BiblePlaces Newsletter
Vol 8, #3 - September 14, 2009

Last month we announced the release of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, a stunning collection of 4,300 high-resolution images from the early 1900s.  This month we are delighted to make available the second volume, Jerusalem. This CD is spectacular, and if you have any interest in Jerusalem, then we are certain you will love these photographs.  Below I give you seven reasons why this is a unique and valuable resource.

If you are Jewish or living in Israel, you don't need this reminder, but others might like to know that the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah) begins on Friday night.  This begins a three-week period of many biblical holy days, including Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).  You can read more about these in Leviticus 23:23-44. To all those celebrating, we wish a shanah tova (Happy New Year) and a hag sameah (Happy Holiday).  May the Lord fulfill all of his purposes speedily.

Todd Bolen
Editor, and


New Release
Jerusalem: Volume 2 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

Here are seven reasons why I love the Jerusalem CD:

1. Stunning panoramic views.  Jerusalem has so much, so closely jammed together, that you really have to step back to take it all in.  That's one reason why a favorite stop for many is the view from the Mount of Olives.  But there are other great vantage points, such as the tower of the YMCA.  And the bell tower of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.  And the steeple of St. Savior's Church.  And the "tower of David" in the Citadel. And atop the cloisters of the Temple Mount.  And the tower of the Italian Hospital.  And the roof of the King David Hotel.  And from an airplane. 

2. Behind closed doors.  I've been to many places in Jerusalem that the average tourist or student cannot go.  But there are dozens of images in this volume of sites that even I have not seen.  Unlike most, I've been up to the sealed passageway of the Golden Gate and I've stood on top of the Golden Gate, but I've never been inside the Golden Gate.  I've never been inside Herod's family tomb or inside the "Tomb of the Sanhedrin."  I've been inside Al Aqsa Mosque, but never been allowed to take photos.  I've been inside the Dome of the Rock, but never looked down on the rock from the dome above.  I've pointed out the massive lintel of Barclay's Gate in the women's area of the Western Wall prayer area, but never been inside the gate in the Herodian-period passageway.  I've used the Russian tower on the Mount of Olives as a landmark, but never been able to ascend to the top.  This CD includes all of this and more. 

Pool of Siloam, 1934-1939

3. Closed for construction.  I'm not thinking here of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which seems to be perpetually covered by scaffolding.  I'm thinking instead of the sites that have been forever changed by bulldozers and architects.  Sultan's Pool is an outdoor concert area today, but it used to be a pool.  Saladin donated a beautiful wooden pulpit to Al Aqsa Mosque, but it was destroyed by fire by a "Christian" tourist-terrorist in 1969.  The walk to the Western Wall used to involve a traipse through a cactus field.  Dung Gate wasn't built for cars.  The ladder on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher...well, wait, never mind.  The Pool of Siloam used to be Jerusalem's water source.  The City of David used to be home to two families.  The Rockefeller Museum used to feature the latest in museum technology.  Jaffa Gate used to have a clock tower, and a fountain, and a lot of horse-drawn carriages.

4. Extraordinary descriptions.  If I had written the descriptions, I would be more modest.  But since I did not, I can tell you that the photo annotations constitute an unparalleled wealth of fascinating details about nearly every aspect of the city, ancient and modern.  Tom Powers has not only lived in the city for most of the last decade, and he not only works in one of the best biblical studies libraries in the world (Ecole Biblique), but he has an insatiable curiosity.  Just reading through his notes should earn you college credit.  If you're just doing this for fun, you don't have to read all 250 pages of text, but you can expect that whatever photo you're fascinated by, you'll have plenty of information for learning more about it.

5. 685 photos.  That's a large number.  The first photo collection I bought for teaching included 100 slides ($25).  The first digital collection I bought included 50 photos for about the same cost.  If you use the photos from this collection as desktop wallpapers, you can change once a day for the next 23 months.  If you want to create monthly calendars, you are supplied for the next 57 years.  If you were to view each one for 5 seconds, you'll be speechless for an hour.

6. Ready to use.  When I want to use a photo, I don't have to try to figure out what it is called, because I can easily search for a filename or browse through well-labeled folders.  I don't have to crop a photo to eliminate stereoscopic images, ugly borders, or damage.  And I don't have to touch it up to remove distracting blemishes.  If I'm creating a PowerPoint, I just drag from the Matson presentation into my new one.  If I'm writing for my blog, I just grab the jpg image and drop it into my post.  Fast and easy.

7. Price.  You get all of that for $25.


News from the BiblePlaces Blog...

1st Century Synagogue Found at Magdala - The news reports are focusing on an interesting stone inscribed with a menorah and other decorations, but I'm more impressed by the possibility that Jesus visited this synagogue and it may one day be open to tourists...

Bar Kochba Coin Cache Discovered - 120 gold, silver, and bronze well-preserved coins from A.D. 135 were found in a cave near the Judean rebels' headquarters at Beitar...

Recommended Book: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus - Of all the popular "Jewish background of Jesus" books that I have read, this one is the best...

Massive Canaanite Wall Found in Jerusalem - Apparently this wall protected a passageway that led from the city wall to the defensive towers above the Gihon Spring...

Virtual Walking Tour of the Temple Mount - This is the best way to see the Temple Mount without actually being there...

Then and Now - This is a new series begun last month comparing today's scenes with images taken from the Northern Palestine CD...

And more...

Featured BiblePlaces Photos:
The Temple Mount

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is probably the most holy ground in the world, if measured by the number of adherents to religious groups that consider it so.  To Jews, the Temple Mount is the location of two temples where they entered into the presence of the holy God.  Christians revere the place for the same reason, as well as Jesus' ministry in the temple courts.  Muslims today control the premises, and the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are among their most sacred buildings in the world.

The featured photographs for this newsletter were taken by the photographers of the American Colony between 1898 and 1946.  Unique photographs include interior views of "Solomon's Stables," Barclay's Gate, Golden Gate, and the Double Gate.  (Photographs of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are not included here but are separate presentations on the Jerusalem CD.)  The descriptions below and in the PowerPoint presentation were written by Tom Powers and edited by Todd Bolen.

Each photo below is linked to a higher-resolution version, but we recommend that you download the Temple Mount PowerPoint presentation (7.5 MB), which includes an additional 21 photos (27 total) along with extensive descriptions.  You are welcome to use these images for personal study and teaching. Commercial use requires separate permission.  For more high-quality, high-resolution photographs and illustrations of biblical sites, purchase the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands or the Historic Views of the Holy Land collections.


Temple Mount and Western Wall from the air

Click picture for higher-resolution version.

An aerial view encompassing most of the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif), seen from the southwest. The structures present in the photo suggest a date in the 1930s or 1940s.

At bottom center is the Western Wall and in front of it (and piled up around the Mughrabi Gate area) the buildings of the Mughrabi Quarter, an Arab neighborhood razed by the Israelis in 1967 to create today's expansive prayer plaza. Atop the Haram sit the two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock (center) and the al-Aqsa Mosque (right), dating in their original manifestations to 691 and 714 respectively. At the right edge of the photo, across the Kidron Valley, the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane is visible. At top, two institutions stand sentry on the Mount of Olives—Mt. Scopus ridge: the Augusta Victoria church and hospital (tower at far right) and the buildings of Hebrew University (center).


Temple Mount from the south

Click picture for higher-resolution version.

This view from the southeast is probably taken from the Arab village of Silwan, across the Kidron Valley. From this angle the entire width of the Temple Mount's southern wall is visible. In the years since 1967, the area in front of the southern wall, within the curve of the distant road visible here, has been excavated by Israeli archaeologists.

After Mohammed's death in 632 Islam rapidly spread beyond the confines of the Arabian peninsula, and by 638 Jerusalem had come under the Islamic rule of the Caliph Omar. At that time the Temple Mount was cleansed and reclaimed in the service of Islam and soon received a new name: To Muslims it became al-Haram esh-Sharif, the "Noble Sanctuary." When the Damascus-based Omayyad dynasty (ca. 660-750) came to control Jerusalem, it was they who created (in their original forms) the two great shrines we know today. They also connected Jerusalem's Haram compound with a foundational Muslim narrative: the Prophet's Night Journey from Mecca to al-masjid al-aqsa, "the farthest mosque," and his ascension to heaven and dialogue with Allah. That is, by the early 8th century, under Omayyad influence, the Haram became identified with "the farthest mosque" (Koran, Sura 17).


Robinson's Arch

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Date of photograph: between 1898 and 1914

A view looking north along the western wall of the Temple Mount, near the southwest corner. The three courses of curved stones jutting from the wall are known as Robinson's Arch, after Edward Robinson, the American scholar and biblical geographer who visited Palestine and first identified and documented them, in 1838.

This photo shows the ground level as it no doubt existed for many centuries, whereas today the spring of the arch looms over a deep excavated area that goes right down to the pavement of the Herodian street below. Robinson could not see a fourth course of related stones, just below ground level (even in this photo taken some 60 years later), a row of protruding, squarish "impost blocks" on which the springers rest.

The complete arch had a span of 41 feet (13 m) and rose 56 feet (17.5 m) above the pavement, and is now known to have carried a monumental staircase which proceeded from a western gate of the Temple Mount. After crossing over the street, the staircase then turned and descended to the south on other, smaller vaults (which have also been found archaeologically) to the Herodian street.


"Solomon's Stables"

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Date of photograph: between 1898 and 1914

Beneath the Temple Mount/Haram platform, at the southeast corner, lie these expansive vaulted spaces, long known as "Solomon's Stables," which have caught the attention of visitors to Jerusalem for centuries. The 13 north-south rows of vaults supported by 88 pillars serve structurally to support the esplanade above and carry it over the steep slope of the terrain here, which descends to both the south and the east.

Like most other Holy Land sites labeled with the name "Solomon," these spaces in reality have nothing whatsoever to do with the biblical king. Instead, they are situated within the massive retaining wall built by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC, and they are much more likely to have served as stables during the 12th century, when the Temple Mount was in the possession of the Crusaders (1099-1187).


Interior of the Double Gate

Click picture for higher-resolution version.

Date of photograph: between 1920 and 1933

This is a very rare view indeed, looking in through the western portal of the Double Gate. The viewpoint is actually the interior of the medieval tower built in front of the gate, looking north. The decorative archivolt (applied arch), seen at top just above the Corinthian capital, is part of the same architectural element seen outside over the eastern portal. The column is one of four which flank the two portals on either side; they are attached at their tops to the Herodian lintel and are probably in secondary use here. Inside the Double Gate is an impressive vestibule comprising four domes; in the photo, two of the domed spaces are just visible beyond the column and in front of the stairway, which ascends northward inside the passage. These interior elements of the Double Gate are regarded as a mix of Herodian construction and later rebuilding, especially by the Umayyads.


"Mosque of el-Burak"

Click picture for higher-resolution version.

Date of photograph: between 1940 and 1946

This fascinating photograph (looking northwest) shows a room lying beneath the surface of the Temple Mount. This space was the subject of several descriptions and drawings by 19th century explorers but has rarely been seen by Westerners—or photographed. Much better known, actually, is the opposite side of the thick wall seen here at the end of the vaulted room: it is the massive lintel and blocked opening of an original western entrance of the Herodian Temple Mount, the so-called "Barclay's Gate" partially visible in the very southern end of today's Western Wall (women's prayer area). The ancient gate was identified in modern times by James T. Barclay, an American Protestant medical missionary and amateur explorer of Jerusalem's ancient places.

The vaulting overhead is the top of the Herodian gate passage, and the dark line in the masonry of the far wall (beneath the shallow arch) corresponds to the bottom of the great lintel (apparently the lintel itself is not visible). Experts estimate the height of the Herodian gate opening, from sill to lintel, at 25 to 30 feet (7.8 to 9.3m), with the sill lying only a few yards (meters) above the Herodian street. Thus, in the original gate passage here, a broad stairway no doubt ascended (far beneath the floor shown here) toward the east and the surface of the Temple Mount. The original passage ran eastward from the western wall for at least 70 feet (22 m), but it was reconfigured and altered in many ways over the ages. For example, the distinctive arch of chamfered voussoirs (beveled and molded arch-stones) seen here, and others like it, point to a major redesign and rebuilding of the passage in Omayyad times (7th-8th centuries), when the gate was still open and in use. Since the Arab chronicler Al-Muqadassi in 985 still lists the gate (called by him, and all previous Arab sources, Bab Hitta) among the active entrances into the Haram, it must have gone out of use and was blocked sometime after that date. The eastern part of the passage was walled off at some point, plastered, and used as a cistern.

The "al-Buraq" (Arabic, "lightning") commemorated by the mosque is the mythical winged beast who bore Mohammed on his Night Journey from Mecca to al-masjid al-aqsa, "the farthest mosque," and thence to the "seventh heaven" where he had a dialogue with God. In the course of the journey, on which he is accompanied by Gabriel and encounters biblical patriarchs and prophets (including Jesus), the Prophet pauses to pray at the "farthest mosque," tethering al-Buraq to a wall there.

It is interesting that the floor level of the mosque lies only a meter or two higher than that of the prayer plaza just outside. In other words, here, within a few meters of each other, on opposite sides of a blocked ancient gate, Jews and Muslims—simultaneously at times, yet always unseen by the other—both pray!



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All contents (c) 2009 Todd Bolen.  Text and photographs may be used for personal and educational use.  Commercial use requires written permission.