Thursday, November 5, 2015

A happy day for history and truth - Nadav Shragai

by Nadav Shragai

The excavation of the legendary Acra fortress, conquered by the Hasmoneans, stymies Muslim revisionist attempts to erase Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

The sweet moment when archaeology and history intersect, and a discovery dug up from the ground confirms what appears in written sources, is a happy day for anyone who deals with historic truth. 

The satisfaction is particularly great when the discovery not only contributes to human knowledge, but also attacks the Muslim campaign of denial that in recent years has been trying to erase any and all Jewish ties to Jerusalem. The story of the Acra fortress is a story like that. This solves a hundred-year-old mystery and -- mere weeks before the Hanukkah holiday -- sheds light on the location of the lost fortress, a painful episode in the history of the Hasmonean revolt. 

The Acra fortress was built by none other than Antiochus IV, the bitter enemy who decreed that all Jews must be killed and who desecrated the Temple. It was during his reign the Hasmonean revolt began. Sources tell us that after Judah Maccabee's victories in the Hasmonean revolt and the purification of the Temple, the Acra remained in the hands of the Seleucids and their assimilated Jewish supporters. 

Josephus Flavius describes how Antiochus holed up in the fortress with "the evil ones and the sons of Belial," swords for hire and assimilated Jews, who gave the Hasmonean city no end of trouble. Judah and Jonathan Hasmonean failed to take it, and only on the 23rd day of the Hebrew month of Eyar in 141 BCE, did Simon Hasmonean, their brother, conquer the Acra. Simon's army leveled it. The fall of the structure signified the end of the Seleucid rule over the land and of Jews assimilating into Grecian culture. The Taanit scroll and the Book of the Maccabees mark the 23rd of Eyar, the day the Acra was taken, as a holiday. 

On Tuesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority officially presented findings that had been unearthed near the Givati parking lot some time ago. They believe it is very likely that the riddle has been solved. Generations of archaeologists have worked on the question of the precise location of the Acra fortress. A few placed it in the area of the Ophel excavations, others suggested it had been located at the southern part of the Temple Mount compound (today's Jewish quarter), and there were some who believed it had been located in the City of David. 

The section of a massive wall that was discovered, lead sling stones, coins from the relevant historic period, bronze arrowheads and ballista that were discovered at the excavation site, imprinted with a pitchfork, the symbol of the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes, are apparently silent remnants of the battles that took place in the days of the Hasmoneans as they tried to take control of the fortress that gave them so much trouble. 

Many other archaeological discoveries have been unearthed at the Givati parking lot: Jewish ritual baths from the Second Temple era, a trove of gold from the Byzantine era, and a grand building from Roman times. The location of the Acra fortress will now become another important stop on the group tours that are held at the site year-round, especially this Hanukkah.

Nadav Shragai


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