Friday, September 26, 2008

Location of Solomon’s Temple 10b: The Golden Thread

The transformation of Christianity into the imperial religion of Rome brought with it the transformation of the sacred geography of Jerusalem as the city was reconsecrated as a Christian holy place. Of course this transformation had begun with earlier Christian traditions, but culminated with the appropriation of the sacred geography and traditions of Jerusalem into Imperial Christianity. (Wilken, Land Called Holy; Walker, Holy City, Holy Places?) An important part of the new imperial Christian order was that the Temple Mount was not the site of any major Christian building activity. Its very desolation, however, rendered it holy, for was seen as a sign by Christians of the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy that “not one stone [of the Temple] will be left upon another” (Mt 21:12). This fact had two interesting implications. First, the site of the Temple was regularly visited by Christian pilgrims who left accounts of what they saw there. Second, the absence of any church on the site of the Temple left the place available for attempted Jewish rebuilding of the Temple, and ultimately the Muslim building of the Dome of the Rock (See Hamblin and Seely, Solomon’s Temple). The following are some of the major records of the site of the Temple from AD 325 until after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in AD 638.

• AD 333. The Bordeaux pilgrim, traveling around 333, reported that the Jews were allowed to come to Jerusalem every year to mourn the destruction of the Temple. During this mourning ritual, they would “anoint” (unguent) a “pierced stone” (lapis pertusus). This is almost certainly a reference to the eben šĕtîyyāh (“foundation stone”) mentioned in the Mishnah around AD 200 (Yoma 5.2). The fact that the stone is described as “pierced” quite likely has reference to the hole in the Rock in the current Dome of the Rock. He likewise saw the statue of Hadrian, undoubtedly the same statue that Origen saw on the site of the Temple 100 years earlier. (Origen was writing, it should be remembered, within living memory of the sages of the Mishnah.) The Bordeaux Pilgrim also saw the “blood of [the martyred] Zacharias” “before the altar [of the Temple],” perhaps a reference of the ruined survival of the altar. Finally, the Bordeaux Pilgrim mentions that on the Temple there is “a crypt where Solomon used to torture devils” (a reference to the Testament of Solomon, OTP 2:935-87) (Itinerary, 589-91 = Peters, Jerusalem, 143-4). We thus have mention of an altar, a stone the Jews venerate, a hole in the stone, and an underground chamber all on the Temple Mount, and all of which make perfect sense in relation to known features of the Rock of the Dome of the Rock, with its hole and cave underneath. The reference to the statue of Hadrian means the site the Bordeaux Pilgrim saw was probably the same one Origen knew.

•AD 363. When Julian “the Apostate” became emperor of Rome, he reinstated paganism as the official state religion. In an attempt to undermine Christian ideology, he allowed the Jews to rebuild their Temple (Hamblin and Seely, Solomon’s Temple, 77 for bibliography). Construction efforts got underway, but were never completed because of an earthquake and the death of Julian in battle a few months later. However, a number of sources report that the site of the Temple was cleared of its ruins down to the foundations. John Chrysostom reports that the Jews told Julian, that if he would “restore the temple, open up the holy of holies for us, fix the altar, [then] we will sacrifice at that time.” This report indicates, at the very least, that the Jews believed they knew were the old Temple had been located. Sozomen (Church History, 5.22 = Peters, Jerusalem, 146) reported “when [the Jews] had removed the remains of the former building [of the Temple], they dug up the ground and cleared away its foundations. … On the following day, when they were about to lay the first foundation” for the new temple, an earthquake occurred, halting the work. John Chrysostom agreed: the Jews uncovered “the foundations [of the Temple] by removing masses of earth … You can see the bared foundations if you visit Jerusalem now” (Exp. in Psalms 110, cited in Shanks, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, 57). These reports indicate that in 363, ruins of the old Temple were still standing, and its location was known the Jews. Secondly, however, it seems to indicate that the ruins of Herod’s temple were largely removed at this time so the new construction could begin. What this means is that if we were able to excavate on the Temple Mount today, it is quite likely that no remains of Herod’s central sanctuary (naos) would be found, although it is possible that some of the foundation stones may still be there.

• AD 381 Egeria mentions the Temple Mount, adding that “the rest of the Temple has been destroyed” (Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels, 88).

• AD 395. The pilgrim account known as “Brevarius A,” agrees that there was reportedly nothing left of Solomon’s Temple “apart from a single cave (cripta)” (J. Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades, [2002], 121; Peters, Jerusalem, 155). This matches nicely with the cave/cistern mentioned sixty years earlier by the Bordeaux Pilgrim which can be visited under the Dome of the Rock today. The fact that the ruins seen a century earlier by Eusebius in 311 are now gone is probably because they were removed during the Jewish rebuilding project of Julian in 363. Thus, although the ruins were gone, the site could still be recognized because of the cave/cistern mentioned by the Bordeaux Pilgrim sixty years earlier.

• AD 410. Furthermore, Jewish mourning pilgrimage, also mentioned by the Bordeaux Pilgrim was still ongoing a century later. In the early fifth century Jerome reports that the Jews were still allowed to visit the site of the temple to mourn its destruction on the 9th of Ab. “Those miserable people [the Jews] groan over the ruins of their Temple … they groan over the ashes of the sanctuary, the destroyed altar” (C. Soph 1.15). This indicates both that the Jewish mourning ritual was still practiced at the site of the Temple, indicating a continuity of Jewish knowledge of its location. It may also indicate that the ruins of the altar were still visible.

• AD 430. Eucherius, bishop of Lyon, visited Jerusalem, reporting that the Temple “was once a world’s wonder, but of its ruins there stands today only the pinnacle of one wall, and the rest are destroyed down to their foundations.” He also notes that “the east wall of Jerusalem is also the wall of the Temple” (Peters, Jerusalem, 154). This is consistent with the fact that the east wall of the Temple Mount is also the east wall of old Jerusalem as a whole.

• AD 439. Jewish mourning on the temple site is mentioned again in the Bar Sawma incident some thirty years later. During the reign of Eudocia—a Byzantine empress {AD 421-440} who retired to live in Jerusalem from AD 440-460—the Jews were still permitted, for a fee, to come to worship in the ruins of the Temple. During one of these periods, a riot broke and, stones were thrown, and some of the Jews killed (Vita Bar Sawma 3.19 = Peters, Jerusalem, 158-61). These regular Jewish mourning pilgrimages to the site of the Temple means its location was still known to the Jews nearly a century after the abortive attempt at reconstruction in 363. It is not clear if the tradition of Jewish pilgrimage to the ruins of the temple continued unabated during the fifth and sixth centuries. However, the Talmud {late 6th century} mentions pilgrimage to the ruins of the Holy of Holies, in a commentary to Leviticus 19:30, “‘And revere My Sanctuary’ [Lev 19:30, means] one may not enter [the Temple Mount] with his [walking] staff, his shoes, with his money belt, or with the dust on his feet” [Yevamot 6b]. In other words, sixth century Jews still believed it was possible to go on pilgrimage to the site of the Temple—they apparently thought they knew where it was.

Subsequent fifth and sixth century pilgrims do not provide many details about the location of the Temple itself, although most of them mention the “Pinnacle of the Temple” where Christ was tempted and James the Brother of Jesus was martyred, and the “Gate Beautiful” (probably today’s “Golden Gate”). The “pinnacle” is clearly the southeast corner of the modern Temple Mount (e.g. Theodosius, in AD 518, Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, 109; Piacenza Pilgrim 17, Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, 138). Thus, although the location of precisely where the Christians believed the Temple once stood is not clear from these sources, the knowledge of the Temple Mount as a whole as the site of the Temple continued unabated.

• AD 615. The conquest of Jerusalem by the great Shah Khosraw in 614 inaugurated a very poorly documented incident in the history of the Temple Mount. The Persians initially supported a restoration of Jewish power in Jerusalem for a few years. The pseudepigraphic Apocalypse of Zerubbabel (probably written in this period) talks about the restoration of the Temple altar and the resumption of sacrifices. (See Hamblin and Seely, Solomon’s Temple, 77-8).

• AD 685. The tradition of early Christian pilgrim accounts culminates with Adomnan who writes, “near the wall on the east, in that famous place where once there stood the magnificent Temple, the Saracens have now built an oblong house of prayer” (Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, 170), clearly linking the Haram al-Sharif with the Christian remembrance of the Temple Mount.

• AD 700. Epiphanius the Monk, writing in the early eighth century, in the last link in the golden thread I will discuss here. He mentions “the Holy of Holies … the hanging Rock, and the Temple of Solomon with its own special wall.” The important point is the association of the Holy of Holies with the “hanging Rock.” No details are provided. However, when we remember the “pierced stone” with the cave underneath mentioned by the Bordeaux pilgrim in 333, it seems very likely that the “hanging Rock” is the eben šĕtîyyāh and it is described as “hanging” because it rests above the cave. In other words, Christian tradition from the first Christian pilgrimage account of the Bordeaux Pilgrim in 333 through the early eighth century after the building of the Dome of the Rock, consistently associates a rock and a cave with the Holy of Holies.

The combination of all these interlinking factors—ruins of the building itself, the altar, the Rock, the hole in the Rock, the cave underneath, the equestrian statue, and the annual Jewish tradition of mourning at the ruins of the Temple—means that it is extremely unlikely that the general location of the Temple could have been lost between the time of the Mishnah and the building of the Dome of the Rock. This Golden Thread of eyewitness testimony and tradition, although often very thin, nonetheless stretches back 1200 years from the founding of the Dome of the Rock to Zerubbabel’s rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple after the Babylonian captivity. All in all, it makes it certain that the Temple Mount was the site of Solomon’s Temple. Although the precise location of the Temple on the Temple Mount remains uncertain, it is very likely that it was located roughly where the Dome of the Rock now stands.

No comments: