Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Holy Land Day 19: May 28, Temple Mount

Disclaimer: my blog contains personal observations and the opinions, typos, and errors are mine alone. (The guides and tour leaders know their stuff.)

We're on the busses at 7am. We read the Psalm of Ascent #132 this morning as we drive up to the Temple Mount. The instructions on the bus are "No paper" and "No bag" allowed into the Mount. There's security and a metal detector at the top of the ramp into the area.

I sweat into my jacket and carry my water bottle, but others take their bags and journals in without problems, including W who is usually Pharisaic about rules. So I have nothing to write except that I am happy to be back on the bus after seeing the Muslim desecration of the site, with five crescent-topped buildings to ensure Arab coverage and ownership. Oh - and only Muslims are welcome in those buildings. Go figure. A soldier patrols the roof of one of this "peaceful religion"'s shrines.

Our special treat of the day is a trip nearby to Zurim Valey National Park, where Dr. Gabriel Barkai has been sifting through rubble since 2004. Where is it from? Arabs took bulldozers and dumped 400 dump trucks of archaeological layers in the Kidron Valley across from the Temple Mount to tunnel out another mosque - this one underground to seat 10,000 people - on the sacred hilltop.

Dr. Barkai points out that the Temple Mount is neither the highest nor most central hill in Jerusalem. In fact, the ancient Old City is outside the city limits and south of Jerusalem today. The present "Old City" dates from C2 AD. Since the mount is mentioned over 20 times in the NT, Barkai says it should be sacred to Christians as well as Jews and Islamists. When Omar El Tab - heard the myths of the mountain from Israelis, Arabs began to identify Muhammad as going to heaven from there.

Israel has a legend that the earth taken from the mount was used to create Adam. The mount is called Mt. Moriah (Abraham and Isaac as sacrifice), and David's altar was built here to stop the blague against Israel. Here Solomon built "the altar of the Lord" which stood for 400 years. The temple was rebuilt in the C6 BC by diaspora Jews from Babylon. Since sacrifices were offered without interruption, Herod the Great's rebuilding of the temple is also called "The Second Temple." Herod, who liked to improve on nature with such projects as the port of Caesarea-Philippi where only a sandy shore existed, here built a wall around the top of a mountain and filled it to make it a plateau double the size it had been.

No excavation or archaeological survey of the Temple Mount had been done due to religious and political ownership. In the 1990s, Clinton's think tanks identified the mount as the crux of the Israeli-Arab problem and proposed a division of sovereignty. Catching wind of this, the Muslims asked for permission to clear 50 subterranean caverns (Solomon's stables?) and instead emptied ancient cisterns of artifacts in 1996, bulldozed a huge pit from the site, dumped the excavation, and in 1998 opened their huge underground mosque. Nervy ... and cunning. In 1999, the Wakf (Arab managers of the mount) asked for an "emergency exit" from the mosque, which they turned into the major entryway without permission. Barkai calls it "a barbaric act of destruction."

In 2000, Barkai's students emptied bags on his dining room table. He immediately identified C8 BC pottery, C1 BC artifacts, and Roman, Christian, and Muslim things. "Where did you get these from?" he asked the students. They had discovered the Muslim dumping ground. By 2004, Barkai began the project of sifting the soil.

Today we 75 students and faculty listened to a rare talk by Barkai and did "wet-sifting," supervised by his team. We find:
  • prehistoric flint (C15 BC)
  • blue glass mosaic pieces
  • pottery from Hezekiel and Isaiah's days (C9 BC)
  • shells and bones
  • lead drippings likely from the construction of the original Dome of the Rock roof in 691 AD
  • an early C20 shell casing ... among many other things. 
Everything is documented, catalogued, and counted. No archaeological record of 1 Kings 15's temple remains. They have found early Egyptian scarabs (seals) from C20 BC, animal statuettes and fertility goddess that have been smashed (perhaps by Hezekiah in his purge of idolatry), army arrowheads dating around 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, weights for measuring silver as were used in the first temple period, etc. Jeremiah mentions Pascher Immer the priest who arrested and tortured Jermiah. They've found 15 seals or bulk (clay lumps attached to knots around papyrus scrolls) with the name of another Immer family member on them.

We learn lots more. "What is your favorite thing so far?" a student asks Barkai.

"My favorite discovery has to be the people who work (and come like we have on a study date) here," he replies. "From school children of 4 and 5 years old, to older people in their 90s, we have students, doctors, retirees come. They all seem to enjoy the process of helping us."

For two hours, we sift buckets filled with rubble and water onto a tray, wash and spread the contents, and pick through for six kinds of "treasure:" glass, metal, pottery, bones, mosaics, and 'special rock' (= other stuff).
Retaining post in the Church of the Ascencion

We pass many churches on the hillsides. Ilan and Jeff point below the road and away from the City of David the Valley of Hinon (the route to Sheol) where Molech worshippers sacrificed their firstborns, "passing them through the fire" by throwing the child into the flaming mouth of a large idol. Hellish, for sure.

The busses park long enough to let us off. We eat lunch and walk through the Christian and Arab quarters of the Old City, stopping at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (otherwise known as the Church of the Ascension). I sketch a retaining post near the Armenian Chapel. Then it's back to the hotel. I have the sniffles from a few nights of no proper ventilation and stay in from the lecture. It's almost 10pm when we get to bed.

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