topics: humus (food), Temple Mount, Mount Moriah, Dome of the Rock, Herod, Jerusalem, HISTORY, Crusades, Hadrian, Alexander the Great, Ottoman Empire, Diaspora; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: January 13, 1998

Food of the Day: Humus

We have been talking about humus for quite a while. So what is it? Well, it's yummy and it's mushy and it's made primarily of crushed chick peas with a little sesame oil and garlic added. It is almost always served with pita bread and salad and eaten either in a sandwich or scooped out of a bowl after a little bit of olive oil have been poured over the top.

Person of the Day: King Herod the Great

Herod the Great is commonly thought of as the heavy-handed, puppet leader of Judea at a time when Antony (of Antony and Cleopatra fame) was at war with Rome and Jesus was an infant. Although Herod was Jewish, he was despised by the Jews as an outsider and as a friend of the Romans. According to Matthew 2:16, he tried to have the infant Jesus killed by ordering the massacre all the male babies in Bethlehem. Herod lived from 73–4 BCE and was King of Judea (thus, King of the Jews) from the year 37 BCE until his death.

While his reputation may be well deserved, Herod should also be remembered for having undertaken some enormous architectural projects, some of which rivaled Rome's in size and splendor. Between 25 and 13 BCE, Herod oversaw the construction of theaters, amphitheaters, and hippodromes in Jericho and Caesarea, and of the platform around Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (see the Place of the Day). He also ordered the construction or rehabilitation of a series of fortresses — one of which is the famous redoubt at Masada (overlooking the Dead Sea) — which later proved to be of great value to the Jews in their insurrection against Rome. Read more about Herod below.

Place of the Day: Mount Moriah

Mount Moriah is known today by many names (as are many places in Israel), the choice of which can be used to reveal a great deal about one's political, cultural, and religious leanings in the Middle East. Called Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) by the Jews and Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) by the Muslims, Mount Moriah is the sacred hill at the heart of Jerusalem whose highest point is surrounded and isolated now by a very large platform and covered by one of the most famous landmarks in Jerusalem: the beautiful, gilded Dome of the Rock. click to view a photograph (For more about the platform the way it looks today, read below.)

Mount Moriah is recognized by all three major Western religions as a holy place. It is believed to be the spot on which Abraham was prepared to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22:2-19) and subsequently chosen as the site of the great First Temple that Solomon built; Jesus is supposed to have delivered his final sermon on it; and the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven from it.

Basically, the history of Jerusalem — Yerushalayim (the City of Peace) in Hebrew, or Al-Quds (the Holy) in Arabic — began at the base of Mount Moriah and is now set in an ongoing, centuries-old tug-of-war for control of it.

For those who wish to know more about the history of the city of Jerusalem, read on. Otherwise, go directly to the group dispatch for the story of our visit to Mount Moriah and the other sites of Jerusalem, including the city ramparts, Tower of David Museum, and Israel Museum.

A Brief History of Jerusalem

The first mention of Jerusalem is from the 19th century BCE. The name appears again in Egyptian documents from the 14th century BCE, during which time a group called the Canaanites inhabited the land. Jerusalem is, of course, also mentioned in the Bible when a group called the Israelites conquered and destroyed the city but did not settle there.

The development of the city of Jerusalem as we know it today really began when King David conquered a small community of people known as the Jebusites (the remaining Canaanites). The ruins of this settlement are in an area called the City of David, or Shiloah, and are outside today's city walls, at the foot of Mount Moriah on a spot where two valleys — the Kidron and Hinnon — come together. King David is said to have had the Ark of the Covenant (the box in which were kept the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments — remember Raiders of the Lost Ark?) transported to his new city, which he renamed Jerusalem, and made his capital, the central city of the Jews.

The famously wise King Solomon (about whom many stories are still told today), who inherited the throne from his father, David, expanded Jerusalem to the north and built a temple on the top of Mount Moriah. This temple, constructed during the 10th century BCE and known today as the First Temple, helped establish Jerusalem as the capital of a thriving state. During this time, many Biblical personalities and prophets were active in the city. Unfortunately, after Solomon's demise, the land he ruled was divided into two states: the southern Kingdom of Judea, the capital of which continued to be Jerusalem, and the northern Kingdom of Israel whose main city was Samaria (now called Nablus).

The next great expansion of Jerusalem occurred during the rule of King Hezekiah of Judea (727–698 BCE). At the time, especially after the northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered from the north by the invading Assyrians, Hezekiah fortified the city walls, parts of which were rebuilt to include new outlying city districts. This was enough to repel the advancing marauders in 701 BCE. Not until 586 BCE did Jerusalem finally fall. The ruler Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon completely destroyed the city, including the First Temple.

In 538 BCE, the former inhabitants who had been forced out of Jerusalem by its defeat were allowed to return by King Cyrus of Persia. The liberated people resettled the city and rebuilt the temple — the Second Temple.

In 333 BCE, after Alexander the Great died and his empire (which included Jerusalem) was divided, Jerusalem underwent a process called Hellenization. Jerusalem fell in the conflict zone between the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt and the Seleucid rulers of Syria, but was finally brought under the Seleucid umbrella, which was fostering a blend of Greek and eastern cultures called Hellenism. Many Jews succumbed to the appeal of Hellenism and conflicts arose between "Hellenist" and traditionalist Jews, especially after the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV ordered the Second Temple converted into a house of non-Jewish ritual worship.

In 168 BCE, and then again twenty years later, Judah the Maccabee and then Simeon the Maccabee liberated and purified the Temple, eventually triumphing over the "Hellenistic" Jews. A period of political independence ensued, ending in 63 BCE, when Roman forces under Pompey took the city.

From 37–4 BCE, King Herod the Great (see the Person of the Day) reigned from Jerusalem as a puppet of Rome. He was a master of major building projects. He constructed a second wall around Jerusalem, turned Mount Moriah into the level platform that we know today, and oversaw completion of the Antonia Fortress and the Citadel (of which only the Tower of David still remains). In addition, smaller public works installations were pursued, such as markets, a theater, etc. Jesus of Nazareth preached during Herod's tenure.

After Herod, conflict between Rome and the Jews increased, until the First Revolt of 66 CE led the Roman emperor Titus to destroy the Second Temple and then take Jerusalem. For 60 years the sacked city lay in ruin until the Second or Bar Kokhba Revolt, a four-year uprising that, in the end, failed and led to the banishment of Jews from Jerusalem and all of what was then known as Palestine (thus beginning the Diaspora, or scattering of Jews to the four corners of the earth).

In 135 CE, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered that Jerusalem be rebuilt as the city of Colonia Aelia Capitolina. The layout selected is the basis for the grid of main streets as they are today in the Old City. Temples to Roman gods were erected everywhere. In 331, however, when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire, churches were added to the city on many of the spots commonly associated with events in Jesus' life. Jerusalem also grew in size as Christian clerics and laymen flocked to the "Holy City."

In 614 CE, Palestine fell to the Persians, only to be reconquered by the Christians in 629 and lost again in 638 to the Muslim Arabs. The "Holy City" of the Jews and Christians was also declared sacred to Muslims (the third most holy city after Mecca and Medina, both in present-day Saudi Arabia) because the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven from Mount Moriah.

Under the Omayyid Dynasty (whose capital was in Damascus), and for the rest of the seventh century, Jerusalem flourished. The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque were built (691 CE) and a great community grew up around them. However the Omayyids were succeeded by the Abbassides, who transferred their capital to Baghdad and reduced the importance of Jerusalem. Still, Jerusalem was an important center, administered openly by the Arabs and free to all religions.

Then, on 15 July 1099, Jerusalem fell to the Christian Crusaders and changed character dramatically, taking on a distinctly European Christian flavor. Jews and Muslims were persecuted mercilessly, Muslim sites were reconsecrated as Christian holy ground — the Dome of the Rock was renamed the Temple of the Lord, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque the Temple of Solomon — and special orders of warrior knights set up large hospices to protect Christian pilgrims.

This all ended in 1187 when Salah ad-Din, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, recaptured the city and again made it a holy center for Islam. From this day forward, despite numerous other Crusades and modern-day clashes, the platform on which the Dome of the Rock stands has remained in Muslim control while the city's administrators have constantly changing.

In 1517, Jerusalem and Palestine were included in the Ottoman Empire wherein it remained for the next 400 years. Under Suleiman the Magnificent Jerusalem was made particularly grand — he built its existing walls — falling into disrepair and out of the public eye after his death. Still, the city was not left behind as the world moved into the 19th and 20th centuries. Modern innovations reached it and communities grew in size until, for the first time in a thousand years, settlements were established outside the walls.

With World War I coming to an end and with it the Ottoman Empire, Jerusalem surrendered to British forces and all of Palestine followed suit. General Allenby arrived to set up the British Mandate civil administration and, with Jerusalem as its capital, Palestine was united again. However, the Jewish and Arab communities were quite reluctant to sit together under the same flag, especially that of a foreign force. In Jerusalem, riots between Jews and Arabs broke out in 1920 and 1929 and there was an Arab revolt from 1936–39. In addition, terrorist campaigns against the British administration left no doubt as to whether the British were truly welcome.

When the British withdrew in 1948, a bitter battle ensued between Jews and Arabs. It was a fight for land that was particularly fierce in and around Jerusalem. When hostilities ended in 1949, the city was divided between the eastern Old City (claimed by Jordan) and the western New City, built as part of the new State of Israel. This changed when, in 1967, Israeli forces recaptured and reunited the divided city.

Ongoing political squabbling aside, Jerusalem has remained united to this day. And, in recognition of its long and involved history, it should come as no surprise that the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls have been placed on UNESCO's World Heritage Center list of World Heritage sites. visit the World Heritage Site page visit the World Heritage City page

Group Dispatch, January 13

picture of Ethan

Jerusalem defies both description and characterization. It is a magical city of sacred sites and holy shrines that make even the most skeptical ponder the forces at work in all our lives. It is a dream destination for enormous numbers of people eager to walk in the footsteps of Abraham and Elijah and Jesus and Mohammed, or gaze at the locations where their prophets were last seen on this earth. It is the part of this earth that many people feel is closest to the paradise for which they yearn. It is, in a word, Jerusalem: a singular city, a solitary city, a city at the center of it all and yet somehow remarkably removed.

Today we were treated to a view of the city from the inside out (in contrast to what we anticipate will be tomorrow's outside-in perspective). With visits to the tops of the ancient ramparts and fortresses, from within the limits of some most renowned monuments, and often before a panoramic view of the roofs and surrounding hills, we reveled in the glory of this unparalleled city and wondered at the ebb and flow of history through its streets. So many people have claimed it as their own. So many cultures have sped across land and ocean to gather in its alleys. So many lances, swords, and guns have been raised in its defense (although half the time it would appear that the "defending" armies were really on the attack!). So much blood has been spilled. And all for the land of this city, this timeless city, whose spires and domes rise effortlessly into the air in brave defiance of the bickering of humankind.

As Anthony wrote, our arrival in Jerusalem was unusual. It snowed two days ago — the worst storm in years (the first snow since the early 1990s) click to view a photograph — and the clouds were still lingering when we struck out toward the city. Yes, unfortunately we were welcomed to this magnificent location under dark skies, and with chill winds and freezing temperatures. However, looking at it from another angle, you could say that the brisk morning did help wake us up and prepare us for the work of the day ahead. This was important since Corinne and andrEa had worked extremely hard during the break and we had a packed schedule ahead of us.

Our first order of business was to visit the great platform built by Herod the Great (see the Person of the Day) to create a level area around the heights of Mount Moriah (see the Place of the Day). This platform is currently home to what is commonly and most frequently known as the Dome of the Rock. click to view a photograph (But be careful about names! In this part of the world, since there are at least three religions that all claim this and other spots as a sacred center — and were even in control of them at one time or another — there may sometimes be as many as three, or even four, different names for the same thing.) We knew we had to get to the area early since during these weeks the grounds close early. By the Islamic calendar, it is now Ramadan, the holy month-long event in the Islamic calendar during which Muslims neither eat nor drink, among other things, during the daylight hours. Many places holy to Muslims are thus being used more for their true religious purposes and less for tourism!

The Dome of the Rock is the most important building of the Haram ash-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and sits in an enclosure of over 35 acres of fountains, gardens, paths, buildings, and domes. The entire area, comprising almost one sixth of the Old (and walled) City, is considered a mosque. This is one of the reasons why some Jews have never set foot on it. There is an additional fear that a Jew wandering the grounds might accidentally step on the spot lying directly above the unknown location of the "Holy of Holies." The Holy of the Holies is the underground vault in which the Ark of the Covenant (the container) of the original Ten Commandments may have been buried during the First Temple period (see our Brief History of Jerusalem in the Place of the Day). This vault is one of the most sacred places to all Jews.

The Dome of the Rock, completed in 691 CE, is an outstanding monument. With a gilded dome (of REAL gold leaf click to view a photograph) 20 m (66 ft) wide and rising 35 m (115 ft) above the floor, it is quite impressive. Brimming with colorful decorative tiles — inside and out — it is a feast for the eyes. click to view a photograph Once inside, however, despite the magnificence of the architecture and the workmanship that went into the carving and tile painting, the central object in the room draws the eye back down to earth, especially since the central object, called by some the Noble Rock, is actually part of the earth. Jutting up out of the ground is an exposed hunk of light-colored rock that is the actual summit of Mount Moriah (as if the area around the whole hill was filled up except for the tip, which is exactly what happened when Herod built the platform on which we stood). This bit of sacred ground is surrounded by a wood and stone balustrade that keeps people from walking on it. For the many worshippers who want to get closer than the limits will permit, there is another option: Burrowed into the rock and right under the highest point of the outcropping is a cave with a few prayer niches and platforms. Yes, in an attempt to help people get in direct line with such sanctified ground, a space right beneath it was created!

Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside so we were not able to take any pictures.

Nearby, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, whose front (northern) door click to view a photograph faces the southern (main) entrance to the Dome click to view a photograph, is also a large structure that can accommodate up to 5,000 worshippers at one time. Only its high overhead arches gave it a feel different from many of the other mosques we have seen thus far. One interesting and inexplicable note that we learned from our Lonely Planet guidebook is that the heavy columns lined up to the left and right of the main aisle were all donated by Italy's Mussolini. Go figure. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, completed in 705 CE and rebuilt in 1033 CE after an earthquake damaged parts of it. It is believed to be the Furthest Mosque described in the Qur'an (or Koran), the one to which Mohammed was transported by the angel Gabriel before ascending to heaven. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest mosque in the Islamic world (after those in Mecca and Medina, both in Saudi Arabia, and just before the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia).

From there we ducked quickly through the streets of the Old City on our way to the Jaffa Gate. It was still rainy and cold and the shops were just beginning to open. click to view a photograph We were late for a scheduled meeting with a guide who would walk us along part of the ramparts of the Old City. Well, we were so late that we missed our guide, but we did enjoy a stroll along the massive and imposing walls anyway click to view a photograph, as well as some wonderful views. click to view a photograph

A quick note about the walls and gates and districts of the Old City. The walls are actually one of the newest additions to the city, having been built by Suleiman the Great between 1537 and 1542. At the time he had seven gates built into the wall (an eighth was added much later, in the 19th century). Each of the gates has three or more names (again the name game — to make it easy, we will use the more internationally known name and add the Hebrew and Arabic names, respectively, in parentheses):

The city within the walls is confusingly divided into four overlapping quarters reflecting the historical and religious significance of the people and sites found within. (Sometimes the overlapping is so abrupt that a gaze in any direction takes in two holy sites of two different areas. click to view a photograph) To the northeast, including and below the walls of the Haram ash-Sharif, is the Muslim Quarter. To the west surrounding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre click to view a photograph is the Christian Quarter. To the southwest is the Armenian Quarter. To the southeast, up to the famous Western Wall, is the Jewish Quarter. Each quarter has a very different feel, much in keeping with the culture of the people who live there. The Muslim Quarter is a tangle of shops and narrow covered streets very similar the medinas we have visited throughout North Africa. click to view a photograph The Christian Quarter is similar although the streets feel wider, less crowded, and are open to the sky. click to view a photograph The Armenian Quarter is not much more than a few streets crowded around the monastic compound and the Patriarchate (where the leader or Patriarch of the Armenian Church has his offices). The quarter is characterized by tall imposing walls that reveal very little of what takes place behind them. The Jewish Quarter is the newest, since most of it was devastated during the fighting in 1948 and then left in ruins until 1967 when Israel "reunited" the city. While the rubble was being cleared, archaeologists made many discoveries. As a result, the quarter is a mix of new buildings (rebuilt in classic Old City style) crowded in, over, and around the remains of the ancient city.

Anyway, back to our day in the city. From the walls, we made a quick traverse of the Muslim Quarter of the city to the Tower of David Museum click to view a photograph located next to the Jaffa Gate. There we were treated to a wonderful guided visit by a young Israeli-Canadian named Lorne click to view a photograph, whose interest in archaeology, history, and the story of the Jewish people make him a font of wisdom and knowledge about Jerusalem . . . and a perfect guide. He took us to the top of the Tower and told tales of the many buildings, both old and new, spread out before us in panoramic splendor. click to view a photograph We left with heads full of information about the history of Israel (a land always caught between opposing forces click to view a photograph), Jerusalem (see more in our Place of the Day), and the many people who inhabit it.

The Tower of David Museum click to view a photograph itself is devoted to the telling of Jerusalem's history from its early Canaanite days up to the present. It emphasizes the centrality of Jerusalem to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in a way that is both ethnically and culturally sensitive. We thank Lorne and Deborah Lipson of the museum's Marketing and Public Relations department for making our visit possible and exciting.

Finally it was time for lunch so we strolled outside the walls and into the New City to scout out one of the many celebrated humus (see the Food of the Day) shops that are scattered throughout the area. It was a delicious and necessary break allowing us to warm our chilly bones too. The sun had never really broken through the low-hanging clouds. Since we were in the area, we also stopped in on Martin Davidson, our brave contact in the Public Relations department at the Ministry of Tourism who helped orchestrate our time in Israel. Unfortunately, he was not in, but our thanks are just as sincere and we hope that he finds them here.

Our final stop of the day — already a very long one — was the outstanding Israel Museum, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a thousand other artifacts and exhibits too numerous to mention.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and assorted other documents are the oldest Biblical manuscripts known to humankind. They are kept in a special and intriguing building click to view a photograph click to view a photograph — controlled for temperature, humidity, and light — designed to match conditions similar to those of the Judean Desert where the 2000-year-old parchment documents were discovered. Sure enough, it was dimly lit and smallish. But still amazing. The documents found include the seven-meter-long Book of Isaiah, the only Biblical book preserved in its entirety. This particular scroll was written around 100 BCE!

In the main area of the museum, we spent more than three hours strolling through room after room after room of displays on Judaica (Jewish history and culture) and chronicling the history of humankind through artifacts and ruins discovered on Israeli soil. The building is a modern structure that runs along a hillside in western Jerusalem (very near to the square and imposing Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, building). We saw full-scale reconstructed synagogues click to view a photograph (shipped in intact from Germany, Italy, and Cochin [India!]) and displays about the history and practice of Jewish life and holidays. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph In the archaeology section, there were artifacts from towns and digs that are helping to turn the Bible into an historical document as people and places from Biblical mythology are proven to have been real. Once again, we thank the museum's Public Relations department for allowing us to enjoy the museum.

As the sun went down, we knew that we would never have the time or energy to tackle the extensive Art Museum or truly admire the art visible on the grounds. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph We were happy to return to our hosts' homes and settle down to an evening of discussion, eating, reading, and writing.

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