First Temple is behind the Western Wall, says geophysicist

The location of the First Temple in Jerusalem has long been a mystery. But Lambert T. Dolphin, a retired geophysicist, feels fairly certain he can find it.

Dolphin was on a team of scientists from the Menlo Park-based SRI International that used high-tech tools, developed for use in the Cold War, to discover the remains of ancient civilizations in Egypt and Israel.

Dolphin discussed the findings earlier this month at University of San Francisco's McLaren Auditorium during a series of Jewish community-sponsored Jerusalem 3000 events.

There are three theories about the location of the First Temple, Dolphin said. The traditional theory is that the synagogue is under the Dome of the Rock mosque, which sits atop the plaza bordered by the Western Wall.

The second places the First Temple about 1,000 meters to the north of the Dome of the Rock, under the Dome of the Spirit mosque.

Dolphin doesn't believe either of these theories is correct.

"We have evidence from remote sensing that the site of the Dome of the Rock was an ancient burial ground. The Jews of the time would not have built their temple over a burial ground," he said.

The second location corresponds with the site of a moat. Had the temple been built there, "it would have fallen off the edge into the moat," he said.

Dolphin thinks that the third theory, which places Temple ruins south of the Dome of the Rock, under stones paving the pathway to the shrine, is the most likely spot. Scientists who continue to search for the Temple using infrared and radar data point to this location as the most likely.

The newer theory of the First Temple's location holds vital religious significance, he said.

"This means that the Western Wall would be immediately opposite the Temple," which is considered a holy site, he said. "When a Jew prays at the Wall it is as close as he or she can get to the Temple."

New data also pinpoint the spot where some religious Jews believe a Third Temple could be built, he added.

While the theories are intriguing, they are not likely to be proven through archeological excavations or even closer examination by high-tech tools, Dolphin said. Muslim authorities who control the area have been opposed to any disturbance of the land.

Dolphin first visited Israel in the early 1980s. He and a team traveled previously to Egypt, probing the limestone of the pyramids with radar, seismic sounding and high-resolution automatic resistivity instruments. The tombs of Egypt, they found, were of a poor quality limestone that was not amenable to radar.

When Dolphin's team was invited to try out its techniques on Israeli antiquities, participants jumped at the chance, he said.

And they discovered some exciting results. In King David's Citadel in Jerusalem's Old City, for instance, they discovered a rubble-filled room, which was thought to be solid, near the top of the tower. It has since been converted to a museum.

Dolphin's team has also introduced new techniques to excavate the rich lands of ancient civilizations. The sophisticated exploration technologies, now commonly used, enable archaeologists to pinpoint promising sites for excavation.

"We don't uncover the actual discoveries, but we do make an archaeologist's work far more effective, saving months of hard work," Dolphin said.

Suzan Berns