The mysterious Akra in Jerusalem

I have been asked by a few readers  to clarify my position on the location of the Akra, that hated symbol of alien Hellenistic rule whose occupiers became in the words of the writer of the First Book of Maccabees: “a great trouble … an ambush for the sanctuary, an evil adversary for Israel at all times” (1. 35 – 38). This was because they attacked the Jewish worshippers that went up from the city to the Temple.

Let me say, first of all, that the finds in the Givati Parking Lot (announced on November 3rd) and identified as part of the Akra, are very significant.  According to the excavators, a  4m wide and 20m long defensive wall dating to the Hellenistic period was found with a glacis, made up of soft layers of rubble, descending to the bottom of the Tyropoeon Valley. This therefore indicates that this wall was part of the western fortifications of Hellenistic Jerusalem. The difficulty is to establish what part of the Hellenistic city this wall belongs to. Now that the media pundits have regurgitated the news announcement, it is time to reflect on this latest identification of the Seleucid Akra.

The most important information about the Akra comes from two historical sources, namely the works of Josephus and the above mentioned First Book of Maccabees. The problem with these sources is that they are not easy to harmonise. However, we must not shy away from them, but try to interpret them in the light of these and other archaeological findings. First to quote from the previous verse from the Book of Maccabees to the one above.

“And they built the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with strong towers, and made it a fortress [Greek: Acra] for them: And they placed there a sinful nation, wicked men, and they fortified themselves therein.” 

This quote shows us that the City of David, which is the southern part of what Josephus calls the Lower City (see map), was fortified all around to turn it into a fortress.

Map of Hasmonean Jerusalem. © Leen Ritmeyer

This does not mean that the City of David was the Akra Fortress, but that it was as strongly fortified as a stronghold. The wall in the Givati Parking Lot belongs to the western fortifications. Interestingly, it is in direct line with the Valley Gate that was excavated a little further south by J.W. Crowfoot in 1927. This excavator was of the opinion that this wall section with its gate belonged to an early period and was restored probably during the time of Nehemiah and certainly in the Maccabean period*.

The Valley Gate that was excavated in 1927 by Crowfoot.

On the eastern side, a similarly strong wall with a glacis was excavated by Yigal Shiloh in the excavations he carried out in the City of David from 1978 – 82.

Area G, general view with glacis indicated. From:Yigal Shiloh, Excavations at the City of David, Qedem 19, Plate 36.

Close-up view of the glacis in Area G.

These excavated wall sections, both in the west and in the east, were all part of the fortifications of the City of David in the Hellenistic period (c. 300 B.C. – 141 B.C.). These walls would have continued further north and were connected with the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount at that time still had the 500 cubit square shape that was given it in the First Temple period, probably by King Hezekiah. The square mount was rebuilt by Nehemiah and continued to exist in this form until the Hasmonean period (141 B.C. – 37 B.C.).

After the Babylonian Exile, many Jews returned to Jerusalem. They came in relatively small numbers, not sufficient to occupy both the Eastern and Western Hills.
In this annotated drawing we see the rebuilt city of Jerusalem on the Eastern Hill with a smaller Temple on Mount Moriah. The reconstructed Temple Mount had gates and towers and chambers along the inside of its boundaries. The Ophel was to the south of the Temple. The city walls have been reconstructed following archaeological remains that have been found, complemented by the description of the walls in Nehemiah Chapter 3.

The other main source on the Akra, Josephus, tells us that, apart from fortifying the City of David, a separate fortress or citadel was also built by the Seleucids next to the Temple Mount:

“…and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel [Greek: Acra] in the lower part of the city, for the place was high, and overlooked the temple; on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians”, Antiquities of the Jews 12:252–253

This quote from Josephus speaks of a citadel that was built in the highest place of the Lower City. What did the term “Lower City” mean in the time of Josephus? In describing the City of Jerusalem, Josephus (War 5.136-141) describes two hills, the upper city which had a straight ridge and was higher than the Lower City. The Upper City was located on the Western Hill of Jerusalem (where the Jewish and Armenian Quarters are today).  The Lower City, which bore the name of Akra and was shaped like a hog’s back, was located on the Eastern Hill south of the Temple Mount. The valley in between the Western and Eastern Hills is called the Central or Tyropoeon Valley.

It is important to make a distinction between the Lower City that was built like a fortress (akra) and the separate citadel or fortress itself  that was called the Akra. The two, the city and the citadel, are not the same in the historical sources. This is made abundantly clear in the Book of Maccabees, where it is recorded that Jonathan “decided … to erect a high  barrier (wall) between the Akra and the city, to separate it from the city and isolate it” (1 Macc 12:36). The Akra citadel therefore clearly stood in between the city and the Temple.

Let us now concentrate on the citadel named the Akra. What do we know about it?

Antiochus IV Epiphanes built the Akra in 168 B.C., a fortress for his Macedonian garrison from which the Jewish population could be controlled. Josephus records that it “commanded or overlooked the Temple”. Josephus writes in Antiquities 12.252 that Antiochus:

“… built the Akra in the Lower City; for it was high enough to overlook the Temple, and it was for this reason that he fortified it with high walls and towers, and stationed a Macedonian garrison therein. Nonetheless there re­mained in the Akra those of the (Jewish) people who were impious and of bad character, and at their hands the citizens were destined to suffer many terrible things.”

This is later confirmed by Josephus (Ant.12.362):

At this time the garrison in the Akra of Jerusalem and the Jewish renegades did much harm to the Jews; for when they went up to the Temple with the intention of sacrific­ing, the garrison would sally out and kill them—for the Akra commanded the Temple.

The Akra fortress therefore must have stood close to the Temple and overlooked it. The Temple Mount of that time was smaller than the present-day Temple Mount. In the Hellenistic period the Temple Mount still had a square shape, as it had in the time of Nehemiah. The distance between the Givati excavations and the southern wall of the square Temple Mount is 720 feet (220m) and the excavations are lower by some 150 feet (50m). It is impossible for the Akra fortress to have been situated in that location as it is too far from the Temple Mount and too low. The Seleucids would have had to construct a skyscraper of more than 150 feet (50m) in height, the approximate height of an 18 storey high modern building or the Temple in the time of Herod the Great. In the quote above of War 5, Josephus continues to inform us that the Hasmoneans:

“filled up the valley, with the object of uniting the city to the Temple, and also reduced the elevation of Acra by leveling its summit, in order that it might not block the view of the temple.”

In our previous quote we mentioned that Josephus also wrote that after Simon the Maccabee had razed the Akra, he “thought it would be an excellent thing and to his advantage to level also the hill on which the Akra stood, in order that the Temple might be higher than this” (Ant. 13.215).

It reasons therefore that the Akra was totally destroyed and dismantled and the ground on which it stood was leveled.  As Josephus records that it took three years to raze the Akra and the promontory of the Lower City on which it stood, I believe therefore that it would be impossible to ever find any remains of this fortress.

Josephus further confirms (Ant. 12.406) that the Akra was built adjacent to the Temple Mount as he states that “Nicanor was coming down from the Akra to the Temple.”This clearly shows that the Akra must have been built very close to the Temple Mount, if not right up against it, see drawing below reproduced from my previous post.

Schematic drawing of the square Temple Mount, which dates to the First Temple period, and the location of the Seleucid Akra. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

The Akra was a formidable fortress with a garrison permanently stationed in it. It was therefore necessary to have a good water supply. Adjacent to the projected southern wall of the square Temple Mount is a curiously shaped cistern. Its plan is in the form of the letter E, which is unlike all the other, mainly irregularly shaped, cisterns of the Temple Mount. This Cistern 11 was explored by Warren and described by Conder as follows,

 It is 61 feet 6 inches (18.75 m) deep and consists of three tanks, each about 26 feet (7.9 m) by 40 feet (12.2 m) connected by a passage running north and south and 14 feet (4.30 m) wide. The total contents are about 700,000 gallons (3,200 m3). The roof is of rock cut out into arches. Steps on the west ascend to the mouth of the tank and west of these are foundations of a massive wall on the rock. The passage from the Triple Gate is continued, so as to run over this tank.

A cutaway view of Cistern 11 that is located beneath the Triple Gate passageway. Drawing: © Leen Ritmeyer

This tank is located just south of the square Temple Mount, in an area that is totally flat and its position suggests that it was specially cut to provide the Macedonian garrison stationed in the Akra with a water supply ample enough to withstand a long siege. Stones quarried from this cistern may initially have provided building material for the Akra.

Interestingly, the tractate Erubin of the Mishnah calls one of the cisterns of the Temple Mount be’er haqqer. This name, which means “The Cistern of the Akra,” suggests that one of the cisterns of the Temple Mount was named after the fortress that lay on top of it. In addition, the presence of the foundations of a massive wall in this cistern, described by Warren, together with the cistern’s peculiar E-shape, suggest a design that would support a large building.

The literary evidence, combined with the unusually shaped Cistern 11, provides the first tangible evidence for the location of the Akra in the northern part of the area between the Double and Triple Gate passageways.

The finding of the Hellenistic city wall with its glacis in the Givati Parking lot has contributed much to our understanding of Jerusalem in the pre-Hasmonean period. This wall, however, belongs to the city walls of that time and has nothing to do with the infamous citadel of the Akra.

* J. Simons, Jerusalem in the Old Testament (Brill, 1952), 90.

Posted in Excavations, History, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 13 Comments

Was One of Jerusalem’s Greatest Archaeological Mysteries solved?

Today the Israel Antiquities Authority announced:

A fascinating discovery recently uncovered in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Givati parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, has apparently led to solving one of Jerusalem’s greatest archaeological mysteries: the question of the location of the Greek (Seleucid) Acra–the famous stronghold built by Antiochus IV in order to control Jerusalem and monitor activity in the Temple which was eventually liberated by the Hasmoneans from Greek rule.

Hellenistic walls found in the Givati excavations. Photo: Assaf Peretz, courtesy IAA

It is true that the location of the Seleucid Akra has baffled archaeologists for a long time. In 2006 I wrote:

Among scholars, there is less disagreement about the historical interpretation of the Books of Maccabees and Josephus than about the topographical problems connected with the location of the Seleucid Akra, which are styled the “most debated,” “most enigmatic and “thorniest” by Simons, Avigad and Wightman, respectively.

But could the Akra have been located so far away from the Temple Mount? Both the Book of Maccabees, as well as the historian Josephus Flavius, locate the Acra in the lower city of Jerusalem:

“And they built the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with strong towers, and made it a fortress [Greek: Acra] for them: And they placed there a sinful nation, wicked men, and they fortified themselves therein” — 1 Maccabees 1:35–38

“…and when he had overthrown the city walls, he built a citadel [Greek: Acra] in the lower part of the city, for the place was high, and overlooked the temple; on which account he fortified it with high walls and towers, and put into it a garrison of Macedonians.” — Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12:252–253

The  quote from 1 Maccabees tells us that the whole of the City of David was fortified with a wall. The Hellenistic walls found here may indeed be part of these fortifications. Josephus, however, is speaking of a separate citadel – the Seleucid Akra. This fortress we are told “overlooked the temple”. In order for the Givati remains to belong to this citadel and also overlook the Temple, it must have been over 400 feet high at least.

Once the Akra was destroyed by the Maccabees, the whole area was leveled and added to the Temple Mount. Following that, 1 Maccabees 13.52 and 14.37 tell us that,

“He strengthened the fortifications of the Temple Mount by the side of the Akra, and took up residence there with his men.… He settled Jewish soldiers in it and fortified it as a protection for the country and city, and heightened the walls of Jerusalem.”

This appears to indicate that a large area, previously occupied by the Akra, was built adjacent to  the Temple Mount. This extension can still be seen at the “seam” in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount.

The seam in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount is located 106 feet orn 32 m north of the southeast corner. It shows Herodian masonry to its left (south) and Hasmonean to its right (north). Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The fact that the Akra previously overlooked the Temple Mount means that the Temple Mount could be overlooked by someone standing on the highest parts of this fortress. The fact that the southeast hill slopes away rapidly in all directions to the south of the square Temple Mount excludes all but the highest rock levels near the southern wall of the square Temple Mount as the only possible location for the Akra.

Schematic drawing of the square Temple Mount, which dates to the First Temple period, and the location of the Seleucid Akra. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

One of the cisterns in the southern part of the Temple Mount – Cistern 11 – was known as the Cistern of the Akra (Mishnah Erubin 10.14). Josephus also writes that after Simon the Maccabee had razed the Akra, “thought it would be an excellent thing and to his advantage to level also the hill on which the Akra stood, in order that the Temple might be higher than this” (Ant. 13.215).

Plan of the Cisterns of the temple Mount, indicating the location of the Cistern of the Akra. Plan: Leen Ritmeyer

The Seleucid Akra therefore stood on a hill very close to the Temple Mount. What hill is there to be seen in the Givati parking lot? It appears therefore that the Israel Antiquities Authority once again tries to make sensational headlines with an unworkable theory in order to get some publicity.

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, News | 14 Comments

A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem

Joe Lauer sent me this infomation:

‪Today, Monday, November 2, 2015, the IAA circulated English and Hebrew invitations to the media to attend a press conference tomorrow (Tuesday, November 3, 2015), in the Givati parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, where “A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem” will be presented.

The Hebrew invitation states that the presentation will be made at 10:00 AM.

The English invitation states that the conference will be held at 11:30 AM, and “Archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority will present the finds (in English and Russian).”

‪The invitation was first issued on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, and withdrawn the same day with the note that “In light of the current security situation, it was decided to postpone the event….” It can only be hoped that the decision to hold the event tomorrow is a good sign.

Now we will just have to wait for “A Solution to One of the Greatest Questions in the History of Jerusalem”.

 So, stay tuned!!

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, News | 1 Comment

Tischendorf – Genius or Thief?

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Constantine Tischendorf, the German scholar who discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest (4th century AD) copy of the New Testament text of the Bible, at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. He not only discovered the manuscript, but also managed to have it removed to Russia, promising to return it to the monastery. This, however, never happened and therefore Tischendorf has been not only lauded for having discovered it, but also labeled a thief for not having returned it. Because of economic hardship, the Codex was eventually sold by the Russian National Library to the British Library, where it remains until now.

Our friend Alexander Schick has researched the work of this German scholar and published a book, called Tischendorf and the oldest Bible of the World (German).

This Wednesday, at Room 211 of the Rothberg Institute, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, he will give a lecture from 6.30-8.00pm, entitled:

“Genius or Thief? Constantine Tischendorf Turns Two Hundred – the life of the famous biblehunter and the case of the Codex Sinaiticus in the light of newly discovered documents from his personal archives”

If you happen to be in Jerusalem this week, we warmly recommend attending Schick’s lecture.

In the Sep/Oct. 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Stanley Porter, in an article called “Tischendorf on Trial for Removing Codex Sinaiticus, the Oldest New Testament”, investigates the allegations against Tischendorf in light of new evidence from the Russian archives.

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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).

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 4 Comments

Letter to the Editor of The New York Times from Dr. Jodi Magness

The many protests against the anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian article about the Temple Mount by the New York Times’ reporter Rick Gladstone, which we wrote about in a previous post, has had an effect. First of all, they published a correction and now The New York Times has published Jodi Magness’s letter in The Opinion Pages. You can read it here:

The Opinion Pages 


 The Temple Mount in Jerusalem 

To the Editor:

I am one of the specialists interviewed for “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place” (news article, Oct. 9).

The question of the existence and location of two successive temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is not nearly as contested as the article suggests.

Literary sources leave little doubt that there were two successive ancient temples in Jerusalem dedicated to the God of Israel (the first destroyed in 586 B.C., and the second in 70 A.D.) These sources and archaeological remains indicate that both temples stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.

The only real question is the precise location of the temple(s) on the Temple Mount. The site of the Dome of the Rock is the most likely spot for various reasons, despite the lack of archaeological evidence or excavations. I know of no credible scholars who question the existence of the two temples or who deny that they stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.


Chapel Hill, N.C.

The writer is a professor specializing in early Judaism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Hopefully they have learnt to get the facts right and be more careful in the future so that they won’t publish another ill-informed article about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or any other archaeological site in Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer


Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 2 Comments

Where on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount were the Jewish Temples located?

The article in the New York Times by Rick Gladstone to which we referred to in yesterday’s post received so much criticism that the newspaper had to issue a public correction:

Correction: October 9, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.

An overall view of the Temple Mount from the southeast. In the foreground is the Royal Stoa above the Southern Wall, while the Temple with its surrounding buildings stood close to the centre of the Temple Mount.

Several bloggers have written about this, see this one:

It is simply insane to deny that the second temple was located at Temple Mount. For one thing, the Western Wall survives, as do the southern steps and other remnants of the temple:

Ample archaeological evidence confirms Temple Mount as the site of the second temple, and the contours of the temple on the mount are generally known. Less is known about the first temple, for which our sources are, I believe, entirely Biblical. But it is written that the second temple was built on the site of the first, and there is no reason to doubt this. Excavation under Temple Mount likely would produce remnants of the first temple and would, in any event, almost certainly produce some of the most sensational archaeological finds in history, but such exploration is prohibited by the government of Israel so as not to upset the Arabs.

and this one:

(“Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place”), reporter Rick Gladstone pretended that it’s an open question as to “whether” the two Jewish temples — one destroyed over 2,500 years ago and the second razed in roughly 60 A.D., ever existed on the 37-acre site known as the Temple Mount. In doing so, Gladstone gave credibility to Palestinians baselessly promoting “doubt that the temples ever existed — at least in that location.”

There is no meaningful “doubt” on the subject at all. After what must have been a furious and completely justified backlash, the Times issued a correction on Friday (bold is mine):

Correction: October 9, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.

To truly unpack the significance of this correction, we need to see the specifics of everything the Times did to fully modify Gladstone’s original writeup.

This last blog shows exactly how the text was changed.

A disgrace for the New York Times indeed! One of our readers wrote about our post:

I think that by focusing on your (incredibly significant and, to my mind, dispositive) research, you are being too generous to the Times. They are cleverly trying to exploit actual differences of opinion among some serious archaeologists about the precise location of the Temples in order to bolster the completely unrelated lie that the Temples never stood at all, or at least were nowhere on the Temple Mount.

I don’t usually deal with political issues, but this went a bit too far!

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 7 Comments

The so-called “elusive” location of the Temple in Jerusalem

Rick Gladstone wrote an article in yesterday’s New York Times, called “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place”, in which he asserts that neither the location of  the First and Second Temples can be determined:

The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.

He apparently hasn’t contacted the right people and/or read the right books. He quotes Matthew J. Adams, Dorot director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, as saying “This is a very politically loaded subject” and “It’s also an academically complex question.”

Gladstone had to admit that Rivka Gonen, in her book “Contested Holiness: Jewish, Muslim and Christian Perspectives on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” wrote that the reference in the Biblical text [to Mount Moriah, the location of Solomon's Temple] “has been widely interpreted to mean the high point on the hill above the City of David — the rock now under the Dome of the Rock.”

Some historians have said that independent scientific verification of such a reference is problematic. But then, it depends on who you go to for clarification.

Many archaeologists agree that the religious body of evidence, corroborated by other historical accounts and artifacts that have been recovered from the site or nearby, supports the narrative that the Dome of the Rock was built on or close to the place where the Jewish temples once stood.

As Yisrael Medad pointed out in his blog,  ”Gaby Barkay and Tzachi Dvira are missing.  Eilat Mazar is missing.  Dan Bahat, too.” These are archaeologists that are actively working in Jerusalem and familiar with the archaeological evidence. My own work on the Temple Mount is also ignored because my conclusions about the location of Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples are based on observation only and not on archaeological evidence, although it is directly derived from it.

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.

So, ignorance is bliss, as it allows one to play a safe political card, with academics such as Kent Bramlett, concluding: “I think one has to be careful about saying it stood where the Dome of the Rock stood.”

 It is sad indeed when biblical scholars and even archaeologists are afraid to speak out on important issues such as the location of the Temple in Jerusalem because of the political tensions in Jerusalem concerning the Temple Mount.

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 12 Comments

Stepped podium found in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today that a stepped podium/auction block has been found in the City of David.

An intriguing find consisting of an impressive pyramid-shaped staircase constructed of large ashlar stones was uncovered in an archaeological excavation currently conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavators Szanton and Uziel siting on the recently uncovered podium, looking north. Photo: IAA

This stepped podium was situated on the east side of the Tyropoeon Valley Street in between the Siloam Pool and the Temple Mount:

The arrow indicates the location of the stepped podium in 1st century Jerusalem. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

This structure is situated alongside the 2,000 year old Second Temple stepped street, which carried pilgrims on their way from the Shiloah (Siloam) Pool to the Temple, which stood atop the Temple Mount.

Joe Uziel sitting on the podium, looking south. Photo: Shai Halevy

According to archaeologists Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel, who direct of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, ”The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it. For this reason, its exact use remains enigmatic. The structure is built along the street in a place that is clearly visible from afar by passers-by making their way to the Temple. We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know. Bliss and Dickie, two British archaeologists who discovered a small portion of this structure about 100 years ago, mistakenly thought these were steps that led into a house that was destroyed. They would certainly be excited if they could come back today and see it completely revealed”.

Bliss and Dickie were indeed the first archaeologists to find this structure while excavating the Tyropoeon Valley Street. They called this particular site M3:

“At M3 a fine flight of steps projects some 5 feet beyond the kern=b line. The steps are five in number and return around both angles. Hoping that it might lead to an interesting building, we pushed back, but only to find that the house to which it belonged was quite ruined, only a sort of cellar remaining.”(Bliss, F.J. and Dickie, A.C., Excavations at Jerusalem 1894-1897, pp. 141-2).

They published a plan and section of this area:

Map of the City of David area with an arrow pointing at M3

A section through the Tyropoeon Street with the arrow pointing at the stepped podium.

Lacking any parallels to such a structure, the modern excavators don’t know what this structure was used for. They suggested an auction block for slaves or a “Stone of Claims” where lost property was announced. On Thursday, the 3rd of September, the 16th Jerusalem Annual Conference will be held at the City of David Studies. It will be interesting to hear if any plausible explanation may be forthcoming.


Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 5 Comments

Crowdfunding campaign to publish new Jewish guide book to the Temple Mount

We have just been informed of an online campaign to publish a new Jewish guidebook to the Temple Mount in Hebrew and English. The book, called: “Arise and Ascend: A guide to the Temple Mount”, has already been published in Russian. Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick, is leading the campaign. Yehudah’s promotional video can be seen here:

The guide was written by Dr. Meir Antopolsky, whose day job is Attending Physician in the Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Hadassah Medical Center on Mt. Scopus. He contacted me a while ago regarding illustrations for the original Russian publication by The Temple Mount Heritage Foundation.

This foundation seeks:

“to strengthen the connection between the people of Israel and the Temple Mount; increase awareness about the importance and centrality of the Temple Mount; encourage visits to the Temple Mount in a manner appropriate to Halacha (Jewish Law); and offer educational activities relating to the Temple Mount, including lectures, workshops, classes, and tours. Our overall goal is to increase recognition of the importance of the Temple Mount to Jews, to Israel, and to the world at large.”

Another website states:

“Sadly, visiting the Temple Mount today can be very frustrating. People arrive with great anticipation and excitement for a meaningful and spiritually-uplifting experience. But they are met with hostility and a total lack of information to help them understand the many facets of this holy site.”

How true that is, but then the site continues to claim that “there are no signs, no explanations, and no brochures to explain its significance and historical background.”

This, of course, is not true. Many books and articles have been written on the Temple Mount and Wikipedia has an extensive article on the subject. One does well to be informed about the Temple Mount before visiting it, as the Islamic Waqf who have custody of the site does not allow any books or other information to be consulted while on the platform.

Our own guide book is based on archaeological, historical and biblical information and is addressed to the interested visitor of all religions:

The proposed new guide book “Arise and Ascend” is based on Jewish Law (Halacha). After having read our guide book, Meir Antopolsky wrote to us: “your book is better from almost every point of view. But it doesn’t include information on Jewish law – where to go and where not, how to prepare etc, nor on the current political situation about the mountain. So there is still a reason for our short book to be translated into English as well.” We wrote back to him: “Good to hear that your Russian guide book is being published. I understand that your emphasis is on Jewish Law, while our focus is on history and archaeology and caters for people of different faiths. As no guide book to the Temple Mount has been available for a long time, it is good to have a choice.”

We are therefore glad to see that another guide book is being prepared that is addressed to the Jewish people in particular. As our own library shows, one can never have enough books on the Temple Mount.

HT: Joe Lauer

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