Just in time for the fast of 17th Tammuz – a fascinating archeological discovery

The destruction of Jerusalem which began on 17th Tammuz

The fast day of Shiva Asar b’Tammuz – 17th Tammuz – technically fell yesterday, but since it was Shabbat on which mourning is not allowed, the fast was put off until today.  The fast commemorates the following tragic events which led up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temples on the 9th Av (in 3 weeks time):

1. Moses smashed the Ten Commandments when he found the Jews worshiping the Golden Calf.
2. The daily sacrifices ceased during the First Temple due to a shortage of sacrificial animals.
3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the First (actually occurred on the 9th of Tammuz) and Second Temples.
4. An idol was placed in the Temple during the First Temple era.
5. Apustamos (a Roman general) publicly burned a Torah scroll.

One could ask why we still need to fast if we have today the State of Israel, with Jewish sovereignty, the flourishing of Torah-learning centers throughout Israel, the ingathering of the Exile well under way, and our own army.  Surely the Geula, the Redemption of the Jewish People, is on its way?

The answer, as Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple (emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney) explains, is that we still do not have the Temple, and without that, the Redemption is not complete.

Zechariah said (8:18-19) that these fasts would eventually turn into occasions of joy. He said that in an age of peace and penitence, the fasts would no longer be necessary.

Most rabbinic authorities interpret “peace” in this context as having a rebuilt Temple.

Rashi has a different view, that “peace” means that “the hand of the gentiles is not strong against Israel”, but most authorities are against him.

This certainly means that Tishah B’Av should be maintained, and rabbinic thinking is not ready to rule that the other three fasts can be allowed to lapse.

In an interesting turn of events, as so often happens in Israel, archeologists recently uncovered a coin from the era of the Jewish Revolt which shows that the rebels were aware of the impending disaster:

A rare bronze coin from the fourth year of the Great Jewish Revolt was recently discovered in excavations in the City of David National Park. A testament to the final days of the rebellion against the Romans, the coin was minted shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

A rare bronze Year Four coin, minted in 69-70 CE during the Great Jewish Revolt, inscribed with ‘For the Redemption of Zion,’ was discovered in wet sifting of material from the City of David, June 2018. (Ilan Shilmaiv/City of David)

Symbolically, the coin was rediscovered on the eve of the 17th of Tammuz, the commencement of the three weeks commemorating the conquest of the Romans of Jerusalem and the Temple’s destruction. The three-week mourning period culminates on Tish B’av, considered the saddest day of the Jewish calendar.

In the first few years of the rebellion which lasted from 66-70 CE, coins inscribed in First Temple paleo-Hebrew lettering sounded the battle cry, “For the Freedom of Zion.” Illustrating the rebels’ waning confidence, Year Four coins (69-70 CE) are inscribed with the words, “For the Redemption of Zion.”

“The difference between ‘freedom’ and ‘redemption’ expresses the change occurring in the rebels’ subconscious, and the reality of those days,” said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Eli Shukron, who is leading the City of David excavation.

Year Four coins are also decorated with Jewish symbols. In the case of this coin, the four plant species associated with the pilgrim holiday of Sukkot — palm, myrtle, citron and willow. Others depict a chalice that may have been used by priests in the temple.

A rare bronze Year Four coin, minted in 69-70 CE during the Great Jewish Revolt, and depicting the Four Species, discovered in wet sifting of material from the City of David, June 2018. (Ilan Shilmaiv/City of David)

The coin was discovered during the recent systematic inspection of a bucket of dirt taken from a 600-meter drainage ditch which runs under Rehov Hagai, the main road for pilgrims ascending to the Second Temple.

The ditch, uncovered in 2007, is the largest in the underground system. It is currently part of the City of David National Park and runs from the Robinson’s Arch archaeological garden, under the Ophel excavations, to an area just north of the Silwan Pool, next to the valley.

According to the writings of Yosef Ben Matityahu, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, some 2,000 rebels were killed by Romans while hiding in drainage ditches. Archaeological finds back up Josephus’s claim: Whole cooking pots, coins, and even a Roman sword of the era have been uncovered in the system of underground drainage ditches.

Shukron suspects rebels hid in this drainage ditch in the last days prior to the fall of the city to the Romans.

“It’s possible that this coin, which was placed in the pocket of a Jerusalemite hiding from the Romans in underground warrens,” said Shukron, “or maybe it rolled into the drainage ditch while the coin’s owner walked the streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.”

Until today, most discovered Jewish Revolt coins are dated to Year Two. “The small amount of coins minted in the third year, and almost a complete lack of coins from the fourth year, indicates that most of the country was re-conquered by the Roman army fairly soon after the beginning of the revolt,” writes Robert Deutsch in his 2017 “The Coinage of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, 66-73 C.E.”

According to Deutsch, the bronze coins of the second and third years “are abundant and negligently manufactured.” The fourth year coins, however, “are of a slightly higher quality.”

What a fascinating discovery and what perfect timing! It connects us from the modern day back almost 2,000 years to the time when we were struggling (and ultimately failed) to retain our sovereignty.

What a poignant reminder of the terrible Hurban (destruction) that befell the Jewish Nation, and which presaged a 2,000 year Exile consisting of slavery, expulsions, forced conversions and massacres.

Thank G-d we now have our own country back in the State of Israel. We must look after it at all cost, both physically and spiritually.

The lessons of the Great Revolt must be not be lost upon us.

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9 Responses to Just in time for the fast of 17th Tammuz – a fascinating archeological discovery

  1. Pingback: Just in time for the fast of 17th Tammuz – a fascinating archeological discovery – 24/6 Magazine

  2. I suspect that if our redemption isn’t complete without the Temple we are going to be fasting for a veeeeeery long time to come. It is not the Jewish way to destroy another religions holy places. No Jew, who understands our history and who we are as a People, would ever think of destroying the mosques on the Temple Mount. So there is that. Barring a miracle, or Act of Hashem, those mosques are there and they are going to remain there.

    Suffice it to say, redemption is not always about the physical. Perhaps it is about the spiritual. The Temple is too much an object of iconography, and not one of spirituality. Do we really need to have a Temple rebuilt? We survived thousands of years without it. What is it that it must be redeemed? We have no Ark to place in it. Besides, who is to say if those who claim to be Cohen’s even truly are Cohens? And yes, there is some DNA evidence that certain persons carry through their mitochondrial DNA the fact that they are Levites, but seriously, are we going to go back to living under such a system of government again? No democracy. Ruled only by religious law, law by the way, that not every Jew accepts? No we are not.

    So what would be the purpose of a rebuilt Temple? To bring about what? To understand what? We recognize the three weeks because it reminds us of what we lost and we remind ourselves why we lost it. Yet it does nothing to stem the lashon hara between Jews. So, nothing changes and we still point fingers and we say its your fault because you don’t pray right, or don’t dress right, or want to stand with your entire family at the Kotel, or heaven forbid as a woman you want to carry a Torah, or think yourself equal to a man in that you have the right to divorce him whether he likes it or not. (Seriously, trying to throw urine on the Women of the Wall, is that what they teach in these religious yeshivote? And they talk about Reform Jews being disrespectful. For shame on them and their rabbis.)

    You know these three weeks really aren’t about the Temple. It never really was. It was about us, who we are on the inside and what we need to do in order to be better people. That is why there is no redemption. Not because a building doesn’t stand, but because our hearts are imperfect, and our souls could use some thoughtful revamping. Let us look at who we are, how we treat each other, and what it means to be alive at such a time in our history as a People. A time that our ancestors could not even fathom in their wildest dreams. How blessed are we!

    The coins really are cool, aren’t they?

    • anneinpt says:

      Elise thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m going to quote bits of your answer in order to reply.

      It is not the Jewish way to destroy another religions holy places.

      Um, have you read the Tanach lately? Particularly Neviim (the Prophets)? All they did in those days was smash idols and pagan temples! It most definitely IS, or at least WAS the Jewish way.

      Of course things have changed over the centuries. The Jews wouldn’t dare destroy churches or mosques in other countries, and nowadays, as long as they don’t ensnare Jews, it has become a live and let live situation.

      However the Mosque on the Temple Mount is a different matter. It is not necessarily a place of idol worship (the Muslims also worship one G-d) but it is a place of incitement and violence. One of these days it might end up being destroyed through their own violence.

      Barring a miracle, or Act of Hashem, those mosques are there and they are going to remain there.

      Well, that’s what we pray for every day!

      As for who will be the Cohanim and Leviim, yes, you have a very good point. I don’t have the answers. But just because we don’t have the answers doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim to build the Temple. Surely we can figure out the answers by then.

      are we going to go back to living under such a system of government again? No democracy. Ruled only by religious law, law by the way, that not every Jew accepts? No we are not.

      Who says we can’t have a combination of both? If you look through the Tanach and read through the centuries you can see how government changed. From judges to prophets to kings to Sanhedrin to the Rabbis. It all stopped at the Hurban. It’s time we picked up the challenge again and figure out a new Jewish way to rule ourselves.

      Your point about the lashon hara and the intolerance towards women is very well made. We have a LOT to work through and correct before the Messiah can come.

      That is why there is no redemption. Not because a building doesn’t stand, but because our hearts are imperfect, and our souls could use some thoughtful revamping

      Perfectly said. Until we correct our character flaws the Messiah can’t come and the Temple can’t be rebuilt. We are seeing the same thing but through different lenses, is all.

      what it means to be alive at such a time in our history as a People. A time that our ancestors could not even fathom in their wildest dreams. How blessed are we!

      Definitely! Absolutely! I feel so privileged to live here in Israel and tread the streets where our distant ancestors walked, and where our more direct ancestors could hardly have imagined in their wildest dreams.

      Some years ago we were in Jerusalem on Sukkot. The Old city and its approaches are closed to traffic because of the huge throngs of people, so my daughter and I were schlepping tiredly from the Kotel back to our hotel. My daughter was complaining, and I said to her “your great-grandparents would have given their eye teeth to be able to walk through the streets of Jerusalem on Sukkot!”. (I”m not sure how well she took my lesson, LOL).

      And yeah, the coins are very cool indeed!

      • And yes I not only read the Tanach, I learned it as I walked through Eretz Yisrael on an educational program when I was 15 ☺️ But citing Tanach is the wrong way to go. There were also animal sacrifices, slavery, stoning for adultery, etc that we do not do anymore. So I think who we have become far surpasses what we once were in ancient days. The historian in me would also like to remind you that to destroy another’s holy places was part of ancient societies in general. It is what every conquering nation did to the civilization that came before. That is why the Jews were so circumscribed by the major Empires, because they refused to give up their G-d, like all over conquered peoples.

        I also do not hold to the Jewish people figuring out the Cohen/Levite issue. We can’t even agree on which version of Judaism is the right one for everyone. Well, there are some that think their version is better than others and they think the rest of us have ruined the Jewish religion. And there are those who think their new version is better and more realistic and they look down on those who cling to the older ways. Not that divisions are not what we have always had actually, in fact reminded during the 3 weeks, that this is exactly what brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora.

        We can aim to rebuild the Temple. Why not. But as long as it doesn’t get in the way of solving immediate issues of hunger, homelessness, education, misogyny, agunote, never mind the real everyday issues of compassion and peace, then sure fine. I just don’t see it as an overarching issue that really needs addressing.

        We can all pray for the coming days of the Messiah. Sure. But I am of the mind of what the Rambam, said (and I paraphrase) that there is a touch of the Messiah in all of us, since we are made in the image of hashem. (I really don’t remember his exact words on the issue, but this is what I took from it) What we do, who we are, and how we handle life’s journey is what makes the Meshiach. Not some man on a donkey entering the gates of Jerusalem.

        Peace is only within ourselves. You can’t rely on someone else to bring you the joy and happiness you seek.

        I hope you had an easy fast.

        • anneinpt says:

          Thanks Elise. I always enjoy your comments. I don’t necessarily agree with you but I like the way you say it. 😊

          And I actually do agree with a lot of your points.

  3. Reality says:

    What an amazing discovery! Yet another(as if needed) piece of proof that Jews were here ages before Palestinians,Jordanians,Turkish ,British or anyone else!Only the Romans,Greeks and Babylonians were the occupiers then!And with Hashems help we outlived them and came back.
    May we have a true redemption soon ,spiritually and physically with peace in our time .Amen

  4. Brian Goldfarb says:

    I suspect that for a secular, “sane leftist”, Jew I might upset (or possibly at least surprise) some visitors to these pages. I think that the existence of these religious events is important, as is the their “celebration”. I am pleased that there are members of our people who take these things seriously and continue to observe them, whether or not there is a State of Israel, and thus an at least partial redemption. These observances bind us collectively together.

    I also believe that we (or at least some of us) should continue these remembrances and that the existence of a Temple is apart from this. Not least because I suspect that, if a Third Temple should come into being (and I make no suggestions, arguments or hopes concerning the continued existence of the Al Asqua Mosque), there might be strenuous resistance to the re-establishment of animal sacrifice.

    On that basis, I also suspect that a majority (I make no claim as to the size of that majority) of us Jews would be quite content with a continuation of the current synagogue-based foundation to the practice of our religion.

    There, I said I suspected that I would surprise regular visitors to this site!

    • anneinpt says:

      You are more correct than you give yourself credit for Brian, and Elise too. There are many religious commentators who have said that when the Third Temple is built there will not be animal sacrifices. Even the renowned Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel and the founder of modern national religious Zionism, agrees with this stance.

      As for the synagogue-basis of our religion, that existed even in the days of the Temple, so that Jews in remote corners of the country in the days before motorized transport, could pray, read the Torah etc. with a minyan. That’s why there are remains of ancient synagogues dotted all around Israel.

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