Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Temple Mount's Centaur

Following up on my participation at the 15th Rennert Conference of New Studies on Jerusalem held at Bar-Ilan University last week, here is a picture that was shown, accompanying the lecture by Dr. Gaby Barkai:

Yes, that's a Centaur.

A what?


In Greek mythology, the centaurs are a race of creatures composed of part human and part horse...with the hindquarters of a horse attached to them; in later renderings centaurs are given the torso of a human joined at the waist to the horse's withers, where the horse's neck would be.

And where was this found?

Seems that as a result of earthquakes in Jerusalem in 1927 and 1937, the Waqf engaged in major rennovations of the El-Aqsa Mosque. R.H. Hamilton, the Mandate Archaeology Officer (*) took some pictures of the works and when one of the stones that paved the Mosque floor was overturned to deal with the earthworks below, the centaur appeared.

His description is in his: R. W. Hamilton, The Structural History of the Aqsa Mosque. A Record of Archaeological Gleanings from the Repairs of 1938-42, Government of Palestine, Jerusalem 1949. And if you have access to a university library, search for this publication: Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine

In other words, there was a pre-Islamic Temple Mount period (!) unlike what you nmight be given to understand by Pal. proaganda and the remains of probably what was the Temple of Jupiter, the structure the Roman conqueres of Judea raised over the destroyed Jewish Second Temple, were filched and reused by the Muslims in the 8th century to build their El-Aqsa mosque.

As Lambert Dolphin writes:

After the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 C.E., the Romans leveled the entire city of Jerusalem and a built a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, on the ruins. To obliterate any Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, they built a temple to Jupiter on the site.A similar temple, built by the same builder at about the same time, has been discovered at Baalbek, Lebanon.The Roman architectural practices of the time featured a rectangular basilica, and a polygon structure opposite a courtyard. When this architecture is overlaid on the Temple Mount, it matches the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock exactly. This unique architectural similarity suggests that the Roman Temple to Jupiter may have been on this very site, converted for Christian purposes in the 4th Century, and then served as the foundation for the present Moslem structures, the Al Aqsa Mosque an the Dome of the Rock, which were built in the 7th Century.

More pictures from the Mandate period:

a) facade of El Aqsa:

b) collonaded interior

c) Muslim Indian British Mandatory guard at the entrance, armed:

d) the facade, this time, from the northwest looking southeast:

More info:

The first renovation of the 20th century occurred in 1922, when the Supreme Muslim under Amin al-Husayni hired Ahmet Kemalettin Bey — a architect — to restore al-Aqsa Mosque and the monuments in its precincts. The council also commissioned architects, Egyptian experts and local officials to contribute to and oversee the repairs and additions which were carried out in 1924-25 under Kemalettin's supervision. The renovations included reinforcing the mosque's ancient Ummayad foundations, rectifying the interior columns, replacing the beams, erecting a scaffolding, conserving the arches and drum of the dome interior, rebuilding the southern wall, and replacing timber in the central nave with a slab of concrete. The renovations also revealed Fatimid-era mosaics and inscriptions on the interior arches that had been covered with plasterwork. The arches were decorated with green-tinted gypsum and gold and their timber tie beams were replaced with brass. A quarter of the stained glass windows also were carefully renewed so as to preserve their original Abbasid and Fatimid designs. Severe damage was caused by the 1927 and 1937 earthquakes, but the mosque was repaired in 1938 and 1942.



Some background info: 1926...a decision was reached to sever the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem from the Department of Antiquities (Palestine Government). Until that year the two institutions were managed by a single director, Professor John Garstang, who was the first director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, starting in 1919, and of the Department of Antiquities from 1920. In 1926 Garstang resigned from the former institution and became the full-time director of the Department of Antiquities.

Between 1921 and 1930 the British School of Archaeology and the Department of Antiquities shared the same building, called “Way House”. This building stood on Museum Road, named after the museum of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities (after the Six Day War the structure was demolished and the name of the street was changed to that of Rehov Piqqud ha-Merkaz. From January 1930 until May 1935 the Department of Antiquities used exclusively “Way House” which housed both the museum and the independent library.

During the 1930’s the library underwent a dramatic change after John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated two million dollars in 1929. One million was spent for the construction of a new edifice to accommodate the archaeological museum, the library, the store rooms, and the headquarter of the Department of Antiquities including the equipment. The other million was invested in a fund whose profits were dedicated to finance the activities and salaries of the employees.

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