Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2011, Pages 16, 64
By George Wesley Buchanan
While it has not been widely published, it assuredly has been known for more than 40 years that the 45-acre, well-fortified place that has been mistakenly called the “Temple Mount” was really the Roman fortress—the Antonia—that Herod built. The Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque are contained within these walls. The area is called the Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic.
The discovery that this area had once been the great Roman fortress came as a shock to the scholarly community, which had believed for many years that this ancient fortress was the place where the temple had been. This news was preceded by another shock, when the English archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon discovered in 1962 that the entire City of David in the past had been only that little rock ridge on the western bank of the Kidron Valley. Less than 10 years later the historian Benjamin Mazar learned that the Haram had undoubtedly been the Roman fortress.
In biblical times the Haram was not a sacred place. Instead it was the place that Orthodox Jews considered defiled and the most despised place in the world. Within these walls were found no remnants of any of the earlier temples but rather an image of Mars, the Roman god of war. The 1st century Jewish Roman historian Titus Flavius Josephus said the Romans always kept a whole legion of soldiers (5,000-6,000) there, and that there were stones in its walls that were 30 feet long, 15 feet thick, and 71/2 feet high. While excavating the area, Mazar found these very stones there in the Haram—not in the temple.
He and the local Muslims also discovered there three inscriptions, honoring the Roman leaders in the war of A.D. 66-72—Vespasian, Titus, and Silva—and Hadrian in the war of A.D. 132-135, for their success in defeating the Jews in the wars. Appropriate inscriptions for a Roman fortress, but impossible for a temple that had been destroyed in A.D. 70—65 years before the inscriptions had been made. Mazar shared these insights freely with other participants in the excavation, such as Herbert Armstrong and Ernest Martin.
Mazar also knew at once that the temple instead was stationed 600 feet farther south and 200 feet lower in altitude, on Mount Ophel, where the Spring of Siloam poured tons of water under the threshold of the temple every minute (Ezek 47:1), after which the water was distributed wherever it was needed. This marvelous little City of David was unique in having running water 3,000 years ago. Aristeas, Tacitus and 1 Enoch tell of the inexhaustible spring water system that was indescribably well developed, gushing tons of water into the temple area for sacrifices. Hezekiah’s tunnel directed water under Mount Ophel to the Pool of Siloam.
Herod’s fortress, on the other hand, was unequipped for sacrifices, because it had only 37 cisterns to provide water in the Haram.
After two violent wars with Rome, the City of David was so completely destroyed that it could not be recognized as a city. The Roman emperor Hadrian decreed that it would be used as an area where the Upper City could dump trash and garbage. It continued in that condition for hundreds of years. The Upper City developed, and people forgot what a marvelous little city this had once been. They simply guessed where strategic locations in the City of David must have been in the Upper City. Of course, this was a normal mistake.
Now, 50 years after Kenyon’s discovery, scholars like Leen Ritmeyer, Eilat Mazar and Hershel Shanks have recently written books as if no one knew that the Haram was the Roman Fortress and that Solomon’s, Zechariah’s and Herod’s temples all were located near the Spring of Siloam. Tourists are still mistakenly told that the Haram is the Temple Mount, that David’s citadel is near the Jaffa Gate, and that Mount Zion and the place where the Last Supper was held are all in the Upper City.
Israel’s antiquities authority has been digging a tunnel from under homes in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan to the Western Wall Plaza. According to a recent “60 Minutes” interview, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat wants to create King’s Garden, a Bible-themed tourist park “adjacent to the City of David,” which requires demolishing 22 Arab homes in Silwan. The purpose of archeology is to provide archeological insights, of course, but excavations between the City of David and the old Roman fortress (the Haram) also have an anti-Arab political agenda.
It is not likely that a fourth temple will ever be constructed, either in the City of David or in the Haram. Israel already has diverted the water formerly used for sacrifices away from the former temple area and is making the City of David into a park. Orthodox Jews would oppose having a temple in Herod’s hated fortress. Jews had no interest in the Haram until after the Crusades, when they misunderstood that it was the Temple Mount. If the temple were ever built, it would have to be placed somewhere in the Upper City or a suburb of Jerusalem—not in its former site or in the old Roman Fortress.
Because innocent Evangelical Christians in America, under the guidance of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, have not been informed of these facts, they have thought there was some biblical or religious reason why it was necessary to destroy Islam’s third most sacred building in the world, together with the al-Aqsa mosque. It is my hope that, once Christians learn of this mistake, they will stop following Mars and Phineas (Num 25; Ps 106:30-31) and work as zealously for peace, following the teachings of Abraham, the 8th century prophets (Mica 6:8), Jesus, and Paul, as they once worked to promote war in the Middle East. This would make a tremendous difference to Jerusalem—and to the world.
George Wesley Buchanan has been a United Methodist minister since 1944 and a professor at a theological seminary since 1960, emeritus since he retired in 1991.