Posts Tagged ‘Herod’

Temple Mount: Past and Present

October 23, 2013

One of the lessons we have learned during our stay here is that Israel is an incredibly beautiful land, but it’s also an incredibly complex land. Politics and religion are deeply intertwined. If you want to garner an emotional response, just ask someone how they feel about the Palestinian State or the Temple Mount.

On the topic of Palestine: We’re reserving that for our icebreaker the next time we want to make everyone uncomfortable at a party.

But, a few weeks ago, we mentioned a bit of the history of the Temple Mount, and we thought we’d go a bit more in depth about its past.

Temple Mount

The Modern-Day Temple Mount

We’re first introduced to the Temple Mount as we know it in II Chronicles 3:1, when Solomon builds his incredible temple where his father David had purchased Ornan’s threshing floor. This served two purposes: it reinforced the sacredness of the site where the destroying angel appeared to David, and his actions that stopped the plague. It also bolstered Jerusalem’s defenses—the City of David was heavily fortified, but weak to the north due to the rise of Mt. Moriah above it. An enemy could easily come down the slope against the city. The Temple Mount served as an added fortification, made all the stronger by the Divine Presence within. However, we know that same Divine Presence soon fled the temple, and it was destroyed and rebuilt, only to be rebuilt then destroyed again in 70 AD. Today, you can still see the huge stones Herod the Great used to build the Temple Mount (some as long as 49 feet), which make credible Josephus’s description of a temple of epic proportions.

One of the Temple Mount stones. This one is around 24 feet long. The longest known measures 49 feet.

One of the Temple Mount stones. This one is around 24 feet long. The longest known measures 49 feet.

Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem, and successfully triggered another revolt when he built a temple to himself and Jupiter on the ruined Temple Mount.  Later, in the 4th century AD, the Jews were allowed to again rebuild their temple. The great earthquake in 363 halted those efforts. But this did not stop them from performing sacrifices on all that was left—the great foundation stone upon which tradition says Abraham sacrificed Isaac.

Foundation Stone

The foundation stone, beneath the Dome of the Rock

During the Byzantine era, the Neo-Persian Empire retook Palestine and granted the Jews freedom to rebuild their temple. Then that was scrapped when they handed control of Jerusalem over to the Christians who, in the nature of good sports, kindly tore down the new construction and made it a garbage dump. Which is how it remained until the Muslim period. As soon as Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem in 637 AD, he made a beeline for the Temple Mount with his advisor. This converted rabbi had him build a monument over what he believed to the be the Temple’s Holy of Holies, and later where Mohammed ascended to Heaven to speak to God.  This also happened to be the same bedrock on which Jews had sacrificed before.  In 691 AD, the general structure of the Dome of the Rock was built over the sacred foundation stone, all based on the Byzantine architecture of the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Golden Dome as we know it now was renovated in the early 90s to include the gold-plated roof tiles, donated by Jordan’s King Hussein, who personally funded the project by selling one of his grand palaces in Britain.

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

The Quran and attending traditions say the Temple Mount was the “Farthest Mosque” to which Muhammad traveled in one night as part of a miracle. To further commemorate this event, the Al-Aqsa mosque was added to the Mount in 705, after which man vied with nature to rebuild each time one of several earthquakes would take it down, until 1033. In 1099, the Crusaders took Jerusalem and converted the Al-Aqsa into a church (naturally), and then the Ottoman Turks reconverted it into a mosque (naturally) when the Crusaders were driven out. It is said to be an architectural carbon copy of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque

The Al-Aqsa Mosque

Control of the Temple Mount more or less remained in the hands of the Muslims, with access being restricted or granted depending on who was in charge, whether Britain, Jordan, or Israel. After the 6-Day War in 1967, Israel granted control of the Temple Mount as a waqf, or sacred donation to Islam, to help establish better relations with the Arab community. Today, orthodox Jews do not ascend the Temple Mount, because the location of the Holy of Holies is unknown—and thus, the whole Mount is holy. For other visitors, modesty is strictly enforced, and religious symbols or texts (crosses, Bibles, Stars of David) are strictly forbidden. If you don’t want to go all the way up, you can visit the Western Wall or just sit on the southern steps and imagine throngs of the faithful going up to honor their religious obligations.

Masada Sunrise

August 1, 2013

View of the sunrise from Masada, Herod’s ancient fortress.

It is rising over the mountains of modern-day Jordan and the Dead Sea.

Photo shot about 9 hours ago.

Masada Sunrise

Masada Sunrise

Aphek and the Importance of Location

July 25, 2013

The other day, we spent a bit of time at Tel Afek, the site of…Aphek, also called Antipatris.

Ottoman Fortress at Tel Afek

Ottoman Fortress at Tel Afek

Biblically, we first see Aphek as one of the cities taken by the conquest and given to the tribe of Asher. By this time, it was already old, having been controlled by Egypt for quite some time. In I Samuel 4, the Philistines were encamped at Aphek when they routed Israel’s army and took the Ark of the Covenant as spoil. Despite the fact that that incident ended rather unpleasantly for them, they again set up base there to fight the Israelites–though, for some reason, the princes of the Philistines protested against David’s presence in their army.

Egyptian Palace at Tel Afek

Egyptian Palace at Tel Afek

History tells us that Herod would eventually receive Aphek as part of his kingdom, which he expanded, adding a Roman forum and cardo through the city. He renamed it Antipatris, after his father. It was thus to ancient Aphek that the chief Roman captain of the Antonia, Claudias Lysias, spirited Paul away when the Jews made their assassination plot against him (Acts 23).

The Roman Cardo at Tel Afek

The Roman Cardo at Tel Afek

But why was Aphek so hotly contested? From its foundation in the Chalcolithic Period (4500-3000 BC) to the Ottoman empire, it is clear why it was a popular piece of real estate. Located at the headwaters of the Yarkon River, Aphek sat on a strategic point where the coastal routes–including the Via Maris–were blocked by the Yarkon and its surrounding swampland, and funneled through a narrow pass towards Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley. Whoever controlled Aphek controlled the pass and any trade or armies moving through it.

Via Maris Funneled by Aphek (A BIBARCH™ Photo courtesy of High Top Media™. Copyright ©1997 High Top Media™. All Rights Reserved.)

Via Maris Funneled by Aphek
(A BIBARCH™ Photo courtesy of High Top Media™. Copyright ©1997 High Top Media™. All Rights Reserved.)

And, as a side note, the local donkey population at Tel Afek is also worth viewing. They are as curious about you as you are of them.

Citizen of the Local Donkey Population

Citizen of the Local Donkey Population

From Caesarea Maritima to Tiberias…in a Day!

September 6, 2012

So! Today was a busy day–we left Netanya bright and early and arrived in Caesarea Maritima (aka, Caesarea of the Sea).

Now, this is quite the fascinating area. Built by Herod the Great between 25-13 BC, this was an important social and political hub for the next several hundred years. Herod, due to his understandable love affair with Rome, named the port city after Augustus Caesar. The actual site we visited contained the ruins of the theater, the palace, the Praetorium, and the hippodrome right on the Mediterranean Sea.  This theater is actually one of the sites that may be where Herod was stricken as he spoke before his adoring Phoenician audience to the cries of, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man!” (Acts 12:21-23)

A noteworthy archeological find here is the Pilate Stone. This is a slab of marble discovered under a step in the theater (having been repurposed from an earlier dedication). Most of the words have been worn away, but we can still read that Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, had dedicated…something…to Tiberius Caesar. This gives us tangible evidence of Pilate, backing up the 4 gospels’ account, as well as Josephus (Jewish historian) and Tacitus’ (Roman historian)–placing Pilate as a historical figure during this era. The actual stone is housed in the Israel Museum, which we hope to be seeing next week.

Herod Theater Caesarea

Herod the Great’s Theater, Retrofitted with Modern Equipment

From the theater, you can stroll down the promenade in front of the hippodrome and amphitheater. It’s fun to tie our stories together, so here’s one: When Vesuvius erupted in 79 BC, wiping up Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Pliny the Elder, it also created a tsunami which swept down as far as Caesarea. The wave took out half of the seats there in the amphitheater, and you can still see them today, laying rather pitifully along the beach.

Seats Herod Hippodrome

Seats Herod Hippodrome

While Caesarea Maritima was built nearly on top off or in the water, it did not have a natural freshwater source. So, how did Herod fill his private swimming pool? Through the aqueduct he built, bringing water from the foothills of Mt. Carmel–about 8 miles away.

Herod Aquaduct

Herod the Great’s Aquaduct from Mt. Carmel

After that, was a quick jaunt to Mt. Carmel, to the traditional location of what may be one of my favorite Bible stories–Elijah v. Prophets of Baal. This particular location is considered a possible site, due to its proximity to the nearby mountains (Moreh, Tabor, and Gilboa), the Kishon brook, and the valley of Jezreel. The only issue is that it is quite a ways from the closest source of water that one would have after a 3-year drought (being the Mediterranean). Our guide, Ferrell Jenkins, suggests that often large amounts of water would be kept in store for religious use, and so there would have been some on hand.

Carmel View Jezreel

View from Carmel, Hill of Moreh, Tabor, and Mt. Gilboa beyond the Jezreel Valley and the Kishon brook

We visited Megiddo afterwards, climbing up to the top of the tell, or hill of ruins. In this case, 26 layers of ruins have been discovered on this site, beginning around 7000 BC. This is a strategic location, on the trade route known as the Way of the Sea. Whoever controlled Megiddo controlled access to this route, providing a wealth in taxes and goods. Solomon kept a chariot city here, as well as Ahab, who did a lot of work on the place. Most notably, he developed a water system to protect the city from siege. He had a shaft sunk 115 feet down, opening into a 330 foot tunnel leading to water. We were able to climb down into it, and it was deliciously cool compared to the bright sun outside.

Another notable incident at Megiddo was the death of Good King Josiah. In 609 BC, Pharaoh Necho marched up from Egypt to aid the Assyrians in a final pitched battle against the rising Babylonians. In order to prevent this alliance, Josiah intercepted Necho here at Megiddo. It went badly–Judah was defeated. Josiah was killed, sparing him from seeing the fall of his nation. The Israelites forever after associated this as a place of decisive battles and grievous loss, which Jehovah calls to His people’s minds in Revelation, when He names the site (Harmegedon) for the figurative final battle in which His people would emerge as victors.

Tell Megiddo Jezreel

Tel Megiddo with a View of the Jezreel Valley

After a stop at the Nazareth village, a lovely recreation of 1st century Nazareth (during which the my hat blew off like a piece of chaff floating on the wind, and was rescued by the kind shepherd before the goat could get it), we ended our day here on the shores of Galilee. But more on that tomorrow.

Shepherd Nazareth Village

Shepherd in the Nazareth Village