Golgotha and the Tomb of Christ

Over the last 9 months, I have been working as archaeological and architectural editor for the new ESV Study Bible, which will be available from 15 October 2008. Most of my contacts have been with Justin Taylor, who was the Project Director and Managing Editor. Recently, he interviewed me concerning two drawings, which I had been asked to prepare for the Study Bible.

The two-part interview concerning Calvary and the Tomb of Christ can be viewed on his blog here and here.

Israel in June

Before our visit recedes into memory, we must put down some of the impressions that readers have asked for. June was a good time to visit the Land from the point of view of not having to compete with other groups for space on site visits – on some sites such as Kursi and Gamla in the Galilee, we had the place totally to ourselves. And, our northern base of Ein Gev was pure rest and rejuvenation (when we returned from our days out!), as the place had not yet been transformed into a hive of family activity for the school holidays. However, the light is harsher for photography than earlier in the year and this is perhaps the downside to going in early summer, which is otherwise so good, being the prime time for digging and, of course, great for swimming in the Dead, the Med and the Red. We did get some great pics however. Here is our group at the Ophir Observation Point, high above the Sea of Galilee:


Below is the Tel Gezer dig we visited and where we met up with archaeologist Daniel Warner (in green shirt) among others:

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Jerusalem was even more chaotic than we remembered, with honking, hooting and sirens 24/7. We were very thankful to have an oasis of calm in the midst of it with a jumbo-sized balcony offering panoramic, golden, views of Mount Zion and the Old City. On the left is the night view from our balcony and on the right the view from the arched entrance to our guesthouse:



From the perspective of an archaeological architect, the thing that made the most impression on me was the much greater prevalence of reconstruction drawings on sites than in times past. Knowing how much these enhance any visit to an archaeological site, this was deeply satisfying.

We saw good reconstructions at the City of David, the Temple Mount Excavations, Masada, Tel Gezer, Bethsaida, etc, but the sparkler in the crown was definitely the new Time Trek at the Caesarea Harbor Experience, which so enthralled the young folk in our party. You have to pay extra on top of the normal site fees in order to visit this, but the NIS17 is definitely worth it. Here, with funds from a trust set up by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the early twentieth century, a new, whiz-bang, multi-media experience, takes you through episodes of the city’s dramatic history.

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Reconstructions showing things like a horse race in Herod’s hippodrome and ships entering his magnificent harbour create an unforgettable evocation of another time. (The site’s website seems to only work in Hebrew <www.caesarea.org.il>). Hopefully, other sites in the country will benefit from such an injection of funds and vision.


The Temple Mount – new discoveries from the time of King Hezekiah (cont.)

The drawing below explains the location of the stones I blogged about yesterday. The drawing shows the eastern wall of the Temple Mount as it existed in the time of King Herod. The black line at the bottom of the drawing shows the suggested ground level at that time. The green line indicates the ground level of today and the colored parts show the existing remains. The northern and southern parts (yellow) of the eastern wall are Herodian, the red section dates to the Hasmonean period and the central (blue) section is the oldest part of the wall.

On either side of the Golden Gate, two stones courses can be seen, which, according to my analysis of the Temple Mount, date to the time of King Hezekiah, who expanded not only the city, but the Temple Mount as well. The two newly identified stones in the southern part are only 4 stone courses lower than those near the Golden Gate. The stone courses below must therefore belong to that period as well, if not earlier.
This drawing also shows that the general level of preservation dips from north to south and that the preserved remains of the central and oldest section of the eastern wall are most likely located just below ground level.

The Temple Mount – new discoveries from the time of King Hezekiah

A couple of weeks ago, we spent some time in Israel with our family, visiting places which are dear to us. Following up on a lead, I used some of that time to investigate a particular section in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. In the picture below, you can see me photographing two massive stones, which are located 77m (253 feet) north of the south east corner. These stones are similar in size and shape to the ones that can be seen on either side of the Golden Gate. I have dated this masonry to the time of King Hezekiah’s expansion of the Temple Mount in about 700 B.C. (See The Quest, p. 174-178; 191-193). King Hezekiah had built massive retaining walls round the courtyards of King Solomon’s Temple to create a square platform of 500 cubits.


We were being watched from above by a policeman, who was not too happy as he thought that we might be desecrating some tombs.


On the first stone, in the picture below left, you can clearly see the margin and the rough bulging boss which is typical of Iron Age Temple Mount masonry. The two stones are resting on other similar stones, as far as one can see. The stones are located 4 m (13 feet) north of the so-called Mohammed’s Pillar, where I had placed the south east corner of King Hezekiah’s square Temple platform (see picture below right). It is exciting to be so close to the original south east corner and yet so far away. If one only could excavate a few meters down at that point, I’m sure that the south east corner of the square Temple Mount will be found!

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The diagram below shows all the accumulated archaeological evidence for the outer walls of the 500 cubit square Temple Mount:


The discovery of this new section of ancient stones in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount confirms the location of the pre-Herodian Temple Mount and is an exciting addition to the many new discoveries being made these days to show that the Temple Mount, as we know it today, is indeed the place where the Temples of Solomon, Hezekiah, Zerubbabel and Herod once stood.

ESV Study Bible

I was interested to see, in my daily Google Alert for the Temple Mount, on James Grant’s blog, that the new ESV Study Bible, for which I have been providing illustrations, now has its own webpage, launched by Crossways, its publisher. It is worthwhile having a look at the sample pages. Having worked with Justin Taylor, the Project Director and Managing Editor, for the last half year, with graphics winging their way for checking and correction from Wheaton, Illinois to Adelaide in Australia, and latterly to Cardiff in Wales, I can’t wait to see the final product, due out in October of this year.

The whole “painstaking process of research and refinement”, to use Justin’s words, has caused me to look into problems which I had not previously addressed. In particular, the discoveries in Jerusalem over the last few years, especially in the City of David, made it necessary for me to produce completely new reconstruction drawings of Jerusalem in the various periods – a very exciting project indeed! I have also enjoyed working with Maltings Partnership, who have rendered my drawings into works of tremendous beauty.

International Conference on the Temple of Jerusalem in New York

During May 11-12, 2008, a conference is planned in New York on the Temple of Jerusalem. The models of the Tabernacle, Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples, which I designed, will be displayed there. I am also one of the speakers, giving a lecture on “The Academic and Creative Process of Archaeological Model Making.”

More info later.

Herodian drain found in Jerusalem

It has been reported in the media (see for example BBC news and the Jerusalem Post) that excavators Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukrun have excavated a large section of the drain that was located just below the Herodian street. This drain was constructed, so that the rain water that fell on the street and the liquid sewage of adjacent buildings could be disposed off. Here is a picture of the drain (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti):


Parts of this drain have been investigated by Charles Warren (1867-1870) and other sections have been excavated by Bliss and Dickie (1894-1897), Johns (1934), Kathleen Kenyon (1961-1967) and Benjamin Mazar (1968-1978). The section found by Mazar below Robinson’s Arch was vaulted and believed to have been a relay of the original drain which had been cut by the south-west corner of Herod’s temple Mount, see this picture from The Quest, p.56:


Warren also investigated a much earlier drain, lower down in the Tyropoeon Valley, so that we know of two different drainage systems. Together with the relay mentioned above, there are three different phases in this drainage system, which indicate three different building phases in the construction of the Temple Mount, see The Quest, pp. 233-235.

The present excavators have not yet provided a map of the excavated drain, but only said that is was between the Temple Mount and the Siloam Pool. In the 1890’s, Bliss and Dickie discovered a large section of the Herodian street near and to the north of the Siloam Pool. This section alone shows that the main street, which, we believe began at the Damascus Gate and followed the Tyropoeon Valley and exited at the South Gate – see map below. On this map we have plotted the street section that was found by Bliss and Dickie in grey with the drain in red:


As the excavators have been digging in the vicinity of the Siloam Pool, the newly found drain is likely to be located just north of the pool. This find received a lot of media coverage because of the remarks made by the excavators that this drain may have been used by people who tried to escape the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

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:


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:


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.

Giving away the Temple Mount

The Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, is apparently ready to negotiate the status of the Temple Mount and share it with the Arabs! See this israelnationalnews item.

This is incredible! Who does Ehud Olmert think he is to have the right to negotiate the Temple Mount with the Arabs, who want the Jewish people to relinquish any right to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is the third holiest site for Muslims, but the first and only real holy site of the Jewish people.

Historically, the Temple Mount was purchased by King David from the Jebusites for 600 shekels of gold (1 Chron. 21.25). It has never changed ownership since that time. The Temple Mount belongs therefore legally to King David and the nation of Israel. The Temple Mount was the place ultimately chosen by God to place His name there (see i.e. Deut. 12.5; Psalm 78.68).

By even thinking of negotiating away the only dwelling place chosen by the God of Israel, the Government of Israel has started the process of disowning their God. How can they expect to be blessed by God if they treat Him like this?

Digging the Temple Mount – the location of the Altar

Recently I received this email:
Shalom Dr. Ritmeyer
According to the Talmud a very very deep pit was present at the south western corner of the second temple altar to receive libations. Is there any pits that we know about that are likely canditates for the pit of the libation pit.
best wishes
Shlomo Scheinman

None of the cisterns or other cavities that have been recorded by Warren could be identified as the libation pit you mention. The area in which the altar was located, just to the east of the Dome of the Rock (see previous post on The New Sanhedrin and the Temple Mount), has never been excavated. Yet I believe that Shlomo is right, for it is mentioned in Middot 3.3 that “at the [south-west corner of the altar] in the pavement below was a place one cubit square where was a slab of marble on which a ring was fixed; by it they used to go down to the pit and clean it.”
According to the bedrock levels, the altar stood on the rock, which is located about 1 meter below the level of the present platform, which is indicated by the lower blue line on the drawing. I believe therefore that the foundation of the altar may still be there. The following drawing, which is an east-west section through Herod’s Temple and the Altar (in red) and the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain (in blue) shows how these structures were related to the bedrock (i.e. Mount Moriah)


The pit therefore must have been carved out of the rock, including possibly the channel that drained the water and the blood from the sacrifices and the libation offerings into the Kidron Valley. There is a real possibility that these remains are preserved and it would take only a little bit of excavation to find it. How exciting that would be!