The Jerusalem Post, October 27, 2009.
Remember, the Temple was Built by Herod
The Temple, over which we now see such weekly struggles, was built by Herod who, for all intents and purposes, was not Jewish. He had not an ounce of Jewish blood in him – if one can speak in such “racial” terms in this period – his mother, according to Josephus, being an “Arab” from Petra, probably related to the royal family there; his grandfather, a Greco-Arab priest of Apollo from the Gaza/Ashkelon “Philistine”/Palestine Coast.
On occasion, he might have simulated Jewish ways in line with his appointment as king of the Jews (which did not necessarily require being Jewish – it was a Roman title and a tax-farming fiefdom). His father Antipater was the first Roman procurator of Judea (c. 60 BCE), who parlayed a Roman governorship into a family dynasty, in the process eliminating the Maccabees and garnering a Roman citizenship for himself and his family after him.
Herod might have had a few Jewish wives among the 10 or so he allowed himself, including two high priests’ daughters – one the proverbial Maccabean princess Mariamme/Miriam, whom he actually had executed, as he did his children by her, due to his jealousy of their Maccabean blood and therefore their popularity among the masses. Almost all of his other wives were Greek or Arab.
He also built a host of Greek temples – in Sebaste (Samaria) in honor of the Emperor Augustus, at Caesarea and across the Mediterranean, as well as the Antonia fortress in the Temple in honor of Mark Anthony and Phasael (Feisal) after his brother was executed by one of his Maccabean wife’s uncles.
Herod used his building projects to magnify his own image and keep a disaffected population busy. The Temple itself, which he began early in his reign in the 20s BCE, was not finished until shortly before its fall in 70 CE. Herod in fact was a typical Arab potentate, combining the worst qualities of a latter-day Saddam Hussein and the harem aspects of the House of Saud.
As Josephus tell us, Herod had spies everywhere, executed all the members of the previous Maccabean or nationalistic Sanhedrin except the two Pharisees “Pollio and Sameas” – probably Hillel and Shammai – and even went on the streets in disguise to search out malcontents. These he had taken to the fortresses Hyrcania and Machaerus (as John the Baptist was, by one of his Greco-Arab sons) to be tortured and ultimately put to death. He was hated by the Jewish people and, as noted, responsible for the extirpation of the whole Maccabean family root and stalk, including his own several grafts upon them; and there followed 110 years of struggle (37 BCE-73 CE) to be rid of him, his heirs and the Romans who imposed them on the Jews and supported them.
Nor is the celebrated Western Wall anything but a part of this extravaganza he built to mollify Jews and busy unemployed priests. It was consecrated by their Roman overlords, after they destroyed the Temple, as a place Jews could go once a year (on the Ninth of Av) in humiliation to bewail their former glories – therefore its traditional name, the Wailing Wall.
SO THE Jews go today to worship at the remains of a stone edifice built by their arch-enemy, responsible more than anyone else for their destruction, who was himself certainly not native born and hardly Jewish at all except where convenient. (This is much like Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27. To paraphrase: “I am a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks, a law-keeper to the law-keepers, a law-breaker to the law-breakers. I believe in winning. I will do whatever I have to do to win. That’s how I fight, not beating the air.” And Herod did “win,” as did Paul, his probable descendant).
But here’s the rub. The Pharisees and the Herodian Sadducees whom they dominated were the only party willing to live with Herod and the Romans. In fact, Pollio and Sameas in 37 BCE recommended opening Jerusalem’s gates to Herod and the Roman army given him by Mark Anthony. This behavior was repeated over and over, including 130 years earlier, at the time of Judah Maccabee, when they were willing to support Alcimus, a high priest appointed by a foreign power (the Greek Seleucids in Syria) – probably “the birth moment” of the Pharisee party. It happened again when Pompey stormed the Temple 100 years after that. According to Josephus, the Pharisees cooperated with the Romans in slaughtering the Temple’s pro-Maccabean defenders.
Notwithstanding, over and over again the people rejected the counsel of the Pharisees, including at the time of the uprising against Rome in 66 CE, when they cooperated in inviting the Roman army into the city. The Pharisees were not the popular party they are assumed to be, despite the pretensions of historians probably based on Gospel portraiture.
Predictably the nationalists were the popular party (as they usually are even today).
Pollio and Sameas became the heads of Herod’s Sanhedrin after he had executed all its Maccabean and pro-nationalist members when he took undisputed control. Earlier, in the mid-50s BCE, they alone opposed bringing him to Sanhedrin trial when he was governor of Galilee (under his father) and had executed guerrilla leaders there.
BUT THE Pharisees cum Rabbinic Judaism were, as noted, the only party Rome was willing to live with after the uprisings of 66-70 and 132-6 CE. Their patriarchs became the de facto Roman tax collectors in Palestine, as the Herodians had been earlier.
We all respect our rabbis, their durability, learning, and great venerability. We acknowledge their leadership in surviving 2,000 years of the Diaspora, that is, up to the Holocaust – but they were not up to the Holocaust. They could not provide real leadership then. Only the pro-Zionist parties left or right and the worker’s movements did.
In the same manner, the rabbis, experts at non-territorial leadership, cannot provide – almost by definition – leadership in a territorial situation. Now, in the face of the seemingly miraculous Jewish regaining of the Temple Mount in 1967, their bans for or against walking on the Temple Mount smack of quaintness and out-of-touch or even self-serving unreality. One is not walking upon anything there except perhaps Herod’s Temple (recently Herod’s tomb seems to have been found under his pile of dirt Herodion, not surprisingly apparently smashed to bits by revolutionaries).
Perhaps there is an authentic First or early Second Temple Holy of Holies hidden somewhere beneath the ruins, but it would take an archeological investigation to determine this. The Western Wall with all its familiar comfort is nothing but stones set down by the destroyer of the Jewish people and its royal family and a probable abomination, i.e. kissing stones set down by Herod.
The problem is we must start from scratch based on being a territorial people once again.
We need a new approach to religion if, for instance, we are to combat the J Streets, Goldstones or George Soroses of this world, not to mention appealing to the imagination of questioning disaffected youth; and the first step should have been to start rebuilding the Temple.
This does not mean one should revive the priesthood or the sacrificial cult. You need living symbols to move the people. If nothing else, Herod showed us this and the durability of the wall he built is its final proof.
Unfortunately, Rabbinic Judaism can no longer provide us these. Two millennia, yes, and up to the Holocaust. But no further. It cannot provide us with the blueprint for becoming territorial once again. Moshe Dayan was wrong in ordering the Israeli flag taken down, in effect, surrendering sovereignty and giving the Muslim Wakf control over the Temple Mount. No self-respecting people after two victorious wars would have behaved in this way. But he had no guideposts to rely upon, only egocentrism and his own pragmatism – plus he loved the grande geste.
But now, almost three generations after the Holocaust and with its memory beginning to fade, we have nothing positive to appeal to our young generations in Israel and abroad. It is poetry and the spirit that provide this. They are the positives, not humiliating renunciations. The reconstruction of a Temple – any Temple – should have begun 40 years ago and we would be well on our way toward achieving these things. This does not mean we should emulate the old design. Its content, shape and operation should be open to investigation, even architectural competitions, and creativity; but the symbol would be there.
It took the Herodian Temple almost 90 years to be completed. Ours and even its early stage – archeological investigation – hasn’t even begun. People need a positive historical Judaism to go forward and this does not mean a Roman/Herodian-sponsored Phariseeism. People need positive symbols to rally around. The time is late. There is plenty of room on the Mount for everyone.
In no other manner can we gain the respect of the world and regain our own self-respect, and the world come to understand us – and we come to understand ourselves.
The writer is the author of James the Brother of Jesus and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians and co-editor of The Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls and The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. He is Professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Judeo-Christian Origins at California State University Long Beach.