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7. The Temptations Sites

After his Baptism Jesus went into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days, and  Satan tempted him in various ways at a few sites. Can these sites be identified today?

The Pinnacle of the Temple

The southeastern corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

The southeastern corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is more then 15 m high today, and was probably higher in the time of Jesus. Remarkably, at this spot the original 1st century masonry is preserved almost to the top.

First, Satan urged him to turn a stone into bread, to which Jesus replied by quoting from the Old Testament: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Then Satan took him to “the pinnacle of the temple” (literally, “the wing of the holy”) in Jerusalem, where he challenged him to jump, arguing that if he was indeed the Son of God, Biblical prophecy would be fulfilled and angels would come to his aid (Ps. 91:12). Again, Jesus quoted the Old Testament: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt 4:7). Finally Satan took Jesus to “the highest mountain”, where the devil offered him“all the kingdoms of the world” if Jesus would bow down and worship him. To this offer, again, Jesus replied by quoting again from the Old Testament: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

Only one of the sites mentioned in this story can be identified with any certainty. The “wing of the holy” (Greek: pterugion tou hierou), located in Jerusalemaccording to Luke, is un doubtfully the edge of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

That temple was first constructed by King Solomon, and rebuilt in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. In the time of Jesus the temple and the surrounding areas were rebuilt and renovated in a grand scale by King Herod. By his orders, the mountain was leveled, surrounded by retaining walls, and filled to form a flat space of about144,000 square meters (1.5 million square ft), approximately the area of 20 soccer fields!

The temple stood in its center. In the southern corners, the foundation walls were so high that, according to the historian Josephus, anybody who looked down “would become dizzy and his vision would be unable to reach the end of the measureless depth.” The Greek word “pterugion” used in the text literally means “a little wing” and usually expressed the tip or extremity of anything, including the idea of “edge” or “summit.” Therefore it is possible the term used in the Gospels refers to the southern corners of the temple mount as described by Josephus.

These corners are still visible today. Although the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 CE, the temple mount was rebuilt several times, especially by Muslims. Furthermore, a recent Muslim tradition holds that a niche-shaped stone in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount was a basin in which the infant Jesus was washed. The origin of the tradition is unknown, but perhaps it developed out of an older Christian tradition that in the same southeastern corner Satan tempted Jesus.

Inside the southeastern corner of the courtyard around the Dome of the Rock

Inside the southeastern corner of the courtyard around the Dome of the Rock

Sites of the Other Temptations

There is no set Christian tradition for the place of the second temptation, but Christian tradition identifies the “highest mountain” of the third temptation at a cliff aboveJericho. In the second century BCE the Hasmoneans built a fortress named Dok or Douka at the top of that cliff. In 340 CE Christian monks established a monastery at the site, utilizing the caves on the adjacent cliff overlooking Jericho. Although the term “highest mountain” fits the top of the cliff better, the caves below were developed into a monastery that preserves the memory of the third temptation. It is known as “Quarantal”, an Arabic mispronunciation for the Latin word Quarantena, meaning “forty,” that being the number of days Jesus fasted.

View of the quarantal monastery, traditional site of the thirda temptation of Jesus

View of the quarantal monastery, traditional site of the thirda temptation of Jesus. On the hilltop an enclosure wall of an additional Greek-Orthodox unfinished church can be seen.

The Quarantal monastery is approached from the outskirts of Jericho, either by a footpath or by a new cable car that brings visitors in comfort to the site, soaring above the mound of ancient Jericho on the way.

cable car soaring above the ruins of Biblical Jericho takes visitors comfortably to the Quarantal monastery

cable car soaring above the ruins of Biblical Jericho takes visitors comfortably to the Quarantal monastery

Although the Greek Orthodox monastery is on a narrow, high cliff, the parapet feels wide and comfortable to walk on.

Posing at the inner path of the Quarantal monastery

Posing at the inner path of the Quarantal monastery in a visit to the site in 1999. (C) Danny Herman

Within the monastery is a rock believed to be where Jesus sat when confronting Satan’s temptation.

A local monk explained to me that he believed this site was chosen by Satan because it overlooks the oldest city in the world, Jericho. The monk understood a city as a place of temptation—quite clear if you think about it. A city is where people are exposed to material and social evils, the type of temptations a monk resists every day by living in an isolated monastery. According to the local tradition Jesus too saw from the cliff Jericho, but resisted the temptations it represented, as offered to him by Satan himself.

The rock in the Quarantal monastery

The rock in the Quarantal monastery. By local tradition on this rock Jesus set when he was tempted by Jesus. A decorated chapel now marks the rock. (C) Danny Herman