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The True Location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Part Four

What About a Live Water Source for the Temple?

One of the key arguments used to claim that the Temple had to have been in the City of David, is that the Temple needed a live water source, and since the Gihon Spring is the only such source – the Temple had to have been located in the City of David above the spring. This supposed claim relies on passages from the Bible such as Joel 4:18 and Ezekiel 47:1-13 that mention water flowing from the area of the Temple.

In truth, the need for a live water source as a prerequisite for building the Temple has no basis in reality, and no such requirement can be found in Scripture. The only commandments in the Torah that explicitly require the use of “live water” have no direct connection to the Temple. Water is required for the cleansing of one who had a running issue from his flesh (Leviticus 15:1-15), the cleansing of a Leper (Leviticus 14: 1-9) and for preparing the ashes of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:17-19).

But what about the verses mentioning live water flowing from the Temple? A basic reading of these verses demonstrates that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the past Temples. These verses are clearly prophetic/ eschatological in nature and refer to events taking place at the end of days. The Prophet Joel clearly speaks of a future time:

“For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem” (Joel 3:1)

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the L-rd, and shall water the valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:18)

The prophet Zechariah foretold of that same future event taking place at the end of days. In this event major seismological movements will create great geographic changes in the topography of Jerusalem and its surroundings:

And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:4)

And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be” (Zechariah 14:8)

Likewise, the vision of Ezekiel is prophetic in nature, having nothing to do with the past Temples but foretells of the coming third Temple:

“The hand of the L-rd was upon me, and brought me thither. In the visions of G-d brought me into the land of Israel for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither (Ezekiel: 40:1-2, 4)

It is from this future Temple that Ezekiel sees the water flowing: [1]

“Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar”

As stated, a basic review of these verses and their context clearly demonstrate their prophetic meaning; any other exegetical interpretation reflects, either an embarrassing ignorance, or a deliberate manipulation aimed at the naïve and uneducated.

The tough question remains: if the Temple did not rely on the Gihon Spring as its main water source, where did it get its water from? Certainly the Temple required large quantities of water on a daily basis for the cleansing of the offerings and for ritual purification, as well as for drinking purposes. The Bible describes the “Great Sea” and the ten bronze basins that were in Solomon’s Temple, [2] which according to modern estimates, held upwards of 136 Cubic Meters (35,227 Gallons) of water in total; [3] where did they get their water from?

As it is written in Deuteronomy: [4]

“The land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowest thy seed, and waterest it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs: But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven

Indeed, ever since ancient times, the Temple Mount has been riddled with underground cisterns and conduits for the very purpose of collecting rain water. As early as the 2nd century BCE the Epistle of Aristeas records that: [5]

“There are moreover wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, as they pointed out to me, at a distance of five furlongs all around the site of the Temple, and each of them has countless pipes so that different streams converge together… And every part of the work had been carefully carried out”

Some of these cisterns can be dated back as far as the Iron Age (the First Temple Period) [6] and hence, would have supplied water to Solomon’s Temple. Tsvika Tsuk, an Israeli archaeologist specializing in Biblical era water sources, recently dated one of the cisterns on the Temple Mount to the 10th century BCE (the days of King Solomon). Tzuk demonstrated the resemblance between a large cistern, (No.28/5, CPTY ca.2,690 -4,484 Cubic Meters), located beneath the south-eastern corner of the raised platform on the Temple Mount, to other monumental public Iron Age water reservoirs in the kingdom of Judah. [7] He tentatively dated other cisterns on the Temple Mount to this period as well. Recently a public water reservoir was discovered just outside the Temple Mount, directly below the south-western corner, in the area of Robinson’s Arch. This reservoir had a capacity of 250 cubic meters, and was dated to the First Temple Period based on parallels. Archaeologist Eli Shukron who discovered it noted: [8]

This reservoir apparently supplied water for daily use in the Temple, and in times of emergency could also be used by the inhabitants of the city as well. This shows that the city was not totally dependent on water from the Gihon Spring, and may indicate that there were other such reservoirs”

The Jewish tradition as recorded in the Mishnah, further elaborates that it was cisterns that provided the needed water for the Temple: [9]

“The Golah Cistern was there, and a wheel (for drawing water) was set over it, and from thence they drew water, enough for the whole Temple Court

As the Mishna describes, it seems that there was even an official in the Temple responsible for overseeing the excavation of these cisterns: [10]

“These were the officers that were in the Temple… Nehunia, was the digger of pits

Another Mishna states: [11]

“They [the priests] may draw water with a wheel [or pulley] on the Sabbath from the Golah cistern and from the Great Cistern, and from the Cistern of the Hakar [Akra] on a Festival-day”

The “Great Cistern” mentioned in this the Mishna is likely referring to a cistern known today in Arabic as “Bir Buhayr” or “Small Sea”. [12] This huge cistern, the largest cistern on the Temple Mount has a capacity of 2 million gallons of water; it dates as early as the 2nd century BCE, and was replenished by an aqueduct originating in the Judean hills south of Jerusalem. [13] This aqueduct, referred to as “The Lower Aqueduct,” conducted water from the Etham Spring and Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem, through a circuitous route including channels and tunnels, all the way to its final destination - the Temple Mount. This aqueduct, a remarkable engineering achievement, dates as early as the 2nd century BCE. [14] Its origin, in Solomon’s Pools situated 30.4 meters (approximately 100 feet) higher than the Temple Mount, dictated precise calculations of the required slope for every descent, the average descent being less than one percent!

As with the cisterns, the Talmudic tradition preserves an accounting of the aqueduct which conveyed water to the Temple Mount: [15]

“The aqueduct would flow there from [the spring of] Etham”

Interestingly, it notes a difference in elevation between the origin of the aqueduct, and the Temple Mount, as we have previously seen: [16]

“Abaye said: We infer therefore, that the Etham Spring was [at least] twenty-three cubits above the ground of the Temple Court”

To Be Continued in Part 5

[1] Ezekiel 47:1. [2] 1 Kings 7: 23-39. [3] T. Tsuk, The Water Sources of the First Temple at Jerusalem. In: New Studies on Jerusalem Vol.16, 2010, Ramat Gan, pp.7-20 (Hebrew). [4] Deuteronomy 11:10-11. [5] Ep. Arist. 89-90; trans.R.H. Charls, 1913, II, 103. [6] S. Gibson, and D.M. Jacobson, Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A sourcebook on the cisterns, subterranean chambers and conduits of Ḥaram al-Šarīf, BAR International Series 637, 1996, Oxford. [7] Tsuk, The Water Sources of the First Temple at Jerusalem. [8] E. Shukron, A Public Reservoir from the First Temple Period near the Western Wall. In: New Studies on Jerusalem, Vol. 18, 2012, Ramat-Gan, pp.29-30 (Hebrew). [9] Mishnah, Middoth 5:4. [10] Mishnah, Shekalim 5:1. [11] Mishna, Erubibn 10:14. [12] L. Ritmeyer, The Quest, p.224. [13] Gibson and Jacobson, Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. [14] D. Amit, New Information on the Dating of the Aqueducts of Jerusalem, Ariel, 1994 (Hebrew). [15] Talmud Yerushalmi, Yoma 3:8. [16] Talmud Bavli, Yoma :31.


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