Claim that Ancient Cedar Beams are being Burned in Jerusalem

From Arutz Sheva:

Video: Arabs Burning ‘First Temple Cedars of Lebanon’

A group of Jews that ascended the Temple Mount Sunday were shocked to see that ancient beams of wood that had apparently been used during the period of the Holy Temple were being used as firewood by Arabs on the Mount, and off it.

The background is that a number of wooden beams were removed from the Al-Aqsa mosque during refurbishments in the 1930s:

Some of the beams were dated to the first Temple period, others to Roman times, and at least one beam was found to have Byzantine-era designs etched on it.

Some were stored at the Islamic Museum, which is located on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and  Arutz Sheva alleges that these beams have been exposed to the elements and now dumped; the story cites “reports” as saying that “that the Arabs, who have been trying for years to get rid of the beams, have begun burning them.”


Organizations that are involved in attempting to secure Jewish rights on the Mount expressed shock at the story. “It appears that this is part of the systematic attempts by Arabs to destroy all connections between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount,” said a spokesperson for one of the groups.

A short accompanying video shows some beams lying in a courtyard, with a small brazier burning some firewood in the background. It’s not at all clear whether these are beams taken from the Islamic Museum, or what is going on.

Certainly, the professionalism of Palestinian archaeology has been debased by denials of the existence of the ancient Jewish temples, and there are serious concerns about how recent building work in the area of the Temple Mount has been conducted (see my posts here and here). However, it’s not clear why the beams would be taken to represent some kind of “evidence” which Palestinians would try to destroy.

As well as the beams at the Islamic Museum, there is a collection held at the Rockefeller Museum, which has been subjected to recent scholarly analysis. In particular, the Journal of Archaeological Science published an article in November 1997 entitled “Comparative Dating Methods: Botanical Identification and 14C Dating of Carved Panels and Beams from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem”, by Nili Liphschitz, Gideon Biger, Georges Bonani, and W. Wolfli. The authors explain that twenty cypress tie-beams were identified in the 1930s, and that some of these were identified as cedar, “probably Cedar of Lebanon”, in the 1940s. The authors’ carbon-dating work revealed that:

Most of the timbers examined date to the Byzantine period, whereas two cypress beams and one log date to earlier periods (9th–2nd centuries BC).

They also cited earlier study relating to “some other roof-timbers removed from the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the 1960s”, which revealed that one cypress log and a Turkey oak log “dated to the Iron Age, i.e. the time of the First Temple”; the mosque thus incorporated timber “that was already over 1000 years old”. However, the authors do not pronounce on the meaning of this:

…the existence of the cypress logs dated to the 9th–2nd centuries BC in the Al-Aqsa Mosque raises many questions concerning their origin in constructions built more than 1500 years earlier.

For the most part, though, the timbers are Byzantine, and the authors, quoting Procopius, suggest that they derive from constructions undertaken by Justinian and destroyed by earthquakes or Persians in the early seventh century. Other wood was taken from old Roman and Hellenistic buildings.

It therefore seems unlikely that the beams have much to say about “connections between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount”; and if the inference is that a beam may have been part of the First Temple itself, this seems a highly unlikely prospect given the site’s destruction in the early sixth century BCE and again in 70CE.

Having said all that, though, we need to have a proper explanation of the scene in the video. Are historically-valuable remains being destroyed? And, if so, why?

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