“Here, in this carved-out place, stood the Ark of the Covenant”

So reads the headline in an Israeli newspaper reporting on an interview about the Temple Mount.

On the 11th of this month, I guided a group of Israeli visitors around the Temple Mount. All of them were highly interested in the Temple Mount for various reasons, some nationalistic and others religious. At the end of the tour, we had lunch together and a journalist interviewed me. His full-page report, with the above title, was published in the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper.

You can download the translation of this article with this link:

Their main interest was the location of the Temple and the Ark of the Covenant. And as we couldn’t enter the Dome of the Rock, I showed them an old photograph showing the indentation that King Solomon made for the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 8.21)

The location where the Ark of the Covenant stood.

They were also very interested in the underground spaces beneath the mount and published in the newspaper a photograph of a tunnel that was found below the Triple Gate passageway. It was such a peaceful time in the 1970’s, that we had free access to these mysterious places. It was a real privilege to have seen, measured and photographed these spaces, something that would not be possible at present.

In the tunnel below the Triple Gate undeground passageway in 1974. The water that overflowed from an underground cistern was channelled out through this tunnel.

During that time, other tunnels were found running deep below the Double Gate. All these tunnels were closed off after thorough investigation.

This tunnel led from in front of the monumental stairway to the Double Gate to deep below the underground passageway of this gate.

In between the Triple Gate and the southeast corner of the Temple Mount, below the Single Gate that dates from the Crusader period, is another secret tunnel that runs below Solomon’s Stables, that has been converted to a mosque, the El-Marwani Mosque. This tunnel reached to the centre of the Royal Stoa above and may have been used by the workmen who built this edifice.

The entrance to another secret tunnel that ran below Solomon’s Stables. This opening is now blocked up.
Inside the tunnel below Solomon’s Stables

Afterwards we talked about the significance of the Temple Mount for Israeli and non-Jewish people alike. For one of the group, the Temple Mount was of nationalistic importance. He had come from Persia, but the reason was to get to know Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, without which, according to him, Israel had no significance.

Another religious Jew said that he couldn’t keep the Mosaic Law without the Temple Mount. I had to agree and said:


“If I were a Jew, I would like to sacrifice the Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount. Jerusalem has no meaning without the Temple Mount.
When I arrived in Israel in 1969, we lived in Gat Rimmon and rented a house from Russian immigrants who had lived in Israel for decades but never visited Jerusalem. I found that hard to understand. Why did you return here if not for Jerusalem and the Temple Mount?”

They wanted to know what, apart from its archaeological importance, the Temple Mount meant for me as a Christian. I answered that Mount Moriah was the place where Abraham was called to sacrifice his only-begotten son Isaac, which, as explained in the Letter to the Hebrews 11:19, was an example of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Reading Between the Walls

Interview with Eve Harow on her Rejuvenation program

Last week, Kathleen and I were in Jerusalem for the Shiloh Excavations which are directed by Dr. Scott Stripling. On one of the afternoons, Eve Harow of the Rejuvenation programme for The Land of Israel Network interviewed me.

She wrote:

Leen Ritmeyer’s extraordinary journey from Holland to the Temple Mount- and beyond -has defined his life and contributed immensely to ours. He speaks with Eve about the field of Biblical Architecture; how the study of ancient structures in the Land of Israel and Near East enhances our comprehension of history, archeology, the Bible and mankind’s connection to God. He has made an indelible mark in particular on our understanding of Temple Mount transformations thru the millennia and continues to interpret and redefine discoveries both recent and past. This Dutchman is still flying. Listen and learn.

If you have the patience, you can listen to this hour-long interview here:

The Land of Israel Network: http://thelandofisrael.com/reading-between-the-walls/

SoundCloud:https://soundcloud.com/thelandofisrael/rejuvenation-june-16-2019

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZ15M_SvI74&feature=youtu.be

As of today, the 16th of June, you can also follow the interview in the Israeli newspaper: Arutz Sheva, or Israel National News.

The Golden Gate of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

The interior of the Golden Gate in the 1970’s

The Golden Gate is very much in the news today, as it has become a point of conflict between Jews and Muslims, or Palestinians and Israelis.

But what do we know about this gate?

The Golden Gate, around which swirl various traditions, is the most intriguing of all the gates of the Temple Mount. In Jewish tradition, it is through this gate (Sha’ar haRachamim—Gate of Mercy), blocked since the ninth century, that Messiah will enter at the end of days, led in by the prophet Elijah. This is based on the prophecy of Ezekiel 44.1–3. Christians believe that Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (recorded in all four of the gospels) through this gate on the Sunday before his crucifixion (Palm Sunday). By riding on a donkey, he fulfilled the messianic prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9.9. Muslims refer to it as the Gate of Eternity (Bab-al-Dahariyeh) and believe it will be an important part of the last judgment of mankind. The Muslim cemetery along the Eastern Wall is thought to have been placed there in the belief that the forerunner of Messiah, Elijah, being of a priestly family, could not pass through the Golden Gate, thus preventing the coming of the Messiah.  

Some claim that the Golden Gate was built by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius after the expulsion of the Sassanians from Jerusalem. However, the absence in the architectural decorations of any Christian symbols, such as a cross makes that difficult to believe. There are actually four distinct historical phases represented in the architecture of this gate: Turkish, Umayyad, Herodian and First Temple period. In the 1970’s I was privileged to spend one week inside this gate, measuring and recording its plan and drawing accurate elevations of all the interior surfaces.

Standing in the middle of the Golden Gate interior. Two monolithic massive gateposts are visible in the far corners.

The Golden Gate’s outer façade is composed of two blocked-up gateways adorned with intricately carved relief arches. The decoration of the arches to the front and back of the gate are identical to the applied arches of the Double Gate which date from the Early Islamic period. The gate appears therefore to have been rebuilt in the Umayyad period, on the foundations of an earlier gate.

The exterior of the Golden Gate in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

View of the Golden Gate from inside the Temple Mount. Photo: Nathaniel Ritmeyer

The remains of two massive monolithic gateposts are preserved inside this gate.

Section through the Golden Gate looking north, showing the massive monolithic gatepost. © Leen Ritmeyer

The gateposts are set in the same line as the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount and line up with the massive masonry that can be seen on either side of the Golden Gate.

Elevation of the Golden Gate showing the location of the two monolithic gateposts in relation to the masonry of the First Temple period (Iron Age) in the Eastern Wall of the Temple `Mount. © Leen Ritmeyer

The gateposts and the two masonry sections appear therefore to be part of the same construction. The top of the southern gatepost is level with the top of the ancient masonry that can be seen south of the Golden Gate. The northern gatepost is one stone course higher and is located only one stone course below the surface of the Temple Mount. This means that the top of the original lintel would have been identical with the present-day level of the Temple Mount. The two gateposts belong to a gate that dates from the First Temple period and is most likely the Shushan Gate, mentioned in Mishnah Middot 1.3 as the only gate in the Eastern Wall.

This composite drawing shows the four historical phases of the Golden Gate. © Leen Ritmeyer

The gate most probably was given this name by builders who had returned from exile in Babylon and for whom the Palace of Shushan lived on in their memories. However, if so there would have been a tradition of an eastern gate in this location from the time of the construction of the original Eastern Wall. It seems reasonable to suggest that the central section of the Eastern Wall dates from the First Temple period, in particular to the time of King Hezekiah. This square mount was extended south in the Hasmonean period, while both the southern and northern additions were made by King Herod the Great.

In 1969, the remains of an underground arch were discovered inside a grave in front of the Golden Gate. It was suggested that this may have been a pre-Herodian gateway. However, as the arch stones appear to be Herodian, it is more reasonable to suggest that this arch was part of a Herodian staircase leading up to the original gate. It is fascinating to contemplate that the stairway may still be intact under this gate, although hidden from sight by the Muslim Cemetery. 

This model shows the Shushan Gate in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount and the stairway leading down to the Miphkad Gate. © Leen Ritmeyer

We do know that the remains of an ancient city wall lie under the present-day path that runs through the Muslim cemetery, which was discovered by Warren in the 1860s. The above-mentioned arched stairway led down through a gate in this city wall, the so-called Miphkad (Muster, or Inspection) Gate mentioned in Nehemiah 3.31, apparently still in use in the Second Temple period. During the latter period, it was through these gates that the Red Heifer was led out from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives (Mishnah, Parah). On the Day of Atonement, the scapegoat was led by the same route into the wilderness (Mishnah, Yoma).

It is therefore obvious that the Golden Gate is a very important historical building for the Jewish people, as reported by Arnon Segal of the Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon Here is a translation of the article that refers to my research:

HT: Dr. Eli David


3D model: Solomon’s Temple Explained

Just over two years ago, I wrote a post, reporting on a 3D model of Solomon’s Temple, created by Daniel Smith. Last week he told me that he had just released a new video, which is called “Solomon’s Temple Explained”. He is happy for me to share it with you.

Solomon’s Temple stood in Jerusalem for almost 400 years. It was the crown jewel of Jerusalem, and the center of worship to the Lord. Understanding the significance of its location, history, and design can greatly add to one’s reverence for one of the most holy places in the world,

Special thanks to: Brian Olson for the beautiful 3D Solomon Temple renders. Michael Lyon for his design elements and feedback of the Temple model. Leen Ritmeyer for his excellent books and personal help. Cantorum Chamber Choir for allowing me to use their music.

This excellent new video begins by explaining the topography of Jerusalem and how the City of Solomon’s location was determined by the surrounding mountains and valleys. The topographical and biblical importance of Mount Moriah is explained.

The expansion of the City of Jerusalem in the time Solomon.

The video includes a section on the Tabernacle which served as a blueprint for Solomon’s Temple. After showing that Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah where David previously had purchased the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite, he goes back to the Book of Genesis and explains the symbology of the events that took place in the Garden of Eden.

The design of Solomon’s Temple was based on the Tabernacle, shown here in the foreground.

The video then shows that Solomon’s Temple replicated the same three-level progression as found in the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle. The ultimate aim of its design was to show how people could return to God. The video ends with the Sacrifice of Christ.

3D model of Solomon's Temple.
3D model of Solomon’s Temple.

Is the Ark of the Covenant depicted on a carved stone at Capernaum?

The reconstruction drawing that illustrated our previous post, which described the 1st century synagogue of Capernaum, includes a figure pulling a small ornate carriage towards the entrance of the building.

The 1st century Synagogue of Capernaum where Jesus preached. In the foreground we see the ruler of the synagogue bringing the Torah Scrolls in a chest on wheels, called the Holy Ark. © Leen Ritmeyer

Is this vignette just an artistic flourish or does it have a historic basis? In this post, we hope to show that ancient sources and evidence from one of the architectural fragments found scattered on the site of Christ’s “own city” (Matthew 9.1), make it reasonable to assume that such a device was once used to transport the precious scrolls of the Law to the synagogue from a place where they were stored safely.

But firstly we must release the element (pictured below) from the layers of misidentification it has accrued since it was first displayed on a wall by the Franciscan custodians of the site, together with other elements of a frieze that originally adorned one of the walls of the later (Byzantine) synagogue.

A carved stone on a frieze that came from the Byzantine Synogogue in Capernaum shows a wheeled shrine, decorated with a double winged panelled door, topped by a scallop. The side has five pillars as in an Ionic temple, while the roof is convex. 

I have lost track of the number of times, on visits to the site, that I have heard tour guides explain to their group: “this is a model of the Ark of the Covenant made by Moses and carried for 40 years in the wilderness.” A well-known tour company has a photo of this stone on their website with the caption “Stone carving of Ark of the Covenant at Capernaum” (now amended since this post) and this is repeated many times, for example by Tripadvisor.

An easy explanation – but could it be true? Opinions vary greatly, even among scholars. This is partly due to the lack of comparative material. There is one illustration from the Dura Europos Synagogue that shows the Ark on a wheeled cart, but that was the Ark of the Covenant as it was sent back on a cart by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:7) and therefore cannot be used as a parallel:

This fresco from Dura Europos shows the Ark of the Covenant placed on a cart by the Philistines.

There is an insight in the book “Capernaum” 1  by Sapir and Ne’eman (pp 63, 64) into the dichotomy between two religious requirements of the synagogue: “the first religious demand was – and still is – to focus the attention of the whole praying congregation on the Ark of the Law – (aron hakodesh) containing the scrolls of Torah. Another independent demand, no less imperative – was to orientate the synagogue toward Jerusalem” … “If the Ark were permanently built in the south wall or a little before it, the view towards Jerusalem would be blocked for ever. If, on the contrary, the Ark of the Law were arranged on the blind doorless north wall,the worshippers would have to turn their backs on Jerusalem -which was considered a blasphemy.”

 A passage in Mishnah Taanit 2:1 may explain how a solution to this problem was found: “They used to bring out the Ark [containing the Scrolls] into the open space in the town”. Although this was done during times of fasting, it nevertheless shows that the Torah scrolls were sometimes transported from a place, such as the home of the archisunagogos, as the ruler of the synagogue is called in the New Testament, to the synagogue and back again. Continue reading “Is the Ark of the Covenant depicted on a carved stone at Capernaum?”

The Synagogue of Capernaum in which Jesus taught

Was it white or black?

The best compliment I can receive about any of my reconstruction drawings is for the viewer to say: “It really makes the site come to life!” Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about photographs, however professionally taken. Take the site of Capernaum, perhaps the most visited site in the Galilee in any tour of the Land. Here, the place in which Jesus taught and in which he cast out an unclean spirit (Mark 1.21-28, Luke 4.31,32) is shown. It is all too easy to shoot photos of your group with the impressive synagogue structure emphasizing the magnificence of its architectural decoration and the dazzling white limestone from which it is built.

A cutaway reconstruction drawing of the 4th century Byzantine Synagogue of Capernaum.

But this then is the image you take away with you and the picture that springs to mind when next you read Jesus’ reference to the centurion: “he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue” (Luke 7.5).

But look more closely beneath the ruins of the beautiful white synagogue and you will see that it rests on an older building made of dark stones.

The 4th century synagogue rests on the remains of the 1st century synagogue that was made of basalt stones.

What is the relevance of these? This is where the value of making reconstruction drawings can be shown, with the process allowing historical and archaeological information about the site to be presented in a meaningful way. Continue reading “The Synagogue of Capernaum in which Jesus taught”

A Seal Impression of Isaiah the Prophet

 

To commemorate the retirement of Hershel Shanks from the Biblical Archaeology Society which he founded in 1975, Eilat Mazar published an article in the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review about a bulla (seal impression) that was found in the Ophel area. The title of the article is “Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature?” The seal was discovered back in 2009, but only came to light after cleaning by wet-sifting.

This is the seal with the Isaiah inscription. Clicking on the image shows a video explaining the importance of this find. Credit: Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar.

As expected, this find has been widely published here, here, here and in many other places. Here is an excerpt from the latter report:

The clay impression is inscribed with letters and what appears to be a grazing doe, “a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem,” according to the BAR article.

The oval-shaped bulla, however, is not intact. On its legible portion, there is an inscription with First Temple Hebrew letters that seem to spell out the name l’Yesha’yah[u] (Belonging to Isaiah). On a line below, there is the partial word nvy, which presumably spells out “prophet.”

“Because the bulla has been slightly damaged at end of the word nvy, it is not known if it originally ended with the Hebrew letter aleph, which would have resulted in the Hebrew word for ‘prophet’ and would have definitively identified the seal as the signature of the prophet Isaiah,” Mazar said.

 

Drawing by Reut Livyatan Ben-Arie of the Isaiah Bulla, a 2,700-year-old clay seal impression which potentially belonged to the biblical prophet Isaiah. (Illustration: Reut Livyatan Ben-Arie/© Eilat Mazar; Photo by Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar)

The above drawing by Reut shows that there is space on the bottom register for the missing aleph. Reut is well known to us from the Shiloh Excavations directed by Scott Stripling.

Although the identification is not 100% watertight, it is unlikely to have belonged to anybody but the Prophet Isaiah who supported King Hezekiah through difficult times.

The seal was found in trash that had been dumped outside the city wall of the time. The seal of King Hezekiah on which we commented in a previous post was found nearby.

During the reign of King Hezekiah, many refugees from the Assyrian invasion of the northern tribes came to Jerusalem for protection. As the city on the Eastern Hill was too small to accommodate the new comers, they settled on the Western Hill. Eventually, King Hezekiah built a new city wall around this hill to protect it from invasion.                                                                            The arrow points to the location where the seal was found, not far from the Temple Mount.

 

The Antonia Fortress

A guard to the real Temple Mount in Jerusalem

One of my readers, Daniel Wright, commented on my previous blog: “Once again Leen, I would like to thank you for addressing the persistent “temple location” confusion. I frequently get questioned as to my point of view on the “City of David” location theory. Directing the inquisitive to your blog is a real asset. It is important and useful to remind readers that you worked directly for Dr. Benjamin Mazar and you were also a contemporary of Ernest L. Martin, as both of you were there in Jerusalem during the same timeframe. Your personal involvement with Mazar’s team as these things were discovered, and your role as archaeological illustrator make you a primary authority on this topic. I am grateful that you continue to publish materials that address this needless controversy.”

Thanks, for the encouragement Daniel. As promised, I now hope to deal with yet another aspect of the Temple Mount that proponents of the City of David location often bring up in support of their theory, i.e. the Antonia Fortress.

These theorisers have a problem with the existing walls of the Temple Mount and have therefore suggested that they must have belonged to the Antonia Fortress that stood north of the Temple. Such a suggestion shows ignorance of and contradicts the historical sources and archaeological evidence. Let’s begin with the historical sources. Continue reading “The Antonia Fortress”

Trumpeting on the Temple Mount

How a Hebrew inscription blasts the Temple Mount deniers

One of the most interesting and important discoveries at the Temple Mount Excavations directed from 1968 till 1978 by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar, was made at the southwest corner in 1969. After digging through Umayyad, Byzantine and Roman destruction levels, a large corner parapet stone was found lying on its side on the paving stones of the Herodian street, about 1.5 meter (5 feet) from the southwest corner. A niche was cut out of the inner slope of the stone on its southern side. Above this niche was an inscription written in Hebrew, which reads (from right to left) “l’bet hatqia l’hakh . . . ”

The first two words “l’bet hatqia” mean “to the place of trumpeting,” but the last Hebrew word is incomplete. Scholars have suggested completing the inscription with l’hekhal (to the Temple), l’ha-kohn (for the priest) or “l’hakhriz,” (announce). The latter suggestion, which would make the inscription read, “to the place of trumpeting to announce”, has the most support.

As it was found lying directly on the street and underneath other fallen Herodian stones, it must originally have been located at the top of the southwest corner whence it was the first stone to have been thrown down.

The original location where the Trumpeting Stone was found. Archaeologist Ron Gardiner stands next to the stone.

This photo was taken by Leen Ritmeyer in 1973.
This photo, taken by Leen Ritmeyer in 1973, shows the place where the Trumpeting Stone was found. It was later moved a couple of meters to the west and put the right way up, so that visitors can better appreciate this special find. The original inscription is in the Israel Museum and a facsimile put in its place .

Why was this find so important? Continue reading “Trumpeting on the Temple Mount”

Seal of Jerusalem Governor found

The Jerusalem Posts reports today:

The new find supports the biblical rendering of the existence of a governor of Jerusalem 2,700 years ago, says archeologist.

A rare, well preserved Hebrew-inscribed and stamped piece of clay from the First Temple Period belonging to the “governor of the city” of Jerusalem was recently discovered during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Western Wall Plaza.

According to Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, excavator of the site on behalf of the IAA, “The Bible mentions two governors of Jerusalem, and this finding thus reveals that such a position was actually held by someone in the city some 2,700 years ago.”

“The finding of the seal with this high-rank title – in addition to the large assemblage of actual seals found in the building in the past – supports the assumption that this area, located on the western slopes of the western hill of ancient Jerusalem, some 100 m west of the Temple Mount, was inhabited by highly ranked officials during the First Temple period.”

Two governors of Jerusalem are mentioned in the Bible, Joshua in 2 Kings 23:8 and Maaseiah in 2 Chron. 34:8, both of whom lived at the end of the First Temple period.

This drawing shows what Jerusalem at the end of the First Temple period looked like: