Digging out the truth at Temple Mount
My first introduction to Jerusalem in 2006 took place on Tisha Be'av, the fast commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. I stood at the Western Wall, during that time of the Second War in Lebanon, watching thousands of Jewish faithful, from all different walks of life - women and men, soldiers and Hassidim, Sephardim and Ashkenazim - gathered in unity to remember and to mourn. It was like entering the very soul of Israel.
This Tisha Be'av caused me to reflect further on those lost Temples, particularly now that I have spent two years in the country, during which I had occasion to visit the Temple Mount. After passing through two security checks before entering, a different world appeared - one with no visible vestige of Judaism - on that ancient and holiest of Jewish sites.
Christianity hasn't fared any better. In fact, for Christians, the writing is on the wall - literally and figuratively - the wall inside the Dome of the Rock. In Arabic calligraphy dating from the seventh century, the text declares that God has no son; that Jesus was not resurrected (Islam also denies that he was crucified); that Jews and Christians, "the People of the Book," transgress by not embracing Muhammad's revelation; and that Allah's reckoning will come swiftly on those who do not believe.
Christians' attachment to the Temple Mount is based on Jesus' words and deeds as recorded in the Gospels.
It was strange enough for me to discover, therefore, that Jews and Christians are not permitted to read their scriptures or pray aloud there. But it wasn't until learning that during the 2000 Camp David negotiations, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat had denied that any Jewish Temple had ever existed on the Mount that I grasped the depth of the divergence from the Hebrew Scripture, New Testament and historical records that is out there, and not as fringe an idea as one might assume.
SIFTING THROUGH tons of rubble that had been illicitly dug up on the Temple Mount by the Muslim Wakf and stealthily dumped into a landfill, biblical archeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay, professor at Bar-Ilan University, is in the midst of the project of a lifetime. I put the question of Temple denial to him.
"This denial of the historical, spiritual and archeological connections of the Jews to the Temple Mount is something new," he says. "There was always talk about the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem - called the 'praise of Jerusalem'- in Arabic literature, in Islamic literature. This new idea of Temple denial is due to the Arabic fear of Jewish aspirations connected to the Temple Mount. It is part of something I call the 'cultural intifada.'"
Barkay says the change took place in the 1990s: "In the Washington DC think tanks surrounding president Bill Clinton, it was understood that the Temple Mount was the crux of the problem of the Middle East conflict. These think tanks decided that if there could be 'split sovereignty' on the Temple Mount, then split sovereignty could also be achieved over the entire land of Palestine. So they suggested that in a future agreement, the Temple Mount would be split horizontally. That is to say that whatever is above ground, the part that includes the shrines of the Muslims, would be under Palestinian sovereignty. Whatever is underground, which would include the remnants of the Temple of the Jews, would be under Israeli sovereignty.
"It's a brilliant idea, an excellent idea, but totally idiotic from a practical point of view. You cannot have a building standing with its foundations in another country. You cannot have a building with the infrastructure and the plumbing in another country. And you cannot have sovereignty on the subground without having accessibility to the subground, because the accessibility is from above ground. The whole thing was stupid."
Barkay explains that the Temple Mount is honeycombed with more than 50 different cavities, holes, passageways and cisterns that are "filled with earth which is saturated with very valuable archeological materials. Enormous damage was done in these works which were carried out mainly from 1996 and onward. The idea that came from the circles surrounding Bill Clinton and leaked to the Wakf authorities is what generated the illicit building activities - I wouldn't call them excavations - but destructive work which was carried out brutally on the Temple Mount. The fear, the fear of anything representing a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount drove them mad."
PRIOR TO my own visits to the Mount, I had been warned not to carry a bible or "holy objects" with me, and to stay away from the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Aksa Mosque, into which non-Muslims are forbidden to go. Nor was I allowed to see a third edifice which I'd read about - the Marwani Mosque - a gigantic, subterranean building, located in the southeast corner of the Temple Mount Plaza. In 1996, the Wakf had reconfigured an underground structure, formerly known as "Solomon's Stables," into a mosque. Their contractors lowered the inside surface of the building by removing large quantities of priceless soil, rich in archeological evidence.
According to Barkay, the history they hauled away in dump trucks was not Muslim. "The building was never a mosque. It is actually more connected to traditions about Jesus. There are quite solid hints in the literature of the existence of an early Christian church there, marking the place where St. James was killed in the first century. The place is more Christian than Muslim."
In November 1999, the Wakf asked permission from the Israeli government to open an emergency exit leading from the Marwani Mosque.
"The prime minister at that time was Ehud Barak, and as usual he didn't consult with anybody else," Barkay recalls. "He gave them permission. But instead of an emergency exit, they created a main entrance to the building - a monumental entrance. For that entrance, they dug a pit 40 meters long and 12 meters deep. They did it with bulldozers in the most destructive manner possible, that of a bull in a china shop. The work on that place should have been done carefully, not with bulldozers. They removed 400 truckloads of earth."
For Barkay, sifting through those truckloads of material is essential, because it amounts to exploring a black hole in archeological history. Although Israel is one of the most excavated places in the world, explored continuously since the 1850s, the Temple Mount has been surveyed but never excavated. Therefore, ironically, the digging and removal of earth in the 1990s has provided a new opportunity.
"At least it enables us to look at the soil, though everything comes from a very disturbed context," Barkay says. "But we know it comes from the Temple Mount. And we have tens of thousands of finds."
These finds, that cover approximately 15,000 years, have altered the historic understanding of the area's history. Sponsored by the Ir David Foundation, volunteers working with Barkay have been sifting through the debris, and have found Stone Age flint implements. They have discovered pre-Israelite material, Bronze Age pottery, two Egyptian scarabs and several seals and seal impressions.
One very significant find, confirming the recorded history of the Temple's existence, is the fragment of a bulla, a clay lump with a seal impression upon it, which is about 2,600 years old and dates from the First Temple period. Its inscription bears part of official's name, Gealyahu son of Immer. The Immer family is recorded in the Bible. "In Jeremiah 20:1," Barkay says, "probably the brother of Gealyahu is mentioned, a priestly man named Pashur son of Immer. He is introduced as the man in charge of the Temple."
Findings from the time of Solomon's Temple up to the 20th century illuminate the raging conflicts of passing civilizations. "We have enormous quantities of war artifacts: We have lead slingshots of the Seleucid armies in the battles of Judah Maccabee. We have arrowheads of the army of Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the First Temple. We have arrowheads of the Hellenistic period. We have one arrowhead bearing distinguishing markings of having been shot by a catapult. Those machines were only used by the armies of Titus in 70 CE in the destruction of the Second Temple. We have stone slingshots; we have spearheads; and we have medieval arrowheads from the Crusader conquest of the Temple Mount. There are even bullets from both the Turkish army and the British army in World War I."
Other findings on the Temple Mount - jewelry, coins, pottery shards and architectural fragments - provide specific details of human life spanning several millennia. "We have material dating back to the 10th century BCE, the time of David and Solomon. We have material from the time of the kings of Judah. We have material in abundance from the early Christian period. This is very significant, because it is written in most history books that the churches moved to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher after it was built (it dates back to at least the fourth century), and that thereafter the Temple Mount was neglected and was a garbage heap. But now we have to build a new history, based on archeological evidence.
"We have fragments of capitals from church buildings. We have remnants of chancel screens that separated the presbytery from the nave of the church. We have several bronze weights for weighing gold coins from the Christian era. We have to rethink the role of the Temple Mount in the time of early Christianity. Was it a garbage heap? Or is that biased history? I think that history was ideological."
Barkay says that large quantities of animal bones have been found on the Mount. "Bones are very important. We have pig bones which had to have come from pagan or Christian times. We also have bones of foxes. And that is interesting, because in the Talmud we have a story about foxes which until recently I thought was a legend."
IN SPITE of these discoveries, Temple denial remains a growing phenomenon in Europe and America, particularly in leftist intellectual circles. It is supported by the reality that there are no visible remains of the temples of Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. Barkay contends that there were remains still visible in the 1960s and 1970s, which have either been removed or covered up by gardens.
"The Islamic Wakf says, 'We are not going to let you dig, but show us any remains of the Temple.' You cannot have it both ways. If you don't allow people to dig, then don't use this absence of remains as an argument.
"Temple denial is a very tragic harnessing of politics to change history. It is not a different interpretation of historical events or archeological evidence. This is something major. I think that Temple denial is more serious and more dangerous than Holocaust denial. Why? Because for the Holocaust there are still living witnesses. There are photographs; there are archives; there are the soldiers who released the prisoners; there are testimonies from the Nazis themselves. There were trials, a whole series of them, starting with Nuremberg. There are people who survived the Holocaust still among us. Concerning the Temple, there are no people among us who remember.
"Still, [to deny the Temples], you have to dismiss the evidence of Flavius Josephus; you have to dismiss the evidence of the Mishna and of the Talmud; and you have to dismiss the writings of Roman and Greek historians who mention the Temple of Jerusalem. And you have to dismiss The Bible. That is, I think, way too much."
The writer has authored or co-authored more than 60 books, primarily in the field of ecumenical Christian non-fiction. Her work includes the recently released biography Baroness Cox: Eyewitness to a Broken World and the award-winning Their Blood Cries Out, co-authored with Paul Marshall. She is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom