Monday, August 31, 2009

Virtual Walking Tour of Temple Mount

Some months ago I learned about a new Virtual Walking Tour of al-Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), but being short of time, I filed it for later.  Today seems to be a slow news day and so I started it up and enjoyed the tour.  It is excellent.

Created by Saudi Aramco World, the tour focuses on the present Muslim structures at the site, but it does not deny the previous existence of the two Jewish temples.

The tour begins with a five-minute narrated introduction (which you can skip) and then includes 32 360-degree panoramic views, each of which is explained both by an audio recording and a written transcript.

The visitor starts with two views of the Temple Mount from the east and west before surveying the grounds of the complex with approximately 18 more scenes.  A particularly unique image is #25, taken atop Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Tourists to Israel today can see most of these views if they visit during the open hours of the Temple Mount (approximately Sun-Thurs, 7:30-10:00 am, 12:30-1:30 pm), but since 2000 the holy buildings have been closed to non-Muslims.  Thus the images inside the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque will be especially appreciated by those who have been denied entrance.

A couple of practical comments: 1) You can turn the audio off and read the text; 2) the full-screen view is very high quality, but may be slow on your internet connection; 3) to get “inside” the Dome of the Rock, select #8 and new options will become available; 4) to get “inside” Al-Aqsa Mosque, select #26.

The creators did a fantastic job with this.  The photography is superb, the narration is helpful, and the location is one of the most religiously (and politically) important in the world.

Dome of Rock from southwest, tb122006949dxo2 Dome of the Rock from southwest

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Temple Model Overlooks Temple Mount

I was traveling last week when the Jerusalem Post reported on the installation of a model of the Second Temple above the Western Wall plaza, but readers who didn’t see it elsewhere may be interested.  You can see another photo of the model at Arutz-7; it looks very similar to the model at the Israel Museum (formerly Holyland Hotel).

Some 50 people gathered on Wednesday to watch the installation of a Second Temple model on the roof of a yet-unfinished Aish HaTorah yeshiva building, across from the Western Wall and just a few hundred meters from where the real thing once stood.

With the Dome of the Rock and the Aksa Mosque standing conspicuously in the background, a crane lowered the 1.2-ton model onto the roof.

It took about a year for Michael Osanis, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who has built a number of other Temple models, including one in the Temple Institute, also in the capital's Jewish Quarter, to complete this model, which is made from gold, silver, wood and Jerusalem stone.

The model will sit on a new educational building for Aish HaTorah's short-term outreach programs, which is set to open in December.

Aish, which provides a network of educational programs for Jews around the world, is also building a new "Exploratorium" - an interactive museum on Jewish history, which it expects will host 300,000 visitors annually after it opens in two years.

"What could be more appropriate than to have here, as people are standing looking out over our holiest place, the Temple Mount, a sense of what it was really like to have the Temple here?" asked Ephraim Shore, director of Aish's programs in Jerusalem.

The yeshiva hopes that this model will help people to visualize the Temple and therefore forge a stronger connection with Judaism and Jewish history.

"It is hard for us to imagine a Temple and to feel that we are praying inside the Temple," said Rabbi Hillel Weinberg, the head of Aish's Jerusalem yeshiva.

"But now, everyone who comes and sees this Temple model, it will be much easier for them to connect to the Temple and to direct their prayers to the Holy of Holies."

As the crane lowered the model into place, an argument broke out about which direction it should face. Should it mirror the way the actual Temple sat in relation to the Temple Mount, or sit the opposite way, making it easier for large crowds to see it?

Osanis swiftly decided that ease of access was more important, and positioned the model accordingly. Not everyone in the crowd was happy with the decision.

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Temple Institute Building Jerusalem’s Sacrificial Altar

I’m a day late on this article, but some will undoubtedly be interested anyway.  From Arutz-7:

The Temple Institute will begin building the sacrificial altar on Thursday, Tisha B’av, a fast day when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple some 2,000 years ago.

The sacrificial altar was located in the center of the Temple, and upon it the Kohanim (priests) offered the numerous voluntary and obligatory sacrifices commanded in the Bible.

The Temple Institute, which has already built many of the vessels for the Holy Temple, such as the ark and the menorah, has now embarked on a project to build the altar. Construction begins Thursday in Mitzpe Yericho (east of Jerusalem) at 5:30 p.m.

“Unfortunately, we cannot currently build the altar in its proper place, on the Temple Mount,” Temple Institute director Yehudah Glick said. “We are building an altar of the minimum possible size so that we will be able to transport it to the Temple when it is rebuilt."

Even a minimum size altar will work out to be approximately 2 meters tall, 3 meters long, and 3 meters wide. Workers have collected around 10 cubic meters of rocks weighing several tons already.

The rocks were gathered from the Dead Sea area and wrapped individually to assure they remain whole and are not touched by metal, as the Bible requires.

“The Torah says that no iron tools should be used on the altar’s stones,” Glick explained. “The altar represents a connection to life and to the creation of the world. Iron is the opposite – it is used to build tools of war, death, and destruction.”

The story continues here and includes a photo, a video, and an illustration.

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The Quran vs. Muslims on the Existence of Jerusalem’s Temple

On the traditional anniversary of destruction of Jerusalem’s two temples, Stephen Rosenberg writes an article in the Jerusalem Post on the evidence for the existence of the temples in light of the Muslim denials.

There is a persistent narrative by the Islamists to deny any past Jewish presence on what they call Haram al-Sharif. Like the cult centers of Mecca and Medina, they call it the Noble Sanctuary rather than the Temple Mount. The propaganda is spreading throughout the Arab world, and would deny any legitimacy to our claim to have experienced the destruction of two Temples on the site.

All the evidence, the propaganda goes, is written by Jews and is therefore suspect. The claim for the building of the First Temple comes from the Book of Kings. It is a detailed description, but nothing of the structure has been found. The inscription on a little pomegranate showing it to have been part of a priestly scepter from the First Temple has recently been denounced as a later forgery. The parallels with temples in Syria are fine, but no proof that one existed in Jerusalem.

What evidence is there that a Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians? There is a tablet in the British Museum that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem in his seventh year (597 BCE) and captured the city, but he destroyed no temple and only set up a "king of his own heart" (Zedekiah). The tablet goes up to the year 594 and then stops. The following years are missing and the next tablet restarts in 556 BCE. The crucial year 586 is lost.

The article continues here.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Roman Temples on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

The Jerusalem Post has an article which summarizes the conclusions of a new work by Hebrew University Professor Moshe Sharon.  The article’s final section is the most interesting.

In the final section of his work Sharon builds on the research of Tuvia Sagiv, attempting to prove that the foundations and design of Al-Aksa replicated the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which the Roman Emperor Hadrian had built on the Temple Mount.

Noting that all Roman Temples of Jupiter had an almost identical design, Sharon compares the schematic of the ruins of a Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek to that of the Al-Aksa complex.

"Jupiter's Temple in Baalbek had exactly the three features which we find in the Al-Aksa complex: the polygon building in the front where the worshipers assembled, the open space where the god's statue stood and the rectangular main temple. The same symmetrical line which goes through the three components of Jupiter's Temple also goes through the Al-Aksa complex, and both plans fit each other perfectly," writes Sharon.

Sharon and Sagiv's theory is potentially incendiary because it suggests the Al-Aksa complex was built on pre-existing foundations and was not designed according to Muhammad's famous Night Journey to Jerusalem.

Sharon's research, which questions the Islamic justification for the Dome's existence and describes similar patterns in Jewish and Muslim worship, has inflamed some figures in Israel's Islamic community.

"We Muslims believe that Jews have no right to a single inch in front of the Al-Aksa Mosque, the whole complex - everything within the walls of the holy site. Jews have no right to worship there - under the ground, above the ground or in between the skies," said MK Sheik Ibrahim Sarsur, who heads the Islamic Movement in Israel.

The entire article is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Restoration of Western Wall in Jerusalem

Restoration work is beginning at the Western Wall, and the Israel Antiquities Authority has more information in a press release.  More information about the project is available in two Word documents (zip) and 34 high-res photos are available here (zip).  The photos are identified as follows:

1-8 Western Wall Compound and the Western Wall
9-29 Conserve the Stones in the Western Wall
31 Western Wall Tunnels – Hasmonean aqueduct
32 Western Wall Tunnels – The Model Hall
34 Western Wall Compound Excavations

Most of the photos show general views of the Wall or of the current restoration, but a few are unique angles that you won’t see anywhere else (such as from the top looking down).  A couple of them may make you want to keep your distance from the Wall until the restoration is complete.

From the press release:

The Inauguration of the National Project to Conserve the Stones in the Western Wall and the Establishment of the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department (Minhal Shimur) (April 5, 2009) 

The Western Wall and the monuments around it are among the most important cultural heritage sites in the world. Every year millions of people come to Jerusalem to see them. In order to ensure a safe and comfortable experience, the site should be constantly maintained and new services developed for the benefit of the visitors.

A year ago the Western Wall Heritage Foundation conducted a survey of the state of the wall, which revealed that the physical condition of the stones was deteriorating. It was against this background that the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to take urgent action: the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department conducted an extensive physical and engineering survey of the Western Wall’s condition which culminated in the submission of a work plan. Conservation measures are currently being carried out there.

The work is focusing on the conservation treatment of the stones in the Western Wall and their stability, in accordance with their degree of preservation and the level of risk they present to the visiting public.

The project to conserve the stones in the Western Wall in particular, and the conservation and development of the Western Wall compound in general, is one of the most complex projects of its kind ever undertaken in Israel. The Western Wall compound project is an example of the enormous task that confronts us in conserving and presenting Israel’s cultural heritage. Such a cultural heritage site that is important on both a local and international level which involves large number of visitors, the need for constant maintenance, and the conservation of the Western Wall’s original appearance for us and for posterity, is first and foremost a challenge. This undertaking requires knowledge and professionalism in a wide range of fields.

The article continues here.  For more information and photos about the Western Wall, see this BiblePlaces page, or take a look at how the wall looked in the 1800s and the 1960s.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PBS Special: Jerusalem: Center of the World

The 2-hour movie narrates the history of the city. Beginning at 9pm Eastern/Pacific, the documentary is narrated by Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Susan Wunderink of Christianity Today reviews the film:

The film starts with Abraham leaving Ur at a time when Jerusalem was already settled by Canaanite tribes. The documentary embellishes biblical history, adding in traditions that say, for example, that Jerusalem is also where God created Adam. jerusalem_pbs

Suarez goes into the details of the destruction and rebuildings of the Jewish Temple. Jesus' short life is given about 15 minutes of the two-hour run time. For viewers who know what happens up to 70 A.D.—and then nothing—it will fill in some big gaps.

The second half of the film explains how the city came to look as it does today, if you can keep up. Toward the end, the pace picks up as Suarez lists how "the world's most contested piece of real estate" changes hands among multiple Christian and Muslim rulers.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others fought, came, and went, sometimes leaving Jerusalem little more than a tourist trap. Mark Twain found it an unappealing, sleepy place when he visited. The Romans, after nearly wiping out the Jewish population, expelled the rest; Saladin's Muslims let them re-settle.

The full review is here. The producer’s website includes a trailer.

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Western Wall Prayer Notes Removed

From Arutz-7:

The ancient crevices of the Western Wall, filled with prayer notes tearfully tucked inside by tens of thousands of worshippers during the course of the year, underwent their twice-yearly cleaning-out on Sunday, under the watchful eye of the Rabbi of the Holy Sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich.

The notes are emptied out of the Wall just before Passover and just before Rosh HaShanah. The purpose is to make room so that people can “insert their prayer notes at the Wall without fear that the notes will fall out and be trampled upon,” Rabbi Rabinovich explained.

The notes, many of which contain the full names of family members, as well as requests for health, sustenance, a spouse, solutions for personal problems, and more, are treated with great respect by the workers.  The workers even immerse themselves in a mikveh (ritual bath) before beginning the holy work of removing the notes.

The notes are removed without the use of metal bars or utensils – which stand for warfare and the taking of life (see Exodus 20,22) - but rather with wooden rods.  Following their removal, the notes are taken to the nearby ancient Mt. of Olives cemetery for burial.

Western Wall men cleaning out prayers, tb090402207 Removing prayer notes from Western Wall

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Daily Mail has a report and photos of the stunning model of Herod’s Temple Mount being constructed by Alec Garrard.  At 30 years and counting, Garrard has worked longer on his model than Herod did on the original (at the time of his death).

Sunday’s Zaman has a review of the “Top 10 Museums” in Turkey.  Most, but not all, of the museums are related to the ancient world.  HT: Explorator.

Dr. Platypus (Darrell Pursiful) has posted the Biblical Studies Carnival XXXIX.  As always, the carnival is a great way to see what is going on in the wider blogosphere.

John Walton posts on what the Bible means in its description of “the land flowing with milk and honey.”

Arabia meets America in the Wild Wadi Water Park.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Remains of Antonia Fortress

The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (Jan/Feb 2009) includes an article by Ehud Netzer on the size and location of the Antonia Fortress (teaser here).  Built by Herod the Great, this imposing structure both protected the Temple Mount on its vulnerable northern side and it served as a convenient monitoring station for potential uprisings in the Temple area.  When Paul was accused of bringing a Gentile beyond the Court of the Gentiles, a riot began.  Paul’s life was spared by Roman officials who arrested him and took him to the Antonia Fortress (Acts 21:27-22:29).

Netzer is a renowned scholar, whose work on the Herodian sites of Jericho, Herodium, Caesarea, Jerusalem and elsewhere has led some to dub him “Mr. Herod.”  He realized a lifelong dream in 2007 with the discovery of King Herod’s tomb.  He has not excavated in the area of the Antonia Fortress because the Muslim authorities forbid any scholarly activity on the Temple Mount.

Leen Ritmeyer, a Temple Mount scholar, yesterday posted a response to Netzer’s article on the Antonia Fortress.  Ritmeyer believes that Netzer is mistaken both with regard to the size and shape of the building.  As always, Ritmeyer has beautiful and helpful illustrations.  The second diagram in his post reveals the existing remains of the fortress (in yellow).  The photo below shows the rock scarp and some of the Herodian masonry (on right).

Area of Antonia Fortress with bedrock, tb092103205

Remains of Antonia Fortress, north side of Temple Mount

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Then and Now: Western Wall Plaza

After the Israelis captured the Old City in June 1967, significant attention was given to the development of the Western Wall area.  During creation of the large prayer plaza that exists today, the ground level was lowered by about six feet (2 m).  Recently when working with the photographs of David Bivin, I came across this photo.

Wailing Wall with Nadir, db6401182012 Western Wall, January 1964

With the distinctive crack in the rock visible behind the young man’s legs, I set about finding a recent photo of the same rock.  The photo below shows the crack behind the man’s right hand.  In 1964, ground level was located at the position of his left hand.

Man putting prayer in Western Wall, tb092603035 Western Wall, September 2003

Note that he is standing on a chair.  This is the best illustration I know of that shows the change in plaza level after 1967.

You can see a photo taken by Amihai Mazar that shows a bulldozer clearing the area in the excellent book by Leen Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, page 22.

Some other “Then and Now” photos from the Views That Have Vanished collection are posted here.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Two Important Coins Found in Temple Mount Rubble

Many interesting finds have been made from the pile of “trash” that was removed from the Temple Mount and dumped in the Kidron Valley.  The Jerusalem Post reports the latest discovery.

Two ancient coins, one used to pay the Temple tax and another minted by the Greek leader the Jews fought in the story of Hanukka, have been uncovered amid debris from Jerusalem's Temple Mount, an Israeli archeologist said Thursday.

The two coins were recently found in rubble discarded by Islamic officials from the Temple Mount. It is carefully being sifted by two archeologists and a team of volunteers at a Jerusalem national park.

The first coin, a silver half-shekel, was apparently minted on the Temple Mount itself by Temple authorities in the first year of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-67 CE, said Bar-Ilan University Professor Gabriel Barkay, who is leading the sifting operation.

One side of the coin, which was found by a 14-year-old volunteer, shows a branch with three pomegranates, and the inscription "Holy Jerusalem"; the other side bears a chalice from the First Temple and says "Half-Shekel."

In the Bible, Jews are commanded to contribute half a shekel each for maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. At the time of the Temple's construction in the sixth century BCE, every Jew was ordered to make an obligatory symbolic donation of a half-shekel. This consistent yet small payment allowed all Jews, irrespective of socioeconomic position, to participate in building the Temple.

You can read the full story here.

In related news, the archaeologists in charge of this project face a significant funding shortfall.  A recent letter from Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig concludes:

The Temple Mount Sifting Operation is not a project for an elite group of archaeologists. It is now the property of the entire Jewish people, including the tens of thousands of volunteers who have helped us sift through the rubble over the years. Many times throughout history the most important projects are adopted by private donors who have the privilege to make a significant difference well before the state steps in to help. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is just such an opportunity. Please take part in this effort to save the Temple Mount Antiquities and help us to continue the educational programming which is having an immeasurable impact on thousands of visitors from all walks of Jewish life.

You can read more about this important project and learn how to make a contribution here

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Temple Mount Poster in National Geographic

Leen Ritmeyer mentions that the current (December) issue of National Geographic includes a poster supplement of the Temple Mount.  He includes a picture of the poster and tells a little bit about his role in its creation.  He links to the NG website, but I cannot find a way to buy just a single issue.  My guess is that a newstand copy would not include the poster, and that a subscription ($15/year) ordered now would not include this issue.  But if you already have a subscription, don’t discard the poster insert before realizing what a resource you have.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jerusalem, Rome, and Alexandria

Zachi Zweig recently produced photographs of a Byzantine mosaic floor discovered under Al Aqsa Mosque between 1938 and 1942. Zweig is certain that this was part of a Byzantine church on the Temple Mount. To this point, it has generally been held that the Byzantines left the Temple Mount in ruins. The 6th century Medeba Map does not show any buildings in this area. Underneath the mosaic floor was a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh). The story is in the Jerusalem Post, and Leen Ritmeyer comments at his blog.

Google Earth has added a layer for Ancient Rome as it stood in A.D. 320. Judging from a 2-minute video preview, this is an extraordinary resource. As with the rest of Google Earth, it is free. It probably would not be difficult to remove a few buildings and create a layer for Rome in the 1st century. Perhaps someone will be so motivated.

Leen Ritmeyer has created a less detailed Jerusalem layer that shows the city in the 1st century. (UPDATE 11/20: This layer is no longer available.)

This story has been around before, but perhaps its re-circulation indicates that progress is being made. The JPost reports that plans are underway for the world’s first underwater archaeology museum in Alexandria.

"The whole Bay of Alexandria actually still houses the remains of very important archeological sites. You have the place of the Pharaohs - the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria - which is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. You have the Polonike Palace, which was the palace of Cleopatra, and there might also be the grave of Alexander the Great," she said.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Jehoash Inscription: Five Scholars Claim Authentic

The Jehoash Inscription is a total fraud and everyone knows that, according to some people.  Apparently these five scholars didn’t get the memo, as they conclude that the inscription is authentic.  The Bible and Interpretation has the article.  Here is the abstract:

A gray, fine-grained arkosic sandstone tablet bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew from the First Temple Period contains a rich assemblage of particles accumulated in the covering patina. Two types of patina cover the tablet: a thin layer of black to orange iron-oxide-rich layer, a product of micro-biogenic processes, and a light beige patina that contains feldspars, carbonate, iron oxide, subangular quartz grains, carbon ash particles and gold globules (1 to 4 micrometers [1 micrometer = 0.001 millimeter] in diameter). The patina covers the rock surface as well as the engraved lettering grooves and blankets and thus post-dates the incised inscription as well as a crack that runs across the stone and several of the engraved letters. Radiocarbon analyses of the carbon particles in the patina yield a calibrated radiocarbon age of 2340 to 2150 Cal BP. The presence of microcolonial fungi and associated pitting in the patina indicates slow growth over many years. The occurrence of pure gold globules is evidence of a thermal event in close proximity to the tablet (above 1000 degrees Celsius). This study supports the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic. 

This isn’t the last word, but that’s the point.  Scholars must be allowed to study this inscription without desperate-sounding people trying to silence those they disagree with.

The best indication of the inscription’s authenticity that I know and understand (which doesn’t include archaeometric evidence) concerns the “obvious” linguistic error in the inscription.  It doesn’t make sense that someone brilliant enough to do so many things right on this inscription would make such an obvious mistake.  Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know everything about how Hebrew was used in the 8th century.

The Bible and Interpretation has published much more on this inscription in previous years.

UPDATE (11/17): The more scientific version of this article was mentioned previously here.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Third Temple Preparations

The Jerusalem Post has a long, but very good, article on the preparations being made for the construction of the Third Temple by the Temple Institute.  If I had an extra couple of hours, I’d enjoy commenting on various statements made.  Since I don’t, I’ll simply refer you to the article, which begins:

For centuries Jews have remembered and mourned the destruction of the Temple through traditions such as crushing a glass at weddings or leaving unpainted a patch of wall opposite the entrance to one's home - each stressing that nothing can be perfect or complete without the Temple.

Built by Solomon in about 950 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the Temple was rebuilt about 70 years later but finally razed by the Romans in 70 CE.

Talmud scholar Rabbi Yohanan wrote: "During these times that the Temple is demolished, a person is not allowed to fill his mouth with laughter. This is because the verse [Psalms 126] says, 'Then our mouths will be filled with laughter,' and does not say 'Now our mouths will be filled with laughter.' And when is 'then'? 'Then' will be when the Third Temple is rebuilt."

In other words, "Jewish life without the Temple is like fish out of water," says Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the international department of the Temple Institute.

An author of 10 books on the Temple, Richman adds: "Do you realize that 202 commandments out of 613 must have the Temple to be fulfilled? Without the Temple, Judaism is a skeleton of what it's supposed to be."

To this end, the Temple Institute was founded in 1987 with the explicit goal of rebuilding the Temple. Located in the Jewish Quarter, some 100,000 visitors, about half of them Christian, visit the institute each year to learn about the First and Second Temples and preparations for the Third Temple.

The institute is presently involved in education, research and constructing vessels for use in the longed-for Temple.

You can read the full article here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Golden menorah for third temple, tb051408996dxo Golden menorah, prepared for Third Temple.  Estimated value: $3 million

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rabbis Want to Re-Ban Temple Mount Entrance


Israel's leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis are waging a new offensive against Jews visiting Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Rabbis Shalom Elyashiv, Chaim Kanievsky and Ovadia Yosef sent a letter recently to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the overseer of holy places in the Western Wall complex, urging him to reiterate the religious decree signed 40 years ago by most rabbis in Israel forbidding Jews from entering the Mount.

The rabbis' efforts follow the publication in Haaretz last month of the visit of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the son-in-law of prominent U.S. rabbi Moshe Epstein, to the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Tendler was photographed visiting the plaza atop the Mount, where the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine now sits, igniting a firestorm of controversy in the ultra-Orthodox community. Several other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis have ascended the Mount in recent years, including Rabbi Dov Kook of Tiberias, the husband of Elyashiv's granddaughter.

The rabbis' statement calls for a complete ban on entering any part of the Temple Mount complex for fear of compromising the "purity" of the area.

The declaration stated that "as time passed, we have lost knowledge of the precise location of the Temple, and anyone entering the Temple Mount is liable to unwittingly enter the area of the Temple and the Holy of Holies," referring to the inner sanctuary of the Temple tabernacle.

Temple Mount entrance forbidden by rabbis sign, tb122604453

The story continues here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Barkay on Temple Denial

Lela Gilbert has an article in the Jerusalem Post on the recent trend of denying that a Jewish temple existed in Jerusalem.  It includes a lengthy interview with archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, and concludes:

IN SPITE of these discoveries, Temple denial remains a growing phenomenon in Europe and America, particularly in leftist intellectual circles. It is supported by the reality that there are no visible remains of the temples of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. Barkay contends that there were remains still visible in the 1960s and 1970s, which have either been removed or covered up by gardens.

"The Islamic Wakf says, 'We are not going to let you dig, but show us any remains of the Temple.' You cannot have it both ways. If you don't allow people to dig, then don't use this absence of remains as an argument.

"Temple denial is a very tragic harnessing of politics to change history. It is not a different interpretation of historical events or archeological evidence. This is something major. I think that Temple denial is more serious and more dangerous than Holocaust denial. Why? Because for the Holocaust there are still living witnesses. There are photographs; there are archives; there are the soldiers who released the prisoners; there are testimonies from the Nazis themselves. There were trials, a whole series of them, starting with Nuremberg. There are people who survived the Holocaust still among us. Concerning the Temple, there are no people among us who remember.

"Still, [to deny the Temples], you have to dismiss the evidence of Flavius Josephus; you have to dismiss the evidence of the Mishna and of the Talmud; and you have to dismiss the writings of Roman and Greek historians who mention the Temple of Jerusalem. And you have to dismiss The Bible. That is, I think, way too much."

Previous related post: Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has a posted (with a follow-up) on his identification of several stones in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount that are clearly pre-Herodian.  Ritmeyer dates them to the time of King Hezekiah, suggesting that he was the one to build the 500-cubit square Temple Mount that Ritmeyer has previously identified.  He includes some helpful illustrations and photos.

A review of current excavations in Turkey is given at Today's Zaman.  New Testament sites being excavated include Alexandria Troas, Miletus, Hierapolis, Sardis, Smyrna, and Laodicea.  There are many other sites as well.  Many of these cities have very impressive remains, unlike many sites in Israel.  Today's Zaman also has an article on recent discoveries at Sardis.

NASA has a photo of a street of Ephesus at night, with (the planet) Jupiter illuminating the way.

Across the way in Greece, the ancient hippodrome of Olympia has been discovered.  This is a good story that counters the myth that everything to be found has already been found.

A couple fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have now been published by James H. Charlesworth.  One of the fragments may be from the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the other appears to be from Nehemiah, making it the first portion of that book to be found among the DSS.  Paleojudaica gives more info and links.

If you're a tourist in Israel and have a question, you can now call the 24-hour tourist hotline.  It's easy (dial *3888), but it's not a toll-free number.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Jerusalem Quarry Discovered

Like the quarry found last year, this one is north of the Old City.  From the Jerusalem Post:

For the second time in the past year, archeologists have uncovered a Second Temple Period quarry whose stones were used to build the Western Wall, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

The latest archeological discovery was made in the city's Sanhedria neighborhood, located about two kilometers from the Old City of Jerusalem.

The quarry was uncovered during a routine "salvage excavation" carried out by the state-run archeological body over the last several months ahead of the construction of a private house in the religious neighborhood.

The quarry is believed to be one of those used to build the Jerusalem holy site because the size of the stones match those at the Western Wall.

"Most of the stones that were found at the site are similar in size to the smallest stones that are currently visible in the Western Wall, and therefore we assume that the stones from this quarry were used to build these structures," said Dr. Gerald Finkielsztejn, director of the excavation.

The stones were dated by pottery found at the site, he added.

"This is a rather regular quarry except that there are really big stones," Finkielsztejn said.

The largest of the stones found at the quarry measures 0.69 x 0.94 x 1.65 m, while some of the stones were apparently ready for extraction but were left in place.

The quarry was probably abandoned at the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-70 CE, he said.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Western Wall Stones Crumbling

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that stones in the Western Wall are crumbling.  A little background:

The "Western Wall" is a 60-meter section of a 480-meter long western compound wall of Herod's Temple Mount.  This portion of the wall has been revered by Jewish people for centuries as a place of prayer because the temple does not exist and access to the temple court areas has been forbidden (either by rabbis or Muslim rulers or both).

Three distinct sections of construction are visible in the prayer portion of the Western Wall today.  The lowest seven courses (blue box in photo below) were constructed by King Herod in the 1st century B.C.  The wall above this was destroyed, probably mostly in the Roman destruction of A.D. 70.  Arab rulers in the 7th-8th centuries rebuilt part of the wall and these stones are visible above the Herodian stones (between blue and red boxes). 

In the 19th century, there were problems with Muslims throwing objects and trash from the Temple Mount down on Jewish worshipers at the wall and so the British-Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore donated so that the wall could be built to a higher level.  It is these stones (in red box) that are the subject of this JPost story.  Read the article to learn more about whether the rabbis will permit restoration or not.

Western Wall, tb122006991
The crumbling stones are the smallest and most recent stones (red box). 
The original Herodian stones are in the blue box.

Update (4/17): Leen Ritmeyer has a lengthy explanation of the situation on his blog.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Archaeologist Who Found Iron Age Remains on Temple Mount

The Canadian Jewish News has an article about the archaeologist who found Iron Age period remains on the Temple Mount a few months ago

Yuval Baruch, left, made archeological history in October 2007 when he uncovered pottery artifacts on the site of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. They are considered to be the first physical evidence of human activity during the time of King Solomon’s Temple (the First Jewish Temple).

Baruch, who is Jerusalem’s district archeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, speaking at the Berney Theatre here, outlined his world-famous discovery as part of a lecture series put on by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University.

And the interesting part:

“I was not supposed to be left there alone, as the Waqf always has someone present when Israeli archeologists are on the site. It was in the evening after 8 p.m., and by chance the Arab electrical workers left me and a member of my staff for about 15 minutes while they went to pray. When I was alone in that brief time, I found the pottery shards among dust near the bedrock level,” he says.

And what he found:

Baruch’s findings include animal bones; ceramic bowl rims, bases and body shards; the base of a juglet used to pour oil; the handle of a small juglet; and the rim of a storage jar. In addition, a piece of a whitewashed, handmade object was found. It may have been used to decorate a larger object or may have been the leg of an animal figurine. The finds are dated from eight-to six-century BCE.

And I bet you can't believe this:

“The reaction of the Muslim authority [the Waqf] was to ignore the finds,” he adds, which he says was not surprising since over the years the Waqf has tried to undermine Jewish historical ties to the site.

“The Waqf’s official position is that there was never a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, he says.”

You can read the full story here.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rehearsal Set for Passover Sacrifice in Jerusalem

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have celebrated the Passover sacrifice, but without a *sacrifice.*  It's one thing when you're an oppressed minority in Europe, but it's another when you're the ruling majority in your own land.  One would think that this would be the cause of great discussion, but it seems that the intervening years have muted the felt need for a sacrifice for most.  But not all.  From Arutz-7:

The demonstration of the Paschal sacrifice is part of a study day scheduled to take place on Sunday, the First of Nissan (April 6), at the Kotel Yeshiva in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. The study day is a joint project of the Temple Institute, the Sanhedrin and the King David Museum. It was originally planned to take place one week later, but the organizers decided to dedicate it to the memory of the eight yeshiva boys murdered in Jerusalem recently, and to hold it on the 30th day after their death.

The study day is to include a public sacrifice which is being termed a "general rehearsal" for the actual Pesach sacrifice on the Temple Mount, a ritual prescribed by the Torah but currently forbidden by the Israel government and courts.

Glick told Ynet Monday that according to Jewish law, abstaining from performing the sacrifice is an extremely serious offense, comparable in its severity to avoiding a brit (circumcision ceremony) for one's newborn boy. He explained that although Jewish law forbids Jews in an impure state (which all Jews are in as long as the Temple rites are not renewed) from entering the Temple area, an exception is made for public sacrifices like the Pesach sacrifice. 

The Temple movement recently sent a formal request to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Minister of Public Security Avi Dichter, to allow them to conduct the sacrifice on the Temple Mount. "Making the Paschal sacrifice is part of the religious freedom which is a basic human right and a cornerstone of democracy," they wrote.  Glick said, however, that the organizers "have no intention of trying to ascend to the Mount without permission from the police....

Another animal rights activist, Etti Altman, said the sacrifice has no place in an "enlightened country" like Israel and quoted from the ancient Sifri biblical commentary which says: "As God is called 'compassionate,' so should you be compassionate."

The full story is here.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Temple Mount Sifting Project: Video

I've mentioned the on-going sifting operation of the Temple Mount debris before (here and here), but I haven't noted a relatively new video about the project.  The video is about 5 minutes long and gives a good overview of what they are doing and why.  If you're interested in participating in the "excavation," but don't want to go alone, there's a group going with the Associates of Biblical Research this summer.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Two JPost Articles on Jerusalem Archaeology

The Jerusalem Post has a couple of recent articles related to Jerusalem and archaeology.

Police stop Islamic work on Temple Mount - The police won't stop the Muslims from digging up the ground but they'll stop them from replacing tiles.  I wouldn't call this progress.

Digging too deep? - A report on the political aspects of the excavations in the City of David.

As always, don't believe everything you read.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Report Released on Temple Mount Destruction

If you're keeping up on the damage caused to the Temple Mount by multiple "excavations" of dubious legality, you'll be interested in the report, "The Latest Damage to Antiquities on the Temple Mount," published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.  The report surveys the situation since the 1990s, most of which is well-known to those who have followed the news, but this report handily summarizes the main points.  The major focus of the article is who is in control and thus who is responsible.  It concludes:

The Waqf, the Islamic Movement, and various Islamic groups have exploited the situation and have seriously damaged Temple Mount antiquities. The Israel Police plays the dominant Israeli role and its activities are coordinated with the prime minister's office and the office of the attorney general, while the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem municipality have only limited influence over what is done at the Temple Mount.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Western Wall Tunnel Approved

Haaretz reports the approval of the construction of a tunnel near the Western Wall. 

The Israel Antiquities Authority has decided to dig a tunnel under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, close to the Temple Mount. Two weeks ago, the IAA denied such a decision had been made. The tunnel will connect those under the Temple Mount and the site of Ohel Yitzhak, some 150 meters from the Temple Mount wall. The decision to begin the dig was taken in spite the fact that no plan was filed to the planning authorities. Moreover, the Palestinians under whose homes the tunnel will pass were not consulted, even though the law grants them ownership over the territory under their property. (Meron Rapoport)

The third sentence should be corrected to read: "The tunnel will connect the Western Wall 'rabbinic tunnels' and the site of Ohel Yitzhak...."  Such a mistake might be excusable if not for the fact that dozens were killed as a result of a similar falsehood perpetuated by Yasser Arafat in 1996.  He inaccurately claimed that Israel was digging under the Temple Mount and 85 Muslims and 16 Israelis died in the riots that resulted

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Temple Mount Ramp Excavations to Resume

Excavations are set to resume on the ramp in the Western Wall plaza that leads to the Temple Mount.  From Arutz-7:

Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) were told by the cabinet on Sunday to resume their excavations at the Rambam (Mughrabi) Gate leading to the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, with all due haste.

They were also told to work with "full transparency" and in coordination with "relevant bodies" so as to complete construction of a new permanent foot bridge to the Western Wall as soon as possible. The bridge is to be used by visitors and also by police. Work being carried out to replace the current walkway, which partially collapsed in a storm in 2004, was halted in June in response to rioting by enraged Muslims who claimed the work was a plot to weaken the foundations of the Al Aqsa mosque.

The construction site is located 60 meters away from the mosque and was found by numerous Israeli and international engineers to be no threat to the structure. Nonetheless, a new plan was proposed by Jerusalem planning officials that called for a shorter bridge along the existing route, and which would require less excavating and fewer pillars. A budget of NIS 3.5 million has been allocated for the project.

In the wake of the Muslim riots, UNESCO investigators were sent by the United Nations to inspect the repair work being carried out on the broken footbridge.

The rest of the story reviews other developments related to the Temple Mount in the past year.  We covered this story before here and here.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Update to First Temple Period Remains on Temple Mount

Zachi Zweig gives his perspective on the "Material from First Temple Period found on Temple Mount" story.  Zweig works with Barkay on the Temple Mount Debris Sifting project and his website on The Temple Mount Archaeological Destruction has done the most to make the issues known to the public.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Update to "Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence"

I have updated the "Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence" post with a link to a scanned copy of "A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif," published in 1925.  Thanks to Sean Q for finding and sharing the book.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Israelis Sue Muslims Over Temple Mount Destruction

From Arutz-7:

A group of 150 Israeli citizens have filed a class action suit against the Moslems who run the Temple Mount site for having destroyed Jewish antiquities there.

The suit, brought by the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, charges that Islamic officials have engaged in the deliberate destruction of ancient Jewish relics on the Temple Mount. The indictment was filed in the Jerusalem District Court last week, and Shurat Hadin sources say it is the first of its kind in Israeli legal history....

She explained that the 150 plaintiffs are acting as representatives of the Jewish People, who are the owners of the Temple Mount and therefore the injured party as a result of the Waqf actions at the holy site...

The suit accuses members of the Waqf of intentionally demolishing priceless Jewish artifacts, including remains from the Second Temple.  In recent months, the Waqf has brought in bulldozers and heavy digging equipment for the purpose of digging a long trench on the Mount, supposedly to replace electrical cables.  "Israeli archaeologists who sifted through the discarded earth," the Law Center reports, "were shocked to discover a great number of Jewish artifacts brutally trashed by the bulldozers. A wall from the outer courtyard of the Second Temple is believed to have been completely pulverized."

The full story is here.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Muslims Recognize Temple's Existence

I don't have access to the particular guide referenced, but I don't doubt that it is true. Of course, the statement was made in a different day and age. But now that politics are different, so is truth.

From a letter to the editor, Jerusalem Post, Oct 31, 2007:

Sir, - I read with interest "Jerusalem mufti: Western Wall was never part of Jewish temple" (October 25).

The kind of denial by former mufti Ikrema Sadi is somehow disputed by no more and no less than the institution he represents: the Supreme Muslim Council. In an official guide published by the council in 1930, it states: "This site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. It's identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which 'David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings' from 2 Samuel XXIV, 25."

The rest is here.

UPDATE (11/21): Reader Sean Q has located a copy of the guide and has scanned it. You can download it in pdf format here.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Temple Mount updates

There is news for three items related to the Temple Mount:

Quarry: The Orthodox Union has new photos online (or if you prefer a slide show)

First Temple Period Remains: Leen Ritmeyer has marked out the find location on a couple of diagrams.  The discovery matches his previous conclusion that this area was within the temple area of Hezekiah's time.

Temple Mount Destruction: The transcript from the government meeting about the bulldozer excavations is now online in Hebrew.  Yitzhak Sapir has made the following observations:

Present at the meeting were archaeologists Yuval Baruch (district archaeologist of Jerusalem for the IAA), Gabriel Barkai and Meir Ben-Dov, as well as Shuka Dorfman, head of the IAA. Eilat Mazar was also invited but she doesn't appear to speak during the meeting.

Aside from their statements on the topics, which are really interesting, there are also some interesting statements by Limor Livnat, who was in the past Minister of Education and responsible for the IAA, and an architect who claims that when the dig began two months ago, he found a segment of the Northern Wall of the Temple, that was covered up the next day.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

"But I Used the Tractor Carefully..."

The Jerusalem Post story on the on-going saga of "excavations" on the Temple Mount is here.  The abbreviated version follows:

Genius #1: Shmuel Dorfman

"There was no damage to the remains of buildings or artifacts."

Sir, can you tell me if you excavated with a tractor?

"They were under time pressure."

It's good to know that you can excavate with a tractor and cause "no damage" to ancient remains.  This guy wouldn't pass Archaeology 101.  Unfortunately he is the Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority.


Genius #2: Meir Ben-Dov, retired archaeologist

"There were no archeological findings in the ground," Meir Ben-Dov told the committee. "They dug a total of 50 cm. [18 inches] deep and all of it was fill-in from the earlier infrastructure that had been installed."

Somebody should have told this guy about the Iron Age remains from an undisturbed layer that were discovered in this trench.  Ben-Dov is not an honest man.  He just expected that the Muslims would have destroyed it all so thoroughly that no one would ever be able to prove him wrong.  Fortunately somebody was watching "the excavation" between tractor scoops and not all was lost.


The good news:

"The Knesset State Control Committee on Monday decided to ask the State Comptroller's Office to investigate procedures for allowing the Wakf Islamic trust to excavate on the Temple Mount, amid claims by archeologists that the laying of electric cables there in August endangered ancient artifacts."

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Material from First Temple Period Found on Temple Mount

A remarkable discovery of undisturbed archaeological material from the Temple Mount and dating to the Old Testament period was announced yesterday by the Israel Antiquities Authority.  This is remarkable for a few reasons:

By all appearances, there was little apparent archaeological supervision of the Muslim digging of a trench on the Temple Mount last month.  That's why lots of people were screaming.  It's not that digging itself is bad, but digging without proper archaeological procedure is simply destruction.

Undisturbed layers from the First Temple period (1000-586 B.C.) are not often found anywhere in Jerusalem.  This is because of later building activities and because of current inhabitation of the city.

No undisturbed layers from any period have been excavated on the Temple Mount, ever.  This is owing to Muslim control of the site and their prohibitions against archaeological excavation.  This dates back to the earliest "archaeologists" in Jerusalem, including Charles Warren in the 1860s.

It has been expected that the construction of the present Temple Mount by King Herod in the 1st century B.C. was so extensive and destructive that little would remain (in stratified contexts) from the previous eras.  The present discovery does not seem to constitute significant material in and of itself, but it certainly gives hope that more could be recovered should excavations be permitted.  Similar discoveries from this time period have been made by Gabriel Barkay in his Temple Mount Sifting Project, but they were not from a stratified context as this was.

Enough of the significance of the discovery, here are some details:

Items discovered: ceramic table wares, animal bones, olive pits, bowls, juglet base, storage jar rim. 

Date of items: 8th-6th century (roughly the times of Hezekiah to Josiah)

Location of discovery: southeastern corner of raised platform on Temple Mount

Archaeologist in charge: Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Archaeologist

Consulting archaeologists: Sy Gitin, Director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University and Ronny Reich of Haifa University

The key statement making this an important discovery: "The layer is a closed, sealed archaeological layer that has been undisturbed since the 8th century B.C.", Jon Seligman, Jerusalem regional archaeologist.

The skeptic: Eilat Mazar, "I think it is a smoke screen for the ruining of antiquities."

The future: examination of the discoveries in a future seminar to be organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority

More information: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with photos), Israel National News (with wrong dates), Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Maariv (more detailed article in Hebrew)

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jerusalem Quarry: Photos

ABC has some photos of the quarry, or you can watch a two-minute video with relatively poor footage of the site (and two guys who can't correctly pronounce the object of the discovery). has some exclusive photos of the quarry area, with thanks to Aubrey Laughlin for sharing them with us.  Click on each photo for a higher-resolution version, which you are free to use for personal and educational purposes.

Herodian quarry, al092407516sr 
General view showing how the ancients cut away the mountain

Herodian quarry from north, al092407543sr
View showing the proximity of the quarry to Ramat Shlomo

Herodian quarry, al092407541sr
Showing a cross-section of the mountain and Jerusalem in the distance

Herodian quarry, al092407527sr
Notice the trenches cut in the rock in the foreground

 Herodian quarry, al092407550sr 
A view showing where quarrying activity ended.

  Herodian quarry, al092407555sr 
You can easily see where the rocks were extracted

Herodian quarry, al092407538sr
A trench made in order to extract the stone

Next challenge: Identify the stones removed from this quarry (bonus points if you can put each one back in its original location!).

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Jerusalem Quarry: The Location

I have been asked where exactly the quarry was located.  Here are two maps from Google Earth that show the area of the quarry, about 2 miles (3 km) north of the Old City.  You can click on each for a larger view.

General view.  Note the highway to the east of the quarry is similar to the ancient route (known sometimes as the Central Ridge Route or the Road of the Patriarchs).

Closer view, which will be helpful if you're in the neighborhood and want to see it yourself.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Jordan Gives Money for Temple Mount

Haaretz reports:

Jordan will allocate 1.113 million Jordanian Dinars ($1.5 million dollars) to the Jordan Hashemite Fund for the Reconstruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, King Abdullah II announced yesterday during a meeting of the trustees of the new fund...

The fund will pay for a new fire detection system that will be installed in the complex of mosques, as well as a modern fire suppression system.

In addition, the fund will acquire a fire truck that will be stationed near the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

A team in charge of preserving mosaics and antiquities will also undergo further training at the expense of the new fund.

Jordan's decision to intensify its role in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex stems in part from the presence of other Arab interest groups that have made increasing inroads there.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Quarry of Temple Mount Discovered

Archaeologists in Jerusalem have made a significant discovery of one of the quarries used in the construction of Herod's Temple Mount.  Located 3 miles (4 km) northwest of the Old City, the 1.25-acre quarry has remains of massive stones measuring 9-25 feet (3-8 m) long, comparable to the stones visible in the Western Wall today.  The quarry is located near the main road coming from the north and at an elevation that is 250 feet (80 m) higher than the Temple Mount, making it an ideal location for quarrying activity.  Coins and pottery found in the quarry help to secure the date of its use to the 1st century B.C.  The story is carried by the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Arutz-7.

Photo below: Another quarry that many believe was used by Herod's crews is the so-called "Solomon's Quarries," near the Damascus Gate of the Old City.

Solomon's Quarries, tb051706274
"Solomon's Quarries"

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Israeli Court on Temple Mount Destruction

A legal attempt to stop the Temple Mount destruction was met with more governmental corruption today.  A five-minute video by Arutz-7 describes how the court chose to meet behind closed doors without allowing the participation of the plaintiffs.  If there's a case for allowing Muslim destruction of Jewish antiquities, it should be made publicly and not hidden behind the skirts of political cowards.

UPDATE (9/21): The Jerusalem Post has a written version of the story here.  Key quotation:

"It is more than clear that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has instructed the Antiquities Authority to cooperate with the Wakf and conceal the damage to antiquities being done during the infrastructure work at the site," said Hebrew University archeologist and leading Temple Mount expert Dr. Eilat Mazar.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Photos from Temple Mount "Dig"

The Biblical Archaeology Society has some new photos from the Temple Mount Excavation Destruction. It's not unbelievable that the Muslim authorities of the Temple Mount would do this; it's unbelievable that the Israelis would allow it.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Archaeologists Talk about Temple Mount Destruction

A couple of Jerusalem archaeologists have audio interviews/conference calls online.  A 34-minute conference call with Gabriel Barkay is at  Eilat Mazar is interviewed by Arutz-7 (direct link here; doesn't seem to work in Firefox; 15 min. long).

On another subject, Ehud Netzer talks about his discovery of Herod's tomb here (audio version here).

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

An Archaeologist Describes Temple Mount Destruction

Joseph Lauer sent along a list of recent articles describing the on-going destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount.  That list is below.  The one I want to highlight is the report by Zachi Zweig on the BAR website. Those interested in the more technical aspects of what exactly is being found/destroyed will appreciate the detailed information, photos, and the link to a video Zweig took.  For those who don't know, Zweig is the one who initiated the rescue dig of the Temple Mount debris dumped in the late 1990s (under the direction of G. Barkay).  These are sad days for those who love Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Other links include:
Arutz Sheva -
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Policeman Assaulted Trying to Stop Illegal Temple Mount Dig
Arutz Sheva -
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Archaeologists Issue Urgent Warnings Against Temple Mount Dig A video of the excavation by a tractor is available at the Arutz Sheva site.
The Jerusalem Post Online Edition
Friday, August 31, 2007 0:23 - Updated Aug 31, 2007 0:23
Archaeologists: Muslim dig damaged Temple wall
AFP [c. Friday, 8/31/07]
Doubts over 'second temple remains' in Jerusalem [English] [Hebrew, with pictures and captions] [Hebrew, the section concerning the new artifacts discovered in sifting through earth removed from the Temple Mount] Ha'aretz English Language Edition Friday, August 31, 2007 (Last update - 11:28 31/08/2007)
Archaeologists: Waqf dig endangering relics that may have been part of Temple
The Associated Press [c. Saturday, 9/1/07] Jerusalem Holy Site Dig Questioned There are seven enlargeable pictures (with captions) at the site.
The Voice of America
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Israeli Archaeologists Say Muslims Damaged Relics at Jerusalem Holy Site Robert Berger's report can be heard (and downloaded) at and both can be clicked on at the VOA site.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Muslims caught red-handed destroying Temple artifacts Archaeologists kept out as WND obtains photo of pulverized antiquities at Judaism's holiest site
Arutz Sheva -
Monday, September 3, 2007
Remnants of the Second Temple Being Destroyed by Islamic Wakf A video of the excavation by a tractor and a still picture are available at the Arutz Sheva site.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Muslims bar WND from Temple dig
Archaeologists kept out as Islamic custodians pulverize antiquities A video of WND's Aaron Klein being barred from the trench site on the Temple Mount may be viewed at

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Temple Mount "Excavation" Update

Leen Ritmeyer has posted his thoughts on exactly what wall has been uncovered in the illegal excavations.  Most scholars of his caliber wouldn't take the time to explain things so clearly for us mere mortals.  Thank you, Leen.  Read it here.

Arutz-7 gives the take of another archaeologist on what has been revealed:

Gideon Charlap, a top Jerusalem architect and Temple Mount expert, told Arutz-7 what he saw when he visited the Temple Mount on Tuesday: "The Arabs there are digging a deep north-to-south trench, up to a meter [1.1 yards] deep.  It is being dug in the area that served during Holy Temple times as the Ezrat Nashim [the area known as the Women's Courtyard, though it was not reserved only for women -ed.].  The trench passes through three east-to-west walls, according to my calculations - walls that probably served as separations for the Temple's offices and the like.  This means that the destruction is tremendous..."

The award for the Joke of the Day goes to Mufti Mohammed Hussein, the top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem.  "We don't harm the antiquities, we are the ones who are taking care of the antiquities, unlike others who destroy them," he said.

Jerusalem archaeologist Eilat Mazar:

"No other country in the world would allow such grave damage to its most precious archaeological treasures," Mazar said

I wonder if there are any parallels to this situation.  What other country would not be screaming bloody murder at such a situation?

Dr. Eilat Mazar:

Anyone can realize that remnants of both the First and Second Temples are there, and can guess what damage is being done by the tractor.  The most precious findings are just rolling around there and are available to be found - and instead they have a tractor there!  If I would try to work with a tractor at one of my digs, the Antiquities Authority would stop me immediately!  With a tractor, it's impossible to make any type of careful examination of the earth and pieces being dug up.

Imagine if Ben-Tor brought a tractor to speed things up at Hazor, or if Maeir used one at Gath.  Can you not imagine that the IAA would shut the dig down in seconds?  But not here, at the most important archaeological site in the country.  And why not?  Politics.  It's much easier to sacrifice thousands of years of history for the sake of a few minutes of peace.

This would all be so much simpler if we took the viewpoint of Palestinian worshipper Ismael Ramadan.

"I grew up and I see [with] my eyes and I see this is [a] mosque. I don't see [a] temple," he said.

Like many Palestinians, he believes the temples never existed.

"It's not true," he said.  "No Temple."

Gabriel Barkay has been sifting debris from the last major illegal excavation on the Temple Mount, and some of the discoveries were announced yesterday at the eighth annual City of David archaeological conference.

The project, now in its third year, entails scrutinizing truckloads of earth removed by the Waqf in 1999.

Among the ancient finds were numerous stone tiles intended for flooring, some of which have been identified as designed for use in the Roman-era mosaic work known as opus sectile, in which colorful tiles were cut into shapes and fitted into geometric patterns.

"The discovery of stone tiles used in opus sectile flooring in [earth from] the Temple Mount is one of the most important discoveries of the dirt-sifting work," Barkai said, "and it might aid in reconstructing the appearance and character of the Temple's outer courtyard."

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Bahat: Archaeologists Politically Motivated; Wall Must Not Exist

The AFT has a follow-up to yesterday's article on the discovery of a wall from the Second Temple.  The article is headlined "Doubts over 'second temple remains' in Jerusalem."  The headline is misleading.  The only one casting doubts in the article is Dan Bahat, who has a record for distorting evidence related to the Temple Mount.  He admits that he hasn't seen the wall, and his reaction is but a knee-jerk response to the claims of other archaeologists who he says are "waging a politically inspired campaign, systematically for several years, to strengthen Israeli control over the esplanade."  Even assuming that this charge is true, that doesn't change the nature of construction that is being revealed and possibly destroyed on the Temple Mount.  The fact that the police haven't stepped in doesn't mean anything; they didn't step in when thousands of tons of earth were removed in the late 1990s either.  I mentioned in the last post that Barkay is a trustworthy voice on the subject; I can't say the same for Bahat.  In addition to his appearances in the media, his Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem is filled with errors.  I use portions of it with students, but with cautions.  The maps are very helpful and generally more reliable.  (I list some better books here.)

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post now covers the story.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Remains of Second Temple Found?

This could be a very important discovery (or it could not), but I doubt we will ever know.  First the story from a couple of sources and then a few comments of my own.

From AFP:

Remains of the Jewish second temple may have been found during work to lay pipes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem, Israeli television reported Thursday.

Israeli television broadcast footage of a mechanical digger at the site which Israeli archaeologists visited on Thursday.

Gaby Barkai, an archaeologist from Bar Ilan University, urged the Israeli government to stop the pipework after the discovery of what he said is "a massive seven metre-long wall."

Television said the pipework carried out by the office of Muslim religious affairs, or Waqf, is about 1.5 metres deep and about 100 metres long.

From Arutz-7:

Top Israeli archaeologists held an emergency press conference on Thursday, warning that a Second Temple courtyard wall is in danger of being destroyed by the Arab excavations there....

Dr. Gavriel Barkai opened by saying, "A month and a half ago, the Muslim Waqf [religious trust] began digging a trench more than 400 meters [1,300 feet] long - the largest such work ever carried out on the Temple Mount... These are criminal acts that have no place in a cultured country."

"Some man-worked stones have been found in the trench, as well as remnants of a wall that according to all our estimations, are from a structure in one of the outer courtyards in the Holy Temple.  Such important work is being done without the supervision of the Antiquities Authority."

"The archaeological damage is many times worse," Mazar said, "in light of the fact that the ground level is only slightly above the original Temple Mount platform.  And in fact, the bedrock has been uncovered in some places - meaning that earth that has been in place for many centuries, even possibly since the First Temple, has been removed."

My reaction is that this could be something significant, or it could not.  What Mazar says is correct, that present ground level of the Temple Mount is generally very close to ancient ground level.  But it's possible that there was construction in this area in the intervening 1,900 years since the Second Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.  But it is absolutely critical that the wall (and everything else underground) be studied carefully, so that a proper assessment can be made.  The finds underground are important, whether they're from the Second Temple, or from an 8th-century Muslim structure, or something else.  Unfortunately, it appears that we will never know because what is being dug up is being destroyed, and then it will be re-buried.

Temple Mount aerial from se2, tb q010703
Temple Mount from southeast

If this is a wall of the Second Temple, this would be very significant.  But further clarification is needed.  There are lots of walls "of the Second Temple."  Most readers would probably assume that this is a wall of the  actual building itself, into which priests went to offer incense (such as Zechariah in Luke 1).  But this is certainly not the case, based on the location of the trench, which you can see in the top photo of this page.  Rather this is the area (so we believe) of the courts of the Temple, such as the Court of the Women and Court of the Gentiles. 

What exactly has been found is not clear.  Barkay calls it "a massive seven metre-long wall."  This may be a misquote, because on the face of it it makes no sense.  That a wall is 20 feet long is not unusual; even average ancient houses had walls this long.  You wouldn't necessarily describe it as "massive," unless you knew something about its width.  And perhaps Barkay does but he isn't quoted on that.  I'm suspicious though because the width of the trench appears to be no more than 3 feet wide (according to photos at the previous link).  In short, it's not clear exactly what has been found.  Barkay clearly wants to get attention with his statement, and I hope he gets it.  It's, however, incorrect that this is "the largest such work ever carried out on the Temple Mount."  The excavation of the massive entrance to the underground el-Marwani Mosque (in so-called Solomon's Stables) in the late 1990s was much bigger.  Barkay knows that, as he is the archaeologist in charge of sifting all of the debris that was discarded.  On the other hand, this trench is much more centrally located that the other dig, and thus more likely to reveal ancient items of interest.

BTW, I know that many people don't know the personalities in this discussion, and it's harder to evaluate statements when you don't know the person making the statement.  I've known him for 15 years, and in my view, Barkay is the best of the best.

Leen Ritmeyer hasn't posted anything on this specific discovery, but he likely will, and it will be worth reading.

UPDATE: On further reflection, it is possible that a 7-meter wall was discovered in a 3-foot trench, if the trench made a cross-section of the wall and exposed faces on either side.  But that raises another question: what is a 7-meter (22 foot) wall doing on the Temple Mount?  As difficult as relations were between Jews and Gentiles, it's hard to imagine a wall of that thickness separating the courtyards.  Perhaps it's a foundation of a building.  In any case, careful archaeological excavation must be done.  And it won't be, because the Muslim authorities are afraid of history being uncovered on the Temple Mount.  I don't say that because of hearsay; I've experienced that reality in person.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Temple Mount Destruction, Part 73

This isn't the first time and it won't be the last time that Muslims conduct an illegal excavation on the Temple Mount.  If they do it enough, one supposes that it'll cease to be news and people may stop caring.  And if they do it enough and destroy enough ancient material, maybe they can get the facts to align with their theory--there never was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount.  In any case, if you want to see pictures and read more about the story, I'd start with this Arutz-7 report.  I'm surprised the authorities weren't more vigilant about not allowing photographs.  For more on the protests by Israeli archaeologists, see this JPost story.  Or read the JPost editorial.

UPDATE: Leen Ritmeyer has written a little about this, and includes diagrams and a video.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Virtual Models of Qumran and Rome

If you like virtual reconstruction models, there is information about a couple of new ones now online.

Virtual Qumran is being constructed by UCLA for the upcoming Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum (June 28 - December 31, 2007).  The Quicktime movies are not yet available, but there are several dozen medium-resolution screenshots.  It is ironic how much attention Qumran gets in academia today.  Qumran is the ancient equivalent of Somis, California.  If you don't know where that is, that's the point.  It's the Dead Sea Scrolls that give Qumran significance above the thousands of other ancient sites in the Middle East, but some scholars don't believe the scrolls have anything to do with the site.

Rome Reborn is the title of a project from the University of Virginia.  They built a physical model of Rome in 320 A.D. from which a virtual model was then constructed.  "The goal of 'Rome Reborn' is to create a digital model illustrating the development of ancient Rome from the earliest settlement in the late Bronze Age (ca. 1000 B.C.) to the beginning of the medieval period."  The website seems pretty spartan at this point.

One that's been around for some years but is still a great resource is the site of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.  This includes some nice panoramas.  They have several animations that show how the water system worked and how  large the city was in various periods.  You can also learn more about how they built the model.  I can't seem to find the great screenshots that used to be available.

UPDATE (6/17): Those Jerusalem screenshots are here.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Top Ten Sites in Jerusalem

The Biblical Archaeology Society seems to have mastered internet marketing, judging from the frequent newsletters in my box. Usually there is at leasimaget 1/3 real content vs. sales pitches, but today's was 100% ad. But I was happy to see "The City of David" for $50 off the regular price (now $100). I've been waiting to get this gem, and I can't expect the price to get any lower. I'd be happy to tell you why it's so great, but I'll let you read about it yourself here.

But when I clicked the ad, it brought me to the "Father's Day" sale page (until 6/18), at the bottom of which was a promo to get you to subscribe to BAR. If you pay when you order, you get the free guide, The Glories of Jerusalem: The Top Ten Sites in the Holy City, by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor. I had not heard of this book before, and it motivated me to come up with my own list. My list is free to you, and you don't have to subscribe to anything. If you want, you can subscribe to the BiblePlaces Newsletter, which itself is free and filled with 100% good content and no ads.image

I might preface my list by saying that while I am light years behind the distinguished author of the above guide, I have spent considerable time living in and teaching about Jerusalem. I gave my first college-level tours of the city soon after my 21st birthday, and I have taught a course on Jerusalem archaeology many times. This city is always fascinating, and there is always more to learn.

My top ten sites in Jerusalem are:

Temple Mount - this place really is the center of it all. Every time I am there, I am impressed with just how large the area is. Today it seems to be anything but a holy place, with kids playing soccer, women having picnics, and piles of trash unmoved for years. I still am inspired every time. (more)

Western Wall - large Herodian stones are cool, but this place gets a mention because of the people. Every sort of normal and strange person comes through the plaza, and they are interesting to watch and to talk to. (more)

Tomb of the Kings - most tourists never see this, because 1) the staircase is tough for old people; 2) climbing through tiny doorways inside the tomb is even more challenging; 3) it takes some work for the guide to explain what this tomb is all about; and 4) the owners of the site (the government of France) is positively rotten about allowing visitors. In my view, the government of Israel should force them to have regular hours, and they might, except for points #1-3 above. But the fact of the matter is, this is the best tomb in all of Israel, and it perfectly illustrates the types of burials in use at the time of Jesus. The tomb was carved ten years after the crucifixion of Christ and belonged to Queen Helene of Adiabene. See, I lost you already. (but more here)

Garden Tomb - it's not the actual place of Jesus' resurrection, but it sure feels more like it than anywhere else in the city. (more)

St. Etienne's Iron Age tombs - forgive me for including yet a third tomb in the list, but I simply must. These are the best Old Testament period tombs in the city (probably in the country). A strange irony: these tombs are located on the property where Jerome Murphy-O'Connor has lived for many decades, but there is not a word about them in his excellent guide book, The Holy Land. Possibly they don't want visitors (indeed, they don't), and possibly he wants to avoid getting intoGihon Spring, tb110705566 hot water with intransigent French priests (his colleagues) who insist that these tombs are from the Roman period.

Hezekiah's Tunnel - this is any kid's dream - to walk through a rock-hewn tunnel for 1750 feet. Add to that the certainty that it was dug by King Hezekiah's men and it is mentioned twice specifically in the Bible. (more)

Southern Temple Mount excavations - besides the impressive archaeological remains of streets, shops, staircases, and ritual baths, this is one area where you can be certain that Jesus saw in substantially the same form. That's easy to miss in the rest of the dense buildings of the Old City. (more)

Mount of Olives - for the view, not the churches. (more)

Petra Hostel rooftop - ok, the view is actually better from the "Tower of David" (in the Citadel museum), but the entrance fee is less and thus I go here much more often.

Pool of Siloam - not the Byzantine one now covered with a mosqueJerusalem model from southeast, tb091506493 and reduced to a fraction of its former size, but the 1st century pool recently uncovered by archaeologists. (more)

The Jerusalem model - formerly at the Holyland Hotel, now at the Israel Museum. I suppose this isn't a "site" in its own regard, but it is such an excellent presentation of how the city used to look that I cannot omit it from the list.

Honorable mention:
St. Anne's Church/Pools of Bethesda
Church of the Holy Sepulcher (more)
Broad Wall (more)
Herodian Quarter
"Solomon's Quarries"

There are many books about Jerusalem that describe the above-mentioned sites, but you might consider purchasing the Jerusalem volume of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. This CD ($25) includes 650 photos of the city along with all of my teaching notes. You'll like it! (Sorry for sneaking that ad in!)

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Western Wall Excavations (photos)

About a week ago, there were reports that excavations at the Western Wall prayer plaza had "uncovered the remains of Jewish homes from the Second Temple period as well as a Herodian water conduit."   

In the photo below, you can see the relation between the excavations and the Western Wall.  While we were there, the crane moved the white container (middle) from the area at left, suggesting that excavations will be extended in that direction.  In fact, you can see the tractor beginning to break up the ground.

In the close-up below, it looks like large hewn slabs (paving stones?) have been removed in order to excavate beneath them. 

My guess is that those large paving slabs are part of the Byzantine "Valley Cardo," which has been discovered to the south. 

(Yellow box = present excavations; red box = Byzantine Valley Cardo previously revealed)

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Updates: Paul's Sarcophagus and Western Wall Ramp

Yahoo has a photo that shows the alleged sarcophagus of Paul underneath the altar.  Something we didn't see before:

Filippi said the decision to unearth the sarcophagus was made after pilgrims who came to Rome during the Roman Catholic Church's 2000 Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that the saint's tomb — buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate — could not be visited or touched.

All we need now are some pilgrims who want to see inside the sarcophagus and our questions will be answered.

In Jerusalem, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and others are unhappy with the delay in building a new bridge for non-Muslim access to the Temple Mount.  The pile of earth likely is not very important archaeologically, but Muslims claim its removal will damage the Al Aqsa Mosque.  The rabbis want the temporary bridge removed because it is cutting into the women's prayer area at the Western Wall.

The removal of the earthen embankment will not only allow more of the Western Wall to be seen, but the large lintel stone of Barclay's Gate will be visible in its entirety for the first time in modern history.  This is the second of four monumental entrances to the Temple Mount on the western side.

We've commented on the ramp before here and here, and the sarcophagus here.  These posts have photos.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Herodian Remains near Western Wall

Excavations at the Western Wall have proceeded and now remains from the Herodian period have been discovered.

Excavations at the Western Wall have uncovered the remains of Jewish homes from the Second Temple period as well as a Herodian water conduit and arches from various eras, Army Radio reported (JPost).

I suspect that the water conduit mentioned is part of the Lower-Level aqueduct that brought water from Solomon's Pools to the Temple Mount.

See this previous post for photos of the excavation area.

UPDATE (12/21): New photos here.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Finds from the Temple Mount

Yesterday afternoon I took my archaeology students to help with the on-going sifting operation from the Temple Mount debris. They have made some remarkably discoveries in the two years that they have been methodically sifting the material.

The archaeologist in charge is Gabriel Barkay, who has been involved in Jerusalem archaeology for the last 40 years. He suggested yesterday that the current project may take him the rest of his life. They have searched less than half of the debris so far.

Last week a major find from the same material was announced in the journal of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. An inscription from a monumental arch with the name of the Roman general Silva was discovered by the Muslims during the earth's removal, but it only became known to a few archaeologists several years ago. The inscription is about 3 feet long by 2 feet high and, according to Barkay, was part of a hence unknown Roman triumphal arch in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. Haaretz has more details.

For more about the project, see the Temple Mount Archaeological Destruction website. The author, Zachi Zweig, tells me that a new website is coming with up-to-date information.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Temple Mount Debris summary

The sifting of debris removed from the Temple Mount continues under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Tzachi Zweig, and Haaretz provides the latest update from the work there. Many artifacts have been revealed in the project.
The oldest artifacts found are remnants of tools like a blade and scraper dating back 10,000 years. Some potsherds and shards of alabaster tools date from the Bronze Age - the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C.E. (the Canaanite and Jebusite eras). Only a handful of potsherds were found from the 10th century B.C.E. (the reigns of King David and King Solomon), but numerous artifacts date from the reigns of the later Judean kings (the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.), such as stone weights for weighing silver.

The most striking find from this period is a First Temple period bulla, or seal impression, containing ancient Hebrew writing, which may have belonged to a well-known family of priests mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.

Many other findings date from the Persian period (Return to Zion), Hasmonean, Ptolemaic and Herodian periods, as well as from Second Temple times. Second Temple finds include remains of buildings: plaster shards decorated a rust-red, which Barkai says was fashionable at the time; a stone measuring 10 centimeters and on it a sophisticated carving reminiscent of Herodian decorations; and a broken stone from a decorated part of the Temple Mount - still bearing signs of fire, which Barkai says are from the Temple's destruction in 70 C.E.
The Hebrew version of the article also includes a photograph of a bronze pendant and Roman and Babylonian arrowheads.

For background on where this all came from, see the photos and explanation here.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Temple Mount: No Status Quo

Muslim officials are proceeding with plans to construct a minaret on the Temple Mount. This minaret will be located near the Golden Gate (arrow in photo above) and will be the tallest minaret in the complex at 134 feet (42 m) high. This will be the first minaret constructed in 639 years, as the other four (circled in photo above) were built between 1278 and 1367. The prayer tower will be Jordanian in style and will cost approximately $700,000.

Such a construction is a violation of the principle of status quo of disputed holy sites in Israel, and almost certainly will be built without any archaeological supervision. It is ironic that if one wants to build a cottage in a remote part of Israel and antiquities are present, then an excavation must take place. But if one wants to construct on one of the most important sites in the Holy Land, there are no such requirements.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Priestly Blessing at Western Wall

A record number of Jews streamed to the Western Wall this morning for the traditional blessing of the priests during the festival of Sukkot. Police had to close the entrances into the prayer plaza because of the crowds.

Arutz-7 reports:
The ceremony has become a tradition ever since the liberation of the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War in 1967 and is seen as an observance of the Jewish obligation to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple three times a year, on Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). During the weeklong Pesach and Sukkot holidays, the ceremony is held on the second of the Hol haMoed (intermediate) days.

Hundreds of kohanim, Jews who trace their lineage to Aaron, the first High Priest, stood closest to the Western Wall to take part in the special blessings. Attending the Western Wall prayers Monday were Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger, as well as Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. Rabbi Rabinovitch told Arutz-7 that Monday's priestly blessing marked the largest such gathering for prayers at the site since the first Sukkot after the Six Day War.

Police were forced to close the gates leading to the Western Wall Plaza due to its being filled to capacity by worshippers. "The blessing, however, reaches those stuck outside the plaza as well, obviously," Rabbi Rabinovitch said. He added that many of those packing the plaza were not outwardly observant. "Many secular Jews have adopted the custom of making a pilgrimage to the Western Wall on the holiday," he said.

The Birkat Kohanim is a part of daily prayers in Israel, but is only recited on holidays in most communities outside Israel. The blessing given appears in Numbers 6:23-27:

And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Speak unto Aaron and his sons, saying, in this manner shall you bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord shine His face upon you.
May the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and grant you peace.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Excavations in Western Wall Plaza

Excavations have been going on for a few months in the back (west side) of the Western Wall plaza. The Israel Antiquities Authority has a brief description of the finds so far. In short, they are excavating a building complex from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods that consists of several vaults.

This is a view from near the Western Wall towards the excavations, which are located just to the left (south) of the police station.

The excavations began in April, before construction of a building in this location.

One of the vaults is visible below the metal walkway.

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Temple Mount Ramp to be Removed

We've reported in multiple BiblePlaces Newsletters and here about the plan to excavate the collapsed earthen ramp leading from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount. This ramp gives access to the only Temple Mount gate open to non-Muslims. Haaretz reports today that the Israel Antiquities Authority will begin digging in a few days.

The ramp, which leads from the Western Wall plaza to one of the Temple Mount Gates, is located in one of the most sensitive places in the world, and plans to carry out excavations under it have therefore been held up by the Shin Bet security service and the prime minister's military secretary for the past two years, for fear of Muslim riots.

Archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov warned yesterday that any digging in the area could lead to bloodshed. "Digging in this place goes way beyond the archaeological sphere. This place is far too sensitive and the price would be much too high," he said.

However, a reliable source told Haaretz that "now that the Palestinian Authority is paralyzed and incapable of resisting, it's an excellent opportunity to carry out the plan."

These photos were taken in the last year.

The temporary wooden ramp is on the left side of the earthen ramp to be excavated.

The north side of the earthen ramp collapsed after a snowfall in February 2004.

The ramp is more prominent when viewed from the south side. The new excavations will apparently create a connection between the Western Wall prayer plaza and the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (aka Southern Temple Mount Excavations).

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Monday, March 27, 2006

A Cable Car to the Western Wall?

Apparently the mayor of Jerusalem has approved a study to determine the feasibility of a cable car to bring visitors to the Western Wall from the other side of Jerusalem. The idea is to relieve traffic congestion in the Old City, and the car would transport 70 people from the train station near the Hinnom Valley (A) to the Dung Gate (B) in 5 minutes.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Temple Mount You've Never Seen

If you've only been to Israel in the last five years, then you never had a chance to visit inside the Muslim buildings on the Temple Mount. In fact, chances are good you weren't even allowed on the Temple Mount at all. If you visited before the outbreak of violence in 2000, you likely visited these but probably were not able to enter "Solomon's Stables" below Al Aqsa Mosque. Now there's a recent video showing all of that.

When I first saw the link, I ignored it because it didn't seem that it would have anything of interest to me. Certainly no one has been able to take a videocamera through all of the off-limits areas in recent times. I was wrong. And the 4-minute video is worth watching if you have any interest in seeing the interior of the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque and Solomon's Stables. The clip could benefit with an audio commentary explaining what you're seeing (including some remains of Herodian architecture!), but most of it is easy to understand.

Watch it at

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