Did the Jews Forget Where the Temple was Sited?
Updated: May 11
Visitors going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as they have for nearly 2,000 years
If you google on “Temple Mount” today or search on YouTube you will almost certainly come across those who are pushing the latest fad theory that Herod’s and Solomon’s Temples were not located on the Temple Mount, but in the City of David not far to the south. They will make convincing sounding arguments. I first became interested in exploring the writings of Josephus to check up on what these people were saying. Their theory started with a book published by Ernest L. Martin in 2000 entitled “The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot”. To the uninitiated, of which I was one, the theory has some attractive arguments. I was drawn in and considered the theory viable given all the “so-called” evidence. Martin is no longer with us, but his cause has been picked up by his proteges at the ASKELM group, by other researchers such as Marilyn Sams, and by video producer and popularizer Bob Cornuke. They also promote the idea that a Third Temple could be built without touching the Dome of the Rock. Today’s social media outlets are prime soil for these types of theories to grow and prosper in, as viewers don’t have the time and resources to explore counter arguments. Therefore, I found it important to help level the playing field here by listing those counter arguments.
The new theory purveyors argue that over the centuries the Jews forgot where the Temple was when the Moslem’s invaded and built their shrines on assumably the holiest sites. They argue that the Temple needed “living water” from the Gihon Spring, and that there was no such water up on today’s Temple Mount—only cisterns. They argue that the Temple Mount’s retaining walls are in fact the remains of Fortress Antonia’s retaining walls. This is because the size perfectly fits the needs of a Roman legion, and better fits the description of Josephus than the small fortress seen on most illustrations today. Finally, they will argue from scripture that the Temple site would have every single stone removed, including from retaining walls, and then be ploughed like a field—never to be built on again for any other reason. But it seems to be human nature for those who try to sell theories to spend all their energy looking for evidence that will support their theory, while continuing to dismiss or explain away evidence against it. They have a financially vested interest for the theory to continue to attract attention, so they can’t abandon it. As a scientist I could not accept this approach. I am an impartial jurist who must listen carefully to both sides of an argument. I decided to explore evidence against their theory. And I found so much evidence against it, I consider their theory to be convincingly debunked.
First, there are aspects of their theory that are mere assertions and so prove nothing. I would say the “every stone will be overturned” prophecy by Jesus to be one of these. They assert that every stone must include the retaining walls of the entire Temple Mount. But Jesus was discussing the beautiful Temple buildings. Nothing in his prophecy requires anything but the Temple buildings themselves to be totally destroyed, something which everyone agrees happened. Another assertion is the need for Gihon Spring water to be present at the Temple. From the Talmud it is clear many priests still used the Gihon Spring for purification, but a work around had been found that kept water moving through the cisterns and from standing overnight (see my blog on water). Also, most water was needed for washing away blood from sacrifices, which did not need to be "living". They will also claim from many passages in scripture that the Temple was located in Zion, a name they will ascribe only to the city of David. But it is clear from Josephus that the title Zion quickly applied to ever expanding areas over the centuries, eventually being synonymous with all of Jerusalem.
Second, there are aspects of their theory that do seem to explain some circumstance better than the full-36-acre Temple Mount theory most popular today. Josephus does describe Fortress Antonia as large enough to have markets and every convenience known to man and to have housed at least hundreds of Roman troops. They also point out Josephus’s description of 600-ft long connecting rampart/colonnades between the Temple Sanctuary and the Fortress. The full-36-acre theory has the Fortress abutting the Mount on a supposed rock outcrop that does not exist today, and may neve have. But these arguments for the City of David location do not prohibit a Temple Mount siting, if one considers the analysis of Josephus I have written of in the last dozen or more blogs. There is ample room on the Mount for both a larger Fortress Antonia and the 600-ft-long colonnades connecting it to the Sanctuary.
Finally, there are some close-to-smoking gun arguments that the new theorists will not even mention. It is clear from Josephus and the carefully documented history of the Roman military that no legions were ever stationed in Jerusalem before 70 CE. Thus, there was no need for Herod to build up the Fortress to house more than the garrison of troops left to guard the city. A garrison is a unit usually of some few hundred left in a city for defensive purposes. Legions, on the other hand, were offensive units of highly trained thousands that went on major war campaigns against national armies. In there had been a legion in Jerusalem, the untrained rebel group would never have been able to take the Fortress so easily in 66 CE.
Another convincing piece of evidence is a large chunk of corner stone found at the base of the SW corner of the Temple Mount. Its carved inscription that describes the “place of trumpeting” is in Hebrew! This Temple trumpeting place is known from Josephus and the Talmud. No Roman fortress would have a Hebrew inscription in its walls describing a place in a Jewish Temple two city blocks away. Finally, a lot of archaeological excavation has been done in the City of David in the last 20 years. Even if the Temple had been there and completely been demolished, it would have left a mark. But to the contrary, the area of the proposed Temple Sanctuary there is completed covered by 6th-10th century BCE walls and buildings. You can’t have two different things in the same place at the same time. There is no evidence of where temple wall foundations might have been—nothing. Other older ruins are there instead. A huge Herodian sanctuary would have left a substantial mark. There definitely is no mark.
So, did the Jews forget where their Temple was? Did the Moslem shrine over the sacred rock outcrop confuse them to start worshipping instead at the base of a Roman Fortress? Although Jews were banned for centuries from going up on the Temple Mount itself, they were allowed in every year on the anniversary day of its destruction to wail at the place closest to where their Temple stood. Every generation remembered by going there. They still visit today (see photo) where one can see trees up on the Mount marking the location of Herod’s Temple. I do believe the Islamic enshrinement of the “sacred” rock got some rabbis in the Middle Ages confused about where on the Mount the Temple was sited (see last week’s blog). But Josephus did not forget--nor did the common Jew visiting the site every year through every century. God forbid, for:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! Psalm 137: 5-6