Discussions with the Diggers: Dr. Leen Ritmeyer

One of the things I love about Discussions with the Diggers, is learning from experts about different biblical sites. My next guest is the world’s leading authority on the Temple Mount.

Dr. Leen Ritmeyer is an archaeological architect who has been involved in all of Jerusalem’s major excavations. He was chief architect of the Temple Mount Excavations directed by the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar and of the Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem directed by the late Prof. Nahman Avigad, both of the Hebrew University. He has directed prestigious restoration and reconstruction projects, such as the Byzantine Cardo and the Herodian Villas in Jerusalem. He has also participated in numerous excavations all over Israel, producing site plans and reconstruction drawings. His work has been published in many journals, magazines and books about Biblical Archaeology and has been shown in eminent museums, including the Israel Museum. He is also the author of numerous books, including his magnum opus, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: Dr. Ritmeyer, welcome to the Bible Archaeology Report. What made you want to become an archaeological architect and what does the job entail?

Dr. Leen Ritmeyer at Shiloh where he oversaw the conservation of a the wall he is standing by. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Leen Ritmeyer. https://www.ritmeyer.com/2017/07/12/conservation-program-at-tel-shiloh/

DR. LEEN RITMEYER: In 1973, I started to work as surveyor on the Temple Mount excavations, and was trained in by an Irish architect. When he left 4 months later, Prof. Benjamin Mazar, the director of the dig, told me to take his place. Having to guide people on the dig, I noticed that most visitors have difficulties visualising what the site looked like in the past. I realized that most people wanted to know how people lived in the past, and when I saw that they appreciated my reconstruction drawings, I made it my mission to educate people with my drawings and make them better understand what buildings looked like and how they were used.

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: What excavations have you been involved with?

Dr. Leen Ritmeyer shows Dr. Mark Hassler a plan of the MB city wall at Shiloh. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Leen Ritmeyer

DR. LEEN RITMEYER: I have been involved in all the major Jerusalem excavations, The Temple Mount Excavations, the Jewish Quarter, the Citadel and the City of David excavations. Reconstructing the past was not limited to making drawings, I had also been asked to restore archaeological sites, such as the Byzantine Cardo and the Herodian villas, one of which has been identified as the Palace of Annas the High Priest.

It would take up too much space to list all the other sites I have been involved with, but the main ones are: Tel Batash (Timnah of the Philistines), Byzantine monasteries in the Judean Desert, Kh. el-Maqatir, Tall al-Hammam in Jordan and recently Tel Shiloh. (for more sites and info see: https://www.ritmeyer.com/about/)

Dr. Leen Ritmeyer discussing the line of the city wall of Tell el-Hammam with the Dig Director, Dr. Steve Collins. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Leen Ritmeyer.

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: Many would say that you’re the world’s leading expert on the Temple Mount.  The location of the Jewish Temple(s) in Jerusalem is a question that comes up from time to time.  Some on the internet have suggested that Solomon & Herod’s Temple were not located on the Temple Mount, but in another area of Jerusalem. What evidence is there that leads you to believe the First and Second Temples were located on the Temple Mount?

The Foundation Stone inside the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount carved in the rock bears the traces of the foundation trenches of the walls of Solomon’s Temple, and the Mark of the Ark (the depression cut in the rock that was made for the Ark of the Covenant). Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

DR. LEEN RITMEYER: I have researched the problems of the Temple Mount for more than 40 years and feel passionately that the public needs to be informed what the Jerusalem Temple looked like in the various periods, and where it was located. When I lived and worked in Jerusalem, nobody ever questioned that the Temple Mount might have been located in a different place. I believe to have found the location of the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple by researching The Rock inside the Dome of the Rock. There I found carved in the rock, traces of the foundation trenches of the walls of Solomon’s Temple, and the Mark of the Ark, i.e. the depression cut in the rock that was made for the Ark of the Covenant. Once this was established, information contained in Mishnah Middot, enabled me to find remains of the First Temple period, specifically those of the Temple Mount that was built by King Hezekiah. It made me understand how Herod extended the existing Temple Mount in three directions and that made it possible to understand and reconstruct the Herodian Temple Mount.

My archaeologist-wife Kathleen and I are both trained teachers and we made it our mission to educate people to have a better understanding of the Jerusalem Temple that is so frequently mentioned in the Bible and played an important role in the life of Jesus. Therefore we have published many books on this topic and keep a blog to comment on the latest development in this area.

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT:  What evidence contradicts the claims of those who would believe the Temple was located somewhere else – in the City of David, for example?

DR. LEEN RITMEYER: First of all, the overwhelming archaeological evidence and historical descriptions prove that the Herodian Temple Mount was located where it still stands today is. Only Herod the Great could build such a massive structure, which is accurately recorded by Josephus. For example, the fact that four gates have been found in the Western Wall, corresponds exactly with the description by Josephus (Ant. 15.410).

The Bible says that Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah (2Chr. 3:1). When Solomon had finished building the Temple, he brought up the Ark of the Covenant “out of the city of David, which is Zion” (1 Kings 8.1). This makes it quite clear that the Temple was located outside the original Zion, where the Gihon Spring was located.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

The people that say that the Temple stood in the City of David misinterpret the Bible. They love to quote that Jesus said that not one stone shall be left standing upon another. It is correct to say that Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. However, Jesus did not speak of “the Temple and its supporting walls”, as these people want to make us believe, but only of the Temple itself (Luke 21.5) and those “buildings of the Temple” which the disciples pointed out to him (Matth. 24.1). The disciples spoke of the buildings which stood on the Temple Mount, but not of the foundation platform, the walls of which are still standing today.

They also claim that David himself placed the Ark of the Covenant over the Gihon Spring, quoting Ps. 87 which says “all my springs are in thee”. They do not address the fact that the springs that are mentioned in this Psalm is in the plural, while there is only one spring in Jerusalem. I believe that the correct reading is that God’s eyes are always upon Jerusalem.

The greatest lesson from working in the archaeology of the Holy land is that we need to read the Bible extremely careful. It is important to understand what the text is saying, not what we want it to say.

The steps leading to the Double Gate in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. Photo: Wilson44691 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT:  As an archaeological architect, you would be familiar with the biblical descriptions of specific buildings or cities in the Bible.  You’ve also worked at several of them.  In your opinion, is the Bible a reliable source of historical information from an architectural point of view?

DR. LEEN RITMEYER: I do not use the Bible as a handbook of architecture, but it contains important information concerning the layout of cities and its buildings. When I discovered the Middle Gate in Jerusalem that is mentioned in Jer. 39:3, it showed me that the people who wrote the text were intimately familiar with the architectural structures that are mentioned in the Bible and also with the geography of the Land. In Tall al-Hammam I was able to discover another gate, the one mentioned in Gen. 19:1, where we read that Lot sat in the gate.

Apart from the Temple Mount, there are other structures mentioned in the Bible, such as the Siloam and Bethesda Pools. It taught me to use archaeology to illuminate the text and to provide a faithful context to the wonderful events that are recorded for us.

I’d like to thank Dr. Ritmeyer for graciously taking the time to answer my questions and share his expertise with my readers.

Dr. Ritmeyer has written numerous articles at his website about the location of the Temple. You can read two of them here (the second blog includes links to other things he’s written about the location of the Temple in Jerusalem):

I also highly recommend Dr. Ritmeyer’s book, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. You can purchase it, along with Dr. Ritmeyer’s books, here: https://www.ritmeyer.com/product-category/books/

You’ve probably seen Dr. Ritmeyer’s illustrations in various magazines, books and study Bibles. You can also purchase his graphics for use here: https://www.ritmeyer.com/product-category/image-library/

Title Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Leen Ritmeyer

Disclaimer: I allow each expert to answer in his or her own words and may or may not agree with his or her interpretation of their work.

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