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The True Location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Part One

The Holy Temple of Jerusalem is once again under attack. Unlike the physical devastation perpetrated by the Babylonians and Romans against the first and second Temples – an attack directed against “wood and stones” [1] – this modern-day attack is spiritual in nature, and aims to rewrite history itself, challenging and undermining the very historical existence of Israel’s Holy Temples that stood in Jerusalem.

During the past 30 odd years, a growing movement within Islam has been negating the very existence of both the first and second Temples that stood on Mount Moriah for nearly 1,000 years.[2] According to this narrative, the Temple Mount is an exclusively Islamic site, and the “alleged Temple”[3] in Jerusalem is nothing more than a Jewish invention. The contention is that the temples never existed, or at best, might have existed in it some unknown location far from Jerusalem. This ideological trend, popularized in the 1990’s by PLO leader Yasser Arafat, is known as “Temple Denial.” These claims, more often than not, fall on ears only too eager to accept them, and have likely contributed to several anti-Jewish resolutions recently adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaiming, absurdly, that the Jews, of all people, have no connection to the Temple Mount.

Joining the assault against the nation of Israel’s most sacred site is a growing movement within Christianity which has recently been engaging in a different form of Temple Denial. According to this movement, the Jews have mistakenly identified the Temple Mount as the location of the Temple. These Christian “scholars” claim that the “true location” of the Temple lay several hundred feet to the south, in the area known today as the City of David.

While this nonsensical theory identifying the so called “true location” of the Temple in the City of David is the most popular, other true locations theories (henceforth TLT’s), have been suggested, including the areas known today as Mount Zion, the Armenian Quarter and several other sites in Jerusalem.

These outrageous theories, propagated by individuals with various agendas – be they theological, financial, or perhaps, even anti-Semitic – prey on gullible audiences who are insufficiently educated on the topic of Jerusalem, its history and its archaeology. These innocent audiences have no way of knowing that these purported TLT’s are never taken seriously by reputable scholars. They are antithetical to the most basic understanding of Jerusalem, and reflect an outright ignorance of Jerusalem’s geography and history. These theories are at odds with our unbroken Jewish tradition and ignorant of fundamental Biblical knowledge and understanding. The “true location” theories reflect a shocking ignorance and disregard for archaeological data which has been accumulated and painstakingly researched in and around Jerusalem over the past 160 years. Most basically, though, these theories reflect a lack of common sense which is apparently becoming less and less common these days.

The following is a response refuting these theories, a response that is by no means exhaustive, but only scratches the surface, as it would take an entire book to cover the plethora of errors underlining these various theories. I will primarily address the City of David theory, since, as mentioned above, it is the prevalent theory currently circulating, though the information that I present will hopefully help to dispel the misinformation put forward by the half a dozen other theories out there. This response will be presented here in installments.

The theory that the Temple was located in the City of David is largely based on the following incorrect assumptions:

1. The Biblical term Zion refers to The City of David, therefore all Biblical verses alluding to the Temple as being in Zion refer to the City of David.

2. The true location of the Temple was forgotten over the years. The enclosure known today as the Temple Mount has been mistakenly identified as such ever since the Crusader Period.

3. The Temple required a live water source - a spring. Since the only spring in the area was the Gihon Spring near the City of David, therefore the Temple must have been located somewhere in the City of David in the vicinity of that spring.

4. The enclosure known today as the Temple Mount is the remains of the Antonia Fortress which was located in the north-western corner of the Temple Mount.

Let us address each of these claims one at a time:

1. Where is Zion?

The name Zion, mentioned 154 times in the Tanach, (Hebrew Bible), has more than one meaning, depending on the context in which it is used, as well as on the chronological time-frame in which it is mentioned. Indeed, originally Zion referred to the City of David as we find in II Samuel that: [4]

“David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David)”

The ‘Stronghold of Zion’ which King David captured circa 1000 BCE, was a fort located within ancient Jebus, the Canaanite city previously known as Shalem during the time of the Patriarchs (ca. 800 BCE). With the passage of time Shalem came to be known as Jerusalem. Subsequently we read: [5]

“Then David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the City of David”

With the building of the First Temple by King Solomon in the mid-tenth century BCE, Jerusalem spread from the City of David upwards toward the north, incorporating the area of the Temple Mount within the boundaries of the City. A first-hand witness to this topographic setting, the composer of Psalm 48, beautifully depicts this reality when he affirms: [6]

“Great is the L-rd, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our G-d, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north”

This verse is an important source, greatly assisting us in comprehending the geographical reality of Jerusalem during Biblical times. From the verse we can infer that:

1. The Temple Mount is to be located to the far north of ancient Jerusalem; this indeed reflects the location of the Temple Mount as we know it to be today in relation to the area of the City of David.

2. In strictly geographical terms, we are looking for a mountain. Note that the name Zion here appears with the modifier “Mount”- a combination appearing elsewhere in Scripture and clearly referring to the Temple Mount: [7]

“Here am I and the children whom the L-rd has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the L-rd of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion

During the 8th century BCE, in the Biblical time frame corresponding the reign of King Hezekiah, Jerusalem grew to its peak development. It expanded towards the “western hill” and incorporated the area known today as the Jewish Quarter, and possibly the Armenian Quarter as well, in addition to the area contemporarily known as “Mount Zion” (a name adopted during the Byzantine period, and not to be confused with the true Mt. Zion that is the Temple Mount). Again, the Psalmist, being closely familiar with the topography of Jerusalem describes its expansion to include both the eastern and western hills: [8]

“Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built as a city that is united together”

As the city grew, the term Zion was used in a broader sense, becoming synonymous with the entire city of Jerusalem. “Zion” and “Jerusalem” often appear side by side in a manner common in Hebrew poetry known as “Synonymous Parallelism:”

“Awake, awake, Clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion; Clothe yourself in your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city” (Isaiah 52:1)

Zion, in a broader sense, is even used to refer to the Nation of Israel at large:

“The punishment of your iniquity has been completed, O daughter of Zion; He will exile you no longer” (Lamentations 4:22)

In Summary, the term “Zion” has many meanings that are often poetic, and any attempt to equate it exclusively with the City of David reflects ignorance of basic Biblical usage.

The Location of the Temple According to the Bible

The Bible, leaving no room for speculation, is very specific when identifying the location of the Temple. In the Book of II Chronicles we read: [9]

“Now Solomon began to build the house of the L-rd at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the L-rd had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite”

For some strange reason, (or perhaps for obvious reasons), this verse, which provides the exact location in which the Temple was built, is seemingly overlooked, or even deliberately ignored by those who would claim that the Temple did not stand on what we know today as the Temple Mount. From the verse we infer that:

1. The Temple, as previously noted, was built on a mountain; this mountain, called Moriah is not one and the same as the Citadel of Zion/City of David, but a separate entity. If they had been one and the same, the Bible should have stated that Solomon built the Temple in the City of David, and not on mount Moriah. Not only does the Bible not mention the City of David as the place where the Temple was built; it actually informs us that they are in fact not the same location as this next verse clearly indicates: [10]

“Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel, to King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the L-rd from the City of David, which is Zion

If the Temple was indeed located in the City of David, why was the Ark brought out of it, and up to the Temple? It makes absolutely no sense.

2. The Temple was built near a threshing floor where grain was taken after being harvested, in order to undergo the process of threshing and winnowing. Threshing floors were located on flat open areas where bedrock was exposed. Threshing and winnowing created a lot of airborne residue; therefore, in order to prevent air pollution, threshing floors were located outside of cities. It is therefore obvious that the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite was not located within the fortified confines of the Citadel of Zion, but rather it had to be in an open, and preferably elevated, area, outside the city walls… an area which would have been uninhabited during King David’s time, and thus couldn’t possibly have been in the City of David.

Modern archaeological research clearly validates this. Archaeologist Oded Borowski who completed his PhD on Iron Age agricultural practices in the land of Israel writes: [11]

“The Goren (threshing floor) was located outside the city where the prevalent west wind could be used for winnowing”

This indication as to the location of threshing floors during Biblical times finds further credence in Scripture. In the Book of Judges we read: [12]

“And there came an angel of the L-rd, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite; and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the wine-press to hide it from the Midianites

Gideon, fearing a hostile attack by the Midianites, who would repeatedly “destroy the produce of the earth” and “leave no sustenance for Israel” (Judges 6:4), could not thresh his wheat at the threshing floor which was located outside the city in an open and exposed location. Instead, he had to revert to performing the process in a winepress, a squared hollow, cut into bedrock, which could provide him cover and prevent him from being seen from afar.

Another verse demonstrating the strategic vulnerability of threshing floors during Biblical times is found in I Samuel where we read that: [13]

“Then they told David, saying, “Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshing floors

Lastly, the Book of Ruth clearly indicates that Biblical era threshing floors were located outside the city: [14]

”So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city

Moreover, according to Jewish law as codified in the Mishna, the need to keep threshing floors outside of cities is not merely a suggestion but an obligatory requirement: [15]

“Permanent threshing floor may not be made within fifty cubits of the town”

As previously mentioned, the topographical location of the Temple as being on an elevated area above the city, is clearly indicated by the verse describing the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple (I Kings 8:1). The verse states that the Ark had to be carried out of the City of David, and up the hill to Mount Moriah. Other verses describing the location of the Temple in relation to ancient Jerusalem, (the City of David), depict a similar reality, in which one had to ascend a hill in order to reach the Temple.

“So Gad came to David that day and said to him, “Go up, and erect an altar to the L-rd on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” David went up according to the word of Gad, just as the L-rd had commanded.” (II Samuel 24:18-19)

“Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the L-rd and spread it out before the L-rd” (II Kings 19:14)

“Who may ascend into the hill of the L-rd? And who may stand in His holy place” (Psalm 24:3)

These verses are not the only Scriptural references alluding to the elevated location of the Temple; in fact, virtually all verses refer to G-d’s dwelling place as being on top of an elevated hill, or a mountain. Here are a few examples:

“And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the L-rd, To the house of the G-d of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3)

”Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The L-rd Will Provide’, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the L-rd it will be provided” (Genesis 22:14)

“You will bring them and plant them in the Mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O L-rd, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O L-rd, which Your hands have established” (Exodus 15:17)

“Now it will come about that In the last days The Mountain of the House of the L-rd Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2)

The Location of the Temple according to the Historical Sources

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, is our most important source for understanding the Second Temple Period. Born in Jerusalem in the 1st century CE, he was a first-hand witness to both the glory and the destruction of the Temple. Josephus, who describes the Temple in detail in his writings, indeed helps shed light on its location. In his book The Jewish War he writes: [16]

This Temple, as I have already said, was built upon a strong hill”

Similarly, in his book The Antiquities of the Jews he writes: [17]

This hill, it was which Solomon, who was the first of our kings, by Divine revelation encompassed with a wall; it was of excellent workmanship upwards, and round the top of it”

In another important historical source known as The Letter of Aristeas, a document dating to the Hellenistic Period (ca. 2nd century BCE), we find a similar description of the topographic location of the Temple: [18]

“When we arrived in the land of the Jews we saw the city situated in the middle of the whole of Judea on the top of a mountain of considerable altitude. On the summit the Temple had been built in all its splendor”

It is clear, as we can see, that both Biblical and important historical sources, all describe the Temple as being located on top of a hill.

The Topography of Ancient Jerusalem

The original core of ancient Jerusalem, known today as The City of David, is located on a narrow ridge also known as “The South-Eastern ridge of Jerusalem.” Its orientation is north-south, and in geographical terms, it is essentially a spur extending from the summit above it. Ironically, it is located outside of what we know today as the Old City walls, although, as we have observed earlier, the city eventually expanded in other directions. This particular area was chosen in antiquity for its natural fortifications, having deep valleys to its east and west; but even more so, it was chosen for its water source – the Gihon Spring which flows below it on its eastern slope – directly above the Kidron Valley. The summit of this ridge, located to the north, was known in antiquity as Mount Moriah, or Mount Zion. Although this summit is completely covered over by the enclosure of the Temple Mount, and has been that way ever since King Herod’s massive building project, when ascending by foot from the City of David toward the Temple Mount, one can still experience, first-hand, the drastic change in elevation.

In logical terms, both the Biblical and historical sources describing the location of the Temple could not be referring to any location in Jerusalem other than the Temple Mount; indeed, the only peak in the area directly above ancient Jerusalem is “Mount Zion in the far north” (Psalms 48:3).

Moreover, the South-Eastern Ridge, or what we know today as the City of David, doesn’t fit the description of being on an elevated hill or a mountain. On the contrary, it is in fact low-laying in comparison to all the hills that surround it, as the Psalmist so eloquently articulates: [19]

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the L-rd surrounds His people”

The View of the Temple from Mount Scopus

Located to the north-east of the Old City of Jerusalem, and towering 2710 feet above its surroundings, Mount Scopus, currently home to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Hadassah Hospital, is an extension of the mountain range surrounding Jerusalem on its eastern front which also includes the well-known ridge of The Mount of Olives.

The name Scopus is derived from the Greek Skopos literally meaning “watcher” or “lookout.” The name in Hebrew is called Har HaTsofim which has the same exact meaning. This location was an important landmark in antiquity since it overlooked Jerusalem, and was the first place from which the city can be seen in all its glory when approached from the north. In The Jewish War Josephus describes it thus: [20]

“A place called Seopus; from whence the city began already to be seen, and a plain view might be taken of the great Temple

Similarly, in Antiquities of the Jews he describes: [21]

“A place called Sapha, which name, translated into Greek, signifies a prospect, for you have thence a prospect both of Jerusalem and of the Temple

While the exact peak Josephus is referring to is not known for certain, we do know that it is within the vicinity of what we identify today as Mount Scopus, since Josephus describes it as being: [22]

On the north quarter of the city, and joining there to… and was no more than seven furlongs distant from it

Tzofim or Mount Scopus is mentioned in the Talmudic literature as well; in the Mishna tractate Pesahim we read: [23]

“Similarly, if one left Jerusalem and realized that he has sacrificial meat with him [which becomes invalid upon leaving the boundaries of Jerusalem], and he has passed Tzofim [he need not return to Jerusalem, rather], he burns it where he is; but if not, he returns and burns it before the Temple

This teaching refers to a scenario in which a person leaving Jerusalem realizes that he had mistakenly taken leftovers from the Passover offering along with him. According to Torah law, any portion of the offering which was not consumed must be completely burnt in the Temple.

As we learn from this teaching, Tzofim or Scopus, acts as a demarcation point marking the boundary of Jerusalem. As long as one has not passed Tzofim, one must return and burn the leftover meat in its designated location – the Temple. If one has already passed Tzofim, he need not return to the Temple and is permitted to burn the remnants of the offering where he stands.

This landmark provides us with an imperative clue for identifying the place of the Temple. As the sources indicate, from this location the Temple could be clearly seen in all its glory. Today, Mount Scopus indeed provides us with one of the most magnificent panoramic views of the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem. There is one important exception, though. The City of David, being on a relatively low elevation, is hidden from view, and could not be seen from anywhere on Mount Scopus! This is a clear indicator that the City of David could not have possibly housed the Temple, as ancient sources clearly indicate that the Temple was visible from Mount Scopus.

To be Continued in Part Two.

[1] Eichah Rabbah 4:14. [2] Y. Reiter, From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back: The Islamic Consolidation of Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies Series, no. 105, 2005 (Hebrew). [3] Ibid. pp.35-42. [4] II Samuel 5:7. [5] Ibid. 5:9. [6] Psalm 48:2 [7] Isaiah 8:18. [8] Psalm 122. [9] 2 Chronicles 3:1. [10] 1 Kings 8:1. [11] Oded Borowski, Agriculture in Iron Age Israel: The Evidence from Archaeology and the Bible, Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1987. [12] Judges 6:11. [13] I Samuel 23:1. [14] Ruth 3:14-15. [15] Mishna, Bava Batra 2:8. [16] The Jewish War, V, 184. [17] Antiquities of the Jews, XI, 11, 3. [18] Ep. Arist. 84; trans. R.H. Charls 1913. [19] Psalm 125. [20] War. V, 67. [21] Ant. XI, 8, 5. [22] War. V, 68. [23] Mishna, Pesahim 3:8.


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