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The Temple Mount Qanatir: What is the Origin of these Dramatic Archways?

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

The Golden Dome of the Rock is a visual feature on the Temple Mount known worldwide. But those who visit the Temple Mount find there is another feature there almost as striking and rather unusual—open archways. The golden-domed Muslim shrine near the center of the Mount sits on a large platform about six football fields in size raised ten feet higher than the rest of the courtyard. In order to ascend to the raised platform, one must climb one of eight sets of stairs and pass through a set of arched columns. These are known in Arabic as the Qanatir, or scales. See below.

Islamic legend has it that at judgment day, scales will be hung from these arches to weigh the souls of humankind to see who is worthy to enter heaven. But what is the origin of these unusual features? Unlike most columns, they hold up no ceiling, nor are they the entrance to a building. Most date the architecture to the Mamluk Islamic period (1260-1517). But what made these Egyptian rulers decide to create these arched gateways? Did they invent them? Or were some version of them present before then that they repaired or improved upon? What do we know about the Temple Mount before the Islamic period? During the earlier Byzantine era for example? Or very early pagan Roman Era? In the 19th century a Josephus scholar and prominent British barrister, Thomas Lewin, wrote a scholarly paper on the origin of the Dome of the Rock and its platform. It was then known as the Mosque of Omar. And he presents a convincing case for the origin of the arches.

Here is a summary of his lines of evidence, starting with a background for the entire raised platform and Dome of the Rock. In 131 AD the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited the region and declared that a temple in honor of Jupiter be built upon the Mount in Jerusalem. This enraged the Jews, leading to the Second Great Revolt under Simon Bar Kochba, but that only lasted a few years. After the rebellion was suppressed, the Emperor raised two statues on the Mount, one of Hadrian on a horse at the very spot of the former Jewish Temple, and one to Jupiter in its temple. Lewin has shown elsewhere Herod’s Temple was not where the Dome of the Rock is today, and temples to Jupiter, according to Romans, were always at the highest point. Charles Warren’s new maps had just become available to Lewin, and they showed that the bedrock surface beneath the Mount had its highest spot beneath today’s elevated platform. The Sakhra rock beneath the Dome is an outcrop at the very pinnacle of that surface. According to eyewitness writers at the time, this “temple” to Jupiter seems not to have been an enclosed building but an open temple on a raised four-sided area accessed by twelve sets of steps and “gates”. Today we can still see and visit this platform, but it only accessible by eight sets of stairs—the remaining four must have been removed at some point in the past. So although the arches were likely built or refurbished during the Mamluk Islamic Period, their origin reflects back to the Roman open temple to Jupiter in the second century AD. You can read more on Thomas Lewin’s theory in his original manuscript from 1866, which we have posted here.

Cry For Jerusalem is a series of historical fiction books covering the seven years leading up to the burning of Herod’s Temple and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Author Ward Sanford gives this period of history new depth in Cry For Jerusalem and showcasing the works of eyewitness historian Flavius Josephus in a new way with this fictional yet fact-based dramatization.

In the CFJ blog section Ward covers subjects to do with the vast amount of research that went into the CFJ novel series, including Ancient Jerusalem, the Roman Empire, and Biblical topics and the writings of Josephus.

To learn more about the series and purchase click here or more about the history behind the series click here.

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