Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Where Were the Soldiers Quartered in Jerusalem?

This is Part II of a series: Where Did Israel's Temples Stand? You may read Part I here.

There are a good number of blog posts and articles on the Internet that deal with the relationship of Fortress Antonia to what is today called "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem. Most defend the current consensus among archaeologists that the two structures were adjacent, but that the Temple Mount area (some 35 acres) was vastly larger than the Roman fortress, which adjoined Temple Mount only at its extreme northwest corner. The scale model of first-century Jerusalem exhibited at the Israel Museum shows the consensus relationship:

(Click the photo to enlarge it.) The Fortress Antonia model consists of the four towers at the upper right-hand corner of the temple area. Here is a close-up of the model:

The problem is that there is precious little archaeological evidence to support this configuration of the Fortress, which renders it so small in proportion to the Temple area (about 1.5 acres compared to 35).

Fortunately, we have a good deal more eyewitness evidence than archaeological evidence. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote about a number of features of the fortress. In particular, he states that it was situated on a rocky precipice that Herod had clad in smooth, polished stone to prevent any attempt at climbing it from outside, and that at its summit the fortress stood surrounded by a defensive wall that was three cubits (four and one-half feet) tall:
The fort of Antonia was situated at the angle formed by the western and northern colonnades of the outer temple  court, and was built upon a rock 75 feet high and precipitous on all sides. It was the work of King Herod, and a pre-eminent example of the breadth of vision which was inherent in his character. For a start, the rock was clad from the base up with polished stone slabs, both for ascetic purposes and to deny purchase to anyone attempting to climb up or down. Then in front of the fort building itself was a 4 1/2-foot wall, behind which the whole structure of Antonia rose to a height of 60 feet. . . .
(Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War 5:238-40, tr. by Martin Hammond [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017].)

One looks in vain for any such features depicted in the model at the Israel Museum. Indeed, by joining the front of the fortress directly to the northwestern corner of the temple colonnades, the Museum model makes it impossible for there to be any defensive wall 4 1/2 feet high, let alone such a wall perched on a rocky summit whose base was clad in smooth, polished stone slabs.

Regrettably, the same omissions are true of every other depiction of the fort I have viewed on sites that support the archaeological consensus, such as this one. But we are just getting started with the discrepancies between Josephus' account of the fortress and the modern-day consensus.

Note that Herod would have had to construct the Fortress before he began renovating the Temple, a process which both Josephus and other sources indicate started around 20 B.C. The reason is that Herod named the fort for his old patron, Mark Antony, who died in 30 B.C. after losing to the forces of Octavian at the battle of Actium. Thereupon Herod submitted to Octavian, who became the emperor Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C. It would not have been politically astute for Herod to name the fort after Augustus' former rival once Augustus became emperor -- and Herod was nothing, if he was not politically astute when it came to appeasing his Roman overlords.

As a consequence of its construction at a different time, and as Josephus explains in another passage of his Jewish War (6:144), the fort was separated from the temple by the distance of a stade (600 feet), but connected to it by two parallel colonnades that afforded an easy access for troops passing between one and the other, and which was the scene of intense fighting back and forth as the Roman soldiers in 70 A.D. advanced from the fort to the temple. You will see nothing of such a separation, or of a double colonnade, in any discussion of the fort by current archaeologists.

Nor will you read in consensus accounts about the huge numbers of Roman troops who were stationed in Jerusalem from time to time while Josephus was writing. That is because the recent translators of Josephus, bowing to the consensus of the archaeologists, have gone out of their way to minimize, and hence mis-translate, what Josephus actually says on the point.

Look at the Israel Museum model of Fortress Antonia once again (above). How many Roman soldiers can you imagine squeezed into such a space? Even if one makes a generous assumption that there was a full 1.5 acres inside the model's fort, that translates into just 65,000 square feet. Allowing just 65 square feet (13' x 5') for each soldier's tent and personal space, that means a maximum of 1,000 soldiers could be squeezed into the fortress grounds, without allowing any space for avenues, markets, baths, temples, exercise grounds and other areas found in a typical Roman camp of the first century, such as this one:

Josephus describes Fortress Antonia as capable of quartering an entire Roman legion, which typically consisted of ten "cohorts" of about 600 men each (Jewish War 5:244). To the 6,000 soldiers in any legion must also be attached those who made their livings by following and supplying army camps with everything from entertainment to food and drink -- estimated at another 4,000 or so. As Josephus states, the Antonia Fortress had enough conveniences in it to be likened to a polis, or Greek city (Jewish War, 5:241). Such a level of services would be out of all proportion for a facility designed to quarter just a few hundred men. Take a look at this illustration of the space needed for a full Roman legion:

If the reader examines the modern translations of Josephus' Jewish War, however, he or she will undoubtedly ask: where are the references to the Fortress containing a "legion" of soldiers? Both the most recent (2017) translation I quoted earlier, and the Loeb Classical Library edition of 1928 translated by H. St. James Thackeray, take the Greek word for "legion" which Josephus uses at 5:244, τάγμα (tagma), and translate it as "cohort"! In that way, they manage to shrink the Antonia garrison down to the size that will (still barely) fit into the modern consensus model of the fort.

Josephus, however, as an army commander himself and adviser to the Roman general Titus, knew perfectly well the difference between a legion (tagma) of 6,000 soldiers and a cohort of 600. When he wants to refer to the latter, he consistently uses the Greek word σπεῖρα (speîra -- see, e.g., Jewish War 1:301, 323-24).

Or take another instance of willful mis-translation: the Greek word στᾰδιαῖος, or stadiaios, is an adjective meaning "one stade [~600 feet] long, deep or high", or in other words, it describes the extent of the space that an object occupies. But the similar-looking word στᾰδαῖος, or stadaios, is an adjective meaning "standing erect or upright." In his Jewish War 6:144 (a passage I referred to above), Josephus used the former word to describe the long, narrow space in which the rebel Jews fought the Romans along the tops of the double-colonnades running between the northwest corner of the temple and the gate of the fort -- i.e., that space was one stade long, or just 600 feet.

Both modern translations, however, cannot square this description with the archaeological consensus model of a fort confined to a narrow area adjoining the temple's northwest corner. So once again, archaeology is allowed to trump eyewitness testimony: the translators make the word stadaios instead of stadiaios, and claim that the Greek manuscript itself must be in error.

Other common-sense considerations come into play. Take a close look at the illustrations of the model fort above, and then consider the timeline. How would it make any sense for Herod to have built such a diminutive fort in about 33-35 B.C., only then to expand the temple platform northward in 20-15 B.C. so as to crowd in on the fort's main entrance, and make it thereafter accessible only through the Temple itself? (Josephus says that there was a deep ditch on the fort's northern side, making it unapproachable and hence easier to defend.)

The main function of the fort was to house soldiers who came with the Roman prefect from Caesarea to Jerusalem to occupy it during the times of the Jewish holy festivals, when there might be over a hundred thousand pilgrims crowding into Jerusalem. Six hundred soldiers would be wholly inadequate to maintain control over such a crowd; 6,000 soldiers would be far more able to do so.

But the fort was an alien space to Jews like Josephus. They would have kept out of it, for fear of becoming unclean. (Recently, some ritual baths (mikva'ot) were uncovered at the foot of the southern steps leading up to the al-Aqsa mosque. Archaeologists pounced on their discovery as evidence of the existence of the Temple on the platform to which the steps led, but their presence is just as consistent with there having been a Roman fort on the platform, so that Jews who had to go to the fort could cleanse themselves immediately upon exiting it.) For this reason, no doubt, Josephus keeps his descriptions of it entirely to what could be observed of its exterior.

It is, then, only by selectively interpreting (and mistranslating) Josephus' eyewitness accounts that modern archaeology can form a consensus around the notion that Fortress Antonia was just a pimple on the northwest corner of a huge Herodian Temple Mount. When one reads the full account in his Jewish War, and the corresponding passages in his Jewish Antiquities, there is no basis whatsoever to try to confine the area of the fortress to such a ridiculously small size for its admitted purpose. (Indeed, typical Roman camps of the time were between 30-33 acres in size, so the platform which Herod constructed on the craggy summit overlooking the City of David was perfectly capable of being adapted to the needs of the Roman troops that had to come there.)

Nor does any other comparably sized site exist in the area of greater Jerusalem at which both a full Roman legion could be quartered, and still manage to fit Josephus' description of its site, as follows:
For if the temple lay as a fortress over the [lower] city, Antonia dominated the temple, and the occupants of that fort were the guards of all three, for the upper city had a fortress also, at Herod's palace. [Jewish War 5:245-46; my translation and emphasis.] 
This is just a smattering of the eyewitness evidence showing that in the first century, the Roman troops were quartered from time to time in Fortress Antonia, which had to occupy most of the 35 acres of the present Haram esh-Sharif platform on which the Dome of the rock and the al-Aqsa mosque currently sit, and which modern archaeologists and today's religious Jews insist was once Temple Mount. There is much more laid out in Ernest Martin's (now out-of-print) book, The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot. Unfortunately, that book is a tedious read, because Dr. Martin repeats himself endlessly, and a good deal of patience is needed to sort out the main points of his argument.

In the next installment in this series, I will go into the history of what became of Fortress Antonia after 70 A.D., when the Romans razed Herod's temple to the ground, and left not even one foundation stone standing -- while the same obviously is not true, as may still be seen today, of the foundation of the Roman fortress itself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

South Carolina Case Goes to SCOTUS Conference (UPDATED)

The petition for review (certiorari) filed by Bishop Mark Lawrence's Diocese of South Carolina and 28 of its parishes with the Supreme Court of the United States is now ready for decision by the justices. At least four of the nine justices on that Court must vote in favor of review for the case to be argued and submitted in the next term, which begins October 1 of this year and runs through June 2019.

The vote could (but is not likely to) come as early as tomorrow, Thursday May 17, which is the next date on which the justices will sit in conference to decide which petitions in cases that are now fully briefed should be granted review, and which denied. (Denial of review does not mean that the case lacked merit, or that the decision below was constitutionally correct. It simply means that no four justices of the Court felt that the case was important enough to be addressed by the full court.)

In an earlier post, I linked to the Petition, which is here. The brief in opposition (which the Court requested the respondents to file, after they first tried to waive their right to respond) is here.  The Diocese's reply to that opposition (filed just yesterday) is here.  The U.S. Supreme Court's docket page will also let you download the two amicus ("friend of the court") briefs in support of the Diocese's petition, one filed by a group of 18 professors who teach First Amendment law in various schools across the country, and the other filed by the American Anglican Council.

All the briefs are worth reading -- they are very well written, and concisely present the reasons why SCOTUS should grant review.

In their respondents' brief, ECSC and ECUSA took a gamble by resting their main opposition upon just a single ground: that the Court lacked jurisdiction to review the case because the five divided justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court had decided the case below on independent state-law grounds, and did not rest their decision on any interpretation of federal law. (SCOTUS reviews only issues of federal law that are decided by either the state or federal courts.)

As the Diocese's reply brief points out, this claim is far from accurate. Two of the justices below (Pleicones and Hearn) were clear that they viewed the 1979 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Jones v. Wolf as requiring them to give effect to the trust on church property imposed by the Dennis Canon, even if the documentation of that trust failed to pass muster under South Carolina law. In other words, Justices Pleicones and Hearn held that the First Amendment trumped state trust law -- and that was obviously a federal ground of decision.

Even Chief Justice Beatty, who declined to articulate his reasoning, held that the Dennis Canon was sufficient to create a trust under South Carolina law so long as the individual parishes "acceded" in some way to that Canon. Since, as Justice Kittredge pointed out in dissent, any argument that a trust under South Carolina law could rest upon such a dim showing of assent was "laughable", it is only fair to conclude that Chief Justice Beatty reached his result by relying upon the same (federal-law) reading of Jones v. Wolf that drove Justices Hearn and Pleicones.

In sum, the South Carolina case presents as good a reason as ever will arise for SCOTUS to grant review, in order to end the confusion over the meaning of Jones that divides some nineteen different state and federal courts below. (Those decisions are reviewed and discussed at pp. 21-29 of the Diocese's petition.)

So stay tuned -- although the Court will probably not consider the petition that soon, we could have a decision announced in the orders to be released next Monday morning. And if not then, there is Tuesday, May 29; after that, there are four more days in June (June 4, 11, 18 and 25) for orders to be issued. If the Court follows its normal practice, the petition would be considered earliest at its June 7 conference, but it could also be "carried over" to the one on June 14 or on June 21.  

[UPDATE 05/22/2018: The docket page for the South Carolina case on the SCOTUS Website is now showing the entry: "DISTRIBUTED for Conference of 6/7/2018." So now we are advised -- look out for a decision on the petition in the orders issued beginning at 10:00 am on June 11. As is all too typical of such momentous events, your Curmudgeon is scheduled to be on vacation in Ashland on that date. But I will make an exception that morning, and will put up a blog post no matter what the Court decides. It is also possible, as I mentioned above, that the Court could "relist" the petition for consideration at its conference on June 14, or June 21 -- which would be the last conference in the current term. Such a resisting, if it occurs, means that there are some justices interested in granting the petition, and some who are still undecided, or on the fence. Both groups want more time to discuss the case and see if they can reach a consensus.]

Monday, May 14, 2018

Where Did Israel's Temples Stand?

(Part One of a Series)

With the recent news of renewed clashes between Jews and Muslims over the right to occupy Jerusalem's so-called "Temple Mount", your Curmudgeon has thought it timely to remind people of all the historical evidence that bears on that site as a place of worship. This post will introduce a series in which we will carefully and thoroughly examine all of that evidence.

By the time we have gone through everything that is on point, you should have a good understanding of the issues at stake -- far better, alas, than those who are currently fighting over the Mount. The traditional views are by now so entrenched (going on 1,100 years) that one despairs of ever freeing them from the deep investment that so many have in them.

Daunts, however, never stopped this Curmudgeon from proceeding ahead. If readers will bear with me to the end of the series, I hope to have demonstrated to them the strong support that exists for the following claims:

A. Neither Solomon's Temple, nor Zerubbabel's, nor Herod's Temple ever stood upon what is now called "Temple Mount".

B. Solomon's Temple was burned and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Zerubbabel's rebuilding of that Temple, begun around 538 B.C., was replaced beginning in 19 B.C. by Herod's restoration of it. The latter stood until 70 A.D., when -- exactly as predicted by Jesus (Mt. 24:2) -- the Romans tore it down and dug up all its foundations in reprisal for the Jewish rebellion that started in 66 A.D.

C. What is now called "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem is the foundation that remains of the Roman pretorium and fortress there, as finally enlarged by Herod and then by the Romans themselves, and that was known to Josephus (the first-century historian of the Jewish War) as "the Antonia Fortress", named by Herod after his patron Mark Antony.

D. The site for the three great Jewish temples was downslope from the Antonia Fortress, on a lower plateau that was originally a threshing floor when King David, on God's direct command, purchased it from its Jebusite owner as the site for the future "House of God" which it fell to Solomon to build. (See the diagrams at the previous link; see 1 Chr. 21:15-18.)

E. This site was very close to old Jerusalem's only natural spring, the Gihon, whose clear and abundant waters were used to clean the altar and Temple after the regular animal sacrifices that took place there.

F. The so-called Temple Mount had (and has) no such natural water source. The Roman camp there was at first entirely dependent on cisterns constructed by King Herod, but at the time Solomon built his temple, the rocky crag that Herod eventually leveled to build the Antonia Fortress had no water source of any kind, and would therefore never have been considered as the site for a temple.

G. The actual Temple site, which the Romans destroyed utterly so that there was not one stone left even of its foundations, will never be capable of being verified through archaeological excavations. In contrast, over 10,000 huge stones still remain of the foundation walls for the Antonia Fortress, which the Romans naturally left intact, as they continued to use it as an army camp until around 329 A.D.

H. Thus the much-revered "Wailing Wall" -- the western wall of the Antonia foundations at which so many pious Jews gather each day and lift their prayers to God for the rebuilding of their Temple is -- if only they knew it! -- not part of Herod's former temple at all.

I. When Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem in 638 A.D., the Christians had earlier built a church over the rock at the center of the Antonia platform. This church venerated the supposed site upon which Jesus stood when Pilate sentenced him -- since Pilate was in the pretorium with his troops at the time of the Passover festival. Some Christians even claimed that there was a footprint of Jesus still visible on the rock. Omar, naturally enough, wanted to honor Mohammed rather than Jesus, so he built the Al Aqsa mosque at the southern end of the Antonia platform, where it stands today.

J. But Omar's son had no such compunctions about the Christian church over the rock. Abd al-Malik claimed that the rock in fact was the one from which Mohammed departed this earth for heaven on horseback. He and his successors invented a number of other myths about the rock, and began the cult that causes Muslims today to recognize the spot as Islam's third holiest place.  Abd al-Malik erected the Dome of the Rock above it in 691, where it stands today; the tip of the rock is visible from a viewing platform in the center of the building.

K. Given that the actual site for the Jews' own temples lies in an area of the City of David that Israel both owns and controls, there is nothing to hinder the Jews of today from rebuilding their temple -- nothing, that is, except well-entrenched tradition. There is a growing body of scholars, however, who today are reassessing that tradition in light of all the evidence that points to the Temple's true site near the spring of Gihon. Perhaps some day soon, the Jews' recognition of that site will lead to an end to the pointless disputes over the remains of an old Roman fortress.

Have I whetted your appetite? Stay tuned as this series gets under way.