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MUSLIMS IN A PANIC: Second Temple-era Jewish ritual mikveh discovered under Al-Aqsa mosque

Al-Aqsa mosque was destroyed in an earthquake in 1927 • As it was being rebuilt, the British archaeologist Robert Hamilton documented the excavation of its foundations • He hid away the findings that the waqf found inconvenient • Today, thousands of findings, including a seal with the inscription “From Gibeon to the king” unearthed by Dr. Gabi Barkai and Zachi Dvira, shed light on the Temple Mount’s Jewish period • A peek back into history.

Nadav Shragai

In 1927, an earthquake struck Jerusalem, killing 130 people, wounding 450 and destroying or heavily damaging about 300 buildings, including Al-Aqsa mosque. The Muslim waqf, led by Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, began restoring the mosque. Robert Hamilton, the director of the antiquities department during the Mandatory period in pre-state Israel, spotted an opportunity in the midst of disaster.

Hamilton took advantage of this unexpected window of opportunity to reach an agreement with the waqf that would allow archaeological investigation on the Temple Mount, for the first time ever, in the area where the mosque had collapsed. Hamilton documented the reconstruction work done by the waqf, photographed, sketched, excavated, analyzed and wrote about a series of findings, some of them surprising.

But this unprecedented cooperation between the British archaeologist and the Muslim clerics was not without a price. In the book that Hamilton later published, he makes no mention of any findings that the Muslims would have found inconvenient. It was no coincidence that these findings came from two historical periods that preceded the Muslim period in Jerusalem: the Second Temple era and the Byzantine era. These findings were hidden deep in the Mandatory archives department (which today is part of the Antiquities Authority archives in the Rockefeller Museum). These days they are finally coming to light.

Eighty years later, Hamilton’s hidden findings are providing support for similar findings unearthed by two Israeli archaeologists, Dr. Gabi Barkai and Zachi Dvira. For the past seven years, Barkai and Dvira have been working on a unique


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