Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount
Where exactly was the Temple located on the Temple Mount? There are several popular theories regarding the exact location of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Many believe that it was built in the same area where the present Dome of the Rock now stands. Another popular theory suggests that it stood over the Dome of the Tablets, a small shrine to the northwest of the Dome of the Rock. Still yet, another theory proposes that it was built between the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Since it is impossible to do any excavation on the Temple Mount (although see the recent article at ritmeyer.com “Illegally Digging Up the Temple Mount”), is it possible to determine the Temple’s location? In Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer, an expert with over 40 years of experience involving excavations and research on the Temple Mount, reveals his understanding of the exact location of the Temples of Solomon and Herod, including the location of the Holy of Holies. From 1973 to 1977 Ritmeyer was chief architect of the Temple Mount excavations directed by Benjamin Mazar. From 1978 to 1983 he was field architect of the Jewish Quarter excavations of the Old City of Jerusalem headed by Professor Nahman Avigad. Since that time Ritmeyer has continued his research on the Temple Mount, even writing his doctoral dissertation on “The Architectural Development of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” These qualifications make him an expert worth listening to.
Secret’s of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Contents
Ritmeyer bases the conclusions in his book on ancient accounts such as Josephus and especially Middot (a portion of the Mishnah written around 200 A.D.). He also relies on archaeological evidence from recent excavations, as well as the pioneering work of Charles Warren who, in the 1860s, was able to dig various shafts and tunnels around the Temple Mount and explore underground areas no longer accessible due to the modern political situation. Warren and his team left very detailed accounts of their findings as well as some artistic drawings. The Contents of Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount are as follows:
1. “A Tour of the Temple Mount with Herod the Great,” is a fictionalized account written by Kathleen Ritmeyer, Leen’s wife, based on historical information of the period. The purpose is to provide the reader with some historical background in an entertaining way.
2. “Reconstructing Herod’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” This chapter gives a detailed description of what Herod’s Temple Mount Complex would have looked like. It includes photos, diagrams, and drawings of various aspects of the Temple Mount, including a drawing of what Ritmeyer believes Herod’s Temple Mount would have looked like.
3. “Quarrying and Transporting Stones for Herod’s Temple Mount,” is a short chapter that looks at the methods which would have been employed in cutting and preparing the stones, as well as how these massive stones were moved into place. One technique of moving the stones overlooked by Ritmeyer is attaching wheels to the stones so that they could be rolled to the site.
4. “Reconstructing the Triple Gate.” In my times in Israel, I have heard some speculate that the Triple Gate and Double Gate at the top of the southern steps were for exiting and entering the Temple Mount. Ritmeyer, however, argues that the Triple Gate was only used by the priests and led to a large storage area. The Double Gate, on the other hand was used for visitors and had a very broad staircase (210 feet) that would have accommodated people entering and exiting. By contrast, the staircase in the Triple Gate is only 50 feet wide (p. 61).
5. Chapter 5, “Locating the Original Temple Mount,” is an indepth discussion which includes many helpful drawings and diagrams explaining Ritmeyer’s conclusions on where the original platform on which Solomon’s Temple was located. I have included one of those diagrams here which shows the position and dimensions of the original Temple Mount, according to Ritmeyer.
6 & 7. Chapters 6 & 7 go together establishing Ritmeyer’s view on where the Holy of Holies was located and where the Ark of the Covenant rested. They are entitled respectively, “The Ark of the Covenant: Where It Stood in Solomon’s Temple,” and “Mark of the Ark Confirmed by Modern Technology.” Ritmeyer is convinced that the Ark rested in a rectangular depression on the es-Sakhra. The es-Sakhra is the highest point on the Temple Mount and lies exposed in the Dome of the Rock. Muslims believe it is the place where Mohammed ascended into heaven. Although some quarrying was done on this rock when the Crusaders briefly held it and turned the Dome of the Rock into a Christian Church (12th century), Ritmeyer argues that the area where the Ark rested has been preserved. He argues that the rectangular depression is just large enough for the Ark and a copy of the Law to lay before it. The depression is angled so that the longer side of the rectangle faces east-west. At first this puzzled Ritmeyer, but he notes that it agrees with the evidence found in 1 Kings 8:8 and with what the Talmud says about the length of the poles used to carry the Ark (pp. 117-118).
8. “The Structure of Herod’s Temple: Why We Can Rely on the Description in Middot,” is Ritmeyer’s defense of why this description in the Mishnah is the most reliable source. This chapter also goes into detail regarding the various sections of the Temple complex in the time of Herod such as the Women’s Court, the Court of the Israelites and Court of the Priests, etc., and includes another nice diagram of this area. Page 144 also includes a 3-D cut-away drawing of Herod’s Temple.
9. “What Did Solomon’s Temple Look Like,” is the final chapter in Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Ritmeyer states, “It is not difficult to draw a plan of Solomon’s Temple from its description in 1 Kings 6 and 7; it is much more difficult to draw a section through the building–to envision, in other words, what the building would have looked like if we sliced through it like a cake and looked at the inside” (p. 153). Ritmeyer says that the two biggest obstacles he faced in understanding the design of Solomon’s Temple was the difference in size between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (30 cubits high as compared to 20), and the relationship of the two bronze pillars (named Jachin and Boaz) to the Temple itself. Regarding the height difference, many have suggested that there was an upper chamber of 10 cubits above the Holy of Holies or that the Holy of Holies stood 10 cubits higher than the Holy Place. However, Ritmeyer notes that if es-Sakhra is the location of the Holy of Holies, it stands 5 cubits higher than its surroundings. Given this information, Ritmeyer believes that there was a natural rock ramp that led up into the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place and that the roof of the Holy of Holies was 5 cubits lower than that of the Holy Place (p. 155). Concerning the bronze pillars, Ritmeyer notes that there is no evidence that they were freestanding, apart from the porch of the Temple, as found in some reconstructions. In every case in the ancient world, the pillars of a temple supported the porch. While conducting this research, Ritmeyer was requested to construct a model of Solomon’s Temple. He states that this request caused him to scrutinize the text of 1 Kings 6-7 even more carefully and led to a deeper understanding of Solomon’s building. His model can be seen below.
Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Evaluation
I have always leaned toward believing that the Temple originally stood on the site of the Dome of the Rock. First, temples were usually constructed on the highest point of a mountain. Second, once a place was considered holy in the ancient world, it usually stayed holy unless somehow desecrated. Since es-Sakhra is the highest point on the mountain, it makes sense this is where Solomon would have built the Temple. It also makes sense that Zerubbabel, and later Herod would have rebuilt the Second Temple on the same spot. It’s hard to imagine that Jews would have accepted moving the Holy of Holies to a different location, or any other part of the sacred structure. This is one reason I have never favored any of the other theories that have been proposed. Ritmeyer’s experience and study of the Temple Mount, and his indepth arguments have only served to strengthen my belief. Furthermore, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, taught me many other details that I had no knowledge of. Even though this book is written for a general audience it is very detailed and technical and therefore it may not appeal to everyone. But for those who are interested in the Temples of Solomon and Herod, their significance, where they stood, and what they looked like, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is a goldmine of information. I highly recommend it!
For further information on the Temple Mount, including video presentations, go to http://templemount.org/