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:

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

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9

Recently I’ve been discussing with a few folk the various ways of ‘solving’ the puzzle of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9. While this conundrum is sometimes called the ‘dismal swamp’ of Old Testament studies, others confidently assert that the Seventy Weeks are a direct prediction of Jesus. The former throw their hands up and say no solution exists for calculating the Seventy Weeks. The latter, who propose the Seventy Weeks are a prediction about Jesus, have to contort chronology and make the text of Daniel 9 refer to things that the text simply does not talk about—the angelic response to Daniel’s prayer comes to bear no relation at all to Daniel’s original concern about the end of exile in accordance with Jeremiah’s prophecy.

Now, as a Christian, I believe the whole Bible gravitates around Jesus. So when I read the Old Testament, one of the questions I ask is how it relates to Jesus. However, I do not think that Daniel 9 relates to Jesus as a direct prediction. Daniel 9 is, rather,  an interpretation of events in the second century BC that then form a precedent or typology by which we can understand the significance of Jesus.

I’ve written an article explaining my view that Daniel 9 is primarily about the Antiochene Persecution of 167–164 BC, and it can be found at the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (click HERE). In the article I re-examine the assumptions that usually frame discussion of this text. However, I’ll try to summarise them here (the article contains the fuller discussion).

Those who propose that Daniel 9 is a prediction of Jesus usually do so on the basis of seeing Dan 9.25 as a reference to Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem in 445 BC. From this, it is calculated that the text claims that there is a single period of 7 + 62 weeks of years (69 x 7 = 483), that then take us to AD 39. Unfortunately, this gets us nowhere. No one ‘messianically significant’ died in AD 39. The death of Jesus occurred in AD 33 (we can confirm that Antipas’ marriage to Herodias, which John the Baptist denounced, occurred in AD 31, and Pilate’s governorship was terminated in AD 36). In order to make Dan 9 a prediction about Jesus, we must claim that the 7 weeks and 62 weeks must actually be just a single period of 69 weeks (but that raises the question of why divide it into 7-week and 62-week periods to begin with), as well as claim that the figures are inexact anyway, because Jesus actually dies at the end of the 68th week. This simply does not match the text of Dan 9. Furthermore, this move makes no sense of all the other references to abominations and desecrations in the middle of the last (70th) week of Daniel. It seems to me that this kind of approach is deliberately aiming to align the 70 weeks with Jesus’ death, and in the end it still falls short, making the text erroneous at worst, or inexact at best. Methodologically, it all seems rather backwards and ends up with a rather tenuous view of Scripture.

The decree to rebuild Jerusalem did not come from Artaxerxes in 445 BC. It came from Cyrus in 538 BC, and was ratified again by Darius I in c. 520 BC. Artaxerxes sanctioned the repair of Jerusalem’s walls.

Furthermore, the text of Dan 9 does NOT refer to the building of walls. It refers to the building of street and conduit, which seems to imply residential areas. The attempt to locate the beginning of the 70 weeks in Nehemiah’s day must equate ‘street and conduit’ with city walls, but there is nothing in the text that requires this. In fact, the text just simply does not say that. Artaxerxes did not issue a decree to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah did not build streets and conduits—he repaired city walls. Therefore what Nehemiah does is quite simply not what the text of Dan 9 is looking at. To return and rebuild street and conduit is a way of talking about ‘resettling’ an urban area. In any case, even if for argument’s sake we allow the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to be something issued by Artaxerxes in 445 BC and carried out by Nehemiah, we are still at odds with the text. If the first 7-week period is connected to the rebuilding, then Jerusalem is rebuilt at the end of the 7-week period in 396 BC (49 years after 445 BC). But Nehemiah is said to have repaired the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days in 444 BC. If this is not what the text is claiming, then the 7-week period becomes meaningless as a distinction within the larger 69-week period to which it contributes. It just doesn’t make sense and it is simply not dealing with what’s in the text of Dan 9.

Also, few people stop to examine the Hebrew syntax of the relevant verses in Dan 9, but rather most carry unstated assumptions into their analysis. However, the following points need to be underlined:

  1. The clauses delineating the timeframes of each period of weeks need to be discussed. The phrase “from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem” need not mark the beginning of the 7-week period, but rather could (and probably does) serve as the signal for Daniel to reassess the whole concept of exile along the lines laid out in the following clauses: “Know and understand from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem: Until an anointed appears there will be 7 weeks…”. In other words, the decree to return is just a trigger for understanding, not the beginning of the calculations.
  2. The text does not talk about THE Messiah (definite and with eschatological significance) but AN anointed one at the end of the 7-week period (9.25) and AN anointed one at the end of the 62-week period (9.26). If there is only one anointed one here, then we have to propose that the end of the 7-week period and the end of the 62-week period are within a lifetime of each other. This automatically destroys any long-range understanding of the 62 weeks. The only way to get around this is to ‘glue’ the 7 weeks and 62 weeks together, such that an anointed one is seen only at the end of a 69-week period. However, this raises the issue of why a distinction is made between 7 weeks and 62 weeks in the first place. What purpose does this division serve? Why not 8 weeks and 61 weeks? Or even 26 weeks and 43 weeks? The gluing together of these two periods into a single consecutive 69-week period (something that some English versions follow) is meaningless within the text and goes completely unexplained by those who favour this interpretation. The only sensible solution is to see the end of the 7 weeks and the end of the 62 weeks as distinct periods, with something significant happening with anointed ones at the end of each respective period. If there is only one anointed one in view, then these periods have to be overlapping. If the end of these two periods doesn’t have to coincide, then we can start to entertain the possibility of two anointed ones being discussed here, as well as keep entertaining the possibility of overlapping periods.
  3. The verb תשוב in 9.25 is usually taken as a third-feminine-singular with adverbial force (‘it will again’). However, it could be (and more likely is) a second-masculine-singular (‘you will return’) addressing Daniel. This sees the return to Jerusalem in the 6th (not the 5th) century BC as integral to the 70 weeks. After all, the revelation is made to Daniel who, in the narrative of the book, receives this revelation just after the fall of Babylon (see 9.1). Daniel thereby becomes indicative of all faithful Jews (as he is throughout the book) who would return to Jerusalem. And this is in keeping with the rest of ch. 9 in which Daniel prays on behalf of the Jews. What happens to Daniel is indicative of what happens to the Jews.

The two-anointed-ones solution seems more sensible, and a period of overlap between the 7 weeks and 62 weeks seems warranted (see MY ARTICLE for further explanation). The result is that we can calculate precisely what Daniel was talking about, and stop dealing with round-about approximations and gymnastic contortion of the text.

O// Head of Antiochus IV. R// ΘΕΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ Ν...

O// Head of Antiochus IV. R// ΘΕΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟΥ Zeus Nikephoros enthroned, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first anointed one is the first leader of the post-exilic community (either Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, or Joshua) and comes as the end of the 7-week period. This makes the 7-week period (7 x 7 = 49) the 49 years between 587 and 538 BC—that is, from the destruction of the temple to Cyrus’ decree for return. The second anointed one is a reference to Onias III, the last legitimate Zadokite high priest. He was deprived of the legitimate High Priesthood in Jerusalem when his brother, Jason, bribed Antiochus IV Epiphanes to gain the position. Onias III was subsequently killed by the Seleucids in c.171 BC, forever changing the nature and succession of the priesthood within Judaism. This makes the 62 weeks (62 x 7 = 434) run from 605 BC (the year that the book of Daniel begins the exile of Daniel and his three friends in Dan 1.1) to c. 171 BC (the year of Onias III’s death) And then the last (70th) week is the 7 years from 171 to 164 BC, the second half of which (times, time, and half a time) was characterised by Antiochus IV’s persecution of Jews. The 7 weeks and the 62 weeks are overlapping, but they fit the concerns of the book of Daniel. Everything adds up precisely.

The following diagram helps to illustrate this schema:

Diagram of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9

All other so-called solutions can only come up with ball-park approximations that do not match historical events with any precision, and even then they are reliant on things that the text of Daniel simply does not say. As a Christian, I understand the compulsion to make this chapter say something about Jesus, since Jesus lies at the heart of Scripture. However, Daniel 9 simply does not work as a direct prediction about Jesus. Rather, this passage is saying that exile needs to be redefined. Exile is not just about absence from the land for 70 years. Rather, exile is about being under foreign rule. Jeremiah’s 70 years are reinterpreted and recontextualised as weeks of years. Even if you have returned to the land (note the importance of תשוב in 9.25) and have rebuilt Jerusalem (again, note 9.25), you can still be practically in exile if a foreigner rules over you, especially if that foreigner is killing anointed ones who are the legitimate leaders of your community. A particular Christian message can then be extrapolated from this and applied to Jesus by Christians (eg. Jesus is the anointed one par excellence who is unjustly put to death in supreme atrocity), but the text itself is not a direct prediction about Jesus. If it is, the text seems rather erroneous. It should, rather, be taken as a foreshadowing or precedent in line with classic typology, just as the New Testament seems to do with Old Testament prophecies.

The text of Dan 9.25–27, therefore, reads as follows [with my comments in brackets]:

25 Know and understand from the issuing of the word to return and rebuild Jerusalem [in 538 BC]: Until an anointed leader there will be 7 weeks [the 49 years from the temple’s destruction in 587 BC to 538 BC]. In 62 weeks [from the beginning of Daniel’s exile in 605 BC to 171 BC] you will have returned with street and conduit rebuilt, but with the anguish of the times. 26 And after the 62 weeks [in 171 BC], an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing [an allusion to the assassination of Onias III, as well as the fact that his legitimate priesthood was taken from him and his son did not succeed him]. The people of the coming prince [that is, the Seleucids] will ruin the city and the sanctuary. His/Its end will come like a flood, but until the end there will be war [note the Maccabean War]. Atrocities have been determined. 27 He/It will exacerbate covenant for many for one week, and in the middle of the week he will stop sacrifice and offering, and on the outskirts will be atrocious abominations [all this referring to Antiochus IV’s repression of Torah and desecration of the temple in 167 BC], only until the completion and the determination gushes over the Atrocious One.

What the text is doing is reinterpreting the idea of exile which is tied to the number 70 through Jeremiah’s prophecy. But because the notion of exile is being redefined, so too the significance of 70 is redefined. This is an example of recontextualising an older prophetic message for a new situation — something that was occurring throughout the Second Temple Period, including in the New Testament.