level of the Herodian street. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer.

“Now we know much more about the late Roman period. If there was a neighborhood like this there, how could it be that they leave debris from the year 70 CE in the middle of it all? It’s like going out of your house and leaving a pile of debris. You clear it.”

Mount Moriah in the time of Aelia Capitolina. The bakery is at the southwest corner (left in the drawing).

Well, that is easier said than done, as these stones were very heavy and difficult to move. Some stones were moved, but only for monumental building activities, such as the Damascus Gate, which was been partly built with Herodian stones in secondary use, and other projects such as the Nea Church and the Umayyad buildings. For smaller projects, such as dwellings, these Herodian stones were cut into smaller stones that were easier to handle.

The Damascus Gate is located in the centre of the northern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. The gate was built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a monumental entrance to the city of Jerusalem, which he had renamed Aelia Capitiolina.

Additionally, as we will see below, there was no heavy stone debris where the bakery was built. The bakery was also not located next to the main Roman street in this area, called the Lower Cardo, but on a street of secondary importance, some distance away from it.

After the Roman destruction of 70 A.D., the 10th Legion set up an encampment south of the Hippicus Tower on the Western Hill of Jerusalem. After nationalistic uprisings, Hadrian flattened the city and in 135 A.D. built a new one on its ruins and called it Aelia Capitolina. The major buildings are the Damascus Gate in the north, a Temple of Aphrodite, two forums (market places) and there may have been a Temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount.

“Gibson believes the builders of these structures used the still-existing Temple Mount walls and imitated their architecture and design as an effort by the Church to show that it – not rabbinic Judaism – was the anointed successor to Temple Judaism.”

A close examination of these structures, however, shows that the Herodian stones in these buildings are in secondary use. They were taken from the Temple Mount wall and moved there.

Before making sweeping statements, one should carefully examine the evidence. What kind of “large building stones” do visitors today see lying on the Herodian street?  Among the rectangular stones there are many pilaster stones that were toppled down from the upper part of the Western Wall where the western portico stood.

Pilaster stones that came from the upper part of the Western Wall can be seen among the Roman destruction stones. Photo” Leen Ritmeyer

Josephus records that during the struggle for the Temple Mount, these porticoes were burnt and destroyed (War 6.191). The timber beams would have caught fire, the roof was destroyed and the pillars probably fell down on the Temple Mount, leaving only the outer wall, with its pilasters, standing. This upper part of the wall was pushed down by the Romans and fell on the street below, which was covered with a layer of burnt debris containing coins of the Jewish Revolt. Gibson‘s argument that these coins may have been deposited below these stones at a later date, goes against all archaeological logic.

The destroyed stones on the Herodian street were found in front of the pier of Robinson’s Arch as far as the northern edge of the excavations below the Mughrabi Gate ramp which leads up to the Temple Mount, but not south of this point.

Destruction stones in front of the pier of Robinson’s Arch. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer 1973.

No such quantity of stones was found near the southwest corner where the Roman bakery was found.

The southwest corner of the Temple Mount before the rest of the street was excavated by Ronnie Reich. As can be seen from the section, which is close to the Roman bakery, only a couple of large Herodian stones were found on the Herodian pavement. The Trumpeting Stone, as it was found, is visible at the right of the picture within a protective frame. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer 1973.

So, the bakery was not built in the middle of a pile of Herodian stones, as Gibson tries to infer that people believe. Of course, some rubble must have been cleared, but no gigantic mound of stones. That is clear also when one looks up. The Herodian southwest corner, as all other corners of the Herodian Temple Mount, has been preserved to a great height. Only the Trumpeting Stone and a few others were found here lying on the street.

Earthquakes can cause a lot of damage, as happened in 1927 when the al-Aqsa Mosque was almost entirely destroyed. But there is no evidence that an earthquake at any time ever dislodged stones from these massive 5m (15 feet) thick Herodian retaining walls. If the earthquake of 363 AD did destroy the Western Wall, where is the evidence? The heap of fallen Herodian stones is only three meters (10 feet) high. No stones were ever added on top of this, as this Roman destruction was covered by a late Roman bath house and Byzantine street level and drain. The Roman floor level was later covered over by the floor of an Umayyad palace. If the Western Wall was destroyed in 363 AD, then a large pile of stones would have been found on top of the Roman bath house and Byzantine street level which would have been completely destroyed, but no sign of this was found.

This sectional drawing shows the Herodian destruction stones lying on the Herodian street next the the Western Wall (yellow). The Roman bath house and Byzantine drain (blue) was built over this destruction layer. In iturn, the Roman and Byzantine levels were covered by an Umayyad Palace. © Leen Ritmeyer

It is no wonder that “Gibson’s theory has been vehemently rejected by many.” Happily he said: “If I am wrong, then I am wrong. Life will go on.” I wish him all the best for the new year but think it unlikely that his proposal will cause an earthquake in how we understand this, one of the most significant and moving discoveries of the Temple Mount Excavations.

HT: Joe Lauer

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