What is Beneath the Temple Mount?
As Israeli archaeologists recover artifacts from the religious site, ancient history inflames modern-day political tensions
By Joshua Hammer
Photographs by Kate Brooks
Smithsonian magazine, April 2011
I already have a comment there (with corrrected spelling errors):
The statement of Natsheh, the Waqf’s chief archaeologist, who dismisses Barkay’s finds because they were not found in situ, in their original archaeological layers in the ground is a bit odd. After all, it was the Waqf that (a) removed the soil from the compound; (b) did so without any pretense at preserving the value of the site; (c) prohibits any archaeological digs; and (d) himself part of the "Temple-Denial" approach of all official Palestinian Authority bodies, which would make him an involved subjective participant.
Would that be tolerated anywhere else?
Until recently, Palestinians generally acknowledged that the Beit Hamikdash existed. A 1929 publication, A Brief Guide to the Haram al-Sharif, written by Waqf historian Aref al Aref, declares that the Mount’s “identity with the site of Solomon’s temple is beyond dispute. This too is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt and peace offerings.” But in recent decades, amid the intensifying quarrel over the sovereignty of East Jerusalem, a growing number of Palestinian officials and academics have voiced doubts. “I will not allow it to be written of me that I have...confirmed the existence of the so-called Temple beneath the Mount,” Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat told President Bill Clinton at the Camp David peace talks in 2000. Arafat suggested the site of the Temple Mount might have been in the West Bank town of Nablus, known as Shechem in ancient times.
Five years after the Camp David talks, Barkay’s sifting project turned up a lump of black clay with a seal impression inscribed with the name, in ancient Hebrew, “[Gea]lyahu [son of] Immer.” In the Book of Jeremiah, a son of Immer—Pashur—is identified as chief administrator of the First Temple. Barkay suggests that the seal’s owner could have been Pashur’s brother. If so, it’s a “significant find,” he says—the first Hebrew inscription from the First Temple period to be found on the Mount itself.
But Natsheh—sipping Arabic coffee in his office at Waqf headquarters, a 700-year-old former Sufi monastery in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City—is dubious. He says he’s also frustrated by Israeli dismissal of Palestinian claims to the sacred compound where, he says, the Muslim presence—excepting the Crusader period (A.D. 1099-1187)—“extends for 1,400 years.” Natsheh won’t say if he believes in the existence of the First Temple, given the current political climate. “Whether I say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it would be misused,” he tells me, fidgeting. “I would not like to answer.”
And if you want to sift, go here for info. Photos of inds from the dirt removed can be viewed here.