Is the Temple Location Really South of the Dome of the Rock?
There are various theories as to the location of the Temple and the Holy of Holies, three of which are more common and have many very convincing evidences to support them. The most popular and widely known theory is that the temple was located under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. There are, however, two other well-supported theories that put the Temple either north of the Dome of the Rock or just south of the Dome of the Rock. The third theory, placing the location of the temple south of the Dome of the Rock, is less well known than the other two, and for this reason will be the focus of this article. This is not to say the southern conjecture is more correct than the other locations, only that it is worthy of further examination and raises interesting questions for those interested in Bible study and prophecy. After examining the facts, it is up to each of us to come to our own conclusions as to which theory seems more likely. After all, they are only theories and no concrete and conclusive evidence decisively points to one of them as the only possible location for the future temple that will be rebuilt prior to Christ’s return.
In his book The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot, Ernest L. Martin presents his thesis that both the first and second Jewish temples were located south of the presently accepted Dome of the Rock location. His theory places the temple location in the ancient City of David over the Ophel Spring, and supports the belief that Jesus’ words when he predicted the complete destruction of the temple with “not a stone left on another” were literally fulfilled.1
Martin’s first proof of the location of the temple deals with the real location of Mount Zion. Any modern map of Jerusalem will correctly show the true location of the original Mount Zion, or City of David, at the southern end of the southeastern ridge of Jerusalem. Due to the efforts of W.F. Birch and the discovery in 1880 C.E. of the Hezekiahan inscription about the construction of the tunnel from the Gihon Spring to the southern end of the southeast ridge, the controversy over the location of “Zion” was finally settled. It was then determined that the southeast ridge was the actual site of Mount Zion and this was the true City of David. Dr. Martin contends that Jerusalem was built in ancient times around and over the Gihon Spring in order to have water form the only spring within a radius of five miles of the city. Unfortunately, says Martin, while scholars recognized the true site of Zion, they did not consider the location of the Temple in this correction and still consider the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount to be the location of the first and second temple. They do this, he says, in spite of the fact that many texts in the Bible identify “Zion” as equivalent to the “Temple”, and the Bible even indicates that the Temple was abutting to the northern side of the “City of David.”
Martin points to the Gihon Spring as his second proof for the southern location of the Temple. The Gihon Spring is the only spring within the city limits of Jerusalem. An eyewitness named Aristeas who viewed the Temple in about 285 B.C. stated that the Temple was located over an inexhaustible spring that welled up within the interior part of the Temple.2 The Roman historian Tacitus also gave a reference that the Temple at Jerusalem had within its precincts a natural spring of water that issued from its interior.3 Martin believes that this water source in the center of the Temple is the Gihon Spring south of the Dome of the Rock and on the southeastern ridge of Jerusalem.
The location of the Gihon Spring is also important. Aristeas said that a peson could look northward from the top of the City of David and could easily witness all priestly activities within the Temple precincts.4 Martin points out that the area of the Dome of the Rock is 1000 feet north of the original City of David and is much too far away for anyone to look down into the courts of the Temple. In addition, there has never been a natural water spring within the Haram esh-Sharif where the Dome of the Rock is located.
As was stated earlier Aristeas and Tacitus both stated that the Temple had an inexhaustible spring within its interior and the Gihon is the only spring in Jerusalem. Martin also points out that spring water is mentioned in numerous ways throughout the Psalms as the “waters of salvation” that come from the Throne or House of God. Spring waters were an essential part of Temple requirements and are to accompany any future Temple. (See Ezekiel 47:1, Revelation 21:2-6; 22:1, 17)
Interestingly, we have an eyewitness account by Hecateus of Abdera written near the time of Alexander the Great that tells us that the Temple was located “nearly in the center of the City of David”.5 Josephus said that the “Lower City” which was once the site of the City of David was on a ridge shaped like a crescent moon. The horns of this crescent pointed toward the Kidron Valley with the northern horn near the present southern wall of the Haram esh-Sharif and the southern horn just north of the confluence of the Valley of Hinnom. The exact center of this cresent-shaped ridge would have been at the Ophel Mound directly over the Gihon Spring.1 The Bible even tells us that the Temple was located in the center of Jerusalem.
Psalm 116:18, 19 “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord – in your midst(center), O Jerusalem, Praise the Lord.” (In Hebrew, the English word rendered “midst” means “center” in geographical contexts and is so translated by several versions.)
Martin also says that the destruction of the Temple after the Jewish/Roman War of 66 to 70 A.D. puts the Temple location south of the Dome of the Rock over the Gihon Spring. Jesus told his disciples, when describing the coming destruction of the Temple, that not one stone of the Temple and its support buildings would be left on top of another.
Matthew 21:1-2 “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” He asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
Martin presents eyewitness accounts of both Josephus and Titus (the Roman general who conducted the war against the Jews) who give the description of utter ruin and thorough destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus and Titus mentioned that if they had not been in Jerusalem during the war and personally seen the demolition that took place, they would not have believed that there was once a city in the area.6 Josephus even described it as Jesus said it would be when he wrote of the destruction of Jerusalem following the war.
“It [Jerusalem] was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was nothing left to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.”7
Martin explains as Josephus did why every stone was turned over in the city. It was customary for Jews to hide their gold and other valuables in the walls of their homes when their homes were threatened. The Temple itself was also the treasury of the Jewish nation and when the fires consumed the Temple and the city, the gold that was hidden in the walls melted and descended into the cracks and crevices of the stone foundations of the Temple. In order to recover the gold, the Roman army had the Jewish captives uproot every stone of the Temple and the whole of the City. This left Jerusalem a land of dislodged and uprooted stones.
According to Martin, though the Temple was completely destroyed, one man-made construction did come through the war, and is still in use today as the complex where the Dome of the Rock was built. This remaining building was used by the Tenth Legion after the war as their military headquarters when they remained behind to prevent any further revolutions. An eyewitness, Eleazer, the leader of the last remnant of Jews in Masada who finally committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of General Silva of the Tenth Legion three years after the main war was over, said that the Temple then lay in ruins and the City of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. His comments follow:
“It [Jerusalem] is now demolished to the very foundations, and hath nothing left but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those [the Romans] that hath destroyed it, which still dwells upon its ruins: some unfortunate old men also lie upon the ashes of the Temple, and a few women are there preserved alive by the enemy [for prostitution purposes], for our bitter shame and reproach.” 8
The remaining building still left standing, according to Martin’s theory, was Fort Antonia, the fortress built by Herod the Great that was much larger than the Temple in size. Josephus said it was as large as a city and could hold a full Legion of troops.9 Josephus also said that Fort Antonia was built around a massive and prominent outcropping of rock that was a notable protective feature within its precincts.10 This description fits perfectly with the present Haram esh-Sharif and the Dome of the Rock now covering that significant outcropping of rock. This rock was also called the Roman Praetorium and it was the place where Pilate sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. The rock was a significant spot in the fortress, and even the apostle John singled it out for comment regarding the judgement of Jesus. John called it the lithostrothon [a rock, on which people could stand and be judged,].11
Martin theorizes that the Haram esh-Sharif was built around this well known “rock outcropping” and was the only building with its four massive walls to survive the Jewish/Roman War. The walls of Fort Antonio also make up what is now called the Wailing Wall and the rock in the center of the Dome of the Rock is not the Holy of Holies, but the rock on which Jesus stood when he was judged and sentenced to crucifixion. Later Pilgrims to the area also identified this building as the Praetorium and not the Jewish Temple. In fact, historical evidence shows that the rock under the Dome of the Rock was identified by people throughout the early Byzantine period and as late as the time of Saladin in 1187 C.E. as the site of the Praetorium, or the central part of Fort Antonia. It was the former site of the Church of the Holy Wisdom (which enshrined the revered “oblong rock”) where Christians had long believed Pilate sentenced Jesus. The feet of Jesus were believed to have stood on that very rock that the New Testament identified as the lithostrothon (John 19:13). 12
Martin also points out that there was never a stationary rock associated with the Temples in any Bible scripture. The most significant feature of the Temple in the Bible is that it should be built over a threshing floor (II Samuel 24:16, 18, 24). In Hebrew, a threshing floor means just that, a leveled floor.
Another fact that seems to eliminate the possibility of a stationary rock within the temple is that the Holy of Holies was relocated further north each time the Temple platform was extended when the temple courtyards were made larger and larger over the centuries. History shows that the Holy of Holies moved each time the Temple was expanded. The Sanctuary part of the Temple was first located 50 feet north of the south wall with the Holy of Holies in the center of that width in Solomon’s time. Later, in the time of Alexander the Great, it was positioned 75 feet north from the south wall. Later, the Sanctuary was moved again and relocated 150 feet north of the south wall with the Holy of Holies evenly spaced between the north and south walls (Josephus, Contra Apion I.22). During Herod’s time it was moved further north and spaced 300 feet north of the south wall and equidistant from the north and south walls of the Temple square. Josephus described Herod’s temple as an exact square of 600 feet on each side with the Holy of Holies in its center. So, this shows that the Holy of Holies was at different positions within the Temple every time it was enlarged with only the south wall of the temple remaining in the same place throughout that time. This well-known fact precludes any stationary rock on a ridge as being the placement of the Holy of Holies and eliminates the rock under the Dome of the Rock as a possibility.
So, you might be asking why people have selected Haram esh-Sharif and the Dome of the Rock as the place of Solomon’s temple. Martin contends that the people in the period of the Crusades accepted the region of the Haram esh-Sharif as the Temple site because Omar took a portable stone from the remains of two Jewish attempts to rebuild the Temples at the correct site over the Gihon Spring and brought that portable stone from those ruined Temples to his Al Aksa Mosque that he was beginning to construct. Omar made that portable stone from this ruined Temple site into the qibla stone that pointed Muslim worshippers in his Al Aksa Mosque toward Mecca. By applying a Muslim belief called baraka, later Muslims felt that a stone from one Temple or holy site could be dislodged and taken to another place and that the latter place would take on the same degree of holiness as the former spot. When the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem, Christians also began to call the Al Aksa Mosque by the name “Solomon’s Temple” even while they knew of the tradition that Jesus’ footprints were indelibly on the Rock within the Mosque and even though they felt that Herod’s extension of the Temple was located at the Dome of the Rock (which they then called the Lord’s Temple).13
Another interesting point that Martin makes in his theory is regarding the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall where the Jewish people now congregate as their holiest place in Judaism. On his website he shows that the Jewish people paid no attention whatever to the present Western Wall until they finally took over the site from the Muslims in about 1570 C.E. The Muslims had renovated it from being a Christian holy place where Christian women would discard soiled undergarments. So, the Wailing Wall as a Jewish holy place, Martin claims, is a modern invention that was selected for Jewish worship, not based on historical precedent. The Western Wall was selected by Isaac Luria and was only sanctified and initiated by Rabbi Luria 430 years ago. Martin also notes that, Luria is known for many geographical mistakes.14
Martin comes to the conclusion then that the Jews are not worshipping at the wall of their lost temple, but at the wall of Fort Antonia that was built by King Herod, and that the Romans took as their fortress in Jerusalem at the end of the Jewish/Roman War. The shrine at the center of the Dome of the Rock is not the Holy of Holies, but a part of the Roman Praetorium where Jesus was judged by Pilate. The true site of the Jewish Temple according to Martin lies in ruin in the Ophel part of the southeastern ridge.
ADDITIONAL SUPPORTS FOR THE SOUTHERN CONJECTURE
1. The View from the North - Josephus Flavius describes the fact that the Bizita Hill was located north of the Temple Mount and obscured the view of the Temple from the north. If the Temple stood at the Dome of the Rock, it would be visible from as far away as the town of Ramalla. In order to obscure the view from the north, it would have to be at a lower level, that is, to the south.15
2. King Herod Agrippa’s View of the Temple from the West – Josephus, in the Jewish Wars, describes the fact that King Herod Agrippa could look out from his Hasmonean Palace (at or near the present Citadel at the Jaffa Gate), and view the sacrifices at the Azarah, at the altar of the Second Temple. This incensed the Jews, who then built a wall extending the height of the western rear wall of the Temple proper in order to block the view. Roman soldiers, patrolling the western threshold – thus unable to view the Azarah – demanded that the wall be demolished. The Jews objected, and even obtained the consent of Emperor Nero to leave the wall in place.
If the Temple were at the location of the Dome of the Rock, it would have required a Palace tower height of 75 meters to view into Azarah. There never was a building of such a height in Jerusalem. This all implies a lower, more southern location of the Temple.16
3. The Jerusalem Water Aqueduct from the Judean Hills – The water canals that supplied Jerusalem began in the area of the Hebron mountains, passed through the Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem, and flowed to Jerusalem. The lowest canal reached the Temple Mount through the Jewish Quarter and the Wilson Bridge. According to the ancient authorities, the water conduit supplied water to the High Priests’ mikveh (ritual bath) located above the Water Gate, and it also supplied water for the rinsing of the blood off the Azarah. Portions of this aqueduct are plainly visible to this day.
“Living water,” that is, fresh, flowing water, not water from a cistern, was required for the ritual bath (mikveh) used by the temple priests, and for the washings of the temple in connection with the sacrifices.
A survey of the level of the aqueduct reveals that if the Temple had been located at the same elevation as the present Dome of the Rock shrine, the aqueduct would be over 20 meters too low to serve either the Azarah or the Water Gate. From this survey, it appears that the Temple must have been 20 meters lower and, thus, to the south.17
1. Abridged Edition of The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, http://www.askelm.com/
2. Aristeas, translation by Eusebius, chapter 38
3. Tacitus, History, Bk.5, para.12.
4. Aristeas lines 100 to 104 as translated by Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel, chapter 38 (Grand Rapids:Baker, 1982)
5. Hecateus of Abdera, see Josephus Contra Apion I.22.
6. War VI.1,1; VII.1,1.
7. War VII.1,1.
8. War VII.8,7
9. War V.5,8 and War III.5,2
10. War V.5,8
11. The Gospel of John 19:13, translated “pavement” in most translations.
12. The Bordeaux Pilgrim in 333 C.E. Describes the Haram Esh-Sharif as the Praetorium, Abridged Edition of The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, http://www.askelm.com/
12. The Scriptures Show that No Stationary Rock was ever Associate dwith the Temples, Abridged Edition of The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, http://www.askelm.com/
13. Why Later People Selected the Haram esh-Sharif as the Place of Solomon’s Temple, Abridged Edition of The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, http://www.askelm.com/
14. The Western Wall of the Jewns, Abridged Edition of The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, http://www.askelm.com/
15. On the Location of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, Critical Issues in Locating the Temple Site, by Lambert Dolphin and Michael Kollen, http://www.templemount.org/theories.html