Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Southern Temple Mount Wall

From 1997 to 1999, Yuval Baruch and Ronny Reich excavated along the southern wall of the Temple Mount. More specifically, they unearthed material in front of the Triple Gate and along the wall to the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount. Their work is summarized in a chapter they wrote in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.

The first interesting discovery they made was of a ritual bath (mikveh) underneath the wall of the Temple Mount. Since this predates the Herodian construction, it dates to the Hasmonean period. The mikveh has a double entrance divided by a quarried pilaster. Those are my favorite kind.

A second find is more briefly described: they discovered the fragment of a Herodian doorpost that matches the western doorpost of the Triple Gate. I am sad that there was not a photo.

They also found fragments they believe belonged to the Royal Stoa on the Temple Mount above.

These were thrown down when the Romans destroyed the city. The authors don’t mention, but I will add, that it is absolutely amazing just how little is preserved of this structure that Josephus described as “more noteworthy than any other under the sun” (Ant. 15.412). BTW, if you’re looking for a handy description of the “magnificent stones and wonderful buildings” of the Temple Mount, I wrote an essay on this for the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels.

Here’s another remarkable fact: the excavators revealed some 80 meters of the Temple Mount wall east of the Triple Gate, and they determined that a sloped street ran along the top of a series of 18 vaulted shops, yet they found no actual evidence for the street itself. It is amazing to me how much of antiquity has just vanished.

I love the photo of the arches burned into the Temple Mount wall. While it was a sad day for Jerusalem shopkeepers, it provides a poignant scene of the city’s destruction in AD 70. (I have a less dramatic photo here.)

Ronny Reich is the mikveh expert, so I was interested to read his suggestion that ritual baths near the Temple Mount can be dated based upon which direction they pointed. Those quarried along a southeast-northwest axis are pre-Herodian, while those oriented north-south are Herodian. The change in orientation is owing to the dominant feature in the area: the earlier ritual baths follow the natural topography of Mount Moriah, while the later ones are aligned according to Herod’s Temple Mount.

Baruch and Reich save the best for last. They propose that the sloped street that ran from the Triple Gate eastward was used for bringing sheep into the Temple Mount for slaughter. It also was periodically used for the removal of the red heifer. In support of this is the fact that the street is sloped, not stepped, and they contend that the third gate of the Triple Gate was used for animals, not people. This, they believe, makes better sense than a 200-foot high bridge spanning the Kidron Valley.

I enjoyed reading this article, but it would have been better with more illustrations.


3 thoughts on “Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Southern Temple Mount Wall

  1. Thanks for sharing these summaries, Todd. I was particularly interested in your last paragraph regarding the sloped street leading to the Triple Gate and its use for bringing sheep up to the Temple Mount. I don't want to misrepresent Leen Ritmeyer (so please correct me if I do!), but I gather from his work that the animals for sacrifice would have been brought in from the north through the Tadi Gate.
    1) The Pool of Israel / Birket Israel (or whatever was there during the Herodian period) would have provided water for the washing of the animals to be slaughtered. (The Bethesda Pool would be a separate water reservoir.)
    2) There seems to be plenty of room on the north end of the Temple Mount, and from there, animals could be brought directly into the Court of Priests and the slaughtering stations on the north side of that courtyard. (Otherwise, would you buy a sheep in the stoa and bring it through the Court of Women and the Nicanor Gate to get to the Court of Priests?)
    3) Thinking practically, it would seem to be just an awful, stinky mess to have animals for sale in the southern stoa where everyone was passing through. I'm surmising that doves could easily have been kept and sold in the stoa, but sheep and cattle? The suggestion would be that the sellers of those animals would be in the stoa, and you would pay for them there and then get some kind of ticket verifying your purchase that could be given to the priest.
    4) A look at the texts in Matt 21.12f; Mark 11.15ff; and Luke 19.45f. is interesting in that they only mention Jesus disrupting the "money changers and the seats of those who sold doves." (Luke only says "those who were selling things.") John 2.14-22 does picture Jesus driving out money changers, sheep and cattle. One would assume that's in the stoa area, but 2.16 makes a separate side note about those selling doves. I.e., is John describing Jesus' action broadly or specifically?
    It really makes no difference, of course, but I've been trying to picture how the whole setup actually worked.
    Thanks again!

  2. Good thoughts, Mark. Your summary of Ritmeyer's view sounds right to me, though I haven't looked at it in a while. I think the primary basis for Baruch and Reich's thesis is the lack of steps. On that, they have theorized this possibility. I sometimes suspect that things like this may have varied–perhaps things changed over time, or perhaps there was additional provision for holidays. Unfortunately the New Testament doesn't help us much geographically on this. What's often helpful to me in thinking through matters like this is being able to visualize the Temple Mount and how huge it is. That's where most tourists to Israel miss out, because their tour guides won't take them there. But in this case, it's easy for me to imagine multiple areas where sheep were kept and sold, without them affecting others very much.

  3. Thanks, Todd. You're right about the size of the Temple Mount. I do bring all my groups up there, We go up Mughabri Bridge, and you get a little sense of the size standing by the Al Aqsa Mosque, but we then go up on the Dome platform, and people think that's huge. But it's really only 1/4 of the whole Temple Mount area. So, yeah, lots of room for livestock!

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