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Jerusalem Archaeological Sites:
Mount Moriah


Archaeological Sites: Table of Contents | Western Wall | Old City Gates


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Mount Moriah is the name of the elongated north-south stretch of land lying between Kidron Valley and "Hagai" Valley, between Mount Zion to the west and the Mount of Olives to the east.

The Jebusite "Zion" was situated on the southern slope of Mount Moriah, above the Gihon Spring. After King David captured the city he made it his capital and named it for himself: the "City of David."

The northern area of the mountain's summit lay desolate for long after Zion's capture by David. It was in fact still the private property of Araunah, the city's former Jebusite king. For various reasons David did not confiscate the site but preferred to buy it from Auranah for full value: "So David paid Ornan [Auranah] for the site 600 shekels' worth of gold. And David built there an altar to the Lord and sacrificed burn offerings and offerings of well-being" (1 Chronicles 21:25, and a slightly different version at 2 Samuel 24:18-25).

In the course of time the mountain had acquired an aura of sanctity and he subject of many traditions. Indeed, its sacred status may date back to the early Canaanite period, when it perhaps was the cultic center of "El Elyon," god of Melchizedek, king of Salem: "And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High [=El Elyon]. He blessed him, saying, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth" (Genesis 14:18).

The best-known tradition related to Mount Moriah is the Binding of Isaac for sacrifice by his father Abraham, related in Genesis 22.

The tradition of "Jacob's Dream" is also identified with Mount Moriah: "He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing beside him... Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ... "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God and that is the gateway to heaven" (Genesis 28:10-18).

This is perhaps the most colorful representation of the essential nature of the site which some would later claim was the "navel of the world". At the summit of Mount Moriah, traditionally, is the "Foundation Stone," the symbolic fundament of the world's creation, and reputedly the site of the Temple's Holy of Holies, the supreme embodiment of the relationship between God and the people of Israel.

Upon the completion of King Solomon's Temple, famed for its sumptuous splendor, the Ark of the Covenant was placed within its confines. The sanctity of the site is reflected in the graphic description provided by the Book of Kings: "the priests came out of the sanctuary for the cloud had filled the House of the Lord and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord..." (1 Kings 8:11).

Solomon built his palace in the "miloh" (infill) area which separated the summit of the mountain and the Temple from the city below. This was also a concrete expression of the divine inspiration that was attributed to his kingship. Other palaces were also built nearby, such as the "House of the Forest of Lebanon" and the House of Pharaoh's Daughter. Solomon used dirt to fill in this east-west lateral rift, hence the area's name: "miloh" (infill), or Ophel , from a Hebrew word referring to the road that ascended to the Temple from the city which at that time was topographically lower.


Sources: The Jerusalem Mosaic. Copyright 1995 Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- All Rights Reserved

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