The mound on the mount: a possible solution to the “problem with Jerusalem”?

A downloadable pdf of an article by this name written by Israel Finkelstein, Ido Koch and Oded Lipschits is available at
Published in The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Volume 11, Article 12, it attempts to provide an answer to the problem that intensive archaeological research on the City of David ridge, conventionally regarded as the original mound of Jerusalem, has proven that:

“between the Middle Bronze Age and Roman times, this site was fully occupied only in two relatively short periods: in the Iron Age IIB-C (between ca. the mid-eighth century and 586 B.C.E.) and in the late Hellenistic period (starting in the second half of the second century B.C.E.). Occupation in other periods was partial and sparse—and concentrated mainly in the central sector of the ridge, near and above the Gihon spring. This presented scholars with a problem regarding periods for which there is either textual documentation or circumstantial evidence for significant occupation in Jerusalem; we refer mainly to the Late Bronze Age, the Iron IIA and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods.”

The solution they put forward is as follows:

“… we raise the possibility that similar to other hilly sites, the mound of Jerusalem was located on the summit of the ridge, in the center of the area that was boxed-in under the Herodian platform in the late first century B.C.E. Accordingly, in most periods until the second century B.C.E. the City of David ridge was outside the city. Remains representing the Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron IIA, and the Persian and early Hellenistic periods were found mainly in the central part of this ridge. They include scatters of sherds but seldom the remains of buildings, and hence seem to represent no more than (usually ephemeral) activity near the spring. In two periods—in the second half of the eighth century and in the second half of the second century B.C.E.—the settlement rapidly (and simultaneously) expanded from the mound on the Temple Mount to both the southeastern ridge (the City of David) and the southwestern hill (today’s Jewish and Armenian quarters).”

They acknowledge that their theory cannot be proven without archaeological excavations taking place on the mount, something we all know to be impossible and quote N. Naaman, who wrote that: “the area of Jerusalem’s public buildings is under the Temple Mount and cannot be examined, the most important area for investigation, and the one to which the biblical histories of David and Solomon mainly refer, remains terra incognita”, (1996. The Contribution of the Amarna Letters to the Debate on Jerusalem’s Political Position in the Tenth Century B.C.E. BASOR 304: 18-19).
Whilst we cannot deny this, I feel that it is overstates the case. I believe that there are enough clues on the surface and in the walls and underground structures of the Temple Mount to deduce much of the history of Jerusalem. And, with the publication of The Quest – Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the mount is certainly less “incognita”!
It is true that the area between the Square Temple Mount and the Herodian Southern Wall is quite large and it is possible that some houses were built there in the “missing” periods. The problem, however, is that in 186 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanus built the Akra in this location. Some 25 years later, in 141 B.C., this fortress was totally destroyed by Simon Maccabee and the mountain leveled. So, even if one could excavate this area, nothing much would be found.

These five drawings show the five stages in the development of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. From top to bottom: 1. The square Temple Mount built by King Hezekiah. 2. The Akra Fortress (red) was built by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 BC to control the local Jewish population. The fortress was destroyed by the Maccabees in 141 BC. 3. After the destruction of the Akra, the Hasmoneans extended the Temple Mount to the south (blue). 4. Herod the Great renewed the Temple Mount by enlarging the square Temple Mount to double its size and building a new Temple. 5. During the Umayyad period, the Dome of the Rock was built on the site of the Temple and the El Aqsa mosque on that of the Royal Stoa. Large public buildings were erected to the south and west of the Temple Mount

Additionally, as Todd Bolen also pointed out, the access from the proposed “mound” to the water supply would have been unprotected, which is both unsatisfactory and contradicts the Biblical account that the City of David was located near the Gihon Spring.

9 thoughts on “The mound on the mount: a possible solution to the “problem with Jerusalem”?”

  1. I appreciate your blog. I am always pleased to see a new post on your site and interested in your topics and research! Always, as in this post, I believe that your insight and writing is accurate and cuts straight to the issue while providing the details to support your thoughts. Thank you.

  2. While I agree that the proposal that ancient Jerusalem was centered on the Temple Mount is implausible, I believe that your placement of the Akra in the area between the Square Temple Mount and the Herodian Southern Wall should be reconsidered.
    The Jewish scribes, who were familiar with the area at that time, refered to the Akra in the Septuagint. II Samuel 5:9 – And David dwelt in the hold, and it was called the city of David, and he built the city itself round about from the citadel (Gk. akpau – Akra), and he built his own house. A multitude of coins and stamped Rhodian handles of the Hellenistic period found in Shilo’s Areas D – G, testify to the presence of the Seleucids in the City of David. Maccabees I:33 – Then builded they the city of David with a great and strong wall, and with mighty towers, and made it a stronghold (Gk. akpau – Akra) for them. Also note I Maccabees XIV. 36, 37 – For in his (Simon’s) time things prospered in his hands, so that the heathen were taken out of their country, and they also that were in the city of David in Jerusalem, who had made themselves a tower (Gk. akpau – Akra), out of which they issued and polluted all about the sanctuary, and did much hurt the holy place.
    If the Akra fortress was destroyed in 141 BC, that means that it was still standing when the Hasmoneans built the southern extension in 152 BC. The Akra had to have been located somewhere else.

  3. Isn’t Josephus the only evidence for Simon’s leveling of the mountain? Hardly a contemporary source, contradicts what 1 Maccabees says and the multitude of Iron Age finds in digs south of the Temple Mount would seem to suggest that no such leveling took place. Surely SOMETHING remains under the mount … Not that I’d suggest digging it up, we have enough trouble as it is, but for discussion’s sake …

  4. If you look at the bedrock levels in between the Double and Triple Gate tunnels, this area is almost unnaturally flat, indicating Simon’s leveling. Very few Iron Age finds were made close to the Southern Wall.

  5. The southern extension was built AFTER the destruction of the Akra in 141 B.C. (1 Maccabees 13.52; 14.37). As it was possible to go down from the Akra to the Temple Mount (Ant. 12.406), the Akra must have been located near the Southern Wall of the original Southern Wall of the square Temple Mount.

  6. i remember seeing pictures of an excavation inside the dome of the rock around “the rock”, where can i find those pictures?

  7. אלי
    Photographs showing bedrock in the Dome of the Rock were published by: Bagatti, B. (1979). Recherches sur le site du Temple de Jérusalem (Ier–VIIe siècle), Studium Biblicum Fransciscanum, Collectio Minor 22 (Jerusalem), Pl. XV.
    After Bagatti’s death the photographs were given to me.

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