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Newsletter 221: David’s Tower

An item, some weeks ago in Haaretz newspaper announced the opening of Herod’s Pool to the public.


I had heard about archaeological excavations in the 1930’s that discovered a palace and a pool of Herod’s in Jerusalem near the Armenian Quarter, in the vicinity of the Jaffa Gate, I’d also read a bit of Josephus’ Jewish Wars where he describes Herod’s beautiful Jerusalem palace, apparently the most beautiful palace of all.

He had palaces in many places, the most visited and therefore most known being Jericho, Massada, Caesarea and Samaria.

Naturally I put my name down to join a group of people on a tour operated by the David’s Tower Museum, who is in charge of the site and where the palace is located.

I’m happy to have a friend like Shaul who, when I find an event which interests me, is not only ready to accompany me, but his enthusiasm is so great he even comes to fetch me in his Peugeot Partner Tepee, a sort of small station wagon he likes because it can carry his bicycle and his grandchildren.

Together we carefully noted the car’s location in the Carta parking garage, which lies under the reconstructed 19th century Mamilla Str, which is now an elegant shopping mall. It’s not a very big parking garage, but it has 6 levels and forgetful old fogies like Shaul and I could easily loose a small Peugeot there.

Finally, triumphant, we entered David’s Tower; our very eloquent and delightfully humorous, blond haired, lady guide, who looked as if she’d just come from a scout jamboree, tacky-like sneakers, khaki shorts (all good scouts wear khaki shorts even in Winter) suitably ruffled, dark grey socks and all (she even stood in the pouring rain, all imposing 6 feet of her, and refused an umbrella, a true scout) was not of the opinion that a fortress stood here in the days of King David. I even heard one atheist murmur, so that everybody would hear him that it’s hardly likely that David was a real person at all. Of course, without voicing my opinion, I didn’t agree with him, especially since I’d read a book about the split of the Jewish kingdom after the reign of Solomon, by Amos Fisch, in which he provides a list of proofs showing that David did exist.

My opinion was confirmed still further when we reached the deepest parts of David’s Tower, the part that serves as the local lock up, known as the Kishle, a modern corruption of a Turkish word for army barracks, according to our illustrious guide.

We were now standing under a place where there was once a floor, removed by the archaeologists, on which the British had made prison cells for Jewish fighters against their control of Israel. Now there was just a massive empty space reaching high up to a roof made of gigantic arches in the Turkish or Crusader times, far above our heads.

Drawn in the light grey plaster of one of the walls, above where the floor had once been, was a well-known sign made by one of the Jewish freedom fighters, imprisoned here by the British. The sign was a map of Israel showing both sides of the Jordan River, with a clenched fist punched through the middle, because their motto was that both sides of the Jordan River belonged to the Jewish People.

We were standing at the base of David’s Tower, far below this sign on the wall; remember the floor had been removed and we were standing far below where it used to be, in the darkness pierced only by a few rays of sunlight penetrating, like projectors through now high windows that once opened onto a hall, that was above the cells, a very strange experience; it was as if we were in the past, in the days of King David and were looking up at the future which was the days of the Crusaders, Turks and the British Mandate.

Next to us were layer upon layer of stones, which supported all the later structures, carefully laid in “header and stretcher style construction” to support the first fortress that was built here. This technique of laying stones is exactly the same as the technique used in buildings from the days of king Solomon, like, Megiddo, Hazor, the Southern Wall of Jerusalem and others.

After seeing this nobody can convince me that a fortress did not stand here at the time of the Israelite kings as we read in the Bible:

Isaiah 28:16,17

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. 17 I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place.

Obviously the prophet Isaiah is expressing here the amazement of all the people who saw the first gigantic structure.

It looks to me, that Isaiah is reminiscing; the great fortress has been destroyed and all that can be seen are the great foundation stones.

According to history, the Jews spent about 100 years in Babylon, they returned under Nehemia but only about 400 years later in the 2nd century BCE the Maccabees, probably Simon the Maccabee rebuilt the fortress. We saw the evidence, a ritual bath and some walls of residences, but these had been filled in by the ruthless Herod, who with the help of a legion of Roman soldiers conquered the city from the Maccabees and wiped them all out and built his palace on the top of the Maccabean fortress.

We walked down the steps into the sunken garden and the big square pool and with the help of Josephus’ description could easily imagine the beauty of the palace.

“The largeness also of the stones was wonderful; for they were not made of common small stones, but they were of white marble.

The king had a palace inwardly thereto adjoined, which exceeds all my ability to describe it; for it was so very curious as to want no cost nor skill in its construction, but was entirely walled about to the height of thirty cubits, and was adorned with towers at equal distances, and with large bed-chambers, that would contain beds for a hundred guests a-piece,

There were besides many porticoes, one beyond another, round about, and in each of those porticoes curious pillars; yet were all the courts that were exposed to the air everywhere green. There were, moreover, several groves of trees, and long walks through them, with deep canals, and cisterns, that in several parts were filled with brazen statues, through which the water ran out.”( The Wars of the Jews (ca. 75 AD). Book 5, chapter 4)

As our tour came to an end lunch time arrived and so did a heavy downpour, so we alternately rushed madly and walked leisurely; madly when there was no shelter on our route to Lina’s Humus place and leisurely under the awnings of Christian Quarter Street. One only catches a roof load of water, which is more than a bucketful, if one accidentally walks in the middle of the narrow street.

We each devoured a sumptuous meal of Humus, I had the Humus with full, a kind of a big black bean and Shaul the Humus with pine nuts, all washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice.

Wishing you a great No News Day

Yours truly

Leon Gork

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