Bible and archaeology news
Then they fortified the City of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades.
—1 Maccabees 1:33–34
And he burnt the finest parts of the city, and pulling down the walls, built the Akra (citadel) in the Lower City; for it was high enough to overlook the temple, and it was for this reason that he fortified it with high walls and towers, and stationed a Macedonian garrison therein.
—Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 12.252
Where is the Hellenistic-period Seleucid Akra in Jerusalem? Both the Book of Maccabees and Jewish historian Josephus reference an akra (Greek for “citadel” or “fortress”) that Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes constructed following his conquest of Jerusalem around 167 B.C.E. to keep order in the city. In late 142–early 141 B.C.E., Simon, the Jewish leader of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids at that point, captured and, according to Josephus, completely demolished the Akra.1
The precise location of this Seleucid stronghold said to have overlooked the Temple has long been a matter of debate among archaeologists and historians, but, as Biblical archaeologist Eric Cline has said, “it is certain that it stood for some two decades as a symbol of Seleucid power over the Jews.”2 In 2015, archaeologists excavating in the Givati Parking Lot south of the Temple Mount in the City of David believe they have found the Seleucid Akra.
The excavations in the Givati Parking Lot have been led by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen. According to a recent IAA press release, the archaeologists exposed a portion of a massive wall, a large tower base measuring 13 x 66 feet and a glacis–an artificial slope built for defensive purposes. The excavations also uncovered remnants of battle dating to the Hellenistic period: lead sling shots, bronze arrowheads and ballista stones. The finds were stamped with images of a trident, the mark of King Antiochus.
In the IAA press release of November, 2015, the excavation codirectors commented on how the finds in the Givati Parking Lot offer evidence of the historical battle between the Seleucids and the Jewish rebels in the second century B.C.E.:
This sensational discovery allows us for the first time to reconstruct the layout of the settlement in the city, on the eve of the Maccabean uprising in 167 B.C.E. The new archaeological finds indicate the establishment of a well-fortified stronghold that was constructed on the high bedrock cliff overlooking the steep slopes of the City of David hill. This stronghold controlled all means of approach to the Temple atop the Temple Mount, and cut the Temple off from the southern parts of the city. The numerous coins ranging in date from the reign of Antiochus IV to that of Antiochus VII and the large number of wine jars (amphorae) that were imported from the Aegean region to Jerusalem, which were discovered at the site, provide evidence of the citadel’s chronology, as well as the non-Jewish identity of its inhabitants.
The debate on the location of the Seleucid Akra, however, is likely far from over. For instance, archaeological architect Leen Ritmeyer has cast doubt on the latest proposal from the IAA on his blog:
The quote from 1 Maccabees tells us that the whole of the City of David was fortified with a wall. The Hellenistic walls found [in the Givati Parking Lot] may indeed be part of these fortifications. Josephus, however, is speaking of a separate citadel—the Seleucid Akra. This fortress, we are told, “overlooked the temple.” In order for the Givati remains to belong to this citadel and also overlook the Temple, it must have been over 400 feet high at least … What hill is there to be seen in the Givati Parking Lot?
Read Ritmeyer’s examination of the Seleucid Akra, which includes schematic drawings of the Hellenistic-period Temple Mount, at Ritmeyer Archaeological Design.
1. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 13.6.213–14.
2. Eric H. Cline, Jerusalem Besieged (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2004), p. 79.
This post originally appeared in Bible History Daily in November, 2015.
Hasmonean Jerusalem Exposed in Time for Hanukkah
Modi’in: Where the Maccabees Lived
Where the Heroes of the Maccabean Revolt Lie
Rome and the Maccabees: A Friendship Set in Bronze?
The Stones of Herod’s Temple Reveal Temple Mount History
Contested Temple Mount History?
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.
Dig into the illuminating world of the Bible with a BAS All-Access membership. Combine a one-year tablet and print subscription to BAR with membership in the BAS Library to start your journey into the ancient past today!Subscribe Today
The article says the Selucid Akra, or fortress, from the Hellenistic period, was located in the the City of David, down slope from the Temple Mount. Leen Ritmeyer questions it being in that location, saying, “This fortress, we are told, ‘overlooked the temple.’ In order for the Givati remains to belong to this citadel and also overlook the Temple, it must have been over 400 feet high at least.”
Indeed, but only if the Temple was on the traditional Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock is now. But if the Temple was down slope in the City of David, over the Gihon Spring, then the Akra would have “towered” over the Temple with only a quarter of that height, and from higher ground as well. He ends up giving evidence for the City of David being the location of the Temple.
Dennis: Go to http://www.ritmeyer.com/2015/11/03/was-one-of-jerusalems-greatest-archaeological-mysteries-solved/
It would have been nice to have a map of the location in relation to the City of David fortifications and the so-called “Temple Mount”.