JERUSALEM – Israeli archaeologists yesterday announced the discovery of a large building dating to the time of the First and Second Temples associated with Hezekiah, the King of Judah.
The Israeli government’s Antiquities Authority oversaw the excavation in the southern Jerusalem village of Umm Tuba. The agency said its archaeologists unearthed the remains of an ancient building consisting of several rooms arranged around a courtyard, containing pottery and other artifacts from the First and Second Temple Periods.
The finds include official government seals bearing the names of Ahimelekh ben Amadyahu and Yehokhil ben Shahar, who were high-ranking officials in Hezekiah’s government. The life of Hezekiah, the son of King Ahaz is detailed in the biblical books of Kings, Isaiah and Chronicles. Hezekiah was the 13th king of independent Judah.
Archaeologists also found a Hebrew inscription – dating 600 years after the Kingdom of Judah seals – on a fragment of a jar neck, characteristic of the beginning of the Hasmonean period. The ancient building was partially destroyed during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem.
The finds are the latest in a mountain of unearthed remains giving a clearer picture of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem during the First and Second Temple periods. Still, the Palestinian Authority, which seeks control of the Temple Mount and eastern Jerusalem, steadfastly denies the Jewish temples ever existed.
In November, Ahmed Qurei, the PA’s chief negotiator, who oversees all peace talks with the Jewish state, told reporters the Jewish Temples never existed and contended Israel has been working to “invent” a Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem. PA websites make similar claims.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. The First Temple was built there by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. when the Kingdom of Israel was united. After the kingdom split into two entities, Israel and Judah, the temple 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. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. Each temple stood for a period of over 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 shechina, or “presence,” dwelled. All Jewish holidays centered on worship at the Temple. The Jewish Temple served as the primary location for the offering of sacrifices and was the main gathering place for the Jewish people.
According to the Talmud, the world was created from the foundation stone of the Temple Mount. The site is believed to be the biblical Mount Moriah, the location where Abraham fulfilled God’s test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Jewish tradition holds Mashiach, or the Jewish Messiah, will return and rebuild the third and final Temple on the Mount in Jerusalem. The Kotel, or Western Wall, is the one part of the Temple Mount that survived the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and stands today in Jerusalem.
Throughout all notorious Jewish exiles, thorough documentation shows the Jews never gave up hope of returning to Jerusalem and re-establishing their Temple. To this day, Jews worldwide pray facing the Western Wall, while Muslims turn their backs away from the Temple Mount and pray toward Mecca. 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. About 100 years ago, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem became associated with the place Muslims came to believe Muhammad ascended to heaven. Jerusalem, however, 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 to receive revelations from Allah that became part of the Quran. Palestinians today claim exclusivity over the Temple Mount, and Palestinian leaders routinely deny Jewish historic connection to the site, but historically, Muslims did not claim the Al Aqsa Mosque as their third holiest site and admitted the Jewish Temples existed.
According to research by Israeli author Shmuel Berkovits, Islam previously disregarded Jerusalem. He points out in his book “How Dreadful Is this Place!” that Muhammad was said to loathe Jerusalem and what it stood for. Berkovits wrote that Muhammad made a point of eliminating pagan sites of worship and sanctifying only one place – the Kaaba in Mecca – to signify the unity of God. As late as the 14th century, Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, whose writings influenced the Wahhabi movement in Arabia, ruled that sacred Islamic sites are to be found only in the Arabian Peninsula and that “in Jerusalem, there is not a place one calls sacred, and the same holds true for the tombs of Hebron.”
It wasn’t until the late 19th century – incidentally when Jews started immigrating to Palestine – that some Muslim scholars began claiming Muhammad tied his horse to the Western Wall and associated Muhammad’s purported night journey with the Temple Mount.
A guide to the Temple Mount by the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem published in 1925 listed the Mount as the site of Solomon’s Temple. The Temple Institute acquired a copy of the official 1925 “Guide Book to Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” which states on page four, “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord.’”