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In Sunday school this week we discussed (among several other things) the sacrifice of Isaac.

The teacher pointed us to a footnote that appears in several editions of the scripture. It seems that scholars think that Mount Moriah, where Abraham was told to go to sacrifice his son is now the location of the Dome of the Rock, which makes it the historic location of the temple, and just a few hundred yards from the historic location of Golgotha.

What historic, archeological and traditional evidence is available to confirm this theory?

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Good question! Jewish tradition based on 2 Chronicles 3: 1 holds that the Temple Mount is the same place as 'land of Moriah'. What bothers me is the use of 'land' and 'mount' but I'll ask at the Hermeneutic site. They know all about this stuff. – gideon marx Oct 8 '13 at 18:10
The Mount ('har') of Moriah was in the Land ('eretz') of Moriah. That this was 'the' mountain and not another one is based on tradition and the belief in divine guidance. It is interesting that the Mishnah places the soul of Abraham in Mount Moriah. (Taanith 2: 4) indicating a very old tradition. – gideon marx Oct 9 '13 at 7:03

3 Answers 3

The obvious answer to the question is yes, the first Temple was built on Mount Moriah. II Chronicles 3:1 says as much:

Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (ESV)

and there is no particular reason to doubt that was the real name of the place the Temple was built. Of course, that isn't really the question being asked - the real question is, is "Mount Moriah" the same place as 1) where the Dome of the Rock now sits and 2) the place where Abraham offered up Isaac as a sacrifice.

Dome of the Rock site?

On the first question, the only clue in the text is that the Temple was built on the "threshing floor of Ornan". In ancient times, threshing floors had to be in open spaces and were usually on high ground. These two traits allowed the people to maximize the power of the wind to help separate the the grains from the chaff. The hill of the Dome of the Rock would be an excellent place for such activity. Because it is reasonable to think the people of Israel accurately remembered the place of their sacred temple, the fact that there is no alternative tradition, and the fact the hill matches the description

the majority of scholars, archaeologists, and rabbinic authorities [locate] the Temple in relation to that rock.1

This view has not been universally held by scholars, however. Nineteenth century archaeologist Charles Warren suggested the correct site was 50 meters to the southwest, at the Mount of Olives. This view has significant difficulties and is not supported today. A more recent theory is that the Temple was to the north of the Dome of the Rock under what is now the Dome of the Spirits. This theory was endorsed by some evangelical Christians, but seems to be too small of a site and has been roundly criticized by archaeologists.1

Another recent alternate proposed that the Temple was further south than Warren's location. In this theory, the Wailing Wall remnants that survive are not part of the Temple complex, but rather an effort by Hadrian to install a temple to Jupiter in the second century. This theory has been utterly refuted by archaeological finds at the Wailing Wall which include a stone inscription apparently describing the Sabbath and by the absurdity of this hypothesis' reliance on a site 50 feet lower the current platform and 30 feet lower than the remaining wall.1

Sacrificial site?

On the second question, the evidence is much more mixed. Looking solely at the Biblical text is inconclusive. Genesis 22:2 says simply that Abraham went up "one of the mountains" in the "land of Moriah". The Septuagint version is even vaguer:

And he said, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved—Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.2

The three extant Targums (which are interpretative translations into Aramaic) read:

...get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains

...go into the land of worship (in a variant: "vision") and offer him before Me there, a burnt offering, upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee.

...go into the land of worship, and offer him there, a whole burnt offering, upon one of the mountains3

Interestingly, the fragmentary "Jerusalem" Targum does preserve "at Mount Moriah" but without any of the surrounding context.3

This suggests to me that the tradition that the two were the same place was at minimum not deeply entrenched into Hebrew thought when the translations were made. Additionally, there is a good reason translations often do not treat "Moriah" as proper name in Gen 22:2:

This is probably due to the definite article with Moriah (el eres hammoriya, lit. "to the land of the Moriah"), which is uncommon for a proper name.4

Additionally, there are logistic problems. The city of Jerusalem had apparently been founded by the time of Abraham. This can be seen by Genesis 14:18, which talks about "Melchizedek king of Salem". Salem is known to me an older form of Jerusalem;5 see for example Psalm 76:2 ("His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.", NIV). Archaeological evidence confirms that the city was inhabited in c. 3000 BC, and possibly earlier.6 According to the Biblical account, Abraham lived in the vicinity of 2000 BC,7 which means he would be making his sacrifice in plain view of the city, and also means it is unlikely there would be a wild goat.

In favor of the association there is Josephus, writing around 100-200 after the Targums:

Accordingly [God] commanded [Abraham] to carry [Isaac] to the mountain Moriah, and to build an altar, and offer him for a burnt-offering upon it: for that this would best manifest his religious disposition towards him, if he preferred what was pleasing to God, before the preservation of his own son.8

In the Talmud, we find:

What is the meaning of “Mount Moriah?” Rabbi Levi bar Chama and Rabbi Chanina disputed this point. One said: “The mount from which teaching (הוראה) went out.” The other said: “The Mountain from which fear went out to the idolaters.”9

which apparently both suggest Jerusalem as a location. However, a different interpretation is offered elsewhere in the Talmud:

I heard a different interpretation: “Mount Moriah” – that is Mount Sinai. “Fear to the idolators” – at the giving of the Torah, as it states (Psalms 76:9): “The world heard and was quiet.”9

This Rabbi associates Moriah, not with Jerusalem, but instead with Mount Sinai.


The tradition on the site of the Temple being the same spot that now houses the Dome of the Rock is very strong. And the tradition matches the physical evidence.

In contrast, the tradition on the site of Abraham's sacrifice is variant. The association with the site of the Temple also doesn't match the physical evidence very well. Therefore, I think the Temple site and the site of Abraham's sacrifice are most likely different sites.

What then to make of Chronicles

It has been suggested that the author of Chronicles "inserted" the name Moriah into the Temple account to give the Temple a symbolic link to Abraham. However, this view is unlikely for a number of reasons:10

  • The writer of Chronicles is generally uninterested in the history of Israel before the founding of the monarchy
  • There is no evidence the term "Moriah" was strongly linked to Abraham
  • If it is a reference, it is a very vague. If the writer of Chronicles wanted to draw the the parallel, he has left us no clues in the text (in contrast to the explicit reference to David). Why not write "Moriah, the site of Abraham" or something similar, or at least provide some clue, if that was the intent?

An alternative suggestion, is that the term was inserted into Genesis. This seems even less likely, as why then would the scribe insert into into the "land" part of the passage and learn "one of the mountains".

The normal solution offered to explain the two clearly different uses of the term is that term Moriah referred to a large expanse of mountainous land which included the specific hill on which the Temple was built.4 Thus, both passages are accurate, but do not refer to the exact same patch of land; Mount Moriah is part of the land of Moriah, but not the mountain God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on.

An alternate hypothesis of my own is that the Israelites chose to name the Temple Mount after Abraham. A place doesn't have an intrinsic name, after all... Perhaps the easiest solution of all is that it is simply a coincidence. The uncertainly of the translation of Gen 22:2 (see Septuagint & Tarmud translations above), makes coincidence a perfectly plausible suggestion - if the terms had different meanings, then their use to describe different places it not at all surprising.

None of these hypotheses can be strongly argued for, but the "scribal alteration" idea can be argued against. All we can say with confidence is that the exact meaning of "the lands of the Moriah" is probably lost to time. This does not, however, change the basic conclusion that 1) Mount Moriah is the site of Dome of the Rock and 2) it is most likely not the site of Abraham's sacrificial offering.

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Moriah is specifically named in the Isaac narrative and the temple narrative. Mount Moriah itself is said to be the location of the temple:

Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

2 Chronicles 3:1 (ESV)

Genesis identifies "a mountain [God] will show you" in at least the vicinity of Moriah as the location of the binding of Isaac:

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Genesis 22:2 (ESV)

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia and this answer on Mi Yodeya, rabbis have consistently identified the two mounts as one and the same.

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According to the New and Concise Bible Dictionary:

The land in which was situated the mount on which Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac. Gen. 22: 2. The name of the mountain is not recorded. On the third day after leaving Beer-sheba, Abraham saw the mount afar off, and it was doubtless some lonely spot suitable for such an incident. The Jews say it was the mount bearing this name in Jerusalem. The Samaritans and some modern authorities judge it to have been Gerizim; but it is unknown.

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Pretty good use of internal Biblical evidence. I think a great answer would also use external archeological evidence, or confirm that such evidence does not exist. – dleyva3 Dec 3 '13 at 0:33
Beersheba is about 35-40 miles away from Jerusalem. Would that have been a 3-day journey on foot in that landscape at that time? – Steve May 10 '14 at 4:32

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