FROM PAGANISM TO CHRISTIANITY ON THE TEMPLE PLATFORM

The NW corner of the pediment of the Herodian Temple at areaTP, with a superimposed diagonal wall of the Byzantine Octagon, looking south. (Photo: J.J. Gotlieb)


During the 1995 and 1996 seasons, CCE explorations on Caesarea's Temple Platform brought dramatic new evidence for King Herod's Temple to Roma and Augustus. On the NW flank of the site, where the kurkar bedrock slopes away to the north and west, the excavators uncovered massive foundations of the temple, preserved to a height of more than 2 m and resting on the bedrock at an elevation of 8.4 m. The foundations lay in a Late Hellenistic/Early Roman fill that corresponded with leveling fills discovered earlier in other trenches and already thought to be associated with the temple's construction. The foundations on the NW consist of large stones, accurately hewn and fitted together with mortar. Many of the stones have bosses on their exposed sides, in the manner of Hellenistic defensive masonry, even though they lay below ground level and were presumably never seen by anyone but the builders.

On the site's east and SE flanks, the archaeologists exposed leveling courses of the temple's foundations, again embedded in a Late Hellenistic fill. On the SW, leveling courses and foundation blocks had already emerged in the 1990 and 1993 seasons that were thought, as early as 1990, to represent the temple. This estimate has turned out to be correct! Combined with these earlier data, the new discoveries permit reconstruction of a large temple that measured 29.5 m N-S and 50.4 m E-W. It did justice to the famous description of Flavius Josephus in the Jewish War (1.415): "Directly opposite the harbor entrance, upon a high platform, rose the temple of Caesar, remarkable for its beauty and its great size." This temple could easily have accommodated the divine images that Josephus also mentions: "In it stood a colossal statue of Caesar, not inferior to the Zeus at Olympia ... and one of the goddess Roma, equal to the Argive statue of Hera."

In the meantime, Ronny Tueg and Lisa Kahn of the team's scientific staff have identified more than 50 architectural blocks, carved in the local kurkar building stone, on the site itself or nearby, among them fragments of the architraves and friezes, of Corinthian capitals, and of column bases and shafts. The sizes and proportions of these blocks permit accurate reconstruction of much of the temple's superstructure, on a scale that matches perfectly the dimensions of the newly recovered foundations. Lisa Kahn discusses some of these blocks and proposes a reconstruction of the colonnades and architraves in the volume Caesarea Retrospective, honoring Baron Edmond de Rothschild, that has recently been published.

CCE therefore adds another important archaeological discovery to its list. A new architectural monument of Herod the Great has been unearthed that will further illuminate one of the most impressive building programs in the ancient world. Of course, much remains to be learned about the building from further excavation and from further analysis of the architectural blocks already catalogued.

It will be recalled, moreover, that on the same site CCE has been studying the remains of an Early Christian church, octagonal in plan, dated to about 500 CE. The church and the temple beneath it represent a classic case of the Christianizing of an ancient city. A Christian church, embellished with costly marble pavements and wall revetments, and surmounted probably by a segmented dome, occupied the same elevated position in Caesarea's urban terrain long held by the city's most ancient and revered temple. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly that from the urban perspective, the Christianizing process consisted of Christian appropriation of a city's sacred topography.

Research during the 1996 season, however, added significant nuances to this interpretation. The excavators have long been puzzled by the chronological discrepancy between the Christianizing of the Roman Empire beginning in the reign of Emperor Constantine (died 337) and the building of the church about 500 CE or perhaps a bit later. How could the most imperial and Roman city in Palestine, the Episcopal See of the ambitious imperial biographer bishop Eusebius, preserve a pagan temple long after cities like Jerusalem and Gaza (for example) had witnessed the destruction of pagan cult centers and the building of churches in their places? The archaeologists have searched diligently for remains of an interim church on the Temple Platform, built perhaps in the 4th century and replaced by the octagonal building after a fire, or simply because the time had come to upgrade the city's religious center. After excavation in many parts of the site, the archaeologists have found no trace of such a building and now believe that the octagonal church was indeed the immediate successor of Herod's temple.

The hard archaeological evidence is convincing. On its NW flank the church foundations rest directly on the temple foundations - and in fact it may be assumed that the temple foundations survived because the Early Christian builders exploited the Herodian foundations as leveling where the bedrock sloped downward on the NW of the site. Furthermore, discovery of numerous kurkar architectural fragments from the temple embedded in the structure of both the church and the staircase that provides access to it from the west, makes it clear that the temple still stood - certainly long unused for cult purposes, and perhaps in a ruinous state - until about 500 CE. The bulk of its stones must have survived until then in their original positions. This enabled the church builders to exploit the temple's superstructure as a convenient quarry for the kurkar blocks they needed for the church and staircase. It appears that even after the city was Christianized, its inhabitants preserved their ancient temple, perhaps as a revered relic that linked them with their city's illustrious past.

Thus, not only have CCE's excavations on the Temple Platform brought back from oblivion another monument of Herodian architecture, they are also casting new light on the profound religious and cultural changes in Mediterranean history, between the early 4th century through the 7th. With this in mind, the project is developing a new three-year plan of excavation and research to bring the Temple Platform project to a fruitful culmination.

Kenneth G. Holum

Reconstruction of the temple based on architectural elements found at the site. (Drawing: J. Kelty, B. Isenberger, L. Kahn)


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