The New York Times provoked widespread dismay when it published an article yesterday titled Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place. The article claimed that it is an open question whether the first and second Jewish temples ever existed at Temple Mount. This assertion is an explosive one because some Arabs allege that the temples, if they ever existed at all, were located somewhere other than Temple Mount, and likely somewhere other than Jerusalem. This is part of the campaign to deny, absurdly, that Jews have any historical connection to the land of Israel, or, in particular, to Jerusalem.
It is simply insane to deny that the second temple was located at Temple Mount. For one thing, the Western Wall survives, as do the southern steps and other remnants of the temple:
Ample archaeological evidence confirms Temple Mount as the site of the second temple, and the contours of the temple on the mount are generally known. Less is known about the first temple, for which our sources are, I believe, entirely Biblical. But it is written that the second temple was built on the site of the first, and there is no reason to doubt this. Excavation under Temple Mount likely would produce remnants of the first temple and would, in any event, almost certainly produce some of the most sensational archaeological finds in history, but such exploration is prohibited by the government of Israel so as not to upset the Arabs.
The Times’s weirdly ahistorical “who’s to say?” article prompted a wave of condemnation and led the paper to post this correction:
Correction: October 9, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.
The correction is right as far as history is concerned, but as to the Times article it is thoroughly dishonest. The article begins:
Within Jerusalem’s holiest site, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, lies an explosive historical question that cuts to the essence of competing claims to what may be the world’s most contested piece of real estate.
The “explosive historical question that cuts to the essence of competing claims” is the false assertion by some Arabs that there never was a temple on Temple Mount, not whether the contours of the temple(s) lay a few meters one way or the other. The Times ran a reprehensible piece, the intent of which was to mainstream temple denialism, and then, when protests arose, tried to pretend that their article was something else entirely.
There is a certain irony here: while there is no doubt about the historical fact that the ancient Jewish temples stood on Temple Mount, it is certainly open to debate whether the Muslims’ claim to Temple Mount is historically valid. The location is supposedly sacred to Islam because it is the spot from which Mohammed ascended into heaven. I have been to the Dome of the Rock and have seen the small indentation in the rock, which allegedly was created by Mohammed’s heel as he ascended. Personally, I don’t believe it.
In fact, there is zero evidence that Mohammed was ever in Jerusalem at all. If the Times wants to do an article on the questionable validity of historical claims to Temple Mount, there is an obvious candidate. But it is not the one that the Times wants to pursue.