Was the Dome of the Rock built over the Tomb of a Jewish King?
Updated: May 11
Yes, according to a 19th-century Josephus scholar, Thomas Lewin. As a scientist his reasoning makes a lot of sense to me. I am not Jewish or Muslim. I don’t have a religious axe to grind here. I am only persuaded by fact-based arguments. Lewin published an article in the London-based journal Archaeologia (1) soon after he got access to all of Charles Warren's maps of the Temple Mount (maps based on his recent visit and diggings there). You will see on our map in our book series Cry For Jerusalem that Lewin places the Second Temple in the southwest quadrant of today’s Temple Mount, and located the Tombs of King Alexander where the current Dome of the Rock exists—at the topographic apex of the subsurface bedrock topography beneath the Mount. He suggests the tomb was reused by the Hasmonean King Alexander Janneus (reigned 103-76 BCE) after they were created for Kings of Judea in the 7th century BCE before the First Temple’s destruction. The Jewish prophet Ezekiel in the 6th century BCE complained that Judah’s kings were being buried at high places too close to the Holy Temple, and were a potential source of religious contamination. Under today’s Dome of the Rock, there is indeed a tomb-sized chamber partially cut into a natural opening called the "Well of Souls".
Lewin also located the infamous Greek citadel known as the “Acra” at this location. There has been much debate as to the site of this citadel over the years, and Lewin discusses the controversy in detail as it existed at the time. A popular Acra site promoted by archaeologists today is at the parking lot excavations south of the Temple Mount, where Greek coins and arrowheads were recently found in a thick-walled building. However, Josephus describes the Acra as a citadel built by the Greek rulers of Judea in the 3rd century BCE on a hill adjacent to the Temple from which they could see into and control the Temple courtyard and rain arrows down upon any rebels. This citadel became such a thorn in the side of the Jews, that Simon Maccabee had not only it, but the entire hill it rested upon, cut down to be level with the Temple platform (2). In fact, the subsurface topography mapped by Charles Warren shows a flat-topped hill where today the Dome of the Rock sits.
Lewin read his article, which presents much more evidence, aloud in 1871 before the Society of Antiquities of London before it was published by them two years later. One hundred and forty years later it became visible to all on the internet thanks to Google. Today no physical evidence from the site contradicts Lewin’s thesis. Much more on the Temple Mount will be presented off and on in future blogs.
(1) Lewin, Thomas, 1873, Observations on the probable sites of the Jewish temple and Antonia and the Acra, with reference to the results of the recent Palestine Explorations. Archaeologia, p. 17-62.
(2) Flavious Josephus, Antiquities, Book XIII, Chapter 6, v. 215-218.