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 – 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?

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

Answer:
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)

altarlocation1.jpg

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!

The Temple Mount in focus

Very busy here with the 40th anniversary of the Six day War. Just time to point out two interesting links that show that the Temple Mount is coming more and more into focus.
This article from Ha’Aretz discusses the different halachic rulings on Jews visiting the Temple Mount and the other BBC site has some topical photographs of the Temple Mount.

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!

The New Sanhedrin and the Temple Mount

On October 13th 2006, 71 Jewish religious leaders re-established the ancient Sanhedrin. This used to be the supreme religious court that resided on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, prior to its destruction by the Romans in 70A.D. Many cities had smaller sanhedrins, but the Supreme Court in Jerusalem was called the Great Sanhedrin. It is this Great Sanhedrin that has now been re-established. There were three places on the Temple Mount, mentioned in Mishnah Middot 5.4, where they used to meet over 1900 years ago. The most well-known location was the so-called Chamber of Hewn Stone. This chamber was located to the southeast of the Temple, as can be seen on this model of Herod’s Temple Mount:

hewn-stone.jpg

One of the aims of the modern Sanhedrin is to reinstate animal sacrifices, starting this coming Pesach (Passover) on the 3rd of April. At present they are looking for ritually perfect animals that could be used for this purpose. Indeed, in recent years, several animals have already been sacrificed at different localities around the Temple Mount, usually at a distance of about half a mile, but always in view of the Temple Mount.

Years ago I met Rabbis Yisrael Ariel and Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute, both of whom are now members of the new Sanhedrin, and I asked them where they were hoping to make these sacrifices – on the Western Wall Plaza, or on the Mount of Olives? Their reply was: only on the original location of the Altar. As I was researching the problems of the Temple at that time, they asked me to give them a lecture about my findings. They showed great interest in my location of the Altar in the open space just to the east of the Dome of the Rock, as published in my book The Quest – Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, p. 362:

templealtarplanp362.jpg

 

It is possible to locate the Altar if one knows the exact location of the Temple. I believe to have identified the rock-cut remains where the walls of the Holy of Holies stood, inside the Dome of the Rock (see plan above). Once this location is established, one can use the measurements given in the Book of Measurements, Mishnah Middot, as set out in my book The Quest, Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to pinpoint the exact location of the Altar as can be seen on this aerial photograph of the Temple Mount:

 

tmplatform4.jpg

It will be interesting to watch this development and to see what this new Sanhedrin is going to achieve, especially in regard to sacrificing.

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.