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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, Mordechai, Binyamin

Modern propaganda can distort historical retrospectives. To unravel mysteries one must be sensitive to actors and cultures that influenced people of an ancient time. One such example is the great Xerxes, a Persian King of mythical proportion about whom modern movie going audiences are unlikely to ever restore a real sense. Historical documents, archaeology, anthropology and punctuated moments during his rule are the only tools we have to reconstruct his story. One such source is the Jewish perspective, you see, Xerxes is the Greek name of the well known King Ahasuerus (Ahashverosh) of Susa (Shushan), from the story of Purim.


Shushan housed the palace of Xerxes, an ancient Persian city, close to the the border of modern Iran and Iraq. It was in Shushan, some 70 years prior that the Jewish nation had been exiled by the Babylonians shortly before they were defeated by the Persian King, Cyrus The Great.



The confidence of Jewish leaders in their prophecy that predicted the Jewish exile would be limited to 70 years bewildered Persian officers and the King. Was the prediction arrogant enough for Jews to dominate the will of the Persian King? As the time approached and the intellectual challenge to Xerxes grew more intense, he strengthened his hand, subjecting the Jews to a battle of wits. He hosted an elaborate feast that lasted 6 months and subjected the pious Jewish community to exotic foods, luxuries and practices they were not permitted, by Jewish law or accustomed. During the feasts his sorcerers served from the vessels that had been captured and only ever previously used in their holy temple in Jerusalem.


Rapid assimilation became Xerxes objective. Ultimately, when that did not appear to shake the confidence of the Jewish nation, he was convinced to authorize his officers to execute the Jewish genocide. His leading bureaucrat proponent, known through the Jewish story as 'Haman' was of the Amalekite bloodline that also became Hitler’s Germany. Primed and ready for the final genocide Haman eagerly negotiated with and paid Xerxes to obtain the coveted rights to the impending Jewish spoils.


Unbeknownst to Xerxes, one of his recently isolated harem girls whom he is said to have favored, became his Queens’ envy. In a moment of jealousy the Queen publicly challenged Xerxes. He banished her and instead began a courtship with Hadassah, the hidden harem girl who was a relative, some say wife of Jewish nobleman Mordechai, of the Benjamin tribe. As the seventy year prophecy drew closer and conditions for the Jews became intolerable, Mordechai incensed Haman, by refusing to bow to him. This became the catalyst that led to the events of Purim, one of the happiest events on the Jewish calendar.


In the miraculous series of events that followed, Hadassah or Ester, which means hidden approached and influenced Xerxes to see futility in Haman's plot. She complained of the insult to her and her people who had fasted and prayed for three days prior to her approaching the King. Xerxes favored her opinion over Haman, who was subsequently hanged. Xerxes and his successor integrated the Jews into Persian society, they became loyal servants of the King and in accordance with their prophecy they were permitted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. Although the prophecy of return from exile had in fact come true, the significant majority of exiled Jews never returned. Life in Persia had become comfortable, Xerxes had cleverly integrated them into his society and the Jews would empower his dynasty for many generations into the future.


The small number of returnees to Jerusalem under Nehemiah and Ezra, the head of the Great Assembly eventually restored the destroyed temple and rekindled the age old practices of the Jewish people. Jewish influence was then centered in Jerusalem and Persia. For the millions of Jews entrapped in their Persian exile who did not return, modern day Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine became home.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s addressed the US Congress on 13 Adar, the day Jews remember the Fast of Esther. It is reminiscent of Mordechai’s incite, but when the annihilation of your nation is still threatened by Iran, the very nation over which Xerxes ruled one must be prepared to make a stand!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Jewish Ancestral Path

It's difficult to imagine how an ancient city developed into a modern metropolis especially when archaeological records are confounded by settlements spanning many cultures over more than 4000 years. However, Jerusalem has an almost perfect record, the origin of which remained untouched and was only recently discovered. From the site of its origin, the city obtained its holy reputation on the mountain known as Mount Moriah, but one major event in the life of King David left its mark on our modern retrospective.


I watched a video on the Hamas strategy to attack Israel using tunnels built and destroyed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. It was not the preemptive intelligence of the Israeli Army or the conviction of politicians that exposed the high-level threat, it was the seemingly unrelated brutal murder of three young Israeli Yeshiva students that instantly unified the nation and transferred their nationwide sentiment to an authority to act. Their defense force ultimately finished the job. A similar transference of authority was granted to King David at a crucial moment in Jewish history.


The City of David, the original Ancient City of Jerusalem exists outside of the walls people know as the Old City of Jerusalem. The walls of this higher elevation Old City, built ~500 years ago, during the Ottoman period purposely cut off the Ancient City, disposing it, relegating its lower elevation, to the garbage dump that The City of David  became. In the following image, the Old City walls enclose today’s Temple Mount, Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim quarters isolating the City of David (South).


Click to enlarge
~North⇓


Discovering traces of the first people that lived in the area required a combination of archaeological science, anthropology, cultural narratives and tradition. Each piece had to objectively fit in order that a theory spanning close to 5000 years of occupation could prevail. Remarkably the intact archaeology and narrative of Biblical forefathers seemed to weave into the perfect tale. Its a story of sporadic dwelling, holy attraction, ancestral honor punctuated by invasion, reclamation, growth, unrest, conquest, defeat, occupation, exile and return.  However, without understanding transference of the nationally inspired authority to act, we can’t contextualize the archaeological "bread crumbs".


This historical rewrite dates Jerusalem’s origin to the Early Bronze Age cave discovered behind the bedrock, entered through the cliff face of the Upper (High) Ridge, above the Upper Gihon Pool and Spring. The cave dwelling contains 3-4, hollowed stone places to sleep and internal family seating around a fire pit. The approximate location can be seen (above) in the brown circle on the green boundary around the City of David. Simple dwellings, natural pools and worship on the upper ridge (facing East) preceded the later development of the more structured constructions represented in the image below.


Gihon Ridge - before city walls (time of Jacob)
~North ⇗


The preceding archaeology supports the Biblical narrative of Melchizedek, the Righteous King, High Priest of Salem, said to be Noah’s son Shem. Toward the end of his life he was visited by younger relative Abram, whom he blessed. Then, in the immediate years after Abraham bound and offered his son Issac as a sacrifice to God at Mount Moriah it became Isaac's home. Remarkably, there exists a most intriguing artifact located on the perfectly preserved Upper Ridge. The monument or matzevah on the bedrock of one of four chambers, I argue was erected by Isaac's son Jacob when he accepted his new name Israel and began developing Beit El (House of God) to fulfill his covenant made at that spot. According to many well known Jewish sources this matzevah was erected on Mount Moriah by Jacob and marks the place of the famous Jacob’s ladder dream. The same sources suggest it was located adjacent to the altar on which his father Isaac was offered. According to Jewish Law the altar on which Isaac was bound is the exclusive site of Israel’s Temple altar.


Jebusite City - without Palace or Temple (time of Joshua)
~North⇗

After Jacob left Mount Moriah, him and his descendant nation Israel were exiled to Egypt, Jacob never returned. Some 200 years later, his descendant Joshua returned to find the Gihon Spring, Upper Ridge, Pool and new city occupied and protected by buildings, a fortress and high walls.


Jewish sources tell of the pact Abraham and Isaac entered with the Father or Nation King (Avimelech) not to dispel his peacekeeping descendants from Abraham's ancestral land. Despite attempts by Joshua and the tribes of Israel, until the time of King David some 400 year later, Israel was unable to conquer the city from the Jebusite/Emorite descendants of Melchizedek's brother Ham, progenitor of Avimelech.


Archaeological remnants of the walls of the Jebusite City demonstrate they were later reinforced, at the time of King David after he and his men penetrated the underwater channel of the Gihon Spring, entered the city, occupied it and lived together with Avimelechs’ remaining peacekeeping relatives including their Jebusite King. From this city, Jerusalem his ancestral inheritance King David progressively obtained control, extending the city and building his palace as a symbol of his nations center, but national authority was not easily forthcoming. After an extramarital affair with BatSheva, toward the end of King David's life a nationwide pandemonium inspired the essential, momentary transfer of authority. In the time between disaster and resolution, the King identified the holy temple site, built an altar at the top of Mount Moriah and designated it the location of the nations future Temple, which his son Solomon would build.


King Solomon's City - with Temple (time of Solomon)
~North⇗

King Solomon followed his father’s extensive plan, extending the city walls north to the top of Mount Moriah where the First Temple was constructed and where the second Temple ultimately followed. The national unity engineered by King David did not last long, immediately following the reign of Solomon, his son Rehoboam was denounced by challenger Jeroboam and the nation, once again divided. In part Jeroboam founded his national support in pluralistic idolatry. Since then, some 2900 years ago, despite many royal attempts the tribes of Israel have never been reunited.


Jacob left this site of his ancestors for Egypt and never returned. Joshua was unable to conquer it, King David declared the pact of his ancestors void, invaded and recovered Jerusalem city from occupiers. It's entirely possible they may have already buried the high ridge of the Gihon during the construction of their walls and certainly their citadel cut it off. Eli Shukron the lead archaeologist on the Gihon dig revealed that all four chambers of the Upper Ridge including the matzevah had been preserved in softly packed loose earth between two walls. The dirt contained small artifacts dated back to King Hezekiah. Perhaps Hezekiah had revealed it during his major excavation of the tunnel system that carried water from the Gihon Spring into the city's Shiloah Pool at the base of the Kidron Valley.

Inevitably we must answer the question of the Upper Ridge. Whether King David knew of its existence and purposely obfuscated it, declaring the site on the top of the mountain the altar of the temple is irrelevant. If Jewish law prescribes the site of Isaac’s offering the only place for the Temple’s altar then we must ask - is the Upper Ridge at the Gihon that place and will we finally return to the forgotten cornerstone of our Jewish ancestral heritage?