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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Migdal David

Usually, I'm not one for going out on school nights, but this past week I found a reason for an exception: the Citadel in Jerusalem (also known as David's Tower, or Migdal David) has had a display all summer known as "Soundscapes."

Nefesh B'Nefesh, that organization that has proven so helpful to new olim, sponsored an "NBN Night" at the Citadel so that those of us who had not yet seen the Citadel itself or the Soundscapes exhibit could do so before it closed down for the winter.
The Husband was out of action with the remnants of the flu and a broken foot, so The Boy and I took off for this evening tour. There were quite a number of olim, as well as regular tours of Israelis.

The Citadel staff divided us into manageable groups of English, French and Hebrew speakers and took us through 5,000 years of history in about two hours.
The fact that we went at night was special in itself, not just because of the hour but because seeing the Citadel and seeing the Old City from the Tower was incredible. Pictures hardly do it justice--hit the link in the title and you'll see a drawing of the Citadel, but seeing the sheer size and immense stones that went into constructing this edifice through the centuries is altogether different.

From the seats below in the courtyard, we were surrounded on all sides by construction from different eras. Directly in front of us were the bottomost stones of this fortress, some of which date from the building of a defensive wall on Jerusalem's vulnerable northern edge by King Hezekiah in the face of Assyrian invasion at the end of the 8th century BCE.

"He [Hezekiah] set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall. (2 Chron. 32:5)"

Hezekiah made a number of urban improvements with an eye towards the restive neighbors and while ultimately the Assyrians left without taking Jerusalem, their successors, the Babylonians, conquered the city, destroyed the First Temple and shipped the survivors to Babylon. However, the remnants of Hezekiah's wall remained to become foundation stones for later builders.

The next level of construction was Hasmonean, those doughty Maccabees who opposed the Hellenization of Israel and then went on to found, in the wake of victory, the most Hellenized Jewish society imaginable.....talk about winning the war and losing the battle.

However, the Hasmoneans conquered the Idumeans, a pagan tribe of the Negev, important largely because they sat astride the trade routes linking Gaza to the King's Highway, that royal trade route on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The Idumeans converted to Judaism, not always willingly, and gave the Jews the Herodian dynasty, a nasty historical payback.

While Christians always associate Herod with the slaughter of babes, the Jews know Herod as (1) the king who rebuilt the Second Temple and made Jerusalem one of the most glorious cities of the Roman Empire, (2) the king who build major cities, palaces, fortresses and ports such as Tiberias, Masada and Caesaria, (3) a repressive, paranoid and murderous ruler who butchered most of his family, hated the Jews, oppressed his subjects and weakened Jewish independence to the point where Rome was compelled to take charge of this increasingly unstable, but vital, frontier region bordering the hostile kingdom of the Parthians. Herod had ruled through the grace of Roman favor and by virtue of his marriage into the ruling Hasmonean family, marrying Miriamne, a Hasmonean princess -- then had her killed in a fit of paranoid rage and jealousy.

Nonetheless, most of the major tourist attractions in Israel owe something to Herod and his building frenzy. Sebaste, Herodian, the remains of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall today, Masada and Caesaria among others--these were the products of Herod's desire to emulate Rome's greatness combined with his paranoia over his personal security and hence his need for massive fortifications. It wasn't all paranoia--the remaining Hasmoneans and the majority of his subjects would willingly have killed him.

The huge tower that is mistakenly called "The Tower of David" was a Herodian construct. Herod built three huge towers in this general vicinity and named them for deceased relatives and a friend: Phaesal, his brother; Miriamne, his murdered wife; and Hippicus, his friend. The tower named for Phaesal survived the subsequent Roman conquest, Persian conquest, Jewish revolts, Christian pillaging and Moslem reconstruction.

If this is the Tower named for Phaesal, why is it "The Tower of David"? One source states that even Josephus, that inveterate quisling-cum-historian, mistook the location of David's Palace (archeologists agree today that David's palace was located in the area known as City of David, a slope south of the Temple Mount and outside today's Old City walls, and the subject of on-going archeological exploration).

Our guide told us that early Christian pilgrims, knowing nothing of the geography of Jerusalem or Jewish history, saw these huge fortifications and immediately concluded that they must belong to the greatest of Jewish warrior kings, David son of Yishai. Hence, they called the Tower itself "David's Tower."

However, Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem during the Moslem period were often told that the "first thing they would see when they laid eyes on city of Jerusalem was the 'Tower of King David' arising from the city walls," by others who had seen the remains of this Herodian fortification. Unbeknownst to these pilgrims, though, was that the Moslem rulers of the city decided that their soldiers, quartered in this citadel, deserved a mosque of their own, and so one was build into the Citadel area.

Of course, the first thing pilgrims then saw rising into the sky from the walls of Jerusalem was the minaret of the mosque--which was tagged with the name "Tower of David."

Name confusion aside, the Citadel is a wonderful place to explore, and the Museum of the History of Jerusalem does justice to the complex history and contributions of this city's many inhabitants.
The soundscapes exhibit was beautiful and I'm grateful to Nefesh B'Nefesh for making this display of light-and-sounds in counterpoint to history available to us.

Go at night, if possible. The view of the Old City on the east side of the Citadel and the view of the modern city on the west side is incomparable.

photos courtesy of Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem http://www.towerofdavid.org.il/eng/upload/tour/rexhib.html


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