The Key

The two monoliths gate posts inside the present Golden Gate belong to the earliest gate built here during the First Temple period. These still existing gate posts were part of the rebuilt gate of the Second Temple period, namely the Shushan Gate. This means that the entrance level of the Shushan Gate was the same as at the First Temple period. The arch found by James Fleming in a tomb in front of the Golden Gate belonged, in my opinion, to a Herodian stairway leading up from the street level to this gate.

The Golden Gate (Sha’ar Harachamim, Gate of Mercy) of Jerusalem’s Old City wall has special significance on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. If the gate were opened, it would lead directly onto the Temple Plaza. The outside of the gate would open to the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives beyond. In Talmudic literature the gate was also known as the Shushan Gate because of its eastern direction (toward the Persian city of Shushan) and perhaps because of the role played by the Persian leader Cyrus in the Jews’ return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

Unlike most of Jerusalem’s other gates, the Golden Gate was originally built at least a millennium before Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 1540. Indeed, some archeologists believe that the original gate, dating back to Herod’s construction or even Nehemiah’s period (440 BCE), still exists beneath the current gate. Perhaps because of the great religious significance of the gate to Jews and Christians as the Messiah’s route into Jerusalem, it is believed Suleiman sealed the gate and permitted the construction of a Muslim cemetery in front of the gate.

The Quest, p. 109: “Inside the gateway, two large monolithic gateposts have survived. The northern one is 15 feet (4.5 m) high while the height of the southern one is 12 feet (3.5 m). The top of the southernmost post is level with the top of an ancient stone course that can still be seen in the Eastern Wall to the immediate south of the Golden Gate.

The second post is one stone course higher. This indicates that the gateposts and stone courses were built as part of the same construction. We shall see later that this masonry dates from the First Temple period (see pp.174-6). The distance between the two surviving gateposts is approximately 29 feet (8.5 m). This is too wide for a single opening and therefore a central post would have had to be inserted in the middle of the gate. As Herod left the original East Wall untouched, this gate would have remained in its original form.”
pp.177-8: “The top of these monoliths does not line up with the stone courses of the gate; thus we must conclude that these gateposts are older than the gate itself. The eastern faces of the monoliths appear to be set in the same line as the ancient stone courses on either side of the Golden Gate.

We have also pointed out that the level of the top of the southern monolith coincides with that of the ancient masonry on the south side of the Golden Gate, while the top of the northern monolith is one stone course higher than the stones to the north of the gate (see illustration, p. 109). These monolithic gateposts are therefore part of the earliest wall section of the Temple Mount walls. As no remains of any other pre-Herodian eastern gateway are known, it follows that the site of the Golden Gate is the only possible location for the earlier Shushan Gate.”

The level of the top of the Mount of Olives (810 m. above sea level) is 75 m. (246 feet) higher than the Temple platform (735 m.). The sill of the Golden Gate is located some 21 m. (70 feet) lower than the Temple platform. There is a direct line of vision from the top of the Mount of Olives to the entrance to the Temple through the Nicanor Gate, while the walls of the Court of the Women were kept low.

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