Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tiyul: when the Second Temple was destroyed

Here is another ancient story from our licensed--but not ancient-- tiyul guide, Ezra Rosenfeld, on July 27, 2011.

Today's tour will take us through part of the old city of Jerusalem. Of course, by American standards, the walls and gates we see here are very old--450 years old. But for us today, that's not old enough. Our story, focusing on when the Second Temple was destroyed, happened more than 1,900 years ago. The current city and the current walls did not exist back then. You'll have to go on a proper tiyul yourself in Jerusalem to see how the city and its fortifications had looked.

We begin with an introduction in the shade outside Jaffa Gate of the Old City, Jerusalem. Here, Ezra takes charge, telling us how he will tell today's story and what--modern and ancient--we will see:

Do you see the tip of a castle tower just over and behind his right shoulder? That's the top of the tower above Jaffa Gate, across the street from where we begin.

Our introduction begins with a story about an old Jew. Very old. This man is a slave by the name of Yosef ben Mattityahu HaCohen or, in English, Joseph the son of Mattisyahu the Priest. Yosef--we can call him, Yossi-- was once a soldier who, it turns out, was probably not a very good soldier. As a young officer in Israel's army, he was ordered to the North of Israel, probably to the Galill, to command  the country's defenses there against that day's enemy, Rome. The year was app. 66 CE. A year or two later, he was captured by the Romans, and became a  prisoner of war. For some, our friend Yossi wasn't exactly 'Mr. Clean'. The story of how he survived to become a prisoner of war, and then how he managed to become both a Roman citizen and then, possibly, a favorite of the Roman Emperor, leave our Yossi looking like a less-than-perfect example of a soldier. However, we also know something else about this man: after changing his name to Josephus Flavius (taking the name of the Emperor)--or, after becoming Flavius Josephus--he not only travelled with the Roman army as they brutally conquered Israel and destroyed the Temple (in 70CE), he did something extraordinary: he wrote two histories of the Jewish people at that time. These two histories survive. More important, they remain arguably the only real history of that period, albeit from his boss' point of view--the Roman Emperor. Sometimes his views are corroborated by Jewish sources, and sometimes  his statements differ, rendering his description of a specific event different from Jewish sources. Since I am no expert in these issues, I cannot tell you if the resulting disparities between Josephus and Jewish sources represent fundamentally serious differences or are simply two accounts of the same incident, each from a different vantage-point. I don't know. Sometimes his descriptions are not entirely different from Jewish sources. Of course, he is not a modern historian, so he does not write as a modern scholar writes.  But he appears to have had a good eye-- subject, of course, to his Boss' sensitivities-- and a number of his descriptions have so far been validated by modern archaeology. I will not tell you much more about him today. But he plays an interesting role in the modern understanding of what happened more than 1,900 years ago; it would appear that one needs a good backround in ancient history, archaeology and Jewish history (from the proper perspective) to get a balanced view of his writings.

We begin our tiyul first with some observations about ancient walled cities, observations which could apply to similar construction 1,900+  years ago.

We start at a gate in the walled city:

This is the plaza in front of Jaffa Gate. Do you see the fence on the left of the picture? Look straight down the fence, past the man standing at the fence: the far end of that fence points directly at Jaffa Gate. You might be able to make out the outline of the gate, a twenty- or thirty foot high archway in the stone wall.

This next picture is a close-up of Jaffa gate. We start here with a discussion of the problem of defense, specifically the probelms presented by having a gate in a wall. Look at Jaffa Gate:

There are two points to note here. First, a gate is a door; it is not thick stone; it is, therefore, a weak point in the security provided by a stone wall. In ancient times, these doors would be made of wood. Wood could be set afire. Wood therefore leaves the people inside vulnerable. Second, the builders of these stone walls--at least 450 years ago, when these walls/gates were erected--had a way to lessen the vulnerability of a wood gate: they created a trap. Look at these doors, above. Look beyond the doors. You cannot see directly into the interior. Instead, what you see is a stone room and, off to the left, a thin slice of daylight that represents the city interior. See that?

Here is a better look at the 'room' you enter as you enter the gate:

 What's going on here? To get into the interior of the city behind the exterior walls, you just don't walk through the gate. You walk through the gate into a room that has three stone sides and an opening in one side--here on the left--so that as you enter you are forced to turn, in this case, to the left, 90 degrees. The 'room' you walk into is perhaps 15-25 feet square. Can you picture how that 'room' forces you to turn to the left?  The  outer doorway here and the doorway that's inside, off to the left, are only about twelve feet wide. That's wide enough to get a lot of people into the interior, quickly. But if upon passing through the pictured outer gate, you enter a stone enclosure where you must then make a sharp left turn to get into the city interior, that will slow you down and make you vulnerable (while you are inside that stone enclosure). That room can plug up--at least a little. Kill a dozen soldiers inside that room (as they rush in) and you create a bottleneck. Suddenly, your wood gate is not such a vulnerability.  Certainly, what you have created is not perfect, but given the architectural difficulties you face, it is an intriguing solution.

The builders of a walled city have a second choice of defense:

This is a curious picture indeed--there is no wall here! Jaffa Gate is off camera,  to your immediate  left; the continuation of the wall on the right is also off camera, to the right. What you see here is a road that enters where there had once been a low wall--and a moat.

Here's the scoop (that's a pun): this point of the walled city, just behind the camera-taker, used to be a steep drop to the street. Actually, there had been no street back then, so the drop-off was just a steep drop. The wall here was originally built, apparently, at the edge of a drop-off. Therefore, by the late 1890's, the wall section here was only perhaps  one-quarter the height of the surrounding walls, and was somehow matched to a moat; most of the street you see here, particularly to the right, was, I have been told, moat. In fact, you can still see a portion of that moat if you walk up to the edge of that tall wall on the right in the above picture; that tall wall is not a building--it's a wall. Once you get to the corner of that tall wall, here is what you'll see if you look down and to your right:

A moat, with the street in the above picture continuing here on the left.

Moats, walls, gates that could trap invaders: these are all just some of the architectural devices a walled-city builder could use, to enhance the security of that city.

There is one more story about these last two pictures you have just seen: the wall section that had once stood here had been removed in 1899. Reason? Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany made a visit to Jerusalem that year, after receiving permission from the Turkish Sultan--the leader of the Ottoman Empire who controlled the Middle East at that time. The Kaiser arrived with, apparently, a massive Royal carriage--so massive that it could not make that left turn through Jaffa Gate, to get into the city. Yes, that gate was designed, as you saw above, to cause just such trouble for an entering army trying to invade--but no one had figured on entry problems during an official state visit. So the Sultan ordered the wall breached. I assume that the road you see here was also either built, rebuilt or somehow prepared, as well. This is the road the Kaiser rode  on as his Royal Carriage entered the old city. Aren't Heads of State so accomodating? 

Now, let's look at how the walls help to defend the city:

This is a picture of the ramparts of the wall, a walkway that is perhaps 7 feet below the top of the wall, on the inside of the wall. Look at the floor of the walkway: do you see slits of sunlight going the length of the walkway? Here is what the sun is shining through:

This is a slit cut through the stone. It's convenient for resting elbows while you aim with bow and arrow. Field of vision, however,  is compromised by safety considerations.

Another view:

In this picture, you are also standing on the ramparts of the wall, looking at another section of wall. As you can see, this wall could be 60 feet high--or higher. If the trees below were cleared away, your sight-angle for watching the bottom of that stretch of wall is excellent. Blind-spots, such as are suggested by the previous picture, can be removed or reduced by another line-of-sight, such as this one.

Another view:

This view is from ground level, outside the wall, looking up. You can see those slits, up near the top. I am sure that those slits have a proper name; I just don't know what it is. Do you?

Now, we talk about the Second Temple, destroyed in 70CE. To give you some sense of the destruction, look first at an artist's drawing of one side of the Temple Mount outer wall:

You are looking at several things here. First, look at the large staircase as it comes to the ground--look at the right bottom portion of the picture. Now, look where the stick-figures of people are behind that staircase, on a street. Can you see them? They are walking on a 50-foot wide street, perhaps a main street in that period's Jerusalem, right outside the North-west corner of the outer Temple Mount wall. In that street are shops on both sides.

Here is another view of this street under that arch, but from a different angle:

Take a moment to compare the two pictures above. Look at two items: first, where the arch attaches to the wall of the Temple Mount; and second, where four shops are--in this picture, the four shop doorways are behind the three figures in the foreground, deeper into the picture, on the left side of the 'street'. See them?

Now look at a modern view of those same four shop doorways:

There are four shop stall doorways on the left. Note the large stone across the top. That stone is part of the support structure for that part of the staircase  (above) that comes straight out of the Wall face, before it turns and descends to the street level. Go back to that picture. This row of shops was on the inside of the staircase, ground level, facing the Temple Mount wall. It was part of the support-base beneathe the large staircase landing platform, where the staircase turns. Can you see that?

Here is a view into the interior of a stall:

The commercial shop in here would be perhaps eight feet wide (beyond the doorway) and perhaps ten feet deep, from the threshold.

Now look at a picture that is a modern equivalent of what you have just seen from 1,900+ years ago. The next two pictures were taken in the Arab Shuk (market) nearby. The Arab shuk 'street ' is not fifty feet wide; it is perhaps ten feet wide. Awnings create shade. But look at the shops:

Can you see a man in a white shirt sitting on the left? Next to him sits another man, with his leg out into the walk-area. It's a dark picture, but can you see his leg? Each of those two men is a separate shop owner. The shops are, for the most part, no more than 6-10 feet wide, and perhaps 15 feet deep--or less; much like the ancient shop stall you just saw.

Here is one of the bigger Arab stalls:

This stall is huge--perhaps 18 feet wide x 20 feet deep.

Now, let's go back to that drawing:

Look at where the arch of the staircase attaches to the wall. See it? Look at where the doors are at the top of the stairs, and look at the size and shape of the stones in the wall, ground to top, surrounding the staircase--they're all the same size and shape, right? In addition, to the left, just below the top of the wall, to the left of the upper doors, the wall-face has a different look, right?

Okay. Now, look at how all of that looks today:

This is what we mean when we say "the Temple was destroyed." Let's get you oriented to the landmarks in this picture. You will see this picture now repeatedly, so you won't have to back-track.
First, the rubble in front of you is how archaeologists found it.  Second, you can see the rear of the line of shop stalls you saw earlier, in the middle of this picture--like part of a miniature Stonehenge: can you see the horizontal line of stone blocks supported by rectangular pillars? It is the only horizontal stone being supported by pillars in the picture.Look at how that row of shops faces the Temple Mount outer wall. Do you see on that large wall facing you, facing the shop stalls, a brownish stain? Here is a close-up of that part of the wall:

Here, you see that brownish stain. You can also see, below the windows in the wall, three layers or rows of stone (in the wall), jutting out from the wall. Right? Well, if I understood our guide correctly, one or both of the top two rows of jutting stone are (is) the attach-point of the staircase  you saw earlier. Here is the drawing again. Look at where the larger stairtcase attaches to the wall, below the doorway:

If you compare these last two pictures, you will see where that staircase arch meets the modern wall.

Here is the modern wall again:

The area where the original staircase attached to the wall is called today, Robinson's arch, after the archaeologist who figured out what those stones were.

By the way, look again at the long-shot picture:

There is no doorway where the top of the staircase should be, right? It's gone.

Now, look closer at the stones around the remaining arch-stones:

Do you see how the stone sizes at the arch level and above are considerably smaller than the stones below? When the arch and the staircase were destroyed, these new, smaller stones were used to rebuild the broken, shattered wall. If you want to see where some of the stones went, from that upper  wall, look to the left of the picture--out of the picture frame:

The rubble of those stones is at the base of the wall, to the far left. Look again at where the arch went into the wall-face, above the brown stain. I am going to guess that the top row of stones jutting out is today about 60 feet above the street--the street here is the original street. Why is that important? Because our guide showed us a picture, taken before explorations began here, perhaps 100 years ago.
Here is that picture:

 In this picture, you see an Arab donkey standing under a tree whose leaves appear to touch a wall. Do you see the stones in the wall seemingly leaning out from the wall, against that tree?  That wall is the wall of  the Temple Mount, and those 'leaning' stones are the arch-stones we have been looking at. A hundred  years ago, that was ground level. All that you see in today's pictures was buried in 60 feet of dirt.

 Now, here is a closer look at the broken rubble at the base of the wall:

First, this is the 'street' that ran under the arch that we saw in the drawings above. It really is at least 50 feet wide. Second, that pile of stone in the picture is massive. Compare it to the people walking near it. It is rubble from the wall above. Finally, the  crushed, indented street in the right foreground  reveals the impact of stones being pushed off the wall above.

Here is a closer view of the same damage:


When the Second Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was put to the torch. The fires were intense, as the Temple itself and the homes on the 'upper city'--today's Jewish Quarter'--were incinerated:

A burnt section of wood, carbon-dated to Second Temple, found in a Jewish Quarter archaelolgical site, Jerusalem

There was much more to our tiyul. But I think this covers the basics.

Jerusalem is an ancient city. Jewish blood has been spilt everywhere here, in both ancient and modern times. If so much blood has been spilt here, it means something: it means that Jerusalem is so holy that people will kill as many Jews as it takes to get at it.

 Here is what Jews found after they liberated Jerusalem in 1967:

The fighting to liberate Jerusalem was fairly quick. Most of this damage was done by Arabs after they took Jerusalem in 1948. The UN had not meant for the Arabs alone to have total control of this part of Jerusalem, but the Arabs attacked. They wanted it all. It was an ill-advised war for them because they lost much land as a result of their attack--but they took this part of Jerusalem, and locked out the Jews. The damage they did during their 19 years of occupation gives a glimpse into the Arab attitude towards the Jew. In 19 years of occupation, all they could think to do was destroy, destroy, destroy. The irony here, however, is that when the Jews finally took Jerusalem back, and they saw this horrific destruction, archaeologists jumped immediately and said, essentially, hey, let us dig before you rebuild! Apparently, the damage was so great, no one objected. At least, that's what I understand. If you know otherwise, let me know!

See you at the next tiyul.

I wish to thank licensed tiyul guide Ezra Rosenfeld at www. tanachtiyulim.com for taking me into Israel, with Tanach in hand.

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