© Erich Lessing

The Castle of the Slave is perched on a small hill in the Wadi as-Seer valley in Jordan. This second-century B.C.E. Hellenistic-style monument was the centerpiece of a large estate owned by the Tobiad family of Judea. The elegantly designed and elaborately decorated building known today as Qasr al-Abd was commissioned by Hyrcanus, the last of the Tobiads, who, according to Josephus, fled to the family estate after killing two of his brothers during a quarrel. But why did Hyrcanus build the monument? Was it really his palace? Was it meant to be an alternative to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem? Or was it something else?