Antiochus IV’s Acra Fortress in Jerusalem Has Purportedly Been Found

History has remembered the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BC) as one of the greatest villains of antiquity. In 167 BC, he outlawed Judaism, desecrated the Jerusalem temple by sacrificing swine on its altar, and set up an image of himself in the guise of Zeus in its courts. His persecution was the culmination of the pressure that Hellenism was exerting over Judea at the time. This pushed conservative Jews to breaking point, and sparked the Maccabean Revolt. Under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish nation successfully overthrew Seleucid sovereignty and established a Jewish commonwealth that lasted a century until the arrival of Rome’s celebrity general, Pompey (63 BC).

A coin (tetradrachm) of Antiochus IV minted in Acco-Ptolemais (c. 167 BC)

As part of his program to control Judea and provide a better launching platform for operations against Ptolemaic Egypt, Antiochus constructed a fortress in Jerusalem. This fortress was known as the ‘Acra’, from the Greek word ἄκρα (akra), meaning ‘citadel’ or ‘summit’. The term is seen in the word ‘Acropolis’, which means ‘fortified city’ or ‘city on the summit’. 1 Maccabees 1.33–36 gives us this account of Antiochus’ construction of the Jerusalem Acra:

Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position; they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great menace, for the citadel became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel at all times.

The Acra, then, housed a garrison of Seleucid Greek soldiers, and their cache of weapons. It was approximately 250 x 60 m in area, and towered tall enough to provide a vantage point for all activities being conducted in the Jewish temple. Understandably, it was viewed by conservative Jews as a symbol of oppression.

The exact location of Antiochus’ Acra has been a subject of debate. If it afforded a good view into the temple courts, it would seem to have been located either to the immediate north or west of the temple. Yet nothing has been forthcoming in excavations and surveys.

But now, it seems, the riddle has been solved.

Archaeologists excavating in the Giv’ati Car Park in the City of David (just south of the Old City of Jerusalem) have uncovered what they believe to be the remains of the Acra fortress. While the ruins have been exposed for some time now, archaeologists have only recently been able to understand their configuration properly. They are now quite confident that they have indeed located the Acra. Furthermore, this makes complete sense of the reference in 1 Maccabees to its location in the ‘City of David’.

Excavations at the Giv’ati Car Park, Jerusalem—the location of the Acra.

The surprising thing about this is that the Acra was located on ground that was a good deal lower than the Temple Mount. Yet, we must realise that the Temple Mount in the second century BC was lower than its current level. The Second Temple was renovated on a monumental scale by Herod the Great (beginning in 19 BC), and he built the massive retaining walls that achieved the levels we can observe today. But before Herod’s renovation, the temple was most likely sitting at a lower altitude (albeit on the same spot). In any case, the Acra was located at a lower altitude. Therefore, it must have been quite an imposing tower to provide the garrison with its vantage point into the temple complex.

The Acra is a very significant find, as it dominated the landscape of Jerusalem at a critical time of its ancient history. It will be interesting to see if archaeologists can determine whether construction of the Acra in 167 BC compromised previous levels of occupation (‘strata’) from earlier historical periods.

What eventually happened to the Acra?

Judas Maccabeus was able to take Jerusalem and besieged the Acra in the course of his campaign. Yet the garrison managed to hold out for quite some time. With the Greco-Syrian soldiers watching on, Judas rededicated the temple in December 164 BC (or January 163 BC, depending on calendrical calculations). This was the origin of the festival of Hanukkah. Judas and his successors, his brothers Jonathan and Simon, managed to fortify Jerusalem effectively against the garrison, eventually winning complete freedom for the Jewish nation. Simon besieged the garrison and starved them out in 142 BC. Josephus tells us what Simon then did with the Acra in Antiquities 13.6.7:

He… cast it down to the ground, that it might not be any more a place of refuge to their enemies, when they took it, to do them a mischief, as it had been till now. And when he had done this, he thought it their best way, and most for their advantage, to level the very mountain itself upon which the citadel happened to stand, that so the temple might be higher than it. And, indeed, when he had called the multitude to an assembly, he persuaded them to have it so demolished… so they all set themselves to the work, and levelled the mountain, and in that work spent both day and night without any intermission, which cost them three whole years before it was removed, and brought to an entire level with the plain of the rest of the city. After which the temple was the highest of all the buildings, now that the citadel, as well as the mountain whereon it stood, were demolished.

Here’s a news clip with some good visuals of the excavations.

Here is Israeli archaeologist, Doron Ben Ami, speaking about the discovery of the Acra:

You can also read further articles on the discovery by clicking the following links:

http://greekcurrent.com/a-2000-year-old-greek-fortress-has-been-unearthed-in-jerusalem/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/03/us-archaeology-jerusalem-idUSKCN0SS1GD20151103?feedType=RSS&feedName=lifestyleMolt

Aerial view of Jerusalem today. The Givati Car Park, where the Acra was discovered, is located in the very centre of the picture.

Philistines from the North?

Recently, people have been asking Prof. Aren Maeir, excavator at the ancient site of Gath (Tell es-Safi), about a news article that claims the Philistines originated in southern Turkey. His answer: No, they didn’t.

Read the longer (but still brief) answer here:

Philistines from the North? | The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath Official (and Unofficial) Weblog.

Ancient Palace Discovered Near Sparta

Archaeologists digging in near Xirokambi (not fare from Amykles, ancient Amyclae), south of Sparta, have discovered the remains of a ten-room Mycenaean palace. Indications are that it dates all the way back to the 17th–16th centuries BC. Plenty of inscriptions in Linear B script were also found amongst the cache of artefacts.

This is an exciting find that will help us piece together a little more of the early history of the Greek peninsula.

The full story and some great pics are found at The Pappas Post.

You can also check out the website of the Amykles Research Project.

Excavation site at Amykles

Oldest biblical manuscript since the Dead Sea Scrolls has been deciphered

Technology has allowed us to decipher for the first time a fragment of a burnt scroll found in 1970 at the remains of the Byzantine Era synagogue at Ein Gedi. It turns out the scroll is the book of Leviticus, and can be dated to the sixth century AD. While this does not make it the oldest extant manuscript of the Hebrew Bible (that honour belongs to the Dead Sea Scrolls), it certainly is the oldest since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.*

The fragment covers the first eight verses of Leviticus. It was originally found in the synagogue’s ark, which housed the scrolls of scripture.

The settlement at Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea met a fiery end not long after the production of this scroll—probably in the early seventh century.

For more on this find, see the following link:

The mosaic floor of the Old Synagogue at Ein Gedi.


* I use ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ as a broad category, and include within it the manuscripts from the caves in Wadi Murabba’at and Nahal Hever. For more information on the Dead Sea Scrolls, see the official Dead Sea Scrolls website.

The remains of Alexander the Great’s Father, Philip II, have probably been identified

It seems that forensic analysis has positively identified the remains of Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. While there is no inscriptional or documentary evidence to prove the identification, the forensic analysis suggests the identification is probable. The skeletal remains of the adult male from Tomb I at Vergina bear the same wounds to the knee that Philip is documented to have suffered. This means the other skeletal remains in the same tomb are likely to be those of his wife, Cleopatra Eurydice (not the mother of Alexander the Great), and their infant child.

We’ve long suspected the Vergina tomb complex was Philip’s last resting place. Now, palaeopathology has given us the strongest indication that this is correct.

More on the identification can be found via the following links:

This is probably the jawbone of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. Credit: Image Courtesy Javier Trueba on livescience

Image of Fertility Goddess Unearthed at Lachish

Excavations at the site of ancient Lachish have uncovered a clay image of a Canaanite fertility goddess from the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BC). The finder, Luke Chandler, has more in his blog post.

Bible, Archaeology, and Travel with Luke Chandler

A clay image of a Canaanite fertility goddess was unearthed in my square the other day. Yossi Garfinkel granted permission to post this photo of the find.

A late bronze fertility goddess discovered at Tel Lachish. (Photo by Luke Chandler) A late bronze fertility goddess discovered at Tel Lachish. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Fertility goddesses were considered influential over the fertility of the womb, making them especially popular among those desiring children. Someone wanting a child likely worshiped this figurine at home or in a temple. The Bible says that Israelites shared in this practice with the Canaanites.

Many biblical passages mention religious images like the one above. Here are two of them.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath.” (Exodus 20:4, ESV)

“Beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male…

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Archaeologists have not discovered an ‘Ancient Coin of the Canaanite Realm’

A recent news report has claimed that archaeologists have found an ‘Ancient Coin of the Canaanite Realm’.

It’s a small metal object, oval in shape, dated to approximately the 14th century BC. You can see a nice photo of it HERE. According to the news report, it…

…bears the image of a scarab, a venerated symbol in ancient Egypt that was often used for official seals.

But there are two major things wrong with all of this.

First, there was no such thing as ‘The Canaanite Realm’. There were a number Canaanite city states in the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BC), and each had its own king/mayor. All of them were under the colonial authority of Egypt at the time, as the Amarna Letters indicate. They are a series of tablets discovered at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt dating predominantly to the time of Pharaoh Akhenaton (the ‘heretic’ Pharaoh), and show correspondence between the kings of the many Canaanite city states and their Egyptian overlord during the 14th century BC. At no point was there a single king of Canaan in what we could call ‘The Canaanite Realm’. The headline, therefore, is historically misleading.

Second, there were no such things as coins in the Late Bronze Age. Coinage wasn’t invented until the sixth century BC in Asia Minor. The idea of coins (standardised value weights that could be minted with the imprimatur of the issuing monarch) only caught on during the Persian Achaemenid Era. After that, coinage became widespread, but not before. There certainly were no coins 800 years earlier in Canaan! As such, the item that archaeologists have found was not ‘minted’. It was simply ‘produced’. It is not a coin. It is either a small amulet, a decorative button, or some other kind of non-standardised but pretty chunk of metal: a trinket. Notice the other things discovered along with it:

It was part of a cache, including pottery vessels, oil lamps, pieces of jewelry, shells, seals and amulets that depict Egyptian gods, which archeologists found during excavations.

This little find from Kibbutz Lahav looks quite dandy! But a coin it ain’t!

Egypt to ‘Rebuild’ the Lighthouse of Alexandria, One of the Seven Ancient World Wonders

Egypt wants to rebuild the Pharos—the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. I’m not sure how they’re going to go about it, since the Mamluk Era Qaitbay Citadel currently occupies the relevant site. But I hope they can make it happen.

Read more here: Egypt to ‘Rebuild’ the Lighthouse of Alexandria, One of the Seven Ancient World Wonders | Egyptian Streets.

Three-dimensional reconstruction based on a comprehensive 2006 study (image is used in the news story at Egyptian Streets website)

Aerial view of the Qaitbay Citadel, which currently occupies the site of the Pharos.

 

New evidence for Jewish exiles found in clay tablets

Here’s a brief article by Mark Chavalas (University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse) about some clay tablets that reveal what life was like for Judeans exiled from their homeland by the Babylonians in the sixth century BC.

A snippet:

The texts were written by professional Babylonian scribes on behalf of their Jewish lower middle-class clients, who engaged in the cultivation of grains and date palms, bought and sold cattle, rented houses, loaned silver, sold slaves, and engaged in marriage alliances. Though some even prospered economically, most were settled in state-owned land in return for military service for Babylon, By a cursory study of the personal names in the tablets, it appears that at least three generations of Jews lived in Al-Yahudu and surrounding towns.

Read more here: Mark Chavalas: New evidence for Jewish exiles found in clay tablets.

You’ll even discover the origin of Zumba!

A clay tablet from 572 BCE, the earliest known text documenting the Judean exile in Babylonia, now on display at the Bible Lands Museum (photo credit: Ardon Bar-Hama courtesy of The Bible Lands Museum, care of The Times of Israel)

What did Jesus look like?

This is a neat little piece of research by Joan E. Taylor for the ASOR (American School of Oriental Research) blog. To read the whole thing, you’ll have to sign up as a Friend of ASOR, which is free and painless—even a joy, if you’re into archaeology.You’ll generally only get a monthly notice for their blog. It’s worth it just for this blog article!

Here’s the link:

What did Jesus look like? – ASOR Blog.