Possible carved stone from Jewish Temple-era antiquity exposed by digging at Temple Mount in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – Prominent Temple archeologists here accused the Israeli government today of attempting to cover up its alleged failure to properly supervise a dig in which Islamic Authorities were accused of destroying Temple Mount antiquities.
Experts believe the discoveries included a wall from the Second Jewish Temple.
The archaeologists claim the government’s release this week of some First Temple-period relics it says were found during the Islamic dig was part of the purported cover-up. The government’s move followed a Supreme Court case charging Israel failed to stop massive destruction of Temple antiquities.
“The [Israeli government] Antiquities Authority clearly and obviously allowed the destruction of antiquities,” charged third-generation Temple Mount archaeologist Eilat Mazar, speaking to WND. “What they did is the exact opposite of any proper archaeological supervision, and now they are showing what they say are important finds. They are covering up a major crime.”
The Antiquities Authority yesterday released antiquities discovered by its archaeologists during what it said was an excavation coordinated with the Waqf, the Temple Mount’s Islamic custodians. The released discoveries included fragments of bowl rims, bases and body shards, the base of a juglet used for the ladling of oil, the handle of a small juglet and the rim of a storage jar.
It was the first time archeological remains from the First Temple period have been found on the Mount.
“The layer is a closed, sealed archeological layer that has been untouched since as early as the eighth century BCE,” said Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem District archeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Waqf authorities denied any Israeli government excavation was conducted during their dig.
WND visited the site of the Waqf dig a number of times and found the Waqf operating bulldozers but saw no evidence of Israeli excavations.
Mazar and other leading archaeologists speaking to WND today said they were “dumbfounded” the Antiquities Authority claimed any excavation was done during the Islamic dig.
“Perhaps finds were discovered in between the teeth of the Waqf bulldozers, but it’s ridiculous to say the Antiquities Authority supervised or conducted any proper dig,” said Mazar of Hebrew University. “No proper excavation is conducted with bulldozers. No one saw or reported any excavation. How can an excavation be conducted in secret? Such work is a big job. They are trying to hide their failure to stop the Islamic destruction.”
Mazar is also a fellow at Israel’s Shalem Center and a member of the Public Committee for Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on Temple Mount. Her much-discussed discovery in the City of David, a neighborhood just south of Jerusalem’s Old City Walls, is a massive building dating to the 10th century B.C. It is believed to be the remains of the palace of biblical King David, the second leader of a united kingdom of Israel, who ruled from around 1005 to 965 B.C.
Echoing Mazar’s comments, a leading Israeli archaeologist charged the Israeli government was attempting to use the released Temple-era fragments as a “smokescreen” to “draw attention away from its incomprehensible failure to halt Muslim destruction” on the Temple Mount.
The expert and Mazar both said a Supreme Court case they brought against the government “prompted” the Antiquities Authority to release its finds.
This summer, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office agreed to allow bulldozers and other heavy equipment to dig a massive trench on the Temple Mount. The holy sites’ Islamic Wafq custodians claimed the work was necessary to replace electrical cables outside mosques on the site. The dig, which extended to most of the periphery of the Mount, was protected by the Israeli police and was supposed to be supervised by the Israeli government’s Antiquities Authority.
Allowing the use of bulldozers at any sensitive archaeological site is extremely unusual, particularly at the Temple Mount, which experts say contains sealed layers of artifacts as shallow as two to three feet below the surface. The Mount has never been properly excavated. Heavy equipment could easily damage any existing artifacts, say experts, who assert the area should be excavated slowly and carefully by hand.
In September, after bulldozers dug a trench 1,300 feet long and five feet deep, the Muslim diggers came across a wall Israeli archaeologists believe may be remains of an area of the Second Jewish Temple known as the woman’s courtyard.
Israel, though, blocked leading archeologists from surveying the massive damage Islamic authorities are accused of causing to the purported wall. It refused to allow up Mazar and other prominent archaologists during many attempts by the experts to inspect the Muslim dig.
Earlier this month, Mazar and other archaeologists filed a Supreme Court case, in part using WND’s reporting, to ensure a halt to the Islamic dig on the Mount.
Mazar and the other experts were asked by the judge to leave the court while he deliberated with Antiquities Authority officials. Afterwards, the judge ruled based on undisclosed information provided by the officials he was convinced the Antiquities Authority had done it’s job to protect the Mount.
“The Authority convinced the court it conducted proper excavations, which is ridiculous to everyone that watched the Islamic destruction,” stated Mazar.
During the Muslim dig, the Waqf barred WND from inspecting and filming their massive trench.
The confrontation was captured on video by InfoLive.tv, an Internet-based television network broadcasting in four languages.
WND and the InfoLive.tv camera crew ascended the Mount to obtain footage of the trench, but Waqf guards backed up by the Israeli police stopped the news agencies from approaching open sections of the trench. The guards told WND only closed areas of the trench could be filmed. Sections of the massive trench were being closed up with dirt today before archeologists were able to inspect the site.
After persisting, one Waqf guard asked WND to shut off the camera and vacate the Temple Mount.
Rabbi Chaim Richman, director of Israel’s Temple Institute, was among those on the Mount this summer. He told WND he attempted to take pictures of the damage the bulldozers were allegedly wrecking on the wall, but his digital camera was confiscated by Israeli police at the direction of Waqf officials.
“If Israel was building a shopping mall and they found what may be an ancient Buddhist structure, the government would stop the construction and have archaeologists go over the area with a fine tooth comb,” Richman said. “Here, the holiest site in Judaism is being damaged, a Temple wall was found, and Israel is actively blocking experts from inspecting the site while allowing the destruction to continue.”
Richman charged the Waqf was “trying to erase Jewish vestiges from the Temple Mount.”
History of destruction
The last time the Waqf conducted a large dig on the Temple Mount – during construction 10 years ago of a massive mosque at an area referred to as Solomon’s Stables – the Wafq reportedly disposed truckloads of dirt containing Jewish artifacts from the First and Second Temple periods.
After media reported the disposals, Israeli authorities froze the construction permit given to the Wafq, and the dirt was transferred to Israeli archaeologists for analysis. The Israeli authorities found scores of Jewish Temple relics in the nearly disposed dirt, including coins with Hebrew writing referencing the Temple, part of a Hasmonean lamp, several other Second Temple lamps, Temple-period pottery with Jewish markings, a marble pillar shaft and other Temple period artifacts. The Waqf was widely accused of attempting to hide evidence of the existence of the Jewish Temples.
Temples ‘never existed’
Most Palestinian leaders routinely deny well-documented Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
Speaking to WND in a recent interview, Waqf official and chief Palestinian Justice Taysir Tamimi claimed the Jewish Temples “never existed.”
“About these so-called two Temples, they never existed, certainly not at the Haram Al- Sharif (Temple Mount),” said Tamimi, who is considered the second most important Palestinian cleric after Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
“Israel started since 1967 making archaeological digs to show Jewish signs to prove the relationship between Judaism and the city, and they found nothing. There is no Jewish connection to Israel before the Jews invaded in the 1880s,” said Tamimi.
The Palestinian cleric denied the validity of dozens of digs verified by experts worldwide revealing Jewish artifacts from the First and Second Temples, tunnels that snake under the Temple Mount and more than 100 ritual immersion pools believed to have been used by Jewish priests to cleanse themselves before services. The cleansing process is detailed in the Torah.
Asked about the Western Wall, Tamimi said the structure was a tying post for Muhammad’s horse and that it is part of the Al Aqsa Mosque, even though the wall predates the mosque by more than 1,000 years.
“The Western Wall is the western wall of the Al Aqsa Mosque,” he said. “It’s where Prophet Muhammad tied his animal which took him from Mecca to Jerusalem to receive the revelations of Allah.”
The Palestinian media also regularly claim the Jewish Temples never existed.
Judaism’s holiest site
While the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, Muslims say it is their third holiest site.
The First Jewish Temple was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. It was expanded by King Herod in 19 B.C. shortly before the birth of Jesus. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. Each temple stood for a period of about four centuries.
The Jewish Temple was the center of religious Jewish worship. It housed the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and was said to be the area upon which God’s “presence” dwelt. The Dome of the Rock now sits on the site and the Al Aqsa Mosque is adjacent.
The temple served as the primary location for the offering of sacrifices and was the main gathering place in Israel during Jewish holidays.
The Temple Mount compound has remained a focal point for Jewish services over the millennia. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem have been uttered by Jews since the Second Temple was destroyed, according to Jewish tradition. Jews worldwide pray facing toward the Western Wall, a portion of an outer courtyard of the Temple left intact.
The Al Aqsa Mosque was constructed around A.D. 709 to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph. Al Aqsa was meant to mark where Muslims came to believe Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven.
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran. Islamic tradition states Muhammad took a journey in a single night from “a sacred mosque” – believed to be in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia – to “the farthest mosque” and from a rock there ascended to heaven. The farthest mosque later became associated with Jerusalem.
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