Jerusalem in history and memory, by Adam DiBattista

arrowheadsJust outside the walled city, to the south-west, is a series of rock cut tombs known as the Ketef Hinnom. The first internments of Ketef Hinnom occurred during the 7th century BCE and continued into the 2nd century BCE.[1] Two silver amulets found in the tombs contain a priestly blessing that mentions YHWH; they are the earliest biblical texts ever discovered.[2] While scholars disagree as to whether the inscriptions predate or postdate the Babylonian exile, the amulets and other artifacts show that Judeans returned to an ancestral practice during the Persian period. In addition to the silver amulets a series of arrowheads that were remnants of the Babylonian conquest were interred with the bodies. Viewing these arrowheads in conjunction with the renewed practice of the very people they helped conquer suggests that the arrowheads helped memorialize the conquest of Jerusalem in the minds of the Judeans. The Ketef Hinnom tombs represent how conquest helped to join a people through collective memory, a theme recurrent in the history of Jerusalem.

TMt. destruction 8Over 500 years later, in the year 70 CE, the Roman general Titus and his army sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Below the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, archaeologists uncovered Herodian-era masonry toppled to the streets.[3] The stones illustrate both the reality and memory of the Roman occupation, and the transformation of destruction into an active narrative force.[4] For Jews, the destructions of both Temples became linked, such that Rabbinic sources would place both events on the same calendar day and lamentations from the first destruction were adapted for the second.[5] Lawrence Schiffman writes that the “collective memory and ritual mourning of the Jewish people, from the first century CE on, have consistently joined these two national tragedies into an inseparable unit.”[6] The Herodian blocks are there to see in Jerusalem today, a present goad to memory.

Jerusalem 2The Madaba mosaic map, constructed between 542 and 565 in the Church of St. George in Madaba, Jordan, is a cartographic representation of the southern Levant.[8] The map depicts places sacred to Christians – and, by extension, a vision of the land that affirmed Christianity’s claim. Pilgrimage further instantiated the Christian conception of the Holy Land. During the Byzantine Period, Christian pilgrimage became such a common practice that a souvenir and relic industry developed and hotels were constructed to accommodate the waves of travelers.[9] At the center of the Madaba map is a depiction of Jerusalem. One prominent feature is the cardo, the long colonnaded street extending from the northern edge of the city, past the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and down to the Nea Church, on the slope of Mt. Zion. Archaeologist Nahman Avigad has suggested that the Cardo was extended specifically to allow pilgrims to walk from the Holy Sepulchre to the Nea Church.[10] On the Madaba map the line of the cardo appears like the city’s spine, aggressively reorienting its center of gravity.

view 3The power of history in Jerusalem did not go unnoticed by the Umayyad Muslim conquerors of the 7th century. On the ruined temple mount, caliph Abd al-Malik constructed the shrine known as the Dome of the Rock.[11] The foundation stone inside is believed to be the place where Mohamed ascended into heaven.[12] Built over the site of the Second Temple, the shrine was specifically designed to surpass the city’s other monumental religious structures.[13] Nasser Rabat writes that the Dome of the Rock represented the “continuation and the seal of the two preceding [faiths]” and that Umayyads considered themselves “the new masters of the region” by building on holy land.[14]

In Jerusalem, the past’s power has shaped the city’s history. The arrowheads inside the tombs at Ketef Hinnom, the rubble of Herod’s temple, the depiction of Jerusalem on the Madaba Map, the Dome of the Rock – all possess power because each has a correlate in the past. Time and again, the inhabitants of Jerusalem have turned conquest and occupation into memory and history.


[1]  Gabriel Barkay et al., “The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition and Evaluation” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research , No. 334 (May, 2004), pp. 41-71

[2]  Jodi Magness, “The Archaeology of the Holy Land.” Cambridge University Press (Cambridge 2012).

[3]  Benjamin Mazar, “The Excavations South and West of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: The Herodian Period” The Biblical Archaeologist , Vol. 33, No. 2 (May, 1970), pp. 47-60

[4]  Neil Asher-Silberman, “The First Revolt and its afterlife,” The First Jewish Revolt. Archaeology, History, and Ideology. A. M. Berlin and J. A. Overman, eds. (Routledge, London: 2002), pp. 237-52.

[5]  Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Jerusalem: Twice Destroyed, Twice Rebuilt” The Classical World , Vol. 97, No. 1 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 31-40.

[6]  Ibid.

[8]  M. Avi Yonah, “The Madaba Mosaic Map,”

[9]  Yoram Tsafrir, “The Maps Used by Theodosius: On the Pilgrim Maps of the Holy Land and Jerusalem in the Sixth Century C. E.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 40, (1986), pp. 129-145.

[10]  Jodi Magness, “The Archaeology of the Holy Land.”

[11]  Ibid.

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Shelomo Dov Goitein, “The Historical Background of the Erection of the Dome of the Rock.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun., 1950), pp. 104-108.

[14]  Nasser Rabbat,  “The Meaning of the Umayyad Dome of the Rock.” Muqarnas , Vol. 6, (1989), pp. 12-21.