Where Was Herod’s Temple?
Note: The following Post is taken from an upcoming book by Joseph Lenard entitled Mysteries of Jesus’ Life Revealed—His Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascensions. For an overview and complete chapter listing of this fascinating study, click here.
Things Are Not Always As They Seem
Relying on the eyewitness descriptions of Josephus and other early historians, Dr. Ernest Martin has presented a case that the true Temple location was to the south of the traditional “Temple Mount,” on the southeast ridge of Jerusalem. This is at the location of “Mount Zion” in the City of David. Additionally, Dr. Martin argues that the entire traditional “Temple Mount” is actually the former site of the Roman Fort Antonia, a complex of structures constructed and enlarged by Herod the Great to support the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. Dr. Martin presents evidence that Fort Antonia was both much larger and in a different location than is typically depicted in models of ancient Jerusalem, where it is represented as a largely inconsequential structure physically attached to the northwest corner of the traditional “Temple Mount.”
As we have seen throughout my numerous Posts and among the various topics I have investigated, there is much about the life and times of Christ which are unknown, or – at the very least – not agreed-to. Depending on who you ask, even the location of the original Temples in Jerusalem is a mystery. Were the Temples of Solomon, Zerubbabel (the rebuilt Temple following the Babylonian exile), and Herod really located on the traditional “Temple Mount?”
Almost everyone has assumed this to be true. However, before he died, Dr. Ernest Martin proposed a non-traditional Temple location – which is not what you think! He made an interesting and compelling case based upon biblical and eyewitness accounts, as well as upon a literal interpretation of Jesus’ prophecy related to the Temple’s destruction and what we see today.
So why is the location of the Temple important to the determination of the location of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus? As we explored in earlier Posts, the answer lies in the fact that the Temple must – based on the accounts of Scripture and extra-Biblical writings – have been located directly below and due west of the site of the crucifixion. As we have shown, the crucifixion was on the Mount of Olives. If the Temple was due west of the Mount of Olives, it should be easy to confirm the site of the Temple. Right? Not so. As impossible as it might seem, over the centuries it appears that the location of the Temple has largely been “forgotten.”
Remember that the Mount of Olives is a crescent-shaped ridge, so there are any number of locations on the ridge that could have afforded a direct, west-facing view of the Temple, depending on where it was located. This would have been the case from either the traditional “Temple Mount” location or the more southerly location advocated by Dr. Martin. It is my task to present the case for the alternate location; it will be up to each reader to evaluate the presentation and make an individual judgment as to which location seems most likely.
I want to give you fair notice. The case which I will present is extremely controversial, and I want you to understand this. The prevailing religious, scholastic, and archaeological opinion is that the ancient Temples were located in Jerusalem on what is known by tradition as the “Temple Mount.” Dr Martin’s case for a more southern location is not generally accepted by the majority of Christian and Jewish historians, theologians, or archaeologists. I want to be up-front about this.
That said, what is currently popular does not necessarily determine what is truth. In my previous Posts I have been emphasizing that the traditional dates and places related to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus are largely in error; and I have presented what I believe to be strong evidence supporting the what, when, and where of critical events in the life of Christ as they really occurred. Sometimes truth requires that the popular be exposed as a lie – or, at the very least, as misinformation.
Proponents of the more southerly location for the Temples – including both the first and second Temples and the Temple as it was rebuilt under Herod – are generally looked upon with disdain by those who adhere to the prevailing opinion. After all, where would the Temples be located other than on the “Temple Mount?” In the minds of the traditionalists, the case for the traditional “Temple Mount” is so overwhelming that they simply cannot accept that there is strong historical and scriptural evidence for the alternate location. For those scholars, theologians, and archaeologists who have previously taken a position in favor of the traditional “Temple Mount” location and possibly even published books or articles on the topic, it is especially difficult to change positions.
Dr. Martin has encountered first-hand the strong loyalty demonstrated by those who cling to the traditional location of the Temple. He provides the following illustration:
“. . . On an airplane between London and Tel Aviv, I explained to a distinguished looking man who appeared to be an orthodox Rabbi the basic historical research of this book [The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot]. My conclusion to him showed that the Bible and history revealed the ‘Wailing Wall’ was not a wall of the Temple but is the western wall of Herod’s Fort Antonia. He retorted vociferously and vigorously with a single English word: ‘PREPOSTEROUS!’”
As reported by Randall Price in his book The Stones Cry Out (1997), there is presently no definitive archaeological evidence supporting Dr. Martin’s argument for a southern Temple, while there are at least some archaeological findings which appear to substantiate the “Temple Mount” as the site of the Temples. However, as Dr. Randall Price so aptly stated in his book:
“It must be remembered in archaeology that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence . . . As a friend of mine who works as a curator at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem put it: ‘Absolute truth in archaeology lasts about 20 years!’”
Imagine the consequences if we determine one day that the earlier Jewish Temples were, in fact, never located on the “Temple Mount!” It would mean that the “Third” Jewish Temple would not need to be built on or near the Muslim’s Dome of the Rock! What would this mean? It would mean that the Jewish people could tell the Muslims in effect, “Fine, you can keep your Dome of the Rock on its present location; we are rebuilding our Temple in a southern location, where the original Temples were actually built.” Now that’s an interesting prospect! Imagine how quickly the ongoing conflict between the Jews and the Muslims over the “Temple Mount” would be resolved!
What else might a different Temple location mean to the Jewish people? Sadly, it may well mean that for centuries the Jewish people have been praying at the wrong Temple location. Whereas Jews from all over the world have offered prayers at the “Wailing Wall” – which they have always understood to be the western retaining wall of the ancient Temples – there is a strong possibility that they have really been praying at the western wall of the ancient Roman Fort Antonia. Now that would surely cause some outrage!
You may rightly feel that there is no way the Jews could be wrong about the location of their most holy of places. Surely they would know where their Temple was located! Unfortunately, for the same reason that Christians have prayed for centuries at the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion – in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – we must also accept the possibility that the actual Temple location may be based more on tradition than fact.
I must admit that I am not 100% convinced by Dr. Martin’s case. Nonetheless, I believe that the case is strong enough to deserve serious consideration. If the case is true, the implications are astounding and far-reaching. All-in-all I would have to say that I am increasingly moved by the apparent legitimacy of Dr. Martin’s arguments.
Among Dr. Martin’s strongest evidence are the eyewitness accounts of reliable historians who lived in the first century BC and first century AD and whose testimonies were validated by Jesus’ prophecy. These historians include the highly regarded Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus and the Jewish Zealot Eleazar, who commanded the remnant Jewish forces at Masada some three years after Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Roman army. According to the eyewitness accounts, there are features of both Jerusalem and the Temple which clearly do not align with the traditional “Temple Mount” location.
As you weigh the evidence which I will present, remember that I am still not 100% convinced of the veracity of Dr. Martin’s case. Consider me just the messenger bringing forth the evidence for this case.
Let me tell you just a little bit about Dr. Ernest Martin. Dr. Martin pursued his collegiate education at Ambassador College in both the United States and England, eventually earning a Ph.D while studying at the campus in England, where he then continued as a professor in both theology and elementary meteorology before ultimately serving as the Dean of Faculty. While at Ambassador College, Dr. Martin was credited with establishing a five-year cooperative program with Hebrew University in Israel that provided student support to the archaeological excavations of the Western Wall of the “Temple Mount.” These excavations were conducted under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Mazar, the legendary Jewish biblical archaeologist.
Dr. Martin was also an ordained minister and theologian; and he served as the Chairman of the Department of Theology of Ambassador College in Pasadena, California, after returning from England.
But in my opinion, Dr. Martin is best described as a brilliant historian who had an insatiable desire to uncover truth. He had the uncanny ability to research primary-source historical documents and scripture and a willingness to go wherever the evidence took him. Dr. Martin died in 2002, at the age of 70, just two years after publishing his landmark book, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot (2000). Unfortunately, the book is now largely only available online from third party re-sellers, and the demand has pushed the price quite high. Fortunately, the book can also be purchased from the website www.askelm.com for about half the price listed on Amazon. This website is dedicated to Dr. Martin’s research and findings.
At this point you are probably wondering if Dr. Martin is alone in his thinking or if there are other learned scholars, theologians, and archaeologists who support his arguments for a new Temple location.
One supporter is Dr. George Wesley Buchanan, Ph.D., Litt.D., D.S.L., Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and the author of 17 books and 63 articles on Old and New Testament Scripture, theology, and rabbinic literature. As of 2013, Dr. Buchanan was on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Biblical Archaeological Review. His insightful paper, In Search of King Solomon’s Temple (June 2000), is available at www.askelm.com.
Dr. Buchanan became aware of Dr. Martin’s book soon after its publication in 2000. Of interest is that Dr. Buchanan had been preparing his paper, In Search of King Solomon’s Temple, based upon similar research regarding the location of the Temple over the Gihon Spring; and he had come to the same conclusion as Dr. Martin. In Dr. Buchanan’s paper, he mentions that he had known Dr. Martin for “about 30 years.” He also mentions that in 1961 Dr. Martin visited Jerusalem, where he met Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar and his son, Ory. The article states that “It was Ory who told Dr. Martin that both he and his father believed that the Temple of Solomon was located on the Ophel mound to the north of the original Mount Zion [over the Gihon Spring].” From 1969 to 1973, Dr. Martin worked closely with Dr. Mazar on the archaeological excavations near the Western Wall of the “Temple Mount.”
Dr. Robert Cornuke also supports Martin’s findings. His book, Temple – Amazing New Discoveries That Change Everything About the Location of Solomon’s Temple (2014), is largely a condensed version of Dr. Martin’s work. It would appear, therefore, that the best source for the details embodied in Dr. Martin’s arguments likely remain within the pages of his own book, as well as on the marvelous website dedicated to his work, www.askelm.com.
Another supporter of Dr. Martin’s work is Dr. Michael P. Germano, Editor of www.bibarch.com. Germano is a Professor Emeritus of Ambassador University, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and holder of doctoral degrees from both the University of Southern California and the University of La Verne.
Professor James D. Tabor, from the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, has written:
“Having now read his [Martin’s] arguments I am convinced this thesis, however revolutionary and outlandish it first appears, deserves careful, academic and critical consideration and evaluation. I am not yet convinced that Martin has ironed out all the problems or handled all the potential objections, yet he has set forth a case that should be heard.”
Please note that in my upcoming Posts I present only a small portion of the extensive biblical and historical evidence which Dr. Martin lays out in his 585-page book, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot. Interested seekers will want to read his full account. I consider Dr. Martin to be a remarkable Bible researcher and historian. He deserves full credit for researching and assembling all of the information which I am about to present.
As if we have not introduced enough controversy, there is yet another proposed location for the Temple “extensions” of Jerusalem – which Jesus possibly referred to in his prophecy about upcoming “total destruction” (Matthew 24:1-2). This argument is made by Nancy L. Kuehl in her excellent book, A Book of Evidence–The Trials and Execution of Jesus (2013). This case, which I also present in an upcoming Post entitled Kuehl’s Temple, is also worthy of your consideration.
So which Temple case is correct – Dr. Martin’s, Nancy Kuehl’s, or the traditional case? In time, God and those who do his work will reveal the truth.
Let’s look briefly at the case for the Temple not being on the site of the traditional “Temple Mount” (known also by Muslims as “Haram esh-Sharif”). Dr. Martin’s case is that the true “Temple Mount” is actually on the southeastern ridge of Jerusalem – which, coincidentally, is also the undisputed site of the Mount Zion of King David’s time. Mount Zion was definitively located 130 years ago by Professor W. F. Birch of England. As reported by Dr. Martin, this is significant because “Mount Zion” and “Temple Mount” are acknowledged as identical in several Biblical contexts:
* Psalm 65:1–4: God’s Temple is “in Zion”
* Psalm 99:1-2: God dwells between the Cherubim “in Zion”
* Joel 3:17, 21: The Temple is “in Zion”
Dr. Martin’s case is that the Temples were slightly north of Mount Zion, over and around the Gihon Spring – a source of running water which was essential for Temple sacrifices and for the bathing of the priests. He also makes the case that the traditional “Temple Mount” was actually the Roman Fortress Antonia. According to Dr. Martin, Fort Antonia was much larger than is typically depicted on current models of ancient Jerusalem, in which it appears attached almost as an afterthought at the north-west corner of the Temple.
As this case unfolds, you will see why Dr. Martin’s work helps us to determine the true location of the Temple and, consequently, the true site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus – on the Mount of Olives, directly east of the Temple.
Note: In my next Post, I begin the investigation of eight puzzle pieces in the topic “Where Was Herod’s Temple?” The first puzzle piece will reveal Jesus’ own prophecy regarding the Temple in Jerusalem.