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New Year for the Trees, New Life for Ancient Forgotten Beams

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Happy Tu B’Shevat! Today is the Jewish new year for the trees which is celebrated annually on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. Customs vary, but many Jews will eat a new fruit they haven’t tried before or eat one (or all!) of the seven species described as plentiful in the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8)). Growing up in America, my family often sent money to plant trees in Israel through our synagogue and I’m pretty sure we read, “The Lorax” every year as well.

To celebrate this fun holiday with all of you, we at the Sifting Project thought we would share with you some interesting research about wooden beams found on the Temple Mount.

The Ancient Beams of the Temple Mount

The restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the 1930s and 1940s included the removal of dozens of wooden beams that predate the mosque’s construction. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority Scientific Archives.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque has been renovated a number of times throughout its history. Notably, after a massive earthquake caused major structural damage to the mosque in 1937, a lot of work was done to strengthen the building, and a number of wooden beams were removed, many of which are now in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. In the 1970s, more wooden beams were removed from the Temple Mount and some were sold to a merchant in Ramallah. Some Israelis actually purchased these beams and sent them for Carbon 14 and dendrochronological (tree ring) dating at the Weizmann Institute. Most of the beams were found to be from cypress trees or cedar trees from Lebanon and some were oak from Turkey. While the vast majority of tested beams dated to the Byzantine period (6th century CE), some of the beams date much earlier. There are two beams in particular that date to the First Temple Period, one of cypress dating to around the 7th century BCE, and one of oak dating to around the 10th century BCE according to the C14 tests.

So how did these early beams end up in the Al-Aqsa Mosque? Wood was expensive in ancient times, so builders would use what was available to them. Many of the beams measured over 14 meters and were made well and of strong wood. Consequently, they were used over and over again. One of the beams from the Al Aqsa Mosque carbon dates to the early Hellenistic period but also has a Greek inscription from the Byzantine period. It seems this beam was in at least tertiary use in the mosque, and we are grateful that this reuse of material preserved it for us to study now.

The beams offer a fascinating historical record of Jerusalem, including Byzantine buildings, early Muslim houses of prayer and, not inconceivably, the ancient temple complex itself. Unfortunately, the several hundred existing beams have never been studied in depth, and many are in danger of decay and disintegration.

Destruction through Negligence?

Beams (left) near the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount. Photo: Matti Friedman/Times of Israel

We have witnessed first hand how beams remain open to the elements on the Temple Mount without any cover or protection. Though Jerusalem may have hot and dry summers, the climate is not conducive to the preservation of wooden artifacts. These beams are pretty unique because they were so well preserved due to the fact that they were sheltered within the Al-Aqsa Mosque for so much of their history. The fact that such negligence is being practiced and that these beams are not being preserved is truly unfortunate. Our researcher, Peretz Reuven, is doing his PhD on all of the known beams, and upon closer inspection of the uncovered beams on the Temple Mount, he saw carvings and markings on one of the beams that show correlation to Roman motifs and styles. You can see carved leaves, pomegranates, and even a rope pattern widely appearing in 2nd and 3rd century CE monuments. This beam is most likely a late Roman period relic from one of the monumental buildings of Roman Jerusalem.

Peretz’s article in the BAR. Photo: Peretz Reuven

Needless to say, much more research is needed on the beams from the Temple Mount. We at the Sifting Project can do our small part on the small wooden beam fragments covered with bits of gold-colored paint, but the more comprehensive research will have to include all of the full length beams that can be accessed by researchers. Our research will be presented in volume four of our planned publication, and we can’t wait to see what Peretz uncovers while completing his PhD.

For more information about these beams see:

The Times of Israel

Biblical Archaeology Review Here or Here

Video of Gaby explaining starting at 2:30

Pictures in Arutz Sheva

Israel HaYom

Early Islamic Destruction Layer?

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Preserving the Heritage of Everyone

Amidst all the stress of trying to find the funding to keep our research lab open, we cannot forget our purpose: to share our research with you. We truly believe that our research is important to the heritage of the all who connect to the Temple Mount: billions of people across the world in all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions. We are finding artifacts that are part of the heritage of Jews, Pagans, Christians, Muslims, and all those in between. We’ve written recently about the Christian connection to the Temple and the Jewish connection to the Temple, so today we are going to share some Islamic history of the Temple Mount.

Lailat al Miraj

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Buraq as seen on a reproduction of a 17th century Indian Mughal miniature

Last night marked the beginning of the holiday of Lailat al Miraj, which falls on the 27th day of Rajab and like the Jewish calendar, begins at nightfall the day before. This is the Muslim holiday that commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque” where he then ascended to heaven, met G-d and earlier prophets, and was told of the duty of Muslims to recite Salat (ritual prayer) five times a day. Muslims believe that the “Farthest Mosque” refers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount here in Jerusalem. They believe that two angels provided the Prophet Muhammad with the mythical winged steed called Buraq, and they named the Buraq Wall (also known as the Western Wall or Kotel) as the place where Muhammad tied this winged steed. In some traditions, Buraq has the head of a women and the tail of a peacock. The full story of Lailat al Miraj are described in chapter 17 of the Quran and also in hadith, supplemental writings about the life of Muhammad.

dome_of_the_rock13235570190061Finds

The Temple Mount’s history is not only rich during the First and Second periods, though those have been in the news a lot recently. We have recovered a huge amount of material from the Early Islamic period and the Ottoman empire including the golden glass mosaics from the original Dome of the Rock and many ottoman smoking pipes. In September we also recovered this beautiful mother of pearl decoration with the Dome of the Rock on it. You may also have heard about the many Ottoman seals that have been recovered by our project including one with the name of the Deputy Mufti of Jerusalem, a possible ancestor of the current leader of the Waqf.

Last summer, we recovered an intact oil lamp from the Early Islamic period. While that may seem like an obvious find in most excavations, because the material that we are sifting was excavated by bulldozer, everything we find is broken. To find something intact is quite special for our project. Even more interesting than that, the cluster of earth in which the oil lamp was found included many other artifacts (including many large pieces) from the earliest stages of Islamic occupation on the Temple Mount itself. The finds seem to come from a violent destruction of the site, possibly the earthquake of 658 CE. Usually, large or unbroken finds like this are only found in sealed layers of excavations. These finds from the Temple Mount indicate the possibility that at some time in the last millennium, someone dug a hole somewhere on the Temple Mount and hit an Early Islamic layer with lots of pottery. The debris from this dig was dumped in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount and was subsequently removed by the Waqf in 1999, reaching our hands.

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Early Islamic Period (Abbasid) oil lamp Credit: FARLI.org

Unfortunately I can’t show you ours until more research has been done. Here is a similar Early Islamic Period (Abbasid) oil lamp which will give you some idea of what we are talking about. Credit: FARLI.org.

Finding the remains of the destruction caused by the earthquake of 658 CE is one of the more interesting things we have discovered in our research, and is greatly dependent on the statistical analysis of our artifacts. Click here for more information about our methodology and our use of statistics to understand archaeological data.

Islamic History Recorded

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Staff Spotlight: November

With the Nuba Inscription still fresh in our minds, this month’s Staff Spotlight lands on Peretz Reuven!

peretz_1Originally from Haifa, Peretz is our expert in the Islamic period pottery and artifacts. He originally got interested in the Islamic period while at Hebrew University. He began with Arabic and Islamic history, added in a bit of archaeology, and the rest is history. He has studied under some of the most widely published scholars, including Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, Rachel Milstein, and Hava Lazarus-Yafe. Now he works on many excavations and research projects across Jerusalem and Israel.

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Large Ophel Medallion

Peretz was working on a project with Dr. Eilat Mazar documenting all the walls of the Temple Mount, and researching and publishing the large ophel medallion when he met our director, Zachi Dvira. Zachi invited him to join our project, and now Peretz is researching all of the Early Islamic period pottery found by the Sifting Project. He is also planning to use his experience in researching architectural elements from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods to research the architectural elements found in our sifting.

The Early Islamic period assemblage from the Sifting Project is very rich in materials. We have a lot of ceramic vessels, many of which are glazed and elaborated. Though most of them are locally made, some were imported from Persia, Egypt, or parts of Europe. We can see that there was a lot of activity on the Temple Mount during that time period, but what is interesting is that many of the vessels are ordinary. For example, we have many cooking vessels and fragments of pipes. Peretz would not say that these vessels represent daily life, for example people coming and eating in an ordinary way, since the Temple Mount is a holy place. Rather, we are familiar with people coming to make celebrations on the Temple Mount as a part of Muslim fests and holidays. There were also people, such as guards, who stayed on the Temple Mount overnight, and our assemblage could represent their daily lives.

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Cut mother-of-pearl inlays which may be from the Dome of the Rock

Peretz does not have a favorite artifact among those that he is researching for the Sifting project because there are too many to choose from that are really interesting. Some artifacts are connected to the building of the Dome of the Rock or to the artists who made the mosaics adorning the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. For example, Peretz is excited by the large amount of mother of pearl inlay found by the project. Many of these inlays might come from the dismantling and discarding of the mosaics over the years.

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Gilded glass mosaic tesserae from the Early Islamic Period removed from the Dome of the Rock exterior walls during later renovations.

The buildings of the Temple Mount have mosaics inside and out. Some were dismantled during renovations while others were replaced because they were disintegrating or suffering from the elements. For example, all the outer surface of the Dome of the Rock was covered with delicate mosaics unlike the ceramic mosaics that we have today. In the 1500s, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, all the outer paneling of mosaics were taken off the Dome of the Rock and thrown away. Most likely, some of what we are finding today is from that period. Between dumping and the stories of people cutting off the mosaics and selling or collecting them, it is really nice that some of these artifacts have survived.

In addition to working with the Sifting Project, Peretz has just finished publishing his research on the Islamic period ceramics found in the Givati Parking Lot in Jerusalem and is now working on publishing his research on the Islamic material from the Western Wall tunnels and the Kotel. With Assaf Avraham, he just published his research on the Nuba Inscription. Peretz said that he has always been interested in the connection between Islam and Judaism. He and Assaf decided to do some research on the topic, and during that research Assaf found out about the interesting inscription in Nuba. They decided to do some additional research on the inscription and the results were definitely interesting. Check out the video they published on their finds.

Nuba Inscription Identifies Dome of the Rock with Jewish Temple

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Our researchers are privileged to work on many projects throughout the year in addition to their work with us at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven have been working on understanding the 9th/10th century Arabic inscription at Nuba and have finally shared their work with the public.

The inscription bears witness to the fact that the Dome of the Rock structure was originally named “Bayt al Maqdis” referring to “The Holy Temple.” Link is to video and press release. This is big news because it is proof from within the Islamic faith that early Muslims knew that the Temple Mount was the site of the Jewish Temple and that they perceived the Dome of the Rock as a reestablishment of the earlier Temple.

Here is the press release about the discovery.

Press Release: The Writing on the Wall

Ancient Arabic inscription bears witness to the fact that the Dome of the Rock structure was originally named ‘Bayt al Maqdis’ referring to “The Holy Temple.”

A team of archaeologists revealed the existence of a 1000-year-old text, dated to the beginning of the Islamic era, which indicates that the Muslims perceived the Dome of the Rock as a reestablishment of the earlier Jewish Temple. They referred to it as “Bayt al-maqdis” in the inscription, which derives from the biblical Hebrew terminology as ‘Beit Hamikdash’, known as the Hebrew reference to the Holy Temple.

This unique find is located in the central mosque at the village of Nuba, next to the city of Hebron. Its significance lies in the fact that it is dated to the early Islamic Period, and it sheds light on the sanctification process of Jerusalem and especially of the Temple Mount to the Muslims.

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The Nuba Inscription

The text on the rock quotes;

“In the name of Allah, the merciful God

This territory, Nuba, and all its boundaries

and its entire area, is an endowment to the Rock

of Bayt al-Maqdis and the al-Aqsa Mosque,

as it was dedicated by the Commander of the Faithful, ̒Umar iben al-Khattab

for the sake of Allah the Almighty”

The village of Nuba is mentioned in the inscription text as an endowment to the Rock of Bayt al-Maqdis [The Holy Temple] and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The text also notes that the one who did the dedication was ̒Umar iben al-Khattab, the Arab ruler who conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines in 638 AD.

Assaf Avraham and Peretz Reuven, the archeologists who presented the existence of the inscription last week in the Conference on ‘New studies in the archaeology of Jerusalem and its region’ that was held at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out that this text is, in fact, testimony that at least one of the names of the Dome of the Rock in the first centuries of Islam was “Bayt al-Maqdis” which preserves the Hebrew name “Beyt ha-Miqdash” (literally the “House of Sanctuary”). “The choice to use the name ‘Bayt al-Maqdis’ was not original,” says Assaf Avraham. “Using this name derived from the deep influence of Jewish tradition on the development of Islam in its earliest days.” In an article that was published in the Conference pamphlet, early evidence was presented in the form of quotes by Moslem believers who, it appears, entered and prayed within a place of worship at the Temple Mount, which was named “Bayt al-Maqdis” For example:

“I would regularly pray with Ibn-Dahar in Bayt al-Maqdis, when he entered, he used to remove his shoes.”

“Anyone who comes to Bayt al-Maqdiss only for the sake of praying inside it – is cleansed of all his sins.”

“I entered Bayt al-Maqdis and saw a man taking longer than usual for his bows.”

“The rock that is in Bayt al-Maqdis is the center of the entire universe.”

“Early Islamic literature shows that religious rituals were conducted within the Dome of the Rock at the beginning of the Islamic era” says Assaf; “These rituals were inspired by ancient traditions which took place within The Biblical Temple as is documented in the bible and in ancient Jewish literature.” An ancient Muslim source describes and stresses this point:

“Every Monday and Thursday morning the attendants enter the bath house to wash and purify themselves. They take off their clothes and put on a garment made of silk brocade embroidered with figures, and fasten tightly the girdle embellished with gold around their waists. And they rub the Rock over with perfume. Then the incense is put in censers of gold and silver. The gate-keepers lower the curtains so that the incense encircles the Rock entirely and the scent clings to it.”

These well documented and detailed procedures bear similarities to rituals that were practiced in the Jewish Temple, and were probably derived from them.

dome_of_the_rock13235570190061The Nuba inscription implies that the building of the Dome of the Rock marks the re-construction of the biblical Holy Temple, in essence, one of the most significant acts in the early history of Islam, a new world view that asked to glorify Jerusalem’s position as the world’s religious center for Islam.

When cross-referenced with other Muslim traditional literature of the time, it becomes clear that the Dome of the Rock’s structure was named Bayt Al-Maqdis in which prayers were conducted traditionally. It was the holiest structure within the Temple Mount and it was perceived as a renewed temple.

This unique revelation bears importance and relevance today considering UNESCO’s latest resolution which ignores the Jewish affinity to the Temple Mount.

Here is a link to the official article about the Nuba Inscription in Hebrew. Assaf and Peretz are working to create an English translation that will be published in the near future.