The Walls of the Temple Mount (2 vols.)

The Walls of the Temple Mount (2 vols.)

Eilat Mazar (with Y. Shalev, P. Reuven, J. Steinberg and B. Balogh)
(Jerusalem: Shoham Academic Research and Publication, 2011), 320 pp. + 6 fold-out maps
$270 [regular price]; $249.95 from BAS

Reviewed by Shimon Gibson

Eilat Mazar’s new book on the Temple Mount walls follows in the footsteps of Charles Wilson and Charles Warren, two of the greatest explorers of Jerusalem. She accomplishes this with great success and confidence.

Charles Wilson was the first to pay proper scholarly attention to the stonework of the Haram el-Sharif (Temple Mount) walls when arriving in Jerusalem in the winter of 1864–1865 to conduct the first comprehensive mapping of the Old City (the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem). Many travelers and explorers before him, such as Edward Robinson, George Williams, Ermete Pierotti and James Fergusson, had noted the antiquity of these walls and the enormous size of some of its visible dressed stones. The remarkable Western Wall, or the Kotel, where Jews prayed—which led it to be described at that time as the “Wailing Wall”—was also frequently commented upon by travelers and pilgrims. Wilson had the unique opportunity to make a close-up study of impressive sections of ancient masonry visible along the lower and external parts of the Haram walls, especially on the southern and eastern sides. Wilson also had an excellent photographer with him, a Scotsman named James MacDonald, who took important pictures showing the lower ancient portions of the Temple Mount walls.

Charles Warren was eventually sent by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) to undertake excavations in Jerusalem and to focus, as far as this was possible, on excavations at the Temple Mount. Warren arrived in 1867 with a letter from the Ottoman vizier in hand that said he could excavate wherever he wanted in Jerusalem, so long as it was not within the Haram al-Sharif grounds. Hence, he concentrated on excavating shafts down beneath the ground to the level of the lower parts of the external Temple Mount walls, recording the different types of stonework he encountered at different levels and other features, such as Robinson’s Arch on the western side and the Herodian street below it. Warren continued digging in Jerusalem until 1870. His sketches of the masonry were sent back to the PEF’s offices in London. These drawings of the Temple Mount walls were not promptly published, and tension developed between Warren and Wilson as a result of Wilson’s publication (in an article in the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement for 1880) of modifications of Warren’s drawings without his permission. Eventually, partly to placate Warren’s wounded feelings, in 1884 the PEF published a large portfolio of 50 of Warren’s maps, plans and drawings titled Plans, Elevations, Sections, etc., Shewing the Results of the Excavations at Jerusalem, 1867–70 (now known as the “Warren Atlas”).

Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Jerusalem opened up to major Israeli archaeological work. Large-scale excavations were conducted at the southwest and southern Temple Mount walls by Professor Benjamin Mazar, Eilat Mazar’s grandfather. The considerable quantities of soil and rubble fills against the Temple Mount walls were removed by excavation, which meant that Warren’s earlier drawings of these Temple Mount walls could now be examined by comparison to the actual walls and corrected. A new set of elevation drawings was made during the course of these excavations by Irish architect Brian Lalor and later by the archaeological surveyor Leen Ritmeyer (whose name is unfortunately spelled incorrectly throughout Eilat Mazar’s book). Eilat Mazar, who is working on the final publication of her grandfather’s work, was clearly inspired by this work from the 1970s and decided to take it even further with the documentation of the visible construction in all four walls of the Temple Mount.

Hitherto, scholars wishing to inquire about the construction phases of the Temple Mount Walls had to make do with Warren’s 1884 drawings. Now we have Eilat Mazar’s study. Mazar’s book comes in a box with an additional folder containing detailed fold-out elevation drawings of the four Temple Mount walls. She does not include the underground segments of walls previously seen by Warren, which I think was a wise decision. This way she presents to the reader only what may be seen of the ancient masonry today. The book is lavishly illustrated with drawings and photographs. And she includes earlier drawings by Warren and others in the context of her own work.

One of a number of introductory chapters deals with the history of research. To my mind this is somewhat lacking, uneven and not very thorough. Some of the biographical information given there is incorrect, and certain investigators who dealt with the Haram walls (such as Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz) are ignored.

The book also has a chapter on the methodology used by the team during the documentation procedures: Numerous measurements were made and thousands of photographs were taken. The team eventually put together digitized elevations of the Temple Mount walls on the basis of the photographic data, using the process of orthophotography to create “photographic maps” of the walls by excluding distortion and by clarifying exact proportions. The four walls were divided up into a total of 156 segments, each measuring ten meters in length, and studied accordingly. The results of these documentation procedures are impressive, even though there were definite time limits on the project. Mazar writes about her concern regarding the speed of the work: “We were accompanied by the uneasy feeling that we were not spending enough time simply observing—that we had not seen enough, or that we had not understood enough, and that the unseen secrets of the walls were too great” (p. 14).

The main part of the book consists of bulky chapters dedicated to each of the four walls. The author swamps us with an incredible amount of new information; surprisingly there were many wall segments that had never been recorded before, even though they were accessible. The elevation drawings show the position of the visible segments of masonry and the suggested dating (illustrated with color coding) of each segment.

One does not have to accept all of Mazar’s suggestions and proposals, especially the dating of specific segments of masonry, but the importance of this work is that it provides scholars for the first time with all the visual source materials on the walls of the Temple Mount. She also attempts to provide a typology of stonework and dressing techniques. She attributes no wall segment to the First Temple period (contrary to Laperrousaz; one of his studies was published in BAR*), but this is in accord with the consensus of scholarly opinion. Mazar’s Construction Phases II and III (seen particularly in the eastern Temple Mount wall) seem to me to be actually one and the same, both dating to Hellenistic/Hasmonean times at the earliest. The main wall segments are rightly assigned to the Herodian period, with substantial rebuilds in Roman, Early Islamic, Medieval and Ottoman periods. Altogether, Mazar identifies 23 phases of dated construction works in the walls of the Temple Mount.

Eilat Mazar’s book is an amazing sourcebook of visual and written data, and its contents will undoubtedly serve as the basis for much scholarly discussion in the future. She is to be congratulated for her endeavors; the book is a superb piece of scholarship and a major contribution to the archaeology of Jerusalem. One must not forget, however, that she had a team of investigators working with her on this documentation project, namely Yiftah Shalev, Peretz Reuven, Jonathan Steinberg and Balage Balogh, each of whom contributed substantially to the overall success of the project.



Shimon Gibson is the head of the archaeology department at the University of the Holy Land and a senior associate fellow of the Albright Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem. He coauthored (with David Jacobson) Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A Sourcebook on the Cisterns, Subterranean Chambers and Conduits of the Haram al-Sharif (Oxford: BAR International Series 637, 1996).




* Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz, “Solomon’s Wall Still Supports the Temple Mount,” BAR, May/June 1987.

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  • Tom says

    I resent Mr. Gibson’s continued references to the Temple Mount as being the “Sharam” or whatever the Muslims call it. Does he deny that the Temple Mount was built by Jews for Jews? Does he deny that Israel has sovereignty over the Temple Mount (thanks to the Arabs continually starting wars that they lose)? Mr. Gibson, it is the Temple Mount and one day all the filth on it currently will be swept away. Along with you.

  • D. says

    Now is a good time to ask about Dr. Martin’s theory that the “Temple Mount Walls” actually enclose the Fortress Antonia:
    I haven’t heard anyone interact with his theory from an archaeologist’s point of view.

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