• Hillel Richman

The True Location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Part Three

Updated: Oct 16

Part 3: Has The Temple Mount been wrongly identified since the Crusader Period?

Another notion propagated by some of the TLT’s, is that the enclosure known today as the Temple Mount has been wrongly identified as such ever since the Crusader Period. The Crusaders, who conquered Jerusalem from the Muslims in the year 1099, found already existing Islamic shrines built on the Temple Mount—the Aqsa Mosque in the southern part of the Mount, and the Dome of the Rock in its center, and they adopted these structures for their own use. The Aqsa Mosque became known as Templum Solomonis (Temple of Solomon), and was initially used as a royal palace, and subsequently as the headquarters of the Knights Templar (hence the name). The Dome of the Rock was turned into a church called Templum Domini. According to these theories, the Temple Mount was wrongly identified by the Jews, due to their long absence from Jerusalem which caused them to forget the “true” location of the Temple –which the Christian scholars claim to be the City of David. These theorists suggest that the Jews wrongly associated the location of the Crusader Templum Domini church with the location of the Temple.


This theory is historically false, and has no basis whatsoever in reality. As we have previously observed, despite the fact that Jews were banned from living in Jerusalem for the greater part of the Roman and Byzantine periods, there was, nevertheless, a continuous Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount during this period. Furthermore, even if there was an instant in time when not a single Jew was present in the city, the Christians themselves—albeit somewhat ironically—preserved the location of the former Temple by ensuring that for the most part, it lay desolate as an everlasting monument to G-d’s abandonment of the Jews.


The main problem with this notion is that it is oblivious to, and completely ignores, the historical reality in Jerusalem during the Early Islamic Period (638-1099 CE) – the time-frame preceding the Crusader Period.


During the Early Islamic Period, Jerusalem in general, and the Temple Mount in particular were linked to the Temple of the Jews. In fact, one of the Arabic names of Jerusalem during this period was Bayt al-Maqdis, a term non-existent in the Arabic language, and clearly borrowed from the Hebrew term Beit HaMikdash [1] – the name of the Jewish Temple during the Second Temple Period. (During the First Temple Period, the Temple was known as The House of the L-rd).


The shrine known as the Dome of the Rock, built in the year 691 by the Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān– was particularly associated with the location of the Jewish Temple ever since its construction, 408 years before the Crusaders ever set foot in Jerusalem. Some accounts even see it as the Jewish Temple rebuilt. [2]

Beginning in the Early Islamic period, up to and including modern times, the Foundation Stone, the exposed bedrock underneath the Dome of the Rock, was known in Arabic as Sakhrat Bayt al-Maqdis, literally meaning the rock of the Temple, a term found abundantly in Early Islamic literature. [3] A well-documented phenomenon during the Umayyad Period involved rituals essentially imitating the services performed in the Jewish Temple. In these rituals, the worshipers would burn incense, anoint the Foundation Stone with oil, and light lamps after purifying themselves and changing into special garments. [4] Interestingly, these rituals were performed on Mondays and Thursdays –the same days that the Torah is read in the Jewish Tradition. [5]


Recently, an Early Islamic inscription mentioning Sakhrat Bayt al-Maqdis was discovered in the Arab village of Nuba, north of Hebron. This ancient inscription dated by some scholars to the 7th century, and by others, to the 9th-10th centuries CE, was placed in secondary deposition above the Mihrab (a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction that Muslims should face when praying). This inscription declares all the land in this village of Nuba to be an endowment to Sakhrat Bayt al-Maqdis and Al-Masjid al-Aqṣā—meaning an endowment to the Rock of the Temple and the Aqsa Mosque. [6]


Another notable phenomenon is the depiction of the Dome of the Rock portraying Solomon’s Temple in several illustrated Islamic manuscripts. Initially, the Temple was portrayed as a dome engulfed by a pair of Cherubs on either side. In later illustrations, the Cherubs disappear and only the dome is depicted. A fascinating example of this tradition is found in a manuscript dating to the late 14th century in which Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, is portrayed destroying a domed structure identified in the text as Bayt al-Maqdis. [7]


The Islamic tradition associating the Dome of the Rock with the location of the Jewish Temple begs the obvious question: where did the Muslims get this tradition? The answer, of course, is from the Jews.


The historical sources indicate that during the early Islamic Period, Jews were allowed to resettle in Jerusalem. According to these sources, the Jews lived in the southern part of the city not far from the area of the Temple Mount, and established a synagogue adjacent to one of the gates of the Mount. [8]


Both the Jewish and Arab sources during the Early Islamic Period preserve a tradition, according to which the Jews were the ones who showed ʻUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, the Muslim caliph who conquered Jerusalem, the place of the Temple.


The Arab sources mention a man by the name of Ka‘b al-Aḥbār, a Yemenite Jew who converted to Islam and accompanied the caliph Umar as he arrived in Jerusalem. These sources describe how Umar asked Ka’b to “show him the place of the stone (of the Temple).” The sources continue to describe how Ka’b pointed out the location buried under a heap of rubble. After the stone was exposed, Umar asked Ka’b where he would recommend they establish their place of prayer, to which Ka’b replied, that they should build it north of the stone and thus, when facing Mecca to the south, they would face the Stone (of the Temple) as well. Umar refused Ka’b’s recommendation and replied “that idea is a Jewish one” and that “we were not commanded to (pray) towards the rock but (towards) Mecca.” Umar then proceeded to build the Mosque to the south of the stone. [9]


The Jewish sources likewise describe that it was the Jews who showed the Muslim conquerors of the city the place of their former Temple. One source, a communication sent from the assembly or Yeshiva of Jerusalem to the Jews of the diaspora, (most likely to the Jews of Egypt) was discovered in the Cairo Geniza: [10]

“And it was an act of kindness by our G-d who made us favorable in the eyes of the Ishmaelite kingdom that conquered Eretz Hatzvi (The Glorious Land) from the hands of Edom and when they came to Jerusalem there were people from the Nation of Israel among them who showed them the place of the Temple and have dwelled in their midst ever since”

Another fascinating document found in the Cairo Geniza is part of a Jewish chronicle that provides an account of how Jews took part in clearing the accumulated rubble from the area of the Temple and how they indicated to the Muslims the Temple’s exact location: [11]

“All the Muslims in the city of Jerusalem and its surroundings cooperated in the endeavor, as well as a group of Jews. They were given directions to clear and remove all the refuse from the holy site, under the watchful eyes of Umar. As the ruins were slowly exposed he (Umar) would ask the Jewish elders concerning the stone - that is, the Foundation Stone, and one of the elders would point out the outline of the area until it was finally exposed

After the Jews helped the Muslims locate and clean the area of the former Temple, they initially took an active part in the worship and maintenance of the shrine of the Dome of the Rock; this until they were eventually barred from entering the mount. The above-mentioned document from the Cairo Geniza goes on to say that the Jews who were allowed to return to Jerusalem “took it upon themselves to help clean its garbage heaps and sewers.” [12]


Another document, written by a Karaite Jew by the name of Solomon ben Jeroham, mentions that when the Jews initially returned to Jerusalem after the Muslim conquest, they were handed “the Courts of The House of the L-rd.” He goes on to say that the Jews would pray there until “The Ishmaelite King received complaints against the Jews and restricted their access to one of the outer gates of the Temple Mount.”

In the Islamic literature we find that 300 servants were commissioned to tend to the Dome of the Rock. According to these sources, among these servants were 10 Jews, and later their numbers grew to 20. These Jews were exempted from paying the so called “head tax” imposed on the rest of the Jewish population during the period. The sources go on to describe that these Jewish servants were appointed in charge of cleaning the area of the Dome of the Rock; they would attend to the chandeliers and lamps, and were assigned with lighting the lamps within the Dome of the Rock. [13]


After this short-lived phase wherein Jews were permitted to enter and worship on the Temple Mount, they were banned from entering. During the rest of the Early Islamic Period, and essentially up until the Modern Era, (excluding the Crusader Period and during the Jordanian conquest 1948-1967), Jews would pray in various locations surrounding the Temple Mount including the Mount of Olives, the gates of the Temple Mount—especially the Eastern Gate, and in later periods, the Western Wall.

In a correspondence sent by Rabbi Mayer – a contemporary and rival of the great Rabbi Sa'adiah Gaon (882/892 – 942 CE), we read:


“Our prayers for you are constant, as well as for your precious elders on the Mount of Olives overseeing the House of Hashem, and by the Gate of the Priest and by the gates of the Temple of Hashem” [14]


Probably the best known historical document regarding the Jewish prayers around the Temple Mount during the Early Islamic Period is a guide found in the Cairo Geniza known as Tefillat ha-Šeʿarim or The Prayers at the Gates. This document, written in Arabic with Hebrew characters, describes the various gates of the Temple Mount, and the prayers one should recite when visiting them. [15] It provides a mere glimpse into the Jewish longing for the Temple, a longing that never ceased, and no doubt helped them to preserve its location.

Could the Temple Have Been in the City of David?

Due to its paramount importance, the ancient core of Jerusalem, known today as the City of David, was a prime choice for study, exploration and excavation by archaeologists for nearly 160 years. Without a doubt, the City of David is the most excavated site in the land of Israel.


The ridge of the City of David covers an area of about 8.2 acres. If its western and eastern slopes which are covered with ancient remains were to be included as well, the City of David would span an area of about 28.6 acres. 6.9 acres (24 %) of the entire site was excavated by 2008. [16] 24 % is a large enough area of a given site to provide a coherent picture of its history.


Out of all the many areas excavated in the City of David, the area above the Gihon Spring –the alleged “true location” of the Temple, has been subjected to more excavations than any other area. As veteran archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, who have excavated in the City of David for many years summed it up as follows: [17]


“The area we are talking about – the eastern slope of the City of David and particularly the strip above the Gihon Spring – has been subject to more archaeological excavations and research than any site in Jerusalem, and even in Israel”


If indeed the Temple was located anywhere in the City of David, one would expect to find at least some remnant of it, even if only in the form of stones and relics found scattered around in secondary deposition. It is important to remember that in antiquity, inhabitants of a given site would regularly incorporate previous building materials in their structures, thus preserving earlier remnants. As of this very moment, no evidence supporting the Temple’s location in the city of David has been found. In sharp contrast, the area of the Temple Mount as we know it today is a site which fits the historical sources, and exhibits many artifacts and structures clearly associated with the Temple.


That said, if we were to conceive of an imaginary scenario in which the Temple was indeed located in the City of David despite the fact that not a single piece of archaeological evidence remains, we would have to consider a very simple question: could the Temple have theoretically fit into the area of the City of David?


To answer this question, we turn to the Jewish tradition, since, after all, we are dealing with the Jewish Temple. According to Jewish tradition, the original Temple Mount of the First Temple Period was square shaped, measuring 500 cubits on each side. [18] Although there are several different measurements for the cubit, during the First Temple period, the ‘Long’ - Royal Egyptian cubit measuring 52.5 centimeters, or 20.67 inches, was in use. [19] The width of the ridge on which the City of David is located measures between 90 and 120 meters, or between 295.2 and 393.7 feet. The size of the Temple Mount platform during the First Temple Period was 262.5 meters (861.2 feet) on each side. This means that the widest point on the ridge of the City of David is 142.5 meters (467.5 feet) short of being able to accommodate the Temple Mount during the First Temple Period! This is true, also, if one were to use the smaller cubit measurements, such as the 45 centimeter cubit. By this metric, the Temple Mount platform still won’t fit in The City of David!


The only way the Temple could have theoretically fit into the City of David is if it were much smaller in size than the traditional and historical sources suggest. In truth, even a smaller Temple could not have been located in the City of David since the ridge of the City of David, particularly its eastern slope, were residential areas during the 8th-7th centuries BCE. In other words, it is impossible for the First Temple to have stood in that populated area without covering over the houses contemporary with the Temple’s existence.


Fitting the Second Temple, particularly Herod’s renovated Temple on the ridge of the City of David, would be even more complicated than fitting the First Temple. King Herod expanded the Temple Mount to twice its original size resulting in a compound much harder to ‘squeeze’ into the City of David. Furthermore, according to the historical sources, the Temple attracted hundreds of thousands of Jews during the three pilgrimage festivals. If the Temple would have been much smaller, small enough to fit in the City of David, there would simply not have been enough space to accommodate all these pilgrims. Additionally, just as with the First Temple Period, the archaeological facts on the ground simply negate any possibility that the Temple ever stood in the City of David. During the Second Temple period, the fortification line, or the wall of the City of Jerusalem in the area of the City of David, was much narrower than during the First Temple Period. During the First Temple Period, the wall of the City ran beneath the ridge –on the mid-eastern slope of the City of David, while during King Herod’s time, the fortification line was located on top of the ridge and by no means could have accommodated Herod’s Temple. Moreover, archeologists have recently discovered that the entire eastern slope of the City of David was an active garbage dump during the Second Temple Period. They report: [20]


“The mantle of debris covers the entire eastern slope of the south western hill. This area of debris is at least 400 meters long on the North-South axis, and 50-70 meters wide on the West-East axis. A modest estimate will show that we deal here with a huge deposit which measures, at least, 400 x 50 x 10 m = 200,000 cubic meters. According to a preliminary reading of the artifacts retrieved from the debris, the greater part of this amount was accumulated during a period of time that extends approximately from the middle of the 1st century B.C.E. to the year 70 C.E., i.e. over approximately 100-120 Years”

This accumulation of refuse clearly indicates that the Temple could not have been located in the City of David. This garbage dump is contemporary with Herod’s Temple and is spatially located where the Temple was supposed to have stood. The facts on the ground do indeed indicate that the Temple had to have been somewhere else.

To Be Continued in Part 4

[1] M. Al-Waַsִitִı, Fadִaַ’il al-Bayt al-Muqddas, I. Hasson (ed.) 1979, Jerusalem. [2] A. Kaplony, 635/638-1099: The Mosque of Jerusalem (Masjid Bayt Al-Maqdis). In: O. Grabar and B. Z. Kedar (eds.) Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade, 2009, Jerusalem, pp.101-131. [3] A. Avraham and P. Reuven, Endowment to the Sakhrat Bayt al-Maqdis and al-Aqsa Mosque, Early Islamic Inscription from the Village of Nuba. In: New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region Vol.10, 2016, pp. 55-70 (Hebrew). [4] R. Milstein, the Evolving of a Visual Motif: The Temple and the Kába. In: A. Avazi, J. Sadan and D. Wasserstein (eds.) 1999. [5] A. Elad, Why did ‘Abd Al-Malik Build the Dome of the Rock? A Re-Examination of the Muslim Sources. : J. Raby and J. Johns (eds.), Bayt Al-Maqdis – ‘Abd al-Malik’s Jerusalem – Part I, Oxford, 1992, pp. 3–58. [6] Ibid. [7] Milstein, The Evolving of a Visual Motif. [8] M. Gil, The Jewish Settlement. In: J. Prawer (ed.), The Book of Jerusalem – The Early Islamic Period, 638-1099, Jerusalem, 1987, pp.133-162 (Hebrew). [9] Ibid. [10] A. Jelink, Beth ha-Midrasch, III, 1967, 79. [11] Cambridge University Library, T-S Ar.6.1. [12] Ibid. [13] Gil, The Jewish Settlement and references therein. [14] C. Y. Bornstein, The dispute between Rabbi Sa'adiah Gaon and Rabbi Maier, Warsaw, 1904, p.63 (Hebrew). [15] Cambridge University Library, T-S K27.2a. [16] R. Reich and E. Shukron, The History of the Archaeological Excavations in the City of David (1867-2007). In: E. Meiron, (ed.) City of David, Studies of Ancient Jerusalem, The 9th Annual Conference, 2008, Jerusalem, pp. 14-41 (Hebrew). [17] R. Reich, and E. Shukron, Light at the end of the Tunnel: Warren’s Shaft theory of David’s conquest shattered, Biblical Archaeology Review 25, 1999, pp. 22-33, 72. [18] Mishnah, Middot 2:1. [19] G. Barkay, Measurements in the Bible - Evidence at Saint-Étienne for the Length of the Cubit and the Reed, Biblical Archaeology Review XII/2, 1986; L. Ritmeyer, The Quest, Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Carta, 2006, pp. 170-173. [20] R. Reich and E. Shukron, The Jerusalem City-Dump in the Late Second Temple Period, Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palastina-Vereins 119/1, 2003, pp. 12-18.

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