In the first installment of this article, I proposed a location for the north wall of the Herodian Temple Mount platform—one that differs from the north wall of today’s Muslim platform, al-Haram al-Sharif. My identification raises several questions: First, other than a single ashlar (hewn stone) that remains in the north end of the Temple Mount’s western wall and that has marginal drafting on its northern as well as its western face, there are no certain visible traces of this wall. (The Herodian ashlars visible at the northeastern corner of the Haram appear to be in secondary use because they are mixed with stones from other periods, as noted in the first installment of this article.) Second, the wall that I propose for the Herodian north wall would cut right through the center of the Birkat Isra’il reservoir, which abuts al-Haram al-Sharif at its northeastern corner.

The Birkat Isra’il may not have existed in the Herodian period, however. The 19th-century explorer Charles Warren himself indicated that the pool did not acquire its existing form until at least the second century C.E., when Hadrian refounded Jerusalem as a Roman city named Aelia Capitolina.1 Warren and Conder recognized that the masonry lining the Birkat Isra’il was “inferior in character and resemble[d] the later Roman work in Syria.”2. And, they noted: “There is no description of this pool in the works of Josephus, and it is very improbable that he would have omitted to mention so enormous a reservoir had it existed in his time. He speaks only of a fosse … ” Indeed, this pool cannot be identified in any ancient text prior to the description of Jerusalem by the local Arab historian al-Muqaddasi in 985 C.E.

In addition, a Christian cross in Byzantine style is carved into the side of the outlet channel that runs through the massive city wall near the base of the pool. This indicates that the reservoir was in use in Byzantine times.3

Of course, I must concede that we do not have visible evidence for the northern enclosure wall (except for the corner ashlar). But the matter may perhaps be resolved by excavation. The Birkat Isra’il has been completely filled in and the area is now being used as a parking lot (circled in the photo, which shows the Temple Mount from the northwest), so it is available for excavation.

Warren conducted limited soundings here, but he did not report finding the remains of a wall answering our description. However, he struck the bottom of the pool at only one point, and he never reached bedrock. The bed of the pool consisted of small stones bonded with mortar and covered by a layer of hard plaster. Bedrock obviously lay beneath. Herodian retaining walls are always sunk down to bedrock.

To test my hypothesis, I suggest that two excavation trenches be dug transverse to the length of this pool, one at each end, down to bedrock. We would hope that some meager remains of the northern wall or its foundation have survived despite the devastation wrought by the Romans.4

A third objection to the line I propose for the northern wall is that the rock scarp on which Herod’s Antonia Fortress once stood projects into the northwestern part of the Herodian Temple Mount as I have proposed it. This rock scarp is aligned with the northern boundary of al-Haram al-Sharif, rather than with the northern wall that I have proposed.

A fortress at this point was always important to Jerusalem’s defenses. An attack from the north was the traditional route, for it was only from this direction that the city was undefended by steep natural valleys. Herod’s Antonia Fortress was preceded on this site by the Hellenistic fortress referred to in ancient texts as the Baris. This, in turn, was preceded by the tower Hananel, which was situated on the northern perimeter of the post-Exilic city.

Herod built the Antonia Fortress as a separate project before he rebuilt and enlarged the Temple Mount. We know this from its name, which honored Mark Antony.5 It was Herod’s constant policy to befriend the dominant Roman faction. It would have been politically inexpedient for Herod to do this after Antony lost to Octavian Augustus at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.E. Accordingly, the Antonia Fortress must have been established by 31 B.C.E., about a decade before Herod’s Temple project began in 20/19 B.C.E.

That the Antonia Fortress extended into the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount (between the northern and western colonnades) seems to be acknowledged by Josephus, who states: “The tower of Antonia lay at the angle where two porticoes, the western and the northern, of the first court of the Temple met; it was built upon rock fifty cubits high and on all four sides precipitous … At the point where it [the Antonia] impinged upon the porticoes of the Temple, there were stairs leading down to both of them.”6

Finally, several investigators have suggested that the northern wall of the Herodian enclosure lies on a line south of the northern wall of al-Haram al-Sharif; the remains of this wall, they suggest, lie beneath al-Haram al-Sharif.7 This, however, is contradicted by the continuation of the western enclosure wall, with its characteristic drafted masonry, northwards without a break to the northwest corner of al-Haram al-Sharif. Indeed, as noted in the first installment of this article, very close to the northernmost point of the western wall are remains of a pilaster course that originally articulated the upper stage of the entire western wall of the Herodian enclosure.8 This section of the wall, with its surviving pilaster fragments, is situated beyond the line of this supposed northern boundary of the Herodian enclosure.