The Remarkable Tel Jerusalem

Archaeologists spend their time excavating and examining sites where humans lived in an effort to better understand the nature of societies from long ago. They let the physical evidence provide clues as to how people lived, what they ate and how they existed as a community.

Some of the best places to explore ancient history are found in tels, hills where one society was built upon the ruins of an earlier society. Such ruins are common in the Middle East, where there has been continuous human presence in many of the same locations for 4-5,000 years.

The issue confronting archaeologists excavating any tel is that one layer of history must be removed to be able to explore the next layer of the human past. Removing the ruins of a floor of a 13th century mosque may reveal a 5th century church, while clearing the 5th century level may reveal a municipal building from the first century BCE. History must be destroyed to find yet more ancient history. Peeling back time yields discovery via destruction.

In the holy city of Jerusalem, the challenges for archaeologists and historians becomes further ensnared in religious and political battles. Why should the ruins of a 16th century mosque be cleared to reveal an ancient Byzantine church? Why should the church be dismantled to uncover an ancient Jewish ritual bath house? Is one truth more significant than another? Does the exposure of ancient Jewish edifices impact today’s realities and political considerations? Is the destruction of an ancient house of worship in favor of another religion’s house of worship an act of historical exploration or a crusade?

The city of Jerusalem became central to the Jewish people 3,000 years ago, when King David sacked the then-Jebusite city and made it the official capital of the Jewish people in roughly 1000 BCE. His son, King Solomon, built the First Jewish Temple in the city in 950 BCE, making the city both the religious center and the political center of the people. Jews made pilgrimages to sacrifice at the temples during both the First Temple period (950 BCE – 587 BCE) and during the Second Temple period (515 BCE – 70 CE). Since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews continued to live in and make pilgrimages to the city to pray, but without the ritual sacrifices, as Arab Muslims and Christian Crusaders took turns dominating the landscape.


City of Jerusalem during First Temple Period covered a portion of the current
Temple Mount and an area south of today’s Old City walls

Over the last several years, a team of archaeologists has been excavating an old road used by the Jewish pilgrims of two thousand-plus years ago. The “Pilgrimage Road” was one of a series of pathways that facilitated the flow of hundreds of thousands of Jews into the Jewish Temples. It’s route must have changed during the centuries as the walls of Jerusalem changed, and as archaeologists continue their excavations, undoubtedly, more facts will emerge.


The Pilgrimage Road from the Shiloach Pool to the Temple Mount, used by Jewish worshipers in the late Second Temple period, was excavated over the course of six years and unveiled by the City of David organization on June 30, 2019.
(Source: City of David.)

The road now exists as a tunnel lying beneath a predominantly Arab section of Jerusalem, called Silwan. The area was originally settled in modern times by Yemenite Jews in the 1880’s, who were then expelled when Jordan attacked Israel in 1948 and annexed the area in a measure not recognized by almost every country in the world. Just as in ancient history, the sacking and rebuilding of the city continues to play out.

But today’s Israeli archaeologists managed a new feat: they did not destroy the layers of recent history above the Pilgrim Road; they burrowed a tunnel which left the current residents of Silwan still living in their homes. As opposed to the living history of tels which builds one reality on top of another, and excavations which destroy one history to unveil another, both the ancient Jewish history and modern Arab homes coexist.

Historians celebrated the event as did the State of Israel which plans to develop the road as a tourist attraction as an important part of understanding the history of Judaism’s holiest location. Even foreign dignitaries came to the June 30 opening dedication including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and United States Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But Palestinian Arabs cried foul. Palestinians like PLO veteran Hanan Ashrawi said that the United States “will go to any length to show collusion, identification with and support for all these illegal acts, for the transformation of the character of Jerusalem.” A ridiculous charge which prompted Greenblatt to reply on Twitter that “we can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archaeology show. We can acknowledge it; you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.

Traditionally, archaeologists need to destroy one layer of history to reveal the more ancient, but in Jerusalem today, the Israelis managed to uncover a 2,000-year old road used by pilgrims to ascend to the Jewish Temple Mount, while leaving the homes of modern day Arabs and Jews intact. It is a feat which sustains all truths, and underscores both the deep historic and religious ties of the Jewish people to their holiest city, while also respecting the modern sensitivities and political realities of the diverse modern capital city.


Related First.One.Through articles:

The Jews of Jerusalem In Situ

Gimme that Old-Time Religion

The Cave of the Jewish Matriarch and Arab Cultural Appropriation

Squeezing Zionism

Tolerance at the Temple Mount

The New York Times will Keep on Telling You: Jews are not Native to Israel

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Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

In the year 164BCE, the Jews in the land of Israel successfully evicted the Selucid Greeks from Jerusalem and rededicated the Jewish Temple which had been defiled. Roughly 2200 years later, history has been inverted.

The Selucid Greeks Come to the Holy Land

The Selucid Greeks (from Syria) and the Egyptians were the major powers in the Middle East 2200 years ago. Israel acted as a buffer region between the two powers, and often fell under the authority of one or the other.

The Selucid King Antiochus III (241BCE-187BCE) expanded his kingdom into Asia and took control of Israel from the Egyptians. Generally, he treated the Jews well and they continued their autonomy and Temple worship in Jerusalem.  When he died, his son Antiochus IV became king, who sought to unify the various parts of the expanded Selucid kingdom via a common religion and culture. He removed the Jewish High Priest Yochanan from the Temple in Jerusalem and installed Yochanan’s brother Jason who was willing to permit more Hellenistic and pagan worship. Jason was later replaced by Menalus who promised even more pagan rituals.

Before long, Antiochus IV came to the holy land and began to ban important parts of Judaism such as circumcision and observing the Sabbath. He enforced his vision via the sword.

As the Selucid Greeks rampaged through Israel, they descended on an important city in the heart of Judea, 19km northwest of Jerusalem.

The Priestly City of Modi’in

Modi’in had grown into a large city full of priests to help manage Temple worship in Jerusalem. As thousands of Jews from northern Israel went to Jerusalem for sacrifices, the city was often overwhelmed both in terms of places for pilgrims to stay and in processing animals and offerings. Modi’in became the main city for Jews of northern Israel to stop into before continuing to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The priests in Modi’in acted as partners to Jerusalem’s priests in managing an orderly Temple service.

The priests of Modi’in were already alarmed by the defilement of the Temple when Antiochus came to their city to install pagan altars. The priests, led by Mattityahu, rebelled against Antiochus and over the next years, turned back the Selucid’s evil decrees and rededicated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The holiday of Chanukah is a celebration of the re-establishment of Jewish autonomy throughout the holy land and purification of the holy Jewish Temple.

The Inverted Chanukah Today

The modern city of Modi’in was established in 1993 as a central hub halfway between the major Israeli urban centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. As the city grew to nearly 100,000 people, it incorporated the neighboring villages of Maccabim (named after the Maccabees who fought the Selucid Greeks) and Re’ut. Nearby towns also carry the names of the Jewish heroes of 2200 years ago, such as Chashmona’im, named after the Hasmonean Dynasty.

In August 2012, the European Union declared that Modi’in was not part of the Jewish State.  The EU followed that ruling in November 2015, when it began to label any products from the city and the rest of Judea and Samaria as distinct from Israel.

While the EU was declaring that the heart of Judea and Samaria were not part of Israel, the Palestinian Arabs were complaining that Jews were defiling their holy places on the Temple Mount.

In September 2015, acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas called for Arabs to rebel against Jews who were defiling Jerusalem: “We bless you, we bless the Murabitin (those carrying out Ribat, religious conflict/war to protect land claimed to be Islamic), we bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah. The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.”

Arabs took the streets with knives stabbing Jews throughout the holy land.  The United Nations, the United States and the EU did not condemn Abbas’s calls of incitement.  Instead, they spoke about the “legitimate grievances” of Muslims and Arabs.  In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to limit access for Jews to the Temple Mount.

 

This Chanukah, the world bears witness to evil in the Middle East once again, as Palestinian Arabs stab Israeli civilians and the Islamic State beheads infidels.  The desire to establish a homogeneous religion and culture still simmers in the Arab world.

But some history is now inverted:

  • Modi’in, the large ancient city where the Jewish revolt was launched, which now houses nearly 100,000 Jews, is now not considered part of the Jewish State by the global community.
  • The Jews complained and fought to remove pagan practices from their Temple long ago, and now Muslims seek to remove Jews from the Temple Mount (even though the Jews have done nothing to block Muslim worship).

On the first Chanukah 2200 years ago, Jews purged the pagan presence from Judea and Jerusalem.  Today, the world works to purge those cities of Jews.

This year, Jews should not just celebrate the holiday of lights, but commemorate the holiday of rights.  The meaning of the holiday is about Jewish autonomy and rights of worship from Judea to Jerusalem.  Put your menorah in the window and your voice on the web.

Moddin menora
Chanukah in Modi’in 2015
(photo: Elliot Bache)


Related First.One.Through articles

The UN’s Disinterest in Jewish Rights at Jewish Holy Places

Visitor Rights on the Temple Mount

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

The United Nations and Holy Sites in the Holy Land

Losing the Temples, Knowledge and Caring

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