The Byzantine Presence on the Temple Mount

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The article presents the Byzantine pilgrimage descriptions which show there were two Christian churches built on what is today called the traditional temple mount in Jerusalem, but which the Byzantines identified as "the Praetorium," or the Roman camp, Fort Antonia. These same descriptions identify the temple ruins with features consistent with the southeastern hill--Mount Zion, the waters of Shiloah (the Gihon Spring), Eudocia's 5th century city wall on the east, and a crypt or cave (probably in the Warren's Shaft water system).



The Byzantine Presence on the Temple Mountby Marilyn SamsOctober, 2014

The Byzantine Presence on the Temple MountIn an article in the Jerusalem Post, Lefkovits (2008, Nov. 17) reports on the Byzantine mosaic found under a pier of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in excavations carried out there by R. W. Hamilton, then Director of the British Mandate Antiquities Department. In the wake of recent earthquakes which had damaged the mosque, Hamilton seized the opportunity to explore its underground, with the permission of the Waqf. At some point between 1938 and 1942, he found a mosaic under the Umayyad level, and under it, a mikveh of the Second Temple period. His report of the excavation, entitled The Structural History of the Aqsa Mosque, failed to mention these important finds, and they were unknown until 2008, when Zachi Zweig, while researching at the Jerusalem Antiquities Authority, found them in a file related to the excavations. At a conference sponsored by Bar Ilan University, Dr. Rina Talgam from the Hebrew University dated the mosaic to the Byzantine era and it was assumed to be the remains of a church or monastery. Zweig commented that "The existence of a public building from the Byzantine period on the Temple Mount is very surprising in light of the fact that we do not have records of such constructions in historical texts (as cited in Lefkovits, 2008). As the co-creator of the Temple Mount Sift Project, Zweig knew first-hand all of the finds which had witnessed to himself and Gabriel Barkay the existence of a Byzantine presence on the temple mount, despite scholarly agreement on its lengthy abandonment (Hammer, 2011). Barkay has stated that The people writing the history of the Temple Mount definitely have to reassess their work on this particular era (Shragai, 2012, June 29). The purpose of this article is to reassess the history of this era to demonstrate there are records of such constructions in historical texts, which have been passed over, because scholars have been subject to what F. E. Peters described as envisioning backward (Peters, 1985, p. 14). This anti-historical practice involves the creation of narrative paradigms derived from an untested tradition and the subsequent interpretation of all related data according to those paradigms, sometimes resulting in an erroneous perspective. To recognize the Byzantine presence on the temple mount, scholars must disengage from envisioning backward with respect to the temple mount tradition and recognize the Byzantines identified the 36-acre walled edifice of their time quite differently from todays perception. Ancient accounts reveal they called it the Praetorium or the Hall of Pilate. There are descriptions of at least two churches having been built there--the Church of Our Blessed Lady (or the Blessed Mary) and the Church of Saint Sophia (or the Church of Holy Wisdom), both of which were on the pilgrimage tour circuit. This article will consider the details of these accounts to show the Byzantine differentiation between the site of the temple ruins and the site of the Praetorium, today known as the temple mount. The Byzantine tradition of identifying the temple mount as the Praetorium or Hall of Pilate presumably begins with the reference in John 19:13, which notes that Pilate judged Jesus in a place called lithostroton in Greek and gabbatha in Hebrew. Murphy-OConnor (1996) notes there were two praetoria at the time of Jesus and selects Herods palace as the most likely place for Jesuss judgment, rather than the Antonia Fortress (the Roman camp), the location of the other praetorium. He notes that lithostroton means a paved area, while the underlying Aramaic root of gabbatha means to be high, to protrude. Hence, he believes the reference to height is to Herods palace, because it occupied the highest position on the western hill. While the palace of Herod does seem the more logical of the two choices for several reasons, the Byzantine pilgrims apparently felt otherwise, as the descriptions will make apparent. Chronologically, the account which first mentions the Praetorium or the Hall of Pilate is that of the Bordeaux Pilgrim (333 A.D.): From there, [inside the wall of Sion] so that you may go out of the wall of Sion, as you go towards the gate of Neapolis, to the right side, below in the valley, are some walls, where was the house, or praetorium, of Pontius Pilate. Here the Lord was tried before his suffering. The most notable walls in the valley from this perspective would have been those of the temple mount. He does not mention any church in association with it and doesnt seem to have visited it; however, he did visit the temple ruins before he reached the western hill: There is there a crypt, in which Solomon used to torture demons. There is there the corner of a most high tower, where the Lord ascended, and he spoke to him who was tempting him, and the Lord stated to him: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God, but him only shalt thou serve. And a great corner stone is there, of which it is said: The stone which the builders rejected, this is become the head of the corner. And under the pinnacle of the tower itself are many chambers where Solomon had the palace. There is even the chamber in which he sat and wrote the book of Wisdom. This chamber is actually covered with a single stone. And there are large cisterns for subterranean water and pools constructed with great labor. And on the temple mount itself, where the temple was which Solomon built, the blood of Zacharias on the marble pavement before the altar is poured there, you would say, even today. There are also visible the marks of the shoe nails of the soldiers who slew him, throughout the whole area, so that you would think they were made in wax. There are here two statues of Hadrian, and not far from the statues there is a bored-through stone, to which the Jews come every year and anoint it, and lament themselves with moans and tear their clothes, and thus depart. There is there the house of Hezekiah, King of Judah. After visiting these ruins, his next stop is Mount Sion (the one so-called to the south of the western hill):Also, going out of Jerusalem, so that you may go up Mount Sion, on the left side, and below in the valley, next to the wall, is a pool which is called Siloe. It has four porticoes, and there is another large pool outside it. This spring runs for six days and nights, but on the seventh day it is the Sabbath, and it does not run at all, either by day or by night. The Bordeaux Pilgrims point of departure from the temple ruins to reach his next goal of Mount Zion appears to be on the southeastern hill. This is ascertained from his viewpoint crossing over the lower Tyropoeon Valley, where, to his left (south), he notices the Pool of Siloam next to a wall. He then describes a spring, ostensibly feeding the pool of Siloe, which would be the Gihon Spring, located at the center of the southeastern hill. The features of the temple ruins include a crypt; chambers under a tower/pinnacle, including one covered by a single stone; a corner stone; and large cisterns for subterranean water and pools. These features are associated with, but described separately from the temple mount, and seem to be under the temple mount, which includes the features of a marble pavement in front of an altar; marks of the Roman soldiers shoe nails throughout the whole area; two statues of Hadrian, a bored-through stone which the Jews come to anoint and where they moan and lament; and the house of Hezekiah. Scholars have traditionally attributed these features to todays traditional temple mount and several corresponding descriptions apply, including the crypt, underground chambers, a tower, the corner stone, large cisterns and pools, and a bored-through stone. However, to avoid envisioning backward, other sources need to be compared, disclosing the Byzantines did not associate these features with the 36-acre walled edifice of their time. One of these sources comes from Eucherius (5th Century C.E.), the Bishop of Lyons, in his Letter to Faustus: The Temple, which was situated in the lower city near the eastern wall, was once a worlds wonder, but of its ruins there stands today only the pinnacle of one wall, and the rest are destroyed down to their foundations. A few water cisterns can be seen on the northern side of the city near the Temple. The Pool of Bethsaida is there, distinguished by its twin pools. One is usually filled with winter rains, while the other is filled with red-colored water. On the steep rocky side of Mount Sion which faces east, below the city walls and at the bottom of the hill, gushes forth the fountain of Siloam. It does not flow continuously, but only on certain days and at certain hours, and it flows with an intermittent stream toward the south. Beside the east wall of Jerusalem, which is also the wall of the Temple, is Gehenna, the Valley of Jehoshaphat. It runs from north to south, and a torrent runs through it whenever there has been rain to provide it with water. (as cited in Peters, 1985, p. 154) Interpreting the account of Eucherius initially presents problems with respect to his mention of the Pool of Bethsaida, whose traditional location is now near St. Annes, north of todays traditional temple mount. However, if we confine all of his descriptions to the lower city near the eastern wall, the Bethsaida Pool migrates to (1) the northern area of the southeastern hill, near the eastern wall built by Eudocia, around 450 C.E., or (2) interpreting there to mean the southeastern hill rather than the northern side of the city, the Bethsaida Pool could be the two pools of Siloam, the lower one of which must have had reddish waters, because the Muslims later called it Birkat al-Hamra (meaning red). In addition, the temple site of Eucherius is at Mount Zion (the actual one on the southeastern hill), below which the fountain of Siloam, with its karstic descriptors, ties the temple ruins site to the center of the southeastern hill. Two other features match those of the Bordeaux Pilgrim--a pinnacle and a few cisterns. The Valley of Gehenna is mentioned and erroneously refers to the Kidron Valley. Although the Bordeaux Pilgrim did not mention visiting the Praetorium, in about 350 C.E., Cyril of Jerusalem, in his famous catechetical lectures, speaks of the hall of Pilate, now laid waste by the power of Him who was then crucified (13:39). Cyrils comment probably refers to a structure or structures on the temple mount, possibly indicating, along with the Bordeaux Pilgrims account, that the site was not yet on the pilgrimage route or that some ruins had been maintained as a witness of Christs triumph over the cruelty inflicted on him. Etheria (Egeria), who visited Jerusalem in 380 C.E. and participated in the Veneration of the Cross ambulatories, omits any mention of the Praetorium when the passages from John 18:28-19:16 are read by the Lector. However, the Old Armenian Lectionary notes that some time later, these verses were read at the palace of the Judge, which appears to re-characterize the former ruins mentioned by Cyril and may refer to a new edifice or edifices constructed on the temple mount. According to the dates of the Lectionarys usage (419-439 C.E.), the Praetorium was part of the worship circuit (The Pilgrimage of Etheria, 1919; Conybeare, 1905). In 404 C.E., a mention of the Praetorium appears in Jeromes Letter 108, which refers to the pilgrim Paulas trip to Jerusalem. The letter says the Proconsul of Palestine sent his chamberlain on ahead to make the Pretorium ready for her (as cited in Peters, 1985, p. 152), indicating the temple mount then served as the Proconsuls official residence, as well as a site of Christian veneration. Empress Eudocia (c. 400- 460 C.E.) retired to Jerusalem shortly after 440 C.E., where she remained until her death. Among several churches attributed to her bounty is the Church of St. Sophia, first described by Theodosius (530 C.E.): From the house of Caiphas to the Pretorium of Pilate it is about 100 paces; the Church of St. Sophia [or the Holy Wisdom] is there. Beside it St. Jeremiah was cast into the pit [Jer.38:6]..The Pool of Siloam is a hundred paces from the pit where they cast the Prophet Jeremiah; the pool is inside the wall. (Theodosius, Topography of the Holy Land, 40-45, as cited in Peters, 1985, p.57; information in brackets is Peters)....


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