Israel is often lauded as a miraculous, even mystical convergence of Biblical and modern realities. And it truly is, but this concept can be hard to wrap one’s head around until it is experienced firsthand, in Israel; and even then, it never ceases to amaze us. Israel contains a wealth of archaeological artifacts (discovered and undiscovered) that offer revealing insights not only to historical events that took place in The Land and the surrounding region, but also tie us to the people who lived through those events. When we begin to understand their world that took place in the same region just a couple thousand years ago, the human narrative remains the same in so many ways, and can teach us, if we pay attention, about ourselves and the world we live in today. As the saying goes, ‘he who does not learn from the past is bound to repeat it’.
One intriguing archaeological artifact found in Israel in the last year was a cache of bronze coins dating from the Jewish Revolt against Rome, known as the Great Revolt. It was discovered while excavating a previously unknown ancient village, Hirbet Marzouk, that had been discovered while expanding the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (as often it happens in our tiny little country, we continually stumble over our past while trying to expand the future).
The 114 coins bear a Sukka (a tabernacle) motif: lulavs (palm branches) between two etrogs (a citrus fruit that looks like a lemon), which are two of the four species required for observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. Around the image is the inscription in Hebrew “Year Four”, that is – the fourth year of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (69/70 CE). On the reverse side, the coins bear a telling inscription, “For the redemption of Zion.”
The Great Revolt (the first of three Roman-Jewish wars) took place only a few years after the Crucifixion of Jesus. As is evident in the four gospels and external historical accounts of that period (such as Josephus Flavius’ writings), the Roman Provence of Judea was fraught with religious and political tensions over the Roman occupation, which led to a number of revolts. As you may recall, Jesus himself was crucified in place of Barabbas, a revolutionary zealot who was involved in a revolt against the Roman Empire.
It was a time of great distress, and the Jews were desperately looking for a Messiah to deliver them. In their understanding, the Messiah was to be first and foremost a heroic political figure who would restore Israel to her past glory. This is a also a reason why most Jews did not accept Jesus as having been the Messiah, they were looking for political salvation, not spiritual.
Despite some scattered success, the revolt ultimately came to a devastating and horrific end, leading to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, following a seven-month siege on Jerusalem. The temple has not been rebuilt since.
Today, in the place where the First and Second Temples stood, is the al-Aqsa Mosque. Due to the religious and political restrictions, no archaeological excavations can be carried out underneath the mosque, where the ruins of the Second Temple lie; but just imagine what incredible artifacts are waiting to one day be found!
See you soon in Israel!