An Archaeologist Sheds Light on the Temple Mount’s Other Monumental Structure

During his renovations of Jerusalem in the 1st century BCE, King Herod ordered the construction of a large building called a stoa, just opposite the Temple. The stoa, a common feature of Roman cities, served as a commercial and administrative center, where banks, shops, and courts were located. Due to the contradictory, and sometimes self-contradictory, ancient accounts of the structure, which do not line up neatly with archaeological evidence, scholars have long struggled to determine its size, layout, and location. Nir Hasson describes a new theory. (Free registration may be required.)

A recent study by Orit Peleg-Barkat of the Hebrew University archaeology department reexamined [the ancient Jewish historian] Josephus’ text in comparison with archaeological finds from Temple Mount digs in the 1970s. Focusing on fragments of decoration found from the time, she extrapolates to the construction of the buildings. . . . Tens of thousands of [these fragments] from [Herod’s day] have been kept in underground storehouses in the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus. Peleg-Barkat dusted them off and started combing through them, seeking fragments of walls and ceilings.

The fragments confirm that the colossal structure was somewhere between a Roman basilica and a Greek stoa—both being, simply, roofed meeting places, places of administration, government, law, and trade. . . . Probably there would have been other structures by the stoa—which is almost certainly the place where Jesus flew into rage at the sacrilege [as described in the Gospels].

The assembly of stone ornamentation fragments found on Temple Mount differs from the assemblies collected at Herod’s palaces on Masada, in Jericho, and at the Herodium [palace south of Jerusalem], says Peleg-Barkat. “First of all, they used Jerusalem limestone, which has much higher quality. Secondly, the quality of the carving is extraordinary, indicating that it was the work of first-class artisans, involving vast investment of resources,” says Peleg-Barkat. “Even though the work was done by local artisans, we see the influence of Rome and the Syrian region.” . . .  The local influence is clear, she adds, in the total absence of figurative art in the fragments—[a result of] the traditional Jewish prohibition against the use of graven images.

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More about: Archaeology, Herod, History & Ideas, Jerusalem, New Testament, Temple Mount

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin