Furor Over Temple Mount Construction
Muslim Religious Body Snubs Israeli Law, Archaeological Concerns
Bulldozers have been carting away huge mounds of earth from underneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one of the most revered sacred sites in the world, drawing the ire of Israeli archaeologists who say Muslim authorities are damaging the inside of the Mount’s eastern retaining wall and destroying possibly priceless historical information in the process.
The furor stems from a construction project undertaken by the Waqf, the Muslim religious authority that controls the Temple Mount, to create a second entrance to the al-Marawani mosque, located under the southeastern quadrant of the Mount in an area popularly, but mistakenly, known as Solomon’s Stables.
The huge underground mosque at times attracts thousands of worshipers, so there was no question that a second entryway was needed for safety reasons. But the Waqf’s decision to simply haul material from the area and to dump it, in the dead of night, in the nearby Kidron Valley has been attacked as irresponsible destruction of an archaeological site. Israeli archaeologists say the area should first have been subjected to a controlled excavation. Now personnel from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) can only sift through the dump in the Kidron Valley in hopes of gaining some raw, but contextless, data about ancient Jerusalem.
Solomon’s Stables served as a storehouse and stable in the 12th century A.D. for the Crusaders, who assumed that King Solomon had used the vaulted cavern in the same way. But the site actually dates to the reign of Herod the Great (37–4 B.C.), who greatly expanded the Temple precinct.
“It is one of the most important sites in the country, and they’ve gone at it with a bulldozer,” Jon Seligman, Jerusalem region archaeologist for the IAA, told BAR. Seligman was appointed to his position at the very end of 1999, in the midst of the controversy—“Dropped into the boiling oil,” as he put it—though he had served as Jerusalem district archaeologist since 1994.
Seligman said that the IAA has been examining the dumped remains, primarily pottery sherds, coins and even some nails. About 40 to 45 percent dates to the Byzantine (fourth to seventh century A.D.) and early Islamic (seventh to eighth century A.D.) periods; about two percent dates to the late First Temple period (seventh to sixth century B.C.)—“The background noise of Jerusalem archaeology,” in Seligman’s words.
Seligman added that the dump was not his primary concern. “The issue is the Temple Mount,” he said. “The dump is a side issue.”
“This was an opportunity to learn about the site,” Ronny Reich, an IAA archaeologist and a specialist on the history of ancient Jerusalem, told BAR. Now, according to Reich, that chance has been lost forever. Reich added that the material hauled away from the Mount might even have contributed to the debate on whether Jerusalem was a significant city in the tenth century B.C., the era of King David.
By destroying the historical context of the remains, the Waqf’s action violates Israeli law, which requires the IAA to conduct excavations before construction can begin at any historically significant site. Relations between the Waqf and Israeli authorities have been greatly strained, however, since 1996, when a decision by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to open an exit at one end of a tunnel running alongside the western wall of the Temple Mount led to widespread and deadly rioting by Muslims.
Israel’s attorney general, Elyakim Rubenstein, admitted that law enforcement authorities had lost de facto authority over the Temple Mount. “The remnants of the history of the Jewish people are being trampled,” he said. “The Waqf must be told that we have tolerance for their worship, but they will not be allowed to kick aside our history.” Rubenstein acknowledged that “the issue there is a 015very sensitive one. Every Muslim home boasts a photograph of the Al-Aksa Mosque [part of which lies over Solomon’s Stables].”
Given the volatility of the situation, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel’s internal security minister, announced in December that no forceful means would be employed to seal the new entrance. “I don’t want to put on a show of force that will cause the entire city to burn,” he said. Indeed, on December 6, Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and a confidant of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, warned, “If someone has the nerve to close the entrances, he is declaring war on the Muslims!”
At press time, the situation had become quieter, thanks in part to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and to heavy rains that have hampered construction activity. Seligman told BAR that the work at Solomon’s Stables was near completion in any case. But it seems only a matter of time before the issue flares up again elsewhere on the Temple Mount.
This is not the first time the Waqf has destroyed archaeological features on the Temple Mount. In the 1980s, an unauthorized trench dug to relocate utilities uncovered an ancient wall thought by an archaeologist who briefly saw it to be from the time of King Herod. It was probably a wall of one of the courts of the Second Temple. The wall was 6 feet thick, and a length of over 16 feet of it was exposed, but it was quickly removed and the area covered before it could be studied.
In 1993 the Israeli Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case that had been brought to prevent the Waqf from continuing to destroy archaeological features of the Temple Mount (see Stephen J. Adler, “The Temple Mount in Court,” BAR 17:05; and “Israeli Court Finds Muslim Council Destroyed Ancient Remains on Temple Mount,” BAR 20:04). The court found the Waqf guilty of 35 violations of the antiquities law that involved irreversible destruction of important archaeological remains. Even during the pendency of the lawsuit, however, the Waqf continued to destroy ancient features on the Temple Mount.
Publish, Don’t Perish
White-Levy Awards Announced
New grantees have been named for the Shelby White-Leon Levy archaeological publications program. These researchers will benefit from one- to three-year grants that allow them to publish the findings from excavations that ended some time ago but never produced final reports. Since the program’s first year in 1996, it has granted more than a million and a half dollars. The projects receiving grants this year run the gamut from Neolithic to Late Bronze Age sites, located anywhere from Syria to Greece.
Several of the awards went to digs in Israel. Thomas E. Levy, of the University of California at San Diego, has received funds to publish a book-length report of Shiqmim, a Chalcolithic site in the Negev Desert in Israel. His major fieldwork took place between 1987 and 1989; a final field season closed the project in 1993. Levy plans to use the grant to allow graduate students and researchers associated with the project to complete the Shiqmim study, which focused on subterranean settlement and society in the Negev between 4500 and 3500 B.C.
Harvard University professor Ofer Bar-Yosef will publish findings from an even earlier site, Gilgal, in the Neolithic era (around the seventh millennium B.C.). Excavations at Gilgal, in the southern Jordan Valley, revealed architectural fragments, stone artifacts and animal remains. The publication project will focus on the wealth of stone assemblages from the site.
Michal Artzy of the University of Haifa will complete publication of her 1986 to 1992 excavations at Tel Nami, on the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel. In the Late Bronze Age (late 13th century B.C.), Nami served as a meeting point for the East and West, a place where both the maritime and terrestrial trade routes converged. Artzy plans to examine the interaction between multiple cultures, including the Philistines and other Sea Peoples.
Two other University of Haifa researchers, Avner Raban and Ezra Marcus, plan to publish reports on the Middle Bronze Age rampart and gate from Tel Akko, also on the Mediterranean coast (north of Tel Nami).
Karen Vitelli, the Indiana University professor who received a $40,000 publication grant from the White-Levy archaeological publications program and then told her benefactors, who collect antiquities, that they should “see the error of their ways” and recognize the damage they are doing, hasn’t changed her mind one bit. An article in the January 10, 2000, Washington Post reported that other White-Levy grant recipients found Professor Vitelli’s comments “outrageous.” Huffed Professor Vitelli: “I don’t think they bought my silence.”
New Blood at Jordan Department of Antiquities
Bisheh Steps Down as Director
Fawwaz Khrayshah recently assumed his post as director general of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities. Heading a staff of 450 people, Khrayshah oversees the scores of excavations in Jordan conducted by local and foreign archaeologists.
Khrayshah replaced Ghazi Bisheh, who served as Jordan’s director of antiquities from 1988 to 1991 and from 1994 to 1999. Between his two stints as director, Bisheh taught at Jordan’s Yarmouk University and directed the Madaba Archaeological Park Excavation. He is now working with the European Union-funded Museum Without Frontiers, which prepares sites for cultural tourism, and participating in various conservation projects.
Khrayshah came to the department from Yarmouk University, where he was associate professor of archaeology and Semitic languages and director of the university’s respected Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. He has also directed Yarmouk University’s Department of Epigraphy and Ancient Languages.
Born in the small farming town of Breiqa in northern Jordan, the 44-year-old Khrayshah did his undergraduate work in Arabic language and literature at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He then studied at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, earning his Ph.D. in archaeology and ancient Semitic languages. Since 1980, Khrayshah has worked on numerous Jordanian excavations—at Sahab, Yasila, Madaba, Muwaqqar, Bayir, Wadi Sara, Tell el-Khanasiri and others.
Khrayshah specializes in pre-Islamic period languages and archaeology of the region from northwest Arabia to southern Syria. He has published extensively on issues related to the Safaitic, Thamudic, Nabatean and early Arabic languages. He has also served as a visiting professor at Holland’s Leiden University, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, the Free University of Berlin and Philipps-Marburg University. He is married and has two sons and two daughters.
One of the antiquities director’s main duties, Khrayshah said in an interview, is to maintain a highly trained staff and to enhance working conditions. “Whereas the director is only one man, the staff is many; they will ultimately determine the department’s quality and credibility,” Khrayshah said.
Khrayshah also wants to build stronger links among Jordanian universities, the Department of Antiquities and international archaeological centers located in Jordan.
The new director recognizes the allure archaeological excavations and parks have for tourists. His hope is that revenues from tourism might help fund expensive excavations of ancient sites—and, perhaps even more importantly, help preserve them. But tourism also has its risks, Khrayshah concedes: “We will have to make a major effort to protect our antiquities,” he said. “Part of this will involve promoting a conservationist attitude among the thousands of local men and women who work seasonally at excavations and surveys.”
More than 2,500 workers are employed by local archaeological projects during the main excavation season, Khrayshah said, making archaeology an increasingly significant economic contributor to local employment.
A Lot More than Oranges
Egyptian Finds Uncovered in Jaffa
In a Jaffa public garden—not far from a favorite vantage spot for tourists gazing at Tel Aviv’s coastal skyline—archaeologists have discovered traces of the city that stood here from the 15th to the 13th century B.C., when Egypt held sway over Canaan.
“By the style of the bricks and thickness of the walls we can determine that the city at the time was most probably an administrative center for the Egyptian authorities. But so far we have very few clues,” says Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University, who headed the dig. “The thickness of the walls indicates it was most likely not a domestic center.”
According to Herzog, the cities of Jaffa, Gaza and Beth-Shean were the three main administrative and commercial Egyptian centers in Palestine during the mid-second millennium B.C. Ancient Egyptian records indicate that Jaffa—located just south of downtown Tel Aviv, on a promontory jutting into the Mediterranean Sea—served as an important port during that period. Jaffa’s population at the time was probably very small, consisting primarily of administrators who maintained a military presence and collected taxes, Herzog says.
According to legend, Jaffa was named after Noah’s son Japhet, who built the city after the Flood. In the Biblical Book of Jonah, the prophet attempts to flee from God by embarking on a ship that sails from Jaffa.
In the late 1950s, archaeologist Jacob Kaplan discovered the gateway of the Late Bronze Age city, replete with hieroglyphic inscriptions mentioning Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.). When Kaplan finished work at the site in 1974, he backfilled most of the excavation, leaving exposed only the small area where the gateway had been found; the gate-way itself was put on display at the nearby Jaffa Museum.
Kaplan died before he could publish his findings; what few notes he left are in the hands of his widow, who prefers not to relinquish the material. So the current dig, led by Herzog under the auspices of Tel Aviv University and the Old Jaffa Development Corporation, is starting fresh.
“The gateway was very monumental and nice,” says Herzog, “but we want to see the inside of the city.” By expanding the area where the gateway was found, his team discovered 15-foot-thick brick walls, on which the gateway had stood. On the bedrock they found the charred remains of the gate’s wooden roof; the team is conducting carbon 14 tests on the ashes.
Inside the gate, the team discovered the walls of a large fortress from the Egyptian period and buildings from the Persian period (539–332 B.C.), when Jaffa was one of a chain of ports dominating the Mediterranean coast. Scores of coins, a stone anchor and sherds from imported Greek vessels were among the Persian period finds.
The team also found a 3.5-inch Egyptian scarab, dating to the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390–1352 B.C.). The eight lines, engraved in hieroglyphs, enumerate the pharaoh’s achievements, proclaiming his prowess as a hunter and declaring that he had killed 102 lions during the first ten years of his reign. According to the team’s Egyptologist, Deborah Sweeney, such seals were typically sent to the edges of the Egyptian kingdom to praise and glorify the king.
The excavation has been a challenge for Herzog, who must work in the middle of a grassy garden in a populated area. Nevertheless, the excavator hopes to continue for another five seasons, keeping an eye out for the chariot workshops that are said by the Amarna Letters to have been in Jaffa at the time.
From the Ashes
Coastal City Destroyed During Maccabean Revolt
A thick destruction layer covering the city of Yavneh-Yam attests to the dramatic end of this Hellenistic port, located half-way between the major Mediterranean harbors of Jaffa to the north and Ashdod. The city is identified with the port of Jamnia, known from the Book of Maccabees. The First Book of Maccabees describes how the mid-second-century B.C.E. Jewish leader Judah Maccabee pursued the Seleucid army to the plain of Yavneh-Yam (Jamnia) and set fire to the city’s harbor and fleet, “so that the glow of the light was seen in Jerusalem, some 30 miles distant” (1 Maccabees 4:15, 2 Maccabees 12:8–9).
According to excavator Moshe Fischer, however, the broken pottery, coins and stamped jar handles found among the ash and debris indicate that this destruction layer actually dates several years after Judah Maccabee, to the end of the second century B.C. At this point, Judah Maccabee’s successors had overthrown the Seleucid overlords and established an independent Jewish state, governed by the Maccabean (Hasmonean) dynasty.
Yavneh-Yam had apparently long opposed the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids. Previous surveys of the site have revealed correspondence, written by town leaders to the Seleucid king Antiochus V during the heat of the Maccabean revolt. The exchange of letters expresses their desire to cooperate, each fawning and flattering the other in order to gain favor. The citizens urge the king to recall what the town once did for his family: “[The ancestors of the people of Jamnia] rendered many services to the king’s grandfather, promptly obeying all instructions regarding naval services.” In return, the king promises that the townspeople “will enjoy the same privileges” as their ancestors. Clearly dated to June or July of 163 B.C.E., “these letters are very important … because there are only a few inscriptions from the second century B.C.E. in Palestine,” said Fischer, of the Department of Classical Studies at Tel Aviv University. The letters demonstrate, he said, that at times of trouble, the usual conflicts between the Palestinian cities and their Seleucid rulers were put aside and they turned to each other for help.
The letters found at Yavneh-Yam are limestone copies—made in ancient times—of correspondence originally written on papyrus. The remaining 9-inch-tall slab includes 10 to 12 rows of large-size letters. In lieu of newspapers, it was customary at the time to display such engraved copies of official correspondence in the main square.
Before its destruction, Yavneh-Yam had been a highly sophisticated seacoast town, as demonstrated by the finds in the destruction layer. These include a figurine of a woman playing the harp; a tiny glass statue—slightly more than 1 inch high—of the Egyptian god Harpocrates, son of Isis, depicted in his typical pose with one finger on his lips; a cache of pottery, glass, iron and bronze items and coins; some 25 Greek mold-made bowls and 20 wine amphorae from Rhodes with stamped handles.
Mark Your Calendar
The Dead Sea Scrolls Millennium Exhibition
Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
March 10–June 11, 2000
Fifteen scrolls, four never before shown outside of Israel, are the focus of this exhibit. Also on view will be 80 artifacts from the surrounding area. A lecture series will be held in conjunction with the exhibit.
For information on the exhibit, call 312–922-9410. To learn more about the lectures, contact the Oriental Institute membership office at 773–702-9513.
Archaeology and the Movies
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
March 26, 2000, 3:30 pm
Jon Solomon of the University of Arizona will examine how Hollywood has popularized archaeology. Film clips will include “Cleopatra,” “Ben Hur” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
The Mesopotamian Plain from Space
Rainey Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania
April 6, 2000, 6:00 pm
Robert Adams of the University of California, San Diego, will speak on the landscape of Mesopotamia and its ancient system of rivers.
For more information, call 215–898-4890.
BAS Israel Study Tour: The Land, Its People, Its History
April 11–28, 2000
Explore the land of the Bible with the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) and Avner Goren—a superb teacher and archaeologist. Learn on-site how archaeology illustrates ancient history. Includes three days in Jordan at Mt. Nebo, Madaba and Petra. Celebrate Passover and Easter in the Holy Land!
For more information, call 800–221-4644.
BAS Tour: Discover Tunisia
April 24–May 6, 2000
Explore the ruins of Carthage; visit the Bardo Museum, home of the best collection of Roman mosaics outside of Italy; see ancient Berber villages, and relax at a Mediterranean beach.
For more information, call 800–221-4644.
Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur
Through May 2001
In one of the most storied excavations of this century, Leonard Woolley uncovered the Sumerian city of Ur, described by the Bible as Abraham’s birthplace. This exhibit of 4,500-year-old grave goods will travel from the Cleveland Museum of Art (February 22–April 23, 2000) to the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City (May–September 2000), and on to the Oriental Institute Museum, Chicago (October 2000–January 2001) and the Detroit Institute of Arts (February–May 2001).
For more information, contact the Cleveland Museum of Art at 216–421-7340.
What Is It?
B. Relief of Noah’s Ark
D. Royal animal inventory
What It Is, Is …
The broken teeth running along the bottom edge of this diminutive ivory identify this as a hair comb. Dating to about 3600 to 3200 B.C., the 2-inch-tall carving is one of the most ancient pieces in the Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian collection. The relief decoration depicts tiers of elephants treading on cobras, wading birds accompanied by a single giraffe, hyenas, oxen and lions. The choice of animals was not arbitrary; they probably represent the owner’s district or clan. Despite its early date, the relief bears several features that would become the hallmark of Egyptian imagery for 3,000 years: the carefully spaced figures, the division of the scene into registers, and the stylized perspective.
The Rosetta Stone
Now Available in Dark, Milk or White Chocolate
The British Museum is making candy! That’s right, in conjunction with a special exhibit marking the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is wrapping chocolate bars in specially designed packages, with a picture of the thrice-inscribed rock on the box. It is also rumored that the museum, one of the world’s great repositories of culture, is selling mummy-shaped chocolates to tempt the tastebuds of tourists. Let’s hope they don’t taste like they’re embalmed …
If chocolate isn’t your thing, you might prefer an 800-piece jigsaw puzzle of the second-century B.C. Rosetta Stone, with its inscription written in three different alphabets and two languages: hieroglyphic, demotic (an everyday cursive Egyptian script) and Greek. Decipher if you dare! Champollion wannabees may obtain the puzzle from the Norm Thompson Company in Portland, Oregon (800–547-1160).
Sport of the Ancients?
Probably not. But perhaps the Israelites had their own games that took advantage of the Dead Sea’s extreme salinity, which keeps swimmers—and table-tennis champion Katsumi Asaba—afloat. A good match … and good for the skin, too!
Furor Over Temple Mount Construction
Muslim Religious Body Snubs Israeli Law, Archaeological Concerns