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.
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.
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.
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.
An even larger crowd was gathered round two astonishingly vivid reconstruction drawings that depicted spectators sitting in the amphitheatre.
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.
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.”
Yesterday we received the first copies of our guide book to the Temple Mount. It has 160 pages and 184 illustrations and weighs only 350 grams (12 ounces). It measures 20.8 x 14.3 x 1 cm (8.1 x 5.6 x 0.4 inches), which is a handy size to carry around with you and would fit easily in a large pocket or small bag. It is now possible to order our guide book directly from our website. The cost is US$25.00 or UK£17.00 plus postage.
We hope and feel sure that our book will enhance your visit to the Temple Mount and deepen your understanding of the fascinating history of this important site!
Continuing our series on the historical development of Mount Moriah, we have now reached the Early Muslim period. The end of the Byzantine period in Jerusalem was heralded by the Persian invasion of 614 AD and completed by the Muslim conquest twenty-four years later. Muhammad’s successor, Caliph Omar, accepted Jerusalem’s surrender in 638 AD. Muslims regarded Jerusalem as a holy city and Jews were again granted the right to live there and pray on the Temple Mount. Some sources record that Omar ordered the site of the Temple Mount to be cleared of rubbish, thus exposing the Foundation Stone of the Jewish Temple.
Caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705 AD) built a magnificent center for Muslim pilgrimage on the Temple Mount, called the Dome of the Rock.
Completed in 691 AD, the Dome of the Rock was neither a mosque nor a place of prayer, but a shrine to the Foundation Stone of the Temple. Modelled after Byzantine centrally designed commemorative churches, the Muslims transferred to the Temple Mount the story of the Night Journey of Muhammad from Mecca to the “farthest shrine” (al-Aqsa). From here they believed he ascended into Heaven. Now one of the world’s most iconic buildings, known to virtually everyone on the planet, the golden dome that shimmers against the often cobalt blue sky and the blue tiled walls of the octagonal building are both contrasting and harmonious. Few visitors to the site today, however, realise how difficult it is to express its beauty in either geometrical designs or mathematical formulae, especially as we no longer have its original blueprint.
Writing this blog reminded me of the time I worked on the architectural reconstruction of a funeral monument called Gonbad-e-alawiyyan in Persia (Iran) for an Israeli colleague. From this I developed an analysis which is also valid for the plan and section of the Dome of the Rock, the crowning glory of early Islamic architecture. Too complex to describe fully here, it is based on three concentric circles which closely bind together all the different constructional elements into one magnificently proportioned building.
I later applied it successfully to other classical centrally designed buildings, such as the Round Temple at Baalbek, San Vitale at Ravenna, the Mausoleum of Diocletian at Spalato, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and many others. It is intriguing to think that here we may have a certain school of ancient architecture, which was in use for a long period, but whose traditions were eventually lost.
On completion of the Dome of the Rock, Caliph al-Walid (705-715 AD) built a mosque called al-Aqsa above the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, on the former site of the Herodian Royal Stoa. The Temple Mount was and still is known to the Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary). The Virtual Walking Tour of al-Haram al-Sharif produced by Saudi Aramco World led by Oleg Grabar, the late Professor Emeritus of Islamic Art and Architecture at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, allows one to explore its jewels of Islamic architecture in a very informative way.
There are some unique locations in the Land of the Bible where you really get a sense of place. One of these is inside the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Here the record of Jesus’ visit to the Temple precincts in John 10.22-39 comes to vibrant life. We are told:
And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the Temple in Solomon’s Porch (John 10:22,23).
Jesus had come to keep Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. This feast commemorates the dedication of the Temple in 164 BC, after it had been defiled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who, three years earlier, had ordered a pig to be sacrificed on the Temple altar.
But why does this place evoke the Gospel story so powerfully? It is surely because this side of the Temple Mount is closest to the original, with minimal additional construction. The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount was the only one that was not moved by King Herod the Great when he carried out his monumental expansion of the Temple Mount in the first century.
At present there are no porticoes along the Eastern and Southern Walls of the Temple Mount. In the Herodian period, however, there were porticoes on all sides. The eastern stoa pre-dated the others and was already colonnaded in the Hasmonean period. This Porch, or stoa, stood directly over the wall of the earlier square Temple Mount and at the time of Herod the Great, was known as Solomon’s Porch.
This does not necessarily mean that this porch was built by this famous king, but certainly by Herod’s predecessors. Offering welcome shelter from sun, wind and rain, it was obviously used as a place of congregation. Josephus provides us with an evocative description:
The porticoes, all in double rows, were supported by columns five and twenty cubits high—each a single block of the purest white marble—and ceiled with panels of cedar. The natural magnificence of these columns, their excellent polish and fine adjustment presented a striking spectacle. (War 5.190–192)
It was here that Jesus was almost stoned one wintry day during the feast of Hanukkah (John 10.31). Acts 3.11 and 5.12 also provide us with images of the time when the disciples used to congregate and teach here after the death of their master.
Postscript: During this feast, a Hanukkiah is lit, but what is the difference between a Hanukkiah and a Menorah (Lampstand)?
People have asked me where I think Jesus was born. I reply that Scripture and archaeology show that the place was not a randomly chosen cave in Bethlehem, but a location that was prepared centuries earlier for this purpose.
According to Luke 2.1-5, Mary and Joseph had to travel to their own city. It must have been an uncomfortable journey when Mary was almost 9 months pregnant and had to travel, probably on the back of a donkey, from Nazareth to Bethlehem – a 100 mile long journey through the Jordan Valley! On arriving in Bethlehem, they couldn’t find a place to stay. The only available place for the Son of God to be born was a dirty stable, which had to be shared with animals. It wasn’t a romantic Christmas postcard stable with smiling camels and donkeys, probably drawn by artists who don’t know how bad camels can smell and how loud the braying of donkeys can be!
What actually did a stable look like in the time of Christ? From archaeology we know that stables looked like rooms with a fenestrated wall, i.e. an interior or exterior wall with several low windows. Animals were placed behind this wall and fodder was put in wooden boxes or baskets and placed in the windows. Sacks of provender were stored in the other half of the room. It was probably in this part of the stable that Mary and Joseph were allowed to stay and where Jesus was born. Fenestrated walls that were part of stables have been found in many places, such as Capernaum and Chorazin that are illustrated here.
But, what is the importance of Bethlehem and which inn was chosen by God as the place for His son to be born in?
When Joshua conquered Jericho, he cursed the city, so that it became a city of death. Rahab was the only person, with her family, that was saved. She married Salmon and their son was called Boaz, who must have settled in Bethlehem when Judah captured its inheritance. Boaz married Ruth in Bethlehem and she became the great-grandmother of David (Ruth 4.10). Gentile Ruth was, of course, one of these amazing few women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew Ch. 1. King David was born in Bethlehem and anointed king there by Samuel the Prophet.
Near the end of his life, David had to flee from his son Absalom, when he rebelled against him. He stayed with the aged Barzilai the Gileadite, whose son Chimham returned with David to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 19.37-40). To provide him with a source of income, it appears that David may have given him part of his own inheritance in Bethlehem to build an inn (mentioned in the early Jewish source, Targum Yerushalmi, Jer. 41.17a), and called “Geruth Chimham” “Habitation of Chimham” (Jer. 41.17). As small towns like Bethlehem usually had only one inn, it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus may have been born in this inn. Through the generosity of David to Barzilai and his son Chimham, a birthplace for Jesus was prepared.
The fact that Jesus could be born in his own inheritance as the true Son of David is another one of the wonderful topographic coincidences that run through the whole plan of the Bible.
The Byzantine period is the next period we look at in this Temple Mount series. Up until recently, it was thought that the Temple Mount lay desolate during this time and was used as the city’s garbage dump. However, this may not be altogether accurate.
In 324 AD, the Emperor Constantine the First made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and together with his mother, Queen Helena, consecrated sites in the Holy Land associated with the life of Jesus. In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the site assumed to have been the burial place of Christ. It was the first and only time during Jerusalem’s long history that the focus of the city was shifted away from the Temple Mount to this newly built church, effectively denying any Jewish connection with the city.
However, the reported finding of part of a Byzantine mosaic floor under the al-Aqsa Mosque in excavations carried out here in the 1930s (the only time that such activity was allowed on the Mount), points to the possible existence of houses at the southern part of the Mount during the Byzantine period.
Regrettably, the limited finds make it impossible to draw any firm conclusions as to the extent of the built-up area.
There are, however, other signs that the southern part of the Temple Mount was used at that time. A large monastery, the so-called Monastery of the Virgin, was excavated near the Triple Gate. In its courtyard, a three-seater toilet was found that was flushed with the water of one of the Temple Mount cisterns, namely Cistern 10.
The water from this cistern was led to the monastery through a tunnel that had been carved specially for this purpose.
Finally, on the inside of the southeast corner of the Temple Mount that has been preserved to a great height, is the chapel of the so-called Cradle of Jesus (Arabic: Sidna Issa). There is a small shrine inside this room. The photo below shows the small Muslim dome that was built over a Byzantine altar that has four marble pillars and a reliquary underneath. This may have been the shrine where the nuns of the Monastery of the Virgin came to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
Ferrell Jenkins runs a travel blog and today wrote a post on the Ports of the Sea of Galilee which has some excellent photographs of the Church of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha. In this interesting post he comments on the work of the late Mendel Nun, who was a member of Kibbutz Ein Gev and worked as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Although not a professional archaeologist, Mendel researched and recorded the remains of the ancient harbours of the Sea of Galilee, of which there were at least sixteen.
The remains of these harbours can only be seen when the water level is low. In the 1970’s, a number of ancient harbours were discovered, followed by the discovery of an ancient fishing boat in the mud near Magdala. During the years of 1989-1991 there was a severe drought and the accompanying archaeological activities revealed many remains that shed light on the shipping trade and fishing industry during the first century.
Here is a map of the harbours that were plotted by Mendel:
The photograph below, taken in 2009, shows the remains of some of the piers of the Capernaum harbour:
Mendel’s map and the photographs he published made it possible to make a reconstruction drawing of Capernaum and its ancient harbour:
We have now arrived at the Roman period in our sequence of reconstruction drawings showing how the Temple Mount developed over time. After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70. A.D., the area of the Temple Mount lay desolate. In 130 AD, Emperor Hadrian began to build a Roman colony named Aelia Capitolina, on the ruins of Jerusalem.
The name Aelia was given in honor of the emperor’s family name, which was Aelius, while the name Capitolina honored the deities of the Capitoline triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.
Hadrian’s actions precipitated the Revolt of Bar Kokhba (“Son of a Star”), which began in 132 AD. Some Jews regarded Bar Kokhba as the promised Messiah. Plans were made to rebuild the Temple and coins depicting it were struck. It is unclear how far these plans materialized. Following the suppression of the revolt in 135 AD, the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina became reality. A sanctuary to Jupiter may have been erected on the Temple Mount.
The remains of three long steps that are no longer visible but which were marked on plans made by Sir Charles Warren, may have belonged to the southern part of the crepidoma (stepped platform) of this presumed temple.
Jews were forbidden from entering the city on pain of death and Hadrian tried further to erase their connection to the Land by changing the name of Judea to Syria Palaestina (whence the name Palestine).
Following on from our previous drawing, the Temple Mount during the Hellenistic and Hasmonean periods, we now examine the Temple Mount during the Herodian period. This was, of course, the Temple that is mentioned in the New Testament.
In 19 BC the master-builder, King Herod the Great, began the most ambitious building project of his life, the rebuilding of the Temple and the Temple Mount in lavish style. To facilitate this, he undertook a further expansion of the Hasmonean Temple Mount by extending it on three sides, to the north, west and south. Today’s Temple Mount boundaries still reflect this enlargement.
The cutaway drawing below allows us to recap on the development of the Temple Mount so far:
A visualization of this Temple Mount was made possible by combining the historical sources with the results of archaeological exploration. The main historical source is the first-century historian Josephus Flavius. His works, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities, although prone to exaggeration, are indispensable for this period. Also invaluable is the Mishnah, the earliest code of rabbinic law, written about 200 AD, particularly the Tractate Middot, which deals with measurements. The New Testament adds further detail and context. All this was augmented by the results of the excavations to the south and west of the Temple Mount following the Six-Day War in 1967.
Herod’s extension of the Eastern Wall to the north required the filling in of a deep valley to the north of the pre-Herodian Temple Mount. The Shushan Gate remained the only gate in the Eastern Wall. Towers were erected at each corner and a large water reservoir was built at the northeast corner, the so-called Pool of Israel.
The Western Wall, which had four gates, was placed some 82 feet (25 m) outside the square platform with its southwest corner built on the opposite side of the Tyropoeon Valley.
The Southern Wall featured two gates, the Double Gate and the Triple Gate, often erroneously referred to as the Huldah Gates.
The most fortified feature in the Northern Wall was the massive Antonia Fortress (right in the drawing below), built to protect the Temple against attacks coming from the north and to guard the mount in times of strife. A large reservoir, the Pool of Israel (left) provided additional protection to the Temple Mount.
Once the platform was completed, double colonnades, or porticoes, were built above the outer walls to provide shelter from the elements. A huge hall called the Royal Stoa, with four rows of columns, was erected on the southern end. The pre-existing eastern portico that stood on the square mount was left unchanged. As it belonged to a pre-Herodian period, it was called Solomon’s Porch. Near the centre of this platform a new gold-covered Temple was constructed that in turn was surrounded by many other buildings.
In 70 AD, this splendid structure that had taken 46 years to build (John 2.20) was destroyed by the Romans. The only vestiges of the compound to survive the destruction were the four retaining walls that supported the Temple platform; the best known today is the Western Wall.