The Golden Gate
and the Date of the Madaba Map

by Dan Bahat

The Madaba Mosaic Map was made to convey a message. I suggest that that message may have been to display the Near Eastern part of the Byzantine Empire as an intact portion of the Christian world, at a time when it was no longer in fact under Christian rule, in the seventh or even eighth century.
To support such a date for the map, which runs counter to the generally accepted date of the sixth century, we need evidence of some datable item shown in the map itself. Such a structure may be the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, which may be shown on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. 1

External view of the Golden Gate in the eastern walls of Jerusalem

The Location and Construction Date of the Golden Gate
The Golden Gate is located along the eastern wall of the Temple Mount over one hundred meters north of the east-west line crossing the Dome of the Rock. It may stand at what was the northeast corner of the Temple Mount before Herod's reconstruction work. 2 The location of the eastern Shushan (or Susa) Gate must have been due east of the Temple. Since the site of the sacrifice of the Red Heifer was on a southern summit of the Mount of Olives, the eastern gate of the Temple Mount must have been, like the gates of the Temple itself, slightly south of the east-west axis. Jewish tradition distinguishes the Golden Gate (the Gate of Mercy in both Hebrew and Arabic) from the Susa Gate, which was further south in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. 3 All this points to the Golden Gate not having been built over remains of a gate of the Herodian Period.
Nevertheless, Geva suggests that the present Golden Gate was built over a pre-Herodian gate renovated in the Herodian period and that the ancient gate dictated its dimensions and location. 4 The discovery of a "gate" below the present gate raises such a possibility. 5 But a Herodian gate there could only be accepted if the Temple, its courts and its gates were constructed north of the Dome of the Rock, a theory which practically no one has accepted. While the "northern" theory could account for the Golden Gate as standing on the axis of the Temple, that newly discovered "gate" can be understood differently. Scholars studying the pre-Herodian Temple Mount are unanimous that it measured 500 x 500 cubits and had its northeast corner at the site of the Golden Gate. 6 Here Mount Moriah slopes sharply toward the Kidron Valley and into the bed of the Beth Zeta Valley, its tributary. In order to build the retaining walls of the Temple Mount, enormous vaults, arches and other structural members would have been needed. The lower "gate'' may have been one of the structural members built there for that reason, or perhaps have been part of Herod's work at that steep point, or even a substructure of the gate itself. The arch of the lower "gate" is not decorated, and it is possible that it was never visible. Too little has been discovered to determine its function.

The foregoing indicates that the site of the Golden Gate may have been chosen not because an ancient (and perhaps ritual) gate had already been built on the site, but for some other reason.
The Golden Gate is located due east from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That alignment could suggest that the gate was a Christian structure. If one interprets the gate as a commemorative structure, the only Christian event that might have taken place at the gate was the restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem by Heraclius on 21 March, 630 AD. As early as the ninth century, the Golden Gate was identified as the gate through which Heraclius entered Jerusalem. 7
The date of construction of the gate has been a matter of controversy. Although art historians have been unable to give a close date for the construction of the Golden Gate based on its architectural style; the recent trend is to ascribe it to the Umayyad period. 8 Rosen-Ayalon, for example, argues that in the Byzantine period the Temple Mount had lost its importance, and therefore such a gate was unnecessary, and that the Golden Gate is similar to the Double Gate, for which an Umayyad date is not disputed. 9
Yet, there is new evidence for a revival of the Temple Mount area in the late Byzantine period. The street pavement uncovered in the excavations of the main street leading to (today's) Gate of the Chain was dated initially to the second century, 10 but a Byzantine date for the repairs of the street has been suggested. 11 This new date is consistent with the discoveries in the ''Herodian Hall" in the Western Wall tunnels which was reconstructed in the late Byzantine period and which is directly connected to the street above it, 12 and which thus may be contemporary with the church visible on the Madaba Mosaic Map in the southeast corner of the Temple Mount.
The resemblance between the Double Gate, the interior of which dates to the Herodian period, and the Golden Gate does not exclude a Byzantine date for the Golden Gate, because they Emperor Heraclius could have desired to build a gate like the Herodian Double Gate.
Rosen-Ayalon also suggests that since the construction of the gate is not mentioned anywhere in conjunction with Heraclius' visit to Jerusalem, the emperor could have entered through (today's) Lions' Gate. 13 But that is an argument from silence and one should also note that the Gate is not mentioned in the Umayyad period. Nor is the enhancement of the Double Gate mentioned in any historical document, and it is known to have been done in the Umayyad period.
Gera also argues for an Umayyad date for the Golden Gate as a reminder of ancient traditions connected to the Temple Mount, just as the Dome of the Rock was such a monument. 14 But there is no functional similarity between the two structures, because the Dome of the Rock had a political meaning (represented by its inscriptions) which the Golden Gate did not have, while no surviving Muslim traditions before the tenth century mention the Golden Gate. The similarity of scale and two modules between the structures is due to the same Byzantine architectural sources of both. Also the Muslims had no strong reason to build a gate there, whereas the Double Gate served the residents of the palaces south of the Temple Mount.
Thus there is no decisive reason to ascribe the Golden Gate to the Umayyed period, and so a Byzantine construction date can not be excluded.
The visit of Heraclius to Jerusalem on 21 March 630, 15 might have been the reason for construction of the gate. To be sure there is no mention of the Golden Gate anywhere in the sources in conjunction with Heraclius' visit, but Heraclius ordered restoration and repair work on the holy places in Jerusalem. 16 The lack of any mention of the Gate might be due to the fact that the restoration of the cross overshadowed all other events connected with the visit.
Heraclius' reign was a harsh time for the Byzantine Empire, despite the Byzantine recovery in 628 of the lands conquered by the Persians. The Emperor made his visit in order to strengthen the area around the Holy Land; hence his construction work. The construction of the Golden Gate might have played a role in such a demonstration of strength on the part of the emperor. The emperor's visit also made a great impression on the Muslims, who added details about the visit which are not mentioned by the Christian sources. 17
If the Golden Gate was built by Heraclius about AD 630, the Madaba Map should be dated after that date. Although there is no way to determine a precise date for the Madaba Mosaic Map by its style, the closest parallel seems to be the Khirbat al-Samra mosaic floor dated to AD 639, where the cities have the same polygonal walls, as well as other features such as the crenellations of the walls, etc., as Jerusalem in the Madaba Mosaic Map. 18 Building activity took place in Madaba itself in that period, including restoration of mosaic floors. 19 Hence, it is possible that the Madaba Mosaic Map was laid in the seventh century or even eighth century.
If that late date is correct, the Madaba Mosaic Map was created in a period when Christian power was dimming in the Near East.
The Christians thrived under Umayyed rule, 20 but Muslim anti-Christian propaganda is found, for example, in the inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock. The mosaic floors of Transjordan, like the Madaba map and later Umm al-Rasas, are examples of Christian counter-propaganda. The Christians were unable to defeat the Muslims, but they found a way to assert themselves. The Madaba Mosaic Map may represent the three patriarchates of the Near East, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch (the last-named is less certain), as Christian territories ignoring the Muslim presence in the seventh and eighth centuries.


1. M. Avi-Yonah, The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, p 147, no. E; J. T. Milik, La Topographie de Jérusalem vers la fin de l'Epoque Byzantin, Mélanges de l'Université de Saint Joseph 37 (1961), calls it "Belle Porte," the Beautiful Gate, and from the map it is clear that the reference is to the structure shown on pl. II (= Jerusalem on the Map), no. D; L. H. Vincent and F. M. Abel, Jérusalem Nouvelle, Paris, 1922-1926, pp. 834-831, pl. xxx, E., do not mention the Madaba Mosaic Map in conjunction with the Golden Gate, but they describe the structure to the south of it as the Church of the Pinnacle, p. 844. They explicitly describe the Gate as the Golden Gate on p. 924. But see Y. Tsafrir, Jerusalem, in T. Wessel and M. Restle, Reallexikon zur Byzantinischer Kunst. Stuttgart, 1975, pp. 588-588.

2. F. J. Holllis, The Archaeology of Herod's Temple. London, 1934.

3. For the Jewish tradition of the Middle Ages, see Z. Koren, The Courts of God's House. Jerusalem, 1997, pp. 48-52 (Hebrew).

4. S. Gera, The Golden Gate of Jerusalem, The Gate of Mercy. Unpublished PhD thesis, Tel-Aviv University, 1986. The views of the various scholars who studied the gate is described on pp. 1-142. See also A. Kaufman, Where the Ancient Temple of Jerusalem Stood, BAR 9.2 (1983), pp. 41-59.

5. J. Fleming, The Undiscovered Gate Beneath Jerusalem's Golden Gate, BAR 9:1 (1983), pp. 24-37. The same discovery was also described by B. Giacumakis, The Gate below the Golden Gate, in The Bulletin Series of the Near East Archeological Society, 4 (1974), which I have not seen.

6. The prevailing theory for the location of the 500 cubit by 500 cubit Temple Mount has a long history in the literature of the scientific study of Judaism. For the most accessible reference, see the map in L. Ritmeyer, Location of the Original Temple Mount, BAR 18:2 (1992), figure on p. 27. On that figure, the location of the Golden Gate is slightly to the south of where it is in fact. See the Survey of Israel map of Jerusalem on a scale of 1:2500.

7. See Vincent and Abel, Jérusalem Nouvelle, p. 838 and text on p. 852; See Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims. Jerusalem 1977, p. 161. There is also a story here as to why the gate is blocked.

8. M. Rosen-Ayalon, The Early Islamic Monuments of al-Haram al-Sharif Qedem 28, Jerusalem, 1989, pp. 41-42; Gera, Golden Gate.

9. Rosen-Ayalon, Early Islamic Monuments.

10. Excavations and Surveys in Israel 10 (1991), pp. 134-136.

See Archaeological News 104 (1995), p. 92 (Heb.).

12. See D. Bahat, The Western Wall Tunnels, in H. Geva, Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, Jerusalem 1994, pp. 177-190. On p. 178, the early Islamic Period is mentioned as the period of reconstructions but further excavations (unpublished) suggest a fifth-century date for the work.

13. Rosen-Ayalon, Early Islamic Monuments, pp. 38-39.

14. Gera, Golden Gate, p. 320.

15. See W. E. Kaegi, Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquest, Cambridge 1995, pp. 74-78 and the extensive bibliography in note 20 there. The bibliography giving the reasons for ascribing the gate to him is found Gera, Golden Gate.

16. Kaegi, Byzantium, p. 76.

17. Kaegi, Byzantium, p. 74.

18. See Piccirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan, Amman, 1993, pp. 302-303.

19. See Piccirillo, Chiese e mosaici di Madaba, Jerusalem 1989, p. 320; Piccirillo, Mosaics of Jordan, pp. 45-47.

20. R. Schick, The Christian Communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule. Princeton, 1995.

This article was first published in: The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 254-256.

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