Jerusalem Ruins: 70 CE Roman Destruction or 363 CE Earthquake?

My friend and colleague Shimon Gibson, with whom I co-direct our Mt Zion excavation in Jerusalem (see: digmountzion.uncc.edu), has presented a controversial revisionist interpretation of the fallen “Herodian-like” stones just south of the Western Wall Plaza whom most believe result from the Roman 70 CE destruction of the Jewish Temple.

Prof. Shimon Gibson at the Western Wall. Photo by Emil Salman

Prof. Shimon Gibson at the Western Wall. Photo by Emil Salman

 Archaeologist: Western Wall stones result of earthquake, not Roman demolition

Prof. Shimon Gibson says the huge stones near the Western Wall may have been caused by major earthquake in 363 B.E.

By  | Jan. 4, 2015 | 2:30 AM
The Old City in Jerusalem is full of archaeological attractions from all periods of its life. But one of its most emotional – certainly for Jewish visitors – is the pile of huge stones lying next to the southern section of the Western Wall, in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden and Davidson Center, next to the Western Wall plaza.

Information signs, tour guides, books and archaeologists explain that these stones fell to the street during the destruction of the Holy Temple, with the end of the Great Revolt in 70 C.E., and that they are the most palpable testimony to the destruction.

However, professor of archaeology Shimon Gibson suggests these walls stayed in place nearly 300 years after the destruction, and fell not by the hands of man but in a major earthquake that wracked Jerusalem in 363 C.E. He presented this thesis for the first time at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, last week, and the theory has aroused disputes among senior archaeologists.

Prof. Benjamin Mazar conducted the first digs to uncover the fallen stones, in the 1970s. There has been a consensus since then that the giant stones lying on the ground are from the destruction of the Holy Temple.

However, Gibson points to several problems with this explanation. First, we now know a lot more about life in Jerusalem after the destruction than we did in the ’70s. Recent archaeological digs taught us that Roman Jerusalem (which became known as Aelia Capitolina) was a functioning city with a rich population, sturdy homes, a commercial life and wide, elegant streets.

“Now we know much more about the late Roman period,” Gibson says. “If there was a neighborhood like this there, how could it be that they leave debris from the year 70 C.E. in the middle of it all? It’s like going out of your house and leaving a pile of debris. You clear it. And why leave the city to bring stones to build new buildings if you have stones next to your house?”

Next to the heaps of destruction, Mazar’s granddaughter, Eilat Mazar, uncovered a Roman-era bakery. “Who would buy bread in a place with damaged walls above it and fallen stones?” Gibson adds. “You don’t build next to a four-story ruin.”

Inspiration for Roman builders

Gibson, a British-born archaeologist living in Israel, also points to the similarity in artisanship – comparing supporting pillars or other pillars that adorned the Temple Mount with the artisanship of those at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Mamre (near Hebron).

The three sites contain religiously important structures, which were built hundreds of years after the destruction. According to Gibson, the builders of these structures, at the beginning of the fourth century C.E., saw the Temple Mount walls and tried to imitate them, as part of the effort of Christianity at that time to prove that it was the successor of Judaism.

If the walls were destroyed in 70 C.E., asserts Gibson, how could the builders of 325 C.E. succeed in copying them, considering the fact that they did not have access to archaeological drawings or photographs? He concludes that the walls still stood hundreds of years after the destruction, and served as inspiration for the Roman builders.

Gibson also disagrees that the Roman legion would bother to destroy the stones in an expensive and complex engineering operation, after the Temple was already pillaged, burned to ashes and Temple Mount abandoned. Instead, he suggests another force at work to topple these walls.

Pagan worship

The earthquake of 363 C.E. is well documented in Christian sources related to Jerusalem. It occurred during the rule of Julian the Apostate. Julian sought to restore the Roman Empire to the period before his uncle Constantine had made Christianity the state religion.

Julian encouraged renewed pagan worship, and also permitted the Jews to return and build a new temple. The Jews started rebuilding, but the powerful earthquake destroyed the foundations of the third temple and other places around the country. That earthquake caused considerable damage, as walls and entire buildings collapsed.

“Half of Jerusalem was destroyed during this earthquake,” says Gibson. “I suggest that the Temple Mount walls fell at the same time. The way the stones lie is also more consistent with an earthquake than destruction by man. I propose that perhaps the debris we see there are also from the destruction of 363 C.E.”

He also quotes historical sources describing the death of Jewish workers from stones that fell from Temple Mount. While these sources undoubtedly have a theological interest in describing the ruin, there is no disputing that, in that same year, an especially powerful earthquake rocked the land.

Prof. Ronny Reich, who was a partner in the original Southern Wall digs in the 1970s and ran the excavations in the ’90s together with Prof. Yaakov Billig, vehemently rejects Gibson’s theories.

Other side of the coin

“It doesn’t hold water,” he states. Reich’s strongest evidence against the theory is a layer of mud or dirt several centimeters thick, which was discovered underneath the fallen stones.

‘The rockslide doesn’t lie on the street. It lies on a layer of sediment 3-5 centimeters thick,” he says. “We cleaned this layer very exactingly, and we found 120-125 coins. It is sediment that collected on the street after it went out of use and before the collapse – I suppose in the first winters after the destruction. The last coin we found is from the fourth year of the rebellion, that is to say 69 C.E. If Gibson is right, could it be that for 290 years, no other coins were collected under the pile of stones? What happened between 70 and 363?”

Reich does not assert that legionnaires destroyed the wall immediately after the destruction of the Temple but perhaps a few years later, even in honor of the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 130 C.E. But he is sure they did not stay standing through the fourth century.

“Size matters in archaeology,” says Reich about the earthquake. “It’s true buildings collapse, but you are talking about the walls of Temple Mount. That’s not just another structure.”

Yet Gibson is not convinced. The coins, according to him, could have rolled underneath the rubble in various ways. For example, builders who wanted to level the road in a later period might have brought dirt from elsewhere, or perhaps the stones were moved and rearranged so they could be employed for secondary use.

Sometimes in archaeology, he says, there are ideas that need to be raised to rethink things. “We all accepted as gospel that these stones fell in the year 70, and I don’t want to remove from anyone the symbolism of these stones. But I have an interest in the historic, substantive side,” he says. “I tried to convince myself that I am wrong because the heart wants it to be the year 70, but it goes against reason. The goal is that people start to think about it – and if I am wrong, then I am wrong. Life will go on.”

 

http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.635160

TaborBlog in 2014

THANK YOU ALL!

Thank you to all my blog readers–old and new–for your continued interest in my postings on TaborBlog during 2014. It was a record year by every measure. Total page-views, going back to 2010 when the present metrics were activated, topped 1,000,000 in November, 2014 with 467,877 page-views in 2014 alone. At the end of 2011 we were at just 40, 967–so that is a 10-fold increase in four years! Here is a report that WordPress put together with lots of interesting stats about top posts, countries reached, total traffic, and so forth. I look forward to a fantastic 2015 with lots of new postings and information to come–so bookmark the site and check back often! Click on the image to view a report and then scroll down.

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Was Jesus Naked at his Resurrection?

I never thought much about it until looking at this lovely painting by Titian but have you ever wondered what Jesus was supposedly wearing in his reported empty tomb/post-resurrection “sightings”? The gospels of Matthew and John relate physical encounters with Jesus just outside the tomb by Mary Magdalene alone, or by her and her companions (Matthew 28:8-10; John 20:11-17)  Mark has no appearances (16:8 is the original ending) and Luke reserves the honor of such apostolic witnessing to the men alone. See my post on “The Strange Ending of Mark and Why it Makes all the Difference.”

Tizian Post-ResurrectionIt might seem like a trivial or silly question but it in fact touches on a very profound issue–namely the difference between Paul’s view of a spiritual body–that he characterizes as “clothed,”  being raised in contrast to the rather literal–presumably physical “touch me” body–that Luke and John both emphasize. If we are going to take these accounts literally–at face value–as many urge, we seem to have a naked Jesus. Since the shroud wrapping sJesus’ corpse were left in the tomb according to John (20:6-7), we can only assume that Jesus came out of the tomb naked–and so encountered Mary Magdalene (according to John)  or her with her companions (according to Matthew). I say this “tongue in cheek” of course, but it points to a much more substantial issue–namely the nature of the notion of “resurrection” of the dead among Jews and early followers of Jesus at that time.

What is interesting is that Paul uses this very image of clothing for the new spiritual “resurrection” body in 2 Corinthians 5:2-4. For Paul Jesus has shed his physical body like old clothing left behind and his “naked” soul has been “reclothed” with a spiritual body–so that he can refer to him in such a glorified state as a “life-giving Spirit”–in contrast to the “flesh and blood” body “of dust” of our present human existence–that is both physical and corruptible (see 1 Corinthians 15:45-50).

So Paul would answer the question of “what kind of a body did the resurrected Jesus appear?” differently than Matthew, John, and Luke–he would say Jesus was fully re-clothed in a new spiritual body. This touches on a rather complex issue that most of us have trouble sorting out, see my post “Why People Are Confused about the Earliest Christian View of Resurrection of the Dead.” It is easy to forget  that it is Paul’s view that predates that of our Gospel writers by at least two or three decades–and is thus more likely representative of the original faith of Jesus’ first followers in Galilee and Judea. Thus the recently discovered Talpiot tomb inscription makes sense as a cry or a declaration of faith that from those ossuary bones God/YHVH will raise up! See the updated post here on its best translation. It is very likely, given the date of this tomb, contemporary with the apostle Paul, that it is our earliest archaeological evidence of faith in a spiritual resurrection of the dead–not merely a resuscitation of a largely intact corpse. Paul, and I would argue Jesus’ first followers in Jerusalem and Galilee, were not interested in raising up bones and flesh, but seeing the “naked” self reclothed with a new spiritual body.

Sale Ends Tomorrow: 2-1 Sale: Restoring Abrahamic Faith

SALE ENDS TOMORROW, December 31st.

Many of my blog readers have copies of my book Restoring Abrahamic Faith but I wanted folks to be aware of the annual “Holiday” 2-1 sale on this particular book. I was thinking many who appreciate find this book might find it to be an ideal gift for friends and family. Here are the details on the sale and below is a post from 2010 where I describe the book, its history, and how I came to write it. Unfortunately, due to sky high international postage (more than the cost of the book!), this 2-1 sale is only offered to US domestic customers. I hope to have an e-book version out in 2015. Copies are mailed UPSP Priority Mail and shipped the next business day of the order.

Holiday 2-1 SALE through the end of 2014
Order any quantity of copies of Restoring Abrahamic Faith
and your order will be automatically doubled at no extra cost
All Copies are signed by the author
US Domestic Orders Only

Payments by Credit/Debit or Paypal via genesis2000.org or through Amazon.
Payments by Check to: Genesis 2000 mailed to:
Genesis 2000 Press
2124 Crown Centre Drive, Suite 300
Charlotte, NC 28227

RAFShadded

As a professor in a large and thriving Department of Religious Studies in a public/state university I make every effort to keep my personal religious faith and our enterprise as a faculty in the area of the academic study of religion properly separated. There is some debate in our field on this question with arguments on both sides as to what extent one’s implicit religious or political views should become part of the teaching discourse. Although there is no need to avoid matters of religious faith in the classroom, and indeed such matters are part of our study, my position is that personal theology belongs elsewhere–particularly for those in public education.

That said, like Frank Moore Cross and many others in our field who were raised in Christian contexts, I have found myself more personally drawn toward the complex of ideas, concepts, tensions, and even contradictions, reflected in the Hebrew Bible, as I have noted previously in my Blog post “Reflections on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.”

Back in 1991 I published a little book titled Restoring Abrahamic Faith with a small non-profit publisher called Genesis 2000. It was more or less in response to questions I was getting from many quarters regarding my own “beliefs.” It was mainly an attempt to save my “breath,” so I could refer it to those who were curious about my own personal faith, or the lack thereof.  Also, in the final chapter of my popular book, The Jesus Dynasty, that was intended for general audiences far beyond my academic arena, I did include, a final “Conclusion” that delved into matters of faith and the consequences of historical Jesus studies–mentioning my view of “Abrahamic Faith.” In 2008 in an expanded, 3rd edition was released.  It is now available either directly from the publisher (http://genesis2000.org) or through Amazon. And yes, alas, it also has a Facebook Fan page! You can read the preface to the book on-line here, as well as several endorsements and reviews.

Should Christians Be Celebrating the Birth of Paul Rather Than Jesus?

Millions celebrate the birth of Jesus without realizing that it was the Apostle Paul, not Jesus, who was the founder of Christianity. Jesus was a Jew not a Christian. He regularly went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, read from the Torah, observed the Jewish festivals such as Passover and Yom Kippur, and quoted the Shema: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is One Lord.” In Jesus’ day the closest holiday to Christmas was the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia.

BirthofJesusRead the rest at The Daily Beast here.