Go to Jerusalem today and you’ll see the remains of the Second Temple – largely built by King Herod. That’s the king who allegedly massacred all the baby children in his realm on hearing that the Messiah had been born. He wasn’t keen on a divinely led rebellion against his rule!
The remains are the huge stone platform build on top of a low lying hill called Mount Moriah as the foundation for a massive structure that once stood there.
This was a staggering architectural achievement that involved lugging enormous quarried stones to the site transforming Mount Moriah into the base of the temple. The completed building must have been huge by any standard. It stood as a strong statement by Herod that the God of the Jews truly ranked above all others.
I say it was the “Second” temple because the first, built by King Solomon, had been destroyed by invading Babylonians in 586BC. Solomon had constructed the temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. It was held within a room called the Holy of Holies which no man was permitted to enter except the High Priest and in which God was literally said to dwell.
Within the Ark of the Covenant was placed the tablets of stone given by God to Moses. That is the tablets upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. There was also a pot of the manna that fell from heaven to feed the wandering Israelites and Aaron’s rod.
After the Babylonian destruction – the tablets and the Ark disappeared. One reason the Knights Templar might have been interested in finding it was the awesome power it was believed to contain. It’s even been argued that it was a kind of weapon of mass destruction – capable of wiping out armies if taken on to the field of battle.
But that wouldn’t explain how it came to be captured by the Philistines after the Israelites carried it into battle against their old foe at a place called Eben-ezer. Apparently the Ark brought them no luck, only defeat. Although, the Philistines did return it to the Israelites a few months later concerned that it was behind a mysterious outbreak of tumours and other diseases among their people.
Hilariously, the Ark of the Covenant was explained by one 20th century engineer to be an electricity generator. Frederick Rogers argued in 1933 that it was an electrical condenser. The two golden cherubim sitting on top with wings extended towards each other were the positive pole of the circuit.
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So – we have a temple built by King Solomon with the Ark of the Covenant – which might be capable of delivering giant electric shocks. That temple is destroyed by the Babylonians who may have run off with the Ark or, more likely, it was hidden by the Israelites in advance of the sacking.
For some reason, it never re-emerges – even when the Temple is rebuilt five hundred years later by King Herod. Then comes the next terrible part of the story. The Jews revolt against Roman rule and as a punishment – the Romans destroy the second temple. And when I say destroy – we’re talking about levelling it to the ground. Or more accurately, pretty much leaving the platform on which it was built and not much else.
The Romans celebrated this act of religious and cultural vandalism with the construction of the Arch of Titus in Rome. You can still see it. And on the arch, there is a clear image of treasure being taken from the temple by Roman soldiers.
As I’m sure you know, Jesus prophesies the destruction of the second Temple in the New Testament. Though this prophecy was described by gospel writers telling the story AFTER the temple had been levelled. In other words, Jesus is predicting something that had already happened.
A few decades later, the Jews revolted again and this time, the Emperor Hadrian reconsecrated the temple as a pagan place of worship to the god Jupiter. The whole city was renamed Aelia Capitolina and the temple was dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus. Historians are divided on whether this all happened before the second Jewish revolt and provoked it – or after, as a reprisal by the emperor.
By the way, Hadrian wasn’t the first ruler to outlaw Judaism at the temple site. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Hellenistic king who had inherited part of the vast empire of Alexander the Great, dedicated the temple to Zeus as a punishment of the Jews three hundred years earlier for – you guessed – revolting against his rule.
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The Templars and the Temple of Solomon
The Romans tolerate then adopt Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century. From the emperor Constantine onwards, Jerusalem becomes a centre of Christian pilgrimage. Basilicas and churches are built at key sites in the biblical story. Most importantly is the Holy Sepulchre – constructed over the site of the crucifixion and burial place of Jesus.
But then disaster strikes for the Christians. Jerusalem and the whole region comes under the rule of a new religion in the seventh century: Islam. Muslims, as part of the Abrahamic family, recognise the same prophets as Judaism and Christianity but with a difference.
To them, Jesus is another prophet and then Muhammad is the last prophet – the final messenger of Allah (god). So, the Temple mount isn’t destroyed but re-imagined in line with Islam. The Dome of the Rock with its golden dome still visible today is constructed over the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven. For Jews, it’s the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Nearby, the new Muslim rulers of Jerusalem built the Al Aqsa mosque. This was the place that Muhammad arrived at from Mecca on his miraculous overnight journey facilitated by a winged creature called Buraq.
After the crusaders took Jerusalem from Muslim rule in 1099, they turned the Dome of the Rock into a Christian church and the Al Aqsa became the palace of the crusader King of Jerusalem and then he bequeathed it to the Knights Templar as their headquarters after the year 1118. The newly formed knights derived their name from their location on the site of Solomon’s temple.
They rapidly expanded the Al Aqsa and today the women’s mosque and other parts of the building are actually remnants of the Templar additions. They also used the warren of tunnels beneath as stables. But more intriguingly, they are thought to have been digging below for that elusive Ark of the Covenant that had disappeared for so long.
FIND OUT MORE: Knights Templar – magicians or heretics?
What might the Templars have been looking for?
- Solomon’s treasure and that of other kings of Jerusalem lay buried underground
- The Ark of the Covenant, which contained the tablets given to Moses, had disappeared centuries ago. Maybe it was underneath the Temple of Solomon. If so, its awesome power could be used by the Templars
- The Turin Shroud. The Holy Grail. The Holy Lance. The Crown of Thorns. All are held up as candidates for treasure found under the Temple of Solomon
- The head of John the Baptist was buried there as opposed to the various churches in Europe that claimed to have it
- One theory even has the Templars discovering the head of Jesus
FIND OUT MORE: How were the Knights Templar linked to the Holy Grail?
There is a theory that when the crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, they discovered ancient secrets that had to be guarded – kept secret maybe.
The Templars were specifically founded to keep these secrets under lock and key – away from the eyes of the faithful. What could be so terrifying to the church that it needed to set up an order of military monks?
Some allege it was the Holy Grail – which was neither a platter nor a cup but the relics of Mary Magdalene who had married Jesus and borne him a child after his crucifixion. Those of you who have read the Da Vinci Code will know that the child was a girl and established a divine blood line to the present day.
And if – just if – the Templars really had found great treasures under the Temple of Solomon and spirited them away – what happened to this treasure?
READ MORE: What happened to the Templar treasure?
Well, in 1307 when the king of France decided to shut down the Templars and seize their money to clear his debts, knights were seen scurrying out of the great Temple building in Paris with carts groaning under the weight of large sacks. They made their way to the port of La Rochelle and the treasure, Templar knights and the Templar fleet of ships were never seen again.