While militant Jews and End-Time Christians have been looking for an opportunity to seize the “Temple Mount,” a new theory cast doubt that Herod’s temple was ever located on the site of the Dome of the Rock. Discover how Jesus’ prophecy of Jerusalem’s fall led one scholar to make what some consider the greatest archaeological discovery of our times, the true site of Solomon’s Temple.
Defying all logic, a 35-acre landmass surrounded by ancient walls is ground zero to the end-time dreams and fears of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Known by Muslims as the Haram esh-Sharif or Noble Enclosure since A.D. 638, these fortress walls guard Islam’s third holiest site, the golden “Dome of the Rock” and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Despite thirteen centuries of Islamic heritage, Jews today consider the Haram as their Temple Mount. Tradition calls it “the navel of the world … situated in the center of the world.”
The Temple Mount, thought to be the site of the First and Second Jewish temples, abuts the Haram’s “Western Wall”–considered by Jews to be the only stones left intact from the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The outcropping under the Dome of the Rock is thought to be the crest of Mount Moriah where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son.
Increasingly, zealous Jews in Israel and End-Time Christians in America are calling for the rebuilding of a “Third Temple” where the Dome of the Rock stands.
In his book, Arabs and Jews: Wounded Spirits In A Promised Land, New York Times journalist David Shipler reports, “During my five years in Jerusalem, the idea of building a Third Temple in place of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock evolved from a wild notion held by a very few fringe militants into a goal embraced and legitimized by parts of the established right wing.”
Shipler continues, “Some groups had a letterhead printed with a composite aerial photograph of the Old City as it is today and the Temple Mount as they wish it to be tomorrow: clear of mosques and dominated by a huge temple.”
In a recent book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, Israeli journalist, Gershon Gorenberg writes, “The Temple Mount beckons seductively to believers eager to restart redemption.” Although journalists or theologians often mock them, Gorenberg claims governments need to take their apocalyptic schemes seriously.
According to messianic groups in Jerusalem such as the Temple Mount Faithful, three events must take place before the Jewish messiah comes: the reconstitution of Israel, the return of the Jews to their homeland; and the construction of a Third Temple.
As religious Jews tell it, the first two events came about through the founding of the Jewish State in 1948. They believe the third has become possible due to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel found herself capturing the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“The Temple Mount is in our hands,” proclaimed Motta Gur, the Israeli commander. But on the fourth day of occupation, then Defense-minister Moshe Dayan decided to return control of the Haram compound to clerics from the Islamic Trust or Waqf.
Despite the control of the Haram by the Waqf, the continued occupation of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israel has transformed the rebuilding of the Temple for extreme Jews from a divine prophecy into an attainable human endeavor.
Palestinians have always felt the goal of Jewish Zionism is, as its name implies, control of the Temple Mount and the construction of the Third Temple. In 1995, an Arab editorial declared, “The weeping of the Jews by the Wailing Wall and their kisses do not come of their love for the wall itself, but from their secret desire to win control of the Haram esh-Sharif, as everyone knows.”
Palestinian uneasiness about Jewish extremism is understandable. On more than one hundred occasions since 1967, members of the “Jewish underground” have initiated plots to siege or destroy the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, acts that would have rendered peace with the Arab world unattainable.
Igniting World War III?
The rhetoric about the Temple Mount has inflamed passions on all sides. Indeed, it was a principal factor, if not the key factor, in derailing the U.S. brokered Camp David peace talks in 2000. Israelis insisted on dual ownership of the Haram, something Arafat said no Arab leader could accept.
Making matters worse, Israeli hard-liner Ariel Sharon entered the Haram several weeks later with an armed security force of 1,000 Israeli soldiers, provoking a new round of violence in which nearly 500 people have died, largely Palestinians.
Amidst these fears, a new film was released in Israel. By December, Hahesder, or “Time of Favor,” became a hit movie. The film revolves around a plot by ultra-religious Jews to blow up Islamic holy places on the Temple Mount. The Israeli Shin Bet followed up the movie’s release with warnings about the possible eruption of Jewish violence centered on the Temple Mount.
One Israeli security official told the BBC, “To harm the mosque, it means a global war between the Arab world and the Islamic world against Israel, and no doubt that it could be a war that may bring destruction to the state of Israel.”
Israeli academics have been equally alarmed by “Third Temple” ideas. In January, Keshev–the Center for the Protection of Democracy in Tel Aviv issued a 12-page report entitled, “Targeting the Temple Mount,” which examined current threats to the Temple Mount from extreme militant and messianic groups.
The report claimed, “Threats to the Temple Mount have reached a critical stage.” The danger, the report said, comes from some ten organizations who influence tens of thousands of people and who are acting to reinstitute Temple practices and rituals.
The secular research continued, “In the event of damage to the holy sites, all the blame will be placed on Israel and apocalyptically destructive forces may be unleashed.”
It urged the Israeli government “to stop all support and funding of Temple lovers’ organizations and institutions” and “publicly disassociate themselves from rabbinical calls to ‘destroy the mosques.’ Our lives depend on it.”
The Battle for Jerusalem
Historically, following Bar Kochba’s revolt in A.D. 135, the idea of rebuilding the Jewish Temple was disavowed by Judaism. Only the messiah, it was believed, was capable of rebuilding the Temple. This idea has been challenged in our time by more than a century of Jewish Zionism.
What is surprising about this extreme brand of messianic Judaism and its fixation on the Temple Mount is that its greatest sector of support now is coming from apocalyptic Christians in America.
Fifteen years ago the radical Jewish “Temple Mount Faithful” had practically disappeared in Jerusalem. Then it made connections with End-Time churches in the U.S. Since then, its founder, Gershon Salomon, has been promoted by Pat Robinson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and cash flow has been steady.
Gorenberg feels that the alliance between End-Time Jews and Christians is an ironic one, for evangelicals see the creation of Israel and the reestablishment of the Temple as prerequisites for the End of Days when, according to apocalyptic scenarios, two-thirds of all Jews will die in the battle of Armageddon.
Still, the rebuilding of a “Third Temple” is almost axiomatic among true believers, as witnessed in Bible prophecy books such as The Coming Last Days Temple by Randall Price.
Diffusing the Bomb?
Is it inevitable that the Temple Mount will explode, taking both Israelis and Arabs to the gates of hell? Dr. Ernest L. Martin, a forty-year historian on Jerusalem, thinks not.
In March of 2000 he published a surprising new book, The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot, which argues that the Jewish Temples never were built on the present “Temple Mount” and actually were located a fourth of a mile south over Gihon Spring.
Upon first hearing, Martin admits, the thesis sounds incredible. But Martin bases his conclusions on multiple lines of evidence, biblical, historical and geographic.
He further claims that Dr. Benjamin Mazar, the former president of Hebrew University and leading Jewish excavator outside the Haram walls from 1967 to 1978, was leaning toward the same conclusion before his death.
If anything, since its release a year ago, Martin’s book has caused scholars to take another look at the works of Flavius Josephus, who offered eyewitness accounts of the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70.
One eyewitness worth examining is Eleazar, the Jewish rebel commander at Masada in A.D. 73. In The War of the Jews (VII.8,6), Josephus cities him as saying, “Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations, and hath nothing left but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those that hath destroyed it, which still dwells upon its ruins.”
Martin claims that a proper reading of Eleazar’s quote would support the view that only the Camp of the Roman Tenth Legion was left standing among the ruins of Jerusalem’s city and temple.
Martin identifies the Haram esh-Sharif as that remaining camp or Fort Antonia, which Herod named after Mark Anthony. He shows how the Haram’s 35 acres were comparable in size and water supply to other Roman fortresses built to guard occupied cities.
Martin writes, “Josephus reported that Fort Antonia was as large as a city and could hold a full Legion of troops, or 5,000 soldiers plus support personnel.” Although Herod the Great had built it up since the year 6 A.D., the Romans had used the camp as their base, and they had no reason to destroy it after the war.
As a security measure, the Roman Empire continued to use Antonia to house the Tenth Legion after the fall of Jerusalem and remained there for more than 200 years.”
Furthering buttressing the thesis that the Haram is indeed Fort Antonia is testimony from various Church Fathers and pilgrims from the fourth to sixth centuries that spoke of a large rock outcropping as the Praetorium–where Pilate judged Jesus (John 18:20).
The Dome of the Rock would later be built over this permanent natural feature. In contrast, Martin claims, the Temple was built over a threshing floor, and its “foundation stone” was movable.
Wailing at the Wrong Wall?
If Martin’s thesis is correct that the Haram was Fort Antonia, it would cast in doubt an unquestioned modern-day Jewish tenet: that the “Wailing Wall” was part of the walls enclosing Herod’s Temple.
By connecting a series of historical dots and clues which others have overlooked, Martin documents that two “western walls” were known to Judaism before the time of the Crusades. Neither was a remainder of the Second Temple and neither was located near the present “Wailing Wall.” Both were aborted attempts to rebuild the Third Jewish temple under the Roman Emperor Constantine from A.D. 313 to 324 and later under Julian in 362.
Over the past 130 years archaeologists have confirmed that the original City of David was built on the southeastern ridge of Jerusalem, where Martin claims the Jewish Temples were located. What changed the prevailing opinion that Jerusalem grew up on its western hill was the famous discovery of Hezekiah’s water tunnel under the Ophel mount in the 1870s.
Martin feels that archaeologists were right a century ago to move the site of David’s ancient city to southeast Jerusalem, but failed at that time to reevaluate their traditional thinking about the location of the Jewish Temples.
The confusion over Jerusalem’s geography, Martin claims, began a century and a half before Jesus’ time. In the days of Simon the Hasmonean, Mount Zion, also known as the Akra or stronghold, had become indefensible. Jewish leaders then literally leveled down “Mount Zion,” which overlooked the Temple. Over a period of three years the entire geography of Jerusalem was changed, as a “New Jerusalem” was built on the western hill, save for the Temple itself.
The Actual Temple
Martin also turns to biblical statements to show that the original tabernacle of David and the Temple of Solomon were built above Gihon Spring (2 Sam. 6:17, 1 Kg. 1:38-39). Martin claims that ancient Jewish law required that a live spring be located within the Temple for ritual purification. The Davidic psalms testify that “living water” flowed through the temple (Ps. 46:3,4; 87:1-2,7).
There even exists two extra-biblical confirmations of the Temple containing a water source. Martin writes, “We have the eyewitness account of a person from Egypt named Aristeas who viewed the Temple in about 285 B.C. He stated quite categorically that the Temple was located over an inexhaustible spring that welled up within the interior part of the Temple.”
Martin also cites Roman historian, Tacitus, in about A.D.105, stating that “the Temple at Jerusalem had within its precincts a natural spring of water.”
No natural springs have ever been found within the Haram esh-Sharif, only cisterns for collecting water. Geologically, the only natural spring in Jerusalem for five miles in any distance is Gihon Spring.
Martin documents how the Islamic rulers from the seventh to the eleventh century allowed the Jews to live near their Temple ruins at the Gihon, but forbade them to enter the Haram, further showing that the locations were not synonymous.
“What has been amazing to me,” Martin writes, “is the vast amount of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian records that remain available from the first to the sixteenth centuries that clearly vindicate the conclusions that I have reached in this book.”
Taking Josephus’ descriptions at face value, Martin has recreated a depiction of Herod’s Temple and Fort Antonia and with architectural precision. If one would have stood on the southern slopes of the Mount of Olives and looked northwestward they would see these two buildings occupying the greater part of eastern Jerusalem.
According to Josephus, the Temple site was shaped as a perfect square of 600 feet on each of its four sides, and towered upward from the floor of Kidron Valley some 450 feet, or forty stories. Fort Antonia lay to its north by another 600 feet, connected by double colonnades. Slanted flagstones surrounded Fort Antonia on its east for external protection.
Not everyone is impressed by Martin’s renderings. From 1973 to 1978, Dr. Leen Ritmeyer served as the lead architect associated with the archaeological excavations of the Haram’s south walls. As author of Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1998), Ritmeyer feels that Martin ignores “the archaeological evidence that has been excavated in Jerusalem.”
If the Temple Mount was merely a Roman Camp, he asks, why have Hebrew inscriptions such as the “Trumpeting Stone” been found at the base of the Haram walls in Herodian strata?
Martin claims the fallen inscription from top of the southwest wall could just as easily be related to military camp life and revelry than to summon people for the Sabbath. As for the inscription in Hebrew, Martin notes Fort Antonia was built by Herod the Great for his own soldiers, long before the Tenth Roman Legion arrived.
Martin claims his theory is consistent with excavations done both outside and within the Haram. He notes that a hundred years ago, Sir Charles Warren, the great surveyor of Jerusalem, meticulously examined all the nooks, crannies, holes, cisterns and tunnels beneath the Haram, and found no archaeological remains identified with the Second Temple.
Most people are totally unaware that Jerusalem in Jesus’ day was one of the biggest cities between Alexandria and Damascus. It was a prosperous metropolitan city of more than 80,000 people, with two or three times that many visiting during festival seasons. Herod the Great had restored the Temple as a world-renowned wonder.
For Christians, Martin’s reconstruction solves the quandary of Jesus’ prophecy repeated four times in the gospel, that “not one stone would be left upon another” (Mk. 13:1-2, Matt. 24:1-3, Lk. 19:43-44, 21:5-6).
Martin, who takes the words of Jesus literally, argues that the total removal of the Second Temple down to its foundations in A.D. 70 is in accord with Jesus’ statements.
Is then all of the evidence of the Second Temple’s archaeological record gone?
Martin thinks so, given the complete destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Some might consider this a convenient excuse for non-verification, but archaeologists never have uncovered any ruins identified with other structures Herod built in Jerusalem, including his lavish Palace, the Greek Gymnasium or the Roman Hippodrome.
Given the testimony of eyewitnesses as to the utter ruin of Jerusalem–dug up from its very foundations, it is unlikely that any evidence of the Second Temple or other massive Herodian buildings will ever be found.
In January 2001 Martin spent a week in Jerusalem presenting his “Temple theory.” More than 200 Palestinian academics and western scholars attended a series of meetings hosted by the Sabeel Theology Center.
Many were associated with well-known groups such as Ecole Biblique, the Albright Institute or Al-Quds University. Upon returning, Martin told Presence magazine that, “I did not get a negative comment the entire time I was there.”
If proven correct, Martin’s “Temple theory” could have profound effect on how Jews and Muslims approach the future of Jerusalem.
If the Temple never was located at the supposed “Temple Mount” then a major obstacle dividing Israelis and Palestinians could be put to rest. The “Temple Time Bomb” could be diffused and Jews could transfer their focus south from the western Haram wall to Gihon Springs, in order to build a Third Temple.
Still, most that hear Martin’s theory consider it “preposterous” at first. This was true of Dr. James D. Tabor, religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina.
After studying Martin’s arguments, however, Tabor wrote, “Martin’s thesis is so bold, so utterly non-conventional, and so potentially upsetting, radically altering central aspects of the theological, historical, cultural and political understanding of Jerusalem and its holy places, it should not be ignored.”
Read the complete story of how historical research might diffuse the Temple time bomb. Purchase a copy of The Temple That Jerusalem Forgot.
Leen Ritmeyer has posted his critique of Martin’s “Temple Theory” online.
Martin has responded back at his website. Editor’s note: Martin passed away in January 2002. His son now lives in Jerusalem and is continuing his research into the location of the Temple.