Egyptian paper claims Jewish Temple was never in Jerusalem

Article seeks to deny Jewish connection to ‘Al-Quds’, says Jews’ place of worship was actually a converted Egyptian building in the Galilee

Lee Gancman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An artist's rendition of Solomon's First Temple (YouTube screen capture)
An artist's rendition of Solomon's First Temple (YouTube screen capture)

An Egyptian newspaper claimed Wednesday that the Jewish First Temple was in actual fact an Egyptian temple that the Jews took over, and that it had never been located in Jerusalem at all.

Sprawling over almost a full page of the daily newspaper “al-Youm al-Saba’a,” the article presented an elaborate theory based partly on analyses of Jewish sources, with assistance from Dr. Iman Tayyeb, an Egyptian professor of Talmud and the Old Testament at the University of Assiut.

While Tayyeb conceded that the Jewish temple may have existed in a place called “Jerusalem,” she said that the city wasn’t located in the same place as Israel’s modern capital. Citing Jewish texts, she claimed it was unclear where the ancient temple stood, but that there was ample evidence that it could not have been at the Temple Mount.

According to Tayyeb, the first reference to the Jewish temple, in the book 1 Kings, does not adequately clarify where it was built.

She referred to an unnamed “famous Greek historian” of the first century BCE who claimed that there were two cities with names currently associated with Jerusalem, and that one could be seen from the other.

Tayyeb also employed obscure Roman sources. Those texts, she said, relate that the Roman emperor Hadrian razed Jerusalem to the ground and expelled all its Jewish inhabitants. At the same time, she asserted, the sources describe a city of “Al-Quds” whose name was changed to Aelia Capitolina. Why then, she asked, would Hadrian have bothered to rename an utterly destroyed city that had been emptied of inhabitants? Surely, she reasoned, he must have changed the name of another city, “Al-Quds” — the Arab name for Jerusalem of today.

Despite Tayyeb’s claims, there is a consensus among archaeologists and scholars that Israel’s modern day capital and the Jerusalem referred to in the bible are the same location and that the Temple Mount is the site of the two Jewish temples. Claims to the contrary have only appeared in recent times, largely in the Arab and Muslim world, following Israel’s assertion of sovereignty over the contested area.

Photo of article in Egyptian daily claiming Jewish Temple never existed on Temple Mount on December 23, 2015 (screen capture/Il-Yom Il-Saba'a)
Photo of article in Egyptian daily claiming Jewish Temple never existed on Temple Mount on December 23, 2015 (screen capture/Il-Yom Il-Saba’a)

The report goes on to reference the Gemara and the Jewish tradition that the temple was staffed by priests who resided in the Galilee town of Sepphoris. She then refers to a purported passage that says the priests lived in Sepphoris in order to be “close to the temple.” If that were the case, she says, then the temple was more likely to have been in the north of Israel.

After contacting several Talmudic experts, the Times of Israel determined that there is no reference to the Jews of Sepphoris living there due to proximity to the temple. In fact, the Talmud explicitly states numerous times that the temple was in Jerusalem, which was on the border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, in the south.

Finally the article claims that the dimensions of the temple itself match that of ancient Egyptian temples from the Pharaonic Period. What the Jews call their temple, the report says, may have been converted from an abandoned Egyptian military garrison in Palestine which they took over.

Prior to Israel taking control of the Temple Mount in 1967, there was a consensus in the Arab and Muslim world that site — now home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque — was the site of the biblical Jewish temple. Such attitudes can be seen in a 1924 guide to the Haram al-Sharif (as the Temple Mount is known in Arabic) published by the Muslim Waqf, which had no qualms mentioning the presence of two Jewish temples atop the Jerusalem compound in antiquity.

In October, Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, mufti of Jerusalem, claimed that there was never a Jewish temple on the site, and that in fact, the Al-Aqsa mosque had been there “since the creation of the world.” According to historians, the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built during the Umayyad dynasty and is believed to have been completed in 705 CE.

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