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Jerusalem the Movie filmed in iMax 3D

Tue, 08/20/2013 - 06:20

About two years ago, we mentioned in a post that an epic movie about Jerusalem was being made in iMax format. As of August 16, this year, the movie has been released and will be distributed by National Graphic. It shows stunning helicopter photography of the Land of Israel and tells the story of Jerusalem through the eyes of three young women, Christian, Jewish and Arab. Here you can watch the trailer:

We are pleased to have been able to contribute to this movie with reconstructions of Jerusalem in the Second Temple and Byzantine periods.

For further information see Facebook:

JERUSALEM releases worldwide in 2013, please click on ‘Welcome’ to sign up for our email list or visit www.jerusalemthemovie.com to learn more.


Through the unrivaled beauty and visceral nature of the IMAX® experience, JERUSALEM seeks to increase public understanding and appreciation for Jerusalem’s historical, spiritual, cultural and artistic uniqueness, as well as highlighting some of the intersections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Plot outline

Through the unrivaled beauty and visceral nature of the IMAX® experience, JERUSALEM seeks to increase public understanding and appreciation for Jerusalem’s historical, spiritual, cultural and artistic uniqueness, as well as highlighting some of the intersections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Initially, the movie will be shown in these locations:

Boston, Massachusetts - Museum of Science

Special Event: Thursday, September 12, 2013

Public Start Date: Friday, September 20, 2013


Charlotte, North Carolina - Discovery Place

Public Start Date: Wednesday, September 18, 2013


West Nyack, New York - IMAX Theater at the Palisades

Public Start Date: Monday, September 23, 2013


Ottawa, Ontario - Canadian Museum of Civilization

Special Event: Monday, September 23, 2013

Public Start Date: Friday, September 27, 2013


McMinnville, Oregon - Evergreen Aviation Museum

Public Start Date: Friday, September 27, 2013


Seattle, Washington - Pacific Science Center

Special Event: Friday, September 20, 2013

Public Start Date: Saturday, September 28, 2013


Garden City, New York - Cradle of Aviation

Special Event: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Public Start Date: Saturday, September 28, 2013


St. Louis, Missouri - St. Louis Science Center

Public Start Date: Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Lubbock, Texas - Science Spectrum

Public Start Date: Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Houston, Texas - Houston Museum of Natural Science

Public Start Date: Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Paris, France - La Geode

Public Start Date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Davenport, Iowa - Putnam Museum

Public Start Date: Friday, November 1, 2013


Hastings, Nebraska - Hastings Museum

Public Start Date: Thursday, November 7, 2013


London, England, UK - BFI IMAX Cinema

Premiere: January, 2014 (date TBD)


Evidence for the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD

Sat, 07/06/2013 - 16:23

The Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, was a tragedy that is still mourned today by many. Josephus Flavius, also known as Yosef Ben Matityahu, was an eye-witness to the siege of Jerusalem. He somehow survived the siege of  Yotvat in Galilee and with one of his soldiers surrendered to the Roman forces in July 67. The Roman forces were led by Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus, both subsequently Roman emperors. In 69, Josephus was released (War 4.622-629) and according to Josephus’s own account, he appears to have played a role as a negotiator with the defenders during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70. After a desperate struggle, the Temple was destroyed, followed by the rest of Jerusalem. Despite the entreaties of Josephus to spare the city, the rebels, as he called them, refused to give up the city and rather fought to the end. Many people died of famine and others, who wanted to save their lives by surrendering to the Romans, were killed by their fellow fighters. There were corpses everywhere. Some of the rebels tried to save their lives by hiding in underground structures:

“A last and cherished hope of the tyrants and their brigand comrades lay in the underground passages, as a place of refuge where they expected no search should be made for them, intending after the complete capture of the city and the departure of the Romans to come forth and make their escape. But this proved to be but a dream: for they were not destined to elude either God or the Romans” (War 6.370, Loeb edition).

Interestingly, as we are leading up to the 9th of Ab (starts in the evening of Monday, July 15th and ends in the evening of the 16th), the date on which the Jews mourn the loss of both their Temples, two discoveries have been announced this week that may cast light on this tragic episode. First, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the finding of some cooking pots and an oil lamp in an underground cistern near the Western Wall that indicate, according to Eli Shukron, the excavation director, that some people went into the cistern and secretly eat the food that was inside the pots.

Three complete cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp were uncovered inside a small cistern in a drainage channel that runs from the Shiloah Pool in the City of David to Robinson’s Arch.
Photograph of the finds in the cistern: Vladimir Naykhin.

And today it was announced that in the Ophel Excavations, directed by Eilat Mazar, a cave, connected to a system of tunnels, was also used as a last hiding place.

“The project archaeologists suggest that the tunnels and shafts may possibly have been made and used by inhabitants of the city hiding or protecting themselves from the Roman siege of Jerusalem during the height of the First Jewish Revolt.”

The area supervisor, Brent Nagtegaal, observes:

“It’s amazing when you look at some of these tunnels … A lot of them are incomplete.”

At a certain location, he speculates:

“This is probably the point at which the Romans broke through or the point at which the Jews realized they could do no more digging, there was no more time and they had to hide themselves.”

In this video, Brent explains the findings:

Brent Nagtegaal

The historical record by Josephus and these recent finds, however sad, have nevertheless given us a deeper and more realistic insight into this tragic event.

HT: Joe Lauer

Herod the Great Exhibition in the Israel Museum

Tue, 06/04/2013 - 16:03

Last March I was able to visit this exhibition and it took my breath away. We were fortunate to have special permission to film before the exhibition was opened to visitors as I was part of a team making a documentary for the National Geographic.

Circular tholos of Herod’s Funerary Monument on the left, with his theatre box in the background. On the right are two sarcophagi found at the site of Herodium.

As has been widely reported e.g. Todd Bolen’s Bible Places, the Israel Museum has now put on their website a “Virtual Tour” for those who cannot see the exhibition for themselves. The front page of the website has many interesting links. German speakers can also follow a tour of the exhibition by David Mevorah, the curator of the exhibition. (HT Alexander Schick)

Model of Herodium, Herod the Great Exhibition, Israel Museum.

I was naturally drawn to the beautiful model of Herodium that accompanies the exhibition of the remains of Herod’s Funerary Monument and the Theatre. As I found that the theatre was built too deep into the surface of the model, I created my own reconstruction drawing:

Herodium – Upper Palace, Funerary Monument and Theatre. © Leen Ritmeyer

The drawing shows the Upper Palace on top of a man-made hill, with the monument and theatre built on opposite sides of the stairway leading to the palace. The steps of the theatre are cut out of the natural bedrock side of the mountain.

It is remarkable that this creation of Herod can be seen in silhouette from across the Dead Sea. We could easily pick it out at sunset, when sitting on the terrace of our hotel on the Dead Sea shore, where we stayed during this year’s season of the Tall el-Hammam excavations in Jordan:

Herodium viewed from Jordan, on the east side of the Dead Sea. The silhouette of Herodium can be seen between the two palm trees (see arrow).

Second Annual Conference of Hekhal

Sun, 05/19/2013 - 21:06

Last year we attended the First annual conference of Hekhal: the Irish Society for the Ancient Near East that was held in Dublin, Ireland.

This year, the second conference, entitled “Pilgrimage, Travel, and Cult” will be held on 24-26 May 2013 at CITI, Braemor Park, Dublin 14.

Many scholars from different parts of the world, including Israel, will attend. On the Hekhal website there are links that let you download the sessions and abstracts of the different papers.

The sessions that I would find particularly interesting are: “Pools of Jerusalem: Pilgrimage, Purity and the Holy City” by David Gurevich, University of Haifa, Israel, and “The role of the Temple Mount after 70AD” by Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, Israel Antiquities Authority.

HEKHAL is currently preparing the proceedings of its first annual conference for publication, which will contain our article on “Relating the Temple Scroll from Qumran to the Architecture of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem”.

Excavations in the City of David

Tue, 05/14/2013 - 20:59

David Willner and Barnea Levi Selavan met up with archaeologist Yuval Gadot (Tel Aviv University), who generously gave of his time and knowledge to help them understand the City of David in First and Second Temple times.

Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University has initiated a long term excavation to explore several research issues in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age periods. After two months in the field he welcomed David Willner and Barnea Levi Selavan of Foundation Stone’s LandMinds program to see the excavation taking shape.

On the Foundation Stone’s website you can watch a video of this interview and also listen to three audio segments.

Yuval Gadot explains the latest findings in his trench in the City of David

At this point in time, only pottery remains of the First Century have been found. It will become more interesting when they go down the next layer.


HT: Jack Sasson

The Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Wed, 05/08/2013 - 14:29

I am often approached by people that are under the impression that the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount had to be directly opposite the entrance leading into the Holy Temple.  According to Middot 1.3, there was only one gate in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount:  “the Eastern Gate on which was portrayed the Palace of Shushan”.

The Eastern Gate is an important gate of the Temple Mount, as on Yom Kippur the scapegoat that was chosen by the High Priest in front of the Temple, would have been led through the Court of the Women, down a stairway to and through the Shushan Gate and into the Kedron Valley. From there it was led over the Mount of Olives into the Wilderness of Judea.

Painting of the Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

Another biblical scene takes us to the top of the Mount of Olives, where a priest would sacrifice a Red Heifer. Numbers 19 stipulated that in order for the people to be purified, a Red Heifer should be sacrificed, its ashes collected and put in a container with water. This was used to sprinkle those in need of purification. The Mishnah said that the priest that was consecrated to burn the Red Heifer would leave the Temple Mount with the Heifer and go through the eastern gate to the Mount of Olives. The problem of the identification of the eastern gate lies in two passages, in Mishnah Parah 3.9 and 4.2.  The first states that the priest that offered the Red Heifer on the Mount of Olives, sprinkled its blood seven times toward the Holy of Holies. According to the second passage, “if the blood was sprinkled not in the direction of the entrance [of the Holy of Holies] it is invalid.” There must therefore have been a direct line of vision between the Mount of Olives and the entrance to the Temple. From the place of this activity, he could look straight through the Nicanor Gate and see the entrance to the Temple.

The Temple Mount viewed from the east. © Leen Ritmeyer

The idea that the Shushan Gate had to be directly opposite the entrance to the Temple comes from a misunderstanding of the passage in Middot 2.4: “All the walls there were high, save only the eastern wall, because the [High] priest that burns the [Red] heifer and stands on top of the Mount of Olives should be able to look directly into the entrance of the Sanctuary when the blood is sprinkled.”  Does that mean that the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount should be on the same line of vision, drawn between the Temple and the top of the Mount of Olives?

Looking from the top of the Mount of Olives through the Golden Gate one could never see the Temple, wherever one places it on the Temple Mount, as that gate is located far too low down. One cannot expect to look through a lower gate and see something that is higher than that gate. Only the drawing of a section would make that clear. In order to solve architectural problems, one needs to think in three dimensions.

The level of the top of the Mount of Olives (810 m. above sea level) is 75 m. (246 feet) higher than the Temple platform (735 m.). The sill of the Golden Gate is located some 21 m. (70 feet) lower than the Temple platform. How then could one look from the top of the Mount of Olives through the Golden Gate, or any other gate in the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount, and hope to see the entrance to the Temple? It is totally impossible!

A line of vision from the top of the Mount of Olives through the Golden Gate makes it impossible to see anything on the Temple Mount, let alone the Temple. Looking through the Nicanor gate, however, one can see the entrance to the Temple clearly. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

We must conclude that the passage in Middot 2.4 needs to be read differently or that the writer didn’t remember the actual line of vision.  Which walls are referred to by “All the walls …”? Those of the Temple Mount or those of the Temple Courts? The previous passage (Middot 2.3) describes structures “inside the Temple Mount” and it ends with a reference to the Nicanor Gate. This was an extraordinarily beautiful gate with bronze doors made in Alexandria, that stood between the Temple Court and the Court of the Women, right in front of the Herodian Temple .

The Nicanor Gate stood in front of Herod’s Temple. It gave access from the Court of the Women to the Temple Courts. In front of this gate were fifteen semi-circular steps on which Levites sang the fifteen “Psalms of the Steps” (Psalms 120-134 of Degrees or Ascents). The gold-covered Temple towered above all other buildings.

There is a direct line of vision from the top of the Mount of Olives to the entrance to the Temple through the Nicanor Gate, while the walls of the Court of the Women were kept low (see illustration above). If one stands today to the east of the Dome of the Rock one can see the Mount of Olives clearly.  The Nicanor Gate therefore is the only gate that the writer of Middot could have had in mind. The High Priest that offered the Red Heifer on the Mount of Olives would have had to look through this gate in order to see the entrance to the Temple. I believe therefore that the gate mentioned in Middot 2.4 is the Nicanor Gate and not the Shushan Gate.