Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hysteria and Archaeology

Israel National News
has reported on the restoration of a 2,000-year-old drainage tunnel in Jerusalem. Anywhere else this would be a fascinating piece of historical and archaeological trivia, but in Jerusalem it becomes an international incident.

The drainage tunnel dates back to the time of the Second Temple, and the tunnel extends from just south of the Temple Mount down the Central Valley toward the Pool of Siloam. Part of the tunnel is now open to the public. I actually had an opportunity to walk through a small part of the tunnel while it was still being excavated, and it was amazing.

These excavations shed light on Josephus' description of the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70. Josephus wrote that some Jews tried to hide underground but that the Romans broke up the ground to find and kill them (Wars 6.9.4). No doubt this drainage tunnel was one of the underground spots where these Jewish refugees tried to hide, and in places the stone blocks covering the tunnel had been pried up, confirming the thoroughness of the Roman search for survivors. This archaeological dig helps bring that tragic period of history to light.

Sadly, the archaeological significance of the dig might be overshadowed by hysteria spawned by politics. Charges have already been raised that the dig is threatening the Al Aqsa Mosque. Egypt's Ahram Online captures the hysteria in its caption for the story: "Israel's Aqsa mosque dig-project complete."

But does the project threaten the Al Aqsa mosque? Look carefully at the Google Earth photo I've included with this post. I have labeled the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa mosque, the Western Wall, and the Davidson Archaeological Center (which is where the northern end of the tunnel is located). I've also traced the approximate route the tunnel takes on its 600-meter journey down the Central Valley toward the Pool of Siloam. Note that the excavations do not extend under the Temple Mount, nor to they threaten the Al Aqsa mosque.

Watch for stories about this discovery in your local news. And if they report the excavations threaten Islamic holy sites, please write or call them to point out their error. Reports containing such false statements can lead others to believe such statements are true...when they are not.

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