Models of the Temple at Jerusalem

Josephus’s descriptions have figured largely in twentieth-century attempts to reconstruct the Temple Mount in model form. They have been set beside both the archaeological findings and tannaitic rabbinic sources (primarily the mishnaic tractates Yoma and Tamid), from which they differ in various particulars. Two models of the Temple and Temple Mount were made for display in Jerusalem in the latter part of the twentieth century, as visitors’ attractions.

A 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount was constructed by Michael Avi Yonah in the 1960s for a prominent erstwhile Leipzig Jew Hans Kroch, in memory of his son who was killed in Israel’s War of Independence. The model was located in the courtyard of Kroch’s Holyland Hotel. Just as Josephus wrote his descriptions far from Jerusalem, with the city inaccessible, so did Kroch feel that the model served its purpose at a time when East Jerusalem lay in Jordanian hands, beyond the reach of Israeli inspection.

The model is unique in the caution that was applied to its scientific planning and construction. Following the conclusions of the new large-scale excavations conducted in Jerusalem immediately after 1967, the model was amended by Michael Avi-Yonah. After the death of Avi-Yonah in 1974, his student Yoram Tsafrir (eventually a prominent scholar by himself) was handed the scientific responsibility for the model, which he updated with great scientific caution. The Model of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple period was modified and moved to the Israel Museum in 2006, and is accessible to tourists and investigators alike.

A second model constructed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has been on show in the Western Wall tunnels since c. 2000. It was built by Rabbi Zalman Koren, a well-known rabbinic figure (who worked on the Temple and its courts), and the archaeologist Dan Bahat (responsible for the Temple Mount).

Both reconstructions had to address the points on which Josephus and rabbinic literature differed, as well as discrepancies between Josephus’s Antiquities and Jewish War, which are variously explicable. Avi Yonah took the mishnaic description of the Temple building itself to be the more accurate, even if largely based on indirect witnesses, in contrast to Josephus’s post-destruction glorification. Avi Yonah’s Temple thus follows primarily the description given in rabbinic literature with some details from Josephus. By contrast, the dimensions of the Temple Mount were reconstructed principally on the basis of Josephus’s accounts.

Koren and Bahat regarded the mishnaic description as the most reliable and accurate for both Temple and Temple Mount. Koren explains in an appendix to his accompanying monograph that, unlike mediaeval commentators, he does not find Yosippon reliable. He does accept the testimony of Josephus, to whom he refers consistently. For him, the discrepancies between Josephus and the Mishnah are limited. Nevertheless, since the Mishnah’s purpose was to determine halakhot, rather than, like Josephus, to create a fine impression, its account is in general preferred by Koren.

Amit, D (ed. by D. Mevorah and Y. Tsafrir), Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Israel Museum. Jerusalem, 1992.
Avi-Yonah, M. (revised edition by Y. Tsafrir), Pictorial Guide to the Model of Ancient Jerusalem at the Time of The Second Temple, Herzlia, 1992.
Koren, Z. M., The Beit HaMikdash: the Temple & The holy mount, Jerusalem, 2007.
Tsafrir, Y., ‘Designing the Model of Jerusalem at the Holy Land Hotel: Hans Zvi Kroch, Michael Avi-Yonah and an Unpublished Guidebook’, Cathedra 140 (2011): 47-86. [Hebrew]

JRA entry contributed by Eyal Ben-Eliyahu