Temple Mount Excavations
by Beryl Ratzer, 7th December, 2005
In 2001, the civilized world was outraged by the Taliban destruction of statues of Buddha in Afghanistan. As I wrote in my newsletter of March 2001, at that very same time the area below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was similarly being vandalized, but this destruction was met with a thundering silence. (Compare the roaring silence of the world over this issue with the protests over destroying statues of Buddha in Afghanistan: "UNESCO considers this to be a crisis". UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Taliban "to do all in their power to preserve the unique and irreplaceable relics". Russia, Germany, India and even Pakistan joined the condemnation. Amazing!).
And I wondered why there was a double standard. Today one no longer has to wonder because denial of the existence of a Jewish presence in historic Jerusalem has become as common as Holocaust denial. And when one gets down to it, the reasons are the same.
Islamic Excavation Below Temple Mount
In 1999 the Wakf, the Moslem religious authority which is responsible for the mosques on the Temple Mount, including the Dome of the Rock and the El Aksa mosque, asked for and received permission to add an emergency exit to the illegally built underground mosque in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount.
Construction began immediately - not on an emergency exit, but on a monumental new entrance involving the partial destruction of centuries-old columns, arches and walls, and the removal of hundreds of truckloads of rubble and debris to a rubbish dump. Columns, crowns and large architectural blocks and stones, many engraved and decorated, were not discarded, but were kept close by to be used as building material for the new construction, and many can still be seen in piles on the Temple Mount.
Contrary to Israeli law, the entire operation was carried out without archaeological supervision. A number of archaeology students who went to the rubbish dump to sift through the piles of refuse looking for archaeological remains were actually charged with conducting an illegal excavation!!!!!
Professor Gabi Barkay Examines Excavated Materials
It took four years for Professor Gabi Barkay to get official permission to conduct a supervised examination of the material dumped illegally, but unhindered, in the Kidron valley. The first season has just ended, and this article includes information given by Prof. Barkay during a lecture at the Tel Aviv University, but only I am accountable for what I have written.
The area where the work is carried out not far from the dumping area in the Kidron Valley was covered with nylon sheeting, thereby separating the earth of the site itself with that from the Temple Mount, which was to be examined. Each truckload of rubble was first sorted by a special machine and conveyor belt according to size. The largest are the broken columns and architectural remains which the Wakf discarded, considering them too small to be useful for secondary use.
Among these are parts of a column of a very unusual purple coloured marble which is to be found only in Asia Minor. Larger pieces of the same marble columns can be seen on the Temple Mount. Should anyone try to claim that the rubble that Prof. Barkay and his team is examining may be from anywhere in Jerusalem and not from the Temple Mount, this unique marble proves otherwise as do other fragments which can be matched with those remaining on the Temple Mount.
Much effort is expended with the smallest finds, which are all soaked in baths of water to remove the loose dirt. Volunteers, who come from all walks of life and all ages from school children to pensioners, examine each piece individually and sort them into six main piles: bones, glass, stone objects, pottery sherds, metals and coins. These are then reexamined by the experts and classified.
The finds which can be positively dated range over a period of more than three thousand years and include flint objects of the Bronze age. Details of some of these finds will be presented in this article in the same order that they are uncovered in an archaeological excavation - from the latest to the earliest. But first a brief history of the Temple Mount area, as it was understood before Temple denial became so popular.
History of the Temple Mount Area
The biblical tradition is that Solomon built a temple, commonly known as the First Temple, on Mount Moriah, and that this temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. About fifty years later the Persian king Cyrus gave the Jews permission to rebuild their temple and this would be known as the Second Temple. Over the centuries the Second Temple was enlarged and embellished by the Hasmonean kings and finally by King Herod. It was totally destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
From written sources it appears that the Roman pagan temple built on the site was destroyed during the Byzantine period. The Moslem conquest took place in 638 CE. During the visit of the Caliph Omar in Jerusalem shortly thereafter, he dedicated a mosque known as the Mosque of Omar at the southern end of the Temple Mount. This very simple mosque was described by Bishop Arculfus, a pilgrim who visited in 670. Nothing was built on the ruins of the Temple, which were covered with debris and rubbish.
In 691, the Umayyad Caliph Abd el Malik, ruling from Damascus and at war [with] another dynasty in Arabia which controlled the Moslem holy site, the Kaba’ in Mecca, built the Dome of the Rock. As the name implies, the Dome stands over a rock which some believe may be the same rock on which the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple stood. But, for a Moslem ruler, the Jewish tradition would not justify the building of such a monumental edifice, one far more elaborate than that housing the Kaba’ in Mecca. A new meaning for the rock had to be found.
In the Koran there is no mention of Jerusalem, and the interpretation of Mohammed’s night flight to “the furtherest mosque” was that it was to heaven. With the building of the Dome of the Rock by Abd el Malik, a new tradition evolved, claiming that the mosque of Omar was actually the “furtherest mosque” - “Masgad el Aksa”. Furthermore, the Moslem tradition continued, when Mohammed ascended to heaven after this night flight he left his footprint on the stone. This certainly justified the monumental construction.
(For anyone interested in this period, I recommend The Rock: A Tale of Seventh Century Jerusalem, a delightful book written by an Iraqi born author. Kanan Makiya has based most of his novel on actual documents).
The Dome of the Rock stood in all its majesty, unchanged and unaffected by crusaders and earthquakes, both of which damaged and changed the original Mosque of Omar. In the 16th century, at the beginning of the Turkish Ottoman rule, some of the original tiles and mosaics were replaced and repaired.
Findings and Supporting Evidences Many of the small square cut stones of various colours for use in the mosaics have been found in the finds positively identified by Prof. Barkay and his team. This shows conclusively that the material being investigated by the team is definitely from the Temple Mount.
Also, from the 16th century, when the use of tobacco began to be widespread, are some fine examples of Ottoman clay smoking pipes. The 16th century saw an increase in foreign visitors, and the currency of choice used by the European visitors was the “gold Napoleon," at least one of which has been found. The many coins discovered cover nearly two thousand years and include coins minted by the kings of the Hasmonean dynasty and from the Hellenistic period which precedes them.
The many items of jewelry include earrings, rings, pendants and amulets. The ivory and mother of pearl crosses and the silver charm of St. Christopher clearly belonged to Christian pilgrims, some as far back as the Byzantine period; but there is also a ring with an inscription in Arabic. An ivory comb still has the remains of lice!!
Five ivory dice have definitely been dated to the late Roman period by comparing them with similar dice found in situ in other excavations. Also from the Roman period is an exquisitely carved head of a goat, which may be part of a statue of the pagan god Pan, and a tiny juglet with two faces, one wearing what appears to be a Roman helmet.
Our knowledge of the Second Temple comes to us from so many written sources that it is hard to believe anyone can doubt its existence. The Talmud preserves contemporary descriptions, not only of the temple itself, but also of the traditions of prayer, sacrifice and purification rituals. It also tells us that there were signs advising non-Jews which areas were off limits to them. Obviously, Temple deniers do not consider the Talmud a reliable source, but confirmation of this injunction can be seen in the Wakf museum on the Temple Mount.
One of the monumental stones found in the course of the Moslem destruction and construction of the last few years is displayed there. On it is a Latin inscription. According to the Hungarian scholar who published his research of the inscription, this stone fits exactly the description of the above-mentioned signs.
The historian Josephus Flavius, who lived in the first century, described the Temple extensively in his many writings, which were preserved in Christian monasteries. Probably these too are considered suspect by Temple deniers as Josephus was a Jew who initially fought against the Romans in the Jewish revolt. When he later changed sides he was awarded Roman citizenship by Titus.
His descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are supported by archaeological evidence in the excavations which can be visited in the Jewish Quarter and in the exposed southern section of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. If that isn’t enough, there are the special “Judaea capta” coins minted by the Romans to commemorate their difficult victory against the Jews.
The Roman historians Pliny, Philo and Tacitus all briefly mention the Jews, who insisted on working only six days a week and rested on the seventh, their temple in Jerusalem, with its Holy of Holies which was not only without any statues of a god, but was empty, and the unique sea in their land, in which one could not drown (the Dead Sea). Is there anyone who has visited Rome and has not gazed at the arch of Titus depicting the procession of the victorious Roman soldiers displaying the golden candelabra plundered from the destroyed temple in Jerusalem?
According to the Gospel Luke, not only did Mary perform the Jewish ritual of redeeming her first born son at the temple in Jerusalem, but Joseph, Mary and young Jesus participated in the annual pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem every Passover (Luke 2:22). These pilgrimages are described so vividly by Josephus and in the Talmud.
And Jesus entered the Temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the Temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt 21:12).
The Talmud and Josephus both tell us of the thousands of Jewish pilgrims who came not only from Judaea but also from abroad. Many would have needed to change money in order to buy a bird or an animal to offer as a sacrifice.
How any impartial, honest scholar can deny the existence of the Second Temple on the Temple Mount is beyond me. Perhaps the key words are ‘impartial and honest’.
And now we come to the First Temple, the one of the biblical period. As far as we know, nothing remains of it. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. But a mere fifty years later Cyrus, king of Persia allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem, taking with them some of the treasures of the temple plundered by Nebuchadnezzar. A copy of his edict, inscribed on a clay cylinder, was found in an excavation in ancient Nineveh (Iraq of today) thereby confirming what is written in Ezra 1:1.
Among those who returned were many who not only remembered the destroyed Temple but had actually served in it. Evidence of the returnees from Persia is a white alabaster dish, similar to others found elsewhere in situ and therefore positively dated. The modest Temple they built was replaced with a larger complex by the Hasmonean kings.
Testimony from the Hasmonean period comes from inscribed jug handles and arrow heads of the Seleucid army against whom the Macabees fought. As if to remind us of the victory of the Macabees, the rededication of the desecrated Temple and the initiation of Hannukah, the Festival of Lights, oil lamps of the period have been identified.
As we know from the architectural remains, especially the massive retaining wall known as the Western Wall and the arched halls under the present El Aksa Mosque, Herod enlarged and enhanced the Hasmonean Temple. Any remains of the First Temple would have been buried in the foundation of that ambitious building project.
All of what we know of the First Temple comes to us from the Hebrew Scriptures. In I Kings 6:1 there is a detailed description of the Temple built by Solomon. The wood, the stately cedar, necessary for building, was purchased from Hiram, king of Lebanon. But there is an ever-growing tendency to discount the veracity of the Old Testament and the existence of David and Solomon, this despite an inscription referring to the House of David found in the excavation at Tel Dan.
However, among the pottery sherds found in the rubble, some are definitely of the 10th century BCE, the time of Solomon. The abundance of sherds with writing on them attest to the literacy of the people of the First Temple period. An inscription on a bulla - a clay seal impression - which was burnt and thus preserved, refers to “--lyahu son of Immer”. Immer was the name of one of the priestly families which served in the Temple, and the prophet Jeremiah refers to “Pashur the son of Immer” (Jer. 20:1).
Jeremiah tells us: " . . . in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnerezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, which served the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem. And burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem…. And all the army of the Chaldeans that were with the captain of the guard, brake down all the walls of Jerusalem round about (Jer. 52:12-14).
Babylonian chronicles confirm this.
An even more poignant confirmation of the destruction of 586 BCE is the discovery in the rubble being sorted of the unusual arrowheads used by the Babylonian army. Israelite arrowheads of the same period were found in the excavation in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
In the light of what has been exposed thus far, I fail to understand why there is virtually no outrage, either in Israel or throughout the enlightened academic world, against the willful Moslem pillage of the Temple Mount archaeological remains.
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This article has been reprinted from Beryl Ratzer's web site, www.ratzer-holyland.com
with her gracious permission. Mrs. Ratzer has resided in Israel since 1964, is a licensed Israeli guide, and is the author of A Historical Tour of the Holyland, which is now in its second edition. Thank you, Mrs. Ratzer.