History of the Temple Mount

(Deuteronomy 12:11) " then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you..."


Abraham 2,000 B.C.


The place which the Lord chose was an unspectacular hill nestling among the mountains of Judea. Nevertheless, it was to this place that Abraham was directed by God for the enactment of those events recounted in (Genesis 22:2) "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." Because of Abraham's willingness to offer his much-loved son, God provided in his stead an animal sacrifice and gave Abraham the promise of a future saviour. 




David 11th cent. B.C.


Here also, King David, after he had unwisely conducted a census of the people, "saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem" (1 Chronicles 21:16). Commanded by God, he bought the hilltop, which previously had slumbered to the cadences of Araunah the Jebusite's oxen dragging the threshing-sledge and the rustling of the thickly strewn sheaves. It was now to serve as a place to offer sacrifices. 




Solomon 10th cent. B.C.


It fell to King Solomon, the son of David, to build the first temple on Mount Moriah - a temple whose magnificence has never been surpassed. The Temple measured 60 cubits long, 20 cubits wide and 30 cubits high (103 x 34 x52 ft. or 31.5 x 10.5 x 15.75 m.). In front of the Temple towards the east, stood the bronze Laver or Yam (Hebrew for "sea"), which rested on twelve bronze oxen. On either side of the Temple, were five smaller lavers, which rested on elaborate wheeled bases. An Altar of Brass stood on the site of the altar, which David had built on the threshing floor of Araunah. Two bronze pillars flanked the Porch. Five golden lampstands stood on either side of the Holy Place. Apart from these, this room contained the Table of Shewbread and the Incense Altar. In the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant stood in an emplacement specially cut out in the rock.




The Second Temple Period 536-37 B.C.


Following the seventy-year exile of the Jews to Babylon, after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the Second Temple was rebuilt under the direction of Joshua and Zerubbabel. It is generally assumed that the Temple built in the days of the Return followed the pattern of Solomon's Temple, although it did not approach the latter in splendour. Ezra recorded the bittersweet feelings of the Jews when they celebrated the commencement of the Second Temple (Ezra 3:12) "But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy." 




Herod the Great 37-4 B.C.


In the first century B.C., King Herod the Great, driven by an obsessive mania for building, undertook a reconstruction of this latter building - hence it retained the name Second Temple. He completely changed the topography of the region, building a temple in the Oriental-Hellenistic style, of which is it written: "He that has not seen Herod's temple has never seen a beautiful building" (Baba Bathra 4:1). He began in the eighteenth year of his reign. The Temple itself was completed in eighteen months and the outer cloisters in eight years. Herod formally dedicated the Temple in 10 B.C. However, construction work must have continued because we read in John's Gospel 2.20, which records the event of Jesus evicting the merchants from the Temple precincts, that the Temple then had already been forty-six years in the making. 




Middot (one of the books of the Mishnah, the earliest collection of rabbinic law) 2:1 describes the Temple as 500 cubits ( 861 feet or 262,4 m) square. It is now clear that this refers to the original Temple Mount, which was the only part considered holy. Herod doubled its size and although his additions were not considered as part of the sacred enclosure, it must have gone a long way to relieving congestion among visiting pilgrims. Approaching the Temple, each successive area increased in degree of holiness. After the Soreg, a low fence marking the separation of the sacred enclosure from the outer Court of the Gentiles came the Rampart (Hel), the terrace that surrounded the Temple on three sides. Next came the Court of the Women, which was as far as women were allowed to proceed, then the Court of the Israelites, the Court of the Priests, the Porch, the Holy Place and finally the Holy of Holies, which Josephus, the contemporary Jewish historian described as: "unapproachable, inviolable, invisible to all" (Wars of the Jews 5:219). 




The internal dimensions of Herod's Temple were the same as those of Solomon. In the south of the Holy Place, there was a seven-branched Lampstand, the Table of Shewbread in the north, and close to the Veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, the Altar of Incense. The Mishnah, Yoma 5:2 tells us that there was nothing in the Holy of Holies apart from the Foundation Stone which marked the place where the Ark of the Covenant had stood before it disappeared from the records and upon which the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. It was while viewing this magnificent Temple complex with his disciples that Christ uttered the words (Matthew 24:2) “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” This prophetic statement has meant that there are few remains of the Temple walls, apart from the ruined retaining walls of Herod's mighty platform and some architectural elements.


However, with these and the invaluable literary sources already mentioned, scholars have been able to reconstruct the Temple and the Temple Mount. Recently Leen Ritmeyer, former architect of the Temple Mount Excavations, determined the location of the original 500 cubits square Temple Mount. He has also been able to trace the negative impressions of the walls of the Holy of Holies on The Rock inside the Islamic Dome of the Rock and, as a result of these findings, the original emplacement of the Ark of the Covenant. Now, although the major discoveries have been made, the illegal digs carried out by the Islamic authorities on the mount have a silver lining in that, as well as destroying some data, they also bring to light new evidence of the temple in an area where proper archaeological excavation is out of the question.