Weekend Roundup, Part 1

A study of the temperature of the walls of Tut’s tomb is promising for those looking for a hidden chamber.

Ben Carson believes the pyramids of Egypt were built by Joseph to store grain.

Joseph’s tomb has been restored.

The Hebron archaeological site will not be leased to Jewish settlers.

The PEF has posted a brief video compilation of their recent conference on Jericho.

G. M. Grena reports on a new book dedicated to Robert Deutsch (that includes a chapter by Gabriel
Barkay), his visit to Passages exhibit and lecture, a forthcoming game, and a secret link.

If you don’t know about the Lanier Theological Library, you should read this.

This is your last chance to get in on Logos’s Classic Studies and Atlases on Biblical Geography (7 vols.) at the best pricing ($24-30).

Now free in pdf format: The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology: Characters and Collections, by Alice Stevenson.

Our most popular photo this week on Facebook and Twitter was this Psalm 23 image from the American Colony Collection.

Shepherd resting with flock at Ein Farah, mat05629
Shepherd tending his flock at a spring in the Judean wilderness
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Nose Falls Off the Skull of Gordon’s Calvary

Visitors to the Garden Tomb of Jerusalem are usually shown the “Skull” identified by Charles Gordon as part of the case that this spot may be the authentic site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. On February 20 the bridge of the skull’s nose collapsed during a storm. Our friend Austen Dutton visited the site, alerted us to the event, and sent us this photo.

Gordon's Calvary near Garden Tomb, amd022115831

For contrast, here’s a photo taken in 2008.

Gordon's Calvary near Garden Tomb, tb051608027

Visitors to the Garden Tomb are shown the passage that identifies the place of Jesus’ death as “the place of the Skull.”

“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)” (John 19:17).

It is worth noting that the Gospels never explain why the place was identified by a skull, nor does it say anything about a hill. The name could have come from a geological feature that bore this resemblance. Or it could have been for another reason altogether.

The recent storm and the resultant erosion suggests that the escarpment would have been greatly altered in the years since it was created by quarrying. I would consider it doubtful that anything like the skull-shape visible in recent years was known in the first century. Fortunately for those who prefer the Garden Tomb location, this has never been the primary support for its identification.

Gordon's Calvary showing skull, mat00918
Gordon’s Calvary in 1910s

Our Jerusalem volume in the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection has a section devoted to the Garden Tomb. In notes written by Tom Powers, he provides some of the fascinating background to the identification of the skull.

General Charles Gordon, spending several months in Jerusalem in 1883, became firmly convinced that the hill seen here was the Golgotha of the New Testament. The idea of Skull Hill as Golgotha was not original with him, however, as several earlier travelers and writers had proposed the same identification beginning as early as the 1840s, and Gordon certainly knew of some of these. Among the other proponents of this view was Claude Conder, a Palestine Exploration Fund explorer and surveyor who was sent to Palestine in 1872 and recorded the idea in two of his books, Tent Work in Palestine (1878) and The City of Jerusalem (1909).

Gordon, however, added his own unique, mystical notions to the theory, however, based in part on both topography and Biblical typology. He believed, for example, that because sacrificial animals were slaughtered in the ancient Jewish temples north of the altar, according to the Mishnah, that Jesus must have been crucified north of the city. Further, Gordon devised a conceptual scheme by which he superimposed a human skeleton on a map of Jerusalem. The skull, not surprisingly, fell on Skull Hill (and he even pinpointed the human figure’s esophagus, a known water channel that entered the city beneath the north wall)!

Plan of Gordon's Idea of Calvary, mat01364
Plan of Gordon’s Idea of Calvary

Gordon added at least one other unusual aspect to the Skull Hill speculations: Being a military man, he consulted a detailed map of the area, the Ordnance Survey Plan of Jerusalem, and was struck by a particular contour line—2549 feet (797 m) above sea level—which, encircling the summit of “Skull Hill,” formed what looked to him like the outline of a human skull. Mention is sometimes made, somewhat derisively, of a revelatory dream or vision that Gordon had, but this seems not to be mentioned in the general’s own writings nor in contemporary accounts.

Gordon expressed his views in a flurry of letters and reports sent to various acquaintances and colleagues, including many to Conrad Schick and many others to Sir John Cowell in England, comptroller to the royal household. General Gordon was a hugely popular figure in his day, the perfect embodiment, one might argue, of military heroics, fervent Christian faith, and Victorian Romanticism, and after his death in Khartoum in 1885 his stature and fame only grew, if that were possible. In any event, there is no denying that the force of his personality provided an important impetus toward the acquisition, development and promotion of the Garden Tomb site, and did much to cement its credentials in the popular imagination.

Bertha Spafford Vester, daughter of American Colony founders Horatio and Anna Spafford, recounts her childhood memories of the famous General Gordon (1882–83):

“Five is not too young for hero worship, and my hero was a frequent visitor to our house, General Charles George ‘Chinese’ Gordon, ‘the fabulous hero of the Sudan’. He was fulfilling a lifelong dream with a year’s furlough in Palestine, studying Biblical history and the antiquities of Jerusalem. This was the only peaceful time the general had known in many years, and it was to be his last. . . . The general lived in a rented house in the village of Ein Karim . . . and General Gordon came often from his village home to Jerusalem riding a white donkey. . . . Whenever General Gordon came to our house a chair was put out for him on our flat roof and he spent hours there, studying his Bible, meditating, planning. It was there that he conceived the idea that the hill opposite the north wall was in reality Golgotha, the ‘Place of the Skull’ . . . He gave Father a map and a sketch that he made, showing the hill as a man’s figure, with the skull as the cornerstone. Part of the scarp of the rock of what is known as Jeremiah’s Grotto made a perfect death’s-head, complete with eye-sockets, crushed nose, and gaping mouth. Ever since then this hill has been known as ‘Gordon’s Calvary,’ although archaeologists are skeptical on the subject . . . Father did not agree with all the general’s visionary ideas, but he liked to talk about these and many other subjects with him, and they were good friends. Mother wanted General Gordon to have peace when he was meditating on the roof, and cautioned me not to disturb him, but I would creep up the roof stairs and crouch behind a chimney; there I would wait. I watched him reading his Bible and lifting his eyes to study the hill, and my vigil was always rewarded, for at last he would call me and take me on his knee and tell me stories.” — Bertha Spafford Vester, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City, 1881-1949 (Ariel, 1988), pp. 102-3.

Gordon's Calvary from city wall, mat00919
Gordon’s Calvary from wall of Jerusalem’s Old City (1910s)
Photos from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection
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Outstanding Archaeology Resources for Accordance

Accordance Bible Software has some terrific resources related to archaeology on sale this week. If you haven’t already added these to your collection, this is a great opportunity to do so. I’m particularly fond of these first two photo sets:

Historic Views of the Holy Land: Bible Places—American Colony Collection – more than 4,000 spectacular photos, many of scenes you’ll never seen again. The sale has reduced the price from $149 to $99.90.

Historic Views of the Holy Land: Bible Places—Views That Have Vanished – another collection that is close to my heart. Nearly every day I come across these images as I browse through my broader collection searching and I just love these early color photographs taken by the wonderful David Bivin. Now reduced to $26.90!

The sale includes some other outstanding resources, including (1) Archaeological Study Bible Notes – I took many of these photographs and wrote some of the articles; (2) Biblical Archaeology Review Archive – hundreds of issues of the best archaeology magazine instantly searchable; and (3) the one and only The Sacred Bridge, 2nd edition, for only $109.

These resources will pay you back in deeper knowledge and valuable illustrations many, many times over for years to come. And the search capabilities of Accordance makes it so much easier to find what you are looking for. All of the details are here. The sale ends on the 15th.

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Tiberias Today

If you haven’t been on a tour of Tiberias in the last decade, you have a lot to catch up on with the work of various excavation projects. Shmuel Browns has a well-illustrated summary of some of the important discoveries, including:

  • The decorative gate of Herod Antipas
  • The main street of the city in use for 700 years
  • The Roman theater built by Herod Antipas
  • A Roman temple (Hadrianeum)
  • A Byzantine monastery and church

His post also includes a number of interesting historical details about the city.

For some interesting descriptions and illustrations of Tiberias in the 19th century, check out Life in the Holy Land.

Mount Hermon from Tiberias, mat08928
Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee, and Mount Hermon
Photo from Northern Palestine
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Egyptian Museum To Be Renovated

From the Associated Press:

Egypt unveiled Friday a multimillion dollar renovation project for Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum, including plans to demolish a scorched building that stands between it and the Nile, in a bid to draw tourists back and restore a sense of normalcy after more than two years of unrest. Organizers said they want to return the dusty 111-year-old museum to its former glory by painting the walls and covering the floors in their original colors and patterns. The lighting and security systems also will be upgraded to meet international standards, Minister of Antiquities Mohammed Ibrahim said, announcing the plan during a news conference in the museum’s leafy courtyard. The displays also will be rearranged, although he did not give details about how. One of the museum’s most famous exhibits, King Tutankhamun’s treasures, will be moved to a new Grand Egyptian museum that is being built near the Giza pyramids. It is scheduled to be completed in 2015. Along with the overall tourist industry, the museum has suffered in large part due to its location near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests and frequent clashes since the start of the 2011 revolution that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Violence spiked again after the July 3 military coup that ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. But the interim government that has assumed power is struggling to regain control of the streets and bring back the visitors who long made Egypt a top tourist spot. Ibrahim said the ministry’s revenues, including the entrance fees from tourist sites, fell from 111 million Egyptian pounds in October 2010 to 7 million Egyptian pounds ($1.14 million) in October 2013. “From Tahrir, on a Friday, we are sending a positive message to the entire world: Egypt is doing well,” Ibrahim said on the anniversary of the museum’s inauguration in 1902.

The full story describes the anticipated cost and the involvement of an international team. HT: Jack Sasson Cairo Museum, exterior, mat01484 Cairo Museum, early 1900s
Photo from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection

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Picture of the Week: The American Colony and the 1917 Surrender

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Last week we provided a brief history of the American Colony and G. Eric Matson.  Before we move to the next collection in the Historic Views of the Holy Land series, there is one other story about the American Colony that I have to share.

Due to their reputation for organizing charitable work, their connections with the local authorities, and their location within the city of Jerusalem, the American Colony was able to play a role in some of the major historical events of their day.  Last week I mentioned that they were involved in the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm.  Another example is the following story about the day that the mayor of Jerusalem surrendered to the British in 1917:

The final approach of the British forces to Jerusalem, in December 1917, and the subsequent surrender of the city, involved American Colony personnel in a number of curious and fascinating ways. For one, it gave rise to perhaps the most memorable of all American Colony photographs, that of the “first” surrender—by some counts there were as many as five!—of the city of Jerusalem in World War I. By the morning of December 9th Turkish army units had completely withdrawn from Jerusalem and the Turkish governor, Izzat Pasha, fleeing shortly before dawn (in a horse-drawn carriage borrowed from the Colony!), left in the hands of the mayor a letter of formal surrender, including an order that not a shot was to be fired in the city‘s defense. Thus, that Sunday morning the city‘s Arab mayor, Hassain Effendi al-Husseini, armed with the Pasha‘s letter of capitulation, set out to turn the city over to the British. On his way he first stopped to inform his close neighbors at the American Colony, where he had once been a student and was still a frequent visitor. Stopping first at the Big House he encountered Lewis and Edith Larsson, then proceeded to the nearby Vester house where his good friend Anna Spafford was then in residence. In the meantime, Larsson grabbed his camera, his three-year-old son, and a young assistant and hurried to join the mayor‘s growing group in Jaffa Road. In the process, someone from the American Colony—accounts differ as to who—fashioned the requisite white flag of surrender: a bed-sheet from one of the Colony-run hospitals nailed to a broomstick.

Near the village of Lifta on the western fringes of Jerusalem, the party encountered the British forward units, and the mayor tried to “surrender” to two sergeants on sentry duty. While they were waiting for higher-ranking officers to arrive, Larsson immortalized the moment with his camera, a scene showing the mayor, his entourage of municipal officers and Turkish policemen, Sergeants Hurcomb and Sedgewick of the Londoners, and the white bed-sheet flag—the famous image of the “first” surrender of Jerusalem. In the ensuing few hours, al-Husseini also “surrendered” to two artillery officers; to their commander, a Lieutenant Colonel Bailey; and then to Brigadier General C. F. Watson. Some of the local leaders asked Watson, as the ranking officer on the scene, to show himself to the populace in order to help quell some looting that had already broken out. Thus it was that Watson appeared with the mayor at Jaffa Gate and there (according to at least one version) accepted the mayor’s surrender document …. On this occasion, Larsson managed to take more photos, including an “official” shot of Watson opening the letter of surrender, with Mayor Husseini and others standing beside him. This all occurred by about 10 a.m….  

Larsson also managed to save the makeshift truce flag, which eventually found its way to the Imperial War Museum in London.

Quotation from Tom Powers, “Jerusalem’s American Colony and Its Photographic Legacy,” (essay included in The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, 2009), pp. 35-36, 38. This photo and over 400 others are included in Volume 7 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, and can be purchased here with free shipping.  For more information on the surrender of Jerusalem, see my previous post here.

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Picture of the Week: The American Colony and Eric Matson

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

The last few weeks we have been examining photographs from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.  The pictures have ranged from Lower Beth Horon to Gerasa, from the damming of the Nile to the flooding of the Jordan, and from the interior of Barclay’s Gate to the Locust Plague of 1915.  We are indebted to the work of the American Colony and Eric Matson for these photographs.  This week we will focus briefly on the American Colony itself.

The American Colony started as an American religious group that migrated to Jerusalem in 1881 under the leadership of Horatio Spafford, author of the well-known hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.”  This group was known for charitable work throughout its existence.  In 1896, a significant number of Swedish immigrants joined the group (again, for religious reasons) and the group was able to develop some projects that provided some consistent income for the community.  The photography department became especially lucrative when the group was granted special permission from the German government to photograph the trip of Kaiser Wilhelm to Jerusalem in 1898.  Due to their coverage of that trip and the use of their photographs in newspapers around the world, the photography department earned recognition worldwide.  In subsequent years, the photographers of the American Colony went on several expeditions to capture pictures of various peoples and places.

For example, the photo below is from an expedition to Egypt, and captures what was surely one of the highlights from that trip: an American Colony photographer is standing near the top of one of the pyramids of Giza readying his camera and tripod.  The photo was taken sometime between 1900 and 1920.

There was a split within the American Colony in 1930, and at that time the photography business was handed over to one of the members of the photography staff: G. Eric Matson. Matson kept the department going until 1934 when he and his wife left the community. Then he started his own business called the Matson Photo Service.  He continued to add new photographs to the thousands of pictures that the American Colony had collected over the years.  Below is a picture of Matson and several others from the American Colony on the day of his wedding in 1924.

In 1946, Matson and his wife moved to America bringing most of the collection with him, and in 1966 he donated the whole collection to the Library of Congress. Finally, in the early years of the 21st century, digital copies of the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection were collected, edited, and organized by a Bible teacher named Todd Bolen, with the help of some faithful friends. 

Bolen’s edition of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection is available for purchase at LifeintheHolyLand.com.

These photographs, along with over 250 others, are available in Volume 8 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection which can be purchased here for $15 with free shipping.  This volume of the collection features various people that lived in the Holy Land during the early 20th century: Arabs, Jews, Christians, Bedouin, and many others.

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Picture of the Week: Gerasa in the 1920s

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

What is it about old photographs that make them so fascinating? 

I think part of the answer lies in our natural curiosity about the past.  What did things look like back then?  And to a student of archaeology, old photographs of archaeological sites can be especially fascinating because it raises the question: What did things look like when the first archaeologists stepped onto the scene?

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 4 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, which focuses on Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. In the photo below, you can see the southern theater and the forum at Gerasa (a.k.a., Jerash) in the modern country of Jordan.  Gerasa was one of the cities of the Decapolis, and “the country of the Gerasenes” is mentioned in Mark 5:1, Luke 8:26, and Luke 8:37.

The photo was taken sometime between 1920 and 1933. Another early photograph of the forum can be found here on LifeintheHolyLand.com. By way of contrast, this page on BiblePlaces.com shows you what Gerasa looks like today, after the archaeologists have excavated, cleaned up, and reconstructed these ruins. The differences between then and now are striking.

The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection is a wealth of information and has a variety of uses:

  • For the archaeologist, this collection provides photographs of early digs and of sites as they looked before excavations. For better or worse, this was an age when a lone scholar stood over a team of local workers who moved tons of dirt in a single season (and this practice can be seen in the collection). Yet this was also a period when things were fresh and exciting as archaeologists were digging into sites for the first time.
  • For the preacher and teacher, this collection provides additional material which can be used to transport your listeners back to a culture and landscape similar to biblical times. It also can be used to discuss geography or illustrate particular sites.
  • For the historian, this collection provides windows into this dramatic period of history. This was the period of the late Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate when Jewish immigrants were migrating to Palestine and establishing new settlements. It was also a time when technology was on the rise: electric stations and telephone stations were being built, railroads were being constructed, and automobiles and airplanes were coming onto the scene.
  • For the artist and graphic designer, this collection provides many beautiful, crisp, black & white photos of places in the Holy Land that can be used in a variety of ways.  These photos still capture people’s attention and fire their imaginations.

This photograph and over 700 others are available in Volume 4 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and can be purchased here for $20 (with free shipping).  Historic images of other Roman cities can be seen here, here, and here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.

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Picture of the Week: Jordan River Flooding in 1935

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Joshua 3:15 makes the following comment in passing: “now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest” (ESV). In the context of this chapter, Israel is about to cross into the Promised Land over a miraculously dry riverbed and this comment is included to give greater significance to the miracle. But before you rush to the Jordan with your camera during the next harvest season to snap a photo of this natural phenomena, let me save you some shekels by telling you that the flooding of the Jordan River is not something that happens today.

According to a 2010 report about the Jordan River (noted previously on this blog here), the Jordan River contains only 3% of the water that it did 100 years ago.  According to that report, the river discharged 1.3 billion cubic meters of water in the 19th and early 20th centuries (but see a more conservative estimate in the quotation below from the Encyclopaedia Judaica).  The report contrasts this with the current discharge of the river which is 20 to 30 million cubic meters.  Or to put it in numerical form:

  • 1,300,000,000 cubic meters per year in the past.
  •     30,000,000 cubic meters per year today.

 So “overflowing all its banks” is not a phrase that is typically used when describing the Jordan River today.

Fortunately, we have photographs from the first half of the 20th century that can help us illustrate this biblical phrase.  Our picture of the week (and a bonus picture) come from Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection which focuses on Southern Palestine.  To show the contrast in the river’s levels, I have included two photos from that collection.  The first photo is a picture of the newly constructed Allenby Bridge with the Jordan River flowing peacefully about 30 feet below it. 

(As a side note, this is not the Allenby Bridge/King Hussein Bridge used today, but merely a forerunner of the modern bridge.)

The date of the photograph above is around 1920.  The photograph below was taken in February, 1935.  This was an unusually high year for the Jordan River and it “overflowed all its banks,” damaging and destroying surrounding buildings and roads.

If you look closely in the upper right section of the photo you can see the Allenby Bridge with its bottom edge touching the water.  A closer view of the bridge can be seen in another photo from the collection which is posted here.

This flood year is mentioned in passing in the Encyclopaedia Judaica:

The Jordan discharges c. 875 million cu. m. into the Dead Sea a year; its yearly fluctuations are great and are caused mainly by the Yarmuk: in 1933, 287 million cu. m. and in 1935, 1,313 million cu. m.

According to this statistic, the Jordan River discharged 50% more water that year than the yearly average.  There is no way of knowing how much water was discharged during the year that Joshua and the Israelites crossed, but we can be certain that the photograph above is a much better illustration of how it looked than any picture that could be taken today.

Fortunately the future of the Jordan River is looking brighter.  This last summer, this blog noted a report about a plan by Israel to divert some additional water to Jordan River (see post here).  Perhaps future generations will again be able to see the Jordan overflow its banks.

These photographs and over 550 others are available in Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection and can be purchased here for $20 (with free shipping).  Other historic images of the Jordan River can be seen here and here on LifeintheHolyLand.com, as well as a page devoted to illustrating Joshua and the Israelites “Entering the Promised Land” here

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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.

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