Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“Mount of Paradise” – “Mount of Franks” – “Herodium”

“The mountain of the Little Paradise” – “The Mountain of the Franks” – “Herodion”: three traditions of one place

The Palestinian monuments are remarkable for being much more durable than historic periods, epochs and even civilizations. Peoples and cultures change, they endow these monuments with their own narrative, completely different from previous. Things which were told about this or that site before, withdraw into the shadow or disappear. There is no doubt that this process will continue further, and something which is being told us today about a certain monument, will be said differently in the future.

In this article we will consider the cultural aspects of one of the most picturesque Palestinian mountains, which for centuries has been attracting travelers, researchers, and still keeps being in the center of attention. We will study different traditions concerning this mountain in their chronological order. The plenty of historical literature on this topic makes it possible to trace all the peripetias of the culturological process.

The Arabic tradition

South of Jerusalem 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) and south-east of Bethlehem 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) lies a picturesque cone-shaped volcanic mountain. At its top there are the ruins of an ancient fortress. The local Arab inhabitants call it almost poetically Jebel el-Fureidis (جبل الفرديس), which is usually translated as “the Mountain of the Little Paradise”. It might be taken as an earthly Paradise.

The author of this article visited this mountain in October, 2010, accompanied with an Israeli guide; and since that time he has been carefully taking the historical evidence about this landmark.

Jebel el-Fureidis nowadays. Now the mountain and the adjacent area make the Israeli National Park “Har Herodion” (הר הרודיון).

An Arabic word “el-Fureidis” is plural of “Firdous”, which means “paradise” or “the gardens” (Le Strange 1890: 439). This word has Persian roots adopted by the Arabs. In the Middle aged Damascus, the one of the city gates adjoined to the quarter with gardens were called “Faradis”. The people of Syria very often call the vineyards and the gardens by the name “Firdous”.

In his book, Nasir Khusraw told that in 1047 he went from Jerusalem to Hebron. “Along the road leading south you can see many villages surrounded by cultivated fields and gardens. Trees that do not need to be watered such as vines, fig trees, olive trees and sumach grow randomly and plentifully there. In two parasang distance from Jerusalem there is a place where you can see the spring, vineyards and gardens. The charm of this place gave it the name of Faradis" (1881: 98–99).

In the Middle Ages this area was one of the most picturesque and ambrosial places in Palestine. European travelers supported the words of Nasir Khusraw: “The name of "the Little Paradise," which the place still bears, may have arisen from the beauty of the gardens, no less than of the town (i.e. the remains of the buildings at the foot of the mountain)” (Geikie 1888: 242; Fulton 1900: 282). “The preserved man-made terraces to the north and north-west, at the foot of the mountain and its slopes bear evidence of the former tree and orchard crops” (Schick 1880: 89).

In 18th and 19th centuries European visitors wrote about the terraces on the slopes of Jebel el-Fureidis. These terraces are clearly visible in the drawing in the book of Richard Pococke dated 1745 (see below). Today, these terraces are nowhere to be seen: they were either filled up during Israeli archaeological excavations, or hidden by hiking trails and a spiral road leading to the top of the mountain.

The cone-shaped mountain towering in the middle of the gardens was visible from afar and inspired a reverent attitude towards itself. The Arabs monitored the condition of the mountain and protected it the best they could. In any case, when curious European guests climbed to the top and examined the ruins of the fortress, the local sheikh came himself or sent people to see that foreigners were not digging for treasure (Saulcy 1865: I 176).

View of Jebel el-Fureidis from Bethlehem. 19th century drawing (Wilson 1881: I 137)

Sometimes it came to clashes between locals and foreigners. The Jesuit missionary Michel Nau describes such a scene in 1674: “A little more than one league from Bethlehem, we reached the foot of a high mountain, which is separated from all the others. I have heard that it is called the Mountain of Franks; but in the local village it is called Ferdays or Ferdaous, that is, Paradise. We rode the horses until the rise rate forced us to dismount to climb to the top. Then two or three Arabs, seeing us and not knowing that our company was headed by the [French] Ambassador himself, started shouting at us, forbidding us to go further. Seeing that no one was embarrassed by what they were shouting, they began to throw large stones from the top of that place, which jumped and rolled down the slope with frantic speed and would certainly have killed or knocked over whoever they hit. We managed to dodge them, and then our dragomen quickly rushed to them (to the Arabs), prevented them from continuing, and then we peacefully reached the peak” (1757: 439).

The locals acted this way, since they considered themselves as guardians of this sacred mountain, been called to protect it from the encroachments of foreigners and infidels. The harshness and ferocity with which fellahs sometimes defended their shrines was well known in Palestine and beyond.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Haram area in Jerusalem. Southern Wall, 7–12

(Continued. Start)

Aerial photo of the Southern Wall of the Haram esh-Sharif. The dashed lines show the borders between the wall rows of different historical periods. The numbers mark different places of interest, which will be described below.

7. A Latin inscription on the ashlar

Near the Double Gate in the Southern Wall, in the Umayyad rows there is a reused stone block with the Emperor Antoninus Pius mentioned on it. A Latin inscription which is turned upside down and with regular abbreviations says:

To Titus Ael[ius] Hadrianus
Antoninus Aug[ustus] Pius
the F[ather] of the F[atherland], Pontif[ex], Augur
D[ecreed] by the D[ecurions]

A reused stone block with Latin inscription

In the photo there is a Roman ashlar which we turned to make the Latin inscription readable

L. F. de Saulcy was the first who published this inscription in 1853 (III 1853, Pl. XXIV). Researchers suppose not without reason that this ashlar originally belonged to the basement of Antonius Pius monument, which was set within the Temple of Jupiter by a Decurions decree of Aelia Capitolina. In 333 the Pilgrim of Bordeaux mentioned two monuments of Emperor Hadrian. Researchers think one of these monuments was honored to Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Puis who continued the construction of Aelia Capitolina.

In the CIIP, where the inscription follows number 718, it is reported that «the stone block is inserted, upside down, high in the Southern wall of the Umayyad palace on the Haram (Temple Mount).» This is an inaccuracy. This ashlar is located directly in the Southern Wall of the Haram, and not in the southern wall of the Umayyad Palace. In addition, the Umayyad palace itself is not located on the territory of the Haram, but outside. This inaccuracy entailed a following  reasoning in the CIIP: «it since the findspot of the base high in the southern wall of the Umayyad palace on the Haram need not imply that the statue itself was originally erected on the Temple Mount» (CIIP I.2: 18). This is partly true: the statue was not necessarily located on the territory of the current Haram. But the indication of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux to two imperial statues in this territory makes such a location very probable.

Umayyad builders extracted this ashlar from the ruins dated to Aelia Capitolina period and used it in their wall course as an ordinary stone block. Whereas they didn't give any value to the inscription of “infidel Francs” didn’t wanted anybody who would visit the Haram esh-Sharif to read this turned upside down writing.

In the meantime, this ashlar has a great historical value. It should be in the museum dedicated to Aelia Capitolina. But there is no such museum in Jerusalem, and nobody intends to establish it. The commanding Templar school doesn't need such museum, it has another purposes.

One cannot say that the Roman period in history of Jerusalem doesn't interest researchers at all. Recently there appear more and more works about Aelia Capitolina: Belayche 1997, Magness 2000, Bieberstein 2007, Friedheim 2007, Mazar 2011, Newman 2014, Janczewski 2016 are among them. Not long ago an Israeli researcher and archeologist Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah released a detailed book: “Aelia Capitolina – Jerusalem in the Roman Period” (2019).

Nevertheless about three centuries of history of the Holy City are still least studied. It is besides the fact that the foundation of the Old City like the Haram esh-Sharif was established precisely in the Roman period, and all further construction continued and developed Aelia Capitolina. A big amount of Latin inscriptions of that period testifies that the city was thoroughly Romanized (Weksler-Bdolah 2019: 201). For a long time, even in Byzantine period, the city's official name was still Aelia. This name in the form of “Iliyā” (إلياء) was transferred to Muslim rulers of the city (El-Awaisi 2011).

8. The Triple Gate

From the Double to the Triple Gate there is a modern pavement for comfort of visitors of the Archeological park (Baruch and Reich 2016: Fig. 11). This pavement ends with a platform and a stairway near the Triple Gate, which is 80 m from the Double Gate and 90 m from the south-eastern corner of the Haram Complex. The width of the Triple Gate (three arches altogether) is 20,7 m.

The name of the Triple Gate during the early Muslim period is not very much clear. Dan Bahat supposes that Ibn al-Faqih called it the Gate of the Valley (Bab al-Wadi), Nasir Khusraw named it the Gate of the Spring (Bab al-'Ain), al-MaqdisiMihrab Maryam Gates (Bahat 1996, 76–78). But none of the Muslim resources mentioned that there is an underground passage in this place, like the one from the Gate of the Prophet (the Double Gate).

 The Triple Gate

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Haram area in Jerusalem. Southern Wall, 1–6

Aerial photo of the Southern Wall of the Haram esh-Sharif. The dashed lines show the borders between the wall rows of different historical periods. The numbers mark different places of interest, which will be described below.

1. Initial masonry Wall

When moving along the Southern Wall eastwards from the south-western corner of the Haram area, it takes a few meters to get to the modern stairs which lead us 3–4 meters higher than the basement of the ancient wall placed on the solid rock. However, during the archeological research the archeologists got the lowest level of the wall standing of the solid rock. Later Israeli organizers of the Archaeological park in Ophel set the stairs and a wooden flooring, to make it easier for tourists and visitors to climb up to the old pavement after the stairs.

South-western corner of the Haram esh-Sharif

The lower layers of the wall of the Haram esh-Sharif wall through a narrow opening between the wooden flooring and the ancient Haram platform

Anyway, the organizers of the park left observable the lower layers of the wall of the Haram esh-Sharif wall through a narrow opening between the wooden flooring and the ancient Haram platform.  In the photo: we are standing over this narrow opening and watching stone blocks below at the foot of the wall. These are huge roughly dressed ashlars laying lower than the exemplary Herodian blocks. But it should be Herodian blocks (if we follow a common version) which made the original courses of the Haram walls! Especially since the southern part of the esplanade is considered as the Herodian expansion of the Hasmonean Temple.

We could stop the excursion at this point as we eye witnessed that the original courses of the Southern Wall is not Herodian. But we didn't come to the Southern Wall to argue with the commanding archeological school and contradict its fallacies (see: Haram area (“Temple Mount”) in Jerusalem: The Origin), but to study this wall. Thus let's get down to our research.

Benjamin Mazar reports that «we found below the estimated level of the sidewalk two rows of stone chambers built in the flood. In the easternmost part, we even found a blocked hole between the two rows, while another hole was a little higher, leading to the next chamber to the east, to the “Double Gate”. Here we came to two conclusions: these chambers were built as a continuous row along the entire length of this part of the south wall» (1970: 54). These chambers were closed and cannot be seen.
Excavations of B. Mazar at the western part of the Southern Wall (before the discovery of the so-called “Trumpeting Place inscription”) (Mazar 1970: 53)

2. The old pavement

The old pavement 2.5–3 meters wide saved by the organizers of the Archeological park is stretching along the Southern Wall from the south-western corner up to the fortification (Keep) wall. The pavement consists of flags and stones of different size. One cart could move on this road, but two oncoming carts could not get past each other.

The old pavement is stretching along the Southern Wall from the south-western corner up to the fortification (Keep) wall

Charles Warren comments this place as follows, «At the southwest angle, and for at least 90 feet along the south wall, we have found a second and less ancient pavement. It is about 20 feet above the first pavement, and about 23 feet below the present surface; it is nearly on a level with the sill of the Prophet's Gateway, and with what appears to have been an old surface under Wilson's Arch... It was under this pavement that the signet "of Haggai, the son of Shebaniah," was found in 1867; and in another shaft at the southwest' angle we have found several fragments of pottery at a depth of about 5 feet below the pavement. Among the fragments are several Greek lamps, one of which has an inscription of Christian origin, similar to those on lamps which have been considered to be of the third or fourth centuries» (1871: 95).

Warren was wrong when dated the pavement 3–4th centuries. He was misled by Christian artefacts, which were found not on the pavement itself, but somewhere away from it. Modern archeological excavations put the things right. As the lower course of the Umayyad palaces lays 3-4 meters lower of this pavement, it should be dated Mamluks times or even Ottoman period.

Southern Wall of the Haram esh-Sharif (photo of 1931)

Until 1967 the pavement along the Southern Wall was covered with earth and bushes and wasn't in use during a few centuries.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Haram area (“Temple Mount”) in Jerusalem: The Origin

I am starting a series of publication about the main sanctuary of Jerusalem, the third top Islamic sanctuary (after Mecca and Medina) — the Haram esh-Sharif. First of all, let's have a look at the walls around the Holy place depicting the most of its centuries-old history of this unique construction. We'll start with the Southern Wall, the shortest (281 m), but the most important in the Muslim tradition.

The statigraphy of different stages how the walls of the Haram esh-Sharif were constructed

Even Charles Warren noticed that a part of the Southern Wall westward from the Double Gate looked less ancient compared to other parts (Warren 1871: 92). In fact, the Southern Wall is 80 or even 85 % a Muslim construction. A few rows of reddish ashlars were built in the period of the Umayyads. Above there are some courses of the same reddish stone blocks of a smaller size (probably from the same quarry); this is a construction of the Mamluks times. More higher there is a courses of the Ottoman period, with small sites of construction works which were carried out in the 20th century.

«The recent excavations at the Southern Wall, carried out by B. Mazar, disclosed signs of five periods of construction, — comments Menashe Harel, an Israeli author. — The lower courses are Herodian, with the characteristic fine dressing, double margin and slightly prominent smooth boss. Next are the large blocks, smoothly dressed, apparently dating to Aelia Capitolina. These are surmounted by smaller, smooth stones, alternating with discs (cross-sections of columns inserted in the wall), which are probably Mameluke. This section is interspersed with small blocks having very prominent bosses and margins, apparently Crusader. The final courses arc of small stones of later periods. The wall at the south-western corner was 37 m high, and the height of the south-eastern wall was 52 m» (2004: 228).

At the Western Wall Harel also notices that «Four courses of smooth blocks (apparently from the time of Aelia Capitolina) are visible above the Herodian courses and the wall is surmounted by seventeen courses of small stones of a much later date» (2004: 244).

We should sort out this identification of cources of different historical periods. Harel probably skipped the cources of the Umayyads in his description. It was a period building boom of the Haram area as well as the palaces nearby. Right over the lowest rows of the original cources, which Harel referred to the Herodian times, he described “big, smoothly dressed blocks”, i.e. a few rows of big reddish ashlars dated to the Roman period. It is undoubtedly a mistake! Many modern archeologists refuse this identification, even those who support the Herodian wall basement of the Haram esh-Sharif.

The south-western corner of the Haram esh-Sharif.
Image from the book of Pierotti (1864 II Plate XXI)

Let's mention one more time that over the rows of big reddish blocks there are the rows of the same reddish blocks, taken from the same quarry, but of a smaller size. Both these constructions are closely connected to each other. The cources that is referred to the Romans by Harel, is actually built in the Umayyads times. As for the smaller reddish ashlars, they are for sure the Mamluks construction, as Harel said.

The big reddish blocks being mistakably referred to the Roman construction, show a perfect example of one ashlar with a Latin inscription which was inserted into the row of the reddish blocks near the Double Gate at the Southern Wall (see: No. 7). How could it happen that a roman ashlar of the statue basement of the Emperor Antoninus Pius got into the wall of the Haram area? It could happen only in case if this ashlar was used for the second time as a construction material taken from the ruins of a Roman city. Thus, it wasn't Roman who built the reddish blocks, it was the builders of the following historic period.

Generally speaking, the vertical “stratigraphy” of the walls’ building stages of the Haram is a subject of an endless discussion starting from 19th century. At one time, Warren dated these courses as follows: «1. The large stones with marginal drafts. Epoch from Solomon to Herod Agrippa. 2. The large plain dressed stones, from Hadrian to Justinian. 3. The medium plain dressed stones, sixth to eighth centuries. 4. The small stones with marginal drafts and projecting faces, ninth to twelfth centuries. 5. Small stones of various description, recent» (1884: 175).

«The heavy protruding boss ashlars on the Eastern Wall north of the seam, usually dated to the Hasmonean period; the magnificent large paneled ashlars of the Herodian extension; the smaller smooth ashlars of the Umayyad reconstruction; the diagonally comb-chiseled Crusader stones; the small stones with a heavy boss of the Middle Ages (Ayyubid to Mamluk periods); the stones with pecked surface and rough margins of Sultan Suleiman’s rebuilding of the city walls; and various repairs of the wall including the extensive renovations using small stones, following the collapse of part of the Eastern Wall in the winter of 1881», — reports Jon Seligman (2007: 38).

In fact, only the date of the lower rows of the wall in the Haram area is questionable, as the complex itself was built in the Umayyads times. But the lower cources has a few rows of well-fitted to each other ashlars dressed in the tradition of the Herodian times. The majority of researchers and archeologists, who transferred the views of Crusaders and Templars to the Haram esh-Sharif, referred this original rows to the Second Temple period and credited he construction to Herod the Great and his successors. It is known that Crusaders declared that the Muslim Haram is the Temple of Solomon or the Jerusalem Temple.

Though a long time ago the Christians had a location of the ancient Templum Salomonis of the current Haram complex, and that was evidenced by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, Pilgrim Arculf, and succeeding Christian pilgrims.

This location was transferred from the Christians to the Muslims, those who built the Haram esh-Sharif. A Persian poet Nasir Khusraw described Qubbat as-Sakhrah (The Dome of the Rock) in his book “Safarnama” and noted that «Solomon, upon him be peace! seeing that the rock (of the Sakhrah) was the Qiblah point, built a Mosque round about the rock, whereby the rock stood in the midst of the Mosque» (Safarnama, p. 71). And he also commented the Al-Aqsa Mosque, «It is said, however, that the building was accomplished by Solomon, the son of David, peace be upon him!» (p. 76). Though the Muslim readers of Nasir Khusraw did not perceive this Mosque as the ancient Jewish Temple of Solomon described in the Bible, the name of Solomon itself (in Islam: Suleiman the prophet) was associated with Qubbat as-Sakhrah and Al-Aqsa built by the Umayyads, and thus gave grounds for the Crusaders to treat these dictums as a reference to Templum Salomonis.

The Christians had a location of the ancient Templum Salomonis of the current Haram area. The 19th-century lithograph depicts Haram esh-Sharif and follows the inscription: Temple of Solomon.