Posts Tagged ‘Hellenists’

Excavated Jebusite Wall
Darko Tepert/Donatus
Wikimedia Commons

Continuing with our puzzle of a thousand pieces — ancient Jerusalem — we are going to look at the citadel or fortification inside the walled settlement of Jebus, that is Salem or Jerusalem. When King David attacked and took that city the Jebusites occupied roughly twelve acres atop a crescent shaped ridge, surrounded on three sides by steep ravines and hemmed entirely in by massive stone walls. So secure was their position the men of the city taunted David, boasting that their blind and lame individuals would prevent his forces from penetrating their wall.

Nevertheless, as the historian Joesphus  in the Whiston translation tells us, David took the lower city. But the citadel “held out still.” Here David issued a challenge to his men: the first to go up by way of the “tsinor” and smite the Jebusites would be captain, and here it was that Joab won that position for himself. The “tsinor” (also understood as gutter or pipe) spoken of by David could have been the covered aqueduct from that era that channeled waters from the Gihon spring. (See Second Samuel Chapter 5.)

After David and his men conquered the Jebusites David took up residence in Salem (Jerusalem). The record tells us he erected buildings from the Millo (a filled area perhaps) and inward, “round about the lower city; he also joined the citadel to it,” (See Psalm 22, verse 3) and named Jerusalem The City of David. (The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 3, Sections 1 and 2) (See also Second Samuel Chapter 5.) It’s too bad we don’t have a little map to show us Just where the Millo and the citadel and the lower city lay.

But we do have in the words of Josephus an excellent clue as to where the citadel was with respect to the rest of Jerusalem. The lower city mentioned here is that part of the city that was lower in elevation to the citadel, which would have been the entire remainder of the city. Remember, these were the first days, the beginning of David’s Jerusalem. If we look at ancient Jerusalem today, the twelve acre crescent shaped southeast ridge and the section known today as The City of David, there is no evidence of an elevation significantly higher than the rest of the ridge. However, we know the citadel was higher than its surroundings. Josephus plainly states this later on in The Antiquities. Further, we find scriptures in First Maccabees that support this conclusion. So? Eventually we are going to find the hill that supported the citadel/Akra in the ancient city was leveled by the citizens of Jerusalem under the Hasmonean king/priest Simon. Leveled, taken down, and carried away.

We do not find the word Akra in the Old Testament, or the New, for that matter. It is a derivative of the Greek word acropolis and denotes a fortress or citadel, and would not have come into common use until the Hellenistic period of Jewish history. Well before that however, we find another clue as to the Akra’s location. About 444 BC, when the Jews, who had earlier been taken captive to Babylon, were allowed to return to Jerusalem, the Jewish leader Nehemich asked King Artaxerxes for timber to make gates for the citadel by the temple and for the city wall. (Nehemiah 2:8) Note the narrative indicates the citadel was by (beside) the temple. The fortress (citadel) is mentioned again where one Hananiah is identified as commander of the fortress (Nehemiah 7:2)

Tomb of Mattithias, Father and Leader of Maccabees
Ariel Palmon/Wikipedia

We find more about the Akra in the later non-canonical books of First and Second Maccabees. These books (and others) were taken from most Bibles in the 1800’s, but are still available from booksellers in the collection known as the Apocrypha. The Maccabean Revolt took place in the interim between the recordings of the Old Testament and the Gospels of the New Testament. The story of the Maccabees and their leadership in the struggle for Jewish independence during that time is quite inspiring.

At the conclusion of the Babylonian exile, when the Jews were allowed to return to Israel they remained under the nominal control of the Persians and their successors the Greeks — the Ptolemys and the Selucids. But in 175 BC, with the advent of the new Selucid ruler Antiochus IV of Syria, conditions began to change. Seeking to Hellenize the Jews, Antiochus imposed grievous laws and harsh punishments upon them. On pain of death he forbade reading of the Torah, observance of the Sabbath, and circumcision of boys. These Greeks cared naught for the God of Israel. They were pagans, worshipers of Zeus and a host of other false gods. Determined to do way with the Jewish religion, Antiochus devastated the city of Jerusalem in 163 BC, and among other heinous acts, sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple, thus defiling it and causing temple worship to cease.

Mattathias the priest leads the Maccabean Revolt Danger/Wikimedia Commons

Not long afterwards, at Modein, a nearby village, one of Antiochus’  officers attempted to coerce Mattathias the priest into sacrificing swine to the Greek god Zeus. When Mattathias refused, a turncoat Jew that was present offered to do the sacrifice, whereupon Mattathias killed both him and the Greek officer and his attendants. Thus began the Maccabean Revolt, led by Mattathias who was quite elderly at that time. Mattathias died about two years later in 166 BC after which, one by one, his sons took up leadership, beginning with Judas. Judas became known as Judas Maccabeas, maccabeas being an Aramaic word meaning hammer, which though not a surname was altogether a fitting title for this valiant family of Jewish believers, better known as the Hasmoneans.https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-the-maccabees

The struggle between the Selucids/Greeks and the Jews lasted for years, but Judas and his men won a decisive victory in 164 BC. After routing their enemies at Beth Zur the Jews were able to take control of their temple and to cleanse and rededicate it. That dedication — the first Jewish Festival of Lights or Hanukkah — continues to be celebrated every year. Here it must be understood that Judas led a resistance movement, not a large army. Always outnumbered, their success was due in large part to the brilliance and ingenuity of their leaders, and the favor of God.

As Judas was well aware after the victory at Beth Zur, they had won the battle, but the war was not over. For one thing, a number of Greeks and sympathetic Jews, fleeing from Judas and his forces upon their triumphal entry into Jerusalem, had taken refuge in the citadel, newly constructed (or perhaps reconstructed) by Antiochus — The Akra in the Greek language — where they remained. About this time a reprieve was granted the Jews and they were allowed to return to their customary worship and traditions. But the Selucid forces remained in power and continued to occupy the Akra. the Hellenists in the Akra, from their advantageous position overlooking the temple courtyard did not hesitate to harass and even kill Jewish temple worshipers. Meanwhile Judas and his warriors were occupied elsewhere.

Though the Maccabees and their forces were a thorn in the side of their Syrian oppressors and their Hellenist sympathizers in Judea for many years, it was not until 142 BC that Simon, the last of the Maccabee sons, high priest and ruler of Judea attacked and starved out the Selucid forces from the Akra.

After that Josephus tells us in his Antiquities, the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) filled the Tyropean (Cheesemongers) valley with earth they took from the Acra (that is the entire hill) making it of less elevation than before, that the temple might be superior to it. (Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Chapter 4, Section 1, Paragraph 137.) Reinforcing that statement he gives more detail: “Simon, (high priest of Jerusalem, of the Hasmonean family above) took the citadel of Jerusalem by seige (Which was then occupied by Hellenistic Syrians/Greeks and apostate Jews, and cast it down to the ground, that it might not be any more a place of refuge to their enemies . . . and when he had done this he thought it . . . for their advantage to level the very mountain upon which the citadel happened to stand 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 leveled the mountain, and in that work spent both day and night without 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 the buildings. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13, Chapter 6, Section 7, Paragraphs 215-217)

Dr. Ernest Martin in his book The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot suggested the Akra structure was built on a tel, and likely it was, which is a disconcerting thought when one considers that many priceless artifacts from that place could now be lying way down deep under the dust of the ages.

Givati Parking Lot dig
Israel Antiquities Authority/Wikipedia/Author name in Hebrew

Around 2015 archaeologists excavating the Givati parking lot just south of the temple mount discovered that they believe are the remains of the Akra. Artifacts recovered tend to confirm this conjecture. It is interesting that one archaeologist believes the Givati parking lot structures pertain not to the Akra, but to the northernmost defensive walls of the City of David. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Givati_Parking_Lot_dig. This is an amazing idea, and perhaps he is right, since Josephus in the Antiquities tells us David joined his citadel to the lower city and made it one body. (See the third paragraph of this post.) Antiochus had practically destroyed Jerusalem earlier, and then “built up the City of David with a high strong wall and strong towers and it became their citadel.” (First Maccabees 1:33) Would not that complex have included the former Jewish citadel? Hmmm. . .

Even more amazing is the cognitive dissonance educated people are experiencing as they puzzle over the finds of the Givati site, attempting to reconcile (1) the obvious fact that before the leveling of the Akra (regardless of where it was located) that structure was significantly higher in elevation than the temple, with (2) their ironclad tradition that the temple was located up on the Muslim hill of Moriah. For those who re wondering just what was up on that hill, here is a very scholarly article: https://www.cob-net.org/inspire/Fortress-or-Temple.pdf

Regardless of that, we all have a little blind spot somewhere, maybe a log in our eye as Jesus said, and we don’t see clearly. Reminds me of how He quoted the words of Isaiah: Therefore speak I to them in parables, because they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, by hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted and I should heal them. (Matthew 13:13-15)

When all that we know is being questioned and our certainties are gone, He is still the same. Maybe in the past you refused to see or hear. His invitation still stands. Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) One day even time will have an end, and these stones that today we take such pleasure in (Psalm 102:14) will lack their luster when our Savior walks among us again.

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Next: The Puzzle of Jerusalem, Part 3, The Temple

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