JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Monday, October 29, 2012

THE 'ARCH OF TITUS' (81 AD), ROME-its Biblical Significance.

The ‘Arch of Titus’ was built in 81 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian Caesar to commemorate his elder brother Titus Caesar's victories. The monumental arch is 15.4 meters tall, 13.5 meters wide, and 4.75 meters deep, and has three internal panels. The architectural style of the arch is called ‘composite order’. The arch has served as a general model for many of the triumphal arches erected around the world, including the 1806 ‘Arc de Triomphe’ in Paris and the 1931 ‘India Gate’ of New Delhi.

However, the structure’s biblical significance lies with its association to the siege of Jerusalem (70 AD) that marked the beginning of Jewish Diaspora. The event has been symbolically represented with Titus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in one of the three panel reliefs of the arch (the other two show Titus’ triumphal ride on a chariot, and his deification). The panel depicts the spoils taken from the ‘Jerusalem Temple’ after it was destroyed by the Roman army under the command of Titus in the first century AD. Many Jews refuse to walk under the Arch of Titus for this reason. However, in 1948 when modern state of Israel was established, the Jews of Rome walked under the arch, but in the opposite direction from that of the conquering Roman army entered the city to symbolize the return of Jews to Jerusalem.

The relief represents Roman soldiers crowned with laurels, carrying the spoils of the Temple of Jerusalem, which are identified as:
1) The two stone law tablets fastened on staffs (the ten commandments of Moses)
2) The golden seven-branched candlestick (menorah)
3) The golden ‘table of showbread’
4) The sacred silver trumpets of Jerusalem Temple.

The first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus recorded Jerusalem Temple’s sacred treasures, including the menorah being brought to Rome during the triumph of Titus. The current whereabouts of these sacred objects are unknown. There are several interesting legends and conspiracy theories surrounding their current locations. One such candidate is Vatican itself, where some secret chambers are said to secretly hold these sacred treasures. There are even reports about senior Israeli officials, Rabbis and even former Israeli President Moshe Katzav demanding the Pope to return the menorah to Israel!

Until 2009, when the ruins of a synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BC-100 AD) were discovered in Magdala in Israel, the Arch of Titus preserved the earliest representation of the menorah of the Jerusalem Temple. The menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus served as the model for the menorah used on the official emblem of the modern state of Israel.  

A recent study (The Arch of Titus Restoration Project) undertaken by the New York based Yeshiva University using advanced scanning and spectrometric methods has revealed that the menorah on the Arch of Titus was originally painted in a rich golden yellow colour and the current image faded to the color of its underlying stone long ago. The Bible records the menorah as being made of pure solid gold, and no wonder it was painted in bright yellow in the Arch of Titus that would have looked like gold from far away (see more here).

31 And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same.
32 And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side:
33 Three bowls made like unto almonds, with a knop and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, with a knop and a flower: so in the six branches that come out of the candlestick.
34 And in the candlesticks shall be four bowls made like unto almonds, with their knops and their flowers.
35 And there shall be a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, according to the six branches that proceed out of the candlestick.
36 Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold.
37 And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it.
38 And the tongs thereof, and the snuffdishes thereof, shall be of pure gold.
39 Of a talent of pure gold shall he make it, with all these vessels.
40 And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.
(Exodus 25:31-40).

The 'Arch of Titus' (81 AD)-Rome.

The inscription 'Senatus Populusque Romanus divo Tito divi Vespasiani filio Vespasiano Augusto' means "The Roman Senate and People (dedicate this) to the divine Titus Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian."

The relief panel on the 'Arch of Titus' (81 AD) depicting the 'Siege of Jerusalem' (70 AD).

The Menorah of Jerusalem Temple depicted on the Arch of Titus (81 AD), Rome. The original colour of the menorah in the arch was bright yellow!

The relief panel depicting Titus' triumphal ride on a chariot. The Arch of Titus, Rome.