Penetrating Insights into the Temple Mount

by Tuvia Sagiv

The Site of The Golden Dome of the Rock:
Former Altar of Ashtoreth the Phoenician Goddess

Research into the subject of Jerusalem, in general, and the Temple in particular, is almost at a standstill due to today's political and religious constraints. It is impossible to dig in and under the Temple Mount, and so it becomes more important to make use of non-penetrating geophysical methods whenever possible to gather information about the subterranean features of the compound. These methods include the following: (i) ground penetrating radar (GPR) investigations through the outer walls of the Mount; (ii) high-frequency seismic tests through the walls, (iii) magnetic mapping; and (iii) thermal infra-red imagery (1). While both radar and infra-red imagery have provided valuable information concerning the Moriah compound, the following paragraphs deal specifically with the results obtained from infra-red imaging. Infra-red images have been taken by this writer in the past few years from stationary positions outside the walls of the compound, as well as from helicopters flying over the site at various heights (2).

Infra-red imagery registers changes in thermal radiation above the surface of bodies of varying thermal capacity, such as boulders or walls buried beneath the surface. During the day the surface of the Temple Mount heats uniformly from the sun, and this heat is conducted into the ground beneath. At night the surface cools by radiation, however heat flow back up from the sub-surface is non-uniform because of cisterns, voids, bedrock, old foundations, channels, and so on. Just before dawn, the surface temperature distribution can vary by fractions of a degree or even by several degrees. These temperature patterns can be mapped using a special imaging " camera" sensitive to infra-red wavelengths. (In addition to diurnal heating and cooling patterns, slowly changing seasonal heat-flow differences also occur. These can reveal information about deeper anomalies beneath the surface). The IR method facilitates the gathering of information over extensive areas while physical contact with the surface being examined is unnecessary.

IR images have been taken at various hours of the day, the most effective time in our experience thus far being the hours immediately following sunset. The difference in temperature between the various areas was as much as three or four degrees, while the instuments used were sensitive to temperature differences as small as 0.1 dgree C.

Figure 1 shows the raised Islamic platform with the Golden Dome at its center. The surrounding platform is paved uniformly with stone, though the pattern of the paving changes around the building in rows that are parallel with the walls of the octagonal structure, except for the western side. Figures 2-4 are infra-red images of the site, which clearly show the difference in thermal radiation to the east of the structure, this is specifically seen at sunrise and sunset. This radiation, which at midnight is uniformly admitted is, sharply demarcated and the extensions of these lines of demarcation - which penetrate the Golden Dome - can be seen to form a pentagon.

The Temple Mount Pentagon in the First Temple Period

In Amman, Jordon, in the ancient Acropolis there, traces have been found of a Roman temple to Hercules. Under the flooring of this temple there is an amorphous rocky mass with one corner protruding upward - with a small cave in it (see Fig 7) . The Italian archaeologists who first dug there raised the possibility that this rock served during the Iron age as a "high place" dedicated to Milcom, the god of the Ammonites (I Kings 11:5) (3).

Can the rocky prominences under the Golden Dome, the "Dome of the Spirits" and the El-Umriyya school in the Moriah compound in Jerusalem have been idolatrous "high places" in ancient times?

In the seaport archaeological site of Caesarea, at the site of Strato's Tower built in the fifth century B.C.E. by the Phoenician king 'Abd 'Ashtart, traces of the ancient wall are discernible. Between the two sides of the northern gate there are rounded towers and in the nothern corner of the wall there is a mass of an imperfectly pentagonal structure, the length of the long sides of which is some 18 feet. (see Fig 8).

Ever since the Chalcolithic Period pentagonal structures were not commonly used in buildings. Finding such structures in Jerusalem and Caesaria, when both are located to the north of the settled area near its wall, raises the possibility of the structures having had the identical function. Both of these structures may have served as idolatrous "high places" (see Fig 9) (4).

The name of Strato's Tower preserves the name of the goddess 'Ashtrt ('Ashtoreth'), a name well-known in the ancient world. As already noted, the settlement at Caesarea was also built by the Phoenician king 'Abd 'Ashtart (5).

The book of II Kings, chapter 23, tells of Josiah, king of Judah in the sixth century B.C.E., cleansing Jerusalem from idolatrous places of worship. "The king defiled the high places overlooking Jerusalem, to the south of the Mount of Destruction, which had been built by Solomn. King of Israel, to Ashtoreth, goddess of the Sidonites, and to Chemosh, god of Moab, and to Milcom, god of the Ammonites."

At least one archaeologist has expressed the opinion that the Mount of Destruction, to the south of which there were 'high places', was not the Mount of Olives but rather Bet Zeita, located to the north of the Antonia fortress - in the area of the present Rockfeller Museum (6).

It is quite possible that the rock under the Golden Dome, the rock under the "Dome of the Spirits" and that the area under the present-day El-Umriyya school make up an idolatrous compound associated with the First Temple. This site may have existed since the tenth century B.C.E. up till the sixth century B.C.E. - over three hundred years. This idolatrous center was rooted in the pagan world of Amman and Moab to the east, and in the Phoenician world on the Mediterranean coast. Therefore, the pentagonal foundation stones under the Golden Dome could be the remains of a high place dedicated to Ashtoreth, the idol of Sidon. It should be noted that the ancient symbol representing the goddess Ashtoreth (Astarte) is an octagon and a pentagon, the two forms that we find are impressed upon one another at this site.

The shapes and locations of the rocky high places under the Moriah Compound thus back up the testimony of the Bible. It is our belief that we have located the ruins of former Canaanite High Places on the Temple Mount, including the site of the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine.

The Pentagon in the period of the Second Temple

In the book, "The Jewish Wars" Josephus Flavius, tells how Antigonus, son of Hyrcanos, walked north from the Temple towards the fortifications on the North end of the Temple Mount that were eventually expanded and renamed "Fortress Antonia" On his way to the fortress to visit his sick brother Aristobulus, Antigonus passed through the tunnel called "Strato's Tower." It was there that his fellow soldiers struck and killed him.

The name "Strato's Tower," (which preserves the name of the goddess Ashtoreth), was no longer common in the Hellenistic period, and even the Essene Yehuda did not remember this name (7) .

If the outward resemblance of the pentagonal Strato's Tower in Casarea and the Jerusalem pentagon is of any significance, then the pentagonal shape revealed in the infra-red images taken of the Golden Dome area is the site of Strato's Tower.

Seal imprints on pottery found in Jerusalem and in Ramat Rachel display a five-pointed star with a pentagon at its centre. Around the pentagonal star's rays appears the word JRSLM in the ancient Hebrew letters. These seals relate to the third and second centuries B.C.E., i.e., to the Hasmonean period. (See Fig 10).

It may be assumed that we have here evidence of the existence of a pentagonal boulder with its western extremity protruding above the paved surface - the"Sakra" under the Golden Dome (see Fig 5). The pentagonal boulder may be described as a 45-meter square with its western corner cut off. It would seem to be an artificially quarried and processed boulder.

There exists to this day a well-known cave within the bedrock under the Golden Dome. The cave walls have been cut parallel to the boundaries of the rock mass visible in the infra-red photographs (see Fig 5). Furthermore, the axis of symmetry of the cave corners and that of the pentagon facing east-west coalesce with the axis of symmetry of the staircase leading from the lower level to that of the raised platform (see Fig 5).

The axis of symmetry in the cave does not coincide with that of the center of the shrine's octagonal walls. It may well be that the staircase into the cave preserves an ancient route relating to the original pentagonal foundation stone carved from bedrock, and to the cave. The cave seems to predate the Dome of the Rock and may even have been a burial site.

In the northwestern corner of the Moriah Compound, there is another large bedrock outcropping. The shape of this rock mass is amorphous, and it is at the present time covered with the top soil of a park. At its northwestern corner a rocky mass protrudes above the ground. On this higher portion of the bedrock is located the present-day Islamic El-Umriyya school. There is a known cave in the center of this bedrock mass also, (see Fig 6).

Under the small cupola known as the "Dome of the Tablts" or "Dome of the Spirits" about 100 meters North of the Dome, between the Golden Dome and the El-Umriyya school' one can discern yet another one outcropping of rock. Here, too, a staircase leads directly to this portion of bedrock outcropping (see Fig 6).

What was originally a high places of Ashtoreth on the Temple Mount may well have become a pentagonal tower in later times. This tower became the symbol of Jerusalem in the Hasmonean period. It was apparently incorporated into the Antonia Fortress constructed by Herod the Great.

If indeed the rock under the Golden Dome is a remnant of Strato's Tower, then according to the route followed by Antigonus from the Temple to the Northern fortifications it may be assumed that the Temple was located south of the Golden Dome. This conclusion is yet a further indication of the Jewish Temple having been located between the Golden Dome and the El-Aqsa Mosque, and not as claimed by most sholars, on the precise location of the Golden Dome. (8)


  1. The pagan, Canaanite, area of worship from the First Temple period, was, we conclude, situated in a region that includes: The Golden Dome, The Dome of the Spirit and The El-Umriyya rock.

  2. The Antonia fortress and its towers, during the Second Temple period, were situated at the Golden Dome and the immediate surrounding area. In this model the protecting moat (now filled in) which protected the Northern wall of Fortress Antonia is in the logical location.

  3. The First and Second Jewish Temples were situated to the south between the Golden Dome and the El-Aqsa Mosque.(see Fig.11)

Bibliography and Notes

1. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, therefore thorough, repeated tests should be carried out. Nevertheless, the Infrared method has an advantage that one can obtain data from a distance, without the need to examine the area from close up.
2. Radar tests were carried out around the Eastern, Western, and Southern wall in 1990.. Infrared tests were performed in 1993-1995, using two different instruments: An Inframetrics scanner, provided with the assistance of Eli Cohen from Elbit co., and an Aegma scanner provided with the assistance of Dov Berger from Shartel co.
3. Encyclopedia of Archaelogical Excavation 1960, Vol 2, "Rabbat Amon" pp 512 in the Holy Land, 1960, Vol 2, "Rabat Amon" pp. 512
4. In II Kings chapter 23, verse 8, it states that Josiah" broke down the high places of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua ….. at the gate of the city." This description coordinates with the description of the pentagon found near the tower, at the entrance to the city in Stato's tower.
5. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological excavations in The Holy Land, Vol 4, 1992, p 1370
6. Horovitz, "Jerusalem in our Literature."
7. Flavius, J. The Jewish War, Book 1,3 1-5
8. Sagiv, T. 1994 "The Temple is to the North," Tchuman Vol 14, 1994.

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. The Moriah court - upper court.
Fig. 2. Infrared photographs of The Golden Dome.
Fig. 3. Infrared photographs of The Golden Dome.
Fig. 4. Infrared photographs of The Golden Dome.
Fig. 5. The Golden Dome in a pentagon shape, and at it's tip the rock. The cave at The Golden Dome. The walls lie parallel to the outlines of the pentagon rock. The symetric axis of the pentagon rock, the cave, and the case of stairs - in one.
Fig. 6. The El-Umriyya school is located on the beam of the rock. The Dome of the Spirit - in it's centre a barren rock.
Fig. 7. Aman - The Hercolus Temple - The rock, at it's tip the beam. Researchers assume that this location is The Alter of Malcom, God of The Ammonites.
Fig. 8. Caeserea, Strato's Tower - The Pentagonal Tower.
Fig. 9. Jerusalem and Ceserea - at both sites the pentagon alter is situated to the north of the city.
Fig. 10. Marks on vessels from 2-3 B.C. The marks show a pentagon surrounded by beams that creates a five sided star. In between the beams the Hebrew letters: JRSLM.
Fig. 11. The Antonia fortress and it's towers, from The Second Temple period, are situated at the Golden Dome and its surrounding area.
The Jewish Temple is situated to the south between the Golden Dome and the El-Aqsa Mosque.

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