Thursday, August 11, 2005

FOR THE TEMPLE MOUNT BLOGBURST, timed to coincide with Tisha B'Av this year, I've decided to put up two posts on the historical and archaeological evidence for the existence of ancient Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I do this not because there is any controversy about the subject in serious literature by actual historians -- there isn't -- but in response to ideological denials in Palestinian and Arab circles that Jewish Temples ever stood there. Also, I'm presenting a paper on "Archaeology, History, Politics, and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem" in the Seminar of the Centre for the Study of Politics and Religion in October here in St. Andrews, and this is a good excuse to collect some of the raw material I will be using. The first post, this one, is on the Herodian and Second Temples. The second post, to be put up later, will be on the First ("Solomonic") Temple. Thus, I will start with the more recent period and work backwards.


We are told in contemporary sources that Herod the Great (37-4 BCE) rebuilt the Second Temple and substantially expanded the Temple Platform, in effect erecting a Third Temple. Josephus gives us many details of the project in Antiquities 15.11 and a description of Herod's Temple in Jewish War 5.5. Josephus wrote near the end of the first century CE as a priest and eyewitness to the Temple. Philo of Alexandria led a delegation of Jews to Rome in 39/40 CE to persuade the Emperor Gaius Caligula not to set up an image of himself in the Temple (Embassy to Gaius). The New Testament also mentions the Temple, notably in Mark 13 and John 2:19-21.

Unlike the earlier Temples, some archaeological evidence survives for the Herodian Temple. The Temple itself was destroyed by the Romans and its rubble was hauled away centuries later when the mosques that now stand on the spot were built. But much of Herod's expanded Temple Platform has survived and has been thoroughly studies by archaeologists. Various other architectural features and fragments survive around the Platform. Most of the evidence they have found supports Josephus' description of the site. Two Greek inscriptions were recovered in the nineteenth century which warn gentiles not to stray into the Temple compound beyond the Court of the Gentiles, on pain of death.

I could give more details, but let this suffice.


Because of Herod's extensive rebuilding of the Temple Mount, archaeological evidence for earlier Temples, if it exists at all, is incorporated into his work and could only be recovered by a politically impossible, extensive excavation of the site. I have in the past expressed the hope that someday nonintrusive scanning technology may let us get at the information buried there without disturbing it. Assuming the Waqf does not continue to destroy what is there. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of textual evidence that demonstrates the existence of the Second Temple.

In Antiquities 11.1-5 Josephus summarizes the canonical account of the rebuilding of the Temple. Whatever we make of this, it is clear enough from his testimony that Herod tore down a much older Temple when he built the Third Temple.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give us our earliest fragments of important biblical texts. The scroll of the Twelve ("Minor") Prophets survives in a number of copies going back to the pre-Herodian period and perhaps back to the second century BCE. Fragments of the books of Haggai and Zechariah, which tell of the rebuilding of the Temple in 520-516/515 BCE, and of the book of Malachi, which describes the Second Temple as a longstanding institution, are among them (4QXIIa, b). A Herodian manuscript containing fragments of Haggai and Zechariah also survives (4QXIIe), as does a fragmentary manuscript of the book of Ezra (4QEzra) from perhaps a little earlier. So the Second Temple is directly attested, along with the traditional story of its origins, well before the Herodian era. It is generally agreed that the book of Haggai and the relevant part of Zechariah (chapters 1-8) were actually written at the time of the events they describe, although some scholars have expressed general skepticism about the early composition of prophetic books.

One of the noncanonical Enochic books, the Animal Apocalypse (1 Enoch 83-90) gives us additional important evidence. Fragments of the Animal Apocalypse were recovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls and at least one manuscript (4QEnf) is dated to the second half of the second century BCE. Internal evidence within the book itself points to its composition a little before 160 BCE (when its apocalyptic, after-the-fact "prophecies" start to go wildly wrong). The Animal Apocalypse purports to reveal the future course of history to the antediluvian patriarch Enoch up to the End Time, scheduled just after the Maccabean Revolt of 167-165 BCE. 1 Enoch 89:73 describes (in veiled apocalyptic language) the rebuilding of the Temple ("Tower") immediately after the return from the Exile, but claims that the offerings of this Temple were polluted and impure. In other words, the Animal Apocalypse is a work that rejects the validity of the Second Temple, but accepts the traditional account of its rebuilding after the Exile. If this tradition were regarded as at all debatable in the second century BCE, surely the writer of this work would have denied the connection with the early exiles.

Still earlier evidence survives in material from the Egyptian Elephantine archives (on which more in the second post). A letter (Cowley 30/31) from 407 BCE by Judean expatriates long-settled in Elephantine petitions the Persian governor of Judea for support in rebuilding a Temple to Yaho (i.e., YHWH) which local Egyptians had destroyed. It mentions that the petitioners had already written some time before "to Jehohanan the High Priest and his companions the priests who are in Jerusalem." A High Priest in Jerusalem? A High Priest of what? It is pretty difficult not to infer the existence of the Jerusalem Temple here, especially inasmuch as the Judeans in Elephantine are asking him to support the rebuilding of their own Temple.

In short, we have good evidence for the Second Temple going back to the fifth century BCE. I could marshal more evidence, but I think this suffices. The consistent story, traceable at least to the middle of the second century BCE and accepted by both friend and foe, is that this Temple was rebuilt by the exiles who returned from Babylon in the late sixth century BCE.

UPDATE (12 August): for the second instalment go here or scroll up to the next post.

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