Solomon's Stables and the "So-Called Cedron Ravine"
Updated: May 11, 2022
A lithographic print of a part of Solomon's stables in the 19th century
Josephus describes the eastern one-third of today’s Temple Mount as the “so-called Cedron Ravine” (see map at the end). Thomas Lewin points out that Josephus distinguishes this patch of land by this modified name in the Greek—as opposed to the entire Kidron Valley which he just refers to simply as the Kedron (note the three variant spellings). This eastern third of the Mount is underlain by a bedrock surface that reaches the land surface at its closest point to the Dome of the Rock, but drops dramatically in elevation toward its southeastern and northeastern corners. This bedrock-surface topography was mapped via Charles Warren’s subterranean explorations of the cisterns and bases of the Eastern and Southern Walls. This so-called ravine is true to its name as it is situated entirely on the western flank of the Kidron Valley. Josephus also refers to it as one location in the city where John of Gischala defended against the Roman siege in 70 CE. At its southern end today is the Al-Marwani Mosque, recently converted from what had been known for centuries as Solomon’s stables (see above picture). Lighting and floor tiles and carpeting were added so that large numbers of Muslims can now pray there. Another exit from this mosque was added recently by excavating fill from its north side. This excavation brought widespread condemnation from archaeologists because the dig was not carefully planned nor its finds catalogued. Instead the area was ripped up wholesale using a backhoe, with the material being dumped in piles at a location off site. Material from these piles have been carefully examined ever since by Israeli archaeologists and helpers in the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
What do we know about Solomon’s Stables? What can it tell us about the Temple Mount today? There is still wide disagreement among scholars as to the time of its origin. What IS universally agreed to is that Crusader knights used the area to stall their horses, and iron rings for attaching reigns are still present on some of the arches. Many think that a combination of the presence of horses there, the nature of the space, and the proximity to the Temple suggested perhaps it was used originally by King Solomon, who has been written to have had stables in Jerusalem. The name has stuck ever since. Many have also imagined the space could have been used to keep the large number of animals needed for Temple sacrificial offerings on high holy days. From the nature of the arches though two things can be inferred. Herodian style blocks were used in many of the pillars, and the style of the arches suggest to many they were constructed centuries later from cast aside Herodian blocks. James Fergusson, the 19th century renowned architect and Jerusalem enthusiast had a wide knowledge of building structures from around Europe and the East. He identifies the nature of these arches as being like those of 10th century churches in France, and most likely built by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian during the 6th century. Fergusson argues that Justinian built these to support his overlying Christian Church, that is well known from other sources to have been built by him near the site of Herod’s temple. Fergusson also points out that the arches in Solomon’s stables did not have the capacity to support the overlying weight of the Royal Stoa that Herod had built on the southern side of his Temple Mount. Thus, the Stable arches either post-date Herod, or exclude the Royal Stoa (and thus Herod's Temple Mount) extending that far to the east.
I mentioned the Temple Mount Sifting Project a few blogs ago, and I will expand a bit on it here. The Project has now carefully examined over 3,000 tons of material from the “so-called Cedron Ravine,” and should shed some light on its history given over 400,000 bits of artifacts have been uncovered in the last 15 years. Although the all-important in-situ layering has been destroyed by the backhoe, let us consider the overall distribution of dating of the materials found in the sifting. If Herod’s Temple Platform existed before 70 CE to the same areal extent and elevation it does today, as most scale models in Israel now show, then any material beneath that surface should predate Herod. The material would be from the BCE periods of the Hasmoneans, the Babylonian desctruction, or even Solomon, for Herod would have used current or older material as fill. But what has been found, rather, is a substantial fraction of artifacts that date to nearly every age from Solomon to Herod to Islam to the twentieth century. This tells us that the “so-called Cedron Ravine” must of have been accumulating materials for centuries like a land fill, where every time there was rebuilding after a destructive event, debris got pushed downhill into this area. Then a only few centuries ago the modern-day Mount pavement level was finally established by the Ottomans, perhaps when they rebuilt the walls. This on-site field evidence supports Thomas Lewin’s reconstruction of Herod’s Temple and vicinity seen in the map below.
Lewin, Thomas, Esq., M.A., F.S.A. (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. Achaeologia, vol. 44, p. 17-62.
Fergusson, James, 1847, An essay on the ancient topography of Jerusalem. Weale and Holborn, London, 188 p.
Map published by Thomas Lewin (1873) delineating the features of the Temple Mount in 70 CE