Picture of the Week: Interior of Barclay’s Gate

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

This was a difficult week to come up with a photo to share.  The problem wasn’t due to a lack of good material … the problem was that there were too many good photos available!

This week’s photo comes from Volume 2 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, which focuses on Jerusalem.  These are photographs of Jerusalem taken in the first half of the 20th century before many of the modern developments were built.  So much has changed in the city since that time (both physically and politically) that this volume is a gold mine of material for Jerusalem studies.

Here is a list of some of the photos I could have chosen for this week’s post:

  • The City of David when it was still being used for farmland.
  • A German zeppelin hovering over the Old City.
  • The interior of the Golden Gate on the Temple Mount.
  • The interior of the Double Gate on the Temple Mount.
  • The interior of Solomon’s Stables in the Temple Mount (but see here for a similar photo).
  • The interior of the Hurvah Synagogue before it was destroyed in the War of Independence.
  • The Pool of Hezekiah filled with water instead of trash (but see here for similar images).
  • Sealed entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
  • The short-lived and aesthetically questionable clock tower built on top of Jaffa Gate (but see here for a previous post on that subject).
  • Remains of a Crusader-period monastery in the Kidron Valley, a small portion of which was only briefly excavated in 1937 and then buried again.
  • Crowfoot and Fitzgerald’s 1927-28 excavations in the City of David.
  • A smog-free landscape looking east which includes the Hinnom Valley, Mt. Zion, the Judean Wilderness, the Dead Sea, and the mountains of Moab.
  • The Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall as they looked before the War of Independence (but see here for a similar photo).

Instead, I will present the following rare photo of the interior of Barclay’s Gate (or at least the top section of the gate) on the western side of the Temple Mount, taken sometime between 1940 and 1946.


Barclay’s Gate was one of the entrances to the Temple Mount during the Second Temple Period (the time of Jesus and the apostles). A modern photo of the outside of Barclay’s Gate, in the women’s area of the Western Wall Plaza, can be seen here.  Only the stone that formed the lintel is visible today from the outside.  In the PowerPoint notes included in the collection, Tom Powers explains what we can see in the photograph above:

This fascinating photograph (looking northwest) shows a room lying beneath the surface of the Temple Mount (to Muslims, the Haram esh-Sharif, or “Noble Sanctuary”). This space was the subject of several descriptions and drawings by 19th century explorers but has rarely been seen by Westerners—or photographed. Much better known, actually, is the opposite side of the thick wall seen here at the end of the vaulted room: it is the massive lintel and blocked opening of an original western entrance of the Herodian Temple Mount, the so-called “Barclay’s Gate” partially visible in the very southern end of today’s Western Wall (women’s prayer area).  

The ancient gate was identified in modern times by James T. Barclay, an American Protestant medical missionary and amateur explorer of Jerusalem’s ancient places. In the course of recounting his identification of the exterior gate elements, Barclay also described the space pictured here: 

“During the period of my admission into the Haram enclosure I discovered in this immediate vicinity, on the interior, a portion of a closed gateway, about fourteen or fifteen feet wide; but whether it is connected with that on the exterior, I was not enabled to determine, for the guards became so much exasperated by my infidel desecration of the sacred room, el-Borak, where the great prophet tied his mule on that memorable night of the Hegira, that it was deemed the part of prudence to tarry there but a short time and never to visit it again . . . . Only the upper portion of the gateway can be seen—the lower part being excluded from view by a room, the roof or top of which is formed by the floor of this small apartment.”
— James Barclay, City of the Great King (1857), pp. 490-91 

In the passage quoted above Barclay, alas, garbles some elements of the Muslim tradition (he calls the mythical beast a “mule” and confuses Mohammed’s Night Journey with the hegira, his flight from Mecca to Medina). Nonetheless, his notion that this “small apartment” might be connected to the gate he had identified from the outside was correct, as confirmed by other explorers only several years later. Barclay was also correct that the mosque occupied only the uppermost part of the gateway. But, whereas Barclay presumed the existence of a lower room, the mosque actually overlies a great volume of debris deposits (or fill) behind the blocked gate. 

In this photo, the vaulting overhead is the top of the Herodian gate passage, and the dark line in the masonry of the far wall (beneath the shallow arch) corresponds to the bottom of the great lintel (apparently the lintel itself is not visible). Experts estimate the height of the Herodian gate opening, from sill to lintel, at 25 to 30 feet (7.8 to 9.3m), with the sill lying only a few yards (meters) above the Herodian street. Thus, in the original gate passage here, a broad stairway no doubt ascended (far beneath the floor shown here) toward the east and the surface of the Temple Mount. The original passage ran eastward from the western wall for at least 70 feet (22 m), but it was reconfigured and altered in many ways over the ages. For example, the distinctive arch of chamfered voussoirs (beveled and molded arch-stones) seen here, and others like it, point to a major redesign and rebuilding of the passage in Omayyad times (7th-8th centuries), when the gate was still open and in use. Since the Arab chronicler Al-Muqadassi in 985 still lists the gate (called by him, and all previous Arab sources, Bab Hitta) among the active entrances into the Haram, it must have gone out of use and was blocked sometime after that date. The eastern part of the passage was walled off at some point, plastered, and used as a cistern. 

The “al-Buraq” Mosque pictured here, again, is built into the vaulted internal gate passage of Barclay’s Gate, along the western wall and inside the Haram (Temple Mount) enclosure. It is situated immediately next to the Mughrabi Gate, to the north, and below the level of the Haram platform, from which it is accessed by the two flights of stairs pictured here. The Matson-supplied date for this photo is 1940 to 1946, and the mosque apparently still exists today. … 

This photograph and over 650 others are available in Volume 2 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and can be purchased here for $25 (with free shipping).  Other historic photos can be seen on various pages of LifeintheHolyLand.com.  You can find the links the Jerusalem pages in the left column of the homepage.


Wednesday Roundup

Mark Hoffman comments on BibleX’s picture-taking tips and adds some suggestions of his own.

Time is reporting on Simcha Jacobovici’s lawsuit against Joe Zias. Aren Maeir isn’t happy with the article’s title: “A Feud Between Biblical Archaeologists.”

The Sea of Galilee is up to within 6 feet of capacity.

Raphael Golb’s appeal resulted in the vacating of one count and the affirmation of 30 other counts.

The NY Times is calling it “The Great Giveback,” as American museums hand over prized antiquities due to threats by foreign governments.

You can take a “virtual tour” of the tabernacle at the Creation Museum website. Click on this link and then select “The Tabernacle.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls are headed for Boston.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson, David Coppedge


More Recent Excavations in Jerusalem

Binyanē Ha-Umma (South): Finds included cooking pots from the first century, brick and roof tile debris from the Tenth Legion pottery workshop, and four coins.

Shu‛fat: A survey a couple of miles north of Damascus Gate identified 64 sites including an Iron II farmhouse, two Second Temple period tombs (one with a Latin inscription), nine tumuli, a Roman road, a large quarry, and more.

Mount Zion: An excavation was conducted in the courtyard south of the building that houses David’s Tomb and the Upper Room. The five strata excavated date from the Byzantine to the modern period.The excavation was prematurely halted at a depth of 5 feet when the archaeologists reached bones. “Further excavations will clarify if a massive wall from the fourth century CE was indeed exposed at the bottom of the trial square.”

The Old City, IDF House: Located along the Street of the Chain to the west of the Western Wall prayer plaza, this excavation identified primarily remains from the Ottoman period.

Quarry in Shu’fat. Photo by IAA.

New Resource: Satellite Bible Atlas

There is a fabulous new resource available that I’m delighted to be the first to tell you about. For the last four years when teaching seminary and church groups in Israel, I’ve had as the class guide an outstanding resource that nobody else could buy. I joked with my last group that this book cost $3,640 because they could only get it by coming with me on the trip. The other option was to enroll as a student in one of the short- or long-term study programs at The Master’s College’s campus in Israel for even more money.sba500 Today, for the first time ever, you can purchase your own copy of the Satellite Bible Atlas. This new work by Bill Schlegel replaces the venerable Student Map Manual but is superior to it in many ways. One obvious advantage is that you don’t have to spend 60+ hours marking it before it is usable! All the historical markings are printed in bright colors on top of satellite map imagery. Another advantage is that the commentary is on facing pages with the maps, so you have easy access to everything that is going on. If you want more, you can download the free, 200-page expanded commentary, The Land and the Bible: A Historical Geographical Companion to the Satellite Bible Atlas. This resource is ready for personal use, classroom use, and field trip use. The author, Bill Schlegel, has been teaching college and seminary students in Israel for 25 years. Everything in the Satellite Bible Atlas is field-tested by a professor who knows God’s land and loves God’s Word. Here are 7 more reasons I love the Satellite Bible Atlas: 1. The maps are full-size, full color, and full of rich detail of the hills, wadis, plains, and passes. 4.6-Gideon 2. There are 85 maps which means that every major historical event is covered, from Abraham to Paul. Too often the New Testament gets short-changed in atlases, but not here: the Satellite Bible Atlas has 9 maps for the life of Christ and 6 for the apostolic period. 3. The Satellite Bible Atlas includes 17 detailed topographical maps without historical markings. These are ideal for getting the best view of the terrain as well as both ancient and modern sites. 4. I fully trust the markings and the commentary. There are not many works in this field for which I can say that. 5. The north-orientation of the maps means there is no immediate learning curve as there was with the previous atlas we used which put east at the top. I put this atlas in the hands of my church group last year and they were immediately off and running. Several have commented to me in the last few weeks that they regularly use the Satellite Bible Atlas as they read the Bible. 6. The atlas comes with a free copy of all the maps in digital (jpg) format. You will receive a link to download the maps with your order confirmation. 7. For $30, plus $3 shipping and tax where applicable, you get an excellent atlas at an outstanding price. (For an additional discount on purchases of 10 or more copies, contact us.) Check out the sample maps, the table of contents, endorsements, teaching videos, and the free downloads. You can order here.


Weekend Roundup

This is a series I should have done on this blog. But BibleX has done it first and quite well: Picture Taking Tips for the Holy Land, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Thank you, Dr. Savelle.

The Shephelah is a great place to live. The ancients knew it and now modern people are catching on.

That’s bad for those who care about the preservations of ancient sites, as Luke Chandler explains in his well-illustrated post, Khirbet Qeiyafa to be Enveloped by City Expansion.

Beth Shean—A Place for Happy Explorers: Check out the photos, the video, and the city’s lingering lesson.

“Huge flocks of synchronized starlings that appear like a black cloud returned to Israel last year for the first time in 20 years.” This free Haaretz article includes impressive photos.

Jerusalem Online has a 4-minute video on The Search for Herod’s Grave. You can read the transcript at the same link.

The ancient Corinthians liked to feast, a fact confirmed by the recent excavation of more than 100,000 bones excavated in the abandoned theater.

The Guardian reports on Turkey’s on-going efforts to blackmail museums around the world.

For more, check out the Archaeology Weekly Roundup at the ASOR Blog.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson

Beth Shean aerial from northeast, tbs118210011
Beth Shean aerial from northeast.
Photo from Samaria and the Center.

Recent Excavations in Jerusalem

Old City: A small excavation inside a dwelling south of Damascus Gate and west of the Austrian Hospice revealed pavement and pottery from the Mamluk period.

Rasm al-‘Amud: This site on the lower southeastern slopes of the Mount of Olives is located nearly 1 mile east of the City of David. Excavation of fifty squares revealed six strata dating from the Intermediate Bronze (VI-V), Middle Bronze IIA (IV), Middle Bronze IIC-Late Bronze (III), Iron II (II), and Late Roman-Early Byzantine (I). The best preserved remains are the earliest and come from a semi-nomadic group that settled down near the water source. In the 9th-7th centuries, the site was a cultivated garden and a jar handle was found with an inscription that reads “ …ל (?)מ/נחם ” (“Le[?]m/nhm”). The report includes a photo of the inscription.

Beit Hanina: Remains were excavated of seven phases of the Roman road that branched off from the Jerusalem-Shechem road heading towards the Beth Horon ridge. The report doesn’t mention it, but this is the route Paul would have taken on his way to Antipatris and Caesarea (Acts 23:31). Other road segments were excavated, but no map has been published.

Nahal Rephaim: A survey of this valley southwest of the Old City (see 2 Sam 5:18-25) identified 42 sites including watchman’s huts, a limekiln, a burial cave, a cistern, five roads, and farming terraces.

“Based on the rural nature of the surveyed area, it seems that it constituted part of Jerusalem’s agricultural hinterland, at least during some of the ancient periods.” Compare Isaiah 17:5: “It will be…as when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim.”

Ancient road between Jerusalem and Beth Horon.
Photo by IAA.

Picture of the Week: Lower Beth Horon in the Early 20th Century

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

It is impossible to send a photographer back to biblical times to capture the sights that were familiar to Abraham, David, and Peter…but a photographer taking pictures in the early 20th century could come pretty close.

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.  This is a remarkable collection of photographs from the first half of the 20th century.  I had a hand in the early stages of this project, working through and cataloging thousands of photos.  It was a remarkable experience and in the process I learned much about the cultures of that period, the daily life of the inhabitants, the notable events of the day, and the various archaeological sites.  The collection published by LifeInTheHolyLand.com is a selection of the best of the photographs taken by the American Colony and Eric Matson.  Over 4,000 photos from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt are presented in eight volumes. We will spend the next few weeks highlighting a photo from each volume. LifeInTheHolyLand.com describes the collection in this way:

Founded in 1881 by Horatio Spafford (author of the famous hymn, It is Well With My Soul), the American Colony in Jerusalem operated a thriving photographic enterprise for almost four decades. Their images document the land and its people, with a special emphasis on biblical and archaeological sites, inspirational scenes, and historic events. One of the photographers, G. Eric Matson, inherited the archive, adding to it his own later work through the “Matson Photo Service.”

As you spend time in the collection, you really do feel like you have stepped back in time.  The landscapes are picturesque because buildings are sparse or non-existent and the air is free from smog. The local villages are full of primitive dwellings while the new churches, hospitals, and municipal buildings are pristine.  You see dirt roads, horse-drawn carriages, boats powered by wind, and people walking from one town to the next.  Archaeological sites are untouched by the excavator’s spade or are being subjected to excavation for first time.  What an amazing time to be a photographer in the land of the Bible!

For example, as I was looking through Volume 1 the picture above stood out to me.  Two women are walking barefoot along a narrow, dirt path in the hills of Ephraim, balancing water jugs on their heads.  Behind them is the small town of Lower Beth Horon surrounded by farmland and a handful of trees.  You can almost feel the silence that must have hung in the air in this sleepy countryside.  Such a scene must have been familiar during the biblical period, and a photo such as this has the ability to transport us back to biblical times and to help us read Scripture in its historical context.

This photograph and 600 others are available in Volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and can be purchased here for $20 (with free shipping).  Volume 1 focuses on “Northern Palestine,” and other photos from the volume can be seen here, here, and elsewhere on LifeInTheHolyLand.com.  Images and information about other work carried out by women during this period can be found here.


Wednesday Roundup

The level of the Dead Sea has risen for the first time in the last ten years.

Egyptian police seized a carload of 863 ancient artifacts, including 10 scarabs, 180 amulets, 120 Ptolemaic coins, 407 Roman coins of bronze, 3 Osirion wooden statues, and a limestone statue.

Victor Avigdor Hurowitz, Professor in the Department of Bible, Archaeology and Ancient Near East at Ben-Gurion University, has died after a long illness.

Shmuel Browns’ Photo of the Week is an impressive shot of the Keshet Cave in western Galilee.

The Samaritans on Mount Gerizim can vote twice this week.

Accordance Bible Software has an outstanding sale going on right now for both sets (9 volumes) of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, Old and New Testaments. It’s marked down now 63% to $150. These volumes have lots of images you can easily search and use. Sale ends on Monday.

HT: Charles Savelle

Dead Sea, Ras el Feshkha, mat01742

Western shore of the Dead Sea in early 1900s
Photo from Southern Palestine photo collection

Excavations below Jerusalem’s Church of the Redeemer

This may be the most interesting archaeological excavation in the Old City of Jerusalem in the last few years. The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is located next door to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. From DW:

Two-thousand years of biblical history lay buried 14 meters beneath the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. German archeologist Dieter Vieweger led the excavation of the site.
A Herodian quarry, the remains of Golgotha, buildings from the period of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, mosaics from the Church of Saint Maria Latina: At the end of 2012, the Archaeological Park was opened under the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, giving visitors the chance to take a tour of these locations and understand the city’s colorful past. German archeologist Dieter Vieweger spent three years building the park together with a team of students and experts.
The archaeological park makes 2,000 years of history in Jerusalem visible – from Herod to the Crusaders to today. As a biblical archeologist, which chapter in history do you find most interesting?
For me, of course, the oldest layers are the most interesting – those buried 14 meters (46 feet) under the Church of the Redeemer. That’s where we found a stone quarry built by Herod the Great. You can actually walk around it and see how thick the stones were carved out, sawn and broken. The quarry was used to expand the city to the east of the site at Herod’s instruction. But not all of the stone was taken from the ground where the Church of the Redeemer now stands. This area was later called Golgotha, the location where Jesus was crucified. In this section of the archeological park, visitors come very close to Christian and Jewish history.

The full article is here. The site is now open to the public, but it closes early in the afternoon. In a post last year, Tom Powers wrote about his tour of the site before it opened.

German Church of the Redeemer, mat00862
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, early 1900s
Photo from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

King Herod Exhibit Opening at Israel Museum

The Israel Museum’s largest and most expensive archaeological project will open on February 12 and run for nine months. From Phys.org:

Israel’s national museum said Tuesday it will open what it calls the world’s first exhibition devoted to the architectural legacy of biblical King Herod, the Jewish proxy monarch who ruled Jerusalem and the Holy Land under Roman occupation two millennia ago. The display includes the reconstructed tomb and sarcophagus of one of antiquity’s most notable and despised figures, curators say. […] Herod’s final grandiose project was to prepare for death. Curators believe Herod constructed an extravagant, 25-meter-high (80-foot-high) tomb. Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer spent 35 years of his career searching for it. In 2007, Netzer drew international attention when he announced he had found what he believed was the tomb at the Herodion, the ruler’s winter palace, located on a cone-like hill that still today juts out prominently in the barren landscape of the Judean Desert, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. In 2008, the archaeologist approached the Israel Museum about creating an exhibit that would display artifacts from one of the greatest finds of his career. While surveying the Herodion site with museum staff, Netzer fell to his death. Museum staff pushed forward with planning the exhibit. In 2011, the museum used a crane to remove dozens of half-ton columns and the roof of what Netzer identified as the top floor of Herod’s tomb, which he thought held his sarcophagus. Each stone was affixed with an electronic chip so it could be more easily be put back together at the Israel Museum. Three sarcophagi were found at the site, and curators believe one was Herod’s. Though it bears no inscription, it is made of a special reddish stone, found smashed into hundreds of pieces. The Jewish zealots who took over the Herodion after Herod’s death likely smashed the sarcophagus to pieces, destroying the symbol of a man who worked with the empire they were rebelling against, curators said.

The full story is here. Barry Britnell also notes a 60-second promo video made by the Israel Museum. In related news, The Times of Israel reports:

As part of a new plan, a replica of his tomb at Herodium, situated outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem, will tower to 83 feet and will be visible from Jerusalem.

Herodium Herod's tomb, tb051708036 Remains of Herod’s tomb at the Herodium.
Photo from Judah and the Dead Sea.