Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
Jerusalem: Carta, 2006, 440 pp.
Reviewed by Eric H. Cline
In 2000, Yasser Arafat announced that the Jewish Temple was not in Jerusalem. A ludicrous claim it was that any sane person would dismiss. It’s a shame Arafat did not live long enough to read Leen Ritmeyer’s new and exhaustive study of the Temple Mount.
Ritmeyer, a Dutchman who now teaches in Australia, is an archaeological architect. He has participated in excavations in Jerusalem for the past 30 years or more. He was chief architect of the Temple Mount excavations directed by the late Professor Benjamin Mazar, and he later participated in Professor Nahman Avigad’s excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
Ritmeyer’s life’s work has focused on the Temple Mount and the area around it. This volume would seem to be the culmination of that life’s work. It may well be the most extensive architectural study of the Temple Mount ever published.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that the Biblical Archaeology Society and Hershel Shanks (editor of BAR) are thanked prominently and profusely in the preface. However, that does not affect the present review.
The back of the jacket describes the book as “a vivid view of the holy Temple in Jerusalem through the ages”; a “superb reconstruction of Temple Mount architecture”; and “the definitive work on the Temple Mount.” It is all that and more, since it is copiously illustrated with hundreds of useful historical maps, photographs, plans and drawings, and especially architectural reconstructions. Admittedly, some of these are a bit small and therefore hard to see, and the color is sometimes not well printed, but these are quibbles.
In Chapter 1 Ritmeyer escorts the reader foot-by-foot (and sometimes inch-by-inch) along the walls of the Temple Mount, including details of the history of the exploration of this giant platform. On the whole, the text is quite readable and is supplemented by related discussions in yellow text boxes on the sides of the page. Ritmeyer considers literary evidence—the Bible, Josephus and parts of the Mishnah—as well as archaeological evidence. The result is an extremely long chapter (122 pp.), almost a quarter of the book.
I am not fully qualified to comment on most of Ritmeyer’s architectural reconstructions in this and later chapters, so I cannot take a stand on whether or not he is correct. For the most part, his suggestions seem to make sense. For instance, Ritmeyer sees the pre-Herodian Temple Mount as that described in the Mishnah—a square measuring four stadia (500 cubits) on each side, and built “by the later Kings of Judah,” that is, after Solomon constructed the Temple.a Ritmeyer deals with many of the other suggestions as to the exact location of this “Square Temple Mount,” as he calls it, and dismisses each of them one by one, after which he presents his own evidence.
Next comes a discussion of the building activities that took place between the time of the Square Temple Mount and Herod the Great. This covers the early Second Temple period—after the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the High Priest soon after the return of the exiles from Babylon in 538 B.C.E. and before it was remodeled by Herod beginning in 19 B.C.E. This section includes an interesting but brief review of the Ptolemaic Akra—the fortress built at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount soon after Alexander’s death.
Ritmeyer contends that the Square Temple Mount was expanded on the south during the Hasmonean period, that is, during the time of the Maccabees. He finds evidence for this in a little-known bend in the Temple Mount wall, which was, however, earlier observed by Charles Warren.
Ritmeyer also briefly mentions the illegal excavations conducted by the Waqf—the Islamic authorities—in late 1999 and early 2000 on the Temple Mount (which continued on and off for the next few years, but apparently Ritmeyer’s book had already gone to press by that time).
A very short chapter deals with the underground cisterns on the Temple Mount. This “vast network of reservoirs” is currently inaccessible, so Ritmeyer must rely on records kept by Charles Wilson in 1865 and Charles Warren in 1867–1870, two of the early explorers of (and in) Jerusalem and the last to be permitted to explore these cavities.
Another very short chapter discusses Herod’s extension of the Temple Mount. Other chapters involve Ritmeyer’s reconstructions of the First Temple, the Second Temple, the Herodian Temple Mount and Herod’s Temple.
It is the chapter entitled “The Location of the Temple” on the Temple Mount, however, that will capture the interest of most people. Ritmeyer locates not only the Temple, but also the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Most of the elements and conclusions are carefully thought out and well presented. Ritmeyer feels compelled, however, to take up, in addition, the question of where the Ark of the Covenant would have been located. Here he indulges himself in a first person narrative to a greater extent than in the rest of the book, and he lapses into hypotheses that are far more speculative than anything else in the book. He concludes that he has discovered the original placement of the Ark of the Covenant “on the rocky floor [of the Dome of the Rock] of what can be identified as the Holy of Holies.” Ritmeyer clearly felt that he would be unable to publish a complete account of the Temple Mount without also trying to locate the original placement of the Ark of the Covenant, but he would have been better off writing this section in the same style as he did the rest of the book, without the hyperbole and with less pure speculation.
Overall, this is an interesting, elaborately illustrated and incredibly detailed discussion of the Temple Mount during the First and Second Temple periods. It may be a bit overwhelming for the average reader or tourist, but if a paperback comes out, its 440 pages might be just the thing to carry along as one wanders around the Temple Mount. As it is, this hardcover version is a pleasure to look at and read at leisure in a library or at home.
a. See Leen Ritmeyer, “Locating the Original Temple Mount,” BAR 18:02.
Eric H. Cline, chair of the department of classical and Semitic languages and literatures at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is vice president of the American Schools of Oriental Research. He is the associate director of the Megiddo Expedition and co-director of the Tel Kabri Project.
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