Historical Tour of the Temple Mount


Jerusalem: The Temple Mount

By Leen Ritmeyer and Kathleen Ritmeyer
(Jerusalem: Carta, 2015), 160 pp.,184 illustrations, $25.00 (paperback)
Reviewed by R. Steven Notley

This newest addition to the Carta Guide Book series meets a dire need for the serious visitor to Jerusalem’s “Noble Sanctuary” (called in Arabic al-Haram al-Sharif ), location of the ancient temples of Solomon and Herod. The Ritmeyers are eminently qualified to address the subject, having participated over the past 40 years in numerous excavations in the vicinity of the Temple Mount.

The guide consists of three chapters with appendices and a glossary of archaeological and architectural terms. Chapter 1 presents a history of the Temple Mount. Beginning with the basic topography of the hill and the nearby city, the authors trace the settlement of Jerusalem from the Chalcolithic period (4000 B.C.E.) to the present. The writers’ strength is on display in their understanding of the physical setting of the Temple Mount. On the other hand, if there is a weakness in the work, it is their casual treatment of the historical sources—both Biblical and extra-Biblical.

Take, for example, the evolving layered religious traditions about the hill in the Biblical period, which the Ritmeyers all but ignore. In Genesis 22:2, God instructs Abraham to take his son, Isaac, “to the land of Moriah” (no more specific than that). There, the Lord instructs him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering “on one of the heights [or mounts] that I will show you.” The earliest account of David’s purchase of the threshing floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24:18–25) (which becomes the Temple Mount) says nothing about it being the place of Abraham’s nearsacrifice of Isaac, nor does it call the hill Mount Moriah. Not until 1 Chronicles 21:15—one of the last works written in the Hebrew Bible—do we hear of the identification of the Temple’s location with the mount of Abraham’s offering, and the Ritmeyers do not discuss this.

The Ritmeyers credit the building of the fortification of the Baris to the Hasmoneans, but they do not mention that a fortification by the same name already existed in the days of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:8; 7:2). Further, in their illustration of the Temple Mount during the Hasmonean period, they portray the Baris as adjoined to the northern wall of the Hasmonean Temple precincts. In this, they follow Charles Warren’s misreading of Josephus’s statement about the relative position of the Baris and the precincts, in which the Greek verb (prosketsthai) is read “to be adjoined” (War of the Jews 1:118). Instead, it means “to be near,” as it does in Antiquities of the Jews 13:50, where Josephus describes Galilee and Judea being “nearby” (proskeimenooen). In this latter instance, the verb can by no stretch mean that the regions touched. As for the Baris, Dan Bahat’s investigation of the Western Wall tunnel confirmed that the fortress did not adjoin, but lay near, the Hasmonean temple precincts.1 Contrary to the Ritmeyers’ assertion, the Hasmonean period Baris was situated north of the fosse that coursed between it (and also its Herodian replacement—the Antonia) and the walls of the Hasmonean Temple precincts.

In Chapters 2 and 3, the authors guide us around the Temple Mount walls and onto its platform. Their intimate familiarity with the site is evident in the close attention to physical detail. They decipher the complex composition of stones in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, assisting the reader in identifying Herodian, Hasmonean and even First Temple construction. This is eye-opening and sorely needed. On the Temple Mount platform, the authors identify a line of Herodian ashlars northwest of the Dome of the Rock, today incorporated into steps leading up to the shrine. The orientation of the stones is askew with their immediate surroundings, suggesting that their original purpose will be found in a different era. A picture dated to 1978 indicates that these stones were not first intended as steps, but belonged to a wall. The authors claim that these were part of the western wall of the 500-by-500-cubit temenos that surrounded the pre-Herodian Temple.

Even if the reader does not fully embrace every proposal set forward by the authors about the historical significance of a particular crevice or angle of stone, their call for us to pay closer attention to the evidence before our eyes is welcome. The authors do an excellent job sorting through the complex and sometimes confusing layers of history that make up the Haram (Temple Mount). It is not an easy task, which is compounded by the fact that there has never been a scientific archaeological excavation of this sacred site. While their evidence is fragmentary and their suggestions sometimes speculative, in many instances it is all that is available.

The guide concludes with three appendices that are of uneven value. In reverse order, the plan of the Muslim buildings on the Haram (Appendix 3) is helpful for those with an interest in the modern setting. On the other hand, it is not clear the purpose for including in this guidebook Charles Warren’s 19thcentury plans of the cisterns and underground structures, which cannot be seen or visited (Appendix 2).

Finally, the Ritmeyers’ map and list in Appendix 1 is their attempt to link specific New Testament events to the modern setting. The list is presented with little support or explanation, at times leaving the authors’ thinking obscured. For example, why do they associate Jesus’ use of the metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15:1–6 with Josephus’s description of the golden vine that adorned the façade of the Temple (Antiquities of the Jews 15:395; War of the Jews 5:210; cf. Tacitus, Histories V.5)? Do the authors intend for us to understand that Jesus was in the Temple when he uttered these words? Or simply that the golden vine inspired the imagery for Jesus’ statement to his followers? With no explanation for this or other entries, the reader is left with more questions than answers.
These peripheral questions aside, this handy guide is of considerable value. It provides easily accessible and wonderfully illustrated information to direct and inform the serious visitor about the Temple Mount. There is nothing in print quite like it, and the authors are to be commended for their efforts to enrich the experience of those who want to explore the Temple Mount, unlocking its secrets, both past and present.



1 Dan Bahat, “The Western Wall Tunnels,” in Hillel Geva, ed., Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2000), pp. 183–185.

R. Steven Notley is Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins and Program Director of Graduate Programs in Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins at Nyack College, NY. He has published many books and articles, including Jesus, Parables of the Sages with Ze’ev Safrai.

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1 Responses

  1. Jeffrey Berry:- South Australiia says:

    The 150 pages are only Ch.1″ Brief History”,Ch.2″Walk Around”, Ch.3″ Tour of Platform”. Essential 2 read p.152 Select Bibliography with its 20 highlighted titles,especially BAR updated/enlarged”Secrets of..”,all L&K Ritmeyer’s past period series & the magisteral research volume “The Quest”. Carta’s Guide is just only a handy-hold &walk-around to spot some ” sites- sights”& lead on into comprehensive understanding! The Distinguished Professor with his Review would appreciate that !
    His own progression has advanced from foundation studies in Second Temple Judaisim & the Origins of Early Christianity by his Mentor-Dr. David Flusser of the Hebrew Uni.& contemporaries & followers since! BAR Bookshop has many valuable complementary titles on “Temple”!!

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