The Ophel Archeological Park
Exploring the Ophel Archeological Park
Location – The Old City of Jerusalem
Map Coordinates - 31.775865, 35.234456
Merged Gospels story - 233
We always make a point of taking our Octagon Tour groups to this trove of archeological treasures.
The word “Ophel” means fortified area or risen hill. The area is located on the south and southwest side of the Temple Mount, and archeologists have found ruins dating back to the first Temple period – back to the time of Solomon. But by far the most dramatic and monumental finds were from the Herodian period, from the late 1st century BC.
There is no doubt that Jesus walked these streets, ascended these stairs, and bathed in the ritual cleansing pools (the mikvehs)
A Biblical Story that Happened Here.
From Story 233 of The Merged Gospels we read
And He was teaching in these days in the Temple, and going away during the nights, He was lodging at the mount called “Olivet”. And all the people were coming early to Him, to hear Him in the Temple. And Jesus came out from the Temple, and was going away, (and) some were talking about the Temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and contributed gifts. And His disciples came up to point out the Temple buildings to Him. One of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones, and what wonderful buildings.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these great buildings? As for these things which you are looking at, truly I say to you, the days will come in which there will not be one stone left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
The Crushed Street.
Map Coordinates - 31.775989, 35.234427
Before the excavation of 1860 AD, this street lay buried under some 57 feet of debris. The pile of large stones that you see once composed the upper part of a massive retaining wall above. They have lain here for nearly 2,000 years since being deliberately toppled from their original places by the Romans during their sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD, shattering the paving stones of the street below.
The crushed street in Jerusalem with shops still intact on the left.
Both sides of the wide street were lined with shops, but those on the wall side were crushed by the falling stones. Some of the shops on the opposite side are still intact.
While there is no doubt that Jesus was here, He never walked on these particular paving stones. Fresh chisel marks indicate these were laid in the mid-60s AD, some 30 years after the time of Jesus, but just before the destruction of the city by Titus' Roman legion in 70 AD.
This very act by the Roman army fulfilled a prophecy by Jesus, Who declared in The Merged GospelsTM, story 233, “Truly I say to you, the days will come in which there will not be one stone left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
The Robinson Arch.
Map Coordinates - 31.775817, 35.234570
The remains of the Robinson Arch can be seen in the center of this picture, with the southwest pinnacle of the Temple visible in the top right.
There were a series of bridges and arches on the west side of the Temple Mount that allowed people access to the Temple platform. One of these arches, located close to the southern end of the Western Wall, is known as Robinson's Arch. The arch was discovered in 1838 AD and named after its discoverer, American researcher Edward Robinson, who first called attention to the bare remains, the wedge-shaped stone blocks jutting out from the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount. Evidence showed that the arch had spanned over paved streets at multiple angles. This overpass was destroyed during the Great Jewish Revolt, only a few decades after its completion.
Here is an artist’s conception of the 1st-century Robinson Arch staircase, with the southwest Temple pinnacle above it.
The Pinnacle in the Temptation of Jesus.
After Jesus fasted at the Mount of Temptation (Mount Quarantal), Satan attempted to foil God’s ultimate plan by tempting Jesus three times. In one of these temptations it is said that the devil brought Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple, encouraging Him to throw Himself off. If Jesus had succumbed to this temptation, it surely would have fast-tracked Him to instant fame and glory, which was Satan’s plan. Being a magician was not the purpose of Jesus. All of His miracles had a message, but they were not for personal glorification.
When people think of the pinnacle that Jesus stood on (whether He stood there literally or spiritually) they normally think that it follows the contemporary definition of the word pinnacle – the highest point of a building. However, in the first century, the New Testament word translated “pinnacle” (pterugion) did not mean the highest point. It meant wing or extremity, suggesting that any corner of the Temple could have been called a pinnacle.
But Matthew 4:5 and Luke 4:9 don’t say that Jesus stood on a pinnacle. It says that He stood on the pinnacle, suggesting that the pinnacle was a single known landmark.
The pinnacle of the Temple Mount that Jesus stood on was, in all likelihood, on the southwest corner, directly above you when you enter the crushed street. There are three reasons why it seems most likely that this was the pinnacle referred to during the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:5/Luke 4:9.
1. The southwest corner was most visible to the greatest number of people. Thousands of Jews dwelt in this neighborhood with a line of sight to the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. This area was heavy with traffic converging from all directions. Since we understand that Satan’s motive was to tempt Jesus with the notion that He could attract the attention of amazed onlookers by leaping off the Temple Mount, it would seem that the southwest corner offered the greatest amount of public exposure.
2. Looking at the Temple mount from this angle, the southwestern corner was just above the great Robinson Arch, (the broad staircase that took Temple visitors directly onto the mount). With people constantly going up and down this staircase, it was a very high-traffic area. The best view of someone leaping off the pinnacle would have been from this staircase.
3. The recent discovery of the trumpeter’s stone (inscribed with the words “To the place of trumpeting…”) at the base of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount implies that this is where the trumpeter stood to signal the beginning and the end of the Sabbath. The first-century historian, Flavius Josephus, explains this procedure:
"And the last (tower) was erected above the roof of the priest's chambers, where it was the custom for one of the priests to stand and to give notice, by the sound of a trumpet, in the afternoon of the approach, and on the following evening of the close of every seventh day, announcing to the people the respective hours for ceasing work and for resuming their labors." (Wars 4.582-83)
Obviously, the southwestern corner was the spot where the trumpeter would have been heard by the greatest number of people. That would make this spot a distinguished landmark, and one to which many eyes would have been fixed each week. Both logic and archeological evidence would seem to suggest that the trumpeter’s perch, and the pinnacle are the same place.
The Trumpeter’s Stone.
Map Coordinates - 31.775707, 35.234542
The Trumpeter’s Stone
Around the year 1860 AD, amid centuries of sand and debris, an ancient stone was discovered with a Hebrew inscription - “To the place of trumpeting”. The small light-colored section with the inscription is only a replica, and the original part of this stone is in the Israeli Museum. This huge granite block once served as a guard rail at the top corner of the Temple where the priests stood, and where they used to blow their trumpets (shofar or ram’s horn), signifying the beginning and the end of the Jewish Sabbath. The trumpeter’s perch was on the southwest pinnacle of the Temple, since this was in the direction of the greatest population in Jerusalem.
Map Coordinates - 31.775808, 35.234175
A mikveh was a ritual bathing pool that required full-body immersion, used for Jewish ritual cleansing. It was required of all visitors to the Temple Mount to immerse themselves before entering. For this reason there were dozens of mikvehs in the Ophel area, in which the thousands of Jewish pilgrims were required to bathe before visiting the sacred Temple platform.
A certain mikveh close to the crushed Roman street was obviously one of the most popular, because it had both a left and right aisle so visitors could form an orderly line for walking in and out.
The Grand Staircase.
Map Coordinates - 31.775673, 35.235870
The Grand Staircase to enter the Temple, with the partially closed-off double Hulda Tunnel at the top left.
The southern wall of the Temple Mount is today as it appeared in Jesus’ time, despite the various destructions that have ravaged the city. The grand staircase ran virtually the entire distance of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Built by Herod the Great, people who ascended these stairs would enter the Temple Mount from one of two sets of Gates, both called the Hulda Gates. The rock-hewn ritual baths near the bottom of the steps were used for the purification rites once demanded of Jews before they entered the sacred Temple platform.
This staircase consisted of 30 steps. Look closely and you can see that the steps alternate in width, narrow, wide, narrow, wide. These uneven steps have led some to speculate that the stairs were built to correspond to the rhythm of the fifteen Psalms that are called the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). In other words, the fifteen wide steps were built to represent each of these fifteen Psalms of Ascent.
Psalm 122:1,2 (one of the Psalms of ascent) says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord. Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem.’”
Also, the fact that the stairs are uneven, with alternating narrow and wide steps, keeps people from running up the stairs, thus maintaining a stately decorum as they entered the Temple.
It is generally understood that Peter’s Pentecostal sermon was also delivered on these stairs. After all, there was nowhere else that 3000 people could hear him, receive Christ as the Messiah, and be baptized in the dozens of mikveh’s there at the Ophel park. Since this sermon was delivered during the Feast of Pentecost, there were thousands of pilgrims in the Temple, speaking various languages, and this explains why so many people heard Peter’s sermon at the same time.
The Hulda Tunnels.
The Grand Staircase with the Hulda Tunnels (double and triple gates).
There were two sets of tunnels that led from the Grand Staircase under the ancient Royal Stoa, and emerge onto the Temple platform. As I said, these are called the Huldah Gates. Just inside the doorways are elaborately carved domes and columns, some standing today in their original form. No doubt Jesus and His disciples would have occasionally entered the Temple precinct through these tunnels.
On a recent trip we took these photos of the inside of the Hulda Tunnels.
The western Huldah Gate (the Double Gate) lies under the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Today the opening is blocked up and a medieval building covers its left half. The eastern Huldah Gate (the Triple Gate) consisted of three arched openings. They too are blocked up.
Although the word "huldah" means "mole" or "mouse" in Hebrew, the tunnels were more likely named after the first-Temple prophetess Hulda (2 Kings 22:14/2 2 Chronicles 34:22), who supposedly held her court in this area. Moreover, her traditional tomb was placed outside the southern wall as well, and many Jews still believe that she is currently buried inside the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.