Understanding the destruction of the Temple Mount

It has been reported that, during the present destruction on the Temple Mount, a 7 m. long wall has been found. There rightly was an outcry by archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike about these illegal diggings on the Temple Mount. Their protests, however, expressed the illegality of the excavations and their fear of the destruction of ancient remains, but they could not tell exactly what is being destroyed. It has been suggested that the wall may have been part of the wall that separated the Temple Court from the Court of the Women. According to my plan below, however, this is not possible, as that wall was located inside the eastern edge of the present-day Muslim platform. Only a full-scale excavation, of course, would make the identification of this wall possible.

Todd Bolen of BiblePlaces kindly wrote on his blog that he is interested to know what I have to say about it. It may be of interest to others also.

In order to be able to interpret what has been dug up, one needs to understand where the Herodian Temple complex was located. Since 1973, I have worked on the problems of the Temple Mount, first as field-architect of the excavations led by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar, and later as an independent scholar. The result of my research has been published, sometimes together with my archaeologist wife Kathleen, in several places, but recently and more completely in my book The Quest. The most useful plan for understanding the Temple Mount (published on p. 355) is the one you see below:

plan.jpg

This plan shows the present configuration of the Temple Mount with the raised Muslim platform in grey. The Herodian Temple and its courts are printed in red, while the yellow area indicates the location of the 500-cubit square pre-Herodian Temple Mount, which dates back to the Iron Age. This is the time of the Kings of Israel and Judah, and it was most likely King Hezekiah who ordered its construction (see The Quest, pp. 189-193).

On an enlarged detail of this plan, I have drawn the location of the trench that is being dug at present in blue, see below:

trench1.jpg

According to this position, it is clear to me that the long wall encountered is the eastern wall of the Chamber of the Lepers (see plan on p. 345 of The Quest) and perhaps also part of the northern gate of the Court of the Women. The latter chamber was one of the four courtyards that belonged to the Court of the Women, with the other three being the Chamber of the Woodshed, the Chamber of the Nazarites and the Chamber of the House of Oil. As this area has never been built over since the Roman destruction of 70 AD, the wall cannot belong to a post-Herodian construction. It is therefore very exciting that the first concrete evidence of the Herodian Temple complex may have been found and ironically by people who deny that there ever was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount.

Digging the Temple Mount – how not to do it!

It was reported today that the Islamic Wakf is digging large trenches on the Temple Mount. This is, of course, a very sensitive area, as the bedrock or any remains of the Herodian pavement would be located about 1 meter (3 feet) below the surface. Zachi Zweig, a Jerusalem archaeologist, protested that the Israel Antiquities Authorities allowed this to go ahead without archaeological supervision, which indeed is outrageous. Zachi observed that “Grey earth was removed from the dig, which indicates that it is archaeologically significant. In addition, signs of ancient architecture was exposed beneath the current platform slabs. It should be mentioned that the bedrock level at this location is very close to the current platform.” For pictures of the ditch that was dug, see here.

What ancient architecture might have been exposed? Only using plans and sections can we know what to expect. On the plan below, we see that the ditch cut through the area of the Temple Court, the inner porticoes, the Rinsing Chamber and the Hel (Terrace).

templecourtsplanblog.jpg

The section below shows similar information, but in particular how close the ditch is to any remains of the Herodian pavement that would be extant and those of the Rinsing Chamber.

templecourtssectionblog.jpg

These drawings demonstrate how important it is to have archaeological supervision wherever one digs, and to know the layout of the Herodian Temple Mount, as how otherwise can what is found be identified?

Temple Awareness

This report from Arutz Sheva News is about an exciting 4-day marathon seminar, focussing on the Temple Mount. If I was in Jerusalem I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world!

Temple Awareness: A Summer of Seminars and Tours
by Hillel Fendel

The Holy Temple is “in” with tours, hikes and seminars in and around Jerusalem in the coming days and weeks.

As Jews around the world commemorate the Three Weeks of Mourning for the Holy Temples beginning last Tuesday and ending on Tisha B’Av (July 24), Jews in Israel embark on a marathon of Temple-related studies and activities. A partial list:

Monday, July 16 – Sessions at the Kohen-Levi Conference at HaKotel Hall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. 11 AM – 7 PM, payment of 50 shekels at the door.

Tuesday, July 17 – “A Day of the Temple” Seminar with The Temple Institute: Southern Wall excavations, Davidson Center presentation, Temple stairway and gates, special effects and period actors, Temple vessels exhibition, in-depth lecture, presentation, and special events, 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM, 100 shekels. via the OU Israel Center, tel 02-560-9110.

Wednesday, July 18 – “In the Footsteps of the Kohanim and Leviyim” – in and around Old Jerusalem, Herodian Quarter, 2nd Temple priestly mansions, The Menorah, Cardo, Jewish Quarter, Closest gates of the Temple Mount, Kotel HaKatan (Small Wall), Bus to Mt. of Olives, spectacular Temple Mount view, Shimon HaTzaddik tomb, and View of Nov, the city of Kohanim. 10 AM – 4 PM, 60 shekels via the OU Israel Center, tel 02-560-9110.

Thursday, July 19 – “In the Footsteps of the Kohanim and Leviyim”, bus tour to Shilo, site of the Tabernacle, Eli HaKohen, and Shmuel HaNavi. Then to Modiin area, Beit Choron, where the Maccabees defeated the Greeks. Vista from Baal Chatzor, Rosh Chodesh torches, protected bus. 10 AM – 5 PM, 150 shekels. via the OU Israel Center, tel 02-560-9110.

July 9-12 – Temple Institute in Jerusalem – four days of tours and lectures. Topics include: The commandment to build the Holy Temple today (Rabbi Yisrael Ariel); Daily Sacrifice, Temple Vessels and Priestly Garments; Renewal of Temple Service Today; Tour in the Davidson Center at the Southern Wall; the Red Heifer (Rabbi Chaim Richman); Festivals in the Temple; Pilgrims in Jerusalem; and more. tel: 02-6264545, 200 shekels each day, 700 shekels for entire program.

July 16-23 – “Between Destruction and Construction” Tours in and around Jerusalem, sponsored by the Jewish Community of the City of David – 45 shekels each, seven tours for the price of six:

Tour 1 – From the Assyrian Siege to the Babylonian Destruction: City of David, Chizikiyahu’s Tunnel, and other eastern Jerusalem sites
Tour 2 – Jerusalem During the Second Temple Period: Nechemiah’s Wall, the graves of the Dynasty of David, the Shiloach Pool, and new discoveries
Tour 3 – Following the Pilgrims of the Middle Ages – The gravesites of Huldah, Avshalom, Zechariah, and Rav Ovadiah of Bartinura, and the Rehavam Observation Point
Tour 4 – Famous figures buried on the Mt. of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount
Tour 5 – Sifting through Temple Mount remains with an archaeologist
Tour 6 – The Jewish Quarter in 1948 – The Zion Gate, Street of the Jews, the Hurva Synagogue, Batei Machseh, and more
Tour 7 – The Battles to Liberate Jerusalem in 1967 – Lions Gate, the Western Wall, the Kidron Bridge, and more

Herod’s Grave

I am so pleased for Ehud Netzer, the excavator of Herodium, who has been looking for Herod’s grave all his life and finally found it! You can see some pictures of Prof. Ehud Netzer and the site at http://www.usahm.de/Herodes/page_01.htm. The pictures belong to Ulrich Sahm and they can only be used with his permission.
The interesting decoration, in the shape of a rosette, which Ehud has in his hands was part of the 2.5 m. long sarcophagus (stone coffin) of King Herod the Great. A few other sarcophagi decorated with rosettes have been found in Jerusalem. The sarcophagus of Herod the Great was badly damaged, but this partially preserved rosette is virtually identical to decorations that were found in the Temple Mount excavations. Rosettes like these were used in the entablature of the Temple itself, as can be seen in the Temple illustrations in The Quest, pp.377 and 399. It is obvious that Herod wanted to be remembered as the Temple builder.

Digging the Temple Mount – Inside the Dome of the Rock

Launching this series of postings on what you would find if you could excavate the Temple Mount, we begin by imagining what we would see if the Dome of the Rock were suddenly to disappear.

dome-of-the-rock.png

The dome of the Rock

If you examine the drawing in my recent post “Digging the Temple Mount –An Introduction”, you see that the uppermost contours of Mount Moriah would become visible. Not only would the Rock or Sakhra (which the Moslems call the Sacred Rock on which, according to them, Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac) stand out as the peak of this mountain of destiny, but the surrounding rock levels, now covered over by the floor of the seventh century mosque and its dome-bearing pillars would be exposed.
Digging is, of course, out of the question, but in the past certain circumstances have provided a revealing glimpse into what lies beneath the now sumptuously carpeted floor. One such circumstance was in 1873 when repair work took place (observed by the French archaeologist Clermont-Ganneau), which showed that the bedrock was located about 1 m. (3 feet 3 inches) below the present floor-level. This would mean that the rock would stand to a height of 2.75 m. (9 feet) above the surrounding bedrock (“bedrock” is an archaeological term for the rocky mountain itself).
Another opportunity arose in 1959, when Bellarmino Bagatti, an Italian Franciscan scholar, made observations during the extensive repair work that was carried out inside the Dome of the Rock. At that time, the areas near the dome-bearing pillars and other places were excavated down to bedrock. This was done so that concrete could be poured around the pillars to strengthen them.

rock1.png

The bedrock is visible at the bottom of this picture

Bagatti took some illegal photographs which provide valuable evidence and wrote up his findings in a booklet called Recherches sur le site du Temple de Jerusalem (Research on the site of the Temple of Jerusalem). He observed that the bedrock adjacent the Rock inside the Dome of the Rock was rather flat and only started to dip near the outer walls.

sakhra.png

The Rock (Sakhra) stood high above its surroundings

 

When Herod the Great built the new Temple, he first took away the old Temple and cleared the area down to the rock. He then built a podium 6 cubits (3.15 m, 10 feet) high around the Rock, so that only the bare top projected 3 fingers high above the pavement of the Temple. This podium was lined with massive foundation stones, while the inside was filled with large stones.

tfoundation.png

Laying the foundation for Herod’s Temple

These massive stones would have been placed on level bedrock and this flat bedrock would have been ideal for this construction. Outside these walls, the bedrock would have sloped down and that is exactly what Bagatti observed.

Further and extensive details on how Herod’s Temple and its predecessor, Solomon’s Temple, were built around the Sacred Rock may be found in my book “The Quest – Revealing the Temple in Jerusalem.”

Digging the Temple Mount – an introduction

A couple of weeks ago, one of our RAD clients asked me “what would you find, if you could excavate the Temple Mount?” I have been often asked this question and usually answered jokingly “World War Three”.

Although this question is of course hypothetical, it is an interesting exercise to imagine what would have been left of the Herodian and earlier constructions after the Roman destruction in 70 AD. By studying the preserved height of the outer walls of the Temple Mount and the state of preservation of the underground structures, it is possible to make an educated guess as to what might be found if ever the possibility of excavating the Temple Mount would present itself.

A valuable source of information is the record of Charles Warren, who in the 1860’s investigated all the cisterns on the Temple Mount and took accurate readings of the top of the bedrock. This enabled him to create a topographical map of the rock contours. Here is his plan:

warren.jpg

After studying this plan, I made a schematic drawing showing the outer walls of the three stages of the Temple Mount and also the layout of the rocky mountain, Mount Moriah, on which the Temple Mount was built, including the position of the water cisterns. Here is the drawing:

devtm.jpg

The earliest square Temple Mount was created, as explained in my book The Quest, in the days of King Hezekiah. I have been able to identify part of the western wall of this square, which is visible today as the lowest ‘step’ at the northwest corner of the raised platform, see these two photos:

step1.jpg step2.jpg

The second phase was the Hasmonean extension, of which a part of the eastern wall can still be seen near the southeast corner of the Temple Mount:

seam.jpg

The third phase is the Herodian extension, the walls of which can be seen all around the Temple Mount. In future posts I hope to show in much greater detail what might be found if the Temple Mount could be excavated. Keep checking this blog!

Honest archaeology versus the sensationalism of the “Jesus Tomb”

Recently a parcel arrived from Israel which made me reflect on the difference between real archaeological research and the kind we have been seeing lately in the so-called Jesus Tomb. The parcel contained a copy of the recently published Rafid on the Golan, a profile of a late Roman and Byzantine village, by Dan Urman, edited by Shimon Dar, Moshe Hartal and Etan Ayalon. Opening it, I was thrilled to see drawings I had made 17 years ago for my friend and colleague Dan Urman, who had sadly passed away in 2004. I had gotten involved with Dan through my work with him on the survey of the Golan-Bashan region, back in 1973, just after the Yom Kippur War, when Israel for a time held a large tract of territory that had belonged to Syria.

I was just starting my career on the Temple Mount Excavations making reconstruction drawings and through my connections there was invited to join the Israel Army Archaeological Survey team which included, apart from Dan, Amihai Mazar, Amos Kloner, Zvi Ilan, Meir ben Dov and others, all of whom later became well-known archaeologists or professors. I measured, drew and photographed buildings from the late Roman period in this newly captured area.

The village of Rafid, which is located on the Golan Heights some 30 kilometers east of the Sea of Galilee, was destroyed in the Yom Kippur War and the subsequent military activities between Israel and Syria. However, it had contained numerous ancient buildings, standing from foundation to rafters and had been thoroughly surveyed after the Six Day War by Dan, Shmuel Bar-Lev and Moshe Hartal. Realising its potential as an example of a building style typical of the Roman and Byzantine periods, Dan decided to publish the results of the survey and asked me to draw the larger finds, plans and isometric reconstruction drawings. This I did following a move to the UK in 1990, while I was completing my MA in Conservation Studies in York and Dan was on sabbatical at Wolfson College at Oxford. My wife Kathleen translated a large part of the manuscript from Hebrew into English, so we saw a lot of Dan and Metty his wife then and also afterwards on summer seasons on Nitzana excavations in the Negev, also directed by Dan.

When Dan felt that the end was coming, he called his colleagues, Dar, Hartal and Ayalon and entrusted them with the completion of his unfinished manuscript. So, after many years of his intensive labour detailing the survey of the houses in the village, additional chapters were added on the geographical setting, the architectural decorations, the Hauran style architecture and the history of Rafid in the various periods (it is now located in a demilitarised zone, controlled by UN forces). The volume has been published in the BAR International Series 1555.

An interesting insight into life in Gospel times can be gleaned from these houses. Because of the scarcity of timber, the houses in Rafid were completely built of basalt, including the ceiling. Corbel stones projected from the walls and long basalt beams were laid across them with the resulting space covered by cross slabs. This was then covered with plaster to make it waterproof. See drawing:

rafidweb.jpg

In the story of the healing of the paralytic man we are told that he was let down through the “tiling” (Luke 5.19). It is possible that the top of this roof of the house in Capernaum, where the houses were also made of basalt, was paved with flat ceramic tiles. After removing these tiles and taking away the cross beams, a space would have been created large enough to let a man down through.

Insights such as these take rather longer to glean than the instant sensationalist discovery of the Talpiot tomb, which contained ossuaries bearing those “resonant” names. As Samuel Johnson, the brilliant 18th century literary figure observed: “Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labour of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.” Or again in Johnson’s words, only more concisely, “What is easy is seldom excellent.”

The Mughrabi Gate – What’s in a ramp?

“UNESCO experts tour controversial Jerusalem dig.” Why does this headline make you feel as though you’re in a time warp? Because this is what used to happen regularly during the Temple Mount excavations (which commenced after the Six- Day War and continued up to 1977). Regular UNESCO delegations would arrive on the dig and invariably condemn what we were doing. And the Muslims would get twitchy whenever we found tunnels running under the massive Herodian retaining walls of the Temple platform. However, when we found such tunnels, for example, under the Single Gate, the Double Gate and the Triple Gate, we would have them professionally photographed and recorded, block them off and all would go quiet for a time.

But now sensitivities are running much higher. What precipitated this was the excavation in 1981 of a passageway behind Warren’s Gate (the northernmost Herodian gate in the Western Wall) by a group of rabbis. This was in the context of the clearing, by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, of a tunnel which ran alongside the Western Wall from Wilson’s Arch to the north-west corner of the Temple Mount. When it leaked out that the rabbis were in fact searching for the lost Ark of the Covenant, which they believed was hidden deep under the Temple Mount, they were attacked by a Muslim mob and almost killed. Since then, digging near the Temple Mount, is, in the eyes of Muslims, tantamount to undermining the El Aqsa Mosque, or Farther Mosque (from Mecca).

In the case of the Mughrabi Gate, the Arab reaction has been explained in the Western media, as total paranoia because, as they explain and painstakingly illustrate, the ramp is 75 metres away from the El Aqsa mosque and 200 metres from the Dome of the Rock. What is not clearly understood, however, is that the Muslims regard all of the Temple platform as the El Aqsa.

This was explained to us by a Muslim tour guide, a student at one of the religious schools on the Haram-esh- Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, as the mount is sometimes called. We took a tour with him in 1994, in order to see the mount, which we were researching at the time, from another perspective. He told us, among other things, that the El Aqsa was the second mosque in the world (the first being Mecca) and that it was originally built by our first father, Adam. He also informed us that the two passageways leading from the Double Gate to the Temple platform (which we had always understood to be magnificent examples of Herodian architecture), were the work of Adam and comprised the Old El Aqsa. While we listened incredulously, he further informed us that archaeologists had found no trace of Jewish temples in the area!

When you put an understanding such as this, together with the massive rise in popularity of writing on Muslim end-time prophecy, which predicts a Jewish conspiracy against El Aqsa as part of their end-time scenario, then even the most innocuous picking and scraping near the walled compound is bound to be incendiary.

But what’s in the ramp? Although one cannot expect any reasoned discussion on this issue, I thought it might be helpful to post the photo and drawing below to make things a bit clearer. The path running over this ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate used to skirt a few houses which were built there in the late Turkish period. In 1967 this house belonged to the family of Abu Said. It is very clear from this photograph, that the ramp is located outside the Temple Mount and its removal would in no way endanger the El Aksa Mosque.

The ramp in 1967

These buildings were demolished in 1967, leaving only the dirt pile over which the path ran. At the beginning of the excavations, led by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar, the ground near Robinson’s Arch was leveled and then the excavations started going down and eventually reached the Herodian street level.

The sectional drawing below makes clear that this ramp is vulnerable, because of the tremendous depth of the dig. The rain and snow which fell on this ramp over the last 40 years and also a recent earthquake in 2004, made it unstable, so that a part collapsed a couple of years ago (see drawing). If nothing is done, then more of the ramp will collapse.

Diagram of the Ramp

This drawing is a section through the dirt ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate. The ramp is in the middle of the drawing. On the left is the Western Wall Plaza, reserved for Jewish worship. On the right of the section is the excavated area with, on the bottom, the Herodian street, with the stones which were thrown down by the Romans in 70 AD. Immediately above this level, remains of the Byzantine period were found, including a water channel cut into the Herodian stones for use in a bath house. Above this level, the remains of a large Ummayad palace was found, which used a similar water channel, cut higher in the Herodian stones of the Western Wall. No Crusader remains have so far been found in this area.

If digging continues below the level of the plaza, the excavators could expect to find the corner of the Ummayad palace, more remains of the Byzantine bath house and deep down below, remains of the Herodian period. The one or two arched constructions inside the ramp are the remains of cellars which belonged to the buildings which were demolished in 1967 and of no particular historical value.

Whatever UNESCO decides, realistically, neither of the two sides in the conflict has any option but to enable the construction of some sort of bridge to allow safe access to the site they both cherish, but view through such very different eyes.

Recent discoveries at the Siloam Pool

It was very exciting to see the following picture taken by Todd Bolen of the stairway which was recently uncovered to the immediate west of the Siloam Pool.

Todds pic

This grand stairway was first discovered by Bliss and Dickie during the years of 1894-1897. They drew accurate plans which made it possible for me to reconstruct the building and the adjacent stairway. Here is the drawing which I made in 1995 (included in this book):

Siloam Pool reconstruction

Bliss and Dickie wrote the following: “The discoveries in this [Tyropoeon] valley were of considerable interest, including a paved street, with a fork above the Pool of Siloam, one branch leading to the gate … and another connected by a stairway with the original pool … A church was discovered, built over the disused stairway, and extending over the north arcade of the pool.”
The plans they published made a reconstruction plan possible. The following plan shows the street which descends from the Temple Mount through the Tyropoeon Valley. At one point it splits in two, with the eastern branch leading down to the pool.

plan

They further wrote that the two branches of the street were separated by a rocky ramp: “On the west the steps [of the stairway] butt against the scarp, and on the east against the west wall of the original pool (see photo). As the scarp and wall are not parallel, the breadth of the steps varies from 27 feet at the top to 22 feet at the bottom. The number of steps is thirty-four. They vary in height from 6 to 9.5 inches, and are arranged in a system of wide and narrow treads alternately.”

Bliss and Dickie also observed that the western part of this grand stairway were partially cut out of the scarp itself. The description of this street with the alternating wide and narrow steps, some of which were carved out of the rock, reminds us very much of the identical construction of the grand stairway leading up to the Double Gate in the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The construction of the stairway to the Siloam Pool is therefore strongly reminiscent of the Herodian construction.

They also found remains of a Byzantine church, which was partly built on the stairway and partly into the northern part of the pool. Here is a reconstruction drawing of the Byzantine church:

Byzantine church

Bliss and Dickie were very conscientious about recording and publishing the results of the findings. These descriptions have made it possible for me to make reconstruction drawings of this famous pool. It is even more satisfying to finally see pictures of this grand stairway, which I feel I have known already for a long time. It was like meeting a long lost friend.

South of the Siloam Pool a stepped water reservoir has been found, on which I will comment later.