Wooden beams from the time of Herod’s Temple Mount in secondary use in the Al-Aqsa Mosque
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2013.—Ed.
What happened to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E.? There is no report of any building left on the Temple Mount by the time the Muslims erected the iconic Dome of the Rock and the gray-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque in the late seventh and early eighth centuries.Did the wooden beams from Herod’s Temple Mount survive? In the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Peretz Reuven studies beams removed from the Al-Aqsa Mosque to reveal the storied history of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
How did wooden beams from the era of Herod’s Temple Mount end up being used as tie beams and bond timbers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque?
The Al-Aqsa Mosque has sustained serious earthquake damage over the years due to its construction on dirt-fill from Herod’s first century C.E. Temple Mount expansion. As a result, the Al-Aqsa Mosque has been rebuilt and renovated several times since its original Umayyad construction. During the 1930s and 1940s, large-scale restoration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque involved the removal of dozens of beams from the mosque’s ceiling, arcades and dome. The great beams, some of which are more than 42 feet long, were covered by modern boards for centuries. The wood inside the beams has a longer story to tell.
Many of the places, people and events that populate Biblical history are a part of Islam. Our free eBook Islam in the Ancient World traces the Biblical roots of Islam’s traditions and holy sites. Learn how the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and other sites are tied to the Bible.
High-quality Cedar of Lebanon and cypress beams from Herod’s Temple Mount would have been used and reused in a phenomenon known to archaeologists as “secondary use.” R.W. Hamilton’s 1949 publication on the dismantling of the Al-Aqsa Mosque already noted that many beams showed signs of secondary use. These signs include functional depressions or protrusions intended from their original use as well as decorative woodcarving styles from earlier periods.Recent carbon-14 tests on the beams confirm their antiquity. Some predate Herod’s Temple Mount: One beam dates to the ninth century B.C.E.—the First Temple period! The exact history of the beams is hard to pin down. They were likely used in two or more different constructions, and poor storage has led to the ever-quickening degradation of the beams.
Despite conservation issues, Peretz Reuven was able to make detailed analyses of the beams. For example, indentations on the underside of a beam with Herodian/Roman-period decorations suggest that it rested on column capitals in an earlier structure. The indentations are spaced at a similar interval to columns at Herod’s Royal Stoa. Did this beam, featured on the cover of the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, come from one of Herod’s Temple Mount structures?
Learn more about the wooden beams from the Al-Aqsa Mosque by reading “Wooden Beams from Herod’s Temple Mount: Do They Still Exist?” by Peretz Reuven as it appears in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Not a BAS Library member yet?Join the BAS Library today.