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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Ecce Homo

Jerusalem

Thousands of pilgrims each year walk under the Ecce Homo Arch near the beginning of the Via Dolorosa without realising that extensive remains of first-century Jerusalem lie beneath their feet.

Looking westward to Ecce Homo Arch, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

Looking westward to Ecce Homo Arch, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

For centuries Christians believed the arch was the place where Pontius Pilate displayed Jesus — beaten, crowned with thorns and clothed in a purple robe — to a hostile Jerusalem crowd with the words: “Behold the man” (“Ecce Homo” in Latin).

This belief persists in many publications, though archaeology has proved the arch did not exist then.

Archaeologists say the arch stood on a great plaza constructed by the emperor Hadrian when he rebuilt the city in AD 135 — a century after Jesus was crucified. Some consider it was originally a city gate from the time of Herod Agrippa I (AD 41-44).

Large sections of the plaza remain underneath the Via Dolorosa and adjacent buildings, accessible through the Ecce Homo convent of the Sisters of Zion.

The Roman flagstones of Hadrian’s plaza were once thought to be the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos in Greek, Gabbatha in Aramaic) identified in John’s Gospel as the location where Jesus was condemned by Pilate. But it is more likely that Pilate judged Jesus at Herod the Great‘s palace, on the site of the modern Citadel inside the Jaffa Gate.

 

 

Arch continues into convent chapel

Built in the style of a triumphal arch, the Ecce Homo Arch is the central span of what was originally a triple-arched gateway. It supports a small room with barred windows.

Ecce Homo Arch in 1864 (James McDonald, Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem)

Ecce Homo Arch in 1864 (James McDonald, Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem)

The arch continues through the wall of the convent chapel, where the smaller northern arch now frames the tabernacle, under a Byzantine cross on a gilded mosaic backdrop. The southern arch has been destroyed.

Entry to the convent, and the extensive remains and small museum beneath it, is through a door near the corner of the Via Dolorosa and a narrow alley called Adabat er-Rahbat, or The Nuns Ascent.

The convent was built in 1857 by Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Frenchman who converted to Catholicism from Judaism and became a priest.

During construction the pavement of Hadrian’s plaza was uncovered. It also extends under the Church of the Flagellation and the Church of the Condemnation at the First and Second Stations of the Via Dolorosa.

Down several steps beneath the plaza is a large cistern hewn out of the rock. It is about 54 metres long and 14 metres wide, with a depth of around 5 metres.

It was originally an open-air pool, part of a chain of reservoirs providing water for the citizens of Jerusalem. The historian Josephus says the name of the pool was Struthion (meaning sparrow). Hadrian installed impressive vaulting over the pool to enable his plaza to cover it.

 

Soldiers carved games into flagstones

The flagstones of the plaza offer an intriguing insight into the lives of the Roman soldiers garrisoned at the nearby Antonia fortress, built by Herod the Great to overlook — and control — the Temple.

Hadrian's plaza, called the Lithostrotos, under the Ecce Homo convent (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Hadrian’s plaza, called the Lithostrotos, under the Ecce Homo convent (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Named after Herod’s patron Marc Antony, this vast fortress was a symbol of the Roman domination of the city.

In various parts of the pavement, off-duty soldiers carved the lines and squares of the games they played in idle moments. Other parts of the plaza were grooved to prevent horses from slipping.

One set of marks, with a crude crown and the initial B in the centre (for basileus, the Greek word for king), has been identified as the King’s Game, which soldiers played with dice.

In the past, the presence of the soldiers’ games added weight to the mistaken assumption that this was the location where Jesus appeared before Pilate, was flogged, mocked as “King of the Jews” and crowned with thorns.

 Grooves cut into flagstones to stop horses slipping (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Grooves cut into flagstones to stop horses slipping (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Though the Ecce Homo Arch and Hadrian’s plaza have no proven link with Jesus or Pilate, the area has a definite connection to St Paul.

After Paul was seized by Jews from Asia while visiting the Temple, it was from the Antonia fortress that soldiers ran to rescue him and prevent a riot. And it was on the steps leading to the fortress that Paul addressed the crowd and avoided being flogged by announcing to a surprised tribune that he was a Roman citizen.

 

Related site:

Via Dolorosa

 

In Scripture:

Jesus before Pilate: John 18:28-19:16

Paul addresses the Jerusalem crowd: Acts 21:27-22-29

 

Ecce Homo Convent

Administered by: Sisters of Our Lady of Zion and the Chemin Neuf Community

Tel.: +972 (0)2 627 72 92

Open: 8am-5pm

 

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

Sebastiya

West Bank

In the Palestinian village of Sebastiya, Christians and Muslims alike honour a connection to John the Baptist at a location earlier known for the worship of Phoenician gods and a Roman emperor.

Sebastiya

Cathedral of St John the Baptist, with tomb crypt under dome in centre (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Sebastiya (with various spellings including Sebaste and Sebastia) is about 12 kilometres northwest of Nablus, to the east of the road to Jenin.

An early Christian tradition, from the first half of the 4th century, says John the Baptist’s disciples buried his body here after he was beheaded by Herod Antipas during the infamous banquet at which Salome’s dance enthralled the governor (Mark 6:21-29).

An Orthodox Christian tradition holds that Sebastiya was also the venue for the governor’s birthday banquet, though the historian Josephus says it was in Herod’s fortress at Machaerus, in modern-day Jordan.

Sebastiya

Village of Sebastiya (Shuki / Wikipedia)

Overlooking the present village of Sebastiya are the hilltop ruins of the royal city of Samaria. The city is mentioned more than 100 times in the Bible. Excavations have uncovered evidence of six successive cultures: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine.

The surrounding hill-country, its slopes etched by ancient terracing, has changed little in thousands of years.

When the early Christian community dispersed during the persecution that followed the martyrdom of St Stephen, the deacon Philip preached the Gospel in Samaria and was joined there by the apostles Peter and John.

 

City renamed by Herod the Great

Omri, the sixth king of the northern kingdom of Israel, built his capital on the rocky hill of Samaria in the ninth and eighth centuries before Christ.

His son Ahab fortified the city and, influenced by his wife Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, built temples to the Phoenician gods Baal and Astarte. Ahab’s evil deeds incurred the wrath of the prophet Elijah, who prophesied bloody deaths for both Ahab and Jezebel.

Sebastiya

Steps to where the Temple of Augustus stood (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

During its eventful history, Samaria was destroyed by Assyrians in 722 BC (ending the northern kingdom of Israel), captured by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, destroyed by the Maccabean King John Hyrcanus in 108 BC, and rebuilt by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC.

Herod the Great expanded the city around 25 BC, renaming it Sebaste in honour of his patron Caesar Augustus (Sebaste is Greek for Augustus). Herod even built a temple dedicated to his patron, celebrated one of his many marriages in the city, and had two of his sons strangled there.

The pattern of destruction and rebuilding continued during the early Christian era. Sebaste became the seat of a bishop in the 4th century, was destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century, flourished briefly under the Crusaders in the 12th century, then declined to the status of a village.

 

Pagans desecrated John’s tomb

Christian sources dating back to the 4th century place John the Baptist’s burial at Sebastiya, along with the remains of the prophets Elisha and Obadiah.

Sebastiya

Crypt of the reputed tomb of John the Baptist (bottom centre) and other prophets (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Around 390, while translating the Onomasticon (directory) of the holy places compiled by Eusebius, St Jerome describes Samaria/Sebaste as “where the remains of John the Baptist are guarded”.

By then, according to a contemporary account by the historian Rufinus of Aquileia around 362, pagans had desecrated the tomb during a persecution of Christians under emperor Julian the Apostate. The Baptist’s remains were burnt and the ashes dispersed, but passing monks saved some bones.

In the 6th century two urns covered in gold and silver were venerated by pilgrims. One was said to contain relics of John the Baptist, the other relics of Elisha.

Two churches were built during the Byzantine period. One was on the southern side of the Roman acropolis (on the site the Orthodox Church believes John was beheaded).

Sebastiya

Greek Orthodox church, with apse at right and entrance to underground cave in centre (© Sebastiya Municipality)

The other church, a cathedral built over the Baptist’s reputed tomb, was just east of the old city walls and within the present village. Rebuilt by the Crusaders, it became the second biggest church in the Holy Land (after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).

But after the Islamic conquest of 1187 the cathedral was transformed into a mosque dedicated to the prophet Yahya, the Muslim name for John the Baptist. The mosque, rebuilt in 1892 within the ruins of the cathedral, is still in use.

Tomb is under cathedral ruins

Sebastiya

Walls of Cathedral of St John the Baptist (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Pilgrims still visit the tomb associated with John the Baptist and other prophets. Under a small domed building in the cathedral ruins, a narrow flight of 21 steps leads down to a tomb chamber with six burial niches set in the wall. Tradition places John the Baptist’s relics in the lower row, between those of Elisha and Obadiah.

The remains of the cathedral’s huge buttressed walls dominate Sebastiya’s public square.

In the extensive archaeological park at the top of the hill are remnants of Ahab’s palace, identified by the discovery of carved ivory that was mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 22:39). The ivory pieces are displayed in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem.

Sebastiya

Visitors and residents during Sebastiya’s first Heritage Day in 2010 (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Also to be seen are the stone steps leading to Herod the Great’s temple of Augustus, an 800-metre colonnaded street, a Roman theatre and forum, and a city gate flanked by two watchtowers.

Interest in Sebastiya’s heritage and community — now entirely Muslim except for one Christian family — has been revived in the early 21st century by a project involving the Franciscan non-profit organisation ATS Pro Terra Sancta, funded by Italian aid.

 

In Scripture

King Omri moves his capital to Samaria: 1 Kings 16:23-24

Ahab erects an altar for Baal: 1 Kings 16:32

Ahab’s ivory house: 1 Kings 22:39

John the Baptist is beheaded: Mark 6:21-29

Philip preaches in Samaria: Acts 8:5

Peter and John go to Samaria: Acts 8:14

 

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Saltini, Tommaso (ed.): Sabastiya — The fruits of history and the memory of John the Baptist (ATS Pro Terra Sancta exhibition catalogue, 2011)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

External links

Sebastia in the news (ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

 

Tombs of the Patriarchs

West Bank

 

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Tombs of the Patriarchs at Hebron (Seetheholyland.net)

The Tombs of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron is the burial place of three biblical couplesAbraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.

The second holiest site in Judaism (after the Western Wall in Jerusalem), it is also sacred to the other two Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Islam.

It was the patriarch Abraham who bought the property when his wife Sarah died, around 2000 years before Christ was born. Genesis 23 tells how Abraham, then living nearby at Mamre, bought the land containing the Cave of Machpelah to use as a burial place. He paid Ephron the Hittite the full market price — 400 shekels of silver.

Today the site is the dominant feature of central Hebron, thanks to the fortress-like wall Herod the Great built around it in the same style of ashlar masonry that he used for the Temple Mount enclosure in Jerusalem.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Cenotaph of Abraham in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Eric Stoltz)

Herod left the interior open to the sky. The ruins of a Byzantine church built inside the wall around 570 were converted by Muslims into a mosque in the 7th century, rebuilt as a church by the Crusaders in the 12th century, then reconverted into a mosque by the sultan Saladin later in the same century.

Most of the enclosure is now roofed. Inside, six cenotaphs covered with decorated tapestries represent the tombs of the patriarchs. The actual burial places of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are in the cave beneath, to which access is not permitted.

 

Scene of God’s covenant with Abraham

Set in the Judean Mountains about 30 kilometres south of Jerusalem, Hebron stands 930 metres above sea level, making it the highest city in Israel and Palestine. It is also the largest city in the West Bank, with a population in 2007 of around 165,000 Palestinians and several hundred Jewish settlers, and is known for its glassware and pottery.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

City of Hebron, with Tombs of the Patriarchs at left (Marcin Monko)

It was near Hebron that God made a covenant with Abraham, that he would be “the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4).

Abraham had pitched his tent “by the oaks of Mamre” (Genesis 13:18), 3 kilometres north of Hebron, at a site now in the possession of a small community of Russian Orthodox monks and nuns.

Here Abraham offered hospitality to three strangers, who told him his wife Sarah — then aged 90 — would have a son (Genesis 18:10-14).

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, about 700 years after Abraham, the men he sent to spy out the land of Canaan returned from the Hebron area with a cluster of grapes so heavy that two men carried it on a pole between them — an image that is now the logo of the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Later, King David ruled Judah from Hebron for seven and a half years before moving his capital to Jerusalem.

Emulating Abraham’s hospitality, early Muslim rulers of Hebron provided free bread and lentils each day to pilgrims and the poor.

Complex is in three sections

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Herod’s stonework on Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

Herod’s mighty wall around the Tombs of the Patriarchs avoids the appearance of heaviness by clever visual deceptions. Each course of stone blocks is set back about 1.5 centimetres on the one below it, and the upper margin is wider than the others.

The corners of the edifice — called Haram al-Khalil (Shrine of the Friend [of God]) in Arabic — are oriented to the four points of the compass.

Inside, amid a confusing mix of minarets, domes, arches, columns and corridors of various styles and periods, the complex is divided into three main sections, each with the cenotaphs of a patriarch and his wife.

The main entrance, to the Muslim area, is up a long flight of steps beside the northwest Herodian wall, then east through the Djaouliyeh mosque (added outside the wall in the 14th century) and right to enter the enclosure.

Straight ahead, in the centre of the complex, are octagonal rooms containing the cenotaph of Sarah and, further on, the cenotaph of Abraham. Each of these domed monuments has a richly embroidered cover, light green for Sarah and darker green for Abraham.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Cenotaphs of Rebekah and Isaac (Seetheholyland.net)

In a corner just past Abraham’s room, a shrine displays a stone said to bear a footprint left by Adam as he left the Garden of Eden.

A wide door between these two cenotaphs leads to the Great Mosque, containing the cenotaphs of Isaac (on the right) and Rebekah. The vaulted ceiling, supporting pillars, capitals and upper stained-glass windows are from the Crusader church.

Ahead, on the southeastern wall, a marble-and-mosaic mihrab (prayer niche) faces Mecca. Beside it on the right is an exquisitely carved minbar (pulpit) of walnut wood. It was made (without nails) in 1091 for a mosque in Ashkelon and brought to Hebron a century later by Saladin after he burned that city.

Next to the pulpit, a stone canopy covers the sealed entrance to steps descending to the burial Cave of Machpelah.

Directly across the room, another canopy stands over a decorative grate covering a narrow shaft to the cave. Written prayers may be dropped down the shaft.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Minbar (pulpit) in Great Mosque in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

Entry to the Jewish area is via an external square building on the southwestern wall. This building houses a Muslim cenotaph of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons (though Jews and Christians believe he was buried near Nablus).

Inside are synagogues and the cenotaphs of Jacob and Leah, each in an octagonal room. (Jacob’s beloved second wife, Rachel, is remembered at the Tomb of Rachel, on the Jerusalem-Hebron road north of Bethlehem).

Site and city are divided

Friction between Jews and Muslims at Hebron dates back to a 1929 riot in which Arab Muslims sacked the Jewish quarter and massacred 67 of its community.

More recently, in 1994 a Jewish settler entered the Tombs of the Patriarchs during dawn prayers and shot 29 Muslim worshippers (the mihrab still bears bullet marks).

Since then, Jews and Muslims have been restricted to their own areas of this divided site, except that each faith has 10 special days a year on which its members may enter all parts of the building. Pilgrims and tourists may enter both areas.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Israeli soldier guarding Jewish synagogue in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

The city of Hebron is also divided into two zones. The larger part is governed by the Palestinian Authority. The remainder, including the town centre and market area, is occupied by Jewish settlers and under Israeli military control.

 

In Scripture

Abram settles by the oaks of Mamre at Hebron: Genesis 13:18

God makes a covenant with Abram and changes his name: Genesis 17:3-5

Three strangers pay a visit to Abraham: Genesis 18:1-16

Abraham haggles with God over the future of Sodom: Genesis 18:17-33

Sarah dies and Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah: Genesis 23:1-20

Abraham dies and is buried with Sarah: Genesis 25:7-10

Joshua attacks Hebron and kills its inhabitants: Joshua 10:36-37

David is anointed king over Judah at Hebron: 2 Samuel 2:1-4, 11

 

Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-222 8213/51

Open: Usually 7.30-11.30am, 1-2.30pm, 3.30-5pm; Muslim area closed on Fridays, Jewish area closed on Saturdays. Passport checks apply and it is wise to check the security situation before visiting (the Christian Information Centre in Jerusalem suggests telephoning 02-2227992).

 

References

Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Chadwick, Jeffrey R.: “Discovering Hebron: the City of the Patriarchs Slowly Yields Its Secrets”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2005
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)

 

External links

Hebron (BiblePlaces)
Hebron (VisitPalestine)
Tombs of the Patriarchs, Hebron (Sacred Destinations)

Herodium

West Bank

Herodium

Herodium (David Pishazaon / Wikimedia)

 

Looking south-east from Bethlehem, the skyline is dominated by a volcano-shaped mountain on which Herod the Great built the fortress-palace he dedicated to himself.

Constructed within two huge concentric walls, the seven-storey Herodium palace was “private, intimate, exotic and protected”, according to archaeologist Ehud Netzer — who in 2007 announced he had discovered Herod’s long-lost tomb on the mountain’s north-east slope.

But to the Bethlehem parents whose infant sons Herod had massacred in a desperate attempt to eliminate the newborn “King of the Jews”, the presence of Herodium less than 6 kilometres away would have been a daily reminder of the king’s brutality.

 

Murderer and visionary builder

Herodium

Inside the ruins of Herodium (© Deror Avi / Wikimedia)

The “Massacre of the Innocents”, following the visit of Wise Men from the East to pay homage to the baby Jesus, is recorded only in Matthew’s Gospel.

Other sources record that the murderous Herod had two of his sons strangled, executed one of his 10 wives for treason, killed numerous in-laws and on his deathbed ordered his eldest son beheaded.

Herod, who ruled Judea on behalf of Rome from 37 to 4 BC, was also a man of great architectural vision. His projects included the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the desert fortress of Masada and the city and massive harbour works at Caesarea.

He chose the site of Herodium because it was near the scene of a crucial battle victory against a bitter rival, Antigonus, the last Hasmonean king.

 

Pleasure palace and small city

Construction of Herodium began around 25 BC. Using thousands of slaves, Herod reshaped the summit of the hill to create an almost impregnable pleasure palace, the third largest in the Roman world.

Herodium

Herodium from the air (Asaf T. / Wikimedia)

The historian Josephus described it as “a hill raised to a height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast . . . . Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament . . . .”

At its base stood a small city. Its architectural focus was a huge artificial pool, more than twice the area of a modern Olympic swimming pool, and deep enough to accommodate boats. An aqueduct brought water from spring nearly 6 kilometres away.

Four towers gave a commanding view of the Judean desert and as far as the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab. Using mirrors to reflect the sun, Herod could convey messages from Jerusalem to Herodium to Masada.

 

Grave was undiscovered until 2007

After Herod’s time, the Romans used the fortress against the insurgents during the First Jewish Revolt in AD 70. In AD 132-135 the Jewish Zealot leader Bar Kokhba converted it into his headquarters in the Second Revolt.

Herodium

Herod’s tomb (© Deror Avi / Wikimedia)

In succeeding centuries, the abandoned Herodium was occupied by monks. In the lower part, three different churches have been excavated, all with mosaic floors.

The location of Herod’s grave continued to puzzle archaeologists until 2007. Thirty-five years after he began excavating Herodium, Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported success when he and his team uncovered pieces of a large sarcophagus made of pink Jerusalem limestone and decorated with expertly carved floral motifs.

These were found among the ruins of a lavish, two-storey mausoleum about 25 metres high.

“The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site,” Netzer told reporters.

While continuing excavations, Netzer suffered fatal injuries when a wooden railing at the site gave way in October 2010.

 

Other sites in the Bethlehem area:

Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity

St Jerome’s Cave

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria

Milk Grotto

Shepherds’ Field

Tomb of Rachel

Field of Ruth

 

In Scripture:

The massacre of the Innocents: Matthew 16-18

Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: 050-623-5821

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar)

 

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Maier, Paul L. (trans. and ed.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988).
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Herodium (BiblePlaces)
Herodium (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Tomb of King Herod discovered at Herodium (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Masada

Israel

Masada

View from Masada to the Dead Sea (Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The rocktop fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea has been invested with a quasi-religious significance as a symbol of resistance for the people of Israel.

Once a palatial refuge for Herod the Great, this massive plateau on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert is better known as the location of a Roman siege against Jewish rebels in AD 74.

The story of 960 defenders choosing self-inflicted death rather than surrender has achieved legendary status for the Jewish people, though scholars have questioned its credibility.

Masada’s symbolic status was boosted by a poem by Yitzchak Lamdan, published in 1927, and by extensive excavations by soldier-archaeologist Yigael Yadin.

Masada’s summit may be reached by a tortuous “snake path” (which takes a fit person 45 minutes), by a path up the Roman siege ramp (15 minutes) or by a modern cable car.

The view across the Dead Sea 450 metres below is spectacular. After Jerusalem, Masada is Israel’s most popular tourist attraction.

 

Herod lived in luxury

Masada

Bathhouse with under-floor heating (Seetheholyland.net)

Masada’s flat-topped shape has been aptly described by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor as “curiously like an aircraft-carrier moored to the western cliffs of the Dead Sea”.

The north-facing prow of this warship consists of the ruins of Herod’s luxurious residential palace. Elaborately designed and decorated, it cascaded in three tiers down the cliff face, each tier connected by a rock-cut staircase.

On the western side of the warship’s 550m by 275m deck are the remains of Herod’s ceremonial palace and administrative centre. The largest building on Masada, it covered nearly half a hectare.

Herod planned Masada as a palace stronghold and desert foxhole, and fortified it with walls, gates and towers. He wanted a place of refuge in case the Jews should rebel against him, or the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra (who coveted Judea) should try to have him killed.

Herod’s creature comforts include bathhouses and a swimming pool. The most elaborate bathhouse had a hot room with the floor suspended on low pillars. Hot air from a furnace was circulated under the floor and through clay pipes in the walls.

To supply water in this arid setting, a sophisticated system channelled winter rainfall from nearby wadis into huge cisterns quarried low into the northwest of the mountain. Water was then carried by men and beasts of burden up winding paths to reservoirs on the summit. The lower cisterns alone are estimated to have a capacity of 38,000 cubic metres.

 

Romans besieged the fortress

Masada

Seige ramp at Masada (Seetheholyland.net)

In AD 66, at the beginning of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome, a group of Jewish extremists called Sicarii overran the Roman garrison stationed on Masada. By then, Herod had been dead for 70 years.

According to the historian Josephus, the Sicarii were unlikely heroes who attacked local villages. In a night raid for food on the Jewish settlement of En-Gedi, 17km away, he says the Sicarii killed more than 700 Jewish settlers, including women and children, during Passover.

The Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva waited until Jerusalem had fallen before taking the Tenth Legion to Masada in 72-73. Laying siege to the fortress, he established eight fortified camps linked by a ditch and wall around Masada, then built a ramp on top of a natural bedrock spur to reach the summit.

Up the ramp the Romans rolled an iron-sheathed siege tower, with rapid-firing catapults and a huge battering ram to breach the fortress wall.

According to Josephus, when defeat was inevitable the leader of the Sicarii, Eleazar ben Ya’ir, gave two impassioned speeches persuading his companions to cast lots to kill each other rather than be taken prisoner.

He argued “it is still an eligible thing to die after a glorious manner, together with our dearest friends . . . let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom, as an excellent funeral monument for us”.

When the Romans stormed the summit, they found the bodies of 960 occupants. The only survivors were two women and five children who had hidden in a cistern.

 

Josephus’ account is questioned

The only account of the fall of Masada and the mass suicide of its occupants comes from Josephus. Surprisingly, the Jewish rabbis who wrote the Talmud did not record the event.

A former Jewish rebel who joined the Romans after he was captured, Josephus lived through the Great Jewish Revolt and knew Silva personally. Like other historians of antiquity, however, he was known for his literary embellishments, and scholars have questioned the credibility of his dramatic account.

Would there have been time for Eleazar’s speeches, the drawing of lots and the organized killings as Masada fell? Would the survivors have been able to repeat the speeches verbatim to the Romans?

More pertinently, modern historians point to parallels between Eleazar’s second oration and a speech Josephus himself gave in similar circumstances when the fortified village of Jotapata, in northern Galilee, fell to the Romans after a siege and bloody battle in AD 67.

Josephus, who commanded the Jewish rebels in Galilee in that battle, tells of hiding in a cave with other survivors who drew lots to kill each other rather than surrender. One of the last two men standing — “should one say by fortune or by the providence of God?” — was the wily Josephus, who persuaded his companion to join him in surrendering.

Rather than accept the rhetoric of Josephus, modern historians favour a more chaotic climax at Masada, with some Sicarii fighting to the death, some taking their own lives and others trying to hide.

Furthermore, a research report in 2016 concluded that the ramp was never completed and therefore could not have been used to capture the fortress.

 

Restored buildings can be seen

Many of the buildings on Masada’s summit have been restored, including Herod’s bathhouses (a black line on the walls indicates where restoration began). Some have mosaic floors.

Remains of a synagogue used by the Sicarii and a church built by Byzantine monks in the 5th century have also been excavated. The monks lived in cells dispersed round the summit.

Silva’s siege works and ramp, including remains of the Roman wall and camps, can still be seen.

The skeletons of 28 people excavated in the 1960s — whether Sicarii or Roman soldiers is not proven — were given a state funeral at Masada with full military honours in 1969.

In the early decades of the Jewish state, recruits to Israel’s armed forces — in which service is compulsory for most citizens, male or female — climbed the snake path for a torchlight swearing-in ceremony ending with the declaration: “Masada shall not fall again!”

The ceremony was abandoned in 1986, according to Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, because “Its underlying message of heroes who commit suicide no longer captured the imagination of a Jewish state which emphasised life, not death, and victory rather than defeat”.

 

Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: 08-658-4207/8

Open:

April–September 8 A.M.–5 P.M. October–March 8 A.M– 4 P.M. Fridays and holiday eves, site closes one hour earlier than above.

Cable-car hours: Sat.–Thurs.: 8 A.M.–4 P.M.; Friday and holiday eves 8 A.M.–2 P.M.; Yom Kippur eve 8 A.M.–noon.

 

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Goldfus, H., et al.: “The significance of geomorphological and soil formation research for understanding the unfinished Roman ramp at Masada”, Catena, 2016
Hoffman, Lawrence A.: Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

The Wars of the Jews, by Josephus (Christian Classics Ethereal Library; chapters 8 and 9 describe the siege of Masada)
Masada: Desert Fortress Overlooking the Dead Sea (Jewish Virtual Library)
Masada (Bible Pictures)

 

Jericho

West Bank

Jericho

Sign for world’s oldest city (© Visitpalestine.ps)

It’s reputed to be the oldest town on earth, with stories to match. The Israelites supposedly brought down its walls with a great shout and trumpet blasts. Here Jesus healed Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and dined with Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. And both Cleopatra and Herod the Great coveted this lush oasis.

Jericho (the name means “City of palms”) is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament.

In perhaps the most famous battle in the Bible, it was the first town captured by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. But did “the walls come tumbling down”, as the song says? Archaeologists are divided on whether Joshua’s Israelites did in fact demolish a walled city.

Water from Jericho’s powerful perennial spring provides irrigation for abundant fruit, flowers and spices. “When the orange and lemon trees are in bloom, in the spring, the air is so heavy with their perfume that the visitor is sure he could bottle some of it and take it home with him,” writes archaeologist Godfrey Kloetzli.

The spring is associated with the prophet Elisha, who purified its waters by throwing salt into it.

Mound rose as towns were destroyed

Jericho

Ancient tower at Tell es-Sultan (Seetheholyland.net)

The first hunter-gatherers settled here around 9000 BC. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements at Tell es-Sultan (or Sultan’s Hill), a sun-baked earthen mound two kilometres north of the present city.

The 15-metre mound was formed over the centuries as towns were destroyed and new ones built on their rubble. The most striking discovery unearthed is a thick-walled stone tower, 7 metres high and 7.6 metres across, dating back to 7000 BC.

Besides being the oldest town on earth, Jericho is also the lowest (more than 250 metres below sea level).

City of priests and Levites

Since Jericho was on the normal route from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through it several times.

Jericho

Sycamore described as Zaccheus’ tree (Seetheholyland.net)

Near the centre of the city, a centuries-old sycamore tree recalls the incident in which the tax collector Zacchaeus, too short to see over the crowd, climbed a sycamore’s branches in order to see Jesus. (The African sycamore fig should not be confused with the sycamore of Europe and North America, which is a different species.)

At a nearby Greek Orthodox monastery, the trunk of a dead sycamore behind a glass frame is also described as the tax collector’s tree.

Jesus chose the steep, rocky road from Jerusalem down to Jericho as the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In this parable, Jesus describes the compassion of an alien (the Samaritan) towards a man who had been beaten and robbed, contrasting it with the pitiless attitude of a priest and a Levite who had “passed by on the other side” of the road.

At that time, Jericho was one of the cities designated for the residence of priests and Levites rostered for duty in the Temple, about 28 kilometres away. About 12,000 priests and Levites are believed to have lived there, and they were a familiar sight on the road.

 

Cleopatra wanted a perfume

In 35 BC the Roman politician Mark Antony made a gift of Jericho to his lover Cleopatra of Egypt. Cleopatra had coveted the oasis because she wanted to control the plantations of persimmon (now extinct), which produced a perfume that reputedly “drove men wild”.

Later Cleopatra leased Jericho to Herod the Great at an exorbitant fee that cost him almost half Judea’s income. After Mark Antony and Cleopatra died, Herod gained ownership of the city. He built a palatial residence and died there in 4 BC.

 

In Scripture:

Joshua captures Jericho: Joshua 6:1-21

Elisha purifies the spring: 2 Kings:19-22

Zacchaeus meets Jesus: Luke 19:1-10

Jesus heals Bartimaeus: Mark 10:46-52

The Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37

 

Administered by: Palestinian National Authority.

 

 

References

Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Kloetzli, Godfrey: “Jericho”, Holy Land, summer 2004.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Jericho (BiblePlaces)
Historical Sites (Jericho Municipality)
Jericho — The Winter Palace of King Herod (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Caesarea Maritima

Israel

In the attractive Mediterranean seaport of Caesarea Maritima, the apostle Peter baptised the first recorded gentile convert to Christianity — Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army.

When this Italian soldier and his household believed in Jesus they received the gift of the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. This event astonished the Jewish Christians but validated the fact that salvation was for all people (Acts 10).

Caesarea

Harbour at Caesarea (© Deror Avi)

Caesarea Maritima (“by the sea”) was the scene of other significant events for Christians:

• It was the headquarters of Pontius Pilate. From here the Roman procurator set out for the Passover festival in Jerusalem, where he sentenced Jesus to death.

• Here the apostle Paul was imprisoned for two years and preached to the last of the Herods, King Agrippa II, who said that if he were to listen any longer to Paul’s persuasion he might become a Christian.

• The city was the home of Philip the evangelist and his four daughters, who were prophetesses. Paul stayed with them when he returned from his missionary journeys.

• At Philip’s home, a prophet named Agabus bound Paul’s hands and feet with his belt, foretelling how the apostle would be handed over to the Romans.

• After Jerusalem was destroyed, Caesarea became the centre of Christianity in Palestine. A Church council held here in AD 195 determined that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday.

 

Founded by Herod the Great

Caesarea

Restored amphitheatre at Caesarea (Berthold Werner)

Caesarea — not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi in Galilee – was founded by Herod the Great on the site of an ancient fortified town. In 22 BC, with no expense spared, he began building a new city and harbour.

Massive breakwaters gave safe anchorage to 300 ships, a sewage system was flushed by the tide, and a vast hippodrome seated more than 20,000 people at chariot races. Later an amphitheatre was built to present chariot races, gladiatorial combats, animal performances and theatrical events. Little wonder that Caesarea has been dubbed “Vegas on the Med.”

During the Roman occupation, clashes between Jews and the majority Greco-Syrian population, who supported Rome, were frequent.

The desecration of Caesarea’s synagogue and the massacre of 20,000 Jews — in a single hour, according to the historian Josephus — culminated in the First Jewish Revolt, which ended with the AD 70 destruction of both Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

 

Bishop’s territory included Jerusalem

Christianity was accepted early in Caesarea. By the end of the 2nd century the city had a bishop, Theophilus of Caesarea, whose territory included Jerusalem.

Well-known Christian Fathers who were active in Caesarea included Origen and Pamphilius. The library they built up was second only to that of Alexandria (in the 7th century it held 30,000 works).

Eusebius, who became bishop in 314, was both the first Church historian and the first biblical geographer. Without his book of place names, the Onomasticon, many biblical sites would never have been identified.

 

Cathedral was never completed

Caesarea

Roman aquaduct that brought water from Mount Carmel to Caesarea (Seetheholyland.net)

Today’s visitors can see a restored Roman theatre built to accommodate 4000 and a Roman aqueduct that brought water from the foothills of Mount Carmel.

Just inside the theatre is a replica of an inscription carved in stone, bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.

The remains of a Crusader walled city, from the 13th century, include a cathedral which was never completed because the vaults below, from an earlier period, were unable to bear the weight.

A severe storm in December 2010 damaged several archaeological sites, including parts of the Crusader city wall and the Herodian wall. A breakwater built in the 1950s to protect the port was smashed into three pieces.

In Scripture:

Philip arrives in Caesarea: Acts 8:40

Agabus prophesies Paul’s death: Acts 21:8-11

Peter visits Cornelius: Acts 10

God strikes down Herod Agrippa I: Acts 12:21-23

Paul is imprisoned in Caesarea: Acts 23:23—26:32

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Joseph, Frederick: “Caesarea”, Holy Land, winter 2004
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Porath, Yosef: “Caesarea: Herod and Beyond: Vegas on the Med.”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2004
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Caesarea Maritima (BibArch)
Caesarea Maritima (BiblePlaces)
Caesarea (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Western Wall

Jerusalem

Western Wall

Jews and visitors at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

Judaism’s holiest place is the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Part of the retaining wall erected by Herod the Great in 20 BC to support the vast plaza on which he rebuilt the Temple, it is venerated as the sole remnant of the Temple.

The wall and the plaza in front of it form a permanent place of worship, a site of pilgrimage for Jews and a focus of prayer — often petitions written down and placed between the huge stones. The Jewish name for the wall is the Kotel.

Orthodox Jewish men, fully bearded and garbed in black, bowing their heads as they read and pray from the Torah, are a common sight.

It is also the place where Jews down the ages have expressed their grief over the destruction of the Temple, their anguish giving the wall another name — the Wailing Wall.

But the wall is also a place for celebrations, especially of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs (coming-of-age ceremonies for Jewish sons and daughters).

 

Stones weigh up to eight tons

In the exposed part of the Western Wall today, the seven lowest layers of stones are from Herod’s construction. Most of these stones weigh between two and eight tons.

Western Wall

Celebrating bar mitzvah at the Western Wall (Margaret O’Sullivan / Seetheholyland.net)

Above these are stones placed in later centuries, replacing those forced out when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt by sacking Jerusalem and destroying the Temple in AD 70.

The prayer area in front of the wall is divided into separate sections for men and women.

Men and married women who approach the wall are expected to have their heads covered. A kippah (skullcap) is provided free of charge. Cameras and electronic devices are forbidden on Saturdays.

To the right of the plaza, near the southern end of the Temple Mount, large stones jutting out of the wall are the remains of what is called Robinson’s Arch. This arch once supported a grand staircase to the Temple.

 

Valley was filled in

Western Wall

Divided prayer areas at the Western Wall (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

In the time of Christ a deep valley, spanned by bridges, ran beside the Western Wall and eight more levels of stones were visible. Through the centuries this valley, the Tyropoeon, has been progressively filled in with masonry and rubble.

Mark 13:1 recounts that one of Jesus’ disciples exclaimed to him as they left the Temple: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Jesus replied: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

The Western Wall was captured by Jordan during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and recaptured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Arab housing and mosques near the wall were immediately razed. In their place, today’s plaza was created, stretching from the wall to the Jewish Quarter.

At the left end of the Western Wall is the entrance to a tunnel which allows visitors to walk along 500 metres of the extended wall, under buildings of the Old City. Sights include the biggest stone in the wall, estimated to weigh 570 tons.

In Scripture:

Solomon builds the Temple: 1 Kings 5-6

Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple: Mark 13:1-8

 

Administered by: Western Wall Heritage Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-6271333

Open: All day, every day

 

References

Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007).
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Western Wall (Wikipedia)
Western Wall (BiblePlaces)
The Kotel (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
The Western Wall and its Tunnels (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Window on the Wall (Aish webcam)
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