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Arcehological evidences regarding the Dome of the Rock
An archeologist has come up with a scientific response to an old political question: who has sovereignty to Jerusalem's Holy Mount?
Prof Kaufman, believes that the ancient Jewish temple was not, as is commonly believed, located on the site presently occupied by an Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock. Kaufman bases his conclusions, which have been published in scientific journals, on archaeological remains and on old air photos of the Mount. These include German reconnaisance photos from the first world war that show features on the artificial esplanade which have since been covered over. Prof Kaufman also relies heavily on detailed descriptions of the Temple in the Talmud.
For years he has visited the Mount regularly to examine ancient remains uncovered by the Moslem authorities during the course of laying water pipes and making other improvements.
Kaufman has concluded that both the First Temple, built by Solomon in the 10th century BC and the Second Temple, rebuilt by Herod nine centuries later, were located about 100 meters north of the Dome of the Rock. This, he says would make it possible for Jewish and Moslem holy spaces to co-exist on the Mount, a notion hitherto regarded as absurd on the grounds of clashing sanctities.
The Dome of the Rock, the oldest Islamic building extant, was built by the Arabs in the 7th century AD on what was presumed to be the site of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans six centuries earlier. That presumption, says Kaufman, was erroneous.
Herod had doubled the size of the Temple Mount esplanade built under Solomon to its present length of almost 500 meters. Only half this space constituted the sanctified Temple area. Even within the sanctified area, moreover, non-Jews were permitted to enter an outer courtyard - known as the Court of the Gentiles - as far as a barrier where notices in Greek forbade them further passage. The Dome of the Rock, says Kaufman, lies in the court which gentiles were permitted to enter, a finding which offers a key to his compromise solution.
'It is proposed,' says Kaufman, 'to divide the Temple area into two religious sections, one Jewish and the other Moslem.' The Jewish section would embrace the site of the Temple and the Court of the Gentiles, as Kaufman reconstructs them. The Moslem section would include the remainder of the Temple Mount, including al-Aksa Mosque, the principal Moslem site for prayers in Jerusalem. The two areas, notes Kaufman, are roughly equal in size.
Although the Dome of the Rock would fall within the Jewish section, it would be as accessible to Moslems as at present, says Kaufman, since it lies within the courtyard area which gentiles could freely enter in Temple times.
For the Moslems, says Kaufman, the arrangement would offer an opportunity to restore their half of the Mount to the status of a sacred area barred to non-Moslems as is the case in Mecca and Medina. This was also the case on the Temple Mount for much of its history under the Moslems, a status that began to be eroded after the Crimean War in 1856. Today, he notes, the Mount esplanade is not only open to non-Moslems but is often used by Moslems themselves for picnicking and even ball playing.
Before he can even attempt to persuade religious and political leaders, Kaufman will have to convince the archaeglogical community. 'No reputable scholar accepts his theory,' says Dr Dan Bahat, former Jerusalem District archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority. 'He's done some good readings of the written sources but the theory is just impossible on the basis of the archaeological findings.' Archaeologist Zeev Yeivin, on the other hand, believes that Kaufman's theory cannot be dismissed out of hand. 'I think he's given us reason to re-examine this question,' says Yeivin, who has examined ancient remains on the Mount on behalf of the Antiquities Authority.
The archaeological aspect can easily be resolved, Kaufman says, if the Moslem authorities, who have retained de facto control of the Mount under Israeli rule, permit small digs.
These, he says, would swiftly verify or disprove his theory. Even if his theory is proven correct, however, it is difficult to imagine compromise at the political and religious levels for a site that represents the holy of hollies to so many Jews and Moslems.