Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Archaeological Treasures from the Temple Mount

These are just some of the remarkable finds discovered in the rubble from the areas of the Temple Mount destroyed by the Islamic Wakf:

On the 27th of September, 2005, a bulla with a seal impression was found in the sifting project. The bulla made of clay was originally attached to a document ora parcel, and still retains part of its original text on its face. The bulla is black in color as a result of being burned by the fire that ironically caused its preservation. The bulla became fragmented in ancient times and is incomplete. The letters preserved on the middle register are are "...LYHW" while the bottom register reads "..AMR." In light of another published seal, it may be possible to complete the writing as "belonging to Galiyahu son of Imer." The house of Imer was a well-known priestly family at the end of the First Temple period, roughly from around the 7th - 6th centuries BCE, and the days of Return to Zion. This is a direct relic from the Temple Mount of the days of the Kings of Judah. Though tens of bullae have been found in the past in the City of David, this is the first time that a written item from the First Temple period was found on the Temple Mount itself.

A "pinched style" spout of a Hasmonean oil lamp was found on the eve of Chanukah. The festival of Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Seleucid Empire.

A tiny ceramic flask, apparently used for precious liquids, possibly perfumes, or as an amulet to contain a parchment. It is mould-made and is ornamented on both sides with human images: One side shows a roman styled helmeted soldier's head, and the other side shows a head of a woman with coiffed hair.

A collection of various game pieces. Among them a 1st-2nd century CE Roman period ivory dice.

The first coin recovered was from the period of the First Revolt against the Romans that preceded the destruction of the Second Temple. It bore the phrase "For the Freedom of Zion." The find was particularly meaningful inasmuch as it was found in the rubble from the Temple Mount, which was one of the focal points of the war.

A Christian amulet made of silver on which appear figures from the Christian liturgy. Possibly from the 16-17th century.

Remnants and tile pieces from the previous mosque which once stood on the Temple Mount.

A gold coin left by soldiers of Napoleon II - 1858 CE.

Napoleonic coin: rear.

Fragments of ornaments or inlay pieces made from mother of pearl with incised decorations.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Temple Mount Salvage Operation

Despite the ongoing destruction of irreplaceable archaeological treasures by the Wakf, the dump site for some of the rubble excavated has been found.

The dump site on the northern slopes of the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus in the background.

In order to be of scientific value, archaeological ruins have to be found in situ, their locations carefully recorded, before being removed. Because the rubble removed during construction of the fifth mosque on the Temple Mount is loose, it is of limited value in nailing down times and dates.

Walking towards the archaeological sifting operation.

There was still some snow on the ground (this was taken a few months ago.)

A glance back at the Temple Mount.

For this reason the government decided not to proceed with excavations. One also suspects an ulterior motive, that the Israeli government is not eager to prove Jewish links to the Temple Mount, which might offend Muslim sensibilities and make it more difficult to redivide the city. However, donors from Elad stepped in and funded the excavations privately. Due to Israeli government opposition, the research was conducted without government permit for two years, until it was legalized a year ago.

Some valuable information can still be obtained from the individual relics which were rescued. Coins and seals with inscriptions tell us who occupied Jerusalem when, charred bits of bone can be dated to indicate when the temple sacrifices were still being carried out, and pottery shards tell us during which years the land was occupied.

One of the archaeologists tells us about the finds on the Temple Mount

The operation is largely conducted by volunteers, led by professionals, who come out on Fridays to sift through the rubble.

Sifting through the rubble. Foreground: ancient pottery shards.

The procedure for combing the rubble is showin in photographs below:

Step 1: Dump a bucket of muddy rubble into the screen.

Step 2: Spray clean

Step 3: Sift through the rubble (yours truly.)

Step 4: Pick out items (in this case, my fellow digger Lars has found two coins, likely Roman-era, a piece of the previous mosque which is buried under the current mosque, and a piece of plaster from the Byzantine church which predates the mosques.

Step 5: Sort out the items.

Coming tomorrow: some images and descriptions of items which have been discovered.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures of Jerusalem from last December, when there was still some snow on the ground.

Snow on roofs in East Jerusalem. These sheep seem to have Greek letters spray painted on them. Perhaps it's a fraternity prank?

The view from Pisgat Ze'ev. It's cloudy in Israel but the sun is shining on Jordan.

A thin coat of snow on the slopes of Mount Scopus.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Temple Mount

Buried beneath the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock lie the ruins of an earlier Mosque, beneath them a Byzantine Church, under which lie the ruins of the second and first Jewish Holy Temples. This spot being the holiest in the world to Jews, and both Christianity and Islam drawing their legitimacy from Judaism, the thirty six acre compound has sparked countless wars over the centuries. From the Islamic Conquest through the Crusades, all the way down to the “Al Aksa Intifada” of 2000 and the anti-Jewish riots throughout the Arab world last week, the question over who has authentic roots on this tiny 36 acres of land sends entire civilizations to war in every century.

Pilgrims Visiting the Temple

In 1967 the Temple Mount was conquered for the 38th time in recorded history, this time by Zionist Israel. Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defense, triumphantly marching through the city gates with army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, approached the Temple Mount. But these were New Jews, not to be confused with the old-fashioned religious ghetto-dwellers with their pious superstitions. Parading his magnamity and secularism before the world, Moshe Dayan returned control of the Temple Mount to Arab (Jordanian) sovereignty, which it remains to this day.

Dayan and Rabin in the Old City after 1967.

To this day, Jews pray at the Western Wall and listen to the violent screaming of Muslim clerics a few meters above. Last week, fabricating a story about Jewish attempts to destroy the Temple Mount, the Islamic authorities, the Wakf, swept the crowd into a murderous frenzy, and the Western Wall had to be temporarily closed.

The Temple in Ancient Times

The Temple Mount itself is considered such holy ground that, according to Judaism, only Jews in a state of high purity are allowed to ascend. Because the procedure of purification is not possible today, most Jewish rabbinic sages forbid Jews from walking on the Temple Mount. There are, however, some areas on the current Islamic-controlled Temple Mount which were not a part of the original Temple Mount, and some authorities, mostly of the more nationalist persuasion, permit Jews to walk in these specific areas. Jewish prayer itself is strictly forbidden by the Wakf, which leads to one of the most peculiar police forces in the world; the lip police. Every religious Jewish visitor is accompanied on the mount by a Wakf guard, who carefully watches his lips. If he begins to mumble prayers to himself, the guard signals and Wakf personnel pounce on the Jew, dragging him off to be turned over to the Israeli police force for arrest.

Because Arab world today has not yet achieved national consciousness as that idea is known in the West, every regime’s claim to legitimacy, and every call to arms, is based on religious rather than national arguments. Arab efforts to strengthen their claim to the Land of Israel, or “Palestine” as they have called it since 1968, have likewise focused not on liberal democracy or humanism but on waging a religious war for the Temple Mount.
Late in the previous decade, when the Muslim authorities, or Wakf, decided to build a fifth mosque on the Temple Mount, Israel, wary of violence, eager to again prove itself a secular country, raised no objections. Typically new construction in archaeologically sensitive areas triggers an immediate rescue excavation by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. But this was the Temple Mount, and things are different there. Wakf authorities blocked excavations and threatened violence. The Israeli government backed down, and the Wakf began cutting eleven meters into the ground not with brushes and toothpicks but bulldozers.

Wakf digging on the Temple Mount

Bulldozers trashing archaeological sites.

Protests notwithstanding, the Wakf destroyed thousands of years worth of priceless artifacts, part of the ongoing mission of the Palestinian Authority to destroy archaeological evidence of past Jewish life in the Holy Land.

Several priceless artifacts, many with informative inscriptions, were smashed, their only record the candid photographs taken of them. Others are today floating through the antiquities black market.

But, if every cloud has a silver lining, this has one too. While most of the material excavated was disposed of in garbage dumps and hidden locations in the middle of the night, some was dumped on Mount Scopus. Today, Elad is overseeing a salvage operation to try to rescue what can be saved from the ruins.

Stay tuned for the artifact rescue operation…

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Short Story from the Old City

Blogger is not currently functional, so I can’t upload further archaeological pictures today. Instead, how about a story about What I learned in yeshivah today:

There’s a question as to under what conditions one is permitted to violate the laws of Shabbat. It is universally agreed that Shabbat may be violated in order to save a life. Even if the life is not in immediate, but only eventual danger, one should act to save the life. At the same time, when violating Shabbat for this reason, care should be taken to avoid doing more Shabbat desecration than is absolutely necessary. I.e., one may drive a friend to the hospital, (turning on a car, which starts a fire, is a melachah, prohibited activity) but one should take the shortest route.

At the same time, it’s considered a great mitzvah to break Shabbat to save a life, and one should not wait or hesitate if there’s even the slightest doubt. One of my rabbis who studied at Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim in Moslem Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, told me this story:

It was the beginning of Shabbat, and the rabbi sat at the head of the table with his students, singing zemirot (Shabbat songs.) One of the students came to him and complained of a sore leg, and that he was feeling ill. The rabbi sent him hobbling to a local doctor in the Old City. The doctor wasn’t home, so the student hobbled back to the Yeshivah. Upon returning, he told his rabbi that he was feeling much worse now, and the rabbi told him to take a friend with him and go to the hospital, and gave specific instructions on how to minimize Shabbat desecration. Being young students, not having cars, they would have to rent a cab. In order to prevent causing a Jew to desecrate Shabbat by working, they would have to look for an Arab taxi driver. Eventually, having no success hailing a cab, they spoke with the Police. The police chief, himself an Arab, asked them what the problem was.
“We need an Arab taxi driver.”
“But I’ll get you a Jewish taxi driver.”
The police chief was confused, but the yeshivah boys didn’t want to offend him by explaining to the taxi driver the halachic differences between Jews and Goyim (Gentiles,) which are commonly misunderstood.
“No, we need an ARAB!”
The police chief is suspicious that these are religious fanatics out to kill an Arab cab driver. At the same time, the boy has done nothing wrong and needs to get to the hospital. So the police chief calls a taxi, and has it followed the whole way to the hospital by a police car.

Arriving at the hospital, the boy has his blood tested. As he’s having his blood drawn, one of the nurses helps him fill out the entry forms. Of course, by speaking as the nurse is taking dictation he realizes he is causing her to desecrate Shabbat by writing. But if he doesn’t give over his personal information, then he won’t be admitted for treatment, so it’s permitted. She asks for his phone number. He doesn’t have one, being a starving student himself, so he gives the number of the pay phone outside the yeshivah. Good enough.

A few hours later, the bloodwork comes through, and he’s given the all clear. Since it’s nothing serious, his friend who escorted him to the hospital walks the three hours back to the yeshivah.

Meanwhile, Shabbat is ending when the payphone outside begins ringing. Eventually one of the students walks outside to answer it. It’s the hospital, looking for the boy with the sore leg.
“Why?” asks the student.
“We made a terrible mistake and mixed up his test results with someone else’s. He has blood poisoning and needs to come back to the hospital right away!”
“He never left. You can probably find him still sitting in the waiting area.”
The nurses were able to find the boy and save his life.

What was learned from this story?

“My rabbi told me, that from now on he won’t think twice to desecrate Shabbat for even the slightest risk to life. It had practically cost the boy his life. Whenever a student feels he needs to go to the hospital now, I grab the keys, leave the yeshivah, and drive him there myself!”

It should be noted that trying to minimize the Shabbat desecration to get to the hospital didn’t change anything either. They found an Arab cab driver, but then they ended up causing a second car, the police car, to violate Shabbat just to follow them all the way to the hospital.

Anyway, I’m of ‘till Monday. Tomorrow, it’s a tour of settlements affected by the security fence with Yavneh Olami. For Shabbat, I’m heading back to Elon Moreh. And on Sunday I’m taking a tour of archaeological sites throughout the Jordan Valley. It’s a few days without blogging, but pictures will be posted!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The City of David

In 1986, while Ateret Cohanim was already moving forward with property purchases, another organization, Elad, was getting its start in a different part of the city.
A map showing the City of David relative to the Old City. Note that it is to the south east, immediately outside the Old City walls.

The walls of Jerusalem's old city today, built in the 1500s encompass most of the ancient city as it was during the period of the second, rebuilt temple period, from 422 BCE until 68 CE. Today, as a result of geography and layer upon layer of building, the Holy Temple, itself buried under the Al Aksa Mosque, is at the lowest geographical point in the city. But we know from reading of the Tanach that one had to ascend to the temple from Jerusalem, not descend. This would indicate that the ancient biblical city of Jerusalem, the City of David, was located somewhere below the temple mount.

In 1873, acting on this information, a young explorer, the British Captain Charles Warren, surmised that the City of David was located south of the walled city, below the temple mount, along a fingernail-shaped sliver of land.

Sir Charles Warren

Warren pioneered new techniques of digging and exploration in peeling away the layers of debris covering the City of David, a technique which would later become the field of archaeology. Among his discoveries were the network of tunnels used by King David and his soldiers to invade Jerusalem.
An illegibly low-resolution cross-section of Warren's Shaft, Sir Charles Warren's discovery of the shaft through which King David and his soldiers conquered the city.

During the period of Zionist land reclaimation in the early 20th century, the Jewish National Fund, using charity funds collected from Jews all over the world, purchased the then empty ruins of the City of David. Despite the strong desire to continue digging and exploring, fate intervened and the land fell under Jordanian occupation from 1948 until 1967. By the time of the city's recapture, dozens of Arab apartment buildings had already sprung up over the land.

The entrance to the new visitor's center, looking back at the old city walls. Note the minnaret poking over the wall on the far right of the photo. It's the Al Aksa Mosque, over which the Islamic world has launched innumerable wars.

In the early 1980's, while the area, now called Silwan, was still under Israeli soveriegnty, law enforcement in the area was lax, and any police actions had to be carried out by undercover military agents dressed as Arabs. One of these agents who knew the history of the land he was walking on felt it was a shame that Jews could only visit this place, the holiest city in Jewish history, in complete secret for fear of a violent Arab response. After completing his service, he returned to the City of David and attempted to convince the Jewish National Fund, now the Jewish Agency, to press its claim for the City of David. While the absentee tenant laws made it clear that the Arabs now living there could not be evicted, there was a desire to at least save the areas of the city which had not yet been built upon and begin archaeological excavations. The Jewish Agency was uninterested in pressing their claim due to the raging political contraversy and endless legal battles which were sure to ensue. The retired soldier then started an organization known as Elad, which collected donors and purchased the title from the Jewish Agency, then began the lengthy legal proceedings to claim the remaining empty land.

After successfully claiming the city's empty land and beginning excavations, the Elad organization began purchasing apartment blocks throughout the City of David one by one, much as their sister organization, Ateret Cohanim, was doing in the Old City. There is currently almost a demographic balance between Jews and Arabs in the City of David.

Looking between my toes at an ongoing excavation of the main road which led from the City of David to the Holy Temple.

Meanwhile, archaeological excavations continue unearthing biblical sites.

Saying morning prayers while guarding the newest excavations.

There was still some snow on the ground when I took these pictures a couple of months ago. (Just thought I'd throw that in there.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Abu Dis

Even deeper in the city, next to the enormous concrete security wall, Ateret Cohanim has purchased several more acres, soon to be the site of over three hundred new housing units.

Empty land being prepared for new housing abutting the security wall.
The view: Looking west. The row of trees marks the end of Jewish West Jerusalem. During the time of the Tanach, where we stand was the Canaanite village of Bezek, conquered by the tribe of Judah in the book of Shoftim (Judges), chapter 1.

Looking towards teh temple mount, which sticks up between Ras Al Amud (treesy hill to the left) and Har Hazeitim, the Mount of Olives, on the right.

The Dome of the Rock, peeking from the valley. Note the graveyard on the Mount of Olives, to the right.

Looking over the empty land, location of hundreds of future housing units. Mount of Olives in the far background.

Standing in Abu Dis, site of 300 future housing units, looking east towards the other side of the security fence. The building on the left was the orient house, which would have been the Palestinian Parliament building, had negotiations come to fruition.

Needless to say, the entire project is surrounded with controversy. According to international public opinion, Jews have no business living in areas which were conquered by the Jordanian legion in 1948, and from which they were ejected in 1967, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Within Israel, despite the Second Intifadah, which most Israelis concluded was a result of the Oslo negotiation process, there are still some Israelis who believe that dividing Jerusalem will satisfy Palestinian territorial demands. While this political persuasion is most certainly a minority view, its adherents are disproportionately represented amongst the country’s unelected elite in the military, courts, and intelligentsia. There is also a much larger chunk of Israelis who simply have no deep religious or historical sentiment and therefore no attachment to Jerusalem. They do not share the international ethical outrage at Jews living in land captured from Jordan, they simply believe it to be impractical. They would prefer to jettison East Jerusalem, with its enormous Arab population, and let them sink or swim in the Palestinian failed state that seems to be reluctantly emerging.

To be continued…

What I learned in Yeshivah Today:

Actually, today was a good day in Yeshivah for other reasons. At lunch time, Yossi, who made aliyah from Germany about six months ago, announced he's getting married! Lots of Mazal Tovs and dancing. Then Michael came back from mikveh, having finally completed his conversion. More Mazal Tovs! So it was a day of simchas.

Anyway, let's see... what did I learn? Well, in this week's parsha, we see that the Aron Kodesh, the holy ark containing the tablets of the ten commandments (as seen in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,) plus a sefer Torah (Torah scroll) had permanent carrying poles attached to the sides. The Torah specifically instructs us never to remove the poles, the idea being that Torah should always be portable, and can be practiced anywhere and under any circumstanses.