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In the more than 1900 years since its destruction the trail of the Temple has dimmed for many reasons. There are so many obstacles to over come that it might seem impossible. There is neither a clear archaeological foot print to pinpoint the location of the buildings nor a complete Biblical or Rabbinical record that ascertains there position, size or even appearance. An analysis of the problem is the first step toward a solution.

 

The First Temple was built by Shlomo and added to over the years by the later kings until the layout of the buildings and courtyards that had been received by David was completed. Then in 586 B.C.E. the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. Har haBayit (the Temple Mount) was burned and left as a pile of rubble. Har haBayit is described as a 500 amot (cubit) square that in the First Temple period included not only the Temple and its courtyards with all of its side chambers but also the king’s palace, residential gardens and courtyards. When the men from the golah (dispersion) rebuilt the Temple they first had to clear this rubble and build in many cases from the ground up. The area that had been the palace of the king was never reconstructed as before but became an area for new structures or an open outer courtyard used for access to the inner courtyards. In the building of the Second Temple by Zerubbabel this entire area of the palace was erased from the Mount. The Hasmoneans and Herod repeated this practice of tearing down the earlier structures in order to build new buildings. In many instances the names of reconstructed buildings changed adding confusion to the history of a particular structure. With each reconstruction and expansion the record became more and more diminished. The Roman destruction in 70 C.E. was unprecedented in the sheer amount and scope of its upheaval, further adding to the problem.

 

The Roman occupation of the Mount and their practice of using stones in secondary use was only the forerunner of what was to come. The Mount was destroyed and rebuilt time and again over the centuries by the various Moslem groups as well as the Crusaders until only the fewest traces of the Second Temple and none from the First Temple remained. The Moslem refusal for any archaeological excavation or survey to be conducted further compounded the problem.

 

The Archaeological Camp

In spite of this, there are remains of the Temple to this day, scattered and few. These remains are in the form of original stone, that tell of structures long since vanished. There are underground cisterns, tunnels, and buildings that often speak of structures that stood above them. Some of these underground vaults retain names that correspond to known Temple buildings. Photographs taken a hundred plus years ago record other remains that have since disappeared due to the Moslem practice of destroying all Temple evidence, but they still give a record to be analyzed.

 

There have been several excavations around the Mount, primarily along the southern and western walls. There have been numerous attempts at determining where the original Temple Mount was located from an archaeological aspect.[1] As related in the previous chapter there have been several attempts at locating the Beit haMikdash (Temple) and the Mitzbaiach (Altar). There has been little attempt to determine the layout of the gates and buildings around the courtyards, or to determine their size and design. The size of these structures and the size of the courtyards (Azarah, the Inner Courtyard and the Ezrat Nashim, the Court of the Women) have been nothing more than guess work as the size of the amah (cubit) has not been determined. While the Tanach[2]and Middot[3]from the Mishnah were employed in these studies, there usage was nominal. The primary focus of these studies has been to determine the location of the Temple building and the Altar. Due to the limitations of these sources alone, there is not enough information to yield the desired results.

 

Academia has long taken the stand that research of the ancient sites of Israel and faith cannot be mixed. The Tanach is viewed by many within the archaeological world as a series of legends and exagerated stories rather than fact. Many in this sphere even deny that David and Shlomo ruled over a kingdom or that Jerusalem was anything more than a small community during their lifetime. The role of the rabbinic writings is often not given its proper respect. A serious weakness of the archaeological/academic community is that the wealth of information contained in the rabbinical writings has not been exploited.

 

 The Rabbinical Camp

One of the main topics in  rabbinical writings has been the Temple. The sages through the years have described the Temple and its services in great detail. The information contained in these writings is of the greatest importance and is a wealth of information. However, there are several problems concerning rabbinical writings and the layout of the Temple. The only written bodies of work that date to the Temple period are the Mishnah and the Tosefta. The bulk of both these works was written following the destruction of the Temple and even after the Bar Kochba revolt.[4] The Talmud, begun about 130 years after the destruction of the Temple, is the work that is studied most frequently within the rabbinic world. Consequently, there is a great amount of disagreement within these works regarding the location of the buildings. For example: the Lishkat haGazit (the Chamber of Hewn Stone) where the Sanhedrin Gadol[5] convened is described as a building on the southern side of the Azarah in some of the texts and on the northern wall in other texts. Another example of controversy regards the number of the gates to the Azarah. In Middot alone there are three separate listings for the number of gates. Most of the locations cited for a particular structure within the rabbinic writings are offered as an opinion rather than a stated fact. There are exceptions to this rule. The later rabbinical works written after the Talmud are, for the most part, compilations of commentaries on the Mishnah and Talmud. These works contain more opinions on the location of structures based upon earlier opinions. This in turn adds to the controversy concerning the layout of the Temple.

 

Until recently, only a small number of Orthodox Jews went to the Temple Mount at all, choosing instead to go to the Kotel (the Western Wall Prayer Area) located outside the retaining walls on the western side of the Mount. The reason Orthodox Jews did not venture on top of the Mount was a fear that they might inadvertantly wander into an area that was off limits to anyone with corpse impurity. This area which contained the Inner Courtyards was surrounded by a fence known as the Soreg. A person with corpse impurity was made pure by the seven day ceremony of the Ashes of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer). The location of the Soreg is not known today nor is there a red heifer from which to secure the cleansing ashes. Today this is changing as there is a path that has been approved for Orthodox Jews to walk on the Mount that is felt by the rabbis to be certain of not violating the Soreg.

 

Due to the Orthodox abstension for so long from the top of the Mount, little is known among the Orthodox about what is on top of the Mount. There is an unfamiliarity with the cisterns and known tunnels on the Mount by this community. Also there has been very little study of old photographs and accounts of the Mount through the centuries outside of the rabbinical writings.

 

Within much of Orthodox Judaism there has been an aversion to archaeology that originates from issues that have no relationship to the Temple Mount. The problem stems from the sensitive issue of archaeology and the excavation of burial sites. Due to bad feelings generated between the archaeological community and the rabbinic community over this major conflict, communication between the two groups has been everything but productive.

 

Where Rabbinics and Archaeology Meet

However, recently these two communities have found a common ground.in the massive destruction to the Temple Mount caused by the Moslems in their illegal construction activities.[6] The archaeological community, headed by Eilat Mazar and Gabriel Barkay have joined with the rabbinical community headed by the rabbis of the Temple Institute to raise awareness in the world concerning this problem. They are also jointly appealing to the Israeli Government to take action before any further destruction occurs.

 

Joining these two worlds of rabbinics and archaelolgy, along with other historical sources to develop a floorplan that is established by fact is the quest of this book. If certain structures located on the Temple Mount such as tunnels, cisterns, walls, etc., could be identified with structures referred to in either the Tanach or the rabbinical writings, then certain landmarks could be located. These landmarks or anchor points give definition to the various structures allowing a floorplan to emerge.

 

In order for this to happen a familiarity with the different sources; Tanach, rabbinical, archaeological, and historical is necessary.

 



[1] Leen Ritmeyer, Benjamin Mazar, David Davidson

[2] The Hebrew Bible.

[3] Middot (Measurements), a tractate from the Mishnah, describes the measurements of the Temple and its courtyards. Many of the buildings and gates around the courtyards are also described.

[4] 135 C.E.

[5] The highest court.

[6] See Appendix II for more information on the illegal destructions occurring on the Temple Mount by the Moslems.

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