Wednesday, May 30, 2018

How Did Everybody Forget Where the Temple Was?

This is Part III of a series: Where Did Israel's Temples Stand? You may read Part I here, and Part II is here.

In the previous post in this series, we looked at the fairly convincing evidence that Jerusalem's present-day "Temple Mount," or Haram-esh-Sharif as the Muslims call it, is the foundation of what was once the Roman fortress at Jerusalem, built by Herod and named "Antonia" for his patron Mark Antony. It was not the site at all for any of the earlier temples which were at the center of Jewish religious life. Rather, as eyewitness testimony will show, the site for Herod's temple (and Zerubbabel's, and Solomon's) was at the top of the mount called Ophel, about 1000 feet to the south of the Antonia fortress.

In this post, I want to review the eyewitness testimony as to the temple's location, in contrast to that of Antonia's. We will start with the earliest testimony recorded just after Titus and his Roman soldiers had razed Herod's temple to the ground -- including all its foundations.  Our starting point is, once again, the first-century historian Josephus, who was in Jerusalem (and a member of Titus' staff) when the Romans destroyed the temple.

Josephus quotes Eleazar, the commander of the Jewish forces at Masada until that fortress in turn was overrun by the Romans three years after Jerusalem fell.  As the Romans were about to storm the last ramparts that defended the Jews there, Eleazar gave a speech urging his men to put themselves to the sword rather than accept death or captivity at the hands of the Romans. In the course of that speech, Josephus has him say of Jerusalem (Jewish War, 7:375-76 [Hammond tr., OUP 2017; my emphasis):
"Where now is that great city, the mother-city of the whole Jewish race, secure behind all those rings of walls, protected by all those guard-posts and massive towers, with hardly enough room for its arsenal of munitions, and with all those tens of thousands of fighting men to defend it? Where has it gone, that city of ours which was believed to have God as its founder? It has been torn up by the roots and swept away.  The only memorial of it left is the camp of those that destroyed it, still quartered in the ruins . . .".
While Eleazar's words might be artistic license rather than recorded verbatim, the fact that their author is Josephus, who was himself personally familiar with what the Romans left standing at Jerusalem, is guaranty enough that what Eleazar states is an accurate description  -- otherwise those with equal knowledge of the facts -- including Josephus' own sponsor, Titus himself -- could easily have contradicted him.

The next eyewitness testimony is from the time of the Emperor Hadrian, in 132 A.D., who with Roman troops put down the second Jewish rebellion which began that year, led by Simon bar-Kokhba.  That rebellion, unlike the first, was not fought in the streets of Jerusalem, because Titus and his troops had left the city uninhabitable. Citing contemporary accounts, Epiphanius of Salamis, who was the bishop of Cyprus, wrote in the fourth century:
It was in the second year of his reign when [Hadrian] went up to Jerusalem, the famous and much-praised city which had been destroyed by Titus the son of Vespasian. He found it utterly destroyed and God's Holy Temple a ruin, there being nothing where the city stood but a few dwellings and one small church. . . .  [Then] Hadrian decided to restore the city, but not the Temple.
Hadrian built the city he called Aelia Capitolina on the westernmost hill of the former Jerusalem, in the area of what Josephus called "the upper city." The builders used stones from the former Temple and from other ruins left by Titus. (This "recycling" of stones from the lower city has presented many puzzles for archaeologists at Jerusalem's various sites.)

The former City of David, on the lower eastern hill (where the temple had stood), was left to go fallow, and according to the testimony of St. Jerome (in his Commentaries, with reference to Isaiah 64:11) "the Temple which earned reverence throughout the world has become the refuse dump of the new city Aelia . . .".

The Christian historian Eusebius was the librarian at Caesarea, and frequently visited the library at Aelia in the early fourth century. On numerous occasions in his writings he laments the complete and utter destruction of the Temple, and notes that its site was now "a Roman farm like the rest of the country . . . I have seen the bulls plowing there and the sacred site sown with seed" (Ecclesiastical History VIII.3:406).

In contrast to the site of the Temple, other fourth-century writers referred to the site of Fortress Antonia as the site of the rebuilt Praetorium, where Jesus had been tried before Pilate. The Romans ceased using it as a fort around A.D. 289, and Eusebius reported it had deteriorated from disuse by the time he came to Jerusalem (Aelia). But St. Jerome again describes it rebuilt circa 380 A.D. as an "imperial residence", in which he invited his noble-born friend Paula (who had become a nun) to stay. (She declined on the ground that it was too ornate for a nun, even one who was noble-born.)

By the time of the "Piacenza Pilgrim", writing ca. A.D. 570, there was a Christian shrine, called the Basilica of St. Sophia or the "Church of the Holy Wisdom" built on the Praetorium platform to surround the "judgment rock" on which it was thought that Jesus had stood when Pilate sentenced him to death. From the description the Pilgrim gives of the rock, there can be no doubt that this is the same irregular stone over which the Dome of the Rock now stands, in the middle of the Haram-esh-Sharif, and the Pilgrim's narrative thus supplies the conclusive connection between the former Roman Praetorium (Antonia Fortress) and the Haram-esh-Sharif which so many now mistake as "the Temple Mount". The indentations which present-day Muslims identify as the "footprints of Mohammed" which the Prophet left as he began his final journey are the same which the "Piacenza Pilgrim" identified in 570 A.D. as the "footprints of Jesus" when he stood before Pilate.

Making this connection enables one to understand just how the memory of the original temple site was lost over time, and became conflated with the site of the Antonia, now the Haram-esh-Sharif. The Church of the Holy Wisdom stood over its revered rock during Byzantine times until the Persians (and Jewish soldiers) destroyed it in A.D. 614. As I noted in the post before this one, Caliph Omar, after conquering Jerusalem in A.D. 638, left the (now) bare rock alone when he built the al-Aqsa Mosque at the far southern end of the fortress platform to honor the Prophet's last journey. But by the time of the Caliph Abd-al-Malik in A.D. 691, Muslims had come to identify the visible markings on the rock with the Prophet's nighttime journey, and so he had the Dome of the Rock built over it, where it stands today.

So things went until the time of the Crusades. When the Christians conquered Jerusalem in A.D. 1099, they slaughtered most of Jerusalem's Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, and converted al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock into Christian places of worship. Later Crusaders mistakenly identified al-Aqsa as having been built on the site of Solomon's Temple, and called it "Templum Solomonis". King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, along with Jerusalem's then patriarch, gave approval to the formation of a military holy order to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy City. He let them establish their headquarters in the refurbished al-Aqsa mosque, and due to its Christian name they became known as the "Knights Templar".

And ever since, Christians, Moslems and Jews have identified the Haram-esh-Sharif as the former site of the Jewish temples, beginning with that of Solomon.

The original connection between the Temple of Solomon and the Gihon Spring has been forgotten. (Even the Roman historian Tacitus referred to Herod's Temple as having an "inexhaustible spring" within its perimeter, while there were only cisterns -- and no spring -- to supply water for the Antonia Fortress.) To complete the circle back to the original temple site, I will review the evidence identifying Gihon's waters with the Temple in a subsequent post.


  1. Mr Haley, I am confused about the position of the Temple (as you locate it) with respect to the temple mount as it exists today. Does a drawing or photograph exist which superimposes the Temple on the present day temple mount so we could see the relationship between the Temple and the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock? If the Temple existed today would it, for instance, be located directly between these other two structures? To have a graphic depiction would be very helpful.

  2. Topper, in my first post in this series I linked to an article by Dr. Ernest Martin in 1998 that is headed by an illustration of the relationship between the Antonia Fortress (on the right in the drawing, which is north) and Herod's Temple (on the left, to the south) that Dr. Martin conjectured was described by Josephus as an eyewitness.

    The annotated drawing is not perfect in all respects, but it gives the general idea: the "Temple Mount" today consists of the entire elevated area shown in the drawing as the Antonia Fortress, and the Temple to the south of it is connected by two parallel colonnades that run for six hundred feet from the southwestern corner of the Fortress.

    The al-Aqsa mosque today is situated at the southern end of the Haram-es-Sharif (Antonia) platform, where the drawing shows the southern wall of the Fortress (with which the colonnades from the Temple connect at its southwestern corner), including its very high tower at the southeastern corner. The mosque is approached by the steps leading up to its southern wall in the drawing, and its extent takes in some of the buildings shown inside the southern wall of the Fortress.

    The Dome of the Rock, if it were superimposed on the drawing, would cover the cluster of buildings shown just inside the western wall of the Fortress (the one at the upper right), about midway along its length.

    And as you can see, the Temple site itself is a raised platform some 600 feet south of the Fortress (to the latter's left in the drawing), which had its own (eastern) foundation walls extending deep into the Kidron Valley below. Those walls are no longer visible at all today; they were torn out completely by the Romans in A.D. 70, all the way to the bottom of the valley. But the foundation walls of the Fortress remain today, along with some of the superstructure above those walls (but with none of the interior Fortress buildings shown in the drawing -- those have been leveled, so that the only interior structures now are the Muslim mosques and their associated smaller buildings visible on the Haram-esh-Sharif today).

    Here is another link to an article by Dr. Martin's colleague that has some useful aerial photographs showing the structures on the Haram-esh-Sharif today and that platform's relation to the location of the Gihon Spring in the City of David to the south. As reconstructed in Dr. Martin's drawing linked earlier, and using the aerial photograph on page 9 of the linked article, the raised Temple platform would have stood between the blue arrow indicating the Gihon Spring and the vertically oriented street to the right of the yellow outline of the southern end of the Haram-esh-Sharif (where the blue arrow points to the "Al-Aqsa Mosque").

    It's difficult to describe in words with reference to drawings and photographs I can't reproduce in this reply to your comment, but I hope what I have said above, if you read it carefully in relation to the drawings and articles linked, will give you a better idea of the thesis which Dr. Martin put forward in 1998, and which I am trying to expand upon in this series.

  3. So the Crusaders mistook the Muslim buildings for the Temple site, and we have accepted that ever since. This makes a lot of sense.

    Is the City of David site under the control of Israel today? I think it may be. Of course, after a thousand years of misunderstanding, it will be hard to convince many present-day Christians and Jews that they're reverencing the wrong location.

    1. Exactly right, Katherine. Israel owns and controls the City of David, which is conducting excavations currently in a City park very near the ancient temple site. There is nothing to stop Israel from rebuilding the Temple on that site -- except they would have to convince all their worshiping Jews first that they have been praying at the wrong site. And for that to happen, God Himself may have to give a sign . . .

  4. The ancient authorities and descriptions of Fortress Antonia and the Temple convince me that this is correct. However, it does lead to a great irony. Muslim activists insist that Jews had nothing to do with the Haram-esh-Sharif. If the Temple was up there, this is dead wrong, but if it wasn't, then they are correct. Jews would have no reason to want to go up to pray on the site of the hated Roman citadel. I might want to go up, as a Christian, to stand on the spot where Jesus was condemned, where Peter denied Him three times, and where they watched Pilate wash his hands.

  5. The wailing wall still works as a site of prayer to remember what the Romans did to Jerusalem.

  6. Agree and concur with respondents 2, 3, 4, and 5. Respondent number one was asking a question of clarification which deserves an answer, and I am certain that our leader will provide something more than adequate.
    Katherine's question at 05:51 Pacific Daylight Time is salient and has been raised by other questioners over the years. The Knights Templar and the pilgrimmages by the Euro-Christians, as well as other authorities and personalities were easily confused once they encountered the buildings and the various explanations they received from the "natives". Good Grief!! Imagine the Copts!! It is almost as if the Announcing Angels and the echoes of the Prophets were setting up the Euros and the Moslems, etc. to forever dwell in the "FOG OF WHAT IF....?" during the succeeding centuries. I shall await my leader's words. (Remember...people are still debating about what lies beneath the Sphinx which is somewhere between 30,000 and 4,000 years old depending upon which overnight radio programme is airing at that early morning hour.)

  7. Mr. Haley, Thank you for your helpful reply to my question. I subsequently did some searches on the internet, and found several videos on YouTube which deal exactly with this issue. (I used the following question on the search line: “Where was the temple located?”) From watching a couple of them, two important issues appear to emerge. First, in line with Dr. Martin and yourself, there are a number of investigators who, through their research, are arriving at the conclusion that the Temple was likely located in the City of David, which is at least 200 meters south of the modern “temple mount.” This includes academics from Israel itself. Second, as you alluded to yourself in a previous comment, it seems there is a lot of intellectual and emotional investment from within the Jewish community, and from others, in upholding the tradition that the modern temple mount is indeed where the Temple was located. This is very understandable given, for example, the dedication and devotion to prayer displayed at the western wall. If indeed, as some maintain, a third Temple is going to be built, it will require the changing of a lot of minds. However, as you suggest, our God is well capable of doing this!

  8. I will watch reports about the archaeological work at the City of David with interest. The Temple walls were demolished, but that doesn't mean there won't be artifacts.

    What I wonder is whether modern Jews, even strict Orthodox, would actually want a rebuilt Temple, with all its attendant blood sacrifices. Rabbinic Judaism developed from first-century Jewish practice after the Temple was demolished (and also among Jews before that time who were too far from Jerusalem to worship there often), without the routine of the sacrifices.

  9. Mr. Haley. I am a great admirer of all your posts and want to thank you for the sterling work you have done on the legal cases.

    This subject seems to have been gaining momentum recently and a lot more people are becoming aware of the theories put forward by Martin and Cornuke.

    But as you have noticed, the establishment is fighting back. And to be honest, much as I would like to believe they may be wrong, I think they are making some points that cannot be so easily dismissed.

    For instance, let's just look at two of the main arguments for the City of David location:

    1) The only source of water for Jerusalem was the Gihon spring, so the Temple had to be located near it.

    I am not sure this is really true. There appears to be a lot of historical and archeological evidence to show that the water for the Temple Mount came from the Etam Spring near Bethlehem, and passed by aqueduct over Wilson's Arch into the Mount.

    2) Josephus says the Fortress of Antonia housed a roman legion and so it would have required something the size of the Mount to house it.

    I have William Whiston's 1889 translation and it does use the word legion (as opposed to the more recent translation of cohort), but I am not sure that you can really take this literally.

    I see several problems with this.

    1) In my translation Josephus never used the word fortress, he describes it as the Tower of Antonia (which has 4 smaller towers of its own of which the south eastern one was taller than the others and was the only one from which you could see into the Temple).

    2) The tower is described as being "situated at the corner of two cloisters of the court of the temple, of that on the west and that of the north"

    3) The cloisters of the outermost court are described as being "in depth thirty cubits, while the entire compass of it was by measure six furlongs, including the tower of Antonia".

    In other words the Temple complex was huge, far too big to have sat on the hill in the City of David, and I don't see how something which is at the corner of something else and included in it can be bigger than it.

    Another point that seems to have been overlooked is that Josephus describes Titus as having to take the Tower of Antonia in order to get into the Temple. Why would he have had to do this if there was already a Roman legion in it? Far more likely, it was a smaller force that the Jews had previously overrun.

    Josephus also describes the Jews setting fires in the cloisters to keep the Romans contained in the tower and not let them into the Temple complex. He also describes how they do eventually get in but still have to bring up machinery to get into the Temple itself, presumably because it had its own defensive walls (which was why only the tallest tower in Antonia could see into it).

    As to the location of the Temple itself within the Mount, I think that question is still open. I think there are good arguments to place it at the southern end overlooking the City of David rather than at the Dome of the Rock.

    To summarize: I am not saying that the City of David theory is necessarily wrong, just that we may need to be a bit more cautious in accepting it.

    1. Thank you for that extended comment, Robert A. There is a lot to which I want to respond, but I shall have to do so in later posts in this series.

      For example, there is no archaeological evidence to show that the aqueduct you describe was built earlier than the Hasmonean period. Its ascription to Solomon is conjecture based on the name given to the Pools of Solomon and passages such as Ecclesiastes 2:6 and Josephus, Antiquities 8:186.

      Your readings of Josephus lead to a mistaken notion of the Antonia in relation to the Temple. In the passage you cite about the Jews setting fire to the colonnades (cloisters), the columns in question are those which Josephus earlier described as two parallel rows, running from the Antonia to the northwest corner of the cloisters around the temple. As I pointed out in my post, these were each one stade (600 feet, or one furlong) long (and counted by Josephus in his circumference of six furlongs: four for the four sides, and one each for the colonnade running up and the other coming down). By setting them on fire, the Jews temporarily prevented Titus’ soldiers from entering the Temple area via their usual route. (Also, Titus had to retake the Antonia because, as Josephus states, the Zealots had originally overrun the Roman contingent manning the fort at the outset of the rebellion. There was way less than a legion in it at that time, because the full legion came from Caesarea only during Holy festivals.)

      There is much, much more to say in reply, but it will have to wait for further posts in this series.