• Hillel Richman

The True Location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Part Two

Updated: Oct 16


Part ll: Have the Jews Forgotten the Place of the Temple?



“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not raise Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Psalm 137)

The various TLT’s all have one thing in common: they assume that the Jews simply forgot the true location of the Temple, after being expelled and banned from entering Jerusalem following its destruction by the Romans. The notion that the Jews supposedly forgot where the Temple stood is logically and historically false. Jews have many customs specifically designed to prevent the Temple from ever being forgotten. In the Babylonian Talmud it is written: [1]


“The Sages therefore have ordained thus: a man may stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare… a man can prepare a full-course banquet, but he should leave out an item or two… a woman can put on all her ornaments, but leave off one or two… for so it is written, ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. If I do not remember you, if I do not raise Jerusalem above my highest joy.”


The Temple was indeed never forgotten; neither was its location. The Jewish people have a continuous, unbroken tradition preserving the location of their holiest site.

From the writings of Josephus [2] we learn that after killing the last of the Jewish rebels, the Romans were given orders by Titus to destroy the Temple and the entire city of Jerusalem. After the destruction, Judea became a Roman Province. The Tenth Roman Legion Fretensis was assigned to stay behind and insure the peace. Its headquarters were established upon the ruins of Jerusalem.


Several scholars argue that the presence of the Roman Legion in Jerusalem necessitated the need for various services – services which would likely have been fulfilled by the remaining Jews. [3] On the basis of several historical and Talmudic sources, we know that at least a small number of Jews were still present in Jerusalem between the destruction of 70 CE and the Bar-Kochva revolt which erupted in the year 132.


In his work The Jewish War, Josephus presents the legendary speech delivered by the commander of Masada, Elazar Ben Yair, to the besieged Jewish rebels, as the Romans were about to breach the fortress in the year 73 CE – three years after the destruction of Jerusalem: [4]

“Some unfortunate old men also lie upon the ashes of the Temple, and a few women are there preserved alive by the enemy, for our bitter shame and reproach.”

In the Jewish aggadic work Avot D’Rabbi Nathan, we read of well-known Jewish sages present in Jerusalem shortly after its destruction: [5]


“On one occasion, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai was leaving Jerusalem accompanied by Rabbi Yehoshua, and when he [Rabbi Yehoshua] saw the [place of] the Temple in ruins he proclaimed: woe to us that it is (the Temple) destroyed”

Several Christian sources likewise attest to the presence of Jews in Jerusalem after its destruction; Epiphanius of Salamis, in his Treatise On Weights and Measures describes: [6]


“Seven lone synagogues which remain on Mount Zion ‘Like a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field’ (Isaiah 1:8), one of which endured until the days of the Bishop Maximianus and the emperor Constantine.”

Other Christian authors such as Jerome, and Theodoret of Cyrus, [7] interpret the verse found in Isaiah 6:13 “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it” as referring to the small Jewish presence remaining in Jerusalem after its destruction in 70 CE. The continuation of the verse “And it will again be subject to burning,” was interpreted by them as referring to the final destruction of Jerusalem by Emperor Hadrian during the Bar-Kochva revolt.

Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea records: [8]

“There were two thousand, at once both of Jews and Gentiles there, who had been brought together, even to the time of its reduction in the days of Hadrian.”

Knowledge concerning this particular time-frame, the period between the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the Bar Kochva Revolt of 132-135 CE has been recently enriched by the fascinating discovery of an ancient Jewish town located a mere 4 kilometers north of the Old City of Jerusalem, in what is today, the Arab refugee camp Shuafat. This ancient town was discovered in 2003 on the main road from Jerusalem to Ramallah, within the Jerusalem city limits, during a salvage excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in preparation for the construction of the light-rail system. [9] The Jewish identity of the town’s inhabitants is clearly indicated by Mikv’aot (Jewish Ritual Baths), Jewish Great Revolt coins, and the virtual lack of swine bones found at the site. In addition, a large assemblage of stoneware vessels was found at the site. Stoneware vessels were popular among Jewish populations, since, according to Jewish law, they do not absorb impurities as do earthenware vessels. According to the archaeologists who excavated the site, the town flourished after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and was abandoned only during the Bar-Kochva revolt. The townspeople likely provided wayside services to travelers as well as to Roman military forces.


The site has great significance being the first archaeological indication attesting to an unbroken Jewish presence in the vicinity of Jerusalem between 70 and 130 CE. The Jews of this town were undoubtedly familiar with the ruins of the Temple, and being located on a main road, were perhaps the ones providing wayside services to the Jewish pilgrims as they made their way towards Jerusalem. Indeed, the Talmud provides several accounts of Jews visiting the Temple shortly after its destruction. One well-known story involves the famous sage Rabbi Akiva: [10]

“On another occasion they were ascending to Jerusalem. When they arrived at Mount Scopus they rent their garments. When they arrived at the Temple Mount, they saw a fox that emerged from the Holy of Holies. They began weeping, and Rabbi Akiva was laughing.”

After the Bar-Kochva revolt was suppressed by the Romans in the year 135 CE, Emperor Hadrian re-established the city of Jerusalem as a Pagan Roman city which he renamed Aelia Capitolina. The city was resettled by Gentile citizens, among them, veterans of the 10th roman legion – Fretensis. The remaining Jews still present in Jerusalem were expelled, and a decree was issued forbidding Jews to live in the city.

Various early Church sources indicate that Jews were allowed to visit Jerusalem only once a year, [11] apparently on the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av – the date of the destruction of the Temple. By contrast, Jewish sources do not provide even the slightest clue of such a reality, but instead, impart accounts of Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem during that period. This is not to say that the 9th day of Av did not attract a greater number of Jews to the city; it likely did, just as it does today, when many Jews come to Jerusalem to mourn the destruction of the Temple on that very date, the anniversary of the destruction of both the first and second Temples. The discrepancy between the Jewish and Christian sources suggests the possibility that the Church fathers deliberately exaggerated the severity of the decree forbidding Jews from visiting Jerusalem so as to emphasize the wretchedness of the Jews.


In reality, Jews continued to visit Jerusalem and the Temple Mount despite the decree, as indicated by many Talmudic sources:

“Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: Jerusalem of the world to come will not be like Jerusalem of the present world. [To] Jerusalem of the present world, anyone who wishes goes up, but to that of the world to come only those invited will go” (Baba Bathra 75b)


And these are rents that are not [to be] sewed up at the [sight of the ruined] cities of Judea, the Holy Temple or Jerusalem. And one rends [first] for the Temple and then enlarges [the rent] for Jerusalem. As soon as he reaches the Scopus he rends” (Talmud Babli Mo'ed Katan 26a)

A man shall not enter the Temple Mount with his stick, shoes or money bag or with dust upon his feet, nor may he use it for making a short cut between two points; however this might apply only to the time when the Sanctuary was in existence. Whence is it deduced that the same holds true of the time when the Sanctuary no longer exists? It was expressly stated in Scripture, “Ye shall keep My Sabbaths, and reverence My Sanctuary;” as the ‘keeping’ that was used in relation to the Sabbath holds true forever, so also the ‘reverence’ used in relation to the Sanctuary must hold true forever” (Talmud Babli, Yebamoth 6b)

“Your eyes are like doves behind your veil” (Song of Songs 4:1) – just as the dove would never leave the dovecote after her nestlings have been taken from her, so too, even though the Temple was destroyed, Israel never abandoned the three pilgrimage festivals” (Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah A).

Moreover, not only did Jews continue visiting Jerusalem despite the decree; there is even some evidence pointing to the fact that a small number of Jews still lived in the city. References in Talmudic literature mention a halachic school of thought known as the Kahala Kadisha d’Yerushalayim, the ‘Holy Assembly of Jerusalem.’ These references suggest that there was a small number of Jewish sages living in Jerusalem towards the end of the 2nd century, or the early 3rd century at the latest. This is in addition to other Talmudic references alluding to Jewish figures living in the city at this time. An interesting archaeological find further attesting to a Jewish presence, is a Greek inscription dating to the Late Roman Period found in the ancient Jewish town of Beit She’arim in the southern Galilee which reads: “(belonging) to Ezer son of Jerusalem.”


During most of the Byzantine Period, [12] after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the decree forbidding Jews from living in Jerusalem was intensified. The Church purposely degraded the conditions of the Jewish people in order to suggest that their wretched and humiliated state was a living testimony to their errant ways.


Despite the harsh edicts and restrictions, there are traditions found in the Jerusalem Talmud regarding Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem during this time-frame. Many of these accounts, found in the Midrashic tradition as well, refer to a sage by the name of Rabbi Pinchas ben Chama who lived 340-360 CE – after the lifetime of Emperor Constantine.


Archeology as well attests to a Jewish presence in Jerusalem during the Byzantine Period. Hebrew inscriptions dating to this period were engraved on several locations on the outer walls of the Temple Mount. There was a well-known custom whereby Jews, many of them likely pilgrims, etched various inscriptions, and often their personal names, on the walls of the Temple Mount. These have been documented from as early as the Middle Ages. One such inscription, probably the best known example, is located on the Western Wall underneath Robinson’s Arch, not far from the south-western corner of the Temple Mount; [13] the inscription, a quote from the Book of Isaiah reads:

“When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will [flourish] like grass” (Isaiah 66:14)

Another Hebrew inscription, possibly dating to the Byzantine Period as well, was found in the northern area of the Temple Mount. [14] It not only attests to a Jewish presence in Jerusalem during the Byzantine Period, but also reflects an unbroken Jewish tradition regarding the location of the Temple. The inscription reads:

“HASHEM L-RD OF HOSTS

BUILD THIS HOUSE

IN THE LIFETIME OF JACOB

SON OF JOSEPH AND THEOPHYLACTOS

AND SISINIA AND ANASTASIA

AMEN AND AMEN

SELAH”


In summary, we see that the Jewish people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual connection to the Temple Mount remained unbroken even after the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem.

To be Continued in Part Three

[1] Baba Batra 60b [2] War. VII, 1-5. [3] e.g., Shmuel Safrai, The Jews of Jerusalem during the Roman Period. In: Y. Tsafrir and S. Safrai (eds.) The Book of Jerusalem - The Roman-Byzantine Period 70-638. 1999. Jerusalem, 18-39 (Hebrew). [4] War. VII, 337. [5] Avot D‘Rabbi Natan 4:5. [6] Epiphanius, on Weights and Measures, 14, Col. 261-261. [7] Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah, 6:13, p. 94; Theodoretus, In Isiaam, 6, 13 (p. 81, Col. 272). [8] Eusebius, Theophania, (Syriac version) IV, 24. [9] R. Bar-Natan and D.A. Sklar-Parnas, A Jewish Settlement in Orine Between the Two Revolts. In: New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region Vol.I 2007, pp. 57-64 (Hebrew). [10] Talmud Babli, Makkot 24b. [11] e.g., The Pilgrim of Bordeaux, tinerarium Hierosolymitanum, 12; Jerome, Commentary on The Book of Zephaniah 1, 15, Col.1353. [12] Excluding instances when Jews were known to be welcomed in Jerusalem such as in the days of Julian the Apostate (361-363) who intended to let the Jews rebuild the Temple, an attempt that was ill-fated; during the initial phases of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614 and possibly during the days of Empress Eudocia who saw the Jews in a more favorable way. [13] M. Ben-Dov, Inscriptions in Stone from the Temple Mount and its Surroundings, Chathedra 40, 1986, pp. 3- 30. (Hebrew). [14] L. A. Mayer, Hebraische Inschriften Im Haram Zu Jerusalem, Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palastina-Vereins 53,1930, pp. 29-222; E. L. Suekenick, The Jewish Inscriptions in The Temple Mount. Zion O.S. 1934.4.41-136 (Hebrew).

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