Mount Moriah or the City of David?
Locating the true site of the Jewish Temple…and why some people got it wrong
For years scholars have argued about the precise location of the first and second Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, almost all archaeologists agree they were situated at or near the Muslim Dome of the Rock. Recently, however, a popular book claims the Temples never stood on the Temple Mount at all.
In Temple: Amazing New Discoveries that Change Everything About the Location of Solomon’s Temple, Robert Cornuke makes the startling claim that they were built in the City of David, over the Gihon Spring. Cornuke’s sensational conclusion is that accepting this location resolves the political and religious impasse between Jews and Muslims over the controversial site and allows for biblical prophecies related to rebuilding the Temple to be fulfilled today.
The Temple location is important, and Cornuke’s popular book, written to a general audience, is confusing many Christians.
A former police detective, Cornuke based his book on a more academic one by the late Ernest Martin, who originated the theory almost 20 years ago. At that time, many people criticized it, as did I in my book The Temple and Bible Prophecy: A Definitive Look at Its Past, Present, and Future (1999).1 Now Martin’s theory is coming to the fore again, even though it cannot be sustained for three main reasons:
1. GOD established the location for the first Temple, and that location has never been forgotten or confused throughout Jewish history.2 Medieval Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides, in his massive commentary, Mishneh Torah, contended that once the Temple site was fixed in the days of Samuel and King David, it could not be changed (Beth Ha’behira 1:3–4). The Bible supports this view in its description of the official rebuilding of the structure after the Babylonian exile:
And he [Persian King Cyrus] said to him [Sheshbazzar], “Take these articles; go, carry them to the temple site that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its former site.” Then the same Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 5:15–16).
Therefore, the second Temple was built on the restored ruins of King Solomon’s first Temple (9:9). Herod the Great’s renovation to the second Temple was completed on this same foundation (Josephus Antiquities 15.388–89, 391).
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Even before Herod, there was a monumental extension of the eastern enclosure wall. It has enabled scholars to identify the original Temple Mount platform, which was designed to level off the natural topography of Mount Moriah and support the first Temple. Based on these remains and others visible in and around the Temple platform, it has been possible to deduce the original 500 x 500 cubit (861 x 861 feet) square Temple Mount upon which the first and second Temples were built. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus confirmed this equilateral square shape and asserted the Temple was built on top of a hill (Antiquities 15. 398–400). This is a significant point because, whatever location one argues for the Temple, it must be able to accommodate a platform this size.
In Mark 13:2 (cf. Mt. 24:2; Lk. 19:44), we read that Jesus predicted the Temple “buildings” would be leveled to the ground. His prophecy did not include the Temple’s foundation stones, retaining walls, or platform, which technically are not buildings and therefore not the structures to which Jesus referred. The Jewish people deeply reverenced this site. Not only did they pray toward it three times a day, but they also saw it as the symbol of hope for Israel’s redemption and restoration in the Messianic age (cf. Dan. 9:17). In fact, the restoration text of Isaiah 66:14 is carved into the Temple Mount’s southwestern retaining wall.
According to archaeologist Meir Ben- Dov, who served as co-director of the excavations in this area, the inscription most likely reflects the excited hope of a third-century Jew who returned to Jerusalem when Roman Emperor Julian offered the Jewish people an opportunity to rebuild their Temple.3 It is clear by where he recorded this act of devotion and expectation that he did not believe the Temple was in the City of David. This unbroken testimony continues through the Jewish pilgrim accounts and letters between Jewish people in the Diaspora and those who remained in the occupied land of Israel.
After the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70, it is said that pilgrims visited a barren protrusion of stone (called the Pierced Stone) for centuries thereafter, identified as the location of the former Holy of Holies. For this reason, after the Muslims conquered the land in AD 638, the Islamic Caliph Abd al-Malik erected the Dome of the Rock over the spot (AD 691). Evidence comes from the Armenian historian Sebeos (AD 660):
I will relate a little more about the intentions of the rebellious Jews, who having earlier received help from the leaders of the children of Hagar, conceived a plan to rebuild the Temple of Solomon. Having discovered the place, which is called the Holy of Holies, they then built on its foundations, a place of prayer for themselves. However, the Ishmaelites, jealous of them, drove them from this place and called it their house of prayer.4
History, then, attests to today’s Temple Mount as the location of the former Temples.
2. THE ORIGINAL 861’ x 861’ square Temple Mount does not fit physically in David’s City, as Cornuke’s theory proposes. By laying the dimensions over the 1864–65 “Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem” (a topographical map of Jerusalem prepared by British Captain Charles Wilson, below), you can see the problem: The Temple Mount square fits on the present elevated platform but not down in the City of David.
In fact, when forced into the City of David, it covers the remains of the Iron Age houses in the residential area on the eastern slopes of the city, which were built after the time of the First Temple, including burial tombs used throughout the Israelite period on the adjacent slopes within the present-day village of Silwan. Had the Temple Mount been in the City of David, it also would have dammed up the Kidron Valley and created a lake to the north of the theoretical Temple complex.5
Further, Josephus recorded that extensions were added to this square Temple Mount by the Hasmoneans, Herod the Great, and Agrippa II—a feature present on the hill above David’s City but not possible down in the ancient city itself.
The Bible also states Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah, which was also the site of the threshing floor of Araunah (Ornan) the Jebusite (2 Chr. 3:1). Threshing floors are always outside cities and usually elevated to harness the wind power.
Only the northern site outside and above the City of David fits this description.
This fact is likewise understood in 2 Chronicles 5:2–7, which talks about bringing the Ark of the Covenant “up from the City of David” (v. 2) to install it in the first Temple. It was “brought up” by the Levitical priests (v. 5) “to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the temple” (v. 7). The clear direction was outward and upward.
3. ARCHAEOLOGICAL discoveries make an indisputable case for the Temples having been built on the current Temple Mount. One of the important finds uncovered in the massive excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount shortly after Israelis returned to the area in 1967 was a monumental stone balustrade containing the Hebrew inscription, “to the place of trumpeting.” This clearly was one of the first stones the Romans toppled from the Temple Mount to the street below because it was found directly on the first-century AD pavement at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount—the very place Josephus mentioned in his description of the Temple:
…at another corner opposite the lower town [at the southwest angle of the Temple]. The last was erected above the roof of the priests’ chamber, at the point where it was the custom for one of the priests to stand and give notice, by sound of trumpet, in the afternoon of the approach, and on the following evening of the close, of every seventh day, announcing to the people the respective hours for ceasing work and for resuming their labors (Wars 4.581–583).
Here we have a direct connection between an archaeological discovery and an ancient literary source that describes the activity of Temple priests.
Another stone with a complete Greek inscription was discovered in 1871 by Clermont-Ganneau near the St. Stephen’s Gate north of northeastern corner of the Temple Mount. Because it was found when the Ottoman Empire ruled the land, it was taken to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in Turkey, where it is on display today. The inscription warned Gentiles against entering the sacred precincts upon pain of death. It helps us understand the Jewish men’s outcry when they thought Paul had taken Trophimus, a non-Jew, into the Temple (Acts 21:23–32).
To this example could be added myriad more from Temple Mount excavations, including a limestone sundial the Temple priests used to time the ongoing cycle of services and a recently discovered royal seal bearing the name of the eighth-century BC Judean King Hezekiah.
Furthermore, for the past 10 years the Temple Mount Sifting Project has been recovering artifacts reclaimed from debris that Muslims dumped into the Kidron Valley while building a new mosque at the southern end of the platform in an area known as Solomon’s Stables. Among the debris were special, colored stones the Talmud describes as part of the flooring in the Temple’s Court of the Women (where Jesus regularly taught). While installing electrical cable on the Temple Mount near the Dome of the Rock, Islamic authorities unintentionally uncovered part of a wall surrounded by pottery from the eighth century BC. Archaeologists who studied photos of the wall and examined the pottery concluded that the wall formed part of the House of Oil within the first Temple.6
Clearly, the archaeological evidence supports the Temple Mount, not the City of David, as the site of the Jewish Temples.
- Randall Price, The Temple and Bible Prophecy: A Definitive Look at Its Past, Present, and Future (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1999/2005), 357–358. See also Jeffrey J. Harrison (2004), “The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot” <totheends.com/martin.htm>. Leen Ritmeyer, “Where the Temple Didn’t Stand,” World of the Bible News & Views 3:4 (2001): 1–3.
- See Katharina Galor and Hanswulf Bloedhorn, The Archaeology of Jerusalem: From the Origins to the Ottomans (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 36–37.
- Meir Ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple: The Discovery of Ancient Jerusalem (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 219.
- The Armenian History attributed to Sebeos, trans. R. W. Thomson, historical commentary, J. Howard-Johnston, with T. Greenwood (Translated Texts for Historians), 2 vols. (Liverpool: 1999).
- Gordon Franz, “Cornuke’s Temple Book: ‘The Greatest Archaeological Blunder Of All Time’” <lifeandland.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Review-of-Cornuke-Temple-12-Twelve.pdf>, 12.
- For additional information see Leen Ritmeyer’s account and interpretation, along with photographs at his website: www.ritmeyer.com.