The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

One of our readers recently wrote:

“I appreciate your fantastic research work very much!
I have a question about “the bend” in the eastern wall. The 500 cubit thesis is convincing.
But I wonder that during the so called “big dig” to create the new underground mosque entrance at the south-east corner there were no remains or traces of the south wall intersection at “the bend” or at “the seam” position running to the west. Wouldn’t you have expect even some evidence of walls coming out of the eastern wall?”

Plan of the Temple Mount showing the location of the stairway in red.

I promised to answer this question in a blog post, as it may also be of interest to other readers. On the above plan of the Temple Mount that shows various routes around the sacred complex and that appears in our newly published guide book, I have indicated the location of the area in question near the southeast corner. This site was illegally dug out in 1999 and a stairway was constructed in 2000 to create an access to the underground Solomon’s Stables, that have been converted into the al-Marwani mosque. During the digging, hundreds of tonnes of soil were dug out by bulldozer and dumped in the Kedron Valley. This soil is still being examined by the Temple Mount Sifting Project (TMSP).

Digging in front of Solomon’s Stables (nov. 1999). Picture: TMSP

Although some sizeable stones were removed, it appears that no Herodian or pre-Herodian walls were found in situ during those illegal diggings. The question of our reader is if that was to be expected? If one only looks at plans then such a question could indeed arise. The Bend represents the southeast corner of the square Temple Mount that was made by King Hezekiah in the 8th century BC, during what is known in archaeology as the Iron Age 2 period. The Eastern Wall of the Iron Age Temple Mount  clearly still exists. Two long sections of this early wall can be seen on either side of the Golden Gate and a few other wall stones of the same period are visible near the Bend. It stands to reason therefore that remains of the Southern Wall of the Iron Age Temple Mount may also still exist.

King Hezekiah (725–697 BC) embarked on a major rebuilding program of the Temple, as reflected in the second and later accounts of the Temple construction in 2 Chronicles 3–4.
Judging by the masonry style of the central part of the Eastern Wall and other archaeological remains on the Temple Mount, it appears that King Hezekiah surrounded this sacred complex with a massive 500-cubit-square artificial platform, called har habbayit in Mishnah Middot 2.1.

I have learned however, that looking at plans alone is not sufficient to obtain the complete picture. The secret to gaining a full understanding of  buildings, modern or ancient, is to examine elevations and sections too. Let’s have a look at the elevation of the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount:

Elevation of the southern end of the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount, showing in section (red lines) the area that was dug out at the end of 1999 on the Temple Mount, behind this elevation. © Leen Ritmeyer

In this drawing, the red lines indicate the interior level of the Temple Mount and the sloping area that was dug out by bulldozer. It shows that at no point did the diggings go deep enough to reach the preserved tops of ancient walls, although they came very close to reaching them. This does not mean to say that the excavations can be justified, but it is reassuring to know that it is unlikely that ancient walls might have been found and damaged.

Studying these levels, it appears that the southern walls of the Square Temple Mount and that of the Hasmonean period may still exist. Perhaps they may even be excavated under archaeological supervision at some time in the unforseeable  future! At least, for now, they are well preserved.

Originally, these walls must have stood higher than the level of the Temple Mount in the relevant periods. The Royal Stoa that was built by King Herod the Great at the southern end of the Temple Mount stood partly over the Southern Wall of the Hasmonean Temple Mount which, in the east, began at the Seam. Any part of the Hasmonean extension that stood above the projected floor level of the Royal Stoa must have been dismantled at the time of building.

The drawing above is a detail of the Development of the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount drawing:

The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount is 1536 feet (468 m) long. The central part of this wall (shown in blue) dates from the time of King Hezekiah. The gate just below and to the right of the Temple is the Shushan Gate. To the south of the central section is a Hasmonean extension (red), while both ends of this wall were further extended by Herod the Great (yellow). The Herodian extension to the north of the central part of the Eastern Wall (Hezekiah’s expansion) required the filling in of a deep valley.

Many more images of the Temple Mount in the various periods and other archaeological sites are available from our Image Library. Below is is a reconstruction drawing of the Royal Stoa from our Image Library:

This is a section through the Royal Stoa that stood at the southern end of Herod’s Temple Mount. The Royal Stoa was the largest structure on the Temple Mount and was built in the style of a basilica. It had a central nave and two side aisles with four rows of 40 columns. Josephus calls this stoa more deserving of mention than any structure under the sun.
The Royal Stoa was used as a sacred market place, where money could be changed and smaller animals for sacrifice purchased. It could have been the place, therefore, where Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and those that sold doves (Matthew 21.1-16).

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 3 Comments

Letter to the Editor of The New York Times from Dr. Jodi Magness

The many protests against the anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian article about the Temple Mount by the New York Times’ reporter Rick Gladstone, which we wrote about in a previous post, has had an effect. First of all, they published a correction and now The New York Times has published Jodi Magness’s letter in The Opinion Pages. You can read it here:

The Opinion Pages 

 LETTER

 The Temple Mount in Jerusalem 

To the Editor:

I am one of the specialists interviewed for “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place” (news article, Oct. 9).

The question of the existence and location of two successive temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is not nearly as contested as the article suggests.

Literary sources leave little doubt that there were two successive ancient temples in Jerusalem dedicated to the God of Israel (the first destroyed in 586 B.C., and the second in 70 A.D.) These sources and archaeological remains indicate that both temples stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.

The only real question is the precise location of the temple(s) on the Temple Mount. The site of the Dome of the Rock is the most likely spot for various reasons, despite the lack of archaeological evidence or excavations. I know of no credible scholars who question the existence of the two temples or who deny that they stood somewhere on the Temple Mount.

JODI MAGNESS

Chapel Hill, N.C.

The writer is a professor specializing in early Judaism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Hopefully they have learnt to get the facts right and be more careful in the future so that they won’t publish another ill-informed article about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or any other archaeological site in Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer

 

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 2 Comments

Where on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount were the Jewish Temples located?

The article in the New York Times by Rick Gladstone to which we referred to in yesterday’s post received so much criticism that the newspaper had to issue a public correction:

Correction: October 9, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.

An overall view of the Temple Mount from the southeast. In the foreground is the Royal Stoa above the Southern Wall, while the Temple with its surrounding buildings stood close to the centre of the Temple Mount.

Several bloggers have written about this, see this one:

It is simply insane to deny that the second temple was located at Temple Mount. For one thing, the Western Wall survives, as do the southern steps and other remnants of the temple:

Ample archaeological evidence confirms Temple Mount as the site of the second temple, and the contours of the temple on the mount are generally known. Less is known about the first temple, for which our sources are, I believe, entirely Biblical. But it is written that the second temple was built on the site of the first, and there is no reason to doubt this. Excavation under Temple Mount likely would produce remnants of the first temple and would, in any event, almost certainly produce some of the most sensational archaeological finds in history, but such exploration is prohibited by the government of Israel so as not to upset the Arabs.

and this one:

(“Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place”), reporter Rick Gladstone pretended that it’s an open question as to “whether” the two Jewish temples — one destroyed over 2,500 years ago and the second razed in roughly 60 A.D., ever existed on the 37-acre site known as the Temple Mount. In doing so, Gladstone gave credibility to Palestinians baselessly promoting “doubt that the temples ever existed — at least in that location.”

There is no meaningful “doubt” on the subject at all. After what must have been a furious and completely justified backlash, the Times issued a correction on Friday (bold is mine):

Correction: October 9, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the question that many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered concerning the two ancient Jewish temples. The question is where precisely on the 37-acre Temple Mount site the temples had once stood, not whether the temples had ever existed there.

To truly unpack the significance of this correction, we need to see the specifics of everything the Times did to fully modify Gladstone’s original writeup.

This last blog shows exactly how the text was changed.

A disgrace for the New York Times indeed! One of our readers wrote about our post:

I think that by focusing on your (incredibly significant and, to my mind, dispositive) research, you are being too generous to the Times. They are cleverly trying to exploit actual differences of opinion among some serious archaeologists about the precise location of the Temples in order to bolster the completely unrelated lie that the Temples never stood at all, or at least were nowhere on the Temple Mount.

I don’t usually deal with political issues, but this went a bit too far!

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 6 Comments

The so-called “elusive” location of the Temple in Jerusalem

Rick Gladstone wrote an article in yesterday’s New York Times, called “Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem’s Holiest Place”, in which he asserts that neither the location of  the First and Second Temples can be determined:

The question, which many books and scholarly treatises have never definitively answered, is whether the 37-acre site, home to Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, was also the precise location of two ancient Jewish temples, one built on the remains of the other, and both long since gone.

He apparently hasn’t contacted the right people and/or read the right books. He quotes Matthew J. Adams, Dorot director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, as saying “This is a very politically loaded subject” and “It’s also an academically complex question.”

Gladstone had to admit that Rivka Gonen, in her book “Contested Holiness: Jewish, Muslim and Christian Perspectives on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” wrote that the reference in the Biblical text [to Mount Moriah, the location of Solomon's Temple] “has been widely interpreted to mean the high point on the hill above the City of David — the rock now under the Dome of the Rock.”

Some historians have said that independent scientific verification of such a reference is problematic. But then, it depends on who you go to for clarification.

Many archaeologists agree that the religious body of evidence, corroborated by other historical accounts and artifacts that have been recovered from the site or nearby, supports the narrative that the Dome of the Rock was built on or close to the place where the Jewish temples once stood.

As Yisrael Medad pointed out in his blog,  ”Gaby Barkay and Tzachi Dvira are missing.  Eilat Mazar is missing.  Dan Bahat, too.” These are archaeologists that are actively working in Jerusalem and familiar with the archaeological evidence. My own work on the Temple Mount is also ignored because my conclusions about the location of Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples are based on observation only and not on archaeological evidence, although it is directly derived from it.

This plan shows Herod’s Temple, courts and Altar (beige) in relation to the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain (blue). The Rock inside the Dome of the Rock was the Foundation Stone of the First and Second Temples on which the Holy of Holies was built. The Dome of the Chain stands on the former Porch that was built in front of the magnificent Temple built by Herod.

So, ignorance is bliss, as it allows one to play a safe political card, with academics such as Kent Bramlett, concluding: “I think one has to be careful about saying it stood where the Dome of the Rock stood.”

 It is sad indeed when biblical scholars and even archaeologists are afraid to speak out on important issues such as the location of the Temple in Jerusalem because of the political tensions in Jerusalem concerning the Temple Mount.

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 11 Comments

Stepped podium found in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today that a stepped podium/auction block has been found in the City of David.

An intriguing find consisting of an impressive pyramid-shaped staircase constructed of large ashlar stones was uncovered in an archaeological excavation currently conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavators Szanton and Uziel siting on the recently uncovered podium, looking north. Photo: IAA

This stepped podium was situated on the east side of the Tyropoeon Valley Street in between the Siloam Pool and the Temple Mount:

The arrow indicates the location of the stepped podium in 1st century Jerusalem. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

This structure is situated alongside the 2,000 year old Second Temple stepped street, which carried pilgrims on their way from the Shiloah (Siloam) Pool to the Temple, which stood atop the Temple Mount.

Joe Uziel sitting on the podium, looking south. Photo: Shai Halevy

According to archaeologists Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel, who direct of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, ”The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it. For this reason, its exact use remains enigmatic. The structure is built along the street in a place that is clearly visible from afar by passers-by making their way to the Temple. We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know. Bliss and Dickie, two British archaeologists who discovered a small portion of this structure about 100 years ago, mistakenly thought these were steps that led into a house that was destroyed. They would certainly be excited if they could come back today and see it completely revealed”.

Bliss and Dickie were indeed the first archaeologists to find this structure while excavating the Tyropoeon Valley Street. They called this particular site M3:

“At M3 a fine flight of steps projects some 5 feet beyond the kern=b line. The steps are five in number and return around both angles. Hoping that it might lead to an interesting building, we pushed back, but only to find that the house to which it belonged was quite ruined, only a sort of cellar remaining.”(Bliss, F.J. and Dickie, A.C., Excavations at Jerusalem 1894-1897, pp. 141-2).

They published a plan and section of this area:

Map of the City of David area with an arrow pointing at M3

A section through the Tyropoeon Street with the arrow pointing at the stepped podium.

Lacking any parallels to such a structure, the modern excavators don’t know what this structure was used for. They suggested an auction block for slaves or a “Stone of Claims” where lost property was announced. On Thursday, the 3rd of September, the 16th Jerusalem Annual Conference will be held at the City of David Studies. It will be interesting to hear if any plausible explanation may be forthcoming.

 

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 5 Comments

Crowdfunding campaign to publish new Jewish guide book to the Temple Mount

We have just been informed of an online campaign to publish a new Jewish guidebook to the Temple Mount in Hebrew and English. The book, called: “Arise and Ascend: A guide to the Temple Mount”, has already been published in Russian. Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick, is leading the campaign. Yehudah’s promotional video can be seen here:

The guide was written by Dr. Meir Antopolsky, whose day job is Attending Physician in the Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Hadassah Medical Center on Mt. Scopus. He contacted me a while ago regarding illustrations for the original Russian publication by The Temple Mount Heritage Foundation.

This foundation seeks:

“to strengthen the connection between the people of Israel and the Temple Mount; increase awareness about the importance and centrality of the Temple Mount; encourage visits to the Temple Mount in a manner appropriate to Halacha (Jewish Law); and offer educational activities relating to the Temple Mount, including lectures, workshops, classes, and tours. Our overall goal is to increase recognition of the importance of the Temple Mount to Jews, to Israel, and to the world at large.”

Another website states:

“Sadly, visiting the Temple Mount today can be very frustrating. People arrive with great anticipation and excitement for a meaningful and spiritually-uplifting experience. But they are met with hostility and a total lack of information to help them understand the many facets of this holy site.”

How true that is, but then the site continues to claim that “there are no signs, no explanations, and no brochures to explain its significance and historical background.”

This, of course, is not true. Many books and articles have been written on the Temple Mount and Wikipedia has an extensive article on the subject. One does well to be informed about the Temple Mount before visiting it, as the Islamic Waqf who have custody of the site does not allow any books or other information to be consulted while on the platform.

Our own guide book is based on archaeological, historical and biblical information and is addressed to the interested visitor of all religions:

The proposed new guide book “Arise and Ascend” is based on Jewish Law (Halacha). After having read our guide book, Meir Antopolsky wrote to us: “your book is better from almost every point of view. But it doesn’t include information on Jewish law – where to go and where not, how to prepare etc, nor on the current political situation about the mountain. So there is still a reason for our short book to be translated into English as well.” We wrote back to him: “Good to hear that your Russian guide book is being published. I understand that your emphasis is on Jewish Law, while our focus is on history and archaeology and caters for people of different faiths. As no guide book to the Temple Mount has been available for a long time, it is good to have a choice.”

We are therefore glad to see that another guide book is being prepared that is addressed to the Jewish people in particular. As our own library shows, one can never have enough books on the Temple Mount.

HT: Joe Lauer

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 1 Comment

Ancient Mikveh With Rare Inscriptions Found in Jerusalem

Arutz Sheva reports the finding of a 2000 year old mikveh in Jerusalem. A mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath used for purification purposes. The newspaper article has a video and many photographs.

Many mikva’ot – Hebrew for ritual baths, mikveh in the singular, – have been excavated in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.
A mikveh usually takes the form of a stepped pool carved out of the rock with a small dividing wall built on the upper steps. The purpose of this was to allow users of the mikveh to descend on one side and, after immersion, ascend on the other side, thus preventing contact with those who were not yet purified. Most synagogues had ritual baths attached to them.
Washing and bathing are important parts of Jewish ritual and are referred to in the Gospels, e.g. Matthew 15.2 and John 9.7.

Among the many mikva’ot that have been found in Jerusalem, this one stands out as it features a unique inscription and other interesting decorations.

As was customary at the end of the Second Temple period when the Romans occupied the Jewish state of Israel, the writing was in Aramaic and written in cursive Hebrew script. The symbols drawn on the wall include a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and what looks to be a menorah.

The Aramaic inscription has not yet been deciphered. Photo: Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The inscriptions remain largely a mystery at this point, with some apparently indicating names. The drawing that might be a menorah is exceptional because in Second Temple days, Jews largely abstained from portraying the sacred object which was located in the Holy Temple.

A representation of a menorah, painted on one of the walls of the mikveh. Photo: Photo: Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The most well-known depiction of a menorah dating from the Second Temple period was found in the Jewish Quarter Excavations:

The menorah graffito was found in between two floors of a Herodian building that stood above the Broad Wall. This depiction of the Lampstand (menorah) probably decorated one of the walls of a priestly family home in Jerusalem. Apart from the Lampstand, it shows the Table of Shewbread (bottom right), the Altar of Incense (top right) and the three-stepped stone (bottom left) which the priest would stand on to light the lamps of the Lampstand in the Temple.

The wall paintings are so sensitive that air exposure damages them, and therefore the IAA started conservation measures as soon as they were found.

After initial treatment at the site, the images were removed in their entirety and transferred to the conservation laboratories of the IAA for further treatment and stabilization.

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem | 1 Comment

Secrets of the Temple Mount

Although visiting the Temple Mount is not always a pleasant experience these days, it is still worth the attempt. We have had good feedback from visitors who have used our guidebook to find things which otherwise they would have missed. One of the little known secrets described in our book (which can be purchased here) is a small window near the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Despite its apparent insignificance, it has a large story to tell.

The “Window of John of Gischala”

While walking on the Temple Mount platform, this opening, covered with a protective grille, can be found low down on the left-hand side, just before one reaches the northernmost gate in the Western Wall, the Bab el-Ghawanima Gate.

The “Window of John of Gischala” is located to the left (south) of the Bab el-Ghawanima gate at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Photo: © Leen Ritmeyer

This window was already noticed by Charles Warren in the 1860s. On the inside is a little room where this opening, flanked by two pilasters, which appear to be late Herodian in style, can be seen. From here, in the Second Temple period, one could have entered the Rock-hewn Aqueduct, which can now be seen at the end of the Western Wall Tunnel.

The Rock-hewn Aqueduct of the First Temple period can be seen at the end of the Western Wall Tunnel. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

This is what Charles Warren wrote about this discovery:

“Through the roof of the aqueduct Lieutenant Conder gained access into a small modern chamber, built against the Sanctuary wall, just north of the Bab es Serai; and here he found part of a wall of large drafted stones, with a plinth course and two pilasters, like those in the Haram Hebron. The space between the pilasters was occupied by a window, or opening into the Sanctuary, which seems to be ancient, as the lintel and jambs are of large ashlar – the former drafted.” Warren, Ch. and C. R. Conder (1884). Survey of Western Palestine: Jerusalem (London), p. 213.

Inside view of the “Window of John of Gischala”. Through the hole in the ground at bottom left, Charles Warren reached this room from inside the Rock-hewn Aqueduct. The small window that was made between the two pilasters is therefore the only place through which the Rock-hewn Aqueduct could have been reached from the Temple Mount platform.

In the halcyon days of the 1970’s, when archaeologists from the Temple Mount Excavations were allowed to explore the hidden recesses of the platform, I was able to visit this space which had been turned into a room and look for these pilasters and the window. (In contrast with Warren, I accessed the room via the Muslim Quarter.) Although the pilasters had been painted over by the residents, the window overlooking the Temple Mount was still visible.

According to Josephus, the Roman siege of the Antonia Fortress in 70 A.D. was protracted, because of the destruction of the Roman earthworks by the Jews, under leadership of John of Gischala, who had barricaded himself inside the Temple Mount.  He used an underground passage to get into the water reservoir (the Strouthion Pool) and undermine and set the earthworks that were built in this pool on fire (War5.466-472). This underground passage could only have been reached through this window that has the appearance of being hacked through in order to gain access to the area below the Antonia Fortress (normally you don’t build windows between pilasters at such a low level). For this reason we have dubbed this window the “Window of John of Gischala”.

This section shows the window, aqueduct and Strouthion Pool. It clarifies how John could have penetrated the Strouthion Pool and set fire to the Roman earthworks. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

The drawing below is a reconstruction drawing of the northwest corner of the Temple Mount and the Antonia Fortress with the location of the  ”Window of John of Gischala” indicated:

The Antonia Fortress that stood at the northwest corner of the Herodian Temple Mount had four towers, three of which were 50 cubits (86 ft./26.25 m) high and the fourth, the southeast tower, 70 cubits (120 ft./36.75 m) high. The view from this highest tower, that, according to Josephus “commanded a view of the whole area of the Temple” (War 5.242), must have been spectacular.
At the place where the northern and western porticoes met, there was a staircase leading up to the roof of the porticoes. At this place there was an entrance to the Antonia Fortress. The “Window of John of Gischala” is indicated at centre left.

It was because of such use of underground passageways by the Jews that Titus decided to build a siege wall around the city so that all communication with the country could be cut off and supplies interrupted. This resulted in a terrible famine and so the drama continued to its tragic end. This little window is one of those secret places on the Temple Mount where history echoes down the years.

 

Posted in History, Image Library, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 7 Comments

The Virtual Bible – a new visual resource

Accordance Blog announced  the release of:

The Virtual Bible, a new visual resource which offers three-dimensional reconstructions of the land of Israel, first-century Jerusalem, the Herodian Temple, and more. The visuals, which include still images and video fly-throughs, were developed by Dr. Daniel Warner of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. James Strange of the University of South Florida, in consultation with Leen Ritmeyer, an archaeological architect who is an expert on the Jerusalem Temple.

In the foreground is the Court of the Women and the Nicanor Gate stands infront of the Temple.

Here is a link to the introductory video. The purpose of this resource is to help students visualize more accurately the physical background of events mentioned in the Bible. Some of the original videos lacked explanatory notes and therefore Accordance “added narration and music to these videos to improve their teaching value for those of us who might need a tour guide. We also added detailed text descriptions for each still image and video.” Two samples can be viewed on their blog post.

HT: Daniel Wright

Posted in History, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 1 Comment

Jerusalem in Rome

Jerusalem in Rome – Searching for the Dedicatory Inscription in the Colosseum

Last week, on a visit to Rome, we went in search of the Dedicatory Inscription in the Colosseum that I had blogged about in 2008. Walking down the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the wide avenue built by Mussolini  flanking the Forum and leading to the amphitheatre was a pleasure, as the Colosseum is no longer a crazy traffic circle. Cars are banned, with buses and taxis still allowed, but with strict speed restrictions. The scene that greets you at the piazza surrounding the Colosseum still resembles a funfair, with costumed “centurions” (some smoking cigarettes) and demanding exhorbitant prices from visitors to have their photo taken with them, hawkers selling everything from souvenirs to selfie sticks and horses waiting patiently beside their carriage for their next passengers. Meanwhile scaffolding snakes its way around the Colosseum in a $35 million renovation project due to be completed in 2016.

From what we had read in an excellent article on the inscription by Prof. Louis Feldman in BAR (July/August 2001), we expected to find it lying on the ground on the right-hand side of the main entrance passageway. We described the inscription to a guard and were directed to the medieval painting of Jerusalem high up in one of the arches. This is based on a well-known depiction of the city by the Dutch theologian Christiaan van Adrichem.

Medieval painting showing Jerusalem with the crucifixion near bottom left. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

After a fruitless search around the corridors, we tried asking at the office of the archaeological superintendent of the site, where the lady at the desk said that she didn’t  have a clue as to the whereabouts of the inscription. Put on to the phone to her boss, we were told that she thought it was on the second level. Climbing the steep travertine steps, we had views over the interior of the amphitheatre, including the  dark corridors of the hypogeum or underground area, from where caged animals and gladiators would be brought up for the entertainment of the Romans from every social class.

Approaching the area of the lift, one of the innovations designed to bring visitor facilities into the twenty-first century, but which was very difficult to find on the ground floor where it was needed, we saw two large groups of  visitors who looked spellbound. One of the groups was gathered round an exhibit showing recently discovered graffiti depicting a gladiator fight. Other graffiti showed gladiators fighting  wild beasts.

Graffiti of two gladiators, one at top left and another at bottom right, fighting two wild beasts portrayed between them. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

An even larger crowd was gathered round two astonishingly vivid reconstruction drawings that depicted spectators sitting in the amphitheatre.

Reconstruction drawings of the upper and lower parts of the Colosseum. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The top drawing showed fans of the gladiators drawing on the steps the very graffiti we had just seen in the exhibition. It also showed spectators brawling and grilling meat over a portable grill, upper class ladies having their hair done and children doing what children have always done, getting into things. The bottom drawing showed in glorious detail all the activities underground.

Then I spotted the large marble block, standing against the back wall, with its pattern of holes hinting at the original dedication on the stone.

Standing next to the Dedicatory Inscription. Photo: Kathleen Ritmeyer

The phantom letters on the fifth century Latin inscription which mentioned that the building had been repaired by one Lampadius were deciphered by Professor Géza Aföldy of the University of Heidelberg. During our visit to the Colosseum, nobody seemed interested in the inscription which had an explanatory plaque with a long description of the work done by Lampadius. Only a few lines of the explanation were devoted to the fact that the early inscription (originally made of metal letters fastened to small holes which allowed specialists to retrace them after they had been erased), attributed the construction of the Colosseum to Titus and explained that it was funded ex manubis (with the proceeds of spoils of war). We only need to look a couple of hundred metres along the Via Sacra to the Arch of Titus which portrays the spoils of the Jerusalem Temple being carried off.

In the centuries that followed, observant Jews refused to walk under the Arch of Titus. This was their protest against this insult to Jewish independence. It must have been a very moving experience in 1948, when, as a symbolic gesture, Roman Jews deliberately walked under the arch in the opposite direction to that of the conquering Roman army.

So, we had found the Dedicatory Inscription, with no help from either of our guidebooks, the official guides or the official Colosseum website and it was missing the section that had been restored as shown in Louis Feldman’s original BAR article. Today (2nd June), the Colosseum was draped with banners in the colours of the Italian flag as the country celebrated its Republic Day. During our visit, work was going on day and night to erect the grandstands on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, from which dignitaries would watch the grand military parade that commemorates the 1946 referendum in which Italians voted for their country to become a republic. In the Colosseum, near the Imperial Box used by the Emperor, is a cross set up to commemorate Christians who were believed to have been martyred here. Today however, few of the parade’s spectators will stop to think of where the money came from to build this, the most celebrated building in the Roman Empire. And who will spare a thought for the thousands of Hebrew slaves who labored in its construction, with the pre-cut travertine blocks hauled from Tibur (today Tivoli, about 20 km from Rome). ‘To the victor belong the spoils.”

 

 

 

 

 

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