Jordan Offers to Repair Temple Mount Wall
No Imminent Danger of Collapse
The Israeli government is weighing whether to allow a team of Jordanian engineers to repair a worrisome bulge along the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The bulge has grown to 625 feet in length and protrudes 2.5 feet.a The Jordanians made a series of recommendations in November following their inspection of the bulge the previous month.
The Jordanian team recommends dismantling some 1,500 square feet of wall at the center of the bulge, reinforcing the area with new building materials and then recovering the area with stone.
Repair work would be done by the Jordanians and would be observed—but not supervised—by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
The decision to allow the Jordanians to inspect the southern wall ended a year-long standoff between Israel, which has nominal control over the Temple Mount, and the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that has de facto control over the Temple Mount esplanade, home of the Dome of the Rock and of the Al-Aqsa mosque, two of the holiest sites in Islam. Neither party would allow the other to make needed repairs to the bulge for fear of seeming to relinquish its control over the Mount. Jordan, which ruled the Old City of Jerusalem until the Six-Day War of 1967, was a compromise choice acceptable to both sides.
Some Israeli archaeologists had been warning for months that the Temple Mount was in danger of collapse. Damage to the southern Temple Mount wall, and particularly to the Al-Aqsa mosque above it, could enflame the Muslim world and lead to cataclysmic consequences. Israel was particularly concerned that the many tens of thousands of worshipers expected to pray on the Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramadan, which occurred during November last year, would cause the southern wall to collapse.
The possibility of imminent danger was downplayed by a member of the state-run Jordanian Construction Committee. “The wall is so strong and thick that there is no danger whatsoever it would collapse” in the near future, Raef Nijem told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
The Israeli decision to allow the Jordanian team to inspect the wall came following a top-level meeting in early October; participants included Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, IAA director Shuka Dorfman, the mayor of Jerusalem, the internal security minister and the Jerusalem police chief.
“It was in our interest that the Jordanians be involved with the work,” said Ra’anan Gissin, spokesman for Sharon. “The idea was to reach an agreement that will be amenable to the Waqf as well.”
Just as Israel and the Waqf could not agree on who should repair the bulge, neither did they agree on the cause of the bulge. The Waqf blamed Israeli excavations outside the southern wall carried out in the decades after the 1967 war. A more likely cause, however, as many Israeli archaeologists have claimed, is the extensive construction work undertaken by the Waqf in recent years in the southeast quadrant of the Temple Mount in connection with a large-scale expansion of an underground mosque in the area.b
Jesus in Italy
Mel Gibson Filming in Stand-In for Jerusalem
If you were to pay a visit to the small agricultural town of Matera, located on the sole of Italy’s “boot,” you might notice something unusual about the city’s male residents: They’re an awfully hirsute bunch. Hundreds of men of all ages are cultivating their facial hair to appear in a film currently being shot in the town, The Passion, directed by Hollywood mega-star Mel Gibson. Featuring Jim Caviezel as Jesus and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene, The Passion will tell the story of the last 12 hours in Jesus’ life. According to Gibson and his team, Matera—with its simple stone dwellings, or sassi, that date to prehistoric times—will make a perfect stand-in for the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day.
Cut into a steep limestone slope overlooking a gorge, the sassi resemble the low, pale beige-colored houses that filled Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. Bible scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor told the New York Times that Matera would make a fine substitute for the Holy City: “If you have stone buildings of one story with flat roofs, then you’re in Jerusalem,” he remarked.
Gibson isn’t the first moviemaker to notice the Biblical potential of the sassi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two major motion pictures on Biblical themes have previously been shot in Matera: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) and King David (1985), starring Richard Gere. Locals are now adept at transforming themselves into ancient Israelites. “During ‘King David,’ everybody wore a beard,” a local waiter told the Times. “They asked people to grow them out, and now they’re doing it again.”
This time, however, facial hair will be the least of the extras’ worries. The Passion is being filmed entirely in two ancient languages, Latin and Aramaic. “No one wants to touch something in two dead languages,” Gibson recently told the show business publication Variety. “They [film distributors] think I’m insane; maybe I am.”
The Passion began shooting in Matera in early November, after the crew finished construction of a “Jerusalem city gate” in the middle of town. Additional shooting will take place at the Cinecitta studios in Rome. The Passion will arrive in theaters in late 2003 or 2004—or whenever Gibson finds a courageous distributor.
Do You Recognize This Man?
A High-Tech Portrait of Jesus
Sandwiched between photos of dirtbikes and high-tech gadgets, “The Real Face of Jesus” peers out from the December 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics (yes, Popular Mechanics) magazine. The accompanying article describes how Richard Neave, a medical artist in Britain, has tried to create a historically accurate portrait of Jesus using the latest techniques in forensic anthropology, such as computer programs that determine the thickness of facial tissues. After studying the characteristics of well-preserved skulls from the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day, Neave was able to make a composite—the full-faced, broad-nosed bust pictured here.
Just how accurate is the portrait? Without the remains of Jesus or any of his close relatives, we’ll never know. We can’t even say for sure that the portrait represents the “average” ancient Jerusalemite: Neave based his composite on only three skulls, and, in any case, forensics can’t identify features like hair color, eye color and skin tone.
Nevertheless, Neave’s Jesus may serve as a useful corrective to overly Westernized images of Christ. Olive-skinned, curly-haired and stocky, the bust reminds us of Jesus’ Middle Eastern origins.
Bathhouse Uncovered at Kursi
Early Pilgrimage Site Marks “Swine Miracle”
Excavators at Kursi, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, believe the site may have been the earliest pilgrimage destination for Christians visiting the Holy Land. They have also recently found evidence that Christian pilgrims were slaughtered there in 614 A.D. by the invading Persian army.
A team of archaeologists from the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies uncovered a late Roman-period (third-early fourth century) bathhouse complex near a previously excavated Byzantine monastery. Inside the 26-by-36 foot bathhouse were three dozen women’s rings and other pieces of jewelry.
“Why would there be a bathhouse in a monastery? Why women’s rings?” asked excavation co-director Charles Page. “The bathhouse was built for Western pilgrims and the jewelry belonged to them. This is the beginning of a center for Western Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We believe it may have been the largest center other than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.”
The fourth-century monastery at Kursi (Biblical Gergesa) marks the spot where Jesus is said to have performed his “miracle of the swine,” in which he drove the unclean spirits out of a raving man and into a nearby herd of swine. The presence of the bathhouse at Kursi suggests that there may have been an inn at the site run by the monks, who would have earned income for the monastery by accommodating pilgrims.
Though a typical Roman bathhouse contains four rooms, at Kursi only two rooms—a caldarium (hot bath) and a frigidarium (cold bath)—have been unearthed so far. If there were additional baths at Kursi, they would lie east of excavated structures. However, it is possible that the bathhouse had only two rooms because the monks who built it did not have enough money for a full bathhouse.
In addition to jewelry, archaeologists found coins, glass bottles (two of them intact) and oil lamps, including a rare seven-wick polycandalon lamp. They also discovered a cache of Persian weapons: spears, iron points for spears, arrowheads, a sword and a scythe that was probably used for beheading people.
Page and excavation codirector Vassilios Tzaferis believe the jewelry found at Kursi belonged to the seventh-century pilgrims who were killed by Persian invaders. “When the Persians came it seems they destroyed every church and monastery, and killed the Christians,” said Page. “The presence of all the jewelry suggests that men, women and children sought refuge from the Persians behind the walls of the monastery complex, but the Persians were so strong they broke through.”
Next season, the team plans to investigate rooms under a church on the northeast section of the property, which may be a necropolis. Page is also intrigued by a building entrance north of the bathhouse, discovered at the end of last year’s excavation. This entrance could lead to the inn that may have been at the site.
“Another good ten years’ worth of work lies ahead of us,” Page said.
Fellowships Available for Rising Scholars
The Biblical Archaeology Society of Northern Virginia (BASONOVA) is offering one or two fellowships of $1000 each to graduate students in Biblical studies and Biblical archaeology. The fellowships are intended to enable the students to present a paper at a professional meeting (such as, but not limited to, the annual meetings of ASOR, AAR, SBL and AIA). The application deadline for the academic year 2003–04 is March 30, 2003. For more information, contact the Biblical Archaeology Society of Northern Virginia, P.O. Box 22174, Alexandria, VA 22304; phone: (703) 370–7381; fax: (703) 370–9637.
What is it?
A. Babylonian diadem
C. Calipers for measuring marble
D. Part of horse’s harness
What it is, is…
C. Calipers for measuring marble
Found during excavations at Pompeii, this pair of bronze calipers, decorated with a pattern of intertwined vines, dates to before 79 A.D., when the city was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The 5.5-inch-long tool would have been used to measure the thickness of a slab of marble. Similar tools are pictured in relief on the tombs of many Roman sculptors.
Jordan Offers to Repair Temple Mount Wall
No Imminent Danger of Collapse