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.
What would Herod’s Temple and Fort Antonia look like if we were to build them using the eyewitness descriptions recorded by Josephus? This was precisely the question asked by Dr. Ernest Martin.
Dr. Martin discovered that the answer to the question looked entirely different than what is presented in the maps and models of Jerusalem that are popular with tourists today, and he developed a striking graphic to display what he believed represented the truth regarding the Temple location. The presentation of this image and Dr. Martin’s rationale for the location of Herod’s Temple and Fort Antonia constitute the seventh puzzle piece in my case for the true location of Herod’s Temple.
It is well known that the Jewish priest/historian Josephus recorded his observations and commentary on Jerusalem and the Jewish/Roman war of AD 70. We also understand that Josephus dedicated his works to the Roman General Titus and to Herod Agrippa II. Titus and Agrippa II were also eyewitnesses to locations and events of this period, so it is highly unlikely that Josephus would have risked his life and reputation by providing inaccurate information. Consequently, I think we must pay close attention to the descriptions recorded by Josephus.
The image below depicts Herod’s Temple attached to the massive Fort Antonia, per the eyewitness descriptions of Josephus. To achieve this image, Martin commissioned a professional artist to incorporate all sections of the Temple and Fort Antonia described by Josephus, including what Josephus said about their positions and precise measurements.
As reported by Josephus in his monumental work, War of the Jews, the Temple Mount and Fort Antonia had a separation of a Roman stade (600 feet), with two parallel 600 foot colonnades extending from the Temple to Fort Antonia. These two colonnades extended from the northwestern corner of the Temple to the southwestern corner of Fort Antonia.
Traditional Location of Fort Antonia
It should be noted that the eyewitness accounts of Josephus and others absolutely destroy the notion that Fort Antonia was a relatively small appendage to the Temple, seemingly attached by the Romans as an afterthought at the northwest corner of the traditional “Temple Mount.” The popular notion of Fort Antonia is depicted below in a present-day model of ancient Jerusalem.
It should be immediately apparent that the images of the Temple and Fort Antonia in the above model in no way align with the descriptions recorded by Josephus and other eyewitnesses. For starters, there are no 600 foot colonnades connecting the Temple to the Fort, as Josephus so clearly indicated. Neither is the Fort Antonia depicted near the size that would be necessary to accommodate a legion of Roman soldiers.
Josephus’ Descriptions of Temple
Josephus provided eyewitness descriptions of both the design and location of Herod’s Temple. This information is fully covered in Part Four of Dr. Martin’s book, The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot (2000). Interested readers are encouraged to consult his book for complete coverage of this topic.
Unfortunately, the eyewitness accounts of Josephus are frequently disregarded by modern theologians, biblical historians, archaeologists, and tour guides. What follow are some of the descriptions of Herod’s Temple and Fort Antonia as recorded by Josephus. These descriptions derive mostly from his War of the Jews, but some are taken from his companion work, Antiquities of the Jews; all descriptions are provided in Dr. Martin’s book, as well. I have assembled the descriptions in logical groupings to assist in the alignment of the descriptions to Dr. Martin’s graphic of the Temple and Fort Antonia.
* The distance between the southern wall of Fort Antonia and the northern wall of the Temple was one stade (600 feet).
* There were two parallel, connecting, 600 foot colonnade roadways extending from the Temple to Fort Antonia.
The entrance to Fort Antonia from the Temple was from the northwest corner of the outer walls that formed a square around the Temple. Josephus stated, “Now as to the Tower of Antonia, it was situated at the corner of two cloisters [colonnades] of the court of the Temple, of that on the west, and that on the north.”
Josephus stated that the Temple was likened to a “body” and the side-by-side colonnades represented the two “limbs,” like two straight outstretched “arms” attached to a human body. They were regarded as part of the Temple itself.
Related to the roofs of the two connecting colonnades, Josephus said, “The usual crowd had assembled at Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Roman cohort [i.e., 2000 troops] had taken up its position on the roof of the portico [colonnade] of the Temple; for a body of men in arms invariably mounts guard at the feasts, to prevent disorders arising from such a concourse of people.”
In Josephus’ description of a battle scene witnessed by Titus in the war of AD 70, the battle occurred in the space of 600 feet between Fort Antonia and the Temple; it was a “narrow space” in an east/west direction within which the Romans and Jews were fighting with one another [this fits the description of the colonnades].
* The Temple was located on an elevated platform with four walls surrounding it that formed a perfect square. Each of the four Temple walls was exactly a stade (600 feet) in length.
Josephus said, “The whole enclosure [of the Temple], having a circumference of four stades, each side taking up the length of a stade [600 feet].”
Speaking of the four colonnades around the periphery of the Temple, Josephus said: “The colonnades were thirty cubits broad [45 feet wide], and the complete circuit of them, embracing [the colonnades to] the Tower of Antonia, measured six stades.” Note that Josephus in reaching the dimensions of six stades includes the two colonnades of one stade in length each (two stades in all) that extended up to Fort Antonia. He added these two stades to the four stades of the colonnades surrounding the square form of the Temple Mount. The flat roofs on the top of the colonnades were the “roadways.”
* Fort Antonia was so vast that it actually dominated the Temple on its northern flank in all aspects.
Josephus said that the whole of the Temple precincts could be observed by anyone who was standing on top of the SE tower of Fort Antonia.
* Josephus tells us in his description of the Temple and its walls that most of the eastern wall of the Temple (which existed in the time of Herod and Jesus) was constructed by Solomon. He also stated that the eastern wall was constructed of gigantic stones which were “bound together with lead.”
* Josephus stated that the Temple [original Temple of Solomon] was seated on a strong hill. The the level area on its summit barely sufficed for the shrine [the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place] and the altar [the Altar of Burnt Offering], the ground around it being precipitous and steep.”
Related to the height of this “strong hill” on which Solomon built his Temple, palace, and government buildings, Josephus stated that Solomon also built an east wall that reached upward from the very base of the hill (that is, from the bottom of the Kidron Valley) for 300 cubits (450 feet). [This eastern wall was completely back-filled, and most of the eastern part of the Temple was built over this filled-in area.]
Of the Roman General Pompey’s attack against the Temple in 63 BC (this was before Herod and his rebuilding activities), Josephus confirms that Solomon had placed the foundation of the east wall in the floor of the Kidron Valley. Josephus wrote, “He [Pompey] saw the walls [of the Temple] were so firm, that it would be hard to overcome them. The valley before the walls was terrible [for depth]; and that the temple, which was within that valley, was itself encompassed with a very strong wall . . .”
After Solomon, the Israelites built the north, west, and south walls. The final Temple platform of Herod was shaped like a square block, 600 feet by 600 feet in size; Josephus said Herod doubled the size of the Temple from what existed before. [The whole structure was the height of a modern skyscraper, some 40 to 45 stories above the extreme depths of the Kidron Valley on the east, at the northeast corner of the retaining wall.] Josephus said the eastern wall of the Temple “exceeds all descriptions in words . . . The wall was itself the most prodigious work that was ever heard of by man . . . He [Solomon] also built a wall below, beginning at the bottom, which was encompassed by a deep valley [the Kidron].”
As indicated above, Josephus was clearly in awe of the precipitous eastern wall of the Temple complex, and he was quite clear that the foundation of this eastern wall was placed in the Kidron Valley. The perfectly square Temple platform was at the top of the steep walls surrounding it and was viewed as perched on a “tower” that reached upward 40 to 45 stories, much like a modern skyscraper occupying a square block in New York City today. This square-shaped “tower,” per Josephus’ descriptions, was located 600 feet south of the southern wall of Fort Antonia and was connected to the Fort by two parallel bridges, extending from the northwestern corner of the Temple platform to the southwestern corner of Fort Antonia. This is clearly shown in Martin’s graphic of the Temple and Fort Antonia.
From Josephus’ description of the eastern wall of the Temple being anchored at the extreme bottom of the Kidron Valley – right at the very floor of the valley – we have strong evidence that the traditional “Temple Mount” (the Haram) is NOT the mount on which rested the ancient Temples of Jerusalem, as its eastern wall is located over half way up the west slope of the Kidron Valley. This is a critical proof provided by Josephus.
As reported by Dr. Martin in his book, another key feature described by Josephus which distinguishes the true Temple retaining walls from the Haram esh-Sharif are that the stones which made up the wall on the east side of the Temple were “bound together with lead.” Apparently, on the inside these stones had “iron clamps” that fused them together permanently in Josephus’ reckoning. The stones of the eastern wall of the Haram – which some attribute to Solomon because they believe them to be associated with the traditional “Temple Mount” – are stacked one on top of another and do not have any of these lead and iron features. In the words of Dr. Martin:
“This fact is, again, a clear indication [that] the walls surrounding the Haram are NOT those that encompassed the Temple of Herod as described by Josephus, our eyewitness historian.”
It is easy to see in reading Josephus’ descriptions of Herod’s Temple and Fort Antonia that critical elements of the descriptions are NOT consistent with the model of the Temple and Fort Antonia on display today in Jerusalem. Clearly, Modern historians and archaeologists have willfully chosen to ignore the eyewitness observations of Josephus.
Modern Opinion of Josephus’ Descriptions
Unfortunately, many scholars today have little regard for the writings of Josephus. In my opinion, these scholars remain prejudiced in favor of the traditional “Temple Mount” – with its “miniaturized” version of Fort Antonia – and they appear unwilling to consider that they may be wrong. Even when presented with additional eyewitness testimonies which clearly do not align with currently-held beliefs, these scholars are unwilling to abandon their convictions. That is the way I see it.
This lack of trust in Josephus is evident in the comments made by Israeli archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, former Chief Architect of the Temple Mount excavations and today the Director of Ritmeyer Archaeological Design in England. Ritmeyer had assisted Benjamin Mazar, the Director of the Temple Mount excavations, before Mazar’s death. Ritmeyer is the author of The Quest – Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (2006).
In The Quest Ritmeyer writes the following:
“. . . It is not any easier to understand the Herodian Second Temple. The root of the problem lies in the fact that the two major historical sources we have at our disposal, namely the writings of Josephus and massechet middot (from the tractate Middot, or ‘measurements’ of the Mishnah), seem to contradict each other . . . The subject becomes even more complicated if one tries to impose the conflicting measurements given in these works onto the Temple Mount as we know it today.”
There is a simple explanation for the “discrepancy” between Josephus’ measurements of the Temple and those recorded in the Middot, which Ritmeyer references above. Josephus gives the measurement of the walls of the Temple as 400 cubits (600 feet) on each side, while the Mishnah records the measurement as 500 cubits (750 feet) per side. According to Martin, the larger dimension of 500 cubits (750 feet) per side “. . . was the size of the ‘Camp of the Levites,’ this being a legal definition. This square area of the ‘Camp of the Levites’ (known also as the ‘Temple Mount’) had no walls surrounding it.” Apparently, there is no discrepancy between the measurements of Josephus and those reflected in the Mishnah (Middoth 2:1), as they refer to two different entities – specifically, the Temple on the one hand, and the “Camp of the Levites” on the other.
With the above insight, it appears that the perceived discrepancy in measurement is no reason to discount the testimony of Josephus. Quite the contrary, it seems to me that this understanding is critical to the discussion regarding the true locations of the Temple and Fort Antonia. In the end, this case offers additional proof of the reliability of Josephus and serves to strengthen the veracity of his written testimony. We should not so easily discredit what Josephus had to say.
So, by the testimony of Josephus, where would the temple and Fort Antonia be in relation to ancient Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives? The image below – which I have used previously in these Posts – indicates this relationship.
In conclusion, I find no reason to disregard the eyewitness testimony of Josephus. I find the depiction of Herod’s Temple and Fort Antonia in Martin’s graphic to be a true representation of the actual locations of the Temple and Fort Antonia, as described by Josephus. And I therefore conclude that it is highly likely that modern-day scholars, theologians, and archaeologists have perpetuated one of the greatest errors in history by continuing their support for the wrong location of the “Temple Mount.”
Note: In my next Post I will provide excerpts of an actual exchange between Dr. Ernest Martin and one of his strongest critics, during which Dr. Martin clearly and forcefully argues his position regarding the “true” location of the ancient Jewish Temples.