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Where (did the Temples stand)?

video animation 1 minute 40 seconds

This video relates to the history of the two Temples in Jerusalem, drawing on both literature (Biblical, Mishnaic and others) and archaeology.The Bible details the dimensions and materials for building the Holy Temple (e.g. I Kings). The construction of the Temple was first undertaken by Solomon and it was dedicated around the year 996 BCE, and, after being in daily use for 410 years, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

Under the patronage of the Persians, the Temple was rebuilt and Ezra and Nehemiah rededicated it around the year 516 BCE. This is known as the Second Temple which was a much more modest structure than the First Temple. The Talmud relates that five items from the First were lost by the time of the Second, including the broken Tablets of the Law which had been housed in the Holy Ark in Solomon’s Temple, and consequently there was no Holy Ark in the Second Temple.

In 20 BCE Herod the Great, who reigned over Judea from 37-4 BCE, instigated a major rebuilding of the Temple. Ten thousand workmen laboured for approximately 10 years on the Temple Mount, doubling the size of the precinct to 36 acres, and building the porticoes. Subsequently, one thousand priests (Cohanim) were specially trained as hewers of stone and carvers of wood and in other requisite skills in order to build the Temple itself, as only members of the priestly caste were permitted to step foot there. The height of the Temple was doubled to approximately 150 feet, and once completed it glittered with gold and marble. This took another year and a half. The Talmud Baba Batra 4a says that “He who has not seen the Temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building”.

This Temple was destroyed by the Romans under Titus in 70 CE. All that remains today are some sections of the outer retaining walls of the Temple Mount, including most famously the Western or Wailing Wall.

It is agreed by scholars and rabbis that the two Temples stood in the same location on the Temple Mount, now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa mosque (and known by the Moslems as the Haram esh-Sharif), but the definitive knowledge of exactly where on the Temple Mount the Temples stood, has been lost. Several factors confound attempts at reconstructing the precise location of the Temples, and in particular the most sacred section, the Holy of Holies.

The first issue relates to interpretation of archaeological remains vis-à-vis historical sources. The Mishnah and Josephus Flavius both record the size of the Temple Mount. Although their descriptions differ, both sources state that the Mount is square with a length of 200 metres (taking the cubit or amah as 44cm). However, today the Mount is a rectangular trapezoid whose dimensions are approximately 300×500 metres. Many conquerors, including the Crusaders and Ottomans, have built in Jerusalem since the Mishnah was compiled, without leaving clear records of what they found and altered.

The second issue is the size of the cubit or amah, the unit of measurement in use during the Second Temple period. Assessments vary between 44cm, 50cm, 56cm and 60cm.

Then there are four principal hypotheses concerning where exactly on the Temple Mount the Temples stood: the Central Position, the Middle Position, the Northern Position and the Southern Position. Each has its supporters and detractors.

Central Position:
According to this view the Altar, which stood in front of the Sanctuary of the Temple, was situated where the Dome of the Rock stands today. In the south-eastern corner of the rock, which is bedrock, is a small hole which is believed to have been used for the pouring of wine (or some say for the draining of blood from sacrifices) as part of the Temple services. The hole leads to a natural chamber beneath the rock.
This positioning is favoured by Rav Yisrael Ariel of the Machon Hamikdash (The Temple Institute) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, following the view of Rav Goren who largely led the way in this area with his monumental book on the subject.
The supporters of the Central position hold that the cubit (amah) is 44cm.

Middle Position:
According to the majority of rabbis and scholars and the Rabbinate of Israel today, the Holy of Holies of both Temples was centred on the site of the present Dome of the Rock and the Altar was to the east of the rock. In this view, they follow the Radbaz (Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra), writing over 400 years ago, and the Ramban (Nachmanides) who visited Jerusalem in 1267. In this opinion, the Even Hashtiya or Foundation Stone (of the world) is currently the rock of the Dome of the Rock.
According to the proponents of the Middle position, the cubit is valued at 60cm.

Northern Position:
This positioning is espoused by Professor Asher Kaufman. He posits that the Holy of Holies was situated on stone inside the Ghost Dome, north of the Dome of the Rock, under the present-day Dome of the Tablets or Dome of the Spirits, some 50 metres from the Western Wall. In this opinion, the Temple stood some 110 metres north of the Dome of the Rock. The ancient gate which lies beneath the present-day Golden Gate in the Eastern Wall would be, in this view, the location of the ancient Shushan Gate.
The Northern hypothesis is predicated on a value of 44cm for the cubit.

Southern Position:
Archaeologist Tuvia Sagiv forcefully argues for both a lower, and Southern, positioning of the Temples on the Temple Mount. To support this claim, he draws on evidence from the water aqueduct levels, the discrepancy in heights between the Hilda and Ciponus gates and the Temple, the location of the Antonia Fortress, and the angles of vision necessary in the story, recorded by Josephus, of King Herod Agrippa illicitly watching Temple sacrifices from the tower of his nearby palace.
From his analysis of these elements, Sagiv concludes that the Temples stood well below the present-day level of the Mount, and he posits that the only area on the Temple Mount low enough to be the site of the Temples is under the El Kas (The Trophy) fountain, between the Dome of the Rock and the El Aksa mosque. The bedrock under the Dome of the Rock drops away sharply to the south, allowing for Sagiv’s assertion that the Temples stood 16 metres below the current height of the Temple Mount.
Sagiv and his supporters hold that the most likely value for the cubit is 44cm.

In this video work, I have taken all these theories into account. We see a rendering of the Second Temple (as scholars describe it following Herod’s renovations) move between the four positions on the Temple Mount, as if seen from the air today.

References:
Tuvia Sagiv “The Hidden Secrets of the Temple Mount” http://www.templemount.org/tempmt.html
Bet Hashem Neleich, Rav Yisrael Ariel, Machon Hamikdash
Bet Hamikdash Hashlishi, Shalom Dov Steinberg, Ch. Wagshall Ltd.