Thursday, October 20, 2005

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Ynetnews has clandestine video footage inside forbidden sites on the Temple Mount:
Exclusive: Temple Mount tour

Ynetnews presents rare, exclusive video of holy site, currently closed to Jews, after Israeli able to sneak camcorder into Mount. Prominent archeologist who watched video says Muslim renovation did not damage shrine

I can't get the video to work. It says to use Internet Explorer, which is dreadful for the Mac and which I refuse to use on principle. Firefox and Safari won't play the video. If anyone has suggestions, please drop me a note.

The archaeologist is Ze'ev Herzog. Here's the key section:
Distinguished archeologist Ze’ev Herzog, who has closely dealt with the Temple Mount, watched the video and said it only served to reinforce his stance that Muslim work did not cause any significant damage to the site.

“The Waqf’s renovation activity did not cause archeological damage in my estimation,” he told Ynet. “There’s no chance there were ancient archeological remnants in the area.”

The Waqf has been removing dirt from the site, Herzog says, but notes this dirt was only brought at a later period.

“According to the video, the Waqf in fact reconstructed the site as it was during the crusader period and added a few accessories (such as fans and electricity) to make it a convenient prayer house,” he said.

As so often with media quotes, I'm not entirely sure what some of this means. The "dirt only was brought to the site at a later period" than what? The Second Temple period? The Herodian period? How does he know? How was it brought there? From where was it brought? Doubtless he has answers to these questions, but they didn't make it into this article.

I think everyone was assuming that the material is fill. I had assumed it was fill put into the Temple Platform during the Herodian construction, but maybe Herzog knows something I don't. But in any case, it's fill that is producing a lot of interesting artifacts. At the very least, the dirt should not have been excavated from the Temple Mount without a salvage operation to sift it and catalogue what came out of it before it was mixed with rubble and garbage in the Kidron Valley etc. And I still think it should not have been excavated at all.

(Heads-up, reader Shai Heijmans.)

UPDATE (21 October): archaeologist David Stacey e-mails:
Jim, Surely what Ze'ev was saying was true. The area cleared and turned into a mosque is what is often called Solomon's stables. These were utilised by the templars perhaps even as stables. Whatever they were used for the dirt moved out from them must post-date the Crusader period.

Okay, I think I have this straight now. Professor Herzog was speaking only of the rubble hauled out of Solomon's Stables and he was saying that this area was not damaged. Indeed, that material would not bear on the Second Temple and earlier periods, but surely it still should have been sifted for post-Crusader artifacts.

But the larger issue is the huge pit dug by the Waqf north of the Stables. See this essay by Zachi Zweig on the Har Habayt site. It doesn't sound to me as though the video deals with this area. I believe that it's the rubble from that excavation, which seems to be at least partly Herodian fill, which is providing the interesting ancient artifacts.

UPDATE (23 October): David Stacey replies:
Jim, I think it is important to keep things in perspective. Yes indeed much of the deep pit to the north of Solomon's stables was probably Herodian fill. And yes it would have been better if both it and the spoil removed from the stables themselves had been treated with more archaeological respect. But truckloads of debris were removed by bulldozers from outside the city walls near the Jaffa gate by Israeli archaeologists without the debris being sifted and, moreover, I don't believe that anybody can be absolutely certain that remains from the Umayyad periods onwards were not destroyed in the process. However flimsy these structures may have been they too would have deserved more respect. Let he who is without sin.....

I'm not familiar with that incident, but I take your point. Nevertheless, I still think no one has any business digging big holes in the Temple Mount platform and that it is seriously irresponsible to do so. The way I see it, Herod's work involved dismantaling some or all of the Second Temple, and perhaps its platform too, to build his Temple. This means that, pound for pound, fill from his project is likely to contain considerably more interesting things than fill from elsewhere.

Also, thanks to those who sent suggestions on how to get the video to work. I haven't been able to put much time into it yet, but I'll try to figure it out when I get a chance.

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