Posts Tagged ‘Temple’
Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University has found near the Western Wall under Jerusalem’s Old City a rare clay seal that they say came from the Jewish Temple 2,000 years ago—between the first century BC and 70 AD—because it bears the inscription “pure for God”. The upper terminus is set by the closing of the temple by the Romans after the Jewish War.
This is the first such seal found dating from this period. Very many seals from apparently earlier periods are known, but regrettably so many of them are fakes, no one can be sure that any are genuine unless they have been found in situ. As it is, Reich, the co-director of the excavation opines that seal indicates temple ritual, signifying that Temple officials had approved some thing for temple use, like oil or a sacrificial beast. Offerings to God—for the benefit of the priests, in fact—had to be pure and perfect.
Curiously, though, the inscribed words are written in Aramaic and not Hebrew, as one might expect for ritual relics associated with the Jewish religion for which Hebrew was and still is the sacred language. The part of the Jewish Talmuds called the Mishna mentions the use of seals as tokens by diaspora pilgrims, who would have predominantly spoken Greek or Aramaic. However, it would have been the local people, Palestinian Jews, who gave animals, it being far more convenient for pilgrims from afar, maybe overseas, to give money. Presumably a priest was only capable of judging whether an animal was suitable for sacrifice, and logically they would have had seals inscribed in Hebrew. It suggests that Hebrew was only nominally the sacred language, Aramaic serving in practice.
Israeli archaeologists have uncovered ancient coins near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City which challenge the assumption that all of the walls of the Second Temple were built by Herod, the Roman puppet king of Judah, in his long project to reconstruct the Jerusalem Temple. The Western Wall was the perimeter and retaining wall of the Jewish Temple destroyed by Jerusalem’s Roman conquerors in 70 AD. Also called the Wailing Wall, it is now a shrine for pious Jews. Ignorant people think it is part of Solomon’s temple, while others, largely on the basis of the bible, say it was built by king Herod, the gospel baby killer. Even archaeologists and scholars largely agreed that Herod had built the Temple and its retaining walls in an enormous project begun about 22 BC and completed by his death in 4 BC. Every Jerusalem tour guide has Herod as the answer to the question, “Who built this massive wall?”
In 2011, Israeli archaeologists reported they had found ancient coins buried under the foundations of the Western Wall minted 20 years after King Herod’s death in 4 BC. Eli Shukron, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who led the dig, with Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University, explained:
Until today, accepted wisdom said that all the walls were built by Herod. When we found these coins which were dated about 20 years after Herod’s death, we understood that it couldn’t have been him who built this part of the wall.
No wall can be built without first laying down its foundations, so anything found beneath them must have been dropped or put there before the foundations were laid. In fact, these coins were not directly under the foundations of the wall, but in an underground ritual bath (mikveh) filled in to allow the foundation stones of the Western Wall to be laid across part of it. These coins were in the part not built on, but were beneath the infill, so were dropped or put there before the mikveh had been filled in so that the wall’s base could be constructed. The Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement:
This bit of archaeological information illustrates the fact that the construction of the Temple Mount walls and (the adjacent) Robinson’s Arch was an enormous project that lasted decades and was not completed during Herod’s lifetime.
According to Israel Antiquities Authority, of the several coins found, the latest of them were struck by the Roman Prefect of Judea, Valerius Gratus, in the year 17/18 AD. By that time, Tiberius was emperor, and Jerusalem had been ruled by Roman governors for a decade. As construction could not have started before then, the coins may back up Josephus’s story that the wall was finished by Agrippa II, Herod’s great grandson. Or the building of the wall might have been much later by Hadrian, who rebuilt Jerusalem and made it into a gentile city called Ælia Capitolina.
Josephus wrote that, when the work finally ended in 63 AD, 18,000 builders and masons were unemployed. To avoid trouble, Agrippa set them to paving the streets of Jerusalem. But it was only postponing the trouble, for soon the streets were paved, and again there was an army of tough men unemployed. According to Josephus, their agitation was important in bringing on the Jewish war against the Romans beginning in 66 AD, which led to the closure and partial demolition of the temple.
The mikveh and the coins were discovered metres from the Western Wall during controversial excavations of a 2,000 year old drainage channel which stretches from a site near the Western Wall and close to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam and known to Moslems as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary. It then runs under the Old City walls to end in the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan. Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War, so Palestinians consider excavations there as being an illegitimate and provocative desecration of a Moslem holy place.