In recent decades, there have been several making the outrageous claim that the Jews have no right to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, because the Jews never had a Temple. In addition to several Muslim scholars, you also have atheists and those with a left-wing political agenda making this and similar claims.
In an article entitled, Mistrust Threatens Delicate Balance at a Sacred Site in Jerusalem, the New York Times describes the growing controversy on the Temple’s existence noting:
“Temple denial, increasingly common among Palestinian leaders, also has a long history: After Israel became a state in 1948, the Waqf removed from its guidebooks all references to King Solomon’s Temple, whose location at the site it had previously said was “beyond dispute.””
Of course, the Bible clearly states that the Jews actually built two Temples on Mount Zion, including the first Temple built by King Solomon, destroyed in 587 BC, and a second Temple built by Ezra that later underwent major renovations by King Herod. That Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
But because the Muslims control the Temple Mount, archaeologists have not been able to do any significant archaeological excavation to find remains of the Temple to back up the Jewish claim, but still there is evidence.
In 2015, Haaretz News interviewed Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay from Bar-Ilan University in Israel who provided several evidences that prove the existence of the Temple on the site.
First was a discovery of two stone inscriptions on the Temple Mount, written in Greek and Latin, warning non-Jewish people that they were not allowed to enter the inner court yard of the second Temple.
These stones are located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and were discovered in the late 1800s before the controversy over the Temple’s existence started with the formation of Israel as a state in 1948.
One of the stones discovered in 1871 reads:
IS TO GO BEYOND THE BALUSTRADE
AND THE PLAZA OF THE TEMPLE ZONE
WHOEVER IS CAUGHT DOING SO
WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME
FOR HIS DEATH
WHICH WILL FOLLOW
I have always found this prohibition against the gentiles entering the temple’s inner court puzzling, because throughout the Old Testament there were prophecies that the gentiles would be flooding into the temple of God (Isaiah 56:6-8). And in the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet describes a temple that lacked both a court yard for women and a separate court for the gentiles found in the previous two temples.
This suggests there was a yet to be built third temple. And the Ezekiel prophecy added that the gentiles will have an equal share in the promised land (Ezekiel 47:22). Essentially, gentiles will be treated equally with Jews.
Though the Jews in Jesus’ day did not see their temple as a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy, I believe the church, which is also described as the Temple of God (Ephesians 2:19-22), did. The gentiles were not only welcomed into the church on equal terms with the Jews, meaning they didn’t have to first convert to Judaism by getting circumcised before becoming Christians, but the church also removed the barriers between men and women.
Like Ezekiel’s temple, the church did not have separate courts for the gentiles or women. They were all considered equal (Galatians 3:28).
The second thing that Barkay pointed to is another stone inscription that reads “To the Trumpeting place.” The inscription was found on the southwest corner of the temple mount in 1968 and is now on display at the Israel Museum.
The inscription probably fell off the temple wall during the Roman destruction in 70 AD. According to ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, (37 AD to 100 AD), the Jewish priests regularly used trumpets to announce the start and end of the sabbath and would sound these blasts from the four corners of the temple. This was one of the signs directing the priests to where they sounded the trumpets.
A third thing that Barkay cited was the Huldah gates, two gates located on the southern side of the Old Jerusalem city wall that served as an entrance to the Jewish Temple. These two gates (one with two entrances and the other three) provided an underground tunnel with ramps to the Temple. Both gates are referred to in the Mishnah, an ancient Jewish commentary on the Old Testament. Since the name Huldah literally means mole or mouse, some believe this was a reference to their underground, tunnel-like feature.
In addition, we have the Roman references to the Temple. This includes the Arch of Titus in Rome that displays booty taken from the Temple including the Temple’s Jewish Menorah when it was destroyed in 70 AD. As one writer wryly noted, the Romans did not go through the bother of creating this giant archway just to mess with people 2,000 years later who would try to claim there was no Temple.
Prior to its destruction in 70 AD, the Romans also minted a coin that displayed an image of Herod’s temple that included its Roman pillars. Though, its location on the Temple Mount is not noted, it is nevertheless proves the Jewish Temple existed.
Of course, there are dozens of Biblical references to the temple in both the Old and New Testaments. And in addition to this there were also the Elephantine Letters, written by Jews on Elephantine Island located on the Nile River in 403 BC, asking for help from the Jews in Jerusalem as they were building the second temple. There are also references to the Jewish Temple in the Dead Seas scrolls dated to the time of Jesus and earlier.
There is no doubt that the Temple Mount was home to two Jewish Temples, but since this debate has become politicized, facts are no longer considered relevant.