The Second Temple in All Its Splendor


(January 14) - On the grounds of the Holyland Hotel just past Jerusalem's Bayit Vagan neighborhood stands a fascinating, popular and superbly constructed model of Second Temple Jerusalem.

This model sweeps away the accumulated layers of 2,000 years of history, to reveal Jerusalem as it appeared when expanded by King Herod and afterward.

This was the period when Jesus preached, roamed and died here; when the city boiled with violent political and religious feuds; when the seeds of transformation toward rabbinic Judaism were planted, and when the Roman Empire clenched it in its mailed fist and destroyed both Temple and city in the year 70 CE.

The construction of this model was a major accomplishment in itself. The project began before Jerusalem was reunified in 1967, when the area being studied was actually in Jordan, and off limits to Jews. The model was based on old excavation material, the Talmud, the writings of the historian Josephus and the New Testament.

Built largely with materials used at the time of the Temple - Jerusalem limestone, copper, wood and iron - the model has a scale of 1:50, meaning that 2 cm. equals one meter, and an average man, in scale, would measure 3.5 cm.

From the observation platform at the "northern" end of the model, we can see how the vulnerable north (the only side without a sharp valley), was defended by three walls. The Third Wall, which tremendously expanded the area of the city to the north (toward modern downtown Jerusalem), was begun around 40 CE and was completed by Jewish rebels in 66 CE, as the anti-Roman revolt began.

The Second Wall, which lines up roughly with the northern wall of today's Old City, was the perimeter in Herod's time. From the north we can see clearly how the immense Temple Mount platform (about 144 dunams) and the Temple itself dominated the cityscape.

At the northwest corner stood the Psephinus Tower, presumed to be about 35 m. tall, and located roughly where the Russian Compound is today. Josephus claimed that on a clear day the Mediterranean Sea could be seen from here.

The western section of the Third Wall ran along the Ben-Hinnom Valley toward what is today Jaffa Gate. From here can be spotted two sites identified with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus: the Protestant Garden Tomb, near the northern edge of the Second Wall (outside today's Damascus Gate), and a quarry to the west of the Second Wall where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands, a spot venerated by Catholics, Greek Orthodox and other denominations.

From the west we can also see the rectangular Pool of Amygdalon, still extant today and known erroneously as Hezekiah's Pool. Herod also constructed a remarkable aqueduct and tunnel system which, starting from a series of springs south of Bethlehem, zigzagged across the buckled contours of the hills for 68 km. while dropping a mere 90 m. and ultimately bringing water right to the Temple Mount.

At the western gate, where Jaffa Gate now stands, Jerusalem's three walls ran near each other, and Herod heavily fortified this area with three towers, ranging in height from 27 to 45 m., which he named after a brother (Phasael), a friend (Hippicus), and one of his wives, Mariamne, of Hasmonean descent.

He loved Mariamne dearly, but killed her and the two sons she bore him as his craving for power overwhelmed him. (This ruler, remember, when on his deathbed in Jericho, ordered that Judea's nobles be killed upon his death, to assure that, as the historian Josephus quotes him, "all Judea and every family will weep for me.")

When the Romans captured and destroyed Jerusalem, the general Titus ordered that these towers remain standing, to show how strong the city he conquered had been.

South of these towers, bordered by the First Wall, stretched Herod's long palace complex, with banquet halls, hundreds of guest rooms, baths, ponds, porticos, all in the finest Roman style, down to the bronze figurines which spouted water.

To the east of this palace ran the well-planned, elegant Upper City, the city's version of Beverly Hills, with a fancy market and the spacious, luxurious homes of the old Hasmonean aristocracy and the king's proteges, and the more powerful among the priests.

Josephus reported that, as the Romans rolled over the city, the sewers and channels lacing the Upper City provided refuge and then graves for thousands of Jews.

Following the model's southern wall, you can see a monument which Herod built (on what is now Mt. Zion) marking the purported site of King David's tomb.

Moving east along the First Wall and southern border of the city, we approach the Lower City, where poor, heavily taxed and suffering families lived in small, cramped houses terraced down the slopes of the central Tyropoeon Valley.

Here an industrial quarter was found, and here probably flowed the raw sewage from other parts of the city.

Beyond, to the north, can be seen the immense Temple Mount, which connected - nominally at least - the various factions and classes of the deeply divided city. We can see the arch-supported bridge that spanned the central valley, carrying priests and water to the Temple precinct, and the magnificent staircase and arch (Robinson's Arch) at the southwest corner, leading people up to the Temple's administrative center.

Here, in the southern sector of the model, have also been built, on presumed but unproven sites, a hippodrome and the palace of Helena, the queen of the eastern kingdom of Adiabene, who converted to Judaism and moved to Jerusalem to serve the poor.

We move north along Jerusalem's eastern wall, bordering the Kidron Valley, toward the Temple Mount.

The Hulda Steps leading up to the Temple Mount, the tunnels which penetrated it and opened up to the Temple precinct, and the Temple itself (probably one-third bigger in overall bulk than the Dome of the Rock which sits on the plot today), are all visible in clear and understandable detail.

Evident is the concentric system of courtyards, each more exclusive and more holy than the last, the steps on which the Levites stood and sang the Songs of Ascent, the altar, and the steps leading into the Temple itself, toward the Holy of Holies in the western end of the structure.

And in the northwest corner of the Temple Mount stood the Antonia Fortress, where, in Christian tradition, Pontius Pilate judged Jesus, where Roman sentries monitored the Jewish ceremonies, and from where those sentries could, in times of tension, pour out and deploy along the roof of the porticos surrounding the Temple Mount.

During the tightening siege of Jerusalem, the Roman legions crumbled the southern wall of that fortress and built a rubbled ramp which led them onto the Temple Mount.

And that hilltop, according to the historian Josephus, "enveloped in flames from top to bottom, appeared to be boiling up from its very roots; yet the sea of flame was nothing to the ocean of blood, or the companies of killers to the armies of killed."

The ruins of Herod's Jerusalem and the Temple Mount can be seen today in isolated, incomplete patches in the Old City. But behind the Holyland Hotel, first-century Jerusalem still stands in its moment of glory, beauty, political splintering and spiritual ferment, before it all collapsed.

The model of Second-Temple Jerusalem can be approached from Herzl Boulevard in Bayit Vagan, turning southeast on Uziel St. and following it to the end. It can also be reached from Malha, turning north on Sharett St. from Golomb St., and then east on Peretz Bernstein St. Take bus 21 or 21A. The model is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tel. (02) 643-7777.

© Jerusalem Post 1999

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