Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the Hellenistic period

The four centuries between the Old Testament (Tanakh) and the Gospels are sometimes called the “Silent Years”. This time period is also known as the intertestamental or deuterocanonical period. Yet there are historical sources and archaeological evidence that can take away the veil of silence. The Works of Josephus, the Books of Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus, also called the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, and others, contain important information about this enigmatic time. Beginning with the conquests of Alexander the Great, the new culture of Hellenism changed the way people were thinking and acting. These changes can be detected in archaeology, ancient architecture, politics, culture and religion. During this time, three empires, Persia, Greece and Rome successively ruled the then-known world. In this brief outline, we hope to cast some light on this fascinating period in the history of the Jewish people, and especially on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, his empire was split among four generals, known as the diadochi. Alexander and his successors imposed the Hellenistic culture on their new subjects. The Hellenistic period in Judea lasted from 332-152 BCE, and that was followed by the Hasmonean kingdom which terminated when Herod the Great became king in 37 BCE. During this period, Judea was first under Ptolemaic rule from 301-200 BCE. The Ptolemies were benevolent toward the Jews. Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who ruled from 285-246 BCE, commissioned a translation of the Hebrew Bible in c. 250 BCE. Seventy-two scholars from Jerusalem translated the Torah, the five books of Moses, into Greek.

During the 3rd century BCE, many battles took place between the Ptolemies in the south and the Seleucids in the north. In 200 BCE, a final battle between the two forces took place in Panion (modern Banias) which was lost by the Ptolemies. The Seleucids then controlled the Holy Land. 

In 200 BCE, a crucial battle was fought at Panion (Banias) between the Ptolemaic forces led by general Scopas, and two Seleucid forces. The force led by Antiochus the Younger was stationed on the lower slopes of Mount Hermon, and the other by Antiochus III. Antiochus II won the battle and captured southern Syria and annexed Judea.

The Temple that was built by Jeshua and Zerubbabel three centuries earlier undoubtedly needed structural maintenance and repairs. 

This drawing shows the newly rebuilt Temple that apparently was not as grand as the previous one, for Haggai (2.3) said: “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do ye see it now, is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” The internal layout of the Temple undoubtedly remained the same and would therefore have been able to function normally, although the quality of the architecture must have appeared inferior in the minds of the ancient people who remembered the first Temple.

In 200 BCE, restoration work was indeed carried out on the Temple Mount. In the deuterocanonical book of the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus, the work is described as follows: 

“It was the High Priest Simon son of Onias who repaired the Temple during his lifetime and in his day fortified the sanctuary. He laid the foundations of the double height, the high buttresses of the Temple precincts. In his day the water cistern was excavated, a reservoir as huge as the sea.” (50.1-3).

It is clear from this text that the bulk of these works were concerned with the repair and strengthening of existing structures, as no archaeological remains can be demonstrated as belonging to this enterprise. The cistern that was excavated was probably initially quarried to supply stones for the repair work, and was afterwards used as a water cistern.

Although no archaeological remains of these buttresses have been found, nevertheless they have been indicated on the drawing as a suggestion. The location of the cistern is also indicated.

Whereas the Ptolemies were benevolent rulers, the Seleucids were the very opposite. The most infamous of the Seleucid rulers, Antiochus Epiphanes went to Jerusalem in 169 BCE, where he plundered the Temple, sacrificed a pig on the Temple altar, and and took all the Temple furniture and treasures away to Antioch. He was determined to Hellenize all the Jews in Judea, forbidding worship on the Temple Mount and the practice of rituals, such as sacrifice and circumcision and compelled them, on penalty of death, to sacrifice to pagan gods. This sparked off the revolt led initially by Mattathias, and then by his five sons, Eleazar, Simon, Judah, John and Jonathan, known as the Maccabees, and which lasted from 167 to 160 BCE. 

In 168 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes built the Akra, a fortress for his Macedonian garrison, from which the Jewish population could be controlled. Hellenized Jews also joined this garrison. Josephus records that it commanded or overlooked the Temple. Josephus writes in Antiquities 12.252 that Antiochus

built the Akra in the Lower City; for it was high enough to overlook the Temple, and it was for this reason that he fortified it with high walls and towers, and stationed a Macedonian garrison therein. Nonetheless there re­mained in the Akra those of the (Jewish) people who were impious and of bad character, and at their hands the citizens were destined to suffer many terrible things.

The Seleucid Akra, was built to the south of the Temple Mount and east of the Huldah Gates. These gates were the main ones that were used by people that went up from the Lower City, the City of David, to the Temple. The garrison that was stationed inside the fortress, could easily control access to the Temple Mount. 

This description agrees with that given by the author of the Books of Maccabees, who, when referring to the event mentioned above, puts the Akra in the Lower City, which he calls the City of David:

They fortified the City of David with a great and strong wall, with strong towers, and it became unto them an Akra. There they installed an army of sinful men, ren­egades, who fortified themselves inside it, storing arms and provisions, and depositing there the loot they had collected from Jerusalem; they were to prove a great trouble. It became an ambush for the sanctuary, an evil adversary for Israel at all times. (1 Maccabees 1.33–36)

Archaeological remains of the fortifications have been found:

Schematic plan of the excavated Hellenistic city showing the locations where large stretches of city walls with adjoining ramparts have been discovered in archaeological excavations (darker color). These massive earth ramparts were built outside the city walls, both on the west and east of the city. 
In 169 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes ordered Jerusalem to be fortified and a fortress to be built south of the Temple Mount. The city walls were strengthened and massive ramparts were added on the outside, making it very difficult for enemies to climb up. A year later, a new fortress – the Seleucid Akra – was built south of the Temple Mount.

When in 168 BCE, an imperial emissary came to Modiin demanding that the people sacrificed on a pagan altar, Mattathias the priest refused to obey. When one of his countrymen came forward to sacrifice, Mattathias killed him and the emissary. This was the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt (1 Maccabees 2:23-25). Mattathias, his sons and many villagers left Modiin immediately and set up camp in the Gophna Hills, from where they fought many battles against the Seleucid army. 

In 164 BCE, Judas, the eldest son of Mattathias, defeated the Seleucid forces at the battle of Beth-zur, and when he and his men went up to Jerusalem to purify and dedicate the sanctuary, they found the Temple in a shocking state of neglect and its buildings in ruins. After they had purified the Temple and a new altar was built, there was great rejoicing. It was then decided to make a law that the keeping of this Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) would be kept every year for eight days (1 Maccabees 4:36-61; 2 Maccabees 10:1-8). This Dedication of the Temple is still celebrated today by the Jewish people during the feast of Hanukkah, and, as three New Testament references (John 10:23, Acts 3:11, 5:12) show, was also observed by Jesus and his disciples.

The Feast of Dedication, known as Hanukkah, lasted eight days. According to Talmudic sources, the oil that was left in the Temple was sufficient for one day only, but miraculously kept the seven oil lamps of the menorah (Lampstand) filled for eight days. The Hanukkiah, in contrast to the menorah, has eight branches. The ninth oil lamp on the central stem, called the shamash, was used to light the other oil lamps. The Feast of Dedication is also mentioned in the Gospel of John 10:22 when Jesus went to Jerusalem and visited the Temple Mount.

In 142 BCE, Simon the Maccabee demolished the hated Akra, the fortress that the Seleucids had built to the south of the Temple Mount. He then leveled the mountain on which it was built, incorporating the whole area into the Temple Mount complex. The bloodline of the Maccabees evolved into the Hasmonean dynasty that established an independent Jewish state lasting till 37 BCE, when Herod the Great became king of Judea.

According to Josephus (Ant. 13:215), after the demolishment of the Akra, Simon the Maccabee lowered the mountain on which it was built, incorporating the whole area into the Temple Mount complex, extending it to the south. This was the first time that the Temple Mount was no longer square.

So, when Jesus walked here and taught the people, it would have reminded them of a unique point unparalleled in their history, when they celebrated God’s intervention in the restoration of their place of worship. And when the name of Solomon’s Porch was used for the eastern stoa, it represented a powerful connection with the dedication of both Solomon’s and the Hasmonean Temple, allowing the silent years to speak.

An overall view of a model of the Herodian Temple Mount looking from the northwest. In the foreground is the Antonia Fortress, while the Temple with its surrounding buildings stood close to the centre of the Temple Mount. The lower portico above the Eastern Wall (upper centre), known as Solomon’s Porch, was built in the Hasmonean period, and by King Solomon. However, at that time, any pre-Herodian structure was attributed to Solomon .

The Road to Emmaus

A new Emmaus trail in Israel is ready for pilgrims, but is it on the right track?

On the 21st of march, 2021, Linda Gradstein wrote in the Jerusalem Post  

“Pilgrims can walk the new 18-km. (11-mile) Emmaus Trail that now goes from the Saxum Visitor Center in Abu Ghosh, which hat exhibits on Christianity, and ends at the monastery of Emmaus Nicopolis.”

The important event that took place on the Road to Emmaus is reported fully only in Luke 24.13-35. These verses record Jesus appearing to two of his disciples while they were going to a place called Emmaus. One was called Cleopas and the other is unnamed.

The fact that on their return to Jerusalem, the two disciples told the eleven (or ‘the rest’ as they are called in Mark 16.13) that “he was known of them in breaking of bread”, shows what a significant occasion it was. It was the first time after the Last Supper that Jesus broke bread again.

From their conversation we learn that those two disciples did not understand why Jesus had to die. We read that “they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned …” (Luke 24.14,15). They were quite perplexed and when Jesus joined them, he asked them what they were talking about. Cleopas told him what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. These two disciples knew the sequence of the events very well, but they did not believe them and had walked away from Jerusalem. After Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, “their heart burned within them”.

Is it important to understand why the first breaking of bread in which Jesus participated after he was raised from the dead, had to take place near a village called Emmaus? And where was Emmaus[1]? Why is that important to know? One thing that I have learnt from following the journeys of Jesus is that he always went to places for a reason, usually to fulfil an Old Testament prophecy.

This map shows some of the candidates for Emmaus

We are told that Emmaus was about 60 stadia[2] (Luke 24.13) from Jerusalem, that is over 4 times as far as Bethany, which was 15 stadia (2.775 km, 1.72 miles) from Jerusalem (John 11.18). As I have lived for two years in Bethany, I know this measurement to be true, as it took me just over half an hour to walk from the back of the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount Excavations. Emmaus should be located therefore some 11 kms or 7 miles from Jerusalem. But in which direction did Jesus go? North, south, east or west? We are not told.


The name Emmaus does not occur anywhere in the Old Testament. However, in one of the New Testament manuscripts, the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis[3], as pointed out by Read-Heimerdinger and Rius-Camps, Emmaus is called Oulammaous[4]. Another ancient source also refers to these names[5]. This is because of an association that was made by some of the early translators with the name of the place where Jacob had a dream after he left his family to go to Padanaram. 

This sign near the modern settlement of Bethel indicates Jacob’s Rock where he had the vision of the ladder. The Hebrew text above it says The Place of Jacob’s Dream.

This first place where Jacob stopped overnight he called Bethel, which means the House of God: 

“And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first”. (Gen. 28:19)

The word order in Hebrew is different:

“And he called the name of that place Bethel: but Luz was the name of the place at first”. 

In the Hebrew text, “but Luz” is “Oulamlouz”, and this became Oulammaous in this manuscript, from which comes Ammaus by changing the “L” to an “M. (Emmaus is the Latin translation).

If Emmaus and Bethel are essentially the same place, then there are amazing parallels between Jacob’s stay in Bethel and Jesus going to Emmaus with the two disciples. 

Some questions still remain to be answered. When the two disciples returned to Jerusalem, they said, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:34)

How did they know that? And who was Cleopas? If the name of Bethel had been obscured, then maybe the name of Cleopas also stood for somebody else. I believe he was Peter, for Cleopas (if you take out the letter ‘L’, as with Oulamaous) sounds very much like Cephas, unto whom we know that Jesus appeared before the other disciples. In the gospels we read that after his resurrection Jesus appeared unto Mary Magdalene first, but it is also written in 1Cor. 15:4,5 that “Jesus was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve”.

In this Lucan account, Peter’s identity is hidden, reflecting perhaps the fact that his eyes were restrained. Jesus had earlier changed Peter’s name to Cephas when he made that good confession that Jesus was the Son of living God. This confession became the foundation stone on which the church is built. Jesus had called him also Simon son of Jonah[6], which means “hearer, son of a dove” – a dove is type of the Holy Spirit. Listening to Jesus’ explanation of why he had to suffer and die, and believing after Jesus had broken bread, made him a true hearer. 

So, if Cleopas is indeed Cephas, then Jesus indeed first appeared to Peter before the other disciples, and if that is so, then how great is the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus toward the disciple who had betrayed him! 

There may be other reasons why the name of Bethel does not appear in the New Testament and that the Canaanite name of Luz (Gen. 28:19) for Bethel was used instead. First of all, Bethel in Hebrew means the House of God, which at that time was understood to be the Temple in Jerusalem. 

The second reason may be that the people of this place were ashamed of their connection with the temple that Jeroboam had built for the worship of Baal, who was often portrayed as a bull (1 Kings 12:26-33)[7]. When some Baal-worshipping youths[8] returned from Bethel to Jericho, they met Elisha and mocked him. Elisha then cursed them in the name of Yahweh, as this meeting had become a confrontation between the worship of Yahweh and that of Baal. Elisha was vindicated when, by divine intervention, two she bears mauled these idol worshippers. The people of Bethel may have wanted to disassociate themselves from their shameful past.

In the fifth year of Rehoboam, the Kingdom of Solomon split. The ten northern tribes set up the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam. To prevent the people from going to Jerusalem during the feast days, Jeroboam made two golden calves and put them in temples, one in Bethel and one in Dan (1Kings 12:28,29). The temple in Bethel has not yet been found, but the one in Dan survived and has been excavated.
In this reconstruction drawing, we see the complete temple for the golden calf in the centre of the courtyard, with a stairway leading up to it. In front of the temple was an altar, while other rooms were arranged around the sanctuary.
The site of Ras et-Tahunah at al-Bireh is an elevated hill, which has been tentatively identified as the high place of Bethel.

It also makes sense that Emmaus would have been located on the Way of the Patriarchs, on which Abraham, Jacob and Joseph had travelled. This ridge road connects places, such as Beersheba, Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethel, Shiloh and Shechem, where some of the most important events in Scripture took place. 


[1] Several candidates for identification with Emmaus have been suggested, e.g. Mozah (Qaloniyeh), Abu Gosh (Castellum), el-Qubeibeh and Imwas (Emmaus-Nicopolis). None of these places, however, have a relevant historical connection to the site under consideration. 

[2] One Roman stadium is about 185 m.

[3] This manuscript is held at the University of Cambridge: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-NN-00002-00041/1 

[4] Read-Heimerdinger, J. and Rius-Camps, J., “Emmaus or Oulammaous? Luke’s Use of the Jewish Scriptures in the Text of Luke 24 in Codex Bezae”, Revista Catalana de Teologia (RCatT) 27 (2002), pp. 23-43.

[5] Eusebius of Caesarea, in Onomasticon 40.20 writes, Baithel (Bethel) is now a village twelve miles from Ailia (Jerusalem) to the right of the road going to Neapolis (Shechem). It was formerly called Oulamma and also Luza. It was given to the lot of the tribe of Benjamin, near Bethaun (Bethaven) and Gai (Ai). Josue (Joshua) also fought there killing the king.”

[6] Matthew 16:17.

[7] The site of Ras et-Tahunah at al-Bireh is an elevated hill, which has been tentatively identified as the high place of Bethel.

[8] These youths were not little children. The Hebrew na’arim ketanim indicates young people, not little children.  Abraham’s 318 young men that defeated the armies of Chedorlaomer and his allies, were also called na’arim (Gen. 14:24). When Solomon became king at the age of 40, he asked God for wisdom as he said that he was but a “little child” (na’ar katan), the same Hebrew words that were used to described the youths in 2 Kings 2:23,24.

The destruction of the site of Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal

A couple of days ago, the Palestinians destroyed part of the surrounding wall of an important archaeological site on Mount Ebal. Although its identification is controversial, many believe that these are the remains of the altar that Joshua built on Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:30) . Whatever the identification, the destruction of archaeological sites in Israel is deplorable. For further comments, see: here, here and here (with aerial video).

Photo from Zachi Dvira’s blog. Part of the enclosure wall in the centre of the photo is being destroyed.

I know the site well, for in 1983, I was asked by Prof. Benjamin Mazar to visit a new archaeological site on Mount Ebal that was being excavated by Adam Zertal and make reconstructions drawings of this altar. 

Here I am following Adam Zertal who is explaining the site to me.
Adam (c) talking to Amihai Mazar (r) and Kathleen (l).
A reconstruction of the altar site
The enclosure wall round the altar site. Part of the surrounding wall on the right (not visible in this drawing) was destroyed.

As Zachi comments: “What happened recently in Mount Ebal is the tip of the iceberg about everything that has been happening in Judea and Samaria in recent years.” Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for the relevant authorities to put a stop to this senseless destruction.

10th Anniversary of The Quest

In July 2006, my book The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was published. The launch of The Quest took place at the  International Christian Retail Show in Denver, USA.

Holding the first copy of The Quest

I don’t know who was more excited to see this book in print, John E. Mancini of the Lamb Foundation who had sponsored me to write this book, Emanuel Hausman, Chairman of Carta Publishing in Jerusalem, or myself.

I dedicated the book to “John E. Mancini for sharing the vision to let the ancient stones tell their story and his unstinting support of The Quest.” We first met in Albuquerque, where Dr. Steven Collins, asked me to lecture on a regular basis as adjunct-professor at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, NM, which he heads. I wrote this in the preface of The Quest:

For several years, Dr. Collins and I led tours to Israel. One participant, John E. Mancini, who with his wife Chris attended all our seminars and tours, expressed great interest in my research and was keen to make this material publicly available. John had already set up the Lamb Foundation to help Trinity and other projects, and during the fall of 1999 offered to help publish this book on the Temple Mount. I am delighted to thank him for the opportunity he gave me to devote myself to the presentation of my research carried out from the start of my archaeological career on the Temple Mount excavations in 1973. Thanks to John E. Mancini, to whom the book is dedicated, and all those who aided and accompanied me on this long and arduous journey, the public at large can now partake in the extensive documentation of Temple Mount history and archaeology provided by this volume and evaluate the proffered solutions to vexing questions.

Emanuel Hausman, Chairman of Carta Jerusalem (left), the author (centre) and John E. Mancini of the Lamb Foundation (right) in Denver, 2006.

Kathleen and I have experienced how pleasant it is to work with Carta, the Jerusalem publishers, on a number of publications. This book has, however, been a much more elaborate project. My thanks to all the people at Carta, their superb management and meticulous attention to the many details demanded by this title, especially to Barbara Laural Ball for her sensitive editing and general supervision of the project. Their proficiency can be seen on every page.

Ten years later, the book is still in demand and sells well and we have had many positive comments and favourable reviews. Yesterday, the 4th of July 2016, our book was chosen by the Temple Mount Sifting Project to top their list of the “10 Books To Read If You’re Into Archaeology and Israel” (even before the Hebrew Bible!).

This list was created by the staff of the Temple Mount Sifting Project in honor of their Book Week Campaign. It includes everything you need to know about Israel, Jerusalem, archaeology, and the Temple Mount.

1. The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

This book is by Leen Ritmeyer. The recommendation was fought over by Gaby Barkay and Frankie Snyder. We will give them both credit.

“No book is better suited to the study, understanding and development of the manmade plateau that is the focus of the world s interest the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Ritmeyer’s experience as architect of the Temple Mount Excavations following the Six-Day War, coupled with his exploration of parts of the mount now hardly accessible and his doctoral research into the problems of the Temple Mount make him singularly qualified for the task.”

The other books on the list look very interesting too!

Underground Jerusalem

Nir Sasson wrote a fascinating article in Haaretz on the underground excavations taking place in Jerusalem.

 Jerusalem has vastly expanded in the 7,000 years of its existence. Including, in the past two decades, downwards. Beneath the Old City, one can already walk hundreds of meters underground, pray in subterranean spaces of worship and see shows in subterranean caverns and halls. There are plans in place to dramatically increase this area – essentially, restoring the true ancient city beneath the visible one.

The article is accompanied by excellent plans, photographs and videos to bring you up to speed with what is happening underground. Despite protests from the Palestinians, who deny that the Jews have any historical connection with the Temple Mount, these digs do not penetrate below the Temple Mount.

Magnificent discoveries have been made in the City of David:

Near a 3,000-year-old fortification wall in the park’s center, or in the center of Silwan – depending on whom you ask, we descend underground through an iron door. It leads into a short tunnel that opens up into a series of rooms and halls. Here, in an area still closed to the public, fortification and water systems were discovered, mainly from the Canaanite period, or according to Jewish chronology – prior to the capture of the city by King David. Some have been known to science for over 100 years.

It is possible today to visit the underground remains in the City of David, see the Gihon Spring and walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel that brings you to the Siloam Pool. From there one can walk underground through an ancient sewer below the Herodian street that leads up to just below Robinson’s Arch in the Temple Mount excavations, aka the Davidson Archeological Park. (see this video: 01_uknima)

A large stretch of the Herodian street had already been excavated above ground by the team of Prof. Benjamin Mazar in the 1970’s along the southern end of the Western Wall. The street that was found below Robinson’s Arch continues north to the Damascus Gate and south to the Siloam Pool in the City of David:

Before Mazar’s excavations, smaller parts of the same street  had been excavated lower down in the City of David by Bliss and Dickie in the 1890’s, in the 1930’s by Hamilton and in the 1960’s by Kathleen Kenyon.

In the last couple of years, underground excavations have apparently expanded and uncovered the full width of the Herodian street for a stretch of 120 meters. The original width was 7.50 meters. New tunnels are being dug to connect this street with the Givati parking lot excavations and the new visitor’s centre planned in this area just south of the Dung Gate.

To the north of the Western Wall Plaza one can walk through the Western Wall Tunnel and see the many new areas that have been excavated. The plan appears to be that in the future all these areas will be linked together, so that a “subterranean City of Jerusalem” can be visited.

Not everybody is happy about this development. One protester said:

“A huge excavation project is taking place here, hidden from the public eye, using outdated excavation methods. This is an excavation without boundaries and without any clear category, it’s not a research dig and not a rescue dig, it has no limit of time or place and no professional objectives.”

The excavation methods are not outdated, but these plans are very ambitious and politically controversial. However, once realised, a whole new experience is waiting for tourists to explore this “parallel universe” and enjoy a journey through “Underground Jerusalem”.

 

 

Solomon’s Temple in Brazil

Last year, a new church building was constructed in São Paulo, Brazil, by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

It is claimed that the design is based on Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, “but with increased dimensions”. It certainly is an impressive building, but it is hard to see a real comparison with Solomon’s Temple, which was much smaller and relatively tall. This new building serves as a church and has many rooms and even apartments, while Solomon’s Temple only had two rooms:

A reconstruction drawing of Solomon’s Temple, based on archaeological evidence and the description in 1 Kings 6. The Holy of Holies is placed on the Rock, which is actually the top of Mount Moriah and visible inside the Islamic Dome of the Rock. A special emplacement was cut in the rock for the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 8.6,21). The Altar stands in the threshing floor of Araunah, where David had previously built an altar (2 Sam. 24:18; 1Chr. 21:18).

The exterior of this new building looks squat and hasn’t got the elegance of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how the Ark of the Covenant is brought in, properly covered with a blue cloth, and all the other instruments. There also is a model of the Tabernacle. Here is a video:

Wikipedia has the following page:

The Temple serves as both a house of worship and as world headquarters for the Church. The mega-church seats 10,000 worshipers and stands 55 meters (180′) tall, the height of an 18-story building. Its dimensions therefore far exceed the temple it replicates, described in the Bible as having the relatively modest height of some thirteen meters (“thirty cubits”, 1 Kings 6:2).

The majority of the temple space is devoted to the main sanctuary. The sanctuary is lined with pews imported from Spain, which face the main altar. The sanctuary has a conveyor belt system designed to carry tithes and offerings from the altar directly into a safe room. The main ceiling is adorned with 10,000 LED light bulbs which will form different patterns designed to look like stars. Keeping with the Jewish theme of the temple, the walls are adorned with menorahs, and the entrance features a large central menorah.

The church spared no expense in designing the many other features of the temple. Aside from the main sanctuary, the temple also has 36 rooms for children’s Bible school, with a capacity of about 1,300 children, radio and television studios, a museum about the original temple, and 84 apartments of differing sizes for bishops and pastors of the church. The 11-story complex includes outdoor features such as a helicopter landing pad, a garden of olive trees based on the Garden of Gethsemane near Jerusalem, and flags of several countries. There is a parking lot able to accommodate 1,000 vehicles and 50 buses, classrooms for 1,300 children, and radio and television studios inside the building.

One of the most prominent features of the temple is its large central altar. It features an exact replica of the Ark of the Covenant, built to the specifications described in the Book of Exodus. The structure is entirely covered in gold leaf. Behind the ark is the temple’s baptistry, above the altar is 100 square meters of gold stained glass windows, and an inscription “Holiness to the Lord”.

The temple construction cost $300m and took four years to build.

HT: Alexander Schick

Virtual Tour of the Temple 2.0

Visiting the Temple Mount can be a frustating experience nowadays with Muslims protesting against the presence of Jews and other non-Muslim visitors. However, there are resources, such as our own guide book to the Temple Mount, and now a new DVD with lots of information on the Temple Mount that make it possible to visit the Temple Mount in a virtual way without all the hassle one could encounter in real time.

Randall Price, the presenter, wrote the following:

With over four years of production time, this new product offers a guided tour of the biblical, archaeological and historical sites on the Temple Mount as well as other parts of Jerusalem, the site of the Tabernacle at Shiloh, and the full-scale model of the Tabernacle at Timna Park.

With over 100 high-definition 360-degree panoramas and informative videos, the user is transported to the modern sites to explore for themselves the ancient biblical and historical connections. Maps are available to guide to the desired modern sites, which show reconstructions of the ancient Temple based on the work of Dr. Leen Ritmeyer. Dr. Randall Price, author of the Rose Guide to the Temple provides the on location video instruction.

The product is available in four languages (English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese) on a single DVD-ROM for both PC and MAC.

Because Islamic officials deny the existence of the Temple at the Temple Mount and prevent visitors from explaining the biblical significance or showing diagrams or pictures of the ancient Temple, this new product corrects this situation in an educational and entertaining way.

European customers can order the DVD here, while American and Canadian orders can be placed on this website.

The Gold of the Jerusalem Temple

In the latest Biblical Archaeology Review (Jan./Feb. 2016), Peter Schertz and Steven Fine wrote an interesting article called  “A Temple’s Golden Anniversary”. The anniversary they refer to is that of the well-known model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period that at present is located in the Israel Museum and will be 50 years old in 2016.

Avi-Yonah’s model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

In 1966, Prof. Avi-Yonah completed a 4-year project of creating a model of Second Temple Jerusalem built to a scale of 1:50. It was commissioned by Hans Kroch, owner of the Holyland Hotel, in memory of his son Jacob, who was killed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 2006 the model was dismantled and rebuilt in the grounds of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This model and especially the section that depicts the Temple became so popular that it became “the standard image of the Second Temple for Jews and Christians alike.” 

The authors describe the Temple complex in great detail and show that Avi-Yonah, in his research for this model, used the descriptions by Josephus, contemporary architectural styles, such as that of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and other sites, and depictions on coins, such as those issued during the Bar Kochba Revolt (133-135 AD) that show a Temple façade with a flat roof supported by four columns.

A silver tetradrachm of the Bar Kokhba period, showing the Temple façade with four columns and a flat roof. (Wikipedia)

In the article however, there is a strong focus on the gold of Herod’s Temple:

“How much gold decorated the Temple is also a matter of debate. Josephus describes the Temple façade as covered with ‘massive plates of gold’ and writes that a large golden vine hung with golden fruit above the large door leading to the inner sanctum. … Avi-Yonah took a rather conservative stance toward gold, using it for external trim, but not as a facing for the Temple, nor did he include the golden vine in his reconstruction.”

A close-up view of the façade of Avi-Yonah’s Temple model shows capitals and parts of the entablature covered with gold.

This model made by Alec Garrard in the United Kingdom also shows minimal gold decoration in the façade of Herod’s Temple. This model does, however, have a golden vine. Photo: © Ritmeyer Archaeological Design

In their article, the authors contrasted Avi-Yonah’s model with the one I designed for the late Benjamin Adelman, Chairman of the American Friends of the Israel Exploration Society in Washington DC. His commission of several models was a wonderful opportunity to put my personal research of many years of study of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount into elegant models of Herod’s Temple, Herod’s Temple Mount, Solomon’s Temple and the Tabernacle. These models were produced in England by a professional modelmaking firm, York Modelmaking and Display Limited and shipped over to Washington. After Adelman’s death, these models were bequeathed to the Yeshiva University Museum in New York.

The authors wrote of my model of Herod’s Temple:

“In contrast to Avi-Yonah, Leen Ritmeyer, the former architect of the archaeological excavations below the Temple Mount, has taken a rather maximalist approach to the Temple gold. His model … covers the entire façade with sheets of gold.”

The golden façade of Herod’s Temple with white columns and entablature, based on  the description by Josephus and other historical sources

The Golden Vine was one of the most remarkable in all the Temple precincts. Middot records that “A golden vine stood over the entrance to the sanctuary, trained over posts; and whosoever gave a leaf, or a berry, or a cluster as a freewill-offering, he brought it and the priests hung it thereon.” This vine was so famous that even Tacitus (History 5.5) wrote about it. While keeping the Passover in Jerusalem, Christ may also have alluded to this very feature of the Temple when he said in John 15. 1: “I am the true vine.”

The authors are unsure of which areas were covered with gold and suggest that the description of the Temple by Josephus (see below) is somewhat obscure:

The sacred edifice itself, the holy Temple, in the central position, was approached by a flight of twelve steps. The façade was of equal height and breadth, each being a hundred cubits; but the building behind was narrower … The entire façade was covered with gold, and though it the first edifice [the Sanctuary beyond the Porch] was visible to a spectator without in all its grandeur and the surroundings of the inner gate all gleaming with gold fell beneath his eye …The gate opening … had, moreover, above it those golden vines, from which depended grape clusters as tall as a man; and it had golden doors … The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of the purest white. From its summit protruded sharp golden spikes to prevent birds from settling upon them and polluting the roof. (War 5.207–226 and also Ant. 15.391-395)

From this description one gets the impression that most of the façade was covered with gold, apart from the upper part. To reduce the enormous amount of gold that the use of massive plates would require, it is more likely that a thin gold foil may have been pressed against the stones and the edges tucked in between them. Remains of thin gold foil have been found in other buildings from that period. We know that the top part of the Temple façade, called the entablature, was not covered with gold, because other sources indicate that the exposed limestone blocks were whitewashed once a year. This would confirm Josephus’ description of the Temple facade as a snow-clad mountain.

Josephus is not the only source describing the gold of the Temple. Mishnah Shekalim 4.4 mentions that the surplus of the terumah was used to make “golden plating for bedecking the Holy of Holies.” The terumah was originally a heave-offering of agricultural produce, but is used here as a financial contribution which was taken three times a year and put in the Chamber of the Half-shekel of the Temple. It appears that if enough money was available, golden plates of one cubit square were made and hung on the walls of the Sanctuary, as Middot  4.1 says that “all the House was overlaid with gold.” Some of these plates were put on display during the three main pilgrim festivals.

Another historical reference to the gold of the Temple is to be found in the New Testament (Matt. 23:16,17) where Jesus berates the Pharisees and Scribes who said: “Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!” Jesus reasons that the Temple that sanctified the gold was greater than the gold itself. It appears therefore that the gold of the Temple was well known at that time.

Finally, as mentioned in a previous post, an inscription in Rome suggests that the gold of the Jerusalem Temple was used for the building of the Colosseum. The Colosseum is a very large building and lots of money, in the form of silver and gold, would have been needed for its construction.

We will never know for sure how much gold the Jerusalem Temple contained and exactly where it was displayed, internally and externally. It is generally known that Josephus occasionally exaggerates, but that a large amount of gold was displayed in the Jerusalem Temple, appears to be a reasonable suggestion if we also take other historical sources into consideration.