Many assume today that the Temple Mount within the old city of Jerusalem is where the Jewish or Old Testament temple originally stood. However, what if this was not the case? What if the temple were located elsewhere?
There is a theory that is gaining popularity that places the temple not on the traditional Temple Mount, but instead within the city of David. In our last trip to Israel, Elder Don Esposito with the Congregation of YHWH, Jerusalem, was gracious enough to help coordinate and serve as our tour guide. While there in Israel, he introduced the group to this theory.
While I was hesitant to believe this theory, it was difficult to refute. After returning home in November of 2016, I sought every reference I could find supporting this theory, including: The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot by Ernest Martin and Temple by Robert Cornuke. I also considered the counter-evidence. In all, I spent several hundred hours reviewing this theory.
Important, but Not Salvational
Before launching into the evidence supporting the temple as being located within the city of David, let us consider the importance of this theory. While this is not a salvational belief, it is a belief that may have far-reaching impact on prophecy.
The traditional Temple Mount contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Both of these buildings are sacred to Islam. For this reason it’s impossible today for the Jews to build a third temple on the Temple Mount. As a side note, Muslims call the Temple Mount the Haram esh-Sharif, meaning “the Noble Sanctuary.”
While it may not be possible for the Jews to rebuild a temple on today’s Temple Mount, nothing would hinder them from rebuilding within the city of David. However, for this to occur the Jews would also have to acknowledge that the current Temple Mount is not the location of the temple. Considering that the Temple Mount and Wailing Wall, which is believed to be the outer western wall to the ancient temple, is the holiest site in Judaism, such acceptance would not be easy.
For the Jews to accept that the temple was not on the Temple Mount, but instead within the city of David, evidence would have to be found so conclusive that even the most ardent Jew could not reject this realization. While this may never happen, considering the current excavations occurring within the city of David, the thought of such evidence being found is within the realm of possibility.
As seen in the graphic, we can see several important geographical features, including the Mount of Olives, the traditional Temple Mount, the Kidron Valley, the Central Valley, the Gihon Spring, and the current site for the city of David. Below is additional information on each these locations:
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge on the east side of the city of Jerusalem. At one point, it had olive trees covering its slopes. Today there is a Jewish cemetery with approximately 150,000 graves. This mountain ridge was a significant location during Yahshua’s ministry. It was the place where He delivered His Olivet Prophecy and where He retreated hours before His death, i.e., the Garden of Gethsemane.
The traditional Temple Mount is where many believe the Jewish temple once stood. Again, Muslims call this place the Haram esh-Sharif, translated as, “the Noble Sanctuary.” Both the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Dome of the Rock reside on the traditional Temple Mount.
The Kidron Valley separates Jerusalem, including the city of David and the traditional Temple Mount, from the Mount of Olives. This valley continues east through the Judean Desert and toward the Dead Sea.
The Central Valley, also called the Tyropoeon Valley and the Valley of the Cheesemakers, is a rugged ravine on the west side of the City of David or the ancient city of Jerusalem and marks its western boundary, as the Kidron Valley does on the east.
The Gihon Spring is along the Kidron Valley near the ancient City of David. The name “Gihon” comes from the Hebrew gihu, meaning, “gushing forth.” It is one of the world’s largest intermittent springs and made life possible for ancient Jerusalem. While the water from the spring was used for irrigation in the Kidron, it was also central to temple worship. We will explore the Gihon further in this article.
The City of David is the location for the ancient Jebusite City that David conquered and renamed to the City of David or Jerusalem. It is approximately 12 acres in size. It begins at the Millo (i.e., a ravine that separated the City of David from the Ophel, which Solomon filled in during his reign) and extends southward.
Today the City of David is an Israeli national park and a major archaeological site. Archaeologists have discovered many subterranean tunnels, reservoirs, and possibly an ancient room that was used for animal sacrifices. Also discovered underneath the City of David is Hezekiah’s tunnel and the Gihon Spring. On the southwest side of the city is the Pool of Siloam.
City of the David = Zion
We begin our investigating for the real temple mount by turning to the Bible. As with so many other truths, Yahweh’s Word holds the key in unlocking the truth as to where the original temple stood. Following is a compilation of Scripture confirming that the city of David and Mount Zion (i.e., the location of the temple) are synonymous:
“Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David,” 2Samuel 5:7.
This passage clearly states that Zion and the city of David are the same. This point is critically important, as Scripture also shows that Mount Zion was the location of the temple.
“And the inhabitants of Jebus said to David, Thou shalt not come hither. Nevertheless David took the castle of Zion, which is the city of David,” 1Chronicles 11:5.
As noted in the previous passage, 1Chronicles 11 confirms that Zion is also the city of David. The word “castle” here comes from the Hebrew matsuwd and refers to a place of defense. Because Jebus was located between the Kidron and Central valleys, it was a well defensible area.
“In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion,” Psalm 76:2.
The word “Salem” derives from the Hebrew shalem. Strong’s states that this word is “an early name of Jerusalem.” This passage is critically important, as it shows a connection between the ancient city of David, the temple, and Zion and offers indisputable evidence for the temple being located within ancient Jerusalem and not on the Haram esh-Sharif.
Remember that the old City of David only included the 12-acre plot of land between the Kidron and Central valleys. It did not include the 36-acre Temple Mount located a third of a mile north. As we will explain in part two of this article, the current Temple Mount platform was developed much later.
Using only the Bible as a roadmap and knowing the location for the ancient city of David, a strong case can be made for the temple being located within the City of David and not on today’s Temple Mount. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Akra, Millo, and Ophel
When it comes to the location of the temple, there are three terms to understand – the Akra, Millo, and Ophel. The Akra was another name of the City of David. The Millo was a ravine that King Solomon filled in. And the Ophel is where the temple was originally located.
In 2Samuel 5:9 we find a description of the boundaries of ancient Jerusalem during the reign of King David: “So David dwelt in the fort, and called it the city of David. And David built round about from Millo and inward.”
The word “fort” refers to the impregnability of the City of David. This was due to its location between the Kidron and Tyropoeon valleys. We see that David built his city from the Millo inward. Tis ravine separated ancient Jerusalem from the Ophel.
Scripture records that Solomon later filled in this ravine: “And this was the cause that he lifted up his hand against the king: Solomon built Millo, and repaired the breaches of the city of David his father,” 1Kings 11:27.
The word “repaired” here comes from the Hebrew cagar and is a primitive root meaning, “to shut up,” Strong’s. By filling in the Millo, Solomon shut up the ravine known as Millo. In doing so, he also connected the City of David with the Ophel.
This is why Psalms 122:3 describes Jerusalem as a city “compact together.” The word “compact” comes from the Hebrew chabar and according to Strong’s means to “join.” When Solomon filled in the Millo, he enlarged the City of David by joining it with the Ophel.
Now what connection do the Millo and Ophel have to the temple? According to 1Maccabees 13:52 the Ophel is the location of the temple. The KJV with Apocrypha reads, “…Moreover the hill of the temple that was by the tower he made stronger than it was, and there he dwelt himself with his company.” As a secondary reference, the Catholic Study Bible states, “…He also strengthened the fortifications of the temple mount alongside the citadel, and he and his people dwelt there.”
Even though Maccabees is not considered inspired or part of the canon of Scripture, it still offers invaluable historical insight during the time of the Maccabees and Hasmoneans.
As seen in the above citation, the biblical temple mount or “temple hill” was located alongside the tower or citadel. As 2Samuel 5:9 shows, the “fort” or “citadel” refers to the City of David: “So David dwelt in the fort, and called it the city of David….”
This provides conclusive evidence for the temple being located on the Ophel and alongside the City of David. This also places the biblical temple mount approximately a third of a mile south from the traditional Temple Mount.
Ornan’s Threshing Floor
Another biblical clue to the location of the temple is the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. This threshing floor is found in 2Chronicles 3:1, “Then Solomon began to build the house of Yahweh at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where Yahweh appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.”
Scripture records that Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah and over the threshing floor that David purchased from Ornan the Jebusite. The mention here of Mount Moriah and Zion is important. It shows that these locations are synonymous, as is also the City of David and Zion.
The threshing floor where Solomon built the temple belonged to a Jebusite. This fact suggests that it was likely within the borders of the Jebusite city. If true, this would place the threshing floor within the City of David and not on today’s Temple Mount. Remember that what they call the Temple Mount today is a third of a mile from the ancient Jebusite city.
What is a threshing floor? This was an area where farmers would separate the grain from the straw and husks. This required a surface that was flat, smooth and hard. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE) states,
“The threshing-floors are constructed in the fields, preferably in an exposed position in order to get the full benefit of the winds. If there is a danger of marauders they are clustered together close to the village. The floor is a level, circular area 25 to 40 ft. in diameter, prepared by first picking out the stones, and then wetting the ground, tamping or rolling it, and finally sweeping it. A border of stones usually surrounds the floor to keep in the grain. The sheaves of grain which have been brought on the backs of men, donkeys, camels, or oxen, are heaped on this area, and the process of tramping out begins. In some localities several animals, commonly oxen or donkeys, are tied abreast and driven round and round the floor. In other places two oxen are yoked together to a drag, the bottom of which is studded with pieces of basaltic stone. This drag, on which the driver, and perhaps his family, sits or stands, is driven in a circular path over the grain.”
The surface of a threshing floor had to be flat, smooth, and hard. This allowed the oxen to tread the grain. It must also be in a location where there would be sufficient wind to separate the grain. This is key as it pertains to the temple.
Most believe that Ornan’s threshing floor was under the Dome of Rock on the traditional Temple Mount. The problem is, as seen in the image below, the surface underneath the Dome of the Rock is not flat. This fact alone makes it highly unlikely this area served as a threshing floor.
Since the Temple Mount location is the highest of the three hills, i.e., when compared to the City of David and Ophel, many claim that the wind conditions would be better suited on the Temple Mount. While it’s true that the elevation of the traditional Temple Mount is higher than the City of David and Ophel, such elevation is not required.
Another issue with the threshing floor being located on the traditional Temple Mount is that threshing floors were prone to robbery. ISBE states, “Threshing-floors are in danger of being robbed (1 Sam 23:1). For this reason, someone always sleeps on the floor until the grain is removed (Ruth 3:7). In Syria, at the threshing season, it is customary for the family to move out to the vicinity of the threshing-floor. A booth is constructed for shade; the mother prepares the meals and takes her turn with the father and children at riding on the sledge,” “Threshing-Floor.”
With this in mind, does it make sense that Ornan and his family would place their threshing floor a third of a mile from the “fort”? Keep in mind that during this time the traditional Temple Mount contained no walls or defense. It was completely open to attack. It is far more likely that Ornan’s threshing floor was within the confines of the old Jebusite city and not on an unguarded hill a third of a mile away.
The Gihon Spring
One of the most compelling reasons for the temple’s being located within the City of David is the location of the Gihon Spring. This spring sets along the Kidron Valley near the ancient City of David. The name “Gihon” comes from the Hebrew gihu, meaning, “gushing forth.” It is one of the world’s largest intermittent springs and made life possible for ancient Jerusalem. While the water from the spring was used for irrigation in the Kidron, it was also central to temple worship.
The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary speaks to the ancient and modern history of this famous spring, “The intermittent spring that constituted Jerusalem’s most ancient water supply, situated in the Kidron Valley just below the eastern hill (Ophel). This abundant source of water was entirely covered over and concealed from outside the walls and was conducted by a specially built conduit to a pool within the walls where a besieged city could get all the water it needed. ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?’ the people queried in the time of Hezekiah (2 Chron 32:2-4). Hezekiah’s Tunnel, 1,777 feet long, hewn out of the solid rock and comparable to the tunnels at Megiddo and Gezer, conducted the water to a reservoir within the city. From the top of Ophel the ancient Jebusites (c. 2000 B.C.) had cut a passage through the rock where waterpots could be let down a 40-foot shaft to receive the water in the pool 50 feet back from the Gihon. Early excavations at Jerusalem by the Palestine Exploration Fund under the direction of Sir Charles Warren (1867) resulted in finding the 40-foot rock-cut shaft. It is now known as Warren’s Shaft. Conrad Shick in 1891 discovered an ancient surface canal that conveyed water from the Gihon Spring to the old pool of Siloam, located just within the SE extremity of the ancient city. Isaiah seems to have alluded to the softly flowing waters of this gentle brook when he spoke poetically of ‘the gently flowing waters of Shiloah’ (Isa 8:6),” “Gihon.”
As stated, the Gihon is Jerusalem’s most ancient water supply. Without the Gihon there would have been no Jebusite city for David to conquer. Jerusalem today would likely not exist without this spring.
The location of the Gihon Spring is just east from the Ophel, which joins the ancient city of David. Again, this is one-third mile from the traditional Temple Mount. Knowing that the Gihon is the only major water source in Jerusalem, does it make sense that Israel would have built their temple a third of a mile away from their only water source on the traditional Temple Mount?
This is especially perplexing considering the thousands of animals that Israel offered on the Sabbath and annual Feast days for which thousands of gallons of water are needed.
History says that Rome built aqueducts from Bethlehem to the Temple Mount. While this theoretically could have provided a water source for Herod’s temple, it could not have for Solomon’s. So while there is evidence of ancient reservoirs underneath the traditional Temple Mount dating to the time of Rome, there is no evidence of a water source prior to Rome’s rule. This presents a real problem for the traditional Temple Mount site.
Ancient Witnesses to Temple Location
History speaks of 70 Jewish families who relocated from Tiberius to Jerusalem in the 7th century CE. Tiberius is located in northern Israel along the Sea of Galilee. Reuvin Hammer, in his book Jerusalem Anthology, describes this relocation: “Omar decreed that seventy households should come. They agreed to that. After that he asked: ‘Where do you wish to live within the city?’ They replied, ‘In the southern section of the city, which is the market of the Jews.’ Their request was to enable them to be near the site of the Temple and its gates, as well as to the water of Shiloah, which could be used for immersion.
This was granted them by Omar, the Emir of the Believers.”
Omar was the companion of Mohammed and the second caliph or Islamic leader within Islam.
Several important points need to be made here. These Jewish families insisted on the southern section of the city, near the Pool of Siloam. There is only one section of Jerusalem that is in the southern portion and contains the Pool of Siloam and that is the ancient city of David.
According to these Jewish families, this was also the area where the temple once stood. This is hard evidence for the temple location within the city of David and not on the traditional Temple Mount.
This author also states that the water from the Pool of Siloam could be used for immersions, which would have included ceremonial washings. What was the water source for the Pool of Siloam? This was the Gihon Spring.
In our expedition to Israel several in the group walked through the Gihon Spring channel underneath the City of David to the Pool of Siloam.
The fact that water from the Gihon could be used for ceremonial purposes verifies that not all water was equal. It also adds credence to the importance of the Gihon for temple worship. Again this begs the question why the Jews would have built their temple a third of a mile from their only water source. Such an idea seems completely preposterous.
A Gushing Spring
The smoking gun for the temple as it relates to the Gihon Spring is eyewitness testimony of a spring-like reservoir within the temple precincts. Two men provide evidence for this.
The first eyewitness to confirm this fact is a man named Aristeas, a Jew who lived during the 2nd or 3rd century BCE. Eusebius, the 4th century church historian, records his account.
“There is an inexhaustible reservoir of water, as would be expected from an abundant spring gushing up naturally from within; there being moreover wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, of five furlongs, according to their showing, all around the foundation of the Temple, and countless pipes from them, so that the streams on every side met together. And all these have been fastened with lead at the bottom of the side-walls, and over these has been spread a great quantity of plaster, all having been carefully wrought,” Eusebius’ recording of Aristeas, chapter 38.
Aristeas was an eyewitness to the temple location from the 2nd or 3rd century BCE. It’s important to realize that this was not Herold’s temple, but the temple of Ezra and Nehemiah. Aristeas said that there was an “inexhaustible reservoir of water, as would be expected from an abundant spring gushing up naturally from within.”
The only spring within Jerusalem is the Gihon. If what this eyewitness said is true, the only possible location for the Temple would be within the City of David and above the Gihon Spring.
Remarkably, Aristeas is not the only eyewitness of a spring-like reservoir within the temple area. Tacitus, a Roman historian dating to the 2nd century CE, describes a similar account. He states, “The temple resembled a citadel, and had its own walls, which were more laboriously constructed than the others. Even the colonnades with which it was surrounded formed an admirable outwork. It contained an inexhaustible spring; there were subterranean excavations in the hill, and tanks and cisterns for holding rainwater. The founders of the state had foreseen that frequent wars would result from the singularity of its customs, and so had made very provision against the most protracted siege.”
Before describing what Tacitus saw, it should be noted that this man lived nearly 400 years after Aristeas and was not a Jew, but a Roman. He would have also been referring to Herold’s temple and not to the temple during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, even with these differences, both men refer to an inexhaustible spring within the temple. Again, the only spring they could be referring to is the Gihon. This is the only spring and major water source within the ancient city of Jerusalem. Tacitus also describes subterranean excavations or tunnels in the hill along with cisterns for holding rainwater. This provides additional credibility to the ancient City of David and not the traditional Temple Mount. From firsthand experience I can attest that there are many subterranean tunnels and cisterns within the City of David. The sheer size and number of tunnels are astonishing.
Along with these eyewitness accounts, Joel 3:18 provides a prophetic description of the future temple and shows similar evidence of a spring. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of Yahweh, and shall water the valley of Shittim.”
This is a future prophecy of the temple within the millennial Kingdom. Joel confirms here that a fountain will spring forth from underneath the temple, i.e., house of Yahweh. So not only do we see ancient eyewitness testimonies that the temple contained a springlike reservoir gushing up from underneath the temple precincts, but a similar account is provided from the prophet Joel as it pertains to the future temple.
Again, these facts present a real problem for those who claim that the temple was on the traditional Temple Mount. The only way to reconcile the accounts from Aristeas, Tacitus, and the Book of Joel is to relocate the temple from the traditional Temple Mount to the Ophel, near the Gihon Spring.
In part two (Coming soon!), we will continue exploring the evidence that the temple was located within the ancient City of David. We will review biblical prophecies and historical documents on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, along with an in-depth look at Fortress Antonia and the Tenth Legion.
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