Remains from the First Temple period found near the Temple Mount

First of all, I would like to apologize for not having blogged for a while. The reason is that our family has moved from Australia back to the UK. Some people move house, but our lot seems to be moving continents, which is very time consuming.

A few days ago it was announced that remains from the First Temple period were found in a dig close to the Western Wall, see for example here. It is always exciting and encouraging to read about new archaeological finds, especially when they are so close to the Temple Mount. A very interesting seal was found as well, bearing the name of Netanyahu ben Yaush. There has been a plethora of finds made recently, which prove that Israel did exist as a nation in the Land and especially in Jerusalem, during the Biblical periods.

The reporting, however, was not quite accurate. In this place these finds were reported as “FIRST-EVER”, namely, that this was the first time ever that remains from the Iron Age finds have been found so close to the Temple Mount. That, of course, is not the case. The southern part of the Western Wall has actually been built on a cemetery from the First Temple period. Some of these tombs were cut through when the drain below the Herodian street was constructed, see:

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This drain was first discovered and recorded by Charles Warren in the 1860’s. In one particular place, just north of Robinson’s Arch, the foundations of the Western Wall were built inside a destroyed Iron Age tomb. One can’t get closer than that. Other Iron Age tombs were found in the Temple Mount excavations by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar at a distance of some 25 meters from the Western Wall. Similarly, the Southern Wall was built over First Temple remains, in one particular place over an Iron Age cistern just below the Triple Gate.

As I said before, it is very exciting to read about these finds, but one could wish that the reporters would do their homework a little better. A blooper like this headline should never have been published.

First Temple remains found on the Temple Mount

While digging a trench for electric cabling on the Temple Mount, see plan, a layer of apparently undisturbed material from the First Temple period was discovered. Fragments of bowl rims, bases and body sherds, the base of a juglet used for the ladling of oil, the handle of a small juglet and the rim of a storage jar, fragments of ceramic table wares and animal bones, dating from the Iron Age II ( the eighth to the seventh centuries BC) were found. This was first reported by the Israel Antiquities Authority and later in several places, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, Todd Bolen’s BiblePlaces and other media.

This is exciting news, of course, as it indicates that the Temple Mount was occupied during the 8-6th century B.C. The place where it was found, near the south-east corner of the raised platform, is also highly significant. Archaeologists, such as Yuval Baruch, Sy Gittin and Ronnie Reich said that these finds may aid scholars in reconstructing the dimensions and boundaries of the Temple Mount during the First Temple Period.

For the location of the find, see the blue dot on this plan:

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According to my analysis, this area was located inside the pre-Herodian square Temple Mount, see this plan:

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The square Temple Mount is in yellow. Orange indicates the Hasmonean extension and Herod’s addition is in green.

In 1992 I published an article in Biblical Archaeology Review, Locating the Original Temple Mount, showing the location and boundaries of the Temple Mount during the Iron Age II period. It is well-known that Herod the Great doubled the size of the then-existing Temple Mount. According to Mishnah Middot, that Temple Mount was a square of 500 cubits. In my book The Quest, pp. 189-194, I have written that there are many reasons to suggest that this square mount was first built by King Hezekiah. Stones of the outer walls of this square mount can be seen at the north-west corner of the raised platform (the Step) and in the eastern Temple Mount wall near the Golden Gate. These architectural remains, of course, delineate the square Temple Mount and the new finds are a good indicator of the possible date of the construction of the square Temple Mount by King Hezekiah.

Plan of the Temple Mount destruction

The Biblical Archaeology Society has just published a report on the Temple Mount destruction by Zachi Zweig. On a plan which I had made several years ago, the route of the trench has been plotted and areas where important finds were made are noted in color. Transferring this information unto my latest plan of the Temple Mount, which has the Herodian Temple complex superimposed, one can see where these finds are located.

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Bedrock has been observed inside and to the north of the northern gate of the Court of the Women and also south of the southern Soreg. The Soreg is a division wall, inside of which no gentiles were allowed.

A section of pavement, probably belonging to Herod’s extension of the Temple Mount to the south, has been found to the east of the El Aqsa mosque.

The most important remains, however, are the remains of the foundation of a wall. Several photographs of this foundation wall can be seen in this report. As I noted in my previous blog post, if the trench continued south of the eastern stairway leading to the Muslim platform, it would cut through the Chamber of the House of Oil, and that is exactly what has happened. The Chamber of the House of Oil is the south-western one of the four courts which were built at the four corners of the Court of Women. Here we see then the remains of the Court of the Women, a place from which most of the Temple visitors would have been able to watch the rituals of the Temple.

This destruction shows how close the bedrock is below the surface and therefore any archaeological remains can easily be damaged. How much more information could have been gleaned if this trench had been excavated by archaeologists!

Understanding the destruction of the Temple Mount – cont.

The destruction goes on unabated.

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This picture shows the trench in front of the eastern stairway which leads up to the Muslim platform. According to my calculations, this stairway is built directly over the Herodian stairway which led up to the Nicanor Gate – see plan below:

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Soon the trench will cut through the Chamber of the House of Oil, where the olive oil used in the Temple services was stored. Hopefully somebody will stop this destruction or at least record and photograph the ancient remains.

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:

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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:

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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.

Continued destruction on the Temple Mount

In a previous post we commented on the destruction on the Temple Mount and posted a reconstruction drawing of the Herodian Temple Mount to show where, in relation to the Temple complex, the channel was excavated. The government of Israel and the Israel Antiquities Authorities are doing nothing to stop this destruction. Therefore the Muslims are digging deeper into the mount. The excavated channel is 1 meter (just over 3 feet) deep and that is about the depth of the bedrock in places. There is no doubt that they must be touching the remains of the Azarah (Temple Court) and the Temple itself. This is a unique opportunity to record any remains that may have survived the Roman destruction. Instead, the Arabs are allowed to get away with it. According to this report, one policeman who tried to stop the excavations was assaulted. Instead of being praised for his stand, the Israeli chief officer of the Temple Mount police, actually told him off! Another deep channel is dug to the north and east of the platform, for pictures and filmclip, see here. One wonders how long this situation will be allowed to continue.

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).

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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.

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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