Where was the Temple Located?
Searching for the Sacred Site
By: Dr. Randall Price
Every day the Israeli news reports incidents of violence on the Temple Mount. Islamic groups such as the “Women in Black” confront Jewish visitors with shouts of “Allah is the greatest!” This tension has grown from a belief that denies the existence of a Jewish Temple. The Arab world embraces this denial. This theory developed within the political echelon of the Palestinian Authority in connection with the first Intifada in 1987, although, it had its roots in the Islamic reaction to Israel’s return to control over the Temple Mount in the 1967 Six Day War.
Adding to the problem is an ignorance of facts. Many Jews and non-Jews accept that the Jewish Temple once existed, but believe that after its destruction in 70 AD, the Jews abandoned it and forgot the original location. For this reason, many think the Jewish people developed other worship centers on the Mount of Olives or at the Western Wall.
To the contrary, the Jewish people have maintained an unbroken, 2,000-year-long connection with the Temple Mount. F.M. Loewenberg, Professor Emeritus at Bar-Ilan University states:
The facts do not support either of these claims. The destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E. did not spell the end of Jewish activities on the Temple Mount. For many centuries, Jews maintained a physical presence on the mountain. Jewish people also prayed three times a day for the speedy renewal of the sacrificial service in a restored temple.
In Loewenberg’s Middle East Quarterly journal article, “Did Jews Abandon the Temple Mount,” he traces the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount through time, revealing that not only was there a Jewish presence maintained at the site, but the Jewish communities in Israel, joined by others from the Diaspora, attempted to rebuild the Temple on its site.
Today, most of the ancient city of Jerusalem is covered by modern buildings, but the open 35-acre platform on Mount Moriah still remains, surrounded by its original Herodian walls.
These facts dispel popular theories that the Temple was located anywhere but the modern Temple Mount. While archeologists agree on the location of the Temple Mount, they still debate the exact location of the Temple itself. Archaeologists and scholars have put forth the following theories: the northern view, the southern view, and the central view.
All of these locations are near to one another on the present Temple Mount, but depending on where these experts place the Holy of Holies, the exact location of the Temple will differ.
The northern view places this site at a small Muslim cupola known as the “Dome of the Tablets” situated 330 feet from the Dome of the Rock. Here, the leading proponent of this view, the late Dr. Asher Kaufmann, argued the Temple stood at an angle facing the Eastern Gate.
Kaufmann believed that this placement was directly opposite the site on the Mount of Olives where the Red Heifer ceremony had taken place. Opponents of this view say that a placement of the Temple in this area is impossible because during the time of the First Temple and the first phase of the Second Temple the Betzaida Valley cut through this area. According to the historian Strabo, this valley was later filled in by Pompey during his conquest of Jerusalem in 63 BC. Building in this location would have required structural supports to prevent the Temple from falling into the deep ravine. However, no historical sources mention any such supports.
The southern view places the Holy of Holies at the site of the present Al-Kas fountain where Muslims would ritually wash before entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers. This site was championed by Tel Aviv architect Tuvia Sagiv who argued that the Islamic Dome of the Rock and earlier structures revealed by an infrared survey were, in fact, remains of a pagan high place.
This included the Western Wall (Kotel) which he said was related to the pagan structures above. However, archaeological work at the Western Wall has now shown that it was not built by Herod the Great, but by his successors, and therefore could not have existed in a previous pagan period. In addition, construction work by the Islamic Waqf in 2006 near the Dome of the Rock revealed the remains of a wall with 8th century BC pottery. From this, it has been deduced that this wall may have been part of the House of Oil located in the Women’s Court in the First Temple. If this is so, it argues for the building of the Temple in the central rather than the southern location.
The majority of Israeli and foreign archaeologists agree that the central location, currently the site of the Dome of the Rock, is the best location for the ancient Temple. Dr. Leen Ritmeyer, who served as an archaeological architect during the excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount from 1968-1977, defended this location. Archaeological work that reveals a large number of cisterns at the southwestern and southern walls of the Temple Mount also support this view.
In the final analysis, the evidence from both history and archaeology is conclusive for the Jewish Temple having existed on the Temple Mount. For this reason, the Temple Mount will remain contested and violence will continue to escalate until God fulfills His prophetic plan for the Jewish people.