Was the Temple Really on the Temple Mount?
In March 2015, Cry For Zion published the following article in response to the myth that the Temple was not on the Temple Mount. The hoax has waxed and waned in popularity, only to go viral on YouTube in 2017. Although a mass of evidence refuting the theory have since come to light, we felt it appropriate to republish this short introduction.
A new, sensationalistic book is causing a stir in Christian circles. It is a top-seller along with titles like Blood Moons, Deciphering End-Time Prophetic Codes, and the Harbinger. The book by Christian adventurer Robert Cornuke is titled TEMPLE: Amazing New Discoveries that Change Everything About the Location of Solomom’s Temple (Lifebridge Books, 2014). Average readers are overwhelmingly positive and seem almost entirely convinced by its message. Out of 192 Amazon reviews, only three are clearly negative (as of this writing)!
“Similar in importance to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” “I was amazed! Who knew all this?” “Filled with jaw-dropping facts.” “This book shatters flawed traditions and rips the lid completely off historical misunderstandings. It will most certainly give intellectual whiplash to anyone bold enough to read this biblical investigative masterpiece.” “The political repercussions from it could alter the complexion of the entire middle east.”
Cornuke argues that the Holy Temple never stood on the venerated Temple Mount, but rather south of it, in the ancient City of David. As Cornuke freely admits in the Introduction, the theory actually comes from the late Ernest L. Martin’s book from 2000, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot (ASK Publications). Cornuke’s dramatic style and up-to-date retelling have simply made the idea popular again. The theory appeals to many Christians. Why? Because the Temple could possibly be rebuilt in today’s political climate without as much conflict with Moslem holy sites.
Archeology aside, Christians often forget one crucial point in this discussion: anyone who hopes that the Jewish people will rebuild the Temple next to the Dome of the Rock—or off the Temple Mount platform entirely—simply does not understand traditional Judaism. Jewish tradition firmly places the Holy of Holies on the Foundation Stone right under the Dome of the Rock.
The rabbis have extremely precise laws, rules, and traditions of how such a thing would be done. Simply put, there is not a snowballs chance in a fiery Gehenna that pious Jews would rebuild the Holy Temple anywhere else but on the Foundation Stone, on the Temple Mount. Therefore, the book’s sensational theory would never ‘alter the Middle East conflict’ by a single cubit.
But to return to the case at hand, the theory that the Holy Temples stood outside the Temple Mount is simply not true. It is sad that sensationalistic writing has swayed so many who do not have the means to prove or disprove its claims. The controversial idea was already debunked in the days of Ernest L. Martin. The truth is, not only were both Holy Temples located on top of the Temple Mount, but with today’s archeology, we know more than ever about precisely where.
Anyone looking for serious, factual archeology and history on where the Temples stood, would do well starting with Dr. Leen Ritmeyer’s book, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Carta, 2012). Among the rich illustrations and archeological facts, the book also lists many old and outdated theories of where the Temple stood.
Leen Ritmeyer, originally from Holland, is an archaeological architect who has been involved in all of Jerusalem’s major excavations. He was chief architect of the Temple Mount Excavations directed by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar and of the Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem directed by the late Prof. Nahman Avigad, both of the Hebrew University. His work has been published in many journals, magazines and books about biblical archaeology and has been shown in eminent museums, including the Israel Museum.
In short, Dr. Ritmeyer is the man you call if you are National Geographic, or the ESV Study Bible, looking for a consultant on archeological drawings of Jerusalem. He wrote a response to Ernest L. Martin’s theory upon which the 2014 book, TEMPLE, is based. When asked about Cornuke’s book, Dr. Ritmeyer commented on his blog that “Cornuke’s ideas are indeed an identical copy of Martin’s ideas,” and referred readers to his previous response. [He has since written several more responses addressing the issue on his blog (editor’s note).]
Those who do not have the patience to read the academic response should at least consider this piece of wisdom from one of the few dissenting Amazon reviews:
“No one would put a threshing floor above their water supply and thereby pollute it. Case closed.”
Below is Dr. Ritmeyer’s response:
A Response to Dr. Ernest L. Martin
By Dr. Leen Ritmeyer (published by Prophecy Watchers on Oct. 8, 2014, used with the author’s permission).
In (past) issues of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) an advertisement appeared under the heading Who moved the Temple. The body of the ad announced a book The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot by Ernest Martin. Part of the advertisement consists of a drawing purporting to show the Temple sited outside of what is considered by most of the scholarly community to be the Temple Mount. Many people have asked me to comment on this portrayal and the following is my critique of Dr. Martin’s theory.
The main thrust behind Martin’s idea is that the location of the Temple is over the Gihon Spring. He equates Zion with the site of the Temple and begins by stating that Zion was limited to the southern end of the southeastern ridge of Jerusalem. The Temple was built there, he claims, because of the Gihon Spring. “The Bible even indicated that the Temple was abutting to the northern side of the City of David,”, writes Martin. Further, he alleges that David placed the Ark of the Covenant over the Gihon Spring, quoting Ps 87; “all my springs are in thee” and Ps 116,
“I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house [within the Temple], in the midst [center] of thee, O Jerusalem” (KJV).
Martin tries to derive further support for his theory from the Book of Revelation where we are told that those who were thirsty could drink from “the fountain (spring) of water that issued from the New Jerusalem that would come down from heaven to earth” (Rv 21:6, KJV) He then moves on to the prophecy of Jesus who, according to his interpretation, told his disciples that “not one stone of the Temple and its support buildings’ would be left on top the other.” He theorizes that all the walls of the Temple and the Temple Mount were torn down to their foundations just as Jesus prophesied. Only the Antonia, which he equates with the Herodian Temple Mount, escaped the destruction of AD 70.
Martin then interprets Josephus who said that the Temple Mount was “a precise square of one stadium length on each side of about 600 ft.” The southeastern corner of the outer Temple walls was, according to Martin, “located directly over the very bottom of the Kidron Valley (the bedrock center) and extended upwards 300 cubits or 450 ft”. The Western Wall where Jews pray today also gets a rough treatment.
The weakness of this proposal lies in the fact that it consists mainly of Martin’s personal interpretation of some Bible passages and historical references. It does not refer to the results of many archaeological excavations in Jerusalem since 1967.
WHERE IS ZION?
The first Biblical mention of the name of Zion is when David captured the stronghold of Zion from the Jebusites and called it the City of David (2 Sm 5:7). When Solomon finished building the Temple he brought the Ark of the Covenant “out of the city of David, which is Zion” (1 Kgs 8:1, KJV). This makes it quite clear that the Temple was located outside the original Zion, where the Gihon Spring was located, and Martin is wrong to equate the Temple location with that particular Zion.
The archaeological evidence also negates such a possibility. Reich and Shukron, who recently excavated the Gihon Spring and its near surroundings, found massive remains of a Jebusite fortified reservoir and a tower, both of which were in use at least to the end of the First Temple period. These remains cannot possibly have belonged to a Temple Solomon built. David built an altar on the place where the Angel stood overlooking the City of David and was the location of Solomon’s Temple. This means that the Angel who was going to destroy Jerusalem stood outside the City of David (Zion) on higher ground (2 Sam 24:16). David built an altar at this place where was located the threshing floor of Araunah. Threshing floors are never found inside cities or in valleys but always near mountaintops where the wind will blow away the chaff. The Temple, therefore, had to be built outside of what was then known as Zion and higher up the mountain.
The name Zion is not so much a precise location but, rather, the name of the city of Jerusalem as Israel’s religious and political capital. The city had its beginnings on the southeast hill and later spread to the western hill. Psalm 48:2, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King” (KJV) is therefore misunderstood by Martin. The passage does not mean that the Temple abutted the City of David. David understood that the Mount Zion where the Temple was going to be built was to be located in the place where he had built an earlier altar, to the north of the City of David. The word for “situation” in Ps 48 actually means elevation as the Hebrew verb nof means “to lift up,” indicating that the Temple site was located in an elevated position in relation to the City of David. Later, the name of Zion became a symbol of God’s chosen people (see for example Is 62). The word Zion in Hebrew means a “sign” and therefore cannot be a static location.
THE TEMPLE’S LOCATION AND “SPRINGS”
Martin’s position that Psalm 87:7, “all my springs are in thee” (KJV), means that Solomon’s Temple was built over a spring is incorrect. The Hebrew for “springs” can also mean “eyes.” This verse should more correctly be interpreted to mean that God’s eyes are always on Zion, City of God (87:3), not just the Temple.
Continuing in the spring context, Martin compares the above verse to a spring that will be found in the future Temple. However, he forgets to mention that waters will flow out through the Mount of Olives, after it is split, towards the Dead Sea (Zec 14:4, 8). In order for water to flow through the Mount of Olives means that the Temple must be located on higher ground opposite the Mount of Olives, not in the lower City of David.
Martin’s quote from Psalm 116, “in the midst [center] of thee, O Jerusalem” (KJV), does not mean that the Temple was located in the center of Jerusalem, but merely inside it. The Hebrew for “in the midst,” be-tavech, is usually translated as “among” when referring to people or “in the midst,” meaning within, when referring to places like a garden, a city or the sea. In the English Bible it has never once been translated as “center.”
THE STRUCTURE AND DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE
Jesus said that not one stone shall be left upon another. I believe that was fulfilled in AD 70. However, Jesus did not speak of “the Temple and its supporting walls,” as Martin believes, but only of the Temple itself (Lk 21:5) and those “buildings of the Temple” which the disciples pointed out to him (Mt 24:1). The disciples spoke of the buildings which stood on the Temple Mount, but not the foundation platform, the walls of which are standing today.
The same careless treatment is applied to the writings of Josephus. Josephus does refer to a Temple Mount which once was a square having sides of one stadium each. Martin’s quotes are from Antiquities 8.96 and 15.398, 400 and refer to the precinct built by Solomon. However, in War 5.184, 185 Josephus writes, “In course of ages, however, through the constant additions of the people to the embankment, the hill-top by this process of leveling up was widened.” Josephus writes that the original square design was enlarged on three sides until it became double the original size (JW 1.401). This point is ignored by Martin. The Mishnah (Middot 2.1) also states that the Temple Mount was square with sides of 500 cubits, a seemingly more accurate measurement than the stadium of Josephus who appears to have been giving only a rough estimate.
THE ANTONIA FORTRESS
To accommodate his theory, Martin claims that the Herodian Temple Mount walls do not belong to the Temple Mount but to the Antonia Fortress. This idea is untenable however because Josephus said that Titus had “ordered the troops that were with him to raze the foundations of Antonia,” an undertaking that took seven days to complete (JW 6.93, 149). Indeed, apart from the rockscarp, nothing much has survived of the Antonia. The size of the Temple Mount is approximately 35 times that of the Antonia. If the Temple Mount remains represent those of the Antonia, then it would have been utterly impossible to destroy it in seven days.
The rocky platform on which the Antonia was built can still be seen at the north-west corner of the Temple Mount. I do not know of any serious archaeologist or historian who would place the Antonia elsewhere. Despite the destruction of the walls of the fortress by Titus, the rocky Antonia plateau continued to play a strategic role in the subsequent battle for the Temple Mount. Josephus writes that the commander the Fifth Legion directed some of the later attacks from this commanding height (JW 6. 133) and Titus oversaw the final destruction of the Temple from the same elevated spot (JW 6.246, 249). Josephus mentions the demolition of the Antonia for the last time in (JW 6.311):
The Jews, after the demolition of the Antonia, reduced the Temple to a square, although they had it recorded in their oracles that the city and the sanctuary would be taken when the Temple should become four-square.
This shows that by demolishing the Antonia, the Romans controlled the Herodian extensions around the original square Temple Mount and these became the next line of defence for the Jewish fighters.
During my years of excavating in Jerusalem, I discovered the archaeological remains of the early platform mentioned above. To say that the Temple Mount remained a small square platform shows an unfamiliarity with the historical sources as well as the archaeology. According to Martin’s interpretation of some sources, Jews did not begin to pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall until the end of the 16th Century AD. The writings of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, which dates from AD 333, clearly indicate prayers were said there at the time:
“The Jews come there [the ruins of the temple] once a year, weeping and wailing near a stone which survived the destruction of the Temple.”
There remained more than just a stone because a Byzantine inscription quoting Isaiah 66:14, dating from AD 363, has been found near Robinson’s Arch. This shows beyond any doubt that the Western Wall of the Temple Mount was standing in the Byzantine period and was an important place for the Jewish population of Jerusalem.
Martin claims to have worked for many years with Profesor Benjamin Mazar. Although I was the dig’s architect from 1973 and continued to work with Mazar for a long time afterwards I do not remember meeting Martin or Mazar ever mentioning him. To say that the present walls of the Temple Mount belong to the Antonia is to do an injustice, to say the least, to Mazar and all who worked with him for 10 years. The excavation results have abundantly shown that these walls with their surviving gates belong to the Herodian Temple Mount and that the extant remains are also those described in the historical records. If the Temple Mount was merely a Roman camp as Martin asserts, why were Hebrew inscriptions such as the Is 66:14 one mentioned above, or the Trumpeting Stone, or the Korban (sacrifice) vessel found in Herodian strata together with many Jewish coins? Why are the beautiful domes of the Double Gate passageway decorated with botanic and geometric designs in accordance with the Mosaic prohibition instead of portraying humans and animals which were prevalent in the Roman architectural world? If Martin is assumed to be correct, I could go on asking many more such questions to which there are no answers.
In conclusion, I have made many reconstruction drawings of archaeological sites in Jerusalem. These were based, first of all, on the archaeological evidence, both in situ and found on the site, and on architectural parallels and historical accounts. Whenever possible I consulted with the archaeologists who had excavated the particular site and I was always very careful not to give a free hand to the imagination. The drawing and its supporting theory published by Martin have no credence whatsoever as they are not based on any archaeological evidence. Martin’s drawing cannot be called an archaeological reconstruction but is, instead, merely the result of a flawed interpretation of historical sources and wishful thinking.
Danby, H. 1933 The Mishnah: Trans from Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes. Oxford: Oxford University.
Josephus 1980 The Works of Josephus, trans. W. Whitson. Lynn, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Reich, R. and Shukron, E. 1999 Light at the End of the Tunnel. Biblical Archaeology Review 25.1: 22–33, 72.
 From Amazon reviews of the book as of March 19, 2015 (https://amzn.to/2AwEYRO).
 Comment on the back cover from Norman H. Andersson, US Brigadier General, Retired.
 Ibid. comment by Paul Feinberg, Ph.D.