Civilizations of Holy Land 0689109733

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Civilizations of Holy Land

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Illustrated S14.95

It is remarkable that the three great "Religions of the Book," Judaism, Christianity and Islam, should all have been nurtured in that Middle Eastern region we know today as Palestine or Israel. Geographically the Holy Land stood at the crossroads of many cultures, bounded as it was by the opulence of Egypt, the grandeur of Babylon, the lands of the desert dwellers and the eastern Mediterranean. However, many aspects of the history and development of the religions in question, as well as their subsequent influence on civilization, extended into a far wider area. Moreover, a history of the Holy Land involves considerations apart from those falling within the realm of belief. Therefore Paul Johnson's impressive synoptic skills are well deployed in untangling a formidable skein of cultural, religious and historical considera­ tions and weaving them into a supple, absorbing narrative. Johnson begins in the eighth millennium B.C., with a fascinating glimpse into Neolithic Jericho, then, ns now, Palestine's eastern gate into the desert. Only within the last twenty five years have excavations and carbon datings established its claim to being the first civilized urban area, its massive walls and tower repre­ senting the first true example of architecture as we know it. From thence we move into the Bronze Age and the Canaanite culture, whose crucial contribution to civilization was the in­ vention of alphabetic writing, and then to the Phoenician coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre. Hebrew history begins with the migration of Abraham from Ur into Canaan, and Johnson uses the findings of modern scholarship and scientific archaeology to demonstrate that the Old Testament is no longer to be considered a collection of myths, but is in fact a valuable record of the age of the patriarchs. Johnson continues to use archaeological evidence as well as ancient text to illustrate the impact of Hellenism and then Christianity, which in turn was rivaled by Islam. The Crusades, that tragic episode in the continuing religious and political conflict in the Middle East, forms the basis of Johnson's final chapter. Within the broad sweep of his historical narrative, Paul Johnson continually gives the reader a concrete and vivid picture of the pattern of living-and dying-in the Holy Land. Photograph ofJerusalem by Michael Busse/le �


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The hills stand about Jerusalem: even so standeth the Lord about his people, from this time for evermore. Psalms r25 :2


A mosaic of loaves and fishes in the Byzantine Church of the Multiplication. ABOVE

A Philistine sarcophagus lid. OVERLFAF

The wilderness of Sinai.



Nc\v York 1979


Copyright© 1979 by Paul Johnson All rights reserved Library of Congress catalog card number 78-73358 ISBN 0-689-10973-3 Printed in Great Britain Designed by Charles Elton First American Edition

Contents 1 2

3 4 5 6 7

Canaanites and Phoenicians 7 The Civilization of the Bible 31 Greeks and Maccabees 87 The Age of Herod and Jesus 109 Byzantine Christianity 145 The Coming of Islam 169 Pilgrims, Crusaders and Saracens 18 5 Bibliography 216 Acknowledgments 217 Index 218






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Canaanites and Phoenicians is an expression not easily defined in either space or time. By the Holy Land, n1ost of us mean the stretch of Near-Eastern territory, the nucleus of which is modern Palestine or Israel, intin1ately associated with the great 'Religions of the Book', Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Many of the events crucial to the origin and early development of these three faiths took place outside this geographical nucleus but cannot for that reason be ignored in this account. Equally, not all the cultures which have flourished in this region have been directly linked to the beliefs which, to us, make it holy but they are part of its history nonetheless, and must be brought into the story. The truth is that the history of this corner of the world is extrerr1ely complicated and does not easily accommodate itself to the straitjacket of a strictly systematic treatment. In telling it we shall sometimes find ourselves digressing both in chronology and geography before resuming the main thread of our narrative. In short, ,ve shall be closer to the methods of Herodotus than those of Thucydides - with a dash of Pausanias and Strabo thrown in. No matter: what the tale loses in clarity it may gain in colour. A glance at the map helps to explain why the history of the Holy Land has been so complex. It is small in itself, but fate placed it on the n1ain highway of antiquity. It has always been a part of great events which it has rarely, if ever, been able to dominate. Son1ewhat unwillingly, and often helplessly, it has been close to the centre of the historical stage and has been exalted and battered by its dramas. Pre-historians are no longer quite so confident as they used to be that the origins of civilization are to be found in the plains fonned and irrigated by the three great river syste1ns of the Tigris-Euphrates, the Niles and the Indus. There is accumulating evidence from recently explored sites of innovatory early societies dwelling in the hills and mountains of Anatolia, Baluchistan and else,vhere in this huge region. All the san1e, the old theory holds good to the extent chat ,ve can still truthfully say that Mesopotan1ia produced the first un111istakable city'c1v1LI ZATION s o F THE HOLY LAND'

The round stone watchtower of Jericho is Neolithic and dates from 7000 BC. It is part of a ring of fortifications excavated by Dame Kathleen Kenyon.



The clay tablet from Kuyunjik, excavated by George Smith, is inscribed with part of the Babylonian Legend of the Flood, which very closely resembles that in the book of Genesis.

civilization, in the second half of the fourth millennium BC; and that the first civilized State emerged, on the banks and delta of the Nile, about 3100 BC. The river systems were important, even if not all-important. They were areas of orderly government, agricultural wealth and progressive technology from the very beginnings of history, and as such formed the two horns of the Fertile Crescent, a concept of crucial importance in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages and which still has some significance today. Syria-Palestine stood at the centre of the crescent, and was therefore both the victim and the beneficiary of the movements of peoples and armies which flowed along it - Assyrians and Babylonians coming from the east and heading south; Egyptians coming from the south-east and heading north. Such major conquerors sought to control it mainly for strategic rather than economic reasons. Its intrinsic wealth was not enormous but it was sufficient to attract successive waves of desert-dwellers, and seaborne people from the rocky islands of the eastern Mediterranean. The history of the Holy Land is the history of ceaseless movement and of the interaction, often violent, of many different peoples. Of these peoples, the most important, taking the history of the Holy Land as a whole, were to be the Semites. They came originally from the southern end of the Arabian desert, and during the fourth millennium BC the first waves of them spread into Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and even into the Nile Valley and Delta. They mingled with, or displaced, the original Neolithic peoples of Palestine, termed by them variously 'the horrors', 'the ghosts', 'the howling people', 'the long-necked men.' A second wave of Semites, the Amorites, followed in the third millennium BC; and, towards the middle of the second 8

CANAANITES AND PHOENICIANS millennium there was a third wave, the Aran1eans, who included the earliest Hebrew tribes. In addition, during the second millennium BC, large groups of other settlers moved in from the north and north-,vest, from Anatolia, Crete and the Aegean. These included the Hyksos, the Hittites and the Philistines, the last of whom gave Palestine its name. Hence for most of the Bronze Age and Iron Age the Holy Land was occupied by competing groups of peoples. It ,vas also overshadowed by its bigger neighbours. For large tracts of time during the second millennium, the paramountcy ,vas held by Egypt, either under its native dynasties of the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom, or under the Hyksos military oligarchy. Between about 1150 and 850 BC, large parts of Syria-Palestine were virtually free from foreign control and it was during this period that both the Hebrew kingdoms and the independent city-states of Phoenicia flourished. Thereafter, the area formed successively part of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic empires. Throughout, the Semites probably remained a majority, though by no means always a large majority, of the inhabitants. Modern archaeology, however, is now beginning to uncover the pre-Semitic history of the Holy Land, and we must turn to this first. Palestine itself consists of a coastal strip, a mountain spine, and the deep cleft of the Jordan valley-Dead Sea rift, all three regions running north to south. To the east, beyond the rift, is the desert. To the conquerors of antiquity the important part of Palestine was the coastal strip along which they marched. The strip, however, ends well south of modern Haifa, where the mountains reach the sea. Instead, the coastal route turns inland at a pass guarded by the perennial fortress of Megiddo (or Armageddon), crosses the Plain of Esdraelon (or Jezreel), and then fords the Jordan on the way to Damascus, the great oasis on the eastern, or desert, side of the mountain barrier. The point where the coast route turns inland is thus the great hinge of the Fertile Crescent and it is no surprise that Megiddo and its strategic plain have been fought over fiercely from the time of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom at the beginning of the second millennium BC to Allenby's conquest of Palestine in 1918. However, Megiddo is not the only strategic focus of this region. There is Jerusalem itself, on the spinal centre, 2,500 feet above sea level, thirty-five miles from the coast route on the west, and twenty miles from the bottom of the rift on the east, where the land sinks to 1,290 feet below sea level. There is a north-south route of sorts along the central spine, and Jerusalem controls a strategic gap along this inland route at a point where valley routes open up to both east and west: in effect, a crossroads. The eastern route descends fron1 Jerusalem, some 2,500 feet in a mere fourteen miles, to the crossing of the Jordan where the Allenby Bridge now stands. And controlling this crossing, and the Jordan valley for many miles on either side is the oasis of Jericho. It is another crossroads, for it is not only a key link in the ,vest-east route fron1 �1.editerranean to desert, but a stage in the north-south route down the valley bottom. 9


Jericho is Palestine's eastern gate into the desert. Equally, it is the desert's gate into Palestine. Hence Joshua, about to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land after their forty years in the wilderness, commanded his scouts to 'go view the land and Jericho.' Jericho is on the west side of the mountain walls which form the Jordan valley trough. Part of this west wall is the so-called Mount of Tcn1ptation, with its Greek church on top and its monastery halfway down. Opposite, on the eastern side of the trough, are the mountain walls of Moab and Gilead. The landscape is desolate, and must have been desolate even in pre­ history, but Jericho is rich in the one resource which, in this part of the world, is essential to fertility: spring water. The trough descends lo\ver as it proceeds south. The Sea of Galilee (other\vise known as the Sea of Tiberius or the Lake of Genessaret) is 650 feet below sea-level. Jericho is over 900 feet below sea-level and further south still, at the top of the Dead Sea, where salinity makes all water undrinkable, the level is 1,292 feet below. But Jericho has, and had throughout all known history, \vater of its own, a copious spring fed by an underground river which rises in the Judaean hills to the west. This spring produces 1,000 gallons of pure water a minute, and is reliable all the year round even in periods of acute drought. The spring made Jericho and Jericho gives us our earliest glimpses of civilization, or proto-civilization, in the Holy Land. At Jericho, the excavations of Dame Kathleen Kenyon uncovered a Neolithic settlement which can variously be described as a large village, a town or a city. Its discovery came as a considerable surprise, for the earliest settlements previously investigated had been primitive villages of the fifth millennium BC. Neolithic Jericho went much further back, though quite how far back is still a matter of argument. The first darings using Carbon 14 put Jericho in the seventh millennium BC. This settlement was again carbon-dated in 1960, giving a date of 6850 BC, plus or minus 210 years. Tests in 1963 gave a date of 6935 BC, and more recent tests 7825 BC, plus or minus 110, or 8350 BC plus or minus 200 years. The results seen1 to vary from one laboratory to another and chiefly emphasize the severe limitations of this method of dating. Unfortunately there is no other in this case. The first inhabitants of Jericho could not make pottery, the key to pre-historical chronology. The great French archaeologist Father R. de Vaux, \vriting in the latest edition of the Cambridge Ancient History, dated the pre-pottery Neolithic settlement of Jericho, first phase, to around 7000 BC, and a figure of 8000 BC is no\v thought more likely. Father de Vaux estin1ates its population at about 2,000. Does it rate as a city? Is Jericho the first exan1ple of civilized existence of which \Ve have knowledge? De Vaux does not think so. It engaged in specialized agriculture. It traded, by exchanged bitumen, sulphur and salt for hardstones (for example obsidian) from Anatolia, but it does not seen1 to have produced a surplus of manufactured goods for trade. Of roughly conten1porary sites \vhich have also been uncovered by n1odern archaeology, Jarn10, in Iraq, was sn1aller; Catal Hu yuk in Anatolia was 111 uch bigger and seen1s to have had a n1ore advanced econon1y. Pre-pottery 10











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A pre-pottery Neolithic 'B' plastered skull found at Jericho. This shows the beginning of portraiture� the features arc modelled in plaster and cowrie shells inserted in place of the eyes.



Hacilar, in Anatolia, and the lowest level of Ras Shamra on the Syrian coast are other examples from the same period. But these were unwalled villages. What distinguishes Jericho, and what gives it its claim to be the first civilized town, is that it is built on an urban not a rustic scale, and surrounded by massive walls. These defences, found in 1952, are of large undressed stones. They include a formidable round tower nearly thirty feet in diameter, with a stone-built staircase. The quality of the masonry is high, the concept is huge, indeed unique for the eighth to seventh millennia BC. Here, at any rate, is the world's first true example of architecture. Even before the walls were built there were houses. Some of these, with walls of sun-dried unbaked clay, were big, with a series of rooms linked by openings, and grouped around courtyards. The roofs were of reeds bound by mud, the floors of clay with a polished plaster surface, covered by rush mats. The citizens of Neolithic Jericho in its pre-pottery stage ate out of carved limestone dishes and bowls and used weapons and tools of flint. They had a religion and an art of sorts. One house had a family chapel, a small shrine-room with a cult stone of volcanic rock. Another, larger room may have been a communal temple. Miss Kenyon also found plastered and decorated skulls which she thinks belonged to ancestors whom these primitive town-dwellers wished to honour. Jericho was probably not the only Neolithic city of the area. The walls are silent witness to competitors, probably urban ones. There is evidence that the original inhabitants, whom Miss Kenyon calls the hogback-brick people, were conquered by men from another civilized site whom she terms the plaster-floor people. There was, in fact, a form of urban society in existence, perhaps over quite a large area. We have here, possibly, the first example of a 'take-off' in history, brought into existence not only by human ingenuity but by a benevolent change in climate. The European ice-ages ended about ro,ooo BC. Their equivalent in the Near East, the various pluvials, made possible phases of agricultural expansion. The last pluvial, coinciding with growing agricultural knowledge, could have produced a period of prosperity sufficient to sustain urban settlements of this kind. But the basis of the economy was narrow and fragile: two or three crops, a very marginal trade. Even much later, in the second millennium BC, the extinction of the civilized centres of Mycenaean Greece shows how easily over-specialization invited nemesis. Neolithic Jericho grew too big and grand for its own good, or even survival. As the last pluvial receded, increasing desiccation destroyed the surpluses which made urban Jericho viable. An early Dark Age supervened. The extinction of this pre-pottery Neolithic town was followed by a complete break. Then new inhabitants arrived. They came with a fully-developed pottery culture. But in other respects there was regression. This fifth-millennium culture was simply a village one: no fine houses, no city \Vall. A primitive clay triad of man, woman and child, is the only evidence of religion. At the stages of these later levels, the tell of Jericho ceases to be unique and exotic - a Neolithic urban 12

CANAANITES AND PHOENICIANS miracle out of its time - but it remains in miniature a history of the ebb and flo\\7 of Palestinian culture and the movements of peoples. First there are t\vo Neolithic phases involving the use of pottery. Then in the fourth millennium came a long gap during the Chalcolithic (copper-and-stone) period \Vhen Jericho \vas unoccupied. Towards the end of the fourth millennium there was a big influx of Semitic nomads who gradually became urbanized as they moved into Palestine. There followed the Early Bronze Age (2900-2300 BC), in which a form of civilized town life again developed and spread over most of the territory; many of the most celebrated Biblical cities date their foundation from this time. Egypt and Mesopotamia already enshrined mature civilizations, with State unity in Egypt, law codes in Mesopotamia - and later the first empires - and \Vriting in both. Palestine did not yet possess writing but it was coming within the proselytizing orbit of these older civilizations and it was developing its own system of petty city-states. Their chief problem was security, against each other and against nomads. Like its Neolithic prototype, Early Bronze Age Jericho needed and had massive defences. Miss Kenyon found evidence in one trench she dug into the tell that the Early Bronze Age walls had been rebuilt no less than sixteen times. The walls were eroded by rainstorms, earthquakes (as many as four in one century), and enemies using fire. Constant repair was needed. On several occasions Jericho was overwhelmed. At the end of the third millennium BC there was a complete break, a new Dark Age, corresponding to the chaos of the First Intermediate Period in Egypt. There followed, around 1900 BC, the civilization of the Middle Bronze Age, moving in from the coast. For a time Jericho may have fallen under the control of the Hyksos military caste, as evidence of their very characteristic and sophisticated fortifications indicates. But this Middle Bronze Age culture was essentially the Canaanite-Phoenician civilization of the coast, based on a multiplicity of smallish, independent or semi-independent, and in either case strongly-fortified towns. Jericho gives us some precious glimpses of this urban culture, for its Middle Bronze Age tombs contained bits of furniture, mercifully preserved, perhaps (it has been suggested) by escaping gases \vhich killed the micro-organisms which cause decay. The British Museum has thus been able to reconstruct what a room in Jericho looked like around 1600 BC, scientific archaeology providing substantiation for all the details, except the clothes. We cannot learn much from Jericho of the gods these people worshipped, but they evidently had a profound belief in life after death, as one \vould expect from those living on the periphery of Egyptian culture. Thereafter the evidence from Jericho becomes less interesting and finally peters out. �1e turn instead to the coastal cities which are closer to the heart of the various Bronze Age cultures, and especially the Canaanite culture \vhich lasted for the best part of the second n1illenniun1 BC. In 1928-9, at a place no\v kno\vn as Ras Shamra, French archaeologists began to excavate the ancient city of Ugarit. This city is mentioned in a number of very ancient Near-Eastern texts, notably in


An imaginative reconstruction of how a room in prehistoric Jericho might have looked.

the letters of Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs (fourteenth century BC) found at Tell El-Amarna on the Nile. The excavations showed it was of great antiquity. The first arrivals on the site were emigrants from the East, who seemed to have brought with them copper tools. About halfway through the third millennium, there was a fresh wave from Anatolia and around 2300 BC the city was destroyed by fire, possibly by the newly-settled Phoenicians. Around the beginning of the second millennium, Egyptian influence can be detected, followed by signs of the Hyksos supremacy (as at Jericho) , and in turn the restoration of the Egyptian supremacy in the sixteenth century BC. Ugarit later slipped out of the Egyptian orbit, as did many Palestinian and Syrian city-states in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BC, and in the famous battle of Kadesh, fought by Ramesses II (Ozymandias) in 1286-5 BC, it sided with the Hittites. About 1200 BC Ugarit \vas destroyed by the 'Peoples of the Sea', the great coalition of barbarous sea-raiders which harried all the civilized states of the Eastern Mediterranean at this time and effectively destroyed the international culture of the Late Bronze Age. Like the Hittite Empire and the cities of Mycenaean Greece and Minoan Crete, Ugarit never really recovered from this assault. What is interesting about the ren1ains of Ugarit is that they give us perhaps our most revealing glimpse of Canaanite culture at its n1ost flourishing. The tern1

The ' Weld-Blundell Prism' was discovered in Larsa, Iraq, and is inscribed in cuneiform script with the Sumerian King Lists.

Canaan derives from the fine purple dye, made from boiled snails, which is peculiar to this coastal strip, and which was exported all over the ancient world. It applies essentially to a culture, rather than a special ethnic group ; indeed it \Vas a product of the merger of the existing Early Bronze Age civilization with the Semitic intrusion of Amorite semi-non1ads, who flocked in from the hills and deserts towards the end of the Early Bronze Age. The culture was shared by a tnedley of peoples, particularly on the coast but also in to\vns \vell inland. \Y/e pinpoint its development and phases fron1 the evidence of Egyptian pottery found on Syrian-Palestine sites, which can be dated very accurately, and \vhich links Canaanite history to the absolute dates of Egyptian dynastic chronology. At Ugarit there survive a number of buildings fron1 the fifteenth to fourteenth centuries BC. There are ten1ples to Dagon and Baal ; a house (and library) evidently belonging to a High Priest ; a fortified palace, \Vith adn1inistrative offices and courtyards ; and a residential quarter. The palace and son1e of the houses have tomb-cellars lying beneath then1, but these \Vere rifled of their valuables in deep antiquity. Among things found are nvo gold vessds \Vith hunting scenes. Much tnore valuable and exciting finds, ho\vever, \Vere inscribed tables in the office of the palace and the High Priest's library. These \Vritings arc in alphabetic cuneiform - that is, \vritten \Vith a triangular \vcdge -shaped


stick on wet clay, but using individual signs for each letter of the alphabet. The introduction of alphabetic writing was the great achievement of Canaanite civilization. The earliest scripts, of which Sumerian and Akkadian were the most important, were based on pictograms which gradually developed phonetic qualities. But signs continued to represent whole words or syllables rather than individual letters. Egyptian hieroglyphs, another early writing systen1, remained a combination of pictograms and syllograms, though it also developed individual phonetic letters. In 1 905 , Sir Flinders Petrie discovered in the ancient mines of Sinai fragments of alphabetical writings which appear to have been developed from Egyptian scripts. A Semitic genius, \Vorking in or near the mines, seems to have seized on the alphabetic element in the Egyptian script and expanded it into a full alphabet for translating the sounds of his Semitic speech into signs. This development took place about 1 500 BC and the new system moved slowly up the coastal route; though the script used in Ugarit was cuneiform. The Canaanite script was of the utmost importance for human history. Alphabetic scripts are 1nuch easier to learn and employ than the syllabic and combined scripts hitherto in use. They could be acquired by large numbers of people outside the narrov.1 circle of the scribal class, and thus tended to make it easier for society to emancipate itself from the intellectual domination of court and temple. As used by the Phoenician traders and merchants, the alphabet was spread over large parts of the Near East and Mediterranean. The Canaanites used an underlying Semitic tongue, whose grammatical and syntactical structure make it unnecessary to indicate vowels by signs when it is written. The earliest alphabets therefore were solely of consonants. When the Canaanite alphabet was made the basis for written Hebrew, also a Semitic language, vowel signs were likewise considered unnecessary. But when the alphabet spread west and north into the non-Semitic Greek-speaking world, vowel-signs were needed. So the Greeks, in adopting the Phoenician-Canaanite alphabet, pounced on six signs for consonants which were alien to their tongue and transformed them into vowel­ signs. This arrangement became the foundation for the first systems of alphabetic Greek, and later of Latin, and is perpetuated in all the written languages.based on the European tongues. One of the first alphabetic inscriptions we possess dates from the thirteenth century and is on the sarcophagus of a King Ahiran of Byblos, now in the Beirut Museum. It is no accident that the earliest alphabet should have been associated with Byblos, for this ancient settlement may well have been the world's first major port. Indeed, Philo, the first century AD Je\vish philosopher from Alexandria, thought it 'the oldest city in the world'. It was the entrepot and exporting centre for wood from the enormous Lebanese cedar forests, which throughout antiquity supplied the finest timber for palaces and temples. The first pharaohs of the United Kingdom of Egypt (which, apart from the sycamore, had virtually no native wood) were big customers, and Byblos was involved in the Egyptian timber-trade as early as the Old Kingdom, that is in the first half of the

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The l id of a decorated l imestone ossuary, dated c. A D 1 00 , represents an eight-arched arcade and proba b l y im itates so me well -known building, very l i kely Herod's Templ e, com pleted in A D 64.

Ancient \Xlorld. \Xlhen Herod's ki ngdon1 h ad to be broken up at his death, the Romans picked the ne,v city as the headq u arters for their Procurator of Judaea. In 2 2 BC, at a national assen1 bl y , Herod announced h is life-,vork, the rebuilding of the Ten1ple on a n1agni ficent scale. He had al ready started ,vork i n Jerusalem b y building a theatre and a n an1ph itheatre, presumabl y outside the \Valls, so as not to anger the orthodox Je,vs too 111uch - though they ,vould h ave regarded the mere existence of such pagan institutions near the holy city as a provocation. Kno,v ing i n advance that h is buildi ng plans ,vould run i nto opposition, he first set up, on a corner of the Ten1ple lv1ount, his form idable Anton ia fortress, and later huge to,vers called Phasael (identified ,vith the 'To\\7 er of David'), Hippicus and Maria111ne. Then he spent nvo years trai ning regi n1ents of Je,v ish stonen1asons and other craftsn1en. The actual building started i n 20 BC , and the Ten1ple structure itself ,vas put up in a mere eighteen n1onths. But the rest of the vast co111plex took forty -si x years. Work ,vas still going on in Jesus's day, and the Ten1pl e and its surrounds had not long been completed ,vhen the revolt broke out ,vh ich led to its utter destruction. Herod's Temple ,vas built prin1arily for the mill ions of Diaspora Je,vs, for whom it ,vas a great tourist and holiday as ,vell as a religious attraction, and for ,vhose sacri fices and accon1n1odation he n1ade an1ple provision. After the Ron1an destructions of A D 70 and A D 1 3 5, not a stone of the Temple itself survi ved, only the i n1n1ense platform ren1ai ned. But ,ve have several descriptions of ,vhat it looked like and ho\\' it functioned. Herod kept to the origi nal plan but he added the majesty wh ich the post-Exilic builders had been unable to supply. The di n1ensions were greater than So lon1on 's - the portico, for instance, ,vas 1 00 cubits h igh a nd 100 \\' ide, ,vh ereas Solon1on 's ,vas a n1ere 60 . Beyond the three rooms of the Ten1ple proper \\1 ere th ree courts : a court ,vh ich on l y priests could enter ; a secular court for n1ales of pure je,vish blood � a nd a court for Je,v ish won1en. Outside the gate to this last ,vere ta blets in Greek and Lati n , ,varning gentiles that the penalty for goi ng any further ,vas death . S ince Herod was not of a priestl y fan1il�· and could not enter the inner court, he paid less attention to its fittings than to the externals. The Hol y of Holies itself ,vas bare, though there ,vere sheets of gold on the ,valls. The stone,vork itself, says Josephus, was 'exceedi ngly ,vh ite' , and the decorati ve the111e ,vas dazzling \\'h ite and gold throughout - even on th e roof there ,vere gold spikes ro prevent 115


birds alighting an d discolouring the stonework. In a way, more impressive than the Tcn1 ple itself \Vas th e prodigious platform on which it was built, twice the size of its predecessor. It was thirty-five acres in area and nearly a mile in circun1 ferencc . Even n1ore striking was its height : more than twice the height as seen today fron1 the botton1 of the valley, for all the lower courses of blocks are covered in the rubbish o f n1an y centuries . These huge blocks, some of them, according to Josephus, '45 cubits in length, 10 in height and 6 in breadth', \Vere the \Vork of in1 ported crafts 1nen, and are to an exceptionally high standard. The top forty feet or so co nsisted of vaulted corridors, later known as 'Solomon's Stables ', and above th en1 , on the in1 1nense flat surface of the platform, were n1 agnificent cloisters, with hundreds of Corinthian pillars twenty-seven feet high and so thick that three n1en with arn1s extended could barely encompass them. To look to the depths below fron1 the cloisters of the platform, said Josephus, n1 ade you giddy. At great feasts, n1any thousands of pious Jews, priests, Levites and others,




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The recen t l y u ncovered sta irw a y , o u tside the Temple in Jerusale m , wh ich is proba bly the site of Jesus' fina l preaching.

THE A G E O f H E ROD A N D J ES U S worked i n and around the Ten1ple, ,vhich had vari ous great gates, and an enonnous bridge and staircase which con nected it to the city belo,v. The Te 111 plc itself \Vas a place ·w here vast nun1bers of sacri ficial an i 111als ,vere despatched, blooded and butchered in a highly expeditious n1anner. Hence the platfonn \Vas not solid. It ,vas a gigantic cleansi ng syste1n, containing thirty-four cisterns, ,vhich stored the ,vinter rainfall and in sun1n1er \Vater brought by aqueduct fron1 the Pools of Solon1on off the Bethlehen1 Road. The largest cistern, the 'Great Sea', held over two n1ill ion gal lons. A n1ultitude of secret pipes and drains brought ,vater up to the surface of the platfonn and carried a,vay the torrents of blood i n sluices. \Y/e have a valuable description of the Ten1ple, \vritten i n Jewish Alexandria and called the Letter of A risteas, by a Diaspora pi lgrin1. He says he sa \V 700 priests on the job, ,vorking in si lence, handling the heavy carcases ,v ith professional skill and placing then1 on exactl y the right spot on the altar. He ,vas n1ost impressed by the ,vater-syste1n, \vh ich ,vas being operated all the tin1e to keep the Ten1ple clean: 'There are n1any openings for ,vater at the base of the altar ,vh ich are invisible to all except those who are engaged in the adn1i n istration, so that all the blood of the sacrifices which is collected in great quantities is \vashes a,vay i n the nv inkling of an eye. ' The priests, ,vho conducted the sacrifices and the ceremon ies, and the Levites, who provided the 1nusicians, choristers, cleaners and n1aintenance n1en, were each divided into nventy-four ,vatches ; these 1nish1narots or shifts ,vere often reinforced for feasts by priests fron1 other J udaean towns and fron1 the communities of the Diaspora. But the govern i ng body ,vas dra \vn purely from the upper, and usuall y hereditary, ranks of the Jerusalem priesthood : the High Priest, the segan or deputy, \vho \vas usuall y a pharisee, the gizhari111 or treasurers, the a111arkali111 or trustees, and the catholicos or control ler. Thirteen priests ,vere required for each sacrifice. There \vas a regular sacri fice of two lambs at da,vn each day and another nvo at sunset. Ordi nary Je\vs \Vere not allo,ved into the sanctuary during the service but the doors \Vere kept open. Each service ended with the ritual drinking of \v i ne and a perfonnance by the Levite choir and orchestra of psalms, the reading of scripture, and hy1nns. On festi vals they sang the hymn of praise or ha/lei, still used in synagogues today. So far as ,ve kno,v, the Herodian Ten1ple musicians performed on the kinn o r-lyre of ten strings, bronze cy1nbals, the cha/ii or double pipe, the twel ve-string harp or nevel, and nvo kinds of trun1pet : the chotzetzerah or silver-trun1pet, blasts fron1 ,vhich n1arked pauses i n the ritual, and the shofar or ram's horn, still used on n1odern feastdays. Fro111 the Egyptians the Je\vs had taken the notion of the altar-fire ,vhich never goes out and, in the forn1 of sanctuary la1nps, they passed it on to the Christians. They also adapted the Egyptian habit of incensi ng the 1nost secret, dark part of the Temple. Ten1ple i ncense \Vas used in quantity, over 600 pounds a year, and it was very expensive ; its recipe ,vas a closel y-guarded secret, the property of the priestly fa1n ily of the Avti nas, ,vhose \von1enfolk ,vere not al lo,ved to use scent to avoid any charges of corruption. Fron1 the evidence of Josephus and the 1 17


Babyl onian Talnu1d, and fro n1 the directions in the Book of Leviticus, it looks as tho ugh the in cense at this period vvas n1ade by n1ixing stacte (gum balm) , frankincen se (gu n1 resin fron1 the terebinth tree), rn yrrh (gum resin from the c1 111phor bush), onychas (ground-up shell) , galbanum resin, cassia frorn the cin na 111on plant, spikenard, saffron , Cyprus wine, Sodon1 salt, stuff called nzaalah i,1slh111 , \vhich n1ade rising sn1oke, and a kind of cyclamen called kipat ha­ va rden. The expenses of the l"en1pie \Vere 111et by a half-shekel tax on all male Jews over tvvcnty, including the Diaspora and there were also endowments. But Herod, unlike Solon1on, paid for the actual building of the Ten1ple out of his ovvn revenues. Such generosity did hi111 no good vvith the orthodox Judaeans, and in his last 1nonths he quarrelled even vvith the Pharisees, who had generally been his allies. Over the 1nain entrance to the Ten1ple he set up a golden eagle. This did not \VOrry the Diaspora Jevvs, but it outraged the orthodox of Jerusalem, Pharisees included. Son1e Torah students cli rnbed up and hacked it to pieces. Herod was already on his deathbed, in his palace near Jericho � but he had his revenge nonetheless. The High Priest was deprived of office as accessory to the crime and the students then1sel ves were dragged down to Jericho and tried in the Roman theatre there, being burnt to death in1 n1ediately afterwards. After the slaughter, Herod vvas taken by litter to the hot springs at Callirrhoe, vvhere he died in the spring of 4 B C . Herod was attached to the sons he had b y his first Nabatean wife, Doris, and his wil l divided up his kingdom among then1 : Archelaus got Judaea, Herod A ntipas Galilee and Philip Ituraea. But Archelaus was a failure, and in A o 6 the Romans deposed him. Thereafter the province vvas ruled by Roman procurators residing in Caesarea, and ultimately responsible to the legate in A ntioch, who \Vas i n charge of the vvhole of Syria. The only one of Herod's progen y to shovv conspicuous political ability \Vas his grandson , Herod Agrippa. He vvas a Roman protege, and in A D 3 7 he was a\Varded Judaea, \Vhich he successfully admin istered until his early death in A D 4 4 , vvhen direct rule \Vas rein1posed. The Romans could not, or at any rate did not, solve the problem of hovv to administer Jewish Palestine vvith the consent of the inhabitants. The other oriental co rnmunities, and the Greek-speaking cities of the coast and the Decapolis, were reasonably content vvith the rule of Rome ; indeed, they flourished mightily. But Rome could not reach a 1nodus uiuendi \Vith the hard core of orthodox Jevv ry. One reason for this vvas that the Je\vs then1selves \Vere increasingly divided on vvhat their religion vvas supposed to be about. It is true that n1any learned Je\vs believed that their n1ain task \Vas to study to understand the existing scriptures and set down comn1entaries as to God 's precise n1eaning. The stud y of scripture, based on Deuteronomy 6 : 6-8, goes back to the tirne of Ezra at least, a nd proceeded industriously throughout the Ron1an period and beyond. Bet\veen 1 00 B C and A o 200 son1e o f the basic fonns of scriptural co n1111entary took their classical shape. H'1laka \Vas the legal tradition of

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An aerial view of the Mount of Bea utitudes with its modern Basil ica . I n the middle distance is the Plain of Gennasaret and market garden of Gal ilee.

through the countries of the Holy Land, one is appalled at the ravages of time and warfare which have swept away so 1nuch of what the Greek-speaking followers of Christ once built. Yet it must be said that, to a considerable extent, Byzantine Christianity was the architect of its own destruction. It tried to define and particularize too much, and therefore became increasingly divided and acrimonious. Like the state of which it was an integral part, it was too authoritarian, seeking exact credal definitions at packed church councils, later enforced by in1perial police and troops. In the fifth and sixth centuries, it was increasingly disturbed by its efforts to suppress the monophysites, that is those Christians who held, in their desire to reconcile the concept of the Son of God with monotheism, that the divine and human elements in God n1ade one nature, ,nonophusis. The controversy created those Eastern Churches which are independent of both Ro1ne and Greek Orthodoxy. Thus the Coptic church of Egypt vvas monophysite, as \Vas its Abyssinian offshoot, and so were most of the eastern provinces. In Persia, too, the Church was independent of Constantinople, and eventually became Nestorian, acknowledging the teaching of the ex-Patriarch of Constantinople, \Vho distinguished between the divine and human natures in Christ, and held therefore that Mary should be called 'Mother of Christ' but not ' Mother of God. ' The great Emperor Justinian, 52 7-6 5, might have accepted these arguable differences of view and worked for a policy of toleration and reconciliation, but he was a fanatical supporter of the anti-n1onophysite definition of the Council of L E FT The

silver-domed El Aqsa Mosque was la rgely reconstructed in the eleventh century.


B Y ZANT I NE CHR I ST I AN I TY Chalcedon, and used the whole power of his State in an atten1 pt to enforce it. Throughout the Near East, he backed bishops tern1ed Melkites by the monophysites (from the Se111itic n1elk, 111eaning king or royal) , who upheld the views of Chalcedon and Constantinople. But the effect of h is persecution was to produce another monophysite church in Arn1enia, for the Arn1enians, uncomfortably placed between the antagonistic e111pires of Byzantiun1 and Persia, chose the latter, and turned 111onophysite to convince the Persian authorities that their links with Constantinople had been finally severed. Even Justinian 's Empress, Theodora, was a secret 111onophysite. It \Vas her patronage which made it possible for Jacob Baradi, a monophysite bishop, to travel throughout the east, in the years 54 3-78, consecrating like-minded bishops and organizing the n1onophysite Church against the Melkites. It included vast numbers of Arabs on the fringe of the Empire and the desert, fro1n the Romanized Nabataean Arabs of Petra to the tribes of Arabia, n1any of them hitherto pagan . From this persecuted desert Jacobite Church it was only a con1paratively short theological step to the pristine monotheism of Islam. In Justinian 's day, the po\\7 er of Byzantium and its Church nevertheless seemed forn1idable. It stretched as far as Ron1e ever had. At Halebiyah, beside the brown waters of the Euphrates, an enorn1ous forti fied camp was built, in the mid­ sixth century, by John of Byzantiun1 and Isidore of Milo, nephew of the architect who created Santa Sophia in Constantinople. The walls of grey gypsun1 survive, and within them are a governor's palace and two ruined Melkite churches. Some fifty miles to the west is Resafa, another remarkable desert site, rectangular this time, a famous pilgrim city as well as a fortress, for it was the scene of the martyrdon1 of St Sergius, the patron saint of Syria. Justinian built massive walls, which still stand, and cisterns and reservoirs which could supply the town and garrison with \Vater for two years of siege. There are marvellous carvings on the Church of the Martyry and the triple North Gate, and the forty-acre site was packed with churches, State buildings and all the ostensible solidity of Byzantine­ Christian power. In fact this power collapsed in less than a generation. The Persians struck in 6 14, the first foreign invasion of the Holy Land for 600 years. Following them came the Arab Moslems, who in 6 3 6 beat the main Byzanti ne arn1y at the Battle of the Y a nnuk, the tributary of the Jordan on the far side of the Lake of Tiberias. Byzantine Orthodoxy had created a host of enen1ies for itself - Je\VS and Samaritans as well as Jacobites, Armenians and Monophysites of all kinds. Jerusalem was one of the few Eastern patriarchites \vhich accepted the Chalcedonian definition, but even Christians of Judaea and Galilee, \vho hated Byzantine taxes and bureaucracy, \\'ere lukewarn1 in their fidelity to the Orthodox govern1nent. Most of the Melkite officials fled. Almost everywhere, the all-conqueri ng Arabs were welcon1 ed or at worst received \V ith indifference. Thus the Western millenniun1 in the Holy Land can1e to an end and Oriental civilization returned in a new guise. The Em peror Justi n i a n and the Empress Theodora a nd their retinues from mosaics in the Basil ica of San Vita le 1 11 Raven n a .


The Coming of Islam A S WE HAVE S EEN, there were good reasons why Byzantine rule was unpopular in

the Near East, and why there was so little resistance to the Moslem Arabs. But what was it that drove the Arabs north and west ? Christianity had made some attempts to convert the desert tribes of Arabia. In the sixth century there was a Christian church as far south as Sana in the Yemen, but neither the Roman nor the Byzantine authorities ever relaxed their efforts to crush tribal raiding. They even imported lions from Africa and unloosed them in the desert to worry the Bedouins. Sometimes they found it cheaper to pay the tribes small subsidies as an alternative to thieving, but by the beginning of the seventh century they had returned to a policy of force. The Persians, too, were becoming more relentless in their suppression of tribal lawlessness. Hence the Arabs were adopting a posture of increasing hostility towards both their imperial neighbours, when Mohammed began his mission. He came from one of the smaller trading clans of mercantile Mecca, which was then polytheistic. He visited the Syrian cities after the terrible Persian incursions during the second decade of the seventh century, and observed the fragility of Byzantine power. He admired both Christian and Jewish ethics, but he understood Judaism better - like the overwhelming majority of the desert peoples, he was repulsed by the Greek metaphysics of the Trinity. By contrast, Judaic monotheism was simple. But in 622 he moved from Mecca to Medina, where his claim to prophetic status was rejected by the Je,vish co1n1nunity. Thereafter he took his own line. The expansion of Islam began under Mohammed's successor, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (632-4). Islam had no a1ternative to expansion, for the rapid spread of Mohammed's teachings among the Arabs had led to the end of inter-tribal warfare. The existence, in Syria and Mesopotamia, of huge minorities persecuted by imperial governments - for Persian Zoroastrianis1n, no,v in its dotage, like the Melkite and Orthodox authorities, had begun to persecute schismatics, heretics The vaulted substructures of Crusader and Herodian masonry below the pavement at the south-east of the Temple Area, Jerusalem, sometimes associated with the Stables of Solomon.


and people of other religions - offered the Arabs their opportunity. They did not con1e ,v ith fire and sword, although they attacked the imperial arn1ies with great ferocity. They offered toleration to all religions and respect for all houses devoted to God. Mohan1 n1ed had deplored the Persian devastation of Christian churches, and had ,vritten: 'But who does greater wrong than he who bars the sanctuary of God fron1 h aving his nan1e mentioned in them and who busies himself to destroy then1 ? ' ( Koran, Surah 3, 1 14). Abu Bakr issued orders to his general, Usarna : "Thou shalt n1utilate none. Neither shalt thou kill child nor aged man, nor any ,von1en. Injure not the date-palm, neither burn it with fire ; and cut not down any tree ,vhereon is food for man or beast. Slay not of the flocks or herds or camels, saving for needful sustenance.' (He did add, it is true to say, ' And the monks with shaven heads sn1 ite thou thereupon' ; as we saw, some of the Christian monks were violent persecutors.) Thus the Arabs did not inspire terror. In most of Syria­ Palestine, their troops were seen as less murderous and destructive than the Persians or even the Byzantines. It was under the second Caliph, Un1ar, 634-44, that the Holy Land passed into Moslem control. In Palestine, the decisive battle was fought at Ajnanain, on 30 July 6 34 ; this was probably in the Vale of Elah, where David killed Goliath. The Battle of the Y arnn1k, follo,v ing two years later, led to the rapid expulsion of the Byzantines fron1 Syria. Caesarea, the last Byzantine stronghold, fell in 640. Next year, the Arabs destroyed the Persian army and went on to the conq uest of Egypt, moving rapidly along the North African coast. Babylon fell in 64 1 , Alexandria the next year, Cyrenaica i n 64 3, Carthage in 698 ; Spain \,Vas invaded in 7 1 1 , France in 7 1 7. The same year, the En1peror Leo the !saurian halted Moslem progress towards Constantinople, and in 732 Charles Martel turned them back in France at the Battle of Poitiers. But in the preceding century of conquest, the Moslen1 Arabs had absorbed n1ore than half the Christian world. Jerusalem had remained forn1ally loyal to Constantinople, for its patriarch was Chalcedonian. But it did not fight ; it negotiated its surrender in 6 3 8. The Annals of At- Tabari, our Moslem source, says that the Christians of Jerusalem were given security 'for persons and property, for their chu rches and crosses.' The Caliph Un1ar took the surrender of the city in person and in1mediately demanded to be taken by the Patriarch Sophroni us to see the Temple built by Solomon, whon1 Moslen1s treated, as they did most of the principal heroes of the Old Testament, as a prophet. But of course there \,Vas nothing to see, other than the great platform itself. The pagan Ron1ans had set up several great statues there, but these had long been removed. According to the Moslen1 account, the Patriarch had to adn1 it that the place had been turned into a dunghill and a n1 idden. Umar was properly scandalized and in revenge the Nloslen1s referred to the Holy Sep ulchre Church as al-Kunzanah , the dung church. Our Greek source, Theophanes, says that when Sophronius \,Vas shov., ing Un1 ar round, the Patri arch murn1urcd to hirnself the phrase frorn Daniel 12 : 1 1 , ' abon1ination of desolation', and he refers to the Caliph 's interest in the Holy Places as 'diabolical hypocrisy. ' 1 70

T H E C O MI N G O f I S L A M

The arching interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with the Centre of the World in the foreground.

In fact it is difficult to find any early evidence of Moslem persecution of Christians in Palestine. There was still some doubt about where they stood in the religious spectrum. In Constantinople they were believed to be a weird Christian sect. In any case, there were very few of then1 to begin with. Even the invading armies were partly composed of polytheistic pagan s. The Moslems rnoved in more as a n1ilitary elite than as a settling horde, though gradually 1nore and n1ore of the land passed into the hands of big Moslen1 landowners. Originally Palestine was divided into two provinces or Junds, governed from Tabariyah (Tiberias) and Lydda (Ran1leh). The authorities dealt with the various religious groups corporately, through their senior clergyrnan - in the case of the Christians their catholicos or patriarch. Christian con1munes were known as n1illets, and the millet systen1 of govern n1ent was n1aintained, without any essential change, until the arrival of the British in 19 1 8. As the Arabs were a sn1all, ruling elite, their taxation systen1 was based on the assun1ption that non -N1osle1n s enonnously outnun1bered "the faithful.' Throughout the new Moslen1 territories , the followers of the prophet did not tax the1nselves, except for the relief o f the poor, indeed, most of the1n received pensions . Taxes for the upkeep of the State \Vere paid only by non- Moslen1 s or dhin11nis . These took the forrn of a poll-tax, but it was almost certainly less than the Byzantine poll-tax, and it was the only one all had to pay. The total weight of Moslen1 taxation \Vas appreciably less than the multiple exactions of Con stantinople. Moreover, cut off fron1 Con stantinople, there was no religious controversy arnong the Christians an d no persecution . The dhi,n,nis were left strictly alone, provided the practice of their religion \Vas

CI VI LIZATIO NS OF THE HOLY LA ND unobtrusive. The only restrictive prov ision was that they might not erect new churches . But Christian stonemasons, artists and architects were not idle. They were pron1ptly taken into Moslem employ (as were administrators, doctors, engineers and experts of all kinds) . The new rulers did not take long to adapt themselves to the civilization of the Near East. The first caliphs had lived in Medina. In 6 5 6 the Caliph Uthn1an was murdered and his successor, Ali, moved the capital to al­ Kufah on the Euphrates. Ali was the last of the orthodox caliphs, the companions of the prophet, and when he, too, was murdered in 66 1, Islam suffered the first of many splits. His followers refused to accept the doctrinal rulings of his successor, Mua w iyah, Governor of Syria, and formed the shiites, or sectaries . Mua \Viyah, as head of the sunni, or traditionalists, made Damascus his capital. As he was descended from Umayyah , the nephew of Mohammed's great-grandfather, he introduced the principle of hereditary succession, and the Umayyad dynasty becarne the greatest of all the Moslem ruling houses, the only purely Arab one. It \Vas under the Un1ayyad Walid, 705-1 5, that Islam reached its imperial apogee, stretch ing from Spain to India. The Umayyads were Arabs, but lacking a deep-rooted historical culture of their own, their attitude was cosmopolitan and they availed themselves with freedom and delight of all that Byzantium (and Persia) had to offer. They wanted to rule peaceably over these former provinces of the Empire and absorb their civilization, which meant persuading the inhabitants to accept them. Hence, below the top level, the government was very largely staffed by Christians. But the Un1ayyads also sho\ved their benevolence towards the Jews, and began the process whereby Islamic civilization absorbed a large element of Jewish culture. Indeed, at this stage it is worth noting that the change from Roman-Byzantine to Islamic rule marked the beginning of the Jewish recovery. In late Byzantine times the Jews of Palestine had been largely confined to a few villages in Galilee. Under the Umayyads Jews began to return to Jerusalem, to the quarter near the Wailing Wall bet\veen the Damascus and the St Stephen's Gates. They bought the slopes of the Mount of Olives facing the Temple, and Jewish pilgrimages were resumed, especially for the Feast of the Tabernacles. Je\vs also settled in Ramleh, Ascalon, Caesarea and Gaza. Under the ,-n illet system, the president of the rabbinical academy, or gaon, in Tiberias was recognized as head of the community. He also had international status among Je\VS, since the acaden1y fixed the Je\vish calendar every year for je\VS all over the \vorld. At Tiberias, in the seventh to eighth centuries, work continued steadily on collecting and editing the Midrash and on the textual studies of the Massorah - the present Massoretic text being based n1ainly on the work of the Tiberian scholars. And it was in seventh to eighth century Tiberias, possibly under the influence of Byzantine modes, that Eleazar Ben Kalir and other composers \vrote many of the hymns still used in the synagogue . But Jerusalen1, too , becarne a centre of Jevvish culture. The tendency to over1 72

T H E CO M I N G O f I S L A J\1 elaborate the Taln1ud produced the counter-tendency of periodic M essiahs. There \Vere Serene of Syria and Abu-Isa of Isphahan ; and Ahan ben David , though he did not exactly clain1 to be the Messiah, stressed the l a w of the Bible as opposed to the Tal inud , and he and his fol ] o\vers, the Karaites, 111ade Jerusalen1 their centre. Moreover, under Mosle1n rule, there \Vas a tendency for scholars of the great Babylonian Tal n1udic schools of Sura and Pun1beditha to 111ove to the ne\v ly tolerated Je\vish con1n1unities further \Vest, to Egypt, Kairouan, Spain and Jerusalen1. So the Holy City became a centre of Taln1udic studies also ; these scholars \Vere called Rabbanites, and their head \Vas in charge of the Jerusale111 Yeshivah, an d cal led the Gaon of Jacob. The povver of fixing the calendar no\v passed to Jerusalen1, \vhich in effect had nvo rival acaden1ies or 1 11iniature universities, which flourished in the city until the arrival of the Crusaders n1ade their life in1possible. Under the Un1ayyads then, Jerusalem was both a Christian and a Jewish cynosure. The caliphs proceeded to 111ake it into a Moslen1 one as well. This is not surprising since they venerated many Je\vish patriarchal figures and saints, an d regarded Jesus as a prophet. But they had a particular devotion to the Ten1ple Mount, on account of Mohamn1ed's fan1ous drean1, in \vhich he took a night­ journey on the \Vinged horse El Buraq (lightning) i n the co1npany of the Angel Gabriel. The relevant passage in the seventeenth Surah of the Koran , ' The Night Journey', reads : 'from the sacred ten1ple to the temple that is 1nore re1note, \vhose precinct we have blessed , that we n1ight show him of our signs.' This was interpreted as a journey fron1 Mecca to the Ten1ple Mount at Jerusalem - a detailed account, attributed to Mohammed's conte1nporary, Al- Hassan, being gi ven in the life of Mohan1n1ed written by Ibn Hisham, early in the ninth century. This story \Vas already believed by the Moslen1s when they took Jerusalen1, and the Ten1ple platform thus becan1e the centre of their devotions in the city. Moslen1 architectural history, ho\vever, poses a nun1ber of problen1s, some of which may remain insoluble, and there are particular problen1s associated \Vith their structures on the platforn1. Was Islamic architecture created essential l y by borrowing fron1 Christian fonns ? The prototype n1osque, built at Medina by Mohammed hin1self in 622 , was of \Vood , a square enclosure \Vith \Valls of brick and stone, partly roofed ; the roofs were of palm-branches covered in n1ud and resting on pahn-trunks. The faithful knelt, facing north to\vards Jerusalen1, in the Jewish fashion, but in 624 the orientation \Vas changed to\vards Mecca. The next n1osque of \Vhich \Ve have kno\vledge \Vas built at Kufah in Mesopotan1ia in 6 3 9 , and this had 1 11arble colun1ns, borrowed fron1 another building. A n1osque \Vas built in old Cairo in 642 , the first to possess the characteristic high lsla111ic pulpit or 1ni1nbar. The first minarets began to appear about the beginning of the eighth century, and the sen1i-circu lar ,n ih rab or prayer-niche, shortly after­ wards. The essential features of the Mosque had thus developed over less than eighty years ; later came the colonnades or lizuanat, surround ing the sa/111 or open court. The combination of these ecclesiastical devices provided fo r

CIVI LI ZATI ONS O F THE H O LY LAND a l l the ri tua l req u i rements o f the Isl a mic rel igion . The fi rst bu i ld i ng th e Moslems erected on the Temple pl atform , over the rock \vhere M ohan1 1n ed had al i ghted was a temporary wooden structu re . In 69 1 this vvas rep laced by the great Don1e of the Rock, bu i lt by Byzantine workmen on o rders fron1 the Caliph Abd u l M a l ik . This was not a mosq ue but a ci rcu lar ,nashhad or ' p l ace o f vvitness ' , where pi lgri ms w a l ked around M oh a m med 's rock un der a dorne and colon n ade. It is the fi rst real exa m ple of Moslem ecclesi astical architectu re but it rema ined unique - for the next 400 years all mosq ues were bu i l t to the square pattern . H ence we must assume the i nspi ration fo r the D ome \Vas Byzantine. It was, in fact, an aisled rotund a , developed from the Christian church . It was probably copied fro m the nearby Anastasis (Holy Sepulchre Church ) . Certa i n l y there were domed churc hes i n Syria long before the end o f the seventh century, and rotunda churches within an octagon shape already existed in Palestine. But the Dome of the Rock is somehow more splendid than i ts prototypes , perhaps because o f i ts magni ficen t position. It has been much battered and changed by tin1e. The D o me itself was origina lly covered in gold leaf. All was sto len , revealing the lead beneath , and it is now covered in a glea m i ng but l i feless bronze a lloy . In the sixteenth centu ry , Suleiman the M agn i ficent put in a bout 5 0 ,000 orna mental ti les, and there have been other additi ons and modifications, not al w ays p rudent. The Dome of the Rock i s not so much a work of the eighth century as a j igsa w pu zzle of many periods. Indeed , what ancient building i n Jerusa lem is not ? The Cali p h Ma lik ' s son a nd successor, Caliph Waleed , bu i lt on the platform a more regu lar mosq ue, the El Aqsa or 'd istant place ' , w ith a s i lver dome. The Jews cal l it the M i d rash Shlomo, 'Solomon 's Study ' . It seems to h ave been constructed originally from the nearby ruins of Justinian's great church, St M ary the New, which had been wrecked by the Persi ans and a bandoned . But the p resent mosq ue dates in part from the eleventh cen tury, not long before the First Crusade, and virtually a l l of it has been heav i l y reconstructed . O nce it conta i n ed a pulpit donated by Saladin - a great pulp it-donor in h i s day - but th is was destroyed when a madman set fire to the mosque in 1 969. (The arson ist, a Christian funda mentalist from Australia , bel i eved he was a descend ant of King David, a nd had been co m miss ioned by God to bu i ld a thi rd Temple.) There is a lso a third major Moslem building on the p l atform , the eighth-centu ry D ome o f the Chain, which served as the treasury of the two other places o f worsh ip , and is supposed to be on the site w here David held his court o f j udgment. For the M oslen1s, the platfo rm as a vvhole fo rms what they ca l l the Noble Sanctu ary, the Haram as-Sherif, and it is the third in honour o f their holy places, a fter Mecca and M ed i n a . The Moslems have controlled Jerusalem for most o f the past m illen n i u m a n d a h a l f, but i t is a curious fact that their i mp ression on the city h as never been decis ive. Certa inly, the O l d City of Jerusalem cannot be called a Jew ish city in appea ra nce or feeling, nor a Christian city, but it is not a Moslem city either. Jerusalen1 m a n i fests a specia l rel igious fervour, but it is sui generis and not the 1 74


The aisle around the Rock i n the great Dome o f the Rock, with the i ntricate and beauti ful pattern ing o f the Byzanti ne workme n .


property o f a particular faith. Dan1ascus, on the other hand, is quintessentially an Isla1nic city and it has a strong case to be considered the artistic capital of the Moslen1 \vorld. Why is this? It had a large Jewish community in very early times ; indeed, there \Vere probably Jews in Damascus before they even set foot in Canaan , and it vvas later an important part of David's kingdom. One of the earliest Christian con1n1unities formed itself there and the Christians were in control for about 300 years. The ans\ver, probably, is that Damascus is the archetype desert-oasis town and so forn1s a natural setting for the Arab-Islamic genius. It is on the far side of the eastern slope of the Lebanese mountain barrier, which cuts it off from the Mediterranean, and it is the natural starting-point, or caravanserai, for both the great caravan routes of antiquity, which lead east to Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf and south along the east side of the Jordan to the Gulf of Aqaba. Damascus is an im1nensely fertile oasis on the edge of the desert. Its river, the Barada, 'the River of Gold', rises in the Lebanon, and rushes dovvn its slopes until it literally disappears in the Dan1ascus oasis. But before it vanishes it not only waters the n1agnificent groves and orchards and gardens which surround the city, but gushes and trickles through endless channels and conduits, fountains and pools, in the city itself - sometimes being lifted up by wheels to the higher levels. Some of these arrangements go back to deep antiquity but they have been immensely improved and elaborated by the Arab water-engineers of the Middle Ages, for whom any opportunity to build a fountain-courtyard was an irresistible challenge. It was inevitable that the Umayyads should choose Damascus as their capital. Early in the eighth century, after the Dome of the Rock had been completed, but probably while the Aqsa Mosque was still being built, the Caliph Waleed decided to build a great mosque in his capital and make it the fourth holiest place in Islam. Damascus was already a very large city. Fron1 63 BC, in Pompey's time, it had been the capital of Roman Syria, and from about A D 200 a self-governing colonia. In the first half of the first century A D it had acquired an immense temple to Jupiter Damascenus (the Syrian god Hadad) , whose precinct was about 400 yards long and 300 wide. The Emperor Theodosius had cleared avvay the temple but kept the precinct, and within it had built a fourth-century church to St John the Baptist, whose head he believed he possessed (and which is still, supposedly, enshrined in the present n1osque). An enormous amount of Roman masonry and brickvvork remains in the precinct \Vall. In 70 5 Caliph Waleed cleared the church from the precinct, and in 714-1 5 he built his great mosque. It is the first indisputable masterpiece of Moslen1 architecture, if \Ve allow that the Dome of the Rock is essentially Byzantine. \X'hat is new about the Dan1ascus n1osque is the main lizuan, or arcade, which has three aisles, crossed by a central transept, vvith a dome over the top of it. The arches around the central court are horseshoe-shaped, very characteristic of the JV1oslem architecture of the \vest, 1nounted on pillars and colun1ns. Above the n1ain arcade

The arcaded interior of the Prayer Hall of the U mayyad Mosque i n Dan1ascus, which has three aisles, crossed by a central transept, w ith a dome overhead.

are semi-circular windows, nvo to each arch. Damascus \Vas also the first n1osque to be provided with a minaret. This \Vas the to\\1 er, used by the ,nuhaddin to call the faithful to prayer (as distinct from the Christians, \\1ho used clappers and later bells, and the Jews, who used the ram's horn). There were in fact four n1inarets, on each of four Roman towers at the corner. Only one of the to\vers ren1ains, ho\vever, and the minaret above it dates only fron1 14 8 8 ; another is fron1 the twelfth, a third from the fourteenth century. (The earliest surviving minaret is on the Great Mosque of Kairouan near Tunis, and is about 724-43, a generation after the original Damascus minaret.) The Great Mosque of Da1nascus is a kind of n1icrocos1n of the civilizations which have S \vept over the Holy Land. It is difficult to tell \Vhich part of the \Valls date fron1 Ron1an-pagan or Christian-Byzantine or Moslen1-Un1ayyad or later ti1nes, for there had been continual repairing and tinkering, and a major reconstruction after a fire in 1 893. Across the North Precinct Wall is the ton1b of Saladin, n1ost of it actually built by the Gern1an Kaiser, \Xlilheln1 I I , in his fanatical Eastern phase. The glory of the n1osque are the 111osaics on the ,vest side of the court, within the arcaded portico, of palaces and tree-covered hil ls and rivers - no humans, not even anin1als. But very little is left of the original 1 77

The Biblical ' Street called Straight' in Damascus. L E FT

The U mayyad palace at Khirbet Mefjer, near Jericho.


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