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The Retaining Walls of the Temple Mount

I am often asked the question, "How can you say the Temple was on the Temple Mount when Jesus said not one stone will be upon another?  Those walls sure are a lot of stones one upon another."    That was put into the minds of a lot of people by Dr. E Martin and now by Bob Cornuke repeating Martin's words. So, they claim the Temple Mount was all Fort Antonia.

I have a few things to say about that. Firstly, Jesus never said anything about the walls, just the buildings.  But, that aside, the huge rectangle Temple Mount, with 4 walls all the same height, that we see today, are not the walls that actually remained standing after the 70 AD destruction.



Here is the text being referred to.  Matt in green, Mark in blue, and Luke light red.

Mat 24:1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.
Mar 13:1 As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!"
Luk 21:5 And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said,

Mat 24:2 And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down."
Mar 13:2 And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down."
Luk 21:6 "{As for} these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down."

What beautiful buildings were they speaking of to Jesus? Herod's Temple. The beautiful white stones he used to build the temple and outer buildings.  Jesus was not being shown the walls of the Mount, only the buildings that Herod built.

Jesus was being specific. "Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left upon another.  By 30 AD the Herodians had built the Temple and all the buildings of the Temple court and the Woman's court, and also Fort Antonia, but Herod the Great died in 4 BC, long before the Southern section of the west wall of the Temple Mount was built. Coins in an old mikveh were found under the foundation stones deep below Robinson's Arch that were dated from 17-18 AD. So, it was Herod's son and grandson that slowly, over the next 70 years,  finished building the west wall and also the last court of Herod's Temple called the lower court, according to Josephus. The Lower Court was called "lower" because it was built on a lower part of the hill. The Lower Court contained Herod's Royal Stoa, which was 600 feet long. The work on this lower court was not finished until 66 AD, 36 years after Jesus was crucified.   I doubt they had even built the foundation of the lower court when Jesus walked in the Temple. He walked in the lower southern court that had been there since the time of Solomon within those ancient walls (pre-Herodian extended southern court and walls).  The lower court with the Royal Stoa on the Ophel was knocked down or disaembled after the destruction of 70 AD.

What is a retaining wall and why is it still standing?
 In this case of the west wall, the retaining wall is part of the construction of a new western court of the Temple. There had never been a western court because Solomon built to the edge of the Tyropoeon Valley.  To create a western court The Herodians had to start building the foundations for the wall in the depths of that valley.  Behind the wall are arches upon arches in layers. This was done to bring the new west court up to the ground level of the Temple/Priest's court.  In the photo below I’ve marked out where the old Herodian stones, that weren't thrown over, ends. This shows us where the ground level of the Mount was in 70 AD. Only the stones that were above ground level could be thrown down, which they were, but any stones below ground level couldn't be thrown down. So, after the destruction of 70 AD there was no wall above ground level. It was like a plain, as Jesus prophesied it would be. 

In 134 AD the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, began building his Temple of Jupiter on the bare Temple Mount. He built a few rows of wall above the Herodian retaining wall and above that the Muslim's continued to build the wall even higher.


 Temple Mount wall construction

As we round the Southwest corner the ground level stays high but then drops down. This is because the ground level dropped.

Below the red line are Herodian stones and above the red line are Hadrian stones and above the blue line are Muslim stones.  These Herodian stones couldn't be thrown over, meaning it was ground level, this is because this is where the Temple was located.  The southern wall we see today was actually the inner wall of the sacred area, which included the Temple court, Priest court, Men's court and Women's court.

Herod stones south wall


So, after the destruction of 70 AD all a person would have seen of the walls when viewing the Temple Mount was all the retaining stones below the red line on the above photo.  As for the rest of the Temple area, and the Temple itself, and Fort Antonia, they were laid even to the ground.  As Josephus wrote; you couldn't even tell a Temple had ever been there.

The gate, called Double Gate on Warren's map, was once the location of what Josephus called the Upper Gate. This gate is mostly covered up by the crusader building built against the southern wall (see above photo). This gate still has some Herodian stones at the entrance and arch of the gate. There are steps with the height of 22 feet where one would walk up and then enter the upper gate to make a sacrifice. Inside the upper gate were eleven marble steps that brought one up to the level of the actual threshing floor where the altar was located. Because the threshing floor was set back from the entrance of Upper Gate, this allowed the stones of the walls on either side of the gate to be thrown down.

Double gate (Upper Gate)
  Notice in the illustration the 11 steps within the gate.
Doube gate


The women's court was also at the same level as Upper Gate. Therefore, the stones in that area could be thrown over, all accept the bottom row of the wall, which remains today.  That row was part of the lower retaining walls.


What about the east wall?
Jesus was looking at an east wall built by Solomon, because Herod refused to let his masons rebuild that ancient work,
because of the great time and expense involved. (Josephus Flavius Ant. 20:9, section 7) "These cloisters belonged to the outer court (Woman's court), and were situated in a deep valley, and had walls that reached four hundred cubits [in length], and were built of square and very white stones, the length of each of which stones was twenty cubits, and their height six cubits. This was the work of king Solomon, who first of all built the entire temple. But king Agrippa, who had the care of the temple committed to him by Claudius Caesar, considering that it is easy to demolish any building, but hard to build it up again, and that it was particularly hard to do it to these cloisters, which would require a considerable time, and great sums of money, he denied the petitioners their request about that matter;"


This is saying the Solomon's porch and Solomon's east wall remained intact.  The Herodians just extended it to the north and to the south as they extended the north and south courts. Josephus, when giving measurements of the Temple complex looking at it from the east, called the east wall "Solomon's wall". That 400-cubit (a standard Greek cubit of 18" 400cu = 600') wall cannot be seen today.  Part of the 400 cubits was the lower/southern court. The whole Lower Court was burned and thrown down after 70 AD. It was located on the Ophel. All of the fragments of the Royal Stoa were found on the Ophel during the excavations of Benjamin Mazar, which is hard to explain if a person doesn't know the Temple compound went beyond the southern wall of the Temple Mount we see today. When I first started this work I remember, seeing an old news item with a quote by B. Mazar saying "I believe I have found a 600-foot building on the Ophel".  I have not seen that quote since then. What this means is that he found hundreds of fragments, spread over 600 feet, that were from one building. In this case it was fragments from the Herodian Royal Stoa.



Here is a diagram of the east wall today.  It was a city wall. The Temple sat back from the city wall.  In the time of Jesus only the yellow and blue walls existed.


Temple Mount east wall

Hadrian used recycled Herodian stones to build Solomon's Stables (named that by the Crusaders in the 10th century).  This created the Southeast corner. When Jesus and some of the disciples were looking at the Temple from the mount of Olives they saw the upper diagram Blue wall of Hezekiah, along with the extended Hasmonean wall (in Yellow) built around 160 BC.  All of the wall above the Hasmonean and Hezekiah wall, was built by the Romans, including the east gate they call the Golden Gate (above the old gate). Above the Roman stones are the courses of Muslim stones. Everyone who has studied knows this Gate was not built by Herod!

The high east wall of today’s Temple Mount began as a low City wall that Nehemiah rebuilt. He described the city wall all around Jerusalem (see scripture). That wall was not a wall of the Temple.  In fact, Nehemiah did not rebuild any of the Temple walls, only the city walls. 


Nehemiah's City Walls
Nehemiah's wall seen as dashed line on map

So how did the Temple Mount become the huge rectangle it is today?  

We can thank the Roman Emperor Hadrian for that piece of handy work.  I am sure you have heard that the whole Temple Mount was Fort Antonia. That is not true. Fort Antonia only took up a portion of it.  Josephus tells us that the Temple and Fort Antonia together measured six furlong around.  A furlong is approximately 600 feet, making the combined Temple and Fort Antonia complex 600' x 1200' altogether.  We know the Temple was  600 x 600 feet, but Fort Antonia area was approximately 600 x 500 feet with around 100 feet between the Fort and the Temple. The Fort occupied the elevated platform of the Dome of the Rock area. Josephus tells us that Herod built a low wall around the top of the Mountain and filled it in with dirt and covered it with flagstone and there they built the fortress.   The Fort overlooked the Temple and the Temple overlooked the city.


Fort Antonia
The Temple platform was about 30 feet lower on the mountain than Fort Antonia


In 135 AD Hadrian began the building of a new city,  and began work on his Temple of Jupiter.  At first the remaining Jews thought he was going to rebuild their Temple and were actually helping him.  When they found out he wasn't, they rebelled.  If you read Josephus you would understand that Fort Antonia was built on a hill that was 75 foot high, whereas, the Temple was built at a lower elevation on the mountain, on the threshing floor.   That is what Hadrian had to deal with. He needed a huge flat surface for his temple complex.   

This is the design of Hadrian's Jupiter temple complex in Lebanon (in blue) laid over Warren's map.  

Temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount


The Al Aqsa Mosque is built on the foundation of the temple of Jupiter.

No North Wall found?

If we look at the northern section of the West wall, on Warren's map above, you will notice that there is no Northwest wall at all, and according to Sir Charles Warren he could find no trace of a North wall either. Its border is determined by the wall of the ancient Pool of Israel.  The suburbs, called New City by Josephus, had a land bridge connecting it to the eastern ridge so the Jews cut a moat to separate the two hills. The foss of that moat can still be seen on this map north of the Dome of the Rock platform labeled "Excavated Ditch".  This means the real northern wall was in the same place as the Nehemiah wall, cutting across the mount west to east, along the north end of the Dome of the Rock platform.

Actually, the Herodian west wall does not go beyond the end of the first century Herodian street, which is opposite the north end of the Dome of the Rock platform. 

On the east, the northern part of the east wall, starting shortly after the eastern gate and meeting up with the Pool wall to the north, is part of the third city wall built by Herod Agrippa II.  This falsely gives the appearance of a Northeast corner.


W
hat about Solomon's Stables and the Southeast corner?

Southeast corner of Temple Mount

Not only was the SE corner, all the way to the straight joint, not built by the Herodians, but was actually built of  miss-matched, recycled, Herodian stones, as we can see in this diagram drawn by Charles Warren.  Cap. Warren, in the 1800's, dug a 90 foot shaft to examine the SE section of the east wall.  Here is what he found.




As you can see it is not the beautiful wall of the Herodian builders, but mismatch stone work. The margins around a Herodian stone were chiseled by stonecutters after the wall was built. Because of this all the stones in his wall had matching margins. Not one stone in this part of the southeast corner matches another.  That means that the terraced arches of Solomon's Stables was most likely built by Hadrian in 135 AD for the purpose of creating a SE corner at level needed to be able to build his Temple of Jupiter complex.  

Triple Gate and Double gate Halls, on Warren's map, were also used for this purpose. The rest of the southern section of the Temple Mount is filled in with fill dirt and rubble, as Warren tells us in his report. (what Warren calls "made earth") What Warren didn't realize is that the threshing floor lay beneath that fill dirt.

Solomons Temple diagrams 


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