Where Was Herod’s Temple? – The Rabbis Forgot

Where Was Herod’s Temple?

Note: The following Post is taken from the 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.

By now a rather obvious question has probably occurred to you: How is it possible that the Rabbis lost their Temples? How in the world could the location of Temples built in Jerusalem by the likes of Solomon, Zerubbabel, Simon the Hasmonean, and Herod the Great be lost? How could the location of the Temples to the Most Holy God, the worship center of the Lord’s Chosen People Israel, have been misplaced for so many hundreds of years? That truly is a question for the ages!

Clearly, it is not just the Rabbis who misplaced the Temples.  The entire Nation of Israel and – dare I say – the entire world are just as complicit.  As Dr. Ernest Martin stated in his remarkable book The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot (2001):

“Not only did all Israel forget, all the peoples of the surrounding nations also forgot. All the Arabs and even later, all the peoples of Islam forgot. And too, all Christians in the world forgot. In fact, everyone on earth (including me) forgot.”

Exactly how the location of the Temples were forgotten became the subject of extensive research by Dr. Martin; and the answers were recorded in Chapter 35 of his book, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot. Dr. Martin’s findings are also reported in his article, How the Jews Started to Lose the Temples (2000), which is available at http://www.askelm.com.

There is a larger point to be made, beyond the simple question of “how could anyone lose a Temple?” It is the object lesson of how Christians, Muslims, and Jews have all forgotten so much about the truth of their heritage. In my earlier series of Posts on the Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascensions of Jesus, I suggested that much about Jesus remains a mystery because collectively we have all failed in our obligation to study, worship, and remember the life of our Savior, including the true history of events in His sacred life.

What has happened to the Jewish people regarding the “loss” of their temples is a similar failing; and the failure has become the failure of both Christians and Muslims, as well. What follows in the remainder of this Post is “the rest of the story.” What I am about to report is not intended to cast stones at the Jewish people in any way. Rather, I am including it here because it needs to be understood in light of the insights it brings to us all. This is Dr. Martin’s statement regarding these things, from his book:

“The historical evidence helps to show how superficial and how temporary the memories of past religious beliefs can become in the estimation of people when certain contemporary events cause people to alter their former religious beliefs and customs. It can even lead to forgetting their most cherished of institutions. It has happened to all people. This has happened to Christians. It has happened to Muslims. And it has also happened to the Jewish authorities and people.”

How Many Temples Were There?

First, let’s digress briefly into another topic to illustrate how easily cherished things can be forgotten. Let’s begin by asking this question: Exactly how many Jewish Temples were there? Could you honestly have answered correctly that there have been six temples?

There is a tendency for Jewish scholars to refer to Herod’s Temple as the “Second Temple” and to think of it as a mere renovation of the same Temple that was built by Zerubbabel following the Babylonian captivity. However, it can be argued that Herod’s Temple was actually the “Sixth Temple.” You see, Herod built an entirely new Temple adjacent to the existing Temple, and activities continued within the current Temple during the construction of the new one. The existing temple was then deconstructed after Herod’s new Temple became functional.

The following is a complete listing of the Jewish Temples, as reported by Dr. Martin:

First Temple Solomon’s Temple was, obviously, the first Temple, constructed around 960 BC. The Temple was later destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II, around 586 BC.

Second Temple – In Jeremiah 41:4-5 we read that a new “House of God” (albeit a temporary Temple, but a Temple nonetheless because it had the Altar of God) was raised up in Mizpah the year after the  Temple of Solomon was destroyed in 586 BC.

Third Temple – After the Babylonian captivity, a further Altar was raised up in Jerusalem, which was also called the “House of God” (compare Ezra 3:3 with 3:8). This would have been approximately 534 BC.  This was also recognized as a Temple, and it existed for about 18 years before the actual foundation for the next “House of God” (the “Fourth Temple”) was built.

Fourth Temple – The foundation of the “House of God” (the “Fourth Temple”) was raised up in approximately 516 BC (compare Ezra 3:6 with all of Haggai). This fourth “House of God” lasted until the time of Simon the Hasmonean.

Fifth Temple – Simon the Hasmonean completely destroyed the existing Temple in approximately 155 BC, which had been desecrated both by Antiochus Epiphanes and by the High Priest Alcimus (a Hellenist). Simon also cut down Ophel hill – on which the Temple was located – because of perceived desecration. Simon’s son, Hyrcanus, completed the construction of the new “Fifth Temple” in approximately 145 BC.

Sixth Temple – Herod the Great started his new Temple in approximately 37 BC, just over 100 years after the completion of the Fifth Temple. After many years of construction, the Herodian Temple was finally completed – just a few years before Titus destroyed it in AD 70.

“Forgetting” the number of Jewish Temples is nothing compared to forgetting the location of the Temples. We will now look at this interesting history.

It would appear that the cause of the Jews forgetting the location of their Temples was not the fault of one person or the result of one event, but, rather, the result of a number of incremental events which occurred over hundreds of years and involved individuals from various religious backgrounds – including Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This Post will introduce you to some of these events and people.

Let’s first look at two Jewish attempts to rebuild the Temple during the fourth century AD and note the location of the site for each of these attempts.

Fourth Century Attempts to Rebuild the Temple

One attempt to rebuild the Temple occurred during the time of Constantine and following the Edict of Milan, which allowed for greater religious freedom. The other attempt occurred some 37 years later, in AD 362, during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate. Neither of these reconstruction attempts was successful, and the second attempt ceased in AD 363 with the death of Emperor Julian. As reported by Dr. Martin, remnant portions of these rebuilding efforts were recorded by the Bordeaux Pilgrim in AD 333.

The location of the fourth century attempts to rebuild the temple – as reported by the eyewitness accounts of the Bordeaux Pilgrim – was over and around the Gihon Spring! It would appear that the selection of the rebuilding site during this period was at a time when the Jews still remembered the original location of the Temples. As we will see, this was not always the case.

From Temple to Mosque

In the research he did for his book, Dr. Martin uncovered a major “key” to the true location of the Temple of God. It relates to the historical account of Eutychius (Ar. Said b. al-Bitrik), the first Christian-Arabic historian and church leader, as recorded in AD 876.

Eutychius had access to many early Arabic records, and he stated that the former Temple site had never been touched by the Romans (from AD 70 to the time of Constantine in the AD 300’s) or the Byzantine Christians (from the fourth to the seventh centuries). Consequently, Jesus’ prophesy that “not one stone would be found on top of another” remained fulfilled for hundreds of years, as neither the Romans nor the Byzantine Christians rebuilt the site in the southeast section of Jerusalem which had been completely destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Eutychius wrote about how Omar, the Second Caliph of Islam, and Sophronius, the Christian Archbishop of Jerusalem, both knew of the true location of the Temples in Jerusalem.  As noted, no Gentile construction had been accomplished at the location by the Romans or the Byzantines. This was not the case for the “oblong rock” of the Haram, on which an early Christian Church – the Church of the Holy Wisdom – had been constructed by Constantine. Consequently, the Haram (which in the ninth century AD became the site of the Muslim Dome of the Rock) must be disqualified as the site of the Temples, because Sophronius and Omar had both agreed that the former site of the Temples had never been built upon. The Church of the Holy Wisdom was later destroyed by the Persians and Jews in AD 614.

Here are the exact words of Eutychius, as recorded by F.E. Peters in his book Jerusalem and as reported by Dr. Martin in his article How the Jews Started to Lose the Temples:

“Then Omar [Umar in Arabic] said to him [Sophronius]: ‘You owe me a rightful debt. Give me a place in which I might build a sanctuary [masjid “a prayer shrine”].’ The patriarch [Sophronius] said to him: ‘I will give to the Commander of the Faithful a place to build a sanctuary where the kings of Rum [the Romans] were unable to build. It is a rock where God spoke to Jacob and which Jacob called the Gate of Heaven and the Israelites the Holy of Holies. It is the center of the world and was a Temple for the Israelites. . . . [And], the Byzantines neglected it [they also left the site empty] and did not hold it in veneration, nor did they build a church over it

Although Sophronius offered to let Omar build his mosque on the site above the Gihon Spring, Omar selected a more northern site at the extreme south of the Haram to build what became the Al Aqsa Mosque. It is believed that from here Mohammad began his famous “Night Journey” on horseback from the “Farthest Mosque” into heaven. In addition, the original site of the Temples had become a garbage dump; and this did not suit Omar.  We note, however, that Omar did retrieve many stones from the ruins of the original Temple site, in the southeast quadrant of Jerusalem, over the Gihon Spring.  Omar wanted to incorporate the old stones into his Muslim shrine, stones which he imagined had come from the original “Solomon’s Temple.” Because of this, it became common in Jerusalem to refer to the new Mosque as the “remains of Solomon’s Temple.” This is one of the key reasons why the location of the Temples was thought to be on the Haram, as opposed to the original location near the Gihon Spring.

The Muslim Principle of Barakah

One of the stones which Omar took from the original Temple location and positioned in his mosque became the qibla, the pillar stone that pointed Muslims to pray toward Mecca. Using the stones taken from the original Temple location and the Muslim theological principle of barakah, Omar believed that he had successfully transferred the holiness of the ancient Jewish Temples above the Gihon Spring to his new mosque on the Haram.

Unfortunately, this use of the principle of barakah was another of the primary reasons the people of Jerusalem became disassociated from the original site of the Temple. Even the Islamic people of Jerusalem began calling the Al Aqsa Mosque by the name “Solomon’s Temple.” Later, as time passed, people forgot about the transference principle and simply accepted that the southern area of the Haram was the place where Solomon had erected his Temple.

It is well known that Herod the Great expanded the original Temple to the north, doubling its previous dimensions. By further use of transference (barakah), it is not difficult to see how the Dome of the Rock became part of what was by then believed to be Herod’s Temple. As Dr. Martin explains in his article:

“The Dome of the Rock in Christian eyes finally became a part of the ‘Temple’ because Jesus’ footprint was believed to be on the ‘oblong stone’ and instead of the ‘footprint’ being placed there in the time of Pilate (as the original story stated), they changed the account into the event when Jesus was a baby and was placed in the arms of Simon the priest. One error of the story became superimposed on another error and contradictions galore began to occur in the various accounts.”

Unfortunately, folklore became reality for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; and the Dome of the Rock eventually became the de facto location of the Temple. During the Crusades, in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries AD, Christians perpetuated the myth by referring to the Dome of the Rock as “The Temple of God.”

Other Evidence

The Geniza documents from Egypt provide some early and reliable historical records from the time of Omar and Sophronius in Jerusalem. They report that Omar allowed Seventy Families of Jews to relocate from Tiberias and settle in Jerusalem. Where did these Jews want to settle in Jerusalem? Historical records indicate that they moved to the southern part of Jerusalem, near the Siloam water source (the Gihon Spring), on the southeastern ridge. This was in the region of the real “Mount Zion.”

Later, in the tenth century AD, some Karaite Jews settled in Jerusalem. They too wanted to live close to the site of the ancient Temples. They settled next to the Rabbinate Jews, establishing themselves on the eastern side of the Kedron Valley, on the lower Olivet ridge. The Jews lived in this southeastern region for over 400 years, from AD 638 to AD 1077.  Biblical records indicate that this was also the site where the original Mount Zion of David was located. The Jews showed no interest whatsoever in the southwestern hill of Jerusalem, where only Christian buildings were to be found during this period.  This continued until the tombs of David, Solomon, and the kings of Israel were reportedly discovered below the ruins of an old Christian church in the mid twelfth century AD.

As late as the thirteenth century, testimony from various Rabbis confirmed the deplorable condition of the location over the Gihon Spring, and the area remained completely devoid of any Gentile buildings. Among those whose testimony was recorded was Rabbi David Kimchi, otherwise known as RADAQ, one of the great Jewish theologians, who lived from AD 1160 to about AD 1235. In AD 1235 Rabbi Kimchi became the last Jewish authority to state that the site of the former Temples in Jerusalem was “still in ruins,” and he further confirmed that no Gentile structures had been erected over the Temple site. As reported by Dr. Martin in his article, this statement necessarily disqualifies the whole of the region containing the Haram esh-Sharif (with its Dome of the Rock) as the site of the Temples, since the Muslim Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome were on the Haram.

Even the famous Maimonides, who modernized Judaism with rationalistic doctrines in the twelfth century, wrote about the site of the Ancient Temples.  As recorded in the Misneh Torah and reported by Dr. Martin in his book, Maimonides wrote during his travel to Jerusalem in AD 1180 that the site of the Temples site still retained its sanctity.

Benjamin of Tudela

Even with the testimonies of such Jewish royalty as Rabbi Kimchi, Rabbi Samson, and Maimonides, there were Jews already beginning to believe that the Dome of the Rock was the site of the ancient Jewish Temples. And within the span of 100 years, nearly all Jews accepted the “Temple Mount” as fact, with the full sanction of the Jewish authorities.

What happened? Who was largely responsible for this misunderstanding?  Can we even know this? The answer is “Yes.” The culprit’s name was Benjamin of TudelaBenjamin of Tudela was the first Jew who unambiguously stated that the area of the Dome of the Rock on the Haram was the Temple site. What prompted him to make that statement?

Benjamin was a traveler from the city of Tudela in northern Spain who journeyed first to Babylon, then to Egypt, and then returned to Tudela. He made a short visit in Jerusalem about AD 1169. At the time, there were very few Jews living in Jerusalem, possibly only a handful; Benjamin found only four Jews living near the “Tower of David” (near the Jaffa Gate in the upper/western city). This was the case because when the Christian Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in AD 1099, they forbade Jews or Muslims from entering the city; and this was strictly enforced for over 50 years. Benjamin arrived in Jerusalem 70 years after the Crusaders first occupied Jerusalem.

So from AD 1099 to AD 1151 – over 50 years – no Jews lived in Jerusalem. When they started to return, everything looked different.  The Crusaders had torn down many of the old buildings, and much new construction was underway. The old landmarks were no longer as they used to be. This is yet another very important reason why the Jews forgot where their Temples were located.

In AD 1152 several Jews were allowed to live near the Jaffa Gate. One of them was Abraham al-Constantini, who Benjamin met in AD 1154; and it was Abraham al-Constantini who told him of a remarkable discovery. He told Benjamin that the Tombs of David, Solomon and the other Kings of Judah had been discovered underneath a church on the southwest hill of Jerusalem, then being called by the Christians “Mount Sion” (Christians used the term “Sion” rather than “Zion”). In his writings, Benjamin of Tudela tells us that it was Abraham al-Constantini who informed the Christian Bishop that the newly-discovered tombs were those of David and the other kings. It’s entirely possible that this may have been true, because in the second century BC Simon the Hasmonean moved David’s “Tomb” (which he built as a cenotaph – a monument to honor King David, even though his body remained elsewhere).

The news of this archeological “discovery” traveled swiftly throughout the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish worlds. This new “Tomb” was considered to be of great significance and began to change the way Christians, Muslims, and Jews viewed the early geography of Jerusalem. How so?

If these Tombs were reckoned to be real (and not themselves cenotaphs), then it meant that the southwest hill was the real and proper “Mount Zion;” and the southeast ridge was not the correct location, in spite of the eyewitness accounts of Sophronius, Omar, and Eutychius.

The discovery of this “Tomb of David” caused some Jews to question the validity of the southeast hill as the site of the ancient Temple. But the “Tomb” was at a church believed to have been built over the ruins of an old Jewish synagogue which had the same orientation as the church, which was northward. The holy niche in the building also appeared to be oriented northward. Early Jewish synagogues in “Palestine” were normally oriented facing the temple, and the orientation of this “Tomb” was toward the Dome of the Rock.  In short, based on the evidence, it appeared that the Haram esh-Sharif must have been the true site of the Temples (as opposed to the southeast ridge, as biblical teaching and eyewitness accounts demanded).

But that is not the end of the story.  As it turned out, there was NO ancient synagogue on the southwest hill; the ruins were merely those of a church which had been destroyed by the Persians in AD 614 or the Muslims in AD 965.  So the whole scenario was false, and the conclusions consequently unfounded. Unfortunately, this information was not known at the time of the discovery of the “Tomb.”

The unfortunate result of the misunderstanding concerning the “Tomb of David” and the “synagogue” was that Jews at that time increasingly spoke with absolute conviction about the “Royal Tombs on Mount Zion.”  According to Dr. Martin:

“See the work Sefer Qabbalath Sadiqei Eretz Israel as cited by Prawer. This is further confirmed by what is called The Forged Itinerary of Rabbi Menahem of Hebron in 1215 C.E. who spoke of “the Tombs of the Kings on Mount Zion.” And then in 1270 to 1291 there is The Itinerary of the Anonymous Pupil of Nachmanides who not only visited the site of the “Tomb of David” (and the other kings) but he described a building at the place which was then being called the “Temple of David” with the Hebrew name Heikhal describing it. This same Hebrew word was that which sometimes was used for the Holy of Holies in the actual Temples. And note this: This later Jewish traveler gave a further interpretation about this new site on the Christian “Mount Sion.” He stated: “Some [Jews] say that the Ark of the Covenant which was brought by David [to Jerusalem] rested here [on the southwest hill] until he built the Temple.” The author then added the further interpretation: “Not far away [from this “Temple”] is the Tower of David, built of huge stones.” This was the Christian “Tower of David” located at the Jaffa Gate to the north and west. The author then stated that anyone can see that this Tower of David “is an ancient building.”

As reported by Dr. Martin, by the end of the thirteenth century AD, Jewish authorities worldwide had mistakenly come to believe that the southwest hill of Jerusalem was, indeed, the original “Mount Zion” of David’s time. Also, with the “synagogue” at the site of the church (the discovery site of the “Tomb of David”) pointing toward the Dome of the Rock on the Haram, it was easy for the entire Jewish community (along with the Christians and Muslims) to identify the area of the Haram esh-Sharif as the former Temple site of the Jews.

All of this background helps to explain why “The Rabbis Forgot.”

But wait!  There is more to the story. The Jews also began to believe that the perceived “Tower of David” at the Jaffa Gate in the northwest part of Jerusalem was the real “Tower” of David. That tower, however, was built no earlier than the sixth century AD and was, of course, located about three quarters of a mile northwest of the true Tower [Citadel] of David in the real City of David, on the southeast ridge.

Dr. Martin summarized the situation at that time in history, as follows:

“From this time onward, the confusion (it should be called “the deception”) was now complete and within two generations after the time of the Crusades, all people (including the Jews) now accepted the Dome of the Rock as the place near where the Holy of Holies once existed. They forgot all about the proper place on the southeast ridge.”

According to Dr. Martin,

“This was the period when all peoples finally accepted the southwest hill of Jerusalem as the actual “Zion,” and they forgot the real biblical “Zion” on the southeast hill. So certain did this false identification become in the eyes of all scholars, historians and theologians that even Robinson (one of the great explorers of Palestine in the early 19th century and after and whom “Robinson’s Arch” in the western wall of the Haram esh-Sharif is named) said the truth of the southwest hill as being the real “Mount Zion” was thoroughly unassailable. To him and his colleagues there was not the slightest doubt that the southwest hill was the correct biblical site. Indeed, virtually everyone throughout the world (and at all official levels of academic and theological authority of all religious persuasions) dogmatically accepted that the southwest hill was the true “Mount Zion.” The error brought chaos to the actual biblical geography of Jerusalem.”

This ends our summary of the historical account of Benjamin of Tudela. To be quite blunt, he was a sloppy and ignorant geographer who became a dangerous authority figure for later Jews, because his accounts were accepted without question. Even the Jewish Rabbis accepted his erroneous conclusions, causing them to forget the true site of the Temples. It is an interesting but sad story.


Dr. Martin makes a strong case for the various events and individuals which caused the Jewish Rabbis to “forget” the location of the ancient Temples following the destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD 70. With his case, Dr. Martin has done much to set the record straight and lead the world to the true Temple location, above the Gihon Spring, on the southeast ridge of Jerusalem.

Note: In my next Post I will bring to a close this series on ‘Where Was Herod’s Temple?’ with a few final thoughts.

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