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


Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem