The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

  • Leen Ritmeyer
  • Nov 13, 2007
  • Series: Volume 10 - 2007

Leen Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem: Carta and The Lamb Foundation, 2006.  viii + 440 pp.  Hardback, $60.00.  ISBN 965-220-628-8.

The size of this book, along with its use of glossy paper and publication of nearly four hundred colorful illustrations, could easily lead the unsuspecting reader to assume that it is a "coffee table" popular work.  However, this is not the case.  While the writing is clear, the reader soon learns that this is a serious detailed study that argues Ritmeyer's thesis that a great deal is known about the Temple Mount and we can reconstruct much of the ancient temples of Solomon and Hezekiah (these are both from the First Temple period), as well as those of the post-exilic and Herodian temples (these are both referred to as the Second Temple).

Ritmeyer has the best of archaeological credentials for this project.  He worked with Benjamin Mazar on the excavation of the area around the southern part of the Temple Mount from 1973 to 1976.  He remained fascinated by this subject and devoted years to researching what could be explored of the site, to examining the ancient witnesses to the Temple and its location, to reviewing the British reports on their systematic explorations of the Temple Mount in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and to synthesizing the whole in a painstaking fashion.  Carefully written descriptions guide the reader, but this is not all.  Just as important are the models, the line drawings, and every type of architecturally designed reconstruction between these two extremes of presentation.  Some of these are stunning in their beauty and skill.  Altogether, the visual context provides an extremely helpful guide for the written text; to a degree that in many ways remains unique for any archaeological or ancient architectural report I have used. 

The first chapter begins the study with an examination of the outer walls of Herodian construction.  Starting with the best-known part, the Western Wall, the study moves counter clockwise to examine each part of the wall.  Having visited these walls many times, I found it helpful to review the presence and positioning of the Heordian masonry and, on the western side, the gates and their attached structures.  To the north of the Western Wall lay remains of a pre-Herodian conduit that may be identified with that place at the Fuller's Field where Isaiah met Ahaz in Isaiah 7; a place that allowed Ahaz to inspect the defenses of northern Jerusalem, the most vulnerable direction for attack. 

The southern wall preserves two gates that are often related to Huldah's Gate, known as an ancient entrance from the south that dated to First Temple times.  However, the double and triple gates are Herodian and do not date earlier.  They are part of the great extension of the Temple Mount that Herod built to the south.  Nevertheless, there is evidence that the double gate is positioned directly south of the original Huldah Gate, and that this gateway formed the main entrance to the Temple from any direction.  The eastern wall is the only wall positioned along the same line as the original Temple Mount; not only Herodian but Hasmonean and in the view of Ritmeyer very possibly First Temple.  As one proceeds north from the southeastern corner, one identifies the "seam" where the Herodian masonry (at the lowest levels) ends and the pre-Herodian Hasmonean masonry is found.  The beginning of this southern addition begins at the "bend," a slight change in the direction of the wall marked by a horizontal pillar (Muhammad's Pillar) extending from the top of the (much later) wall.  To the north of this lies the Golden Gate.  Beneath this structure Ritmeyer finds evidence of the easternmost extension of the First Temple Mount and of a gateway there. 

To the north was a tower that extended beyond the northeastern corner.  The northern Herodian wall bordered the southern end of a great collecting pool that extended between the northeastern tower and the famous Antonia fortress at the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount.  All of these structures assisted in the defense of the vulnerable northern approaches to the Temple and city.

Having established the perimeter in chapter one, Ritmeyer probes the remains of the Temple Mount that might date to the time of Herod and earlier.  Ritmeyer concludes that the Most Holy place of the Temple stood over the raised stone in the Dome of the Rock.  Thus he recreates the Most Holy Place in the Temple of Solomon with the wall along the western scarp and around the remainder of the rock.  Although most of the scraping and cutting visible today on the rock can be traced to the Crusaders and their constructions, the unusual rectangular form cut out of the central section may have a different origin.  Ritmeyer suggests that the depression was the actual location of the Ark of the Covenant in the First Temple.  After its removal, this mark indicated to the High Priest, who entered the Most Holy place on the Day of Atonement during the Second Temple period, where he would place the fire pan. 

The later chapters go into greater detail regarding the buildings and rooms of the Second Temple itself.  Ritmeyer relies more on the written sources and less on the archaeological evidence.  While he cites Josephus and occasionally other witnesses such as the New Testament, his major source is the Mishnah.  He does not address critical issues regarding his sources.  The same is true of the Masoretic Text, which is accepted without a discussion of contrary opinions.  Thus the reader learns on the basis of 1 Kings 6:1 that the exodus occurred in 1447 B.C. (p. 284).  Elsewhere, Mishnah Yoma 5.2 is cited to refer to the rectangular depression already mentioned; despite the fact that the Mishnah text describes only a stone rather than any depression (p. 277).  Nevertheless, Ritmeyer's approach provides interesting solutions to traditional interpretive issues.  Thus he understands the differences between the Temple as described in 1 Kings 6-7 and the text found in 2 Chronicles 3-4 (summary on p. 306) as a reference to the Temple at two different periods - the reigns of Solomon and of Hezekiah.

In summary, this is an extraordinary work that provides the clearest tour of the Temple and its history available.  It should be consulted by biblical scholars and any others whose work touches on the Jerusalem Temple.  It will provide every student of the Bible with an invaluable resource for understanding what is certainly the most sacred piece of real estate known to the Jewish and Christian faiths.

 

Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages
Denver Seminary
November 2007

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