It’s one of those amazing stories of magic hiding in plain sight. Under a tarp, in a corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, padlocked in a building in the settlement of Ofra, and locked in a room in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum, there are three piles of ancient wooden beams, some of them with rusted nails sticking out of them. They come from the Temple Mount. Over the centuries, these beams have been used and re-used. Some of them are thousands of years old! Incredibly, some of them date to the Second Temple period i.e., the 1st century CE. But some of them may date even earlier i.e., to the First Temple period, almost 1,000 years BCE.
According to the Bible, King Solomon built the First Temple in the 10th century BCE. In its Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant that housed the tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. In the 6th century BCE, the Babylonians attacked. During the siege the Ark disappeared. Some say the prophet Jeremiah, working with Temple priests, hid the holy relic (it still hasn’t been found). In any event, the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in 586 BCE. But then the Babylonians went down and the Persians went up and the Jews rebuilt the Temple in 516 BCE. It was destroyed by the Romans 600 years later, in the year 70 CE. The two Temples – the Houses of God – used, among other things, huge beams of wood. Some of these were imported from Lebanon. The structures were architectural wonders. And the beams looked down on the point where, according to believers, heaven and earth met. Though Jerusalem was destroyed, conquered and reconquered, it seems that some of the original wooden beams survived. A cypress beam now lying in one of the piles has been carbon-dated and found to be 2,600 years old – the First Temple Period! It may have supported the ceiling above the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments in it.