NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Without digging a single shovel of dirt, archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer found the location of Solomon’s Temple with a keen eye, biblical and historical knowledge and a tape measure.
Later, Ritmeyer became one of the leading scholars in Temple Mount research. And it all started with one unique stone.
Ritmeyer, a Dutch architect and archaeologist, was the featured speaker at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Manual Family Lectures on Archaeology and the Bible in mid-November. Established by the Manuel family of McComb, Miss., and hosted by NOBTS’ Center for Archaeological Research, the annual lectureship presents current archaeological research and excavation data as it pertains to the biblical text and historical events.
Ritmeyer served as surveyor and field architect of the archaeological expedition at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for many years as well as throughout the Jewish Quarter. In addition to his work as an archaeological architect, Ritmeyer is an illustrator of archaeological drawings and maps. His company, Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, provided illustrations for the English Standard Version Study Bible.
According to Ritmeyer, the original Temple Mount platform measured 500 cubits by 500 cubits. The “royal cubit” used for the temple was 20.67 inches long. Later, King Herod expanded the platform on the Temple Mount, doubling its size. It is the expanded, Herodian platform that tourists in Jerusalem visit today.
The current platform has two levels. Eight staircases lead from the lower level to the higher level where the Muslim Dome of the Rock shrine stands.
Because the Muslims who control the Temple Mount will not allow excavations, Ritmeyer relied on observational skills as he searched for the location of Solomon’s Temple. And on the surface of the platform, he found his breakthrough.
At the bottom of a staircase in the northwest corner of the higher section, Ritmeyer noticed a stone with a unique chiseled edge. The stone resembled the pre-Herodian blocks visible on the eastern wall of the platform. He also noted that the stone was not aligned with the rest of the raised platform.
Ritmeyer believed the stone was not placed there as a step, but was actually part of the original temple platform wall built by King Hezekiah (eighth century B.C.). Such a find would be helpful in locating the original temple.
“This step was the archaeological beginning of my research into the pre-Herodian Temple Mount,” Ritmeyer said.
Ritmeyer tested his theory by measuring the space between the stone and the eastern wall. It was exactly 500 cubits — the measurement listed in the Mishnah, a book on Jewish law from the second century A.D. He then measured the pre-Herodian foundation visible on the eastern wall from the north to the south. It also was exactly 500 cubits.
The measurements confirmed the location of the original Temple Mount platform. The stone Ritmeyer discovered now bears his name in many archaeological texts and graphics.
According to Ritmeyer, Muslim authorities repaved the area around the stone step in 1974 after learning of the discovery. The top of the stone is still visible, but the chiseled side that Ritmeyer first noticed is not. Ritmeyer, however, keeps a photograph that attests to his discovery.
From there, Ritmeyer searched for the location of the temple and the altar. From information in the Mishnah, he theorized that the temple stood where the Dome of the Rock shrine now stands. If so, the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant would have rested on the rock inside the Dome of the Rock. Though some archaeologists dispute his claims, Ritmeyer presents a compelling case for his view.
The Mishnah stated that the temple was not located in the center of the 500 cubit by 500 cubit platform but was slightly northwest of center. This gave credence to his view. Ritmeyer then looked for confirmation on the surface of the rock.
The archaeologist saw that the large rock had numerous cuts, lines and indentions on its surface. Many other archaeologists had rejected the rock as a source for clues because of the number of cuts on the surface. Not so with Ritmeyer.
“I look at every stone on the Temple Mount as archaeological evidence,” Ritmeyer said.
Ritmeyer searched for marks consistent with the information he knew about the Holy of Holies. Again, he relied on the Bible, historical records and a tape measure to test his theory. He speculated that some of the cuts were made to level the site for the temple’s foundation.
Ritmeyer knew the dimensions of the Holy of Holies from 1 Kings 6 — 20 cubits by 20 cubits. He also knew the thickness of the walls. Ritmeyer discovered that cuts on the rock matched the thickness of the walls and the width of the room. He also found cuts made for the back wall of the Holy of Holies.
Another rectangular mark caught Rimeyer’s attention. He believed that this depression was the place the Ark of the Covenant stood in Solomon’s Temple. Ritmeyer went to Exodus 25 for the ark’s dimensions — two and a half cubits by a cubit and a half. Using photographs and computers to measure the depression, scholars have found that the cut measures two and a half cubits by two cubits -– ample space to receive the ark.
Ritmeyer then measured from the back of the Holy of Holies to find the boundaries of the original temple. From there, he was able to speculate on the location of the altar.
“That’s the location of the altar,” Ritmeyer said, pointing to a photograph. “That’s the location where Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac and the altar that David built when he was told by God to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah.”
Ritmeyer presented evidence from the Bible and ancient agricultural practice to argue that these altars were all located on or very near the same point -– voicing another layer of confirmation for his theory.
The history of the Temple Mount begins in Genesis 22 when God directed Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac at Mount Moriah, Ritmeyer said. Abraham went to Mount Moriah and built an altar. However, God provided a ram for the sacrifice and Isaac was spared.
Later, King David worshipped at Moriah long before his son built the first temple.
“We always rely on the Word of God for information,” Ritmeyer said.
When David first became king, he ruled for seven years in Hebron, Ritmeyer said. After capturing Jerusalem, David moved his capital and the Ark of the Covenant to the city.
David first sacrificed an offering to God at Mount Moriah as recorded in 2 Samuel 24, Ritmeyer said. God’s prophet Gad instructed David to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite located on Mount Moriah.
Using knowledge he had learned about ancient threshing floors, Ritmeyer came to believe that the threshing floor, David’s altar and the altar of the first temple were all located at the same spot — the location identified by his measurements. According to Ritmeyer, Abraham’s altar would have been very near the same point.
Gary Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Ritmeyer spoke four times during the Nov. 16-17 Manual Lectureship, focusing on the history and archaeology of the Temple Mount as well as current issues facing the site. For more information about Leen Ritmeyer, Ritmeyer Archaeological Design and Ritmeyer’s blog, visit www.ritmeyer.com.
Reprinted with permission of NOBTS.