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Seeking Good in Temple Mount Terror Tragedy: Opportunity for Archaeological Discovery?

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Early Islamic Destruction Layer?

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Preserving the Heritage of Everyone

Amidst all the stress of trying to find the funding to keep our research lab open, we cannot forget our purpose: to share our research with you. We truly believe that our research is important to the heritage of the all who connect to the Temple Mount: billions of people across the world in all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions. We are finding artifacts that are part of the heritage of Jews, Pagans, Christians, Muslims, and all those in between. We’ve written recently about the Christian connection to the Temple and the Jewish connection to the Temple, so today we are going to share some Islamic history of the Temple Mount.

Lailat al Miraj

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Buraq as seen on a reproduction of a 17th century Indian Mughal miniature

Last night marked the beginning of the holiday of Lailat al Miraj, which falls on the 27th day of Rajab and like the Jewish calendar, begins at nightfall the day before. This is the Muslim holiday that commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque” where he then ascended to heaven, met G-d and earlier prophets, and was told of the duty of Muslims to recite Salat (ritual prayer) five times a day. Muslims believe that the “Farthest Mosque” refers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount here in Jerusalem. They believe that two angels provided the Prophet Muhammad with the mythical winged steed called Buraq, and they named the Buraq Wall (also known as the Western Wall or Kotel) as the place where Muhammad tied this winged steed. In some traditions, Buraq has the head of a women and the tail of a peacock. The full story of Lailat al Miraj are described in chapter 17 of the Quran and also in hadith, supplemental writings about the life of Muhammad.

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The Temple Mount’s history is not only rich during the First and Second periods, though those have been in the news a lot recently. We have recovered a huge amount of material from the Early Islamic period and the Ottoman empire including the golden glass mosaics from the original Dome of the Rock and many ottoman smoking pipes. In September we also recovered this beautiful mother of pearl decoration with the Dome of the Rock on it. You may also have heard about the many Ottoman seals that have been recovered by our project including one with the name of the Deputy Mufti of Jerusalem, a possible ancestor of the current leader of the Waqf.

Last summer, we recovered an intact oil lamp from the Early Islamic period. While that may seem like an obvious find in most excavations, because the material that we are sifting was excavated by bulldozer, everything we find is broken. To find something intact is quite special for our project. Even more interesting than that, the cluster of earth in which the oil lamp was found included many other artifacts (including many large pieces) from the earliest stages of Islamic occupation on the Temple Mount itself. The finds seem to come from a violent destruction of the site, possibly the earthquake of 658 CE. Usually, large or unbroken finds like this are only found in sealed layers of excavations. These finds from the Temple Mount indicate the possibility that at some time in the last millennium, someone dug a hole somewhere on the Temple Mount and hit an Early Islamic layer with lots of pottery. The debris from this dig was dumped in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount and was subsequently removed by the Waqf in 1999, reaching our hands.

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Early Islamic Period (Abbasid) oil lamp Credit: FARLI.org

Unfortunately I can’t show you ours until more research has been done. Here is a similar Early Islamic Period (Abbasid) oil lamp which will give you some idea of what we are talking about. Credit: FARLI.org.

Finding the remains of the destruction caused by the earthquake of 658 CE is one of the more interesting things we have discovered in our research, and is greatly dependent on the statistical analysis of our artifacts. Click here for more information about our methodology and our use of statistics to understand archaeological data.

Nuba Inscription Identifies Dome of the Rock with Jewish Temple

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Our researchers are privileged to work on many projects throughout the year in addition to their work with us at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven have been working on understanding the 9th/10th century Arabic inscription at Nuba and have finally shared their work with the public.

The inscription bears witness to the fact that the Dome of the Rock structure was originally named “Bayt al Maqdis” referring to “The Holy Temple.” Link is to video and press release. This is big news because it is proof from within the Islamic faith that early Muslims knew that the Temple Mount was the site of the Jewish Temple and that they perceived the Dome of the Rock as a reestablishment of the earlier Temple.

Here is the press release about the discovery.

Press Release: The Writing on the Wall

Ancient Arabic inscription bears witness to the fact that the Dome of the Rock structure was originally named ‘Bayt al Maqdis’ referring to “The Holy Temple.”

A team of archaeologists revealed the existence of a 1000-year-old text, dated to the beginning of the Islamic era, which indicates that the Muslims perceived the Dome of the Rock as a reestablishment of the earlier Jewish Temple. They referred to it as “Bayt al-maqdis” in the inscription, which derives from the biblical Hebrew terminology as ‘Beit Hamikdash’, known as the Hebrew reference to the Holy Temple.

This unique find is located in the central mosque at the village of Nuba, next to the city of Hebron. Its significance lies in the fact that it is dated to the early Islamic Period, and it sheds light on the sanctification process of Jerusalem and especially of the Temple Mount to the Muslims.

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The Nuba Inscription

The text on the rock quotes;

“In the name of Allah, the merciful God

This territory, Nuba, and all its boundaries

and its entire area, is an endowment to the Rock

of Bayt al-Maqdis and the al-Aqsa Mosque,

as it was dedicated by the Commander of the Faithful, ̒Umar iben al-Khattab

for the sake of Allah the Almighty”

The village of Nuba is mentioned in the inscription text as an endowment to the Rock of Bayt al-Maqdis [The Holy Temple] and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The text also notes that the one who did the dedication was ̒Umar iben al-Khattab, the Arab ruler who conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines in 638 AD.

Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven, the archeologists who presented the existence of the inscription last week in the Conference on ‘New studies in the archaeology of Jerusalem and its region’ that was held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out that this text is, in fact, testimony that at least one of the names of the Dome of the Rock in the first centuries of Islam was “Bayt al-Maqdis” which preserves the Hebrew name “Beyt ha-Miqdash” (literally the “House of Sanctuary”). “The choice to use the name ‘Bayt al-Maqdis’ was not original,” says Assaf Avraham. “Using this name derived from the deep influence of Jewish tradition on the development of Islam in its earliest days.” In an article that was published in the Conference pamphlet, early evidence was presented in the form of quotes by Moslem believers who, it appears, entered and prayed within a place of worship at the Temple Mount, which was named “Bayt al-Maqdis” For example:

“I would regularly pray with Ibn-Dahar in Bayt al-Maqdis, when he entered, he used to remove his shoes.”

“Anyone who comes to Bayt al-Maqdiss only for the sake of praying inside it – is cleansed of all his sins.”

“I entered Bayt al-Maqdis and saw a man taking longer than usual for his bows.”

“The rock that is in Bayt al-Maqdis is the center of the entire universe.”

“Early Islamic literature shows that religious rituals were conducted within the Dome of the Rock at the beginning of the Islamic era” says Assaf; “These rituals were inspired by ancient traditions which took place within The Biblical Temple as is documented in the bible and in ancient Jewish literature.” An ancient Muslim source describes and stresses this point:

“Every Monday and Thursday morning the attendants enter the bath house to wash and purify themselves. They take off their clothes and put on a garment made of silk brocade embroidered with figures, and fasten tightly the girdle embellished with gold around their waists. And they rub the Rock over with perfume. Then the incense is put in censers of gold and silver. The gate-keepers lower the curtains so that the incense encircles the Rock entirely and the scent clings to it.”

These well documented and detailed procedures bear similarities to rituals that were practiced in the Jewish Temple, and were probably derived from them.

dome_of_the_rock13235570190061The Nuba inscription implies that the building of the Dome of the Rock marks the re-construction of the biblical Holy Temple, in essence, one of the most significant acts in the early history of Islam, a new world view that asked to glorify Jerusalem’s position as the world’s religious center for Islam.

When cross-referenced with other Muslim traditional literature of the time, it becomes clear that the Dome of the Rock’s structure was named Bayt Al-Maqdis in which prayers were conducted traditionally. It was the holiest structure within the Temple Mount and it was perceived as a renewed temple.

This unique revelation bears importance and relevance today considering UNESCO’s latest resolution which ignores the Jewish affinity to the Temple Mount.

Here is a link to the official article about the Nuba Inscription in Hebrew. Assaf and Peretz are working to create an English translation that will be published in the near future.

Find of the Month: September!

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img-20160914-wa0002_resizedSeptember’s “Find of the Month” is this gorgeous mother of pearl inlay with an image of the Dome of the Rock carved onto it. It was found by Hadassa Amiri, age (a lady never reveals her age!). For more information on Mother of Pearl and archaeology, see this post. Most likely, this inlay was attached to some small object, such as an inlaid box or prayer book. Generally speaking, walls and furniture with mother of pearl inlay do not use engraved inlay like this. Engraving is reserved for smaller objects where there is a larger focus on the particulars of a small piece of mother of pearl.

d792Interestingly, when I started searching for a parallel object that would help us date this artifact, the search “pearl Quran” immediately came up with this image. The Dome of the Rock is clearly a standard and traditional image to depict on religious artifacts. Islam frowns upon the use of human images and generally speaking, Islamic art and architecture use natural and geometric designs.

The Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra in arabic) is an iconic symbol of Jerusalem and has an important place in Arab and Muslim culture. Built between 685 and 691/2 by Abd al-Malik, probably the most important Umayyad caliph, the Dome of the Rock was one of the first Islamic buildings ever constructed and is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the entire Islamic world. Though it is commonly thought of as a mosque, the Dome of the Rock is actually a shrine built around a large rock believed to be the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven, met other prophets such as Jesus and Moses, witnessed heaven and hell, and saw G-d. In Judeo/Christian tradition, this rock is the place where Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac.

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The Dome of the Rock sits on a platform known as the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif. This platform is holy for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. It was the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, the headquarters of the Knights Templar during the Crusades, and today houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, madrasas, and several other religious buildings as well as the Dome of the Rock. Please read this essay detailing the history and iconography of the Dome of the Rock by Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis for more information.

The Dome of the Rock is an important part of the long history of the Temple Mount and pieces of gilded mosaics and glass window fragments discarded during numerous renovations consistently show up in our sifting. The Dome of the Rock is a testament to the Islamic Golden Age and the Muslim connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. It is an indisputable part of Islamic heritage, and therefore comes through in the iconography on such things as a small engraving on mother of pearl.

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The Dome of the Rock is a building of extraordinary beauty, solidity, elegance, and singularity of shape… Both outside and inside, the decoration is so magnificent and the workmanship so surpassing as to defy description. The greater part is covered with gold so that the eyes of one who gazes on its beauties are dazzled by its brilliance, now glowing like a mass of light, now flashing like lightning.
—Ibn Battuta (14th century travel writer)

Isn’t it nice to feel validated?

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New Images from the Dome of the Rock

croppedFrankie Snyder is our expert in floors among other things (my shameless plug of the day). She wanted to let you all know that last week, the renovation work that had been in progress for several years on the interior of the Dome of the Rock was completed! As a result, the construction barrier that encircled the central arcade was finally removed. This then enabled the carpet replacement begun in April of 2015 with the outer and inner ambulatories to be carried out on the central arcade.

As the old carpeting on the floor of the central arcade was removed, beautiful opus sectile floor panels were revealed, and workers inside the Dome of the Rock shared many photographs of these floor panels on social media. In a post on the Temple Mount Sifting Project’s website on December 22, 2015, we reported that portions of these floors could be dated to the Crusader period. We are pretty sure that part of the original Crusader floor was removed in a later period and replaced with new designs.

Last week’s photographs give us some amazing views of these rarely published floors that provide us with information previously unavailable to us.

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We now have a more complete understanding of the extent of the floor panels. Frankie knew that the main floor panel extended farther to the north and south than what our original picture showed, but did not know the pattern sequence.  Also she only knew a fraction of what the small panel to the north of the main panel looked like. Her assumption was that it was like the small panel to the south of the main panel, but was not sure. Well, photographic evidence proves that she was right!

So what’s next?

The floors of the Dome of the Rock have been renovated/reconstructed in the past — more than once.  We need to learn the complete history of what was originally there, what was removed and when, what was replaced and when, and what was renovated and when.  We may never get the full story, especially as to what the original floor panels looked like, but we can surely try. Check out our previous post about these Crusader Floors and an article by Israel HaYom talking about this research. Here is more information about the renovations at the Dome of the Rock.

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Mosaics created by Frankie Snyder BEFORE the above images were available. (Notice how the one on the left is identical to those in the pictures above.) Her designs include fragments found in our sifting which must be from a previous version of the floors, or from broken tiles that were discarded.