The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

One of our readers recently wrote:

“I appreciate your fantastic research work very much!
I have a question about “the bend” in the eastern wall. The 500 cubit thesis is convincing.
But I wonder that during the so called “big dig” to create the new underground mosque entrance at the south-east corner there were no remains or traces of the south wall intersection at “the bend” or at “the seam” position running to the west. Wouldn’t you have expect even some evidence of walls coming out of the eastern wall?”

Plan of the Temple Mount showing the location of the stairway in red.

I promised to answer this question in a blog post, as it may also be of interest to other readers. On the above plan of the Temple Mount that shows various routes around the sacred complex and that appears in our newly published guide book, I have indicated the location of the area in question near the southeast corner. This site was illegally dug out in 1999 and a stairway was constructed in 2000 to create an access to the underground Solomon’s Stables, that have been converted into the al-Marwani mosque. During the digging, hundreds of tonnes of soil were dug out by bulldozer and dumped in the Kedron Valley. This soil is still being examined by the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP).

Digging in front of Solomon’s Stables (nov. 1999). Picture: TMSP

Although some sizeable stones were removed, it appears that no Herodian or pre-Herodian walls were found in situ during those illegal diggings. The question of our reader is if that was to be expected? If one only looks at plans then such a question could indeed arise. The Bend represents the southeast corner of the square Temple Mount that was made by King Hezekiah in the 8th century BC, during what is known in archaeology as the Iron Age 2 period. The Eastern Wall of the Iron Age Temple Mount  clearly still exists. Two long sections of this early wall can be seen on either side of the Golden Gate and a few other wall stones of the same period are visible near the Bend. It stands to reason therefore that remains of the Southern Wall of the Iron Age Temple Mount may also still exist.

King Hezekiah (725–697 BC) embarked on a major rebuilding program of the Temple, as reflected in the second and later accounts of the Temple construction in 2 Chronicles 3–4.
Judging by the masonry style of the central part of the Eastern Wall and other archaeological remains on the Temple Mount, it appears that King Hezekiah surrounded this sacred complex with a massive 500-cubit-square artificial platform, called har habbayit in Mishnah Middot 2.1.

I have learned however, that looking at plans alone is not sufficient to obtain the complete picture. The secret to gaining a full understanding of  buildings, modern or ancient, is to examine elevations and sections too. Let’s have a look at the elevation of the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount:

Elevation of the southern end of the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount, showing in section (red lines) the area that was dug out at the end of 1999 on the Temple Mount, behind this elevation. © Leen Ritmeyer

In this drawing, the red lines indicate the interior level of the Temple Mount and the sloping area that was dug out by bulldozer. It shows that at no point did the diggings go deep enough to reach the preserved tops of ancient walls, although they came very close to reaching them. This does not mean to say that the excavations can be justified, but it is reassuring to know that it is unlikely that ancient walls might have been found and damaged.

Studying these levels, it appears that the southern walls of the Square Temple Mount and that of the Hasmonean period may still exist. Perhaps they may even be excavated under archaeological supervision at some time in the unforseeable  future! At least, for now, they are well preserved.

Originally, these walls must have stood higher than the level of the Temple Mount in the relevant periods. The Royal Stoa that was built by King Herod the Great at the southern end of the Temple Mount stood partly over the Southern Wall of the Hasmonean Temple Mount which, in the east, began at the Seam. Any part of the Hasmonean extension that stood above the projected floor level of the Royal Stoa must have been dismantled at the time of building.

The drawing above is a detail of the Development of the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount drawing:

The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount is 1536 feet (468 m) long. The central part of this wall (shown in blue) dates from the time of King Hezekiah. The gate just below and to the right of the Temple is the Shushan Gate. To the south of the central section is a Hasmonean extension (red), while both ends of this wall were further extended by Herod the Great (yellow). The Herodian extension to the north of the central part of the Eastern Wall (Hezekiah’s expansion) required the filling in of a deep valley.

Many more images of the Temple Mount in the various periods and other archaeological sites are available from our Image Library. Below is is a reconstruction drawing of the Royal Stoa from our Image Library:

This is a section through the Royal Stoa that stood at the southern end of Herod’s Temple Mount. The Royal Stoa was the largest structure on the Temple Mount and was built in the style of a basilica. It had a central nave and two side aisles with four rows of 40 columns. Josephus calls this stoa more deserving of mention than any structure under the sun.
The Royal Stoa was used as a sacred market place, where money could be changed and smaller animals for sacrifice purchased. It could have been the place, therefore, where Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and those that sold doves (Matthew 21.1-16).

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4 Responses to The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

  1. eli says:

    “The Eastern Wall of the Iron Age Temple Mount clearly still exists. Two long sections of this early wall can be seen on either side of the Golden Gate and a few other wall stones of the same period are visible near the Bend. It stands to reason therefore that remains of the Southern Wall of the Iron Age Temple Mount may also still exist.”

    where can we see them today?

    thank u so much for your updates!

  2. Eli,
    The photographs of the two sections can be seen in our latest Temple Mount guide book (http://www.ritmeyer.com/online-store/books/jerusalem-the-temple-mount/) on pages 81 and 85. They are also in The Quest, pages 174 and 175.

  3. Nachum says:

    Prof. Ritmeyer,

    Is it possible the southern wall was destroyed/removed at a much earlier time, say by Herod (as part of his expansion) or the Romans (as part of one destruction or another)? Of course, the western wall is still there (that lowest step), but maybe the southern wall was different- say, Herod needed the space for the entrance stairs or something.

  4. timo niska says:

    I appreciate all of your work very much. Recently, I noticed Norma Robertson´s studies about the location of Solomon´s temple. Have you seen these (book or films) and do you have any opinion of it?

    Thank you,

    Timo Niska

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