Was Herod's Temple in the City of David?
Updated: Oct 12
There is a popular theory circulating these days that Herod’s Temple was not located on the Temple Mount but in the City of David. Here I present some straightforward evidence that should convince you this was not the case. I am not the first to refute this theory, but I have friends who ask me about this, and so I thought it was worth the time to explain how I came to dismiss this theory.
A few years ago I googled on “Herod’s Temple”, as I am sure many people have, and then clicked on an interesting figure that showed a reconstruction of the temple south of the Temple Mount in the City of David. Reading a bit, I discovered there was a book by Earnest Martin called “The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot”. In his book he goes into detail about a theory that both Solomon's and Herod’s Temple were not where most people claim it to be—on the Temple Mount—but rather, in the City of David just to the south. If this is the only book on the subject you read, you may, like I did, find the arguments convincing. This was despite the fact the author repeats himself over and over and demeans those who might disagree. The theory is still supported today at the ASKELM website, and by other recent authors who have joined in on supporting the theory. I have spent 35 years conducting scientific investigations, and scientists must always consider ALL evidence, even those that might contradict one’s hypothesis. So, I decided to investigate further.
In the end I found much evidence that in my mind disproves the City of David theory. Here are the main points:
(1) The City of David continues to be excavated to the extent that proves Herod’s Temple could not have been there. Martin argued that “no stone was left upon another” and therefore no stone would be found still in place. The problem is that other pre-Herod buildings have been uncovered in nearly all locations in the City of David. If Herod’s Temple had been there, the builders would have had to destroy the buildings that existed at the time—but those foundations are still intact today.
(2) The Temple Mount was not Fortress Antonia. Martin argues (1) the size is very similar to other Roman legion fortresses and that (2) the smaller version proposed by most other scholars is too small. These two points might be true, but do not prove the Temple Mount was Fortress Antonia. Other evidence suggests otherwise. First, a large stone that fell from the top of the outer wall was discovered adjacent to the Mount with an inscription in Hebrew (not Latin) locating the place where temple priests blew their trumpets. It’s hard to imagine Romans inscribing Hebrew in their fortress wall. Second, Josephus describes the bottom of the walls of the Fortress as having glacis supports:
Josephus' War of the Jews 5.8:238-240: “Now as to the tower of Antonia . . . In the first place, the rock itself was covered over with smooth pieces of stone, from its foundation, both for ornament, and that anyone who would either try to get up or to go down it might not be able to hold his feet upon it. Next to this, and before you come to the edifice of the tower itself, there was a wall three cubits high”
In the photo below you can see to what Josephus was describing. This one is on one of Herod’s Towers built at exactly the same time as Fortress Antonia. The bare irregular rock outcrop was covered in this way for better defense. It could not easily be climbed, and siege rams would be deflected. And a small wall, as described by Josephus, is present at the top of the glacis, with a small walkway for defenders to use. No such glacis exists anywhere around the Temple Mount, whose walls have been excavated in many places down to their base.
(3) Martin argues the Fortress had to be large because a Roman Legion was stationed there. But there was no legion stationed there before 70 AD. This becomes very clear if you read Josephus’ Jewish Wars. He says that a garrison was stationed there—not several thousand well-trained soldiers, but a few hundred guards. The Roman legions were used for open warfare against armies, not to keep the peace in cities already conquered. Records of the legion’s movements were well recorded in history. None were stationed in Jerusalem before 70 AD. The rebels routed the garrison at the Fortress when they took over the city in 66 AD. They never could have overpowered a legion within a Roman fortress. In fact, later that year the Romans sent a legion to try to retake the entire city. The absence of a legion at Jerusalem before 70 AD is a huge hole in Martin’s argument.
(4) Martin claims that “living” water was only available from the Gihon Spring in David’s City and that no such water was available on the Temple Mount. Living water is water that has not sat still overnight--in cisterns for example. Spring water is thus a great source that qualifies for purification, and indeed the Gihon Spring was used for this. But the Talmud describes how the Temple services got around this. First the largest volumes of water used, for cleaning the floors of sacrificial blood, did not require living water, and so water could be used straight from the large cisterns beneath the mount. The Talmud describes a water wheel that was used to raise this water to the Temple. In addition, aqueduct water fed the Temple Mount and the cisterns continuously, such that continuous flow through smaller cisterns may well have qualified as living water. The Talmud describes a special sealed bucket that was designed for lifting this water up to the Temple each day for many of the purification rites.
Many other scholars and writers have discussed many of these lines of evidence, and others, that refute the claim that would place the Temple in the City of David. The ones I have listed above have been convincing enough for me.
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.