Temple Mount Archaeology
According to the Bible (Old Testament) King Solomon built the first Temple, the Babylonian Army destroyed it; Zerubbabel built the second Temple, the Hasmoneans refurbished the second Temple, King Herod expanded it, and the Roman Army destroyed it. Jesus Christ prophesied in the early part of the 1st century AD about the destruction of the Second Temple.
“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44
About 40 years after Jesus spoke those words, the Roman General Titus (later became Emperor) led his soldiers to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple after a lengthy siege of the ancient city.
“Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay, or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury: (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done:) Cæsar gave orders that they should now demolish the intire city, and temple: but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency, that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne: and so much of the wall as inclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison: as were the towers also spared in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valour had subdued. But for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground, by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to, by the madness of those that were for innovations. A city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.” Josephus: Of the War, Book VII
[Read more about the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem in Josephus’ Wars of the Jews]
So what about archaeological evidence for a “second” Temple in Jerusalem? Even though Muslims would not allow archaeological excavations on the Temple Mount, the Supreme Muslim Council published an account in 1925 that states — “The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps from pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.'”
Jews were able to gain access to the southern end of the western and southern walls of the Temple Mount because of the Six-Day War in June 1967. Israeli archaeologist, historian and professor Benjamin Mazar (Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem) was already well-known in his field when he began a ten-year excavation of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s “Old City” in 1968. Many of the finds dated from the Iron Age and included fortifications believed to be the “Solomonic wall of Jerusalem, and royal buildings of the Israelite city of the First Temple period.”
Other archaeological evidence available during my investigation in 1971 included Edward Robinson’s research in 1838 (e.g. identified remains of arch on southwest corner of Temple Mount, “Robinson’s Arch,” and discovery of Hezekiah’s Tunnel), Charles Wilson and Charles Warren research of the Temple Mount beginning in 1864 (map collection with notes), R.W. Hamilton excavation in 1930, and Ze’ev Yeivin’s identification in 1970 of the Temple’s eastern wall.
Roman archaeology also supports the conquest of Jerusalem. The Arch of Titus, located on the Via Sacra in Rome, was built about 81 AD to commemorate Titus’ victory. One of the depictions shows Roman soldiers carrying treasures from the Temple.
Roman Emperor Hadrian wanted to build a new military colony on the site of the destroyed city (called Aelia Capitolina) and had held out some hope to Jews living in the region that he would restore the city and Temple to them. However, Hadrian changed his mind and proceeded to build the colony about 131 AD. Jews who were still living in Jerusalem and the surrounding region revolted against Roman rule. That revolt is known both as the Bar Kokhba Revolt and Second Jewish Revolt. It lasted for about three years before the Roman Army defeated the Jews in 135 AD, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying all Jewish villages in the region. It led to a Roman ban on Jews in Jerusalem and renaming the province from Iudaea to Syria Palaestina. [More about archaeological discoveries concerning Aelia Capitolina here]
Church historian Eusebius (4th century AD bishop of Caesarea Palestine) wrote about what resulted from the Bar Kokhba Revolt –
“When the siege had lasted a long time, and the rebels had been driven to the last extremity by hunger and thirst, and the instigator of the rebellion had suffered his just punishment, the whole nation was prohibited from this time on by a decree, and by the commands of Adrian, from ever going up to the country about Jerusalem. For the emperor gave orders that they should not even see from a distance the land of their fathers. Such is the account of Aristo of Pella. And thus, when the city had been emptied of the Jewish nation and had suffered the total destruction of its ancient inhabitants, it was colonized by a different race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose changed its name and was called Ælia, in honor of the emperor Ælius Adrian.” Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Book IV, Chapter VI
Aelia Capitolina continued as a Roman military colony and pagan city for many years. Roman rule changed the design of the city into four quarters along with other construction. However, the conversion of Constantine the Great from paganism to Christianity in the early part of the 4th century AD brought changes to Jerusalem. Macarius was the Christian Bishop of Aelia (Jerusalem) during the early 4th century and accompanied Constantine’s mother Helena on a search for ancient Christian sites in Jerusalem. The demolition of pagan buildings led to a variety of religious discoveries and the construction of Christian facilities (e.g. Church of the Resurrection – Church of the Holy Sepulcher).
The structures of the Temple Mount and old city walls were in ruins until the early part of the Islamic era. The 7th century Umayyad Caliphate caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan built a large Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount known as the Qubbat As-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock). It is located on the Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) that houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, madrasas and other Islamic buildings. This is the spot, according to the Qur’an, where Muhammad stepped before taking his night journey to heaven to meet Allah and receive the commandment to pray five times a day. Muslim tradition states that the Dome of the Rock restored Solomon’s Temple.
Though religious and political struggles continue to oppose excavations on and near the Temple Mount, many discoveries have helped archaeologists in their quest to find the truth about the First and Second Temples. Here are some of those discoveries:
We will continue our search in the next part of Convince Me There’s A God.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.