The History of the Temple Mount in 12 Objects: #2 The Early First Temple Period

First Temple period arrowhead

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and meet this month’s guest – the earliest piece of weaponry ever to be recovered from the Temple Mount:

The arrowhead is made of bronze, in a flat, lanceolate shape, while the tang (the bit that gets inserted into the shaft) is slightly thicker, with a rhomboid midsection. Tip-to-tang, the arrowhead just tops 6 ½ cm and weighs about 9 grams.

This type of arrowhead is well known throughout Israel and surrounding areas, with examples discovered in Megiddo, Kadesh Barnea, and more. This type of arrow remained popular for several centuries, but Late Bronze Age archers seemed to prefer longer arrowheads, while in the Iron Age IIB, bronze arrowheads become scarce, and their tang would have a circular midsection, leaving our arrowhead nestled comfortably in the middle in the 10th century BCE.

To this date, less than a dozen such arrowheads have been discovered within 10th century BCE contexts throughout the country, but this speaks less of the arrowheads and more about the period in general. The 10th-9th centuries BCE are notoriously hard to pin down in an excavation for one simple reason – peace. As opposed to periods that ended violently, leaving behind entire destroyed and abandoned cities, the transition from the Iron Age I (the 12th-11th centuries BCE) to the Iron Age IIa (10th – 9th centuries BCE) was nonviolent – arrows went unfired, pottery went unsmashed and anything broken through normal use wasn’t left lying around on the floor in order to make the archaeologist’s job easier, but found its way to the city dump, such as the one we have discovered on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount, which indeed contained copious amounts of pottery dating mostly to the 9th Century BCE.

But let’s leave the arrowhead for a moment and focus on the Temple Mount – what did it look like during this period?

Not much is known about the Iron Age I (12th-11th centuries BCE). The city of Jerusalem was controlled at the time by the Jebusites, a group of possibly Hittite origin, who are only known to us from the Bible. The Temple Mount itself was outside of the city proper, and was utilized for agricultural purposes, such as Araunah’s threshing floor, which we’ve previously discussed.

The Iron Age I draws to a close around 1000 BCE with the founding of the Davidic dynasty and the conquest of Jerusalem.

As opposed to the city itself, the Bible tells us that the nearby hill, which will come to be known as the Temple Mount, wasn’t conquered by force, but was purchased from Araunah, King of the Jebusites.

According to the Biblical account, King David only built an altar on said hill. It was his son, Solomon, who expanded the city to include the Temple Mount, and built upon it  a royal compound, with numerous buildings listed by the Bible (1 Kings 9):  the Temple itself (The House of God), the House of the King, the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the House of Pharaoh’s daughter, the Great Courtyard, and the Other Courtyard. The text also mentions several halls (Hall of the Throne, Hall of Pillars, etc.), but it is unclear whether these are separate buildings, or rooms within the buildings previously mentioned.

The entire complex stood atop the Temple Mount, renovated from time to time, until the destruction in 586 BCE.

The issue of the historical accuracy of the Bible has been the subject of much heated scholarly debate over the last few decades; some simply accept the Biblical description as historical fact, others dismiss out of hand the idea of gleaning any historical data from the Scriptures. The vast majority of academic scholars are situated somewhere between these extremes, and carefully try to tease out historical meaning from the text.

The description of the building of the Temple Mount complex given in 1 Kings includes many dry, technical details: building materials, measurements, adornments, etc. The buildings’ layout and techniques fit nicely with what we know of buildings of the period from the Ancient Near East, leading credence to the notion that the Biblical author based himself on authentic documents from the Temple archives.

Towards the end of the 10th century BCE the Temple Mount saw a decline in opulence. The Bible tells us that King Shishak of Egypt marched upon Jerusalem, and King Rehoboam placated him by delivering the treasures of the Temple and royal palace. Back in Egypt, Pharaoh Shoshenq I recorded a military campaign (ca. 920 BCE) on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt. There, the capitulating city of Jerusalem is not mentioned among the list of conquered towns, but despite the discrepancy, this is still considered the first Biblical event to be recorded by external contemporary sources.

Until recently, the only source of information regarding the Temple Mount in this period was the Biblical text itself. The lack of archaeological data allowed for the profusion of different theories, which remain untestable.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project has uncovered several artifacts that help paint an archaeological picture of the Temple Mount in the early days of the Kingdom of Israel. We have discovered a fair amount of pottery datable to this period, mainly hand-burnished bowls and cooking pots. Comparison of the amount of pottery sherds leaves no room for doubt – this is indeed the period that saw the beginning of intense human activity atop the Temple Mount.

A few other artifacts provide us with glimpses into the types of activity that said inhabitants might have been engaged in. The arrowhead with which we opened might have belonged to one of the Temple or palace guards. Administrative activities carried out within the royal compound might be reflected by a rare cone-shaped stone seal depicting a pair of animals (read more here) and a bronze weight carrying an early Hebrew inscription, purportedly discovered on the Temple Mount a century ago, while various finds from the garbage pit on the Temple Mount’s eastern slope and from the Ophel excavations all add up to paint a colorful picture of the diverse human activity taking place atop the Mount at this time.

Until such a time that a proper archaeological excavation will take place at the Temple Mount, we won’t know if there are any structural remains from the Iron Age IIA. However, in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount complex, there are some parts that clearly predate Herod, and have been suggested to date to the First Temple Period by some scholars. Given that – they may very well date to the Early First Temple Period.

Apart from the Temple itself, this period saw the Temple Mount as home for the kingdom’s governmental center that, at least in term of acreage, dwarfed the Temple and is likely the source of most of our recovered artifacts. However, irrespective of its size, the Temple was a source of inspiration to all activity conducted in nearby public buildings and governmental institutions. The Bible ascribes to the Temple a central part in the people’s religious and national life. Tithes and offerings were brought to the Temple, and there the people gathered three times a year and directed their prayers towards from afar. Such a place would have cast a light on any cultural, economic, administrative and judicial act carried out nation-wide. Any conflict would have been resolved therein, and from hence the Torah would be dispersed among the Nation of Israel and the world.

Did this utopian vision actually take place at any point during the First Temple Period? Does archaeology have anything to add to this question? Stay tuned for the next blog post in the series, as we move on to the Late First Temple Period!

8 replies
  1. Dimitar
    Dimitar says:

    The Temple needed “live” water. Where it came from? Gihon is the only spring in Jerusalem but it lies lower than Har Habayit. Where the Temple stood?

    • Daniel Shani
      Daniel Shani says:

      The temple most definitely did not have a running stream in it. During one week every year, when “live” water was needed, it was retrieved from the Gihon spring. The 4th chapter of tractate of Sukkah describes the procession up towards the Temple. During the rest of the year, water was available by cisterns and aqueduct.

  2. Dimitar
    Dimitar says:

    Thank you, Daniel. Mishnah Sukkah 4 explains how they went to the Temple with the Gihon water through the Water gate. No mention of movement up to the Temple. As for the aqueduct, the first one was built in Hasmonean era at earliest. In the First Temple period there was no aqueduct to Har Habayit or to Ir David.

  3. Richie
    Richie says:

    Dear Dimitar, the Temple in fact did not need a live water source and there is no such requirement in the Bible as a prerequisite for building the Temple. This so called requirement was invented out of thin air in order to find an excuse for ‘moving’ the location of the Temple to the City of David – an impossible reality Biblically, historically, geographically and archaeologically. The only commandments in the Old Testament that explicitly require the use of ‘live water’ are:
    1. A running issue from one’s flesh ( Leviticus 15:1-15)
    2. The cleansing of a Leper (Leviticus 14 : 1-9)
    3. The water prepared with the ashes of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:17-19)
    On the other hand, the Bible does mention explicitly exactly where the Temple was built which is on Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1) and not in The City of David (1 Kings 8:1)
    And lastly, the Bible also says that Mt. Zion can’t be moved:
    “They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125)

  4. Dimitar
    Dimitar says:

    Dear Richie, yet how was the (non-living) water supplied to Har Habayit? Who did it? The whole tribe of Gibeonites would work 24/7.

  5. Richie
    Richie says:

    Ever since ancient times, the Temple Mount has been riddled with underground cisterns and conduits for the purpose of collecting rain water. As early as the 2nd century BCE the Epistle of Aristeas records that:
    “There are moreover wonderful and indescribable cisterns underground, as they pointed out to me, at a distance of five furlongs all around the site of the Temple, and each of them has countless pipes so that different streams converge together… And every part of the work had been carefully carried out”
    Some of these cisterns can be dated as far back as the Iron Age (the 1st Temple Period) and hence would have supplied water to Solomon’s Temple. Recently, a public water reservoir was discovered just outside the Temple Mount, directly below the south-western corner – in the area of Robinson’s Arch. It had a capacity of 250 cubic meters and was dated to the 10th century BCE (the time of King Solomon), based on parallels from the biblical Cities of Beer-sheva and Beth Shemesh. Archeologist Eli Shukron who discovered it noted:
    “This reservoir apparently supplied water for daily use in the Temple, and in times of emergency could also be used by the inhabitants of the city as well. This shows that the city was not totally dependent on water from the Gihon Spring, and may indicate that there were other such reservoirs”

    • Daniel Shani
      Daniel Shani says:

      The same way it did in any other place before the invention of plumbing. Walk to the water reservoir, fill up your bucket or other receptacle, walk back up, repeat. Obviously, using multiple people, or pack animals would expedite the process. Also, don;t forget that there were quite a number of cisterns at the top of the mountain as well, to catch rain water.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *