Where Was Herod’s Temple? – Key Locations

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.

Which is the Right Location?

This is the third of nine puzzle pieces in my examination of the topic Where Was Herod’s Temple? In this Post I look at some of the evidence regarding the location of the City of David, the Jewish Temples, and the Gihon Spring.

The First Jewish Temple was built by King David’s son, King Solomon, between 960 BC and 957 BC. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Temple was rebuilt following the Babylonian captivity under the leadership of a Jewish Governor named Zerubbabel, with the foundations laid in 538 BC and the Temple dedicated in 515 BC. This Second Temple was a modest reconstruction of the truly magnificent First Temple built by King Solomon.

The Second Temple existed for almost 500 years, until it was replaced by a new Temple during the reign of Herod the Great, beginning in 19 BC. The Second Temple was built on the same site as the First Temple, and Herod’s Temple was built at the same location. There is wide agreement with these facts.

So, the key question becomes: Where was the original temple built? Was it really at the location visited by millions of faithful each year, at the traditional “Temple Mount?” Or was it actually located – as Dr. Ernest Martin proposed in his seminal book, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot (2000) – at an entirely different “mount” location, over the Gihon Spring, in the City of David, about a third of a mile south of the traditional “Temple Mount?” Incredibly, there is overwhelming evidence that the Temples were all located in the City of David over the Gihon Spring. It seems that history has forgotten this location.

First, let’s review the location of the City of David and the evidence for the Temples being located there. Then, we can summarize the evidence that they were constructed uniquely and necessarily over a source of spring water – the Gihon Spring – which was the only fresh-water spring within five miles of Jerusalem. This is the case presented by Dr. Martin.

For centuries the location of the City of David was “lost in history.” It seems that the Christian church might have played a large part in this by altering the manuscripts of Josephus related to his descriptions of the location of first-century Jerusalem, as well as that of the City of David.

In his historically significant collection, War of the Jews, Book IV (78 CE), Josephus describes first-century Jerusalem as having been built on two mountains. One mountain, which he called the Upper City, encompassed the western area. The other mountain, which Josephus designated as the Lower City, was the ridge east of the Tyropoeon Valley. As Dr. Martin describes it in his book, the whole extent of the eastern ridge was called the “Lower City,” with the Tyropoeon Valley – a center ravine – dividing the “Upper City” from the “Lower City.”

Unfortunately, War of the Jews, Book IV included a description of first-century Jerusalem that confounded modern historians for centuries. It stated that the western mountain, comprising the southern part of the Upper City, was the site on which King David built the City of David, which was also called the Akra, or Citadel. However, this is not true; and the statement directly contradicted what Josephus wrote in his book, Antiquities of the Jews, Book VII, in which he correctly described the original City of David as being located on the southeast ridge.

Could Josephus have made such a critical error in his reporting? It turns out the error was probably not his! Since all of Josephus’ manuscripts eventually fell into Christian hands, it seems that the former statement was inserted at a later date in order to reflect fourth century Christian opinion that the southwest hill in Jerusalem was the original “Mount Zion” and to justify the belief that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the site of Herod’s Temple.  Dr. Martin emphatically stated in his book that Josephus would never have made such a false and contradictory statement regarding the true location of the City of David.

So, in truth, the City of David was located on the crescent-shaped southeast ridge of Jerusalem. This Lower City consisted of two elevated areas, which Josephus called “hills,” and which came to be known as the “Second Hill” and the “Third Hill.”  As mentioned earlier, The Second Hill was the southeastern section of first-century Jerusalem.

The following image is of a photograph from a 2011 article by George Wesley Buchanan (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs).  The image highlights the location of the ancient City of David to the south of the traditional Temple Mount (Fortress Antonia), as well as other historical points of reference.

As Martin wrote, the Second Hill had two summits (not unlike the Mount of Olives, which has three summits). The northern summit on the southeast ridge was called the Ophel area, and this was where the Temple was located – over the site of the Gihon Spring. At the time of King David and King Solomon, and up until the time of Simon the Hasmonean (when the southern summit was completely removed), the southern summit was slightly higher than the northern summit. The southern summit – the City of David – was what David conquered from the Jebusites in about 1003 BC.

The Third Hill was north of both the Akra and the Ophel, and according to Josephus this was the hill on which the Dome of the Rock now rests. It was on the Second Hill that the City of David was located. This location has been confirmed archaeologically, and there is no disagreement on this.

The image below is a topographical map of the ancient city of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.  It clearly depicts the Mount of Olives, the City of David to the south of the traditional Temple Mount, the Upper City, and the original Mount Zion (Lower City) just above the Kidron Valley.

In the next image – which would be representative of Jerusalem around 64 AD – we can clearly see the relative positions of the traditional Temple Mount, the City of David, the Fortress Antonia, the Mount of Olives, and the Kidron Valley.

But what do we have that links the site of the first Temple to the City of David, the original Jerusalem location? Well, we have an eyewitness account that the Temple was located on a crescent-shaped mountain in this early Jerusalem. The eyewitness was Aristeas, who wrote The Letter of Aristeas more than 300 years before the time of Josephus. Aristeas described the Jerusalem of his time as being shaped like a theatre – crescent-shaped, and on a [single] mountain.  The following account is from The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament Vol II (2004), by R. H. Charles, as recorded by Dr. Martin in his book:

“The size of the city [of Jerusalem] is of moderate dimensions. It is about forty furlongs in circumference, as far as one could conjecture. It has its towers arranged in the shape of a theatre.”

“When we arrived in the land of the Jews we saw the city [Jerusalem] situated in the middle of the whole of Judaea on the top of a mountain [a single mountain] of considerable altitude. On the summit the Temple had been built in all its splendor. It [the Temple] was surrounded by three walls [a wall on the south, one on the west, and one on the north – the eastern rampart of the Temple was the east wall of the City] . . . The Temple faces the east and its back is toward the west.”

Aristeas recorded that all of Jerusalem, including the Temple of that day, was on the crescent-shaped southeastern ridge of the “Second Hill” described by Josephus. This is not the location of the traditional “Temple Mount,” which is on the “Third Hill,” further to the north.

But was the Temple located over the Gihon Spring? There is strong evidence that this was the case. If true, then the Temples would have certainly been located south of the traditional “Temple Mount.” Scripture itself makes numerous references to the Temple at Jerusalem and its furnishings being a physical representation on earth of God’s official residence in heaven. We read in the Scriptures that God has “spring waters” in His heavenly residence. For example, in Revelation we read:

“And I John saw the holy city new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband . . . I will give to him that is a thirst of the fountain [spring] of the water of life freely . . . And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and the [throne of the] Lamb . . . And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of Life freely.” (Revelation 21:2, 6; 22:1, 17)

As Dr. Martin stated in his book:

“The symbolism on earth of the heavenly House of God would not be complete without spring waters being within the earthly Temple. It was believed by the early kings and prophets of Israel that if God’s House had no spring within it, it would not be supplied with an appropriate water supply to perform the rituals of purification, and provide other life-giving therapeutic features that issue from the throne of God.”

The description of the river in God’s House in heaven – and the expectation that a similar water feature must exist in the earthly Temple – provides clear evidence that God intended for the Temple to be built with access to spring water. Of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Psalmist states:

His [God’s] foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.  Selah . . . The singers as the players on instruments shall be there [in the Temple]: ALL MY SPRINGS ARE IN THEE [Zion]. (Psalm 87)

The Gihon Spring provided a supply of fresh water to the Temple, something that would not have been available to a Temple located at the site of the traditional “Temple Mount,” since the Gihon Spring was the only source of spring water within five miles of Jerusalem.

Before the Temples existed, Moses had constructed the Tabernacle per God’s plans (Exodus 25:8–9). During the 40-year wilderness period, we see yet another example of water coming from the House of God. Where did the Israelites get their water during this desert trek? Paul gives us the answer in 1 Corinthians 10:4, where he tells us the water came from “the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” Paul associated the rock with “the cloud,” which was the Shekinah (the Glory of God) that accompanied the Israelites during the Exodus. Throughout their journey, it hovered over the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (Exodus 13:21–22).

Ezekiel provides us with the image of a great cloud, of fire, and of a throne made from a solid piece of sapphire stone. On it sat the Glory of the Lord who appeared like a man (pre-incarnate Jesus) suspended above the cherubim, who carried the sapphire stone (Ezekiel 1:26–28). This sapphire stone is the “rock” which Paul writes about, from which the water came during the Exodus. The stream of water went forth from the Tabernacle eastward and provided water for the Israelites to drink.

These passages demonstrate for us how spring waters were connected to God’s dwelling places – both the Tabernacle and, later, the Temples.

You might wonder how it would be possible for water sufficient for as many as two million Israelites to emanate from the Tabernacle. I believe this happened in a manner similar to that described in relation to the future Temple of Ezekiel – starting as a trickle, and becoming a mighty river (Ezekiel 47:1–5), coming forth from the Holy Place and flowing out the right side of the Altar of Burnt Offering and into the Dead Sea to make those waters clean and fresh (Ezekiel 47:1–12). In other words, a miracle supplied the Israelites with the water they needed each day during their forty-year wandering.  This is not unlike the manner in which God provided manna as their daily food.  Both were miracles from the Lord.

There is much evidence – dating back to King David – that the Temples were located above the Gihon Spring. Before David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the City of David, he built a Sacred Tent to house the Ark. We know from the account of Solomon that the Sacred Tent was placed on the terrace directly at and just above the Gihon Spring. As reported by Dr. Martin – and as recorded in Scripture – When Solomon was crowned King, Zadok the priest took a horn of oil out of the Sacred Tent and anointed Solomon (1 Kings 1:38-39). In this manner, the Rabbis learned that Kings were only to be anointed at the site of a spring. Dr. Martin explains the significance of this in his book:

“So, the first ‘Temple’ at Jerusalem erected by King David (before Solomon finally built the permanent Temple) was placed on the terrace directly at and just above the Gihon Spring . . . [and] all Israel resorted to this holy spot at the Gihon Spring to worship God and to offer sacrifices. And what was this place called? Look at 2 Samuel 12:20: ‘. . . then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and came into the House of the Lord, and worshiped.’ David was in Jerusalem when this event occurred. It was at the Tent of the Ark of the Covenant. Wherever the Ark was located was called the ‘House of the Lord’ – another name for the Sanctuary [Exodus 34:26; Deuteronomy 23:18; Joshua 6:24; 9:23; Judges 18:31]. David also called the place of the Ark ‘his [God’s] habitation’ – it represented the “House of God – The Temple” [2 Samuel 15:25].

From the case presented by Dr. Martin, we now understand that the Gihon Spring was located within the area of the Sacred Tent of King David; and it was the same for the Temples of Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod. The spring was called the “fountain of Israel.”

What is the evidence for this? Again, we have eyewitness accounts!

We return to the detailed, eyewitness description of the Temple provided by Aristeas, the Gentile from Egypt who visited Jerusalem over a hundred years before the time of Simon the Hasmonean (who ruled from 142 to 135 BC). We have his actual written words, which describe both Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple of that day! Aristeas’ words have survived through the centuries by being carefully recorded and passed down – first by Eusebius, the Greek historian of Christianity who later became the Bishop of Caesarea in about AD 314 and, later, by English Professor E. H. Griffin, who translated the account of Eusebius. Finally, Dr. Martin has included the descriptions in his own book.

In his description of the Temple, Aristeas tells us that in the interior of the Temple there was an important geographical feature that served as a topographical benchmark for the Temple’s location. He stated:

There is an inexhaustible reservoir of water, as would be expected from an abundant spring gushing up naturally from within [the temple] . . .”

This description of a distinctive water source within the Temple is verified by another eyewitness, the Roman historian Tacitus, in his description of the Temple as it existed just before its destruction in 70 AD. As reported by Dr. Martin, Tacitus stated,

The Temple . . . contained an inexhaustible spring . . .”

From a purely practical standpoint, it was essential that the Temples have a constant source of fresh water available.  The water was necessary for, among other things, the washing and purification of the priests and for the mixing of the ashes of the red heifer, which were themselves used in Jewish purification. As confirmed from Scripture:

“And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin and running water [spring water] shall be put thereto in a vessel” (Numbers 19:17, KJV)

The Gihon Spring is perhaps the most important geographical feature which we can use in confirming the true site in the Jerusalem region where the Temples were located. When we “follow the water,” we find that there is only one spring in all of Jerusalem – and that is the Gihon Spring. This is the case which Dr. Martin has made and which I present here for your consideration: That the Temples of Jerusalem were not built in the location of the traditional “Temple Mount,” but, rather, existed approximately a third of a mile to the south, near the only source of spring water in Jerusalem – the Gihon Spring.

Note: In my next Post I will offer a brief explanation of how it was possible for subterranean water from the Gihon Spring to reach the surface and thereby serve the needs of the Temple.