The Temple Mount Will Be Towed Away at the End of January

At the end of January, the Temple Mount will be sawed into pieces and carted away. Not the real Temple Mount, of course, but its miniature model on the hillside next to the Holyland Hotel in southeast Jerusalem. The mountain and the temple compound built by King Herod are part of a model of Jerusalem in 66 C.E., on the eve of the revolt against the Romans that ended in the destruction of the city.

For almost 40 years, the miniature city sat proudly in the garden surrounding it, but the desire of the site's owners to build a residential tower led them to seek and finance the model's transfer to an alternative location. The institution chosen to host the model is the Israel Museum, which has prepared a terraced field beside the Shrine of the Book to accommodate the model.

The proximity to the shrine is no coincidence. Displayed in this subterranean structure are remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Qumran caves beside the Dead Sea, and apparently written at the end of the Second Temple period.

The model is due to be a major component in the development plans for the Shrine of the Book compound, which also includes the construction of a center for researching the scrolls. The museum's management feels there is no better place for the model than the chosen site.

"It is as if history left that area open for the model," says museum director James Snyder, who says he hopes the model will be ready for visitors by June.

Museum sources would not disclose how much money is being invested in the transfer of the model, but the relocation work is in full swing. Teams of workers are sawing the model into sections, loading each section onto a truck with the help of a crane, and transporting it to the museum. The transfer of the Temple Mount, which was deliberately left until the end, will entail complicated technical problems.

Pesach Ruder, head of Technical Services at the museum and the man in charge of this project, has determined that it is impossible to cut the mountain into pieces and that it must be transferred in one piece. Ruder and his assistants hope that the equipment he has at his disposal will be up to the job, even though the section is several times larger than most of the other pieces of the model.

Modern or traditional

The big question still troubling the museum's management is how much of the model to preserve as it has been displayed until now, and the extent to which they should take advantage of its reassembly to update certain parts, in keeping with what archaeologists know today about how the city looked 2,000 years ago.

Snyder explains that Jerusalem's topography will be built more precisely, and the large field will enable the project designers to enlarge the model to include the Kidron and Ben Hinnom valleys, which are outside the Old City walls. Snyder also does not rule out additional adjustments and changes, but stresses that in all its deliberations over archaeological accuracy versus artistic, theatrical and other considerations, the museum favors the latter.

"The intention is not to build a precise archaeological model, because that is not the museum's approach," says Snyder. "True, the model was designed by archaeologists, but we see the model not as an archaeological representation, but rather as a work of art created at a certain time to serve an ideological purpose: to connect modern Israel with that 'existential rock' of ancient Israel, which during those years [when the model was built] was inaccessible. The model also has its own artistic value as one of a series of models of the Temple and Jerusalem created since the 19th century."

The model of ancient Jerusalem, which during the height of its popularity attracted 300,000 visitors a year, was built to order for the Holyland Hotel's owner, the late Hans Kroch, in the mid-1960s, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation. Its chief designer, Prof. Michael Avi Yonah, built it based on the descriptions of Josephus Flavius and Mishnaic texts, plus considerable embellishments from his own imagination. The model was highly acclaimed, mainly for the Hellenistic style of the buildings.

Extensive archaeological digs in the Old City after the Six-Day War, however, revealed a few conspicuous inaccuracies. Digs conducted by Prof. Benjamin Mazar at the Southern Wall between 1968 and 1978 at the site of Robinson's Arch revealed that the Western Wall's southernmost gate was different than portrayed by Avi Yonah.

Before the archaeological discoveries, researchers thought there had been a bridge connecting the Temple Mount to the upper city (where the Jewish Quarter is today), but the digs revealed an enormous flight of stairs starting in the Herodian street, then the city's main marketplace. Mazar's discoveries led to the alteration of the Holyland model, but all other initiatives for changes were rejected.

One of the alterations the museum is considering at present is the removal of the hippodrome, the chariot racing stadium, from the model. Avi Yonah built a magnificent hippodrome and placed it based on Flavius' description. All the digs conducted according to the geographic details provided by Flavius, however, have turned up no findings indicating the existence of such a structure. The hippodrome may be exhibited separately, accompanied by explanations for its non-inclusion in the model.

Another building that will not be altered, although it is now clear that Avi Yonah's representation differs from reality, is the Siloam pool, remains of which were discovered recently by archaeologists Roni Reich and Eli Shukrun in the southwestern corner of the City of David. Other unanswered questions remain regarding the location and dimensions of main public buildings such as the theater, Herod's palace, the Hasmonean palaces and the Antonia Fortress, in which Jesus was imprisoned while awaiting his trial.

Tiled roofs to remain

Prof. Yoram Tsafrir, who replaced Avi Yonah as the scientific advisor for the model, told Haaretz that he supports "only changes that Avi Yonah himself would have made." Tsafrir's conservative approach is shared by other important archaeologists and experts. Prof. Ehud Netzer, who researched Herod's construction efforts throughout Israel, feels that any proposal to alter the model "will open a Pandora's Box of arguments."

"If the theater has not been found until now," says Prof. Dan Bahat, an expert on the Temple Mount in the Second Temple period, "it is because [researchers] have not dug deep enough. The greatness of the model is that nothing in it can be refuted."

"A model of this type involves a measure of pretentiousness," says Reich, who designed the model of Jerusalem in the visitors center at the Western Wall. "When building a whole model of Jerusalem, there can be no ambivalences, which forces the model's designers to make decisions on a thousand and one details."

Reich, who last week visited the model being built at the museum, has already identified one fundamental problem: Avi Yonah decided to roof all the public buildings and the homes of the wealthy with roofing tiles. Today researchers believe that roofing tiles were first brought to Jerusalem by soldiers of the Tenth Roman Legion, after the destruction of the Jewish capital.

Dor Lin, deputy director for planning and development at the museum, was surprised when he heard about the problem of the roofing tiles, and said that replacing dozens of roofs was not practical. Instead, the museum will probably build an example of a typical Second Temple period building alongside the model.

"The idea is to find smart solutions, ones that will not destroy the model," explains Lin.