• Hillel Richman

The True Location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Part Five

Could Fort Antonia Be the Temple Mount?


Fort Antonia was a structure located in the north-western corner of King Herod’s Temple Mount. According to Josephus, it was built by Herod on the foundations of an older edifice known as the Baris, a fortress that guarded the Temple during the previous Hellenistic Period. [1]


A key premise central to the rationale of various TLT’s is the identification of the Temple Mount as we know it today, with none other than King Herod’s Fort Antonia.


One of the primary claims of these theorists is that an entire Roman Legion comprising roughly 6000 soldiers and 4000 auxiliary personnel, was stationed in Jerusalem; and that this force could not possibly have fit in the area traditionally identified by scholars as the location of Fort Antonia. These theorists consider Antonia to be a “Roman Fort,” and find further credence for this idea in the similarity between the general rectangular outline of the Temple Mount and that of roman fortresses or Castra. They also point out that the Temple Mount stands above the City of David—a fact which they claim proves that it is none other than Fortress Antonia, since Josephus mentions that the Antonia towered over the Temple: [2]


“And as that hill on which the tower of Antonia stood was the highest of these three”


We will see that like the rest of the claims of the TLT’s, this notion is false, and reflects a fundamental lack in understanding of Jerusalem’s geography, history and archaeology.


The site where Fort Antonia once stood is in fact, widely agreed upon by most reputable scholars to be upon the rocky plateau located immediately above the north-western area of the Temple Mount. This location is presently occupied by a Muslim school building called Umariyya. [3] This large rock mass is defined to its south by a vertical rock face visible at the north-western corner of the Temple Mount, and joins to form a corner with another rock face section visible to the west, north of the Bab al-Ghawanima minaret. This rocky plateau measures approximately 122 meters (400 feet) long and 36.5 meters (120 feet) wide, and is topographically part of an elevated peak towering above the Temple Mount known as the Antonia Hill, most of which was cut away by Herod to provide a solid foundation for the fortress.


Not only does this site fit the historical descriptions of where the Antonia stood—above the area of the Temple; there are, in fact, several archaeological remnants which can be linked with the structure itself.


Visible on the northern vertical rock-scarp, at a height of about 8.84 meters (29 feet) above the surface level of the Temple Mount, are square sockets measuring 48 cm (19 inches); above the sockets, several typical Herodian stone courses are visible. These sockets were cut into the rock for the purpose of inserting wooden beams that would have supported a ceiling of some sort.


Josephus indicates that there were porticoes (colonnades), surrounding the outer court of the Temple, running along the interior of all four walls of the Temple Mount: [4]


“For all the cloisters were double, and the pillars to belonging them were twenty-five cubits in height, and supported the cloisters. These pillars were of one entire stone each of them, and that stone was white marble; and the roofs were adorned with cedar, curiously graven. The natural magnificence, and excellent polish, and the harmony of the joints in these cloisters, afforded a prospect that was very remarkable”


According to Josephus, the tower of Antonia was situated in the corner between the northern and western porticos: [5]


“As to the tower of Antonia, it was situated at the corner of two cloisters of the court of the temple; of that on the west, and that on the north”


These square sockets have been identified as the sockets in which the beams supporting the architrave in this particular section of the northern portico would have been inserted. This indeed correlates with the historical description and places the tower of Antonia literally in between the northern and western porticos – the beams of which rested on the very foundations of the fort.


Another remnant associated with the Antonia Fortress is the remains of an ancient wall visible in several locations and running along the top of the southern edge of the rocky plateau. This wall was found to be more than 4 meters (13 feet) thick and identified as part of the southern wall of the Antonia Fortress. [6]


The attempt to identify the Temple Mount with the Antonia Fortress is based largely on an erroneous reading of the historical texts, while at the same time, ignoring facts that contradict or don’t agree with the theory; in some cases, facts are seemingly made up out of thin air.


For instance, one well-known book ascribes this following description of the Antonia to Josephus: [7]


“A huge complex with many thousands of troops and support staff, from medical facilities to prisons, places of worship, food storage, kitchens, stables, horse tenders, bakers, armories, blacksmiths, barbers, court rooms, baths, granaries, brothels, roads, latrines, barracks and officers’ quarters”


This description is not footnoted by the author and indeed no such reference could be found, while the closest possible reference actually found in Josephus reads: [8]


“The inward parts had the largeness and form of a palace, it being parted into all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camps; insomuch that, by having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence it seemed a palace”


Notice that Josephus writes that the Antonia “might seem to be composed of several cities”—an allegorical statement referring to the various conveniences that the Antonia offered and not to the size of the fortress—which is what the theorists would have you believe. Similar conveniences are well-known from other Herodian building projects such as Herodium which is identified today beyond a shadow of a doubt, and is much smaller than the Temple Mount. In Josephus’s description of Herodium, he uses a similar description to that of Antonia: [9]


“Insomuch that, on account of its containing all necessaries, the fortress might seem to be a city, but, by the bounds it had, a palace only”


The Antonia is likewise described by Josephus as a palace, as we have previously seen and elsewhere as well: [10]


“But the citadel he repaired at a vast expense; nor was it other than a royal palace, which he called Antonia”


Moreover, at the end of Josephus’s above mentioned description, he describes the overall shape of the Antonia: [11]


“As the entire structure resembled that of a tower!” Indeed, Josephus often refers to the Antonia as the “Tower of Antonia” while the wide open esplanade of the Temple Mount resembles nothing of a tower; it is in fact the very opposite of a tower which is by definition a narrow structure.


As mentioned, the various TLT’s identify Fort Antonia as a “Roman Fort.” While it is true that a Roman garrison was stationed in the fort, the assertion that it was a “Roman Fort,” a theory which has gained wide meme-like internet popularity, is fundamentally wrong. Building the Antonia was one of the first of King Herod’s many grandiose building projects which he undertook sometime between 37-31 BCE. As stated, King Herod built the Antonia on the foundations of an earlier fortress called the Baris; similarly to other fortresses, Herod built this on preexisting Hasmonian fortresses. It is important to understand that Roman forts known as “Castra” are military facilities. These structures were built for the Roman military by the Roman military and not by vassal kings. Roman forts are known from elsewhere in Israel e.g., around Masada; they are very different structures than the Temple Mount and have nothing in common other than the vast four-sided space they occupy.


Although discussing the many and intricate differences between Roman forts and the Temple Mount is beyond the scope of this article, a noticeable difference is the fact that Roman Castra usually had four gates, whereas the Temple Mount had seven gates during the early Roman Period. Furthermore, the Temple Mount as we know it today is not a single structure but a multifaceted structure with at least three distinct identifiable building phases (that is to say, ancient building phases not including post-Temple phases), all exhibiting the kind of monumental building one would expect to find in the true location of the Temple (see below). [12]


Another problem with identifying the Temple Mount with the Antonia Fortress is that the Antonia’s foundations were destroyed (and thus the structure itself) during the Great Revolt and therefore could not be the Temple Mount, which still has all its foundations in place; Josephus records that: [13]


“Titus gave orders to his soldiers that were with him to dig up the foundations of the tower of Antonia”


And indeed, we subsequently read that: [14]


“The rest of the Roman army had, in seven days' time, overthrown [some] foundations of the tower of Antonia, and had made a ready and broad way to the temple”

So what about the 10,000 Roman soldiers? Where would they have been stationed if not in the large area that is the Temple Mount? The answer is: what 10,000 Roman soldiers?


To make it clear: There was no Roman Legion stationed in Jerusalem prior to the Great Revolt that started in the year 66 CE!


The notion that there was an entire Roman Legion stationed in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period is consistent with other errors made by the TLT’s which reflect fundamental ignorance of historical knowledge. Only during the Great Revolt were Roman Legions sent to Jerusalem in order to suppress the rebellion as documented by Josephus. As we have noted earlier, after the destruction of Jerusalem a lesson was learnt by the Romans, and the infamous Tenth Roman Legion –Fretensis which took part in destroying the Temple was stationed in Jerusalem to prevent further uprisings. [15] This was the first time in history that a Roman Legion was stationed in Judea [16] and indeed, all the many archaeological finds from Jerusalem and its surroundings relating to the Tenth Roman Legion are dated to after the destruction of Jerusalem to ca. 2-3 centuries CE.


As mentioned, it is true that a Roman garrison was stationed in the Antonia Fortress, but their numbers were way less than what the TLT’s would have you believe. Modern scholars estimate their numbers being between 500 and 1,500 soldiers; this would be equivalent to a force the size of a Cohort or an Ala. [17]


Josephus records the besieging and capturing of the Antonia Fortress:


“But on the next day, which was the fifteenth of the month Lous, [Ab,] they made an assault upon Antonia, and besieged the garrison which was in two days, and then took the garrison and slew them, and set the citadel on fire”


This description of Josephus clearly attests to the fact that no Roman Legion was stationed the Antonia; he mentions a “garrison” which was devastated by the Jewish zealots in only two days! Roman Legions were the most powerful military force in the ancient world and would not have been defeated in such a manner by a few hundred or even a few thousand rebels, and in such a short time. Indeed, if there were a Roman Legion in the Antonia, the rebellion (at least in Jerusalem) would have ended when it started –in the year 66 and not in the year 70.


Another indication of the fact that the Temple Mount is not the Antonia Fortress comes from recent excavations conducted at the foundations of the Western Wall near Robinson’s Arch—not far from the south-western corner of the Temple Mount. [18] During the course of the excavation led by archaeologist Eli Shukrun, a stepped structure identified as a Miqveh or ritual bath was discovered. The Miqveh was apparently put out of use and sealed by the very foundations of the Western Wall.


As most people are aware, The Western Wall is a retaining wall which was built as part of King Herod’s massive renovation and expansion of the Temple Mount, a project which began in Herod’s 18 regnal year (22 BCE) and was only fully completed long after his death. [19] The expansion of the Temple Mount required the demolishing of nearby structures and hence the Miqveh was filled and covered with large slabs of stone upon which the foundations of the Temple Mount were laid in that particular section. The earthen fills removed from the Miqveh revealed over 30 coins, the latest of which were dated to 17/18 CE and hence provide the Terminus post quem or the earliest possible date in which the Miqveh was sealed and built upon by the Western Wall foundation. In other words, that section of the Western Wall was built at least 20 years after King Herod’s death!


To understand the significance of the dating of the Western Wall as it relates to the possibility that the Temple Mount is the remains of the Antonia Fortress, let us recall Josephus’s account of the naming of the Tower by King Herod: [20]


“But for the tower itself… he gratified Antonius, who was his friend, and the Roman ruler, and then gave it the name of the Tower of Antonia”


Antonius or Mark Anthony was the Roman ruler of the east to whom King Herod answered during the initial phase of his regime. In the year 31 BCE, Mark Anthony and his army were defeated in the Battle of Actium by Gaius Octavius Thurinus who subsequently became the first Roman Emperor known as Augustus. After his defeat, Mark Anthony eventually committed suicide in 30 BCE and was shortly followed by his spouse Cleopatra VII. Mark Anthony was completely out of the picture by 31 BCE and hence the building of the Antonia fortress had to have been completed by then. Indeed, Herod would not have dared to have named the structure after the victorious Augustus’s rival; as it is, he had to beg forgiveness from him for supporting Mark Anthony in the first place. The date of the building of the Western Wall as confirmed by archaeology proves that the Temple Mount cannot be the Fortress of Antonia.


TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 6

[1] Ant. XI, 403. [2] War. V, 238. [3] Ritmeyer, The Quest, p. 128. [4] War. V, 190. [5] War. V, 238. [6] M. H. Burgoyne, Mamluke Jerusalem: An Architectural Study, London, 1987, pp.43, 204. [7] R. Cornuke, TEMPLE: Amazing New Discoveries that Change Everything about the Location of Solomon’s Temple, 2014, p.50. [8] War. V, 238. [9] War. XXI, 419. [10] Ibid. XXI, 401. [11] Ibid. V, 238. [12] Ritmeyer, The Quest. [13] War. VI, 93. [14] Ibid. VI, 149. [15] Ibid. VII, 5. [16] D. Bar, The southern Border of Aelia Capitolina and the Location of the 10th Roman Legion camp, Chathedra 69, 1993, pp. 37-56 (Hebrew). [17] Dr. Guy Stiebel (archaeologist and expert on the Roman military in Israel), personal communication. [18] E. Shukron, Did Herod Build the Foundations of the Western Wall? In: E. Meiron (ed.), City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem No.13, Jerusalem, 2012, pp.14*-27*. [19] Ant. XX, 219. [20] Ibid. XI, 403.

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