You are on page 1of 14

Were There Jewish Temples on Temple Mount?

The preponderance of archaeological and historical evidence is overwhelming and
the argument that there is 'no proof' of the Temples is a modern political
Ruth Schuster and Ran Shapira Oct 21, 2015 3:24 PM

A panoramic view of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.Davidson Norris

Was there once a great Jewish temple on Jerusalems Temple Mount? Yes. Does
any scholar genuinely doubt there was? No, say archaeologists who have spent
their lives studying Jerusalem. "I feel stupid even having to comment on it," says
Dr. Yuval Baruch, a leading Israeli archaeologist who has studied Jerusalem
throughout his career." Demanding proof that the Temples stood on the Mount
is like demanding proof that the ancient stone walls surrounding Jerusalem,
which stand to this day, were the ancient stone walls surrounding Jerusalem," he
The contention that there is no proof the Temples existed, let alone on the
Mount, is an artifact of the recent Israeli-Arab conflict. Jewish, Christian and
Muslim tradition has always held the Mount sacred and none queried the
existence of the Temples. "A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif," published in
English by the Supreme Muslim Council itself in 1925, states: "The site is one of
the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps from prehistoric) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond
dispute. As well as being sacred to Jews, the hilltop plaza, which could go back

as much as 5,000 years, is sacred to Muslims as the place from which the
Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. No Muslim scholars would agree to be
interviewed for this article.
Jewish tradition says the First Temple was built by King Solomon on Temple
Mount. It was destroyed by the Babylonians, who expelled the Jews from the
land, in about 587 B.C.E. When the Jews were allowed to return from exile some
decades later, they built a new temple on the site, but it was a simple structure.
Their makeshift effort was not to the taste of King Herod, who swept away the
shabby house of worship, created a great platform on the top of the Mount and
had the grand Second Temple erected on it, within a massive compound.
The Second Temple was destroyed and looted by the Romans in 70 C.E., under
Emperor Titus. How much of this can be proved? Almost all.
Carved in stone
Archaeologists cannot conclusively point to stones they know comprised the
Second Temple, let alone the first one. But as Prof. Israel Finkelstein, a worldrenowned expert on Jerusalem archaeology, spells out in an email to Haaretz,
"There is no scholarly school of thought that doubts the existence of the First
All the archaeologists Haaretz spoke with for this article believe that if Temple
Mount could be excavated which it never has been such evidence would be
found, even if many of the stones were repurposed over the centuries. But
concrete finds definitively from the Temple exist in abundance, says Bar-Ilan
University Prof. Gabriel Barkay, an archaeologist who has spent many years
working in Jerusalem, and the area of Temple Mount in particular.
"Two copies of inscriptions prohibiting the entry of nonbelievers to the Temple
have been found on Temple Mount, which Josephus wrote about. These
inscriptions were on the dividing wall that surrounded the Second Temple, which
prevented non-Jews from accessing the interior of the [Temple] courtyard,"
Barkay says, adding that both were written in ancient Greek. The "warning"
stone, which is at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, warns non-Jews of the
perils of entering the sacred Temple. There were additional, similar inscriptions
in Latin, he says.
Another inscription in stone, "To the trumpeting place," was found in 1968 at the
southwest corner of Temple Mount. "It is known that trumpets were blown at
the corners of Temple Mount, to declare the advent of Shabbat and other
dates," Barkay explains. Josephus, the ancient historian of ephemeral loyalties,
explains that it was customary for a Temple priest to "stand and to give notice,
by sound of trumpet, in the afternoon of the approach, and on the following

evening of the close, of every seventh day." The stone is now at the Israel

An inscribed stone discovered in 1968 by Benjamin Mazar, stating: "lebeit

hatekiya" - To the Trumpeting Place. It belonged to the Second Temple. Yoavd,
Israel Museum, Wikimedia Commons

The "warning inscription": 'No foreigner may enter within the balustrade around
the sanctuary and the enclosure. Whoever is caught, on himself shall he put
blame for the death which will ensue' Oncenwawhile, Istanbul Archaeology
Museum, Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Yuval Baruch: Feels silly having to even comment on whether the Temples
existed. Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

A mikveh found at the foot of the Western Wall itself. Michal Fattal
Further concrete evidence attests to Jerusalems uniqueness in religious
observance. "The ancient city of Jerusalem at the time of the First Temple was
clearly a hub of ritual worship," says Baruch, who heads the Israel Antiquities
Authoritys Jerusalem district. "The hundreds of mikvehs [ritual purification
baths] found around the Temple Mount compound and Jewish artifacts made of

stone found there show that until the Temple's destruction, at least, Jerusalem
was an 'ir mikdash' [holy city], where what matters is the house of worship.
Athens and Olympia were like that, too."
While the Second Temple may be long gone, razed by the Romans to punish the
rebellious Jews, the outer walls surrounding the magnificent temple compound
built by King Herod (~74 4 B.C.E.) still exist most notably the Western Wall,
which has become the holiest site in Judaism.
12 Less famous, but equally remarkable, are the double "Shaarei Hulda" arched
gates through the walls enclosing the Second Temple Compound. These still exist
today, complete, roof and all (although at some point the Hulda entrances were
walled up).
Will more evidence be found? Massive, decades-long construction work by the
Muslim authorities controlling Temple Mount caused great archaeological
destruction, says famed third-generation Jerusalem archaeologist Eilat Mazar,
of the Hebrew University.
Hulda Gates, and models of the Second Temple and its compound

Model of Jerusalem around the Second Temple Compound built by King Herod on
Temple Mount. Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Third-generation Jerusalem archaeologist Eilat Mazar, showing jewelry found by
Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Emil Salman
A relic from the Hulda Gates, an entry point to the Second Temple complex on
Temple Mount, before the Romans destroyed the temple. Rami Chelouche

The Hulda gates once led into the Second Temple compound. At some point, they
were walled up. Bachrach44, Wikimedia Commons
A model showing Sha'arei Hulda, the double gates into the Second Temple
Compound. The Hulda entrance is blocked up but still extant. Courtesy of the
Israel Antiquities Authority
"No wonder remnants of the First and Second Temples themselves have not
been found," Mazar writes in an email to Haaretz. "What has been found,
including by my grandfather [pioneering archaeologist Benjamin Mazar], are the
remains of magnificent buildings that support historic sources describing the
construction of the First and Second Temples, and the surrounding compounds,
in detail."
While the Mount remains unexcavated, the City of David site right next to it has
been and is being explored. "Remains uncovered over decades in excavations at
the City of David, and the area connecting the City of David to Temple Mount,
support, without reservation, the historic descriptions of the beginning of
Jerusalem, and its development from a Canaanite town existing 5,000 years ago,
to the heavily fortified Israelite capital 4,000 years ago, to the days of King
David 3,000 years ago, to the city that developed northward in the days of King
Solomon (around 10th century B.C.E.)," Mazar writes. "The archaeological finds
support the biblical descriptions regarding the status and development of
Jerusalem during the days of David and Solomon, and afterward."
Titus' boast
We don't need to rely exclusively on digging in Jerusalem for solid evidence that
the Mount housed the Second Temple. Roman Emperor Titus was not coy about
his achievement in crushing the Jewish rebellion in 70 C.E. and destroying the
Temple in Jerusalem.
"Herod had destroyed whatever was on the Mount and built a giant platform on
its top, on which he finished building the Second Temple. The Arch of Titus in
Rome shows the procession following the gleeful plunder of the Temple by the
Romans, even showing the menorah they removed," says archaeology writer Julia
Fridman. Whatever their quirks, the ancient Roman emperors didn't make up a
temple on the Mount just to mess with the minds of latter-day warmongers.
Titus' Arch and other artifacts

The Arch of Titus, showing the "Spoils of Jerusalem" relief on the inside arch.
Dnalor01, Wikimedia Commons
A closeup from the Arch of Titus, showing spoils - including a grand menorah looted from the Second Temple. Dnalor01, Wikimedia Commons

A 2,000-year old chisel used to build the Western Wall: Did a builder drop it
and just not bother to climb down and pick it up? Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities

Yet more solid evidence is found with elaborately stamped coins from the Bar
Kochba era (second century C.E.), showing the Temple with its Roman-style
pillars. The coins don't state that the Temple was on Temple Mount, a fact that
makes Fridman snort. "It wasn't anywhere else everywhere else has been
excavated," she says. "The Muslims built the mosque there because it was a holy
site they conquered the land and stamped it with a mosque. That's what they
did in Mecca as well the Kaaba is a pagan site, a meteor that had been
No stone left standing
Detractors argue that the precise location of the Temples on the Mount is not
known, that no remnants of the actual Temples can be proven to exist and,
therefore, maybe they never existed.
Indeed, actual archaeological finds at the site are scanty because, as noted,
Temple Mount has never been excavated.
Archaeology as a science is, for the sake of argument, some 200 years old. And
throughout much of that time, Temple Mount was paved over, Baruch notes.
(In the course of building El-Marwani, a new mosque sited underneath Al-Aqsa
and dedicated in December 1996, the waqf - the Muslim religious trust - decided
that a new emergency exit was needed from El-Marwani. Without coordinating
with Israel, says Baruch, it extracted tons of material from Temple Mount
transporting it away in hundreds of trucks, mainly to dumps around the Old City.
The Israel Antiquities Authority subsequently collected much of that material,
which is now being examined in the "Sifting Project" and this rubble may
contain more evidence. However, this does not count as excavation.)

Temple Mount has been paved over for about 200 years.

Another view of the paving on top of Temple Mount, which is one reason why
excavations have not been done. Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
The paving stones on Temple Mount: A closer view. Olivier Fitoussi
Temple Mount has been paved over for about 200 years, which is part of the
reason why it hasn't been excavated. Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities
"The question of whether archaeological finds prove the existence of the
Temple on Temple Mount is cynical and provocative," says Barkay. "These are
things known to anybody with culture and cannot be cast in doubt. We have
dozens of literary sources, including Muslim sources, describing the Temple."
Over the last century, political strife has made proper excavation of the Mount
unthinkable. Yet the argument, notably by certain Muslim radicals, that a
Jewish temple never existed there is a specious political artifact, with zero
basis in history, archaeology, religion or tradition. Barkay believes certain
Muslim leaders are trying to have things both ways. "They claim there are no
remains of the Temple, but they don't allow any digging [on Temple Mount]. If
they would allow digging, remains would be found," he asserts.
Sifting project

Ancient dice uncovered in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, October 2015. The
Temple Mount Sifting Project
Ancient jewelery uncovered in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, October 2015.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project
Ancient coins uncovered in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, October 2015.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project

Archaeologists and volunteers use 'wet sifting' at the Temple Mount Sifting
Project, October 2015. The Temple Mount Sifting Project

Historical smoking guns

Can Temple Mounts sanctity to the ancient, biblical-era Israelites be nailed
down more specifically? Baruch suggests the legend provides a dateline: "It was
at least from the day King David conquered Jerusalem [around 1000 B.C.E.],
buying the land from the Jebusites and giving it to his son Solomon to build the
Even if one argues that there is no archaeological proof that either David or
Solomon existed or, if they did, that they were great kings the existence of
the ancient Israelites cannot be questioned. Nor can their affiliation with
Jerusalem and the Mount.
While much of the Second Temple compound still exists, if not the actual
Temple itself, no remains of the First Temple have ever been found. But
Elephantine Island in ancient Egypt harbored a replica of the First Temple. The
Elephantine Papyri from the fifth-fourth centuries B.C.E. contain a document
written in 407 B.C.E. to the Persian governor of Judea, Bagoas, pleading for help
in repairing the recently built Second Temple, which was damaged in a pogrom.
The "Petition to Bagoas" is relevant since the author mentions the age of the
Elephantine replica which, by definition, had to be younger than the Israelite
Temple in Jerusalem on which it was based: Now our forefathers built this
temple in the fortress of Elephantine back in the days of the kingdom of Egypt,
and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it built. They [the Persians] knocked

down all the temples of the gods of Egypt, but no one did any damage to this
Baruch shrugs off the one piece of evidence thats purportedly from the First
Temple a tiny carved pomegranate made of hippopotamus bone, with paleoHebrew writing running along the shoulders of the fruit. At the time of its
discovery, it was thought to have adorned the high priest's scepter for use
within the inner sanctum of the Temple, and was thought to prove the existence
of Solomon's Temple. The consensus now is that it's a fake, but in any case
Baruch simply dismisses it as an irrelevancy, given the clear-cut evidence of
Jerusalem's status in the First Temple era notably, the mikvehs in their
Liturgical evidence
So, possibly starting with Canaanites worshipping Lord knows who, to the ancient
Israelites, to the Christians and, finally, to the Muslims, Temple Mount has been
held sacred.
"Muslim historians and geographers of the Middle Ages never doubted it," says
Baruch. "I don't know a single description of Jerusalem in Arabic from the
Middle Ages, or even the earlier period or later one, that does not relate to
Haram al-Sharif as the site of the Temple." Islam does not necessarily
distinguish between the First and Second Temples, he adds. For them, Solomon
built his temple there and that is that.
Historical evidence is abundant, too, and not only from Jewish sources. From the
Babylonians and Romans to the Greeks and Persians, the Jewish Temples on the
Mount were recorded.
The Letter of Aristeas, for example, from the second century B.C.E., describes
how King Ptolemy (285-247 B.C.E.) was urged by his conscientious librarian to
have the scriptures and laws of the Jews translated for his library. Ptolemy sent
Aristeas to the Jewish high priest Eliezer, who agreed to cooperate. Ptolemy
rewarded Eliezer with silver for the temple sacrifices.
There are accounts of the Temple in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and much loving
detail about it in the Mishna. By the time the Crusaders became involved in
Jerusalem from 1099 C.E. on, the Temples were long gone, but they still
harbored no doubt.
"Anybody who pursues historical research and has read the ancient texts would
reach the categorical conclusion that the Temple existed on Temple Mount,"
Barkay sums up.
With the facts so clear, why does the history of Temple Mount remain
controversial? "The controversy does not come from the scholarly world. It is all
politics and propaganda (by people with no sense of learning)," Finkelstein tells

Haaretz. "The fact that the Temple Mount cannot be properly explored is, of
course, a factor though I guess the deniers would deny its existence even if it
had been found standing 10 meters high."
Ruth Schuster
Haaretz Correspondent
read more: