Jerusalem Center researcher Nadav Shragai responds to modern-day Muslim and Palestinian fabrications about the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem with the testimonies of esteemed Islamic religious authorities from more than 1,000 years ago. He presents archeological evidence such as a Jewish ritual bath found under the al-Aqsa mosque and Islamic coins with a Jewish menorah imprinted on them, and documents how the Jews of Jerusalem introduced the Muslim conquerors of the city to the Temple Mount and accompanied them on their visit there. This is a chapter from his latest book in Hebrew, Al-Aqsa Terror: From Blood Libel to Bloodshed (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2020).
The Palestinian Lie about Jerusalem Has Legs
“A lie,” according to the well-known saying, “has no legs,” but that does not mean lies do not need them.
The “Al-Aqsa is in danger” libel rests on a huge false leg that, in the end, will collapse. The lie would not have survived so long without it. Today, the Palestinians and many Muslims charge that Israel “seeks to destroy al-Aqsa” and build the Temple in its stead on a site where no Temple ever stood; that the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount is al-miza’um, that is, “supposed,” “fraudulent,” “invented,” or “imaginary;” that the Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount or, for that matter, to the Western Wall.
This is a libel on top of a libel, a double lie. The many Muslims who are convinced that al-Aqsa is in danger are now also convinced that “their” al-Aqsa stands on a place where “our” Temple never stood – the latter being nothing but a fabrication.
Some of the legitimacy that terrorism draws from the libel rests on that added lie. It is more legitimate to libel and murder Jews, so as “to protect the captive al-Aqsa and free it from the Jews who are plotting to destroy it,” if Israel and the Jews who “conspire to attack the site,” have only a false and concocted connection to it. Thus, the lie that undergirds the libel also bolsters the legitimacy to murder in its name. From the standpoint of the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” terrorists and their supporters, they do not murder only those who seek to wrest the Mount from their hands. As they see it, they are also murdering the falsifiers of history, who have no link to the site at all. They also want the Mount to be “liberated” psychologically so that their historical and religious narrative will prevail. This chapter (the appendix of the book) aims to refute this lie as well and to prove that it is nothing but a broken prop.
To grasp the magnitude of the lie, one must go far back on the path the Muslims themselves trod over the past 1,350 years, the path from which they have strayed only in recent times. Despite the misrepresentations and the sweeping denial that many Muslims now adopt regarding the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and to the Temple that stood there, they themselves were the ones who, up until the Six-Day War, identified the Mount – unequivocally – as the site of Solomon’s Temple and as the place where David said his Psalms. Furthermore, Solomon and David, as important prophets in Islam, are seen as the ones who laid the foundations on the Temple Mount for the building of the mosques there. Nevertheless, today, Muslim clerics and leaders remove the Jewish Temple from the Mount and “transfer” it to places like Mount Zion, Nablus, and even Yemen.
Moreover, many of the names and terms the Muslims have used over the years for the Temple Mount, particularly “Beit al-Maqdis,” which is a translation of the Hebrew name Beit haMikdash, derive from the Jewish designation for the site, where the two Muslim shrines were built around 1,350 years ago. Today, Muslims commonly use the name Beit al-Maqdis for Jerusalem, but in the ancient past, they used the name for the Temple Mount itself. The Jewish people and the State of Israel do not, of course, need the Muslim sources – which, for more than 1,350 years, have identified the Temple Mount as the site of the Temple – to prove their connection to the place. Given, however, the dispute on this issue and the resolutions hostile to Israel in the international arena, which espouse the new Muslim narrative, it is worth presenting the primary Muslim documentation and sources for the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Temple. Today, many Muslims erase this reliable documentation from memory. From such forgetfulness, the path is short to denial, and this gives rise to a lie. On this lie now rests the libel from which the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” terror derives its inspiration and legitimacy to murder Jews.
The Writings of Al-Tabari
Let us first turn to the Muslim sages and exegetes of Islamic law over the centuries who refute this long list of lies:
- Israel is plotting “to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and build the fictitious Temple under it,”
- the Western Wall was never used for Jewish prayer before 1917;
- As per the Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper, Tisha B’Av, the national day of mourning of the Jewish people, is “the anniversary of what is called ‘the destruction of the Temple;’”
- A 1,100 year old gold medallion with quintessential Jewish symbols such as a menorah, a shofar, and a Torah scroll, which was found only 50 meters from the Temple Mount in an organized archaeological dig, is a “forgery.”
Although today’s Muslims rely on their sages’ writings regarding many issues, when it comes to the history of the Temple Mount, they seem to have been erased.
Foremost among these figures is the Persian historian Abu Jafar Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari (838-923), who was one of the first, leading, and best-known commentators of the Koran and the Islamic tradition. One of his ancient manuscripts, which carries a seal of al-Azhar – the world’s most important educational institution for Sunni Islam – was photographed and smuggled out of Cairo a few years ago by Noa Hasid, who is Muslim by origin, and brought to the Beirut-born Middle East scholar Dr. Edy Cohen of Bar-Ilan University. Cohen published the work in 2016. The text in itself offered nothing new; it had already appeared as part of a commentary on the Koran by al-Tabari, which was published in several editions. Nevertheless, as an original manuscript that was photographed and smuggled out of al-Azhar, it sparked great interest. Al-Tabari writes there, among other things, that “Beit al-Maqdis [the Temple Mount] was built by Solomon, son of David, and was made of gold, pearls, rubies, and of the precious stone peridot, paved with silver and gold, and its columns were of gold.”
This documentation, from an Islamic figure of al-Tabari’s renown, undercuts the “revision” of the Temple Mount’s history by many Muslims in recent years. It stands against claims that invert the truth, according to which “the legend of the bogus Temple is the greatest crime of historical forgery,” and against entire books that have been written in that vein.
In his book History of the Prophets and Kings, al-Tabari refers several more times to the Temple Mount as the site of the Temple, and also identified Isaac, not Ishmael, as the hero of the “Binding of Isaac” story. The famous commentator described David’s and Solomon’s involvement in building a mosque on the Temple Mount in a way that corresponds exactly, in not a few details, to the Bible’s description of the process of building the Temple. This description is typical of other, similar descriptions in Islam that point to a strong, ongoing connection to Jewish traditions.
David wanted to begin building the mosque and Allah disclosed to him: It is indeed a sacred structure. You defiled your hands with blood and will not build. But you will have a son whom I will coronate after you and his name will be Solomon. Him I will cleanse of the blood. When King Solomon built the mosque and sanctified it, David was a hundred years old, when he heard of the Prophet Muhammad…. The period of his kingship was forty years.
For al-Tabari, Solomon (Suleiman ibn Daud [David]) is the main prophet responsible for the construction on the Mount, where the Muslims built their mosques.
The Muslim geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, who visited Jerusalem in the 12th century, likewise described “the Temple Mount that Solomon ben David built.” He added that “in the vicinity of the eastern gate of the gates to the Dome of the Rock is the shrine that was called the Holy of Holies, and it is impressive to look upon.” He further attested that the Temple Mount “served as a place of pilgrimage in the era of the Jews and afterward was taken from them, and they were removed from it until the era of the reign of Islam.”
Yakut ibn Abdullah al-Rumi al-Hamawi (1179-1229), a Muslim biographer and geographer, in his book Lexicon geographicum used the term “the Temple,” and in describing its location, he wrote: “Indeed it is Jerusalem [Beit al-Maqdis] and his words to the Israelites were: we have set a meeting with you at the right side of the Mount of Olives, that is – Jerusalem [Beit al-Maqdis].” Later, in an explicit reference to the Temple, he added: “Solomon placed in the Temple [Beit al-Maqdis] wondrous things including the vault from which the heavy chain depends…. And as for al-Aqsa, indeed, it is on the eastern side, in the direction of the qibla, and it was David, peace be upon him, who founded it.”
Al-Tabari, al-Idrisi, and Yakut are not alone. Taki ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), a theologian and commentator from the Salafi school of Sunni Islam, likewise described the vicinity of the al-Aqsa Mosque as having been built by Solomon. Ibn Taymiyyah went back to the time when Omar conquered Jerusalem, and commingled al-Aqsa and the Temple:
The al-Aqsa Mosque is the name of all of the mosque built by Solomon, peace be upon him. Some of the people began to call it by the name al-Aqsa, the place of prayer for which Omar ibn al-Khattab, peace be upon him, built the facade. The prayer at this place that Omar built for the Muslims is incomparably better than in the other parts of the mosque. When Omar opened the Temple, there were huge quantities of garbage on the Rock because the Christians wanted to ransack the place of prayer where the Jews prayed. Omar, peace be upon him, ordered that the trash be removed from there.
One who elaborated even more is the renowned 14th-century historian Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun in his famous book, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (one of the first written by a historian who tried to use scientific criteria and the first of its kind that deals with the social sciences). Ibn Khaldun described the building of the Tabernacle during the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert, the “building of a Tent of Congregation [the Tabernacle] on a wheel” after the Israelites’ conquest of the Land of Israel, and its conveyance to Shiloh and continued migrations. On the subject of the Temple, Ibn Khaldun wrote:
Solomon built the Temple in the fourth year of his reign, five hundred years after the death of Moses…. The doors and walls of the Temple he overlaid with gold…. On the back of the building he made an alcove for the Ark of the Covenant…. Thus, the Temple stood for as long as God wanted it to. Eight hundred years after it was built Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it…. After that, when the kings of the Persians restored the Israelites to their land, the Temple was again built by Ezra…. Subsequently, one after the other, they [the Jews] were governed by the kings of Greece, the Persians, and the Romans…. Herod built the Temple according to the measurements of the Temple of Solomon…. Helena destroyed the remnants of the Temple that she found and ordered that garbage be thrown on the Rock, until it was covered and its location was no longer known – in retaliation for what was done – according to what was believed – to the grave of the Messiah…. Thus the situation remained until the appearance of Islam and the conquest of the Land of Israel by the Arabs…. Caliph Omar came himself to accept the surrender of Jerusalem and asked about the Rock. They showed him its location…. Omar uncovered the Rock and built a mosque on it…. Eventually Caliph al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik beautified the mosque building.
Another respected Muslim source, which indicates an entirely different Muslim attitude toward the Mount’s Jewish history than the one taken today, is the book by Mujir al-Din al-Ulaymi al-Hanbali, The History of Jerusalem and Hebron. Mujir al-Din (1456-1521) was a historian, geographer, and a judge in the Mamluk administration. He was born in Ramallah but lived his whole life in Jerusalem, toured the Land of Israel, and wrote travel books about Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, and the Shfela (in today’s south-central Israel). In his book, Mujir al-Din identified the al-Aqsa Mosque with the location of the Temple, and in his descriptions, he referred several times to “the Temple Mosque.” He also referred to David and Solomon both as Muslim prophets and as descendants of the House of David monarchy. Mujir al-Din wrote that “David reigned 40 years and before his death bequeathed the kingdom to his son Solomon and ordered him to build the Temple [Beit al-Maqdis].” He added that “when Solomon finished building the Temple, he requested of Allah…wisdom that would befit his wisdom” and “requested of him kingship.”
The Location of Solomon’s Temple
And so, despite the widespread Muslim denial in our time, and along with numerous archaeological sources that we will survey, stands one basic fact: for hundreds of years, until 1967, the story of the Jewish Temple including details about it, and even information on the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, was a firmly established and undeniable motif in Muslim literature of all kinds. In his book Jerusalem to Mecca and Back: The Islamic Consolidation of Jerusalem, Prof. Yitzhak Reiter enumerated additional classical Arab sources that identify the place where the al-Aqsa Mosque stands with the place where Solomon’s Temple stood:
The 10th-century Jerusalemite geographer and historian al-Maqdisi and the Iranian 14th-century jurist al-Mustawfi identified the al-Aqsa Mosque with Solomon’s Temple. In a 13th-century poem by Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, the building of Solomon’s Mosque was defined as the building of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Rock within the compound was usually the Arab designation of Solomon’s Temple and the heart of the al-Aqsa compound. In addition, Abu Bakr al-Wasati, who was an al-Aqsa preacher at the beginning of the 11th century, offered in his book of praises for Jerusalem different traditions that present the Jewish past of the Temple.
The Palestinian archaeologist, Dr. Marwan Abu Khalaf of Al-Quds University, is scrupulous, unlike many Palestinian archaeologists, in quoting from the words of the Christian pilgrim Arculf. Arculf visited the Land of Israel in 670, after the Arab conquest, and spent nine months in Jerusalem. He related that “on the site where the Temple once stood,” the Muslims built a mosque. Reiter referred in his study to an official historical document of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference), which stated that “the Rock is the place on which Abraham bound his son [according to the Islamic tradition, Ishmael], and the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens,” and that “this is the site on which Solomon and Herod built the First and the Second Temple.” Thus, the al-Aqsa Mosque – as written in an official document of the Muslim countries – is the place where the Temple of Solomon stood in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah, a site that was sacred to both Jews and Christians.
Another, contemporary figure acknowledges that the Rock on the site of al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary – a Muslim term for the Temple Mount) is the Foundation Stone mentioned in Jewish sources, and that holy Islam recognized the Rock as the Jews’ direction of prayer. Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, one of the heads of the Muslim community in Italy, also noted more than once that the Koran confirms the state of Israel’s right to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.
The current, thorough Muslim denial of any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount applies to its walls as well, and particularly to the Western Wall. “The Jews have no right to the Western Wall,” claim, for example, both Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti of Jerusalem, and the Al-Aqsa Association for Heritage and Waqf Preservation. They also assert that the “al-Buraq Wall [the Western Wall] is an exclusive Muslim waqf property.” Even Nasr Farid Wasil, former mufti of Egypt, contended that it is forbidden for Muslims to use the term Western Wall in lieu of its real name, the al-Buraq Wall. Al-Buraq was the animal on whose back, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad arrived from Mecca to Jerusalem.
The “Fabricated Shrine”
On the issue of the Western Wall, just as on the issue of the Temple Mount, contemporary Palestinians and Muslims consign to oblivion things that were written by learned Muslims – from their standpoint, experts – only in the past century. The most prominent among these is the Palestinian historian Aref al-Aref (1892-1973). A declared Palestinian nationalist, he directed the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum and, in the 1950s, served as mayor of Jordanian Jerusalem. Al-Aref included the Western Wall in the list of Jewish holy places in Jerusalem, and wrote, “It is the external wall of the Temple that was renovated by Herod…. And the Jews visit it often and particularly on Tisha B’Av, and when they visit it, they remember the glorious and unforgettable history and begin to cry.” Moreover, in his book History of Jerusalem, al-Aref states that “the location of al-Haram al-Sharif is on Mount Moriah that is mentioned in the book of Genesis, the place of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, which David purchased so as to build the Temple on it, and where Solomon built the Temple in 1007 BC.” He further added that “among the remnants of the Solomon era is the building that is under the al-Aqsa Mosque. The place was owned by the Jews for a certain period and afterward returned to the possession of the Muslims, who called it al-Haram al-Quds because it was holy to all the Muslims.
Even the Supreme Muslim Council, in the days of Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini (instigator of the 1929 Palestine riots and fierce opponent of Zionism), published a tourist guidebook that describes the Temple Mount as “one of the oldest [sites] in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps from pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute.” The guidebook adds that “this, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which [2 Samuel 24:25] ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.’”
Up to the year 2000, one could still find a few tourist guidebooks printed in Ramallah that acknowledged the true location of Solomon’s Temple as the Temple Mount. Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, former president of al-Quds University in east Jerusalem, former PLO representative in the city, and member of a well-respected Muslim family that has lived in Jerusalem since the seventh century is also one of the few Palestinians who have dared to come out against the phenomenon of Temple denial. In his book co-authored with Anthony David, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, Nusseibeh referred to Yasser Arafat’s assertion, after the failure of the Camp David Summit (September 2000), that Solomon’s Temple was built in Yemen. “When I heard this,” Nusseibeh wrote, “I was filled with fear lest the chairman was losing all ties with reality.” Nusseibeh thereby acknowledged that today’s Islamic thinkers are distorting the history of Jerusalem, and noted as well that also “tour guide books that were printed in Syria over 100 years ago called the area on which the Dome of the Rock stands the Jewish Temple. These things were written as something accepted.”
Another deviation from the current Muslim narrative was documented by the Middle East scholar Dr. Yaron Ovadia on the governmental website (in Hebrew) “The Heritage of Israel on the Temple Mount.” Ovadia recently pointed to a book that was published in Arabic in 2017, Writings of Solomon, which gives the story of King Solomon and the building of the Temple. It states, among other things, that Solomon engaged for seven years in building the Temple at the site of Araunah the Jebusite’s threshing floor, and that the Temple stood there until the Babylonians destroyed it in 586; “after that Zerubavel built it again with the approval of the Persian King Cyrus…. After that, the Maccabees renovated it, and after them, Herod renovated it in 26 BC.”
The Palestinians’ repudiation of the historical truth, which they too recognized in the past, occurred slightly before the Six-Day War, and for the most part after it. Already in 1966, the Supreme Muslim Council reprinted the Abbreviated Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif. Although this work quoted from the words of Aref al-Aref about the Western Wall, it omitted from them a prior reference by the Muslim historian to the Wall’s holiness for Jews and instead emphasized its holiness for Muslims. And whereas, in guidebooks it had published in the 1920s and 1930s, the Supreme Muslim Council had unequivocally identified the Temple Mount as the location of Solomon’s Temple, a guidebook it published in the 1990s, for example, stated: “The beauty and serenity of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem attracts thousands of visitors from all faiths annually. Some believe this was the location of the Temple of Solomon, blessing and peace be upon him, which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, or the site of the Second Temple, which was destroyed utterly by the Romans in 70 AD, though there are no historical documents or archaeological testaments that corroborate this.”
We see, then, from assertions made in the course of more than 1,350 years, that many Muslims have changed their outlook to “some believe,” and at present, the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount is called “the fabricated shrine,” with the word “shrine” referring to Solomon’s Temple and the word “fabricated” to its fraudulence.
Jewish Overlap with Muslims
Against the backdrop of the ancient and rich Muslim documentation of the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount stands Islam’s structural and hardly coincidental similarity to Judaism, which it directly drew upon in its early days. Muhammad was strongly influenced by Judaism and by the Jews, who were his neighbors in the Arabian Peninsula (Hejaz), particularly in the city of Medina. He tried without success to convert some of them to Islam, and in an attempt to convince the Jews of Medina to convert, he called upon his believers to pray in the direction of Jerusalem (the first qibla). Only after they refused did he order his believers to pray toward Mecca.
Already at its outset, Islam adopted basic Jewish traditions such as the prohibition on eating pork, a daily regimen of prayers, circumcision, fast days, building houses of prayer, as well as sacred exegetical literature, a kind of “oral Torah.” Prof. Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, a prominent scholar of Islamic culture, notes that many Jewish materials were assimilated in one way or another into the Koran (such as the stories of the Patriarchs, the story of Abraham and the idols, and the stories of Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon). The Koran devotes its 17th chapter, the Night Journey surah, to the Israelites. The chapter begins with Muhammad’s Night Journey from Mecca to the al-Aqsa Mosque, then immediately mentions the giving of the Torah to Moses and hints at the destruction of the two Temples.
Moreover, Islamic hadiths and writers asserted that it is possible to identify Koran verses that were taken from “the true Torah” and from Bible stories. For example, fabled descriptions of the conversion to Islam of the Jewish sage Kab al-Ahbar in 638 say that at least ten specific verses in the Koran were to be found in “the true Torah.” The thinker al-Ghazali (d. 1111) said so as well, and so did Ibn Qayyim al-Juziyah (d. 1350), who wrote: “Some [of these verses] are found in the Torah, and these they [the Jews] hold in their possession, and also in the prophecies of Isaiah and in the books of other prophets.”
Ignáz Goldziher (1850-1921), the great Jewish scholar of Islam, commented once in this context that the problem of the historical authenticity of the Islamic hadith literature of the Sunna (considerable parts of which are also identical or similar to Jewish texts that precede it) reminded him of a saying of the Jewish sages in the tractate Hagigah of the Mishnah: “Anything an experienced student can point out to his rabbi was already said to Moses on Sinai.” Lazarus-Yafeh remarks that this idea is “formulated in Islam in a paradoxical statement that is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad himself: ‘Every beautiful word – I said, whether I said it or I did not say it.’” On the basis of this statement, the authenticity of what is attributed to Muhammad and his teaching did not at all concern the ancient culture of Islam.
Nor were the many Islamic scholars who documented in their writings the Jewish connection and precedence on the Temple Mount disturbed by the fact that, when Islam came to the Mount, it received it “second-hand.” Surprising as it may seem, the leading Muslim religious scholars derived their ancient testimonies about the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, on which the Temple stood, from a simple historical and religious understanding: the initial motive for the Temple Mount’s sanctification in Islam and the building of the mosques there was the return to the holy site on which the Temple stood, in an attempt to replace, there and in general, the “invalidated religions” – Judaism and Christianity – with Islam, the “supreme religion.” Nowadays, one can marshal an orderly set of sources and evidence for this fact, backed by historians, up-to-date research, and experts on Islam.
The most convincing sources for the existence of the Temple and for the precedence of the Jews on the Mount – which even Muslim “scholars” who now rewrite the history will find difficult to contend with – deal with the stage at which the Dome of the Rock was built: the era of the fifth caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, Abd al-Malik. These sources indicate a kind of “overlap” between the Jews and the Muslims regarding the Mount, as the Jews sought to familiarize them with the compound as well as the Foundation Stone and its boundaries. This help that the Jews offered in getting to know the Mount occurred immediately after the Muslims wrested the site from the common enemy, the Byzantines.
Furthermore, studies by well-known scholars, including leading contemporary researchers of Islam, tell us that in the early days of the Dome of the Rock, there were many similarities between the religious ceremonies conducted there and those that were practiced in the Temple.
The archaeologist Prof. Dan Bahat discusses these processes in his forthcoming book The Temple Mount: Topography, Archaeology, and History, which includes a chapter on the history of the Temple Mount during the Islamic era. “The Jewish sources,” Bahat notes, “almost all of them from the Cairo Geniza,” indicate that “it was the Jewish elders who showed the Muslims the boundaries of the Foundation Stone,” which was covered with garbage and sewage – boundaries from which the Muslims derived the dimensions of the Dome of the Rock, which was built above the ancient Rock.
The Muslims, who knew about the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and to Jerusalem, respected the Jews during the first centuries of the existence of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount when carrying out maintenance work at the site – sweeping floors and carpets of the mosques, filling oil lamps, or cleaning the mikvahs there. There are not a few testimonies to this; one of them is by Mujir al-Din of the 15th century, whom the Muslims consider an authority on the ancient Islamic history of Jerusalem.
An additional, earlier testimony, apparently from the ninth century, is cited by Prof. Amikam Elad:
And it [the mosque?] had ten Jewish servants [religious functionaries] …. They multiplied and became twenty people…. They were employed in cleaning the refuse left by people in the times of pilgrimage and in the winter and the summer, cleaning the ritual bathing places around the al-Aqsa Mosque…. Apart from that, it had a group of Jewish servants who would make the glass for the lamps, the large cups…and other things in addition to that.
Another source, cited by Bahat, likewise attests that Abd al-Malik gave Jewish families permission to engage in maintenance work at the al-Aqsa Mosque and at the Dome of the Rock and also to pray at the gates to the Temple Mount. Bahat suggests that “first the Muslims allowed Jews to pray on the Mount…but later, apparently in the ninth century, they were expelled from it, but permitted to keep praying beside its gates.”
The Muslim author Ibn Abd Rabiah, “who wrote about Jerusalem,” Bahat notes, “attested already in 913, only about 200 years after the Dome of the Rock was built, that the Dome of the Chain on the Temple Mount, which today is identified as a Muslim element, was called by that name because in Israelite days a Jewish law court stood at the spot as well as a miraculous chain of justice, which the teller of a lie could not grip.” Another source cited by Bahat indicates that because the Jews constituted a certain force under the patronage of the conquering Muslims, they were given permission to build a house of prayer on the Mount but, after a short time, were removed from the spot by the Muslims.
As noted, in the early days of the Dome of the Rock, a cult was practiced there that was surprisingly similar to the cult practiced in the Temple. “The Muslims,” observed Dr. Milcah Levi-Rubin, a historian and scholar of the ancient Islamic era,
would anoint the stone with an incense offering, according to the instructions that are given in Talmudic sources. In the compound itself, Jews and Christians served, and the attire of the holy servants closely resembled the attire of the priests as described in the Bible: the tunics, the miter, and sashes made from precious and ornamented fabrics. The holy servants also purified themselves before the cult…. Apparently, in those early days, the Muslims saw themselves as the ones who practiced the cult of the Jewish Temple.
In her article “Why Was the Dome of the Rock Built? Between Beit al-Maqdis and Constantinople,” Levi-Rubin sums up this issue:
Important is…the fact – which Profs. Amikam Elad, Moshe Sharon, and Herbert Bosa have already discussed at length – that the customs and ceremonies that were practiced in the building in the early years resembled those practiced in the Temple; the similarity is evident in the special attire of those conducting the ceremonies [the priests], in the special status of Monday and Thursday, in the purification ceremonies that preceded the cult, in the way incense was used, in the call to prayer, and so on. Even though all these existed for a short time only, they clearly indicate the reason for the initial choice of the site.
Levi-Rubin adds further that “based on artistic features that are supported by Muslim sources, the two scholars, Priscilla Soucek and after her Raya Shani, found that from the start, the Dome of the Rock building was intended to be a reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple.”
In addition, Prof. Ofer Livne-Kafri, whose main field of research is the Arabic literature and Islamic culture of the Middle Ages, points out that Islamic traditions gave expression to the Jews’ anguish over the destruction of the Temple and to their hopes for its renewal by the Muslims. Many of these traditions appear in the literature of praises of Jerusalem (fadalal Beit al-Maqdis) that Livne-Kafri and others have researched. One of the most notable of these traditions, which eventually was censored and its Jewish background obscured, highlights the Jewish distress over the Temple’s destruction and Islam’s initial connection to Judaism. This tradition is quoted by Ibn Abu al-Muwali al-Mishraf ibn Abu al-Marja ibn Ibrahim al-Maqdisi (11th century):
Kab al-Ahbar [apparently a Jewish convert to Islam] found written in one of the holy books: [I have received word] that Jerusalem is Beit al-Maqdis and the Rock [the Foundation Stone] is called by some the Shrine [al-Heichal]. I will send you the slaves of Abd al-Malik and he will build you and ornament you. And I will restore to Jerusalem its rule as in the beginning and I will crown it in gold and silver and in precious stones. And I will send to you those I have created and I will place on the Rock my throne of honor. I am the sovereign God, and David is the king of the Israelites.
If that is not sufficient, there is another relevant fact that totally refutes the Palestinians’ current absolute denial of a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. Umayyad coins, on which the famous menorah of the Temple appears along with the text of the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith), likewise indicate how much the Muslims were influenced in their early days on the Temple Mount by its original owners – the Jews. These coins, which were minted during the Umayyad dynasty (661-750), were dated by researchers to the period between the time of Abd al-Malik and the beginning of the Abbasid era. They could even have been minted in Jerusalem, though that is not certain, but the coins bearing the menorah, a classic Jewish symbol, were undoubtedly minted by a Muslim government. Prof. Dan Barag found two types of coins from the Umayyad period that bore pictures of the menorah of the Temple. One of them showed a seven-branched menorah, the other a five-branched one. Dr. Yoav Parhi offered a possible explanation for the difference. He noted that a Baraita (an external tradition, not incorporated in the Mishnah) repeated in the Babylonian Talmud three times prohibits the making of a menorah similar to the one that existed in the Temple. “If we assume cautiously that these coins were minted [for Muslims] under Jewish influence or even by Jews,” Parhi conjectures, “then it is possible that the engraver – or someone responsible for the impressing – saw the presentation of the seven-branched menorah as forbidden and decided to alter it.”
Substantiation of the many testaments offered here was also provided in 2016 by the archaeologists Asaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven. They published an inscription dating back over a thousand years that was discovered in the mosque of the village of Nuba near Hebron. The inscription attests that, at the onset of the Islamic era, the structure of the Dome of the Rock was indeed called Beit al-Maqdis in reference to the Temple that had stood there earlier. The ancient inscription was affixed above a prayer alcove in the mosque that was built in the days of Caliph Omar ibn al-Khatib (634-644 CE) and stated: “In the name of Allah the merciful and compassionate. This estate within its boundaries and domain [is a] sacred waqf of the Rock of Beit al-Maqdis and the al-Aqsa Mosque, which the emir of the believers, Omar ibn al-Khatib, sanctified to Allah the most high.” This discovery by the pair of researchers, which undermined the new and invented narrative of numerous Muslims about the absence of any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, sparked the wrath of many Muslims, and the researchers bore the brunt of slanders, vituperation, and enraged reactions across the Arab world.
Thus, the use of the name Beit al-Maqdis is no coincidence. It stemmed, as we saw, from the influence of Jewish traditions on the development of Islam in its early days. Today, there is no educated Muslim who does not know that Jerusalem was called Beit al-Maqdis (from the Hebrew Beit haMikdash, or the Temple) for centuries. The two archaeologists who discovered the Nuba inscription had already spent years researching the “Jewish-Muslim connection” in the seventh and eighth centuries CE. They, too, like Bahat, Barag, and Parhi, have documented Muslim tools and coins bearing Jewish motifs, particularly the menorah, thus linking a quintessentially Jewish artifact to the ancient world of Islam.
Cooperation and Competition
The encounter between Jews and Muslims on the Temple Mount, then, goes back to the early days of Islamic rule there. It involved a mix of cooperation and competition. The historical sources say it was the aforementioned Jew, Kab al-Ahbar (Kab of the “comrades” or Jewish sages, who, according to many testimonies, converted to Islam), who guided Caliph Omar to the site of the Temple. According to Islamic traditions, it was Omar who collected and removed from the Temple Mount (along with others) much garbage and animal droppings, which the Byzantines had thrown there to insult the Jews. The scholar of Judaism, Judah Even Shemuel, found that some Jews viewed the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem as the beginning of the redemption and pinned great hopes on Omar ibn al-Khatib, builder of the first mosque (out of wood) on the Temple Mount. The Muslims, for their part, saw themselves as reviving the tradition of the ancient Temple of Solomon, whose existence they now deny.
Another Muslim identification of the Temple Mount as the site of the Temple can be found in the artistic domain, namely, sketches of the Temple Mount in Islamic manuscripts starting at the end of the 12th century. These drawings also manifest Islam’s self-conception as the successor of the Jewish religion. Prof. Rachel Milstein, who researched miniature works of art on religious subjects, discovered that the earliest depictions of Beit al-Maqdis were drawn or printed, using a wooden or metal board, on certificates that the pilgrims to Mecca held in their hands. Those pilgrims who added Jerusalem to their journey received at some point a supplement of pictures of al-Haram al-Sharif. The Temple Mount is drawn there as a horizontal row of cells, with the central one identified as “The Dome of the Temple.”
Gold, Pearls, Ruby, and Peridot
Archaeology, which explores the past of human civilization in light of findings from deep in the earth, also reinforces the historical depiction of the Temple on the Temple Mount. In a typical example, the words of al-Tabari from the ninth century, already quoted here, describe the Temple as made out of gold, pearls, rubies, and peridot. The text of the Persian scholar al-Tabari dovetails not only with the Jewish historical testimonies but also with the archaeological findings of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which began early in the 2000s in Emek Tzurim National Park in Jerusalem. As part of this unique project, the researchers succeeded to reconstruct and reconstitute beautiful replicas of tiles from the flooring of the courtyards of the Temple. With their impressive appearance, these replicas correspond to the “landscapes” of the Temple that al-Tabari described in his writings.
Fragments of these tiles – colorful shards of flooring of the opus sectile kind, which were found in the earth of the Temple Mount – were dated with certainty to Second Temple days. They are believed to have served as flooring in porticos that surrounded the Temple compound, and in the large plazas where the numerous pilgrims who came to the Temple assembled. The floor tiles appear to have been laid there by foreign artists from Rome whom the Emperor Augustus sent to his friend King Herod (who renovated the Temple and expanded the Temple Mount in the first century BCE).
For the first time in archaeological research, then, the appearance of the floor of the magnificent Temple Mount in Herod’s time was reconstructed with a high degree of certainty, along with some of the most beautiful designs that ornamented the courtyards of the Temple Mount and its wings. The reconstruction was done by Frankie Schneider, a member of the team of researchers headed by the archaeologists Dr. Gabi Barkay and Tzahi Dvira. Apparently, then, archaeological evidence for the splendor described by al-Tabari has been found in the earth of the Temple Mount. This is a further, unique archaeological substantiation of the Talmud’s words about Herod’s Temple: “He who has not seen Herod’s building, has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”
This rare find (along with al-Tabari’s description) likewise corresponds to the description of the famous eyewitness Josephus Flavius, who saw this flooring with his own eyes: “Who can describe the flooring of these buildings, stones made from different and expensive stones, which were brought from all the lands in abundance…. And all of the plaza under the heavens was paved with colorful stones…. The uncovered courtyard was paved entirely with stones of different kinds and colors.” The tractate Sukkah of the Talmud also describes rows of “stones of black and white marble” from which parts of the Temple were built.
At the end of the 1990s, the earth in which shards of the floor tiles from the Temple’s courtyards were found was dug up from the Temple Mount by the Muslims in an outrageous manner and without archaeological supervision. The Waqf and the Northern Branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement broke into the underground recesses of what is called Solomon’s Stables and turned the place into a huge mosque. They removed enormous quantities of material from the spot in about 400 trucks, carrying about 9,000 tons of earth harboring archaeological relics from all the epochs of the Temple Mount’s history. The earth was dispersed in Jerusalem and its periphery, mainly in the riverbed of the Yarkon River. From there it was gathered, transferred to Emek Tzurim, and for more than 13 years, week after week, meticulously sifted by archaeologists and a record number of more than 200,000 volunteers. This extraordinary scientific-educational project was conducted with the approval of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University, and with funding from the Ir David Foundation, and by the end of 2017, about 70 percent of the material had been sifted.
Despite the great destruction that the Waqf and the Israeli Islamic Movement wrought by digging the pit in the earth of the Temple Mount, and despite the aggressive use of heavy tools and bulldozers to enable large numbers to enter the huge underground mosque built in Solomon’s Stables, the Sifting Project was able to salvage hundreds of thousands of tiny finds. These testified to the past of the Temple Mount and to the war and destruction it has undergone. Numerous articles about these finds have already been published; here we will briefly mention only some of them. They, too, refute the lie that seeks to erase the Jewish chapter from the history of the Temple Mount.
The volunteers devoted great quantities of time to the sifting work. They extracted from the earth of the Temple Mount an arrowhead from the early days of the First Temple that may have belonged to the fighting forces of King Solomon; slingstones, apparently from First Temple days, that may have been propelled by the Babylonians during the battle in which the Temple was destroyed, or may have been used a hundred years earlier during the siege of the city by Sennacherib, king of Assyria; a Babylonian arrowhead from the First Temple period; an arrowhead from the Hasmonean Hellenistic period – perhaps a memento from the battle in which Judah the Maccabee liberated the Temple Mount; an arrowhead that was shot by the Roman army during the Siege of Jerusalem (70 CE); arrowheads from the Crusader conquest; as well as testaments to later battles: Ottoman, British, and Israeli bullet casings.
Also found were about 7,000 coins. Nearly half of them were cleaned, and about 17 percent of those were dated to Second Temple days and to other periods that preceded the Islamic era. Silver coins were found from the Persian period (fourth century CE), as well as coins from the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes or “Antiochus the Wicked,” on which his image appears (second century BCE). It was Epiphanes who foisted the harsh decrees on the Jews that led to the Maccabean Revolt. Also discovered were coins from the Great Revolt against the Romans (68 CE) bearing the inscription “Freedom of Zion.”
Another rare coin that was dug from the earth of the Temple Mount and stirred special excitement was minted during the first year of the Great Revolt in 66-67 CE. On the front of the thick coin, which is made of silver, appears a branch with three pomegranates and an inscription in the ancient Hebrew writing: “Holy Jerusalem;” on the back is the inscription “half-shekel,” the cup of the Omer offering, and above it the letter Aleph to mark the first year of the revolt. Half-shekel coins were used to pay the Temple taxes, and during the revolt, they replaced the Tyrian shekel. These coins apparently were minted on the Temple Mount itself by the Temple authorities. This marked the first time a coin of this kind was located in the earth taken from the Mount itself. The discovery substantiated the ancient text from the Mishnah in the Shekalim tractate, which is based on chapter 30 of the book of Exodus, which tells how every male Israelite was required to pay a half-shekel to the sanctuary.
Another find from the Temple Mount Sifting Project, with a direct connection to the First Temple, is a small clay stamp seal, originally attached to a cloth sack that apparently contained pieces of money or silver. The stamp seal bears the inscription: “[…]liyahu [ben] Immer.” The Immers were a well-known family of priests at the end of the First Temple era, from the seventh to the beginning of the sixth century BCE. Pashur ben Immer is mentioned in the Bible as “chief governor in the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 20:1). In the view of the archaeologist Tzahi Dvira, “This seal was used to stamp luxury items that were kept in the treasury of the Temple, which was administered by the priests. This stamp seal is the first Hebrew inscription that was ever discovered from the First Temple and constitutes direct evidence of the administrative activity of the First Temple priests.”
Also collected from the earth of the Temple Mount were dice used by the Romans, with which the guards of the Mount apparently passed their time, as well as architectural fragments with engraved ornaments from Second Temple days, some of which seem to have been incorporated into the Temple itself. Also found were tens of thousands of animal bone fragments, many of them scorched, which may have been burned in the fire of the altar and possibly in the fire that destroyed the Temple.
A Mikvah under Al-Aqsa
Along with the Waqf’s destruction of the antiquities on the Mount and the Israeli authorities’ failure to prevent it – as reported extensively in the media over the years – a whole array of archaeological discoveries, uncovered in the course of the unruly and unsupervised activity of the Waqf and the Muslims on the Temple Mount, were kept from the eyes of the public. These were not intentional discoveries resulting from an organized archaeological excavation. The Israel Antiquities Authority walks on the Mount on tiptoes, like a disabled person with tied hands. The Israeli authorities since 1967 and the Jordanian authorities from 1948 to 1967, and even the British authorities from 1917 to the establishment of Israel, refrained from digging on the Mount. The Muslims did not permit it. Nevertheless, over time, as a result of ongoing building and maintenance, random discoveries – some of them sensational – were made by none other than the Muslims that were documented by the authorities and various researchers. The discoveries almost always stemmed from observations by visitors or partial and unofficial supervision by people from the Department of Antiquities (later the Israel Antiquities Authority). Most of this material was “buried” in the supervisory files of the authority, or in the Mandatory archive of the Department of Antiquities. For many years it did not come to light, mainly to avoid embarrassing the Muslims by publicizing Jewish and Christian chapters from the history of the Temple Mount that the archaeological finds substantiate.
For example, only a few years ago, the archaeologist Tzahi Dvira published new information from the various random digs on the Temple Mount over the past hundred years. Although the article came out in a scientific journal of Bar-Ilan University, Hidushim b’Heker Yerushalayim, the media gave it almost no mention. Dvira burrowed into the photograph archive of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities and found treasure there. He discovered a stack of photographs and abundant documentation that the director of the department, Robert Hamilton, gathered in the course of the extensive renovations of the al-Aqsa Mosque by the Waqf from 1938 to 1942. The renovations were needed because of the earthquakes that occurred in 1927 and 1937. Hamilton’s wide-ranging book on the al-Aqsa Mosque, published in the middle of the last century, contains almost no trace of these materials; Hamilton simply ignored them. What is common to all these discoveries, Dvira points out, is that “they precede the ancient Arab period.” He surmised that in the Mandate period, just like today, examination and documentation were dependent on the mercies of the Waqf; hence the British researcher chose not to publish findings indicating that important, non-Muslim, public buildings that preceded the mosque stood on the site.
Under the eastern gate of the current mosque, for example, Hamilton found a plaster cistern with a staircase leading down to it, which apparently served as a Jewish mikvah in Hasmonean times. Along the staircase were visible remnants of a partition similar to numerous partitions that were found among the Jerusalem mikvahs.
The British director of the Department of Antiquities was not the only one who was loath to publish such findings. The Israel Antiquities Authority was also very cautious about publishing “incidental” findings that were made in the course of work by the Muslims, both so as not to embarrass the Waqf and so that, in the future, the Waqf would not prevent its workers from documenting similar incidental findings. The examples are numerous and extend from the first years after the Six-Day War to the present.
In 1970, when the Waqf dug an emergency pool for putting out fires after the Christian Australian Michael Dennis Rohan set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque, it uncovered at the site a large pit, an access trench beside it, and an ancient wall whose stones were reminiscent of Herodian stones (or, according to another opinion, a retaining wall or barrier from First Temple days). These findings, which were documented in real-time by the archaeologist Ze’ev Yevin, were registered in the files of the Israel Antiquities Authority and revealed only eight years later by the Temple Mount researcher Prof. Asher Kaufman.
In the summer months of 2007, the Waqf dug two 200-meter trenches in the most sensitive location on the Temple Mount, the elevation where the Dome of the Rock stands – and where, most of the researchers believe, the Temple stood. This dig, too, yielded a series of archaeological discoveries. Personnel of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who saw these reported on foundations and fragments of the Herodian columns, on tools from the ancient Muslim period, and on flooring and trenches from antique times. They told of many shards, some of which were stolen by local Muslims, and even of a drainage canal quarried from rock and covered with stone slabs about which nothing was known – a finding that managed to surprise the archaeologists.
The most sensational incidental find, which occurred in 2007 and was partially publicized by the Israel Antiquities Authority (with special approval from the prime minister at that time, Ehud Olmert), was a sealed layer of ground from the First Temple period. In the archaeologists’ view, it was “preserved as a homogeneous whole from First Temple Days, and the shards that were identified there were preserved at that location and had remained unchanged since First Temple Days.”
The first announcement that the authority issued gave few details about the nature of the dramatic find, but noted that it had been examined by a special team that included, among others, Prof. Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, Prof. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Seymour Gitin, director of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. Only years later, at an archaeological conference in Jerusalem in 2016, did the director of the Jerusalem Region in the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Dr. Yuval Baruch, reveal that the most important finds related to the “sealed layer of ground” were a group of potsherds, fragments of bowls and cooking pots and jugs, that had been dated to the end of First Temple days (at the time of the Kingdom of Judah). Beside them were found bones of cattle and other animals as well as olive pits. The pits were sent for a carbon-14 test, without the technicians being informed that the source of the finds was the Temple Mount. The results matched the dating of the potsherds to 2,500-2,600 years ago. Here too, the importance of the finds lay in their precedential nature: this marked the first time a sealed layer of ground from the First Temple era was found on the Mount. The discovery also provided a possible archaeological basis for reconstructing the Temple Mount compound in that era.
The publicizing of this extraordinary information was disconcerting to Muslims who have been denying for years any connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. The director of the Jerusalem Waqf Department, Azam al-Khatib, hastened to deny the possibility that the finds were indeed from the First Temple period. He explained the announcements as an act of deception aimed at bolstering the claim of Israeli sovereignty over part of the al-Aqsa compound. Member of Knesset Ibrahim Sarsur reacted similarly.
The Victory Arch of Flavius Silva
Another surprising and convincing find revealed evidence of a victory or memorial arch that the Romans built on the Mount after they destroyed the city and demolished the Temple. The find was documented by the Hungarian archaeologist Tibor Grull, who was in Israel in 2003 for his studies at the Albright Institute. During a visit to the Temple Mount, Grull accidentally discerned a stone slab, a fragment of a monumental inscription, with Latin writing on it. He approached the slab and, to his surprise, saw on it the name of the Roman governor Flavius Silva, destroyer of Masada, who is also mentioned in the writings of Josephus. The source of the slab was in Solomon’s Stables; it had already been uncovered in 1996 when the Waqf lowered the ground level of the Stables. The Hungarian archaeologist asked the Waqf for permission to document and photograph the find, and anomalously it was granted. In 2005 Grull published the finding in the mouthpiece of the Albright Institute. The item itself is currently stored in the Islamic Museum on the Temple Mount but is not shown or accessible to visitors.
Another eye-opening find, which the Muslims tried to obscure, was revealed anew by Dr. Orit Peleg-Barkat of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology. Peleg-Barkat’s doctoral dissertation dealt, among other things, with arched roofs of the passageway of the Huldah Gates (specifically the western Huldah Gate). In Second Temple days, especially during the three pilgrimage festivals, many pilgrims would enter the Temple through this passageway.
The etchings on the arched roofs of the passageway are tinged today with a thin and transparent layer of lime and decorated with plant and geometric designs. The arched roofs are within the territory of the Temple Mount, beyond its southern wall, in the space that is called al-Aqsa al-Kadim (“ancient al-Aqsa”). An archaeological expedition led by Benjamin Mazar already documented the arched roofs in the 1970s. Peleg-Barkat visited the spot again in 2004 and photographed them anew. In her work, she contests the claim that this passageway, with its decorations, is a relic of the Umayyad era, which came later.
After scrutinizing the decorations on the arched roofs, Peleg-Barkat found that the style of etching and the assortment of designs have clear parallels in the art toward the end of the Second Temple period. This examination, she concluded, “decides positively the date of the building in the days of Herod,” and therefore: “The copyrights for planning and decorating the passageway of the gate belong to artists and architects who worked in King Herod’s service.” She added, “The decorated entrance hall of the ‘Huldah Gates’ with their four arched roofs is the most complete remnant that has been preserved until now from the Herodian compound of the Temple Mount.”
Peleg-Barkat photographed and researched another intriguing architectural item that was located on the inner side of the Southern Wall, within Solomon’s Stables: a fragment of a cornice, likewise decorated with plant and geometric designs, of which secondary use was made at the time the Stables were built. Peleg-Barkat assessed that the source of the fragment was in the royal portico. According to Josephus, Herod built it at the southern edge of the Temple Mount plaza. The part that is visible in the Stables (today a mosque) belongs to the upper part of the cornice. It is decorated with two strips, one bearing a design of grapevine branches.
To all these should be added the tale of the four inscriptions that tell and substantiate, each in its own way, the story of the Temple and its existence on the Temple Mount. The Israel Museum displays a fragment of an inscription in Greek from the Second Temple period, which was found in 1935 during work on the road beside the Lions’ Gate, next to the Temple Mount. A similar inscription, preserved in its entirety, is now at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. This one was found in 1871 on the wall of an Arab school north of the Temple Mount – on repurposed building stone that, used in building the school, was identified as a remnant of the Temple.
Both inscriptions forbid non-Jews to go beyond the grille that surrounded the Temple, threatening violators with death: “No foreign person will enter through the partition that surrounds the Temple to the surrounding courtyard, and whoever is caught will forfeit his life and will die.” These inscriptions are mentioned in descriptions of the Temple in Josephus’ book The Jewish War. Regarding the grille, Josephus writes that “whoever went past it [into the Temple Mount] to the second sanctified domain reached a stone partition that surrounds it, three cubits in height, that was very elegant.” At different points on the grille, stone slabs were affixed that warned – some in Greek letters, some in Latin letters – about the law of purity, which forbade non-Jews to enter the sanctum.
Another inscription was discovered in excavations conducted after the Six-Day War by Prof. Benjamin Mazar, near the point where the Temple Mount’s Southern Wall and Western Wall converge. The inscription, which was found in fragmented form, was engraved on a stone that in Second Temple days was at the southwestern foundation of the Mount, and said: “To the House of the Tekiah [i.e., the trumpet blast] to [distinguish between sacred and profane].” It was above this foundation that the priest stood on Friday when he announced with a trumpet blast (tekiah) the entry of Shabbat, and the next day, with another blast, announced its departure. This practice is also documented by Josephus and the Mishnah.
Not far from the inscription “To the House of the Tekiah,” on the third level under the foundation of Robinson’s Arch, in the middle of the arch and upon the Western Wall, there is an engraving of two lines in Hebrew script based on Isaiah 66:14: “And when you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb.” As Prof. Benjamin Mazar suggested, this inscription may have expressed the inner hopes and sentiments of Jews who came to Jerusalem in the fourth century during the era of the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate, who allowed the Jews to renovate the ruins of the Temple.
Another spectacular find, while not confirming the Temple’s existence, corroborates the version of the Priestly Blessing that we know from the Torah, a version that the priests already made use of in the Temple. The archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay discovered two tiny, rolled-up silver scrolls that served as amulets and contained the most ancient biblical Hebrew text ever found, namely, verses of the Priestly Blessing from the book of Numbers: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord cause his face to shine upon you… and grant you peace.” The two scrolls were found in a burial cave from First Temple days in Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem.
Still another discovery, which enriches our knowledge, was made during rescue excavations conducted a few years ago by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem: an ancient quarry at least about an acre in size. The excavation was part of work mandated by the City of Jerusalem to enable a school to be built for the neighborhood’s children. At this site, huge stones were quarried for purposes of governmental buildings in Second Temple Jerusalem. The quarry’s uniqueness lay in the huge size of the stones, which were up to eight meters long and similar in that regard to stones preserved in the lower sections of the walls of the Temple Mount. This marked the first time, and so far, the only one in which such a well-preserved quarry was discovered, one that can be linked to the enormous building projects of Second Temple Jerusalem. It was the use of such giant stones during the building of the Temple Mount compound that kept the structure stable for two thousand years, with no need for mortar. Also discovered in this excavation were coins and earthenware shards that were dated to the peak period of the building projects in Second Temple days.
Along with all these, stand as mute and lofty testaments, the walls of the Temple Mount, a part of the ancient landscape of Jerusalem to whose presence the eye is so accustomed that many of us have forgotten that they, too, are part of the evidence for the Temple’s existence. All agree that the walls were built during the period of Herod and his successors. Their location and form well fit the description in Josephus’ writings, which, in turn, is consistent with three more exciting finds. These were discovered by the archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun in the Herodian drainage tunnel that ascends from the Shiloach Pool (under the Herodian Road) to the foot of the southern corner of the Western Wall:
- A gold bell that was dated to Second Temple days – a unique find of a sort never discovered in any other archaeological dig. It is reminiscent of the bells that were sewn onto the High Priest’s clothing as described in chapter 28 of the book of Exodus.
- A sword of a Roman legionnaire in a leather scabbard.
- An etching on a potsherd of the menorah of the Temple Mount. The anonymous artist probably saw the menorah with his own eyes before etching its form in the clay while taking refuge in the drainage tunnel under the Herodian Road, fearful of the Romans who pursued the remnant of the rebels who were hiding there.
In addition to all these are the dozens of ancient mikvahs from Second Temple days that were discovered at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. They, too, are part of the array of evidence and testimonies about the existence of the Temple at the site. The historical evidence indicates that pilgrims purified themselves in these mikvahs before entering the sacred space of the Temple on the Mount.
Despite all this, today, numerous Palestinians and Muslims claim that there is no archaeological find that confirms the existence of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount and that on the Mount itself, no remnants of the Temple have been found. They are right and wrong: while, indeed, no clearly identifiable remnant from the Temple itself has been preserved, the wealth of items testifying to the fact of its existence on the Mount — only a few of which were reviewed here — indicate that many Palestinians and Muslims are not speaking the truth. The lack of relics from the Temple itself stems from the fact that the Muslims have never allowed an organized archaeological excavation on the Mount. For many years, they have been trying to have it both ways: both forbidding excavations and asserting that no relics exist.
Yet the numerous incidental finds from the different parts of the Mount – including from the Sifting Project, which is the closest thing to an archaeological dig there – along with the many archaeological finds from around the walls and foundations of the Mount are enough to make clear that such claims are baseless. The attempts by Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat or Saeb Erekat to cast doubt on the Temple’s existence on the Mount or to distance it from that location by claiming that there was indeed a Temple, but in Nablus or Yemen, stem from one sole motive: their desire to expunge from the Temple Mount a competing Jewish historical narrative and a competing historical and religious awareness, since these could becloud their own historical and religious narrative on the Mount.
That is also why, in recent years, the Palestinians have not only been rewriting Jewish history but their own Muslim history as well.
After al-Aqsa, which is mentioned in the Night Journey of Muhammad (Surah 17 in the Koran), was identified in the prevailing Muslim exegesis as Jerusalem, the city became the third holiest place to Islam. In the Islamic tradition, Jerusalem was third in virtue and importance after Mecca and Medina. About these three cities, it is said, “One prayer in Mecca is equal to ten thousand prayers. A prayer in Mecca is equal to a thousand prayers, and a prayer in Jerusalem is equal to 500 prayers.” According to modern research, the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock in 691, about 60 years after Jerusalem was conquered by the Arabs. The al-Aqsa Mosque was built in 705 by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid, son of Abd al-Malik. Since that time, more than 1,300 years ago, the two buildings have become an inseparable pair. The Dome of the Rock building, which was not originally a mosque, came to preserve and exalt the holy Foundation Stone. Within the Dome of the Rock, Muslims usually engaged in individual prayers. The al-Aqsa Mosque, however, was a place of prayer for the general public.
An Invented Narrative; a Rewritten History
To contend with the “Jewish story” that preceded the Temple Mount, many Palestinians and Muslims have altered the age of al-Aqsa and transposed it to the pre-Islamic era. A researcher of this change, Prof. Yitzhak Reiter, noted that “this was part of the attempt to ‘convert to Islam’ the period that preceded the period of the heralding of Islam by Muhammad, and to ‘Arabize’ Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. The process of Islamization and Arabization was driven by the need to claim a historical, Arab, and Islamic right to the sacred ground, before the Israelites – the aboriginal Jews – and the Christians were there.” To that end, old traditions were enlisted that attribute the building of al-Aqsa to Abraham, to the First Man, and to the time of the creation of the world.
The new Muslim narrative asserted, for example, that the al-Aqsa Mosque was not built somewhat more than 1,300 years ago – as modern research maintains – but, instead, by the “First Man” 40 years after the mosque in Mecca was built. The Jordanian Waqf Minister Abd al-Salam al-Abadi claimed this already in 1995. The Saudi historian Muhammad Sharab likewise affirmed that al-Aqsa was built by the First Man, and so did the former mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri. According to Sabri, Solomon did not build the Jewish Temple but rather the al-Aqsa compound, which is a Muslim mosque. In recent years spokesmen of the Northern Branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement have stated that it was Abraham who built al-Aqsa about 4,000 years ago, 40 years after he built the Kaaba in Arabia with his son Ishmael.
Thus, to “Islamicize” the era that preceded the phenomenon of Muhammad’s proclamation of Islam, ancient Islamic traditions were recruited that were of negligible importance until that time, and more ancient strata were devised concerning the al-Aqsa Mosque, dating back long before the year it was constructed and before, of course, the presence of the Israelites in the Land of Israel. In recent years some Muslim figures have also, surprisingly, defined al-Aqsa for the first time as second, not third, in holiness – that is, after Mecca but before Medina. That view has been propounded, for example, by Sheikh Kamel Rian of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement.
To the varied archaeological and the ancient and numerous Muslim sources that identify the Temple Mount as the site of the Temple – notwithstanding the rewritten versions of Jewish and Muslim history – may be added, of course, a plethora of known and documented historical sources. These corroborate the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the existence of the Temple. And while they are not the main subject of this work, the Jewish sources cannot be omitted: the Hebrew Bible, the Mishnah, the Gemara, the Midrashim, and multiple Jewish commentators all attest to the fact of the Temple and its existence for many years on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Some of the most important sources in this regard are in the tractate Middot of the Mishnah, which sets forth the dimensions of the Temple Mount, and even mentions the job of “Temple Mount man,” who along with other responsibilities was in charge of the shifts of the Levites who were stationed at the five gates of the Mount. Another tractate of the Mishnah, Parah, mentions the Temple Mount as the last station on the Path of the Bulls, who carried, from the Shiloach Pool, the pure, water-carrying children to the ceremony of the slaughter of the Red Heifer on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple Mount. Another example is the Mishnah’s description of the rituals of the bringing of the First Fruits to the Temple on the Temple Mount.
To all this should be added the already-mentioned writings of the historian Josephus, who saw the Temple and its destruction with his own eyes. Josephus describes the Second Temple on the Temple Mount at great length, as well as the Roman victory procession in which the booty of the Temple implements was carried away. This procession is also recorded on an arch, built by Titus in Rome, that commemorates the conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Engraved on the Arch of Titus are pictures and reliefs of the Temple implements as they are borne off by figures of Roman soldiers. In addition, the outstanding study by the Temple Mount researcher Prof. Asher Kaufman, The Temple Mount: Where Is the Location of the Holy of Holies?, published in English in 2004, sheds clear light on the Temple’s location on the Mount and the Jewish connection to it. Kaufman also elucidates the facts about the Holy of Holies, the place most sacred to Jews in the world, in general, and within the domain of the Temple Mount and the Temple, in particular.
The current Muslim insistence on erasing any connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount and on totally denying the existence of the Temple there also denies the history of Christianity and its sources. The New Testament contains more than 20 references to Jesus and his disciples in the Temple on the Temple Mount. In one of his articles, the historian Prof. Yaron Zvi Eliav notes that important episodes in Jesus’ youth occurred in the Temple. The adolescent Jesus stood out among the students who studied the Torah in the Temple. Simeon gives his blessing and foresees the messiahship of the baby Jesus at the time of korban hayoledet (the sacrifice by the woman who has given birth) and pidyon haben (the redemption of the firstborn) in the Temple. Some of the traditions also locate one of the temptations of Christ at a parapet of the Temple. Especially notable in this regard is the main and significant phase of Jesus’ last journey – a series of events that brought his life to its apex: the last supper, the trial, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, all of which occurred in Jerusalem.
The height of absurdity is reached by the Palestinian denial of the Jewish history on the Temple Mount, and thus incidentally of the Christian site referred to as “the Cradle of Jesus.” The cradle is a marble recess from the Roman era within an alcove at the southeastern corner of Solomon’s Stables on the Temple Mount. The Christian tradition, which was adopted by the Muslims, views this recess as the place where Jesus was laid after his mother, Mary, presented him at the Temple 40 days after his birth. In previous centuries, Muslim pilgrims would visit the spot and read Surah Maryam of the Koran beside it. The Muslims still identify the place as “the Cradle of Jesus” despite the fact that Jesus was a Jew and his history is inextricably linked to the Temple on the Temple Mount, whose existence, at that location, they now deny. To resolve this difficulty for themselves, in recent years, the Palestinians have begun to define Jesus as a Palestinian, sometimes even as “the first Palestinian martyr.” This stance – which contravenes historical research and the Christian faith – has been adopted, for example, by figures like Yasser Arafat, Jibril Rajoub, or the Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein. They and many other Palestinians do so despite the fact that the term “Palestine” appeared for the first time in history when the Romans changed the name of the Judea province to Syria Palestina as a punishment to the Jews after the Bar Kochba Revolt, that is, more than 130 years after Jesus’ birth. From a chronological-historical standpoint, the conjunction of the words Jesus and Palestinian is an impossibility, and it is clear that this is an invented identity.
On the Jewish connection to the Mount and the Temple, major pagan sources and plentiful Christian sources testify to it. The Temple is indeed referred to by pagan historians who viewed it with their own eyes and were not influenced by the Jewish or Christian traditions. Examples include Berossus (third century BCE), who mentioned Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia; Hecataeus of Abdera (around 300 BCE), who slandered the Jews by saying they bowed down to a statue in the form of a donkey that was in the Temple; Menander of Ephesus (second century BCE), who mentions Hiram, king of Tyre and Solomon; Mamsis of Petra (around 200 BCE); Diodorus Siculus (from Sicily, first century BCE), who describes the siege of Jerusalem by Antiochus VII; Strabo (first century BCE); Tacitus (first century BCE), who describes the Temple, and many others.
Later, important Christians also attest to the Jewish connection to the Mount and the Temple. The traveler from Burdigalense (in the year 333) describes an annual Jewish ceremony beside “the perforated stone” of the Western Wall or the Temple Mount. The monk Bar Tzoma (fifth century) tells of an annual Jewish celebration on Sukkot on the ruined Temple Mount. Hieronymus, one of the Church Fathers (fourth century), refers in his writings to a Jewish strictness about annually observing Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the Temple. The Armenian Bishop Sebeos (seventh century) also mentions the Temple in his writings, and so does the Byzantine historian and monk Theophanes (eighth century), who describes how Omar seized control of “what was in the past the Temple that Solomon built.”
Thus, both the numerous Christian sources and the even more numerous ancient Muslim sources contravene the contemporary Muslim denial of any Jewish connection to the Mount and to Jerusalem. Against this backdrop, it is easy to understand the persistent Muslim refusal to allow archaeological digs – even painstakingly cautious ones – on the Temple Mount. This refusal has already been rooted for generations in the fear of the collapse of the bogus Muslim exclusivity to the place, and the possibility that archeological evidence will be found for the precedence and the fact of Jewish existence there.
This is also the soil from which a contemptuous Muslim attitude grew, as in the response of a qadi to a comment by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who visited the Mount in 1898. When the Kaiser expressed regret about the fact that “there are no excavations at such an important site,” the qadi who escorted him raised his eyes to the skies and said it was desirable “that a person should direct his eyes and his thoughts upward, to the heavens, instead of downward to the depths.” This is also the fertile ground of much later statements, like the one in 2009 by Kamel Khatib, then deputy chairman of the Northern Branch of the Israeli Islamic Movement, when he promised the Jews that “Tisha B’Av – their national day of destruction – will continue forever.” But one thread runs through these words and the many similar words: fear, not to say dread, of the possibility that their lies will be exposed.
The full bibliographical list for this appendix is in the book by Nadav Shragai, Al-Aqsa Terror: From Libel to Blood (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Sella Meir, 2020), 331-337 (Hebrew).
Books (in Hebrew unless noted otherwise)
Shaul Bartal. The Way of Jihad in Palestine. Jerusalem: Hotza’at Carmel, 2012.
Shmuel Berkowitz. How Awesome Is This Place. Jerusalem: Carta, 2006.
Hillel Cohen. 1929. Jerusalem: Hotza’at Ivrit and Keter, 2013.
Nissim Dana. To Whom Does This Land Belong? Ariel, Israel: Ariel University, 2013.
Shuka Dorfman. Under the Surface. Or Yehuda, Israel: Zmora-Bitan Dvir, 2015.
Hava Lazarus-Yafeh. Islam-Judaism, Judaism-Islam. Tel Aviv: Misrad Habitachon, 2003.
Nimrod Luz. Al-Haram al-Sharif in the Arab Palestinian Public Discourse in Israel. Jerusalem: Florsheimer Institute, 2004.
Moshe Maoz. Muslims, Jews, and Jerusalem. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2019.
Eilat Mazar. The Full Guide to the Excavations on the Temple Mount. Jerusalem: Shaham, 2000.
Eilat Mazar. Discovery of the Menorah Treasure at the Foot of the Temple Mount. Jerusalem: Shaham, 2013.
Ami Meitav. One Square Kilometer: A Guide to Sites in the Old City. Jerusalem: Hotza’at Ad Ohr, 2015.
Sari Nusseibeh and Anthony David. Once Upon a Country. Tel Aviv: Schocken, 2008.
Yitzhak Reiter, ed. The Sovereignty of God and Man. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2001.
Yitzhak Reiter. From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2005.
Nadav Shragai. Har Hameriva. Jerusalem: Keter, 1995.
Nadav Shragai. The “Al-Aqsa Is in Danger” Libel: Portrait of a Lie. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2012.
Nadav Shragai. The Disappearing Western Wall. Jerusalem: Sifriyat Bet-El, 2016.
Abu Jafar al-Tabari and others. Tafsir al-Tabari. Beirut: Muassasat ar-Risalah , 2000. [Arabic]
Abu Jafar al-Tabari. The History of al-Tabari. Cairo: Dar al-Maaref. [Arabic]
Uri Tal. The Land of Israel in Arab Sources from the Middle Ages. Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi and Ashkelon: Ashkelon Academic College, 2014.
Websites and Newspapers
Palestinian Media Watch, Israel Hayom, Ynet, Makor Rishon, Haaretz.
Reports and Research Papers (in Hebrew)
Yaron Ovadia. “The Temple Mount and the Temple in Muslim Writings.”
Staff of Minister Moshe Shahal. “Digest of Statements of Muslim Historians about the Jews’ Connection to the Temple Mount.”
State Comptroller’s Report. “Summary of a Report on Violations of the Law on the Temple Mount.”
Journals and Articles (in Hebrew)
Asaf Avraham and Peretz Rubin. In Hidushim ba’Arkeiologia shel Yerushalayim v’Svivateiha (New Developments in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Surroundings).
Hillel Cohen. In Hamizrach Hehadash 57.
Milcah Levi-Rubin. “Why Was the Dome of the Rock Built?” Katedra 170, Yad Ben Zvi, December 2018.
Hidushim b’Heker Yisrael (New Developments in Israel Studies).
Ketovot Mesaprot (Inscriptions Speak). Catalog of the Israel Museum, 1972.
Mehkarei Ir David v’Yerushalayim ha’Keduma (Studies on the City of David and Ancient Jerusalem).