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It was as if a giant hand had picked up the breathtaking model of the Second Temple from Jerusalem's Holyland Hotel and plunked it a few kilometers north on the Hill of Tranquility of the Israel Museum's campus. But the 1/50 scale model, created by Hebrew University Prof. Michael Avi-Yonah more than 40 years ago, looks better than ever and perfectly suited to the site, which will undoubtedly be a drawing card for the museum.
The translocated 3-D model - commissioned by hotel owner Hans Kroch in memory of his son Jacob, who fell in the 1948 War of Independence - was dedicated and opened Wednesday night at an event hosted by museum director James Snyder.
Although recent archeological evidence has shown that the model is not 100 percent accurate (for example, there were no red-roofed buildings in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago), Snyder said it would provide a great deal of information and pleasure not only to laymen but also to scholars.
Although visitors can circle the model at ground level and enjoy the landscaped site from up close, a lookout point on top of the nearby, just-completed, 80-seat auditorium of the Dorot Foundation Information and Study Center offers a panoramic view not only of the model but also of surrounding Jerusalem. Snyder said the auditorium would be available for lectures and conferences and offer multimedia material on the Second Temple period through fictional narratives.
"Fortunately, this spot of land remained empty for 40 years, and now the model is perfect for it," said Snyder, whose teams painstakingly began preparing it a year ago when the hotel owners - whose site was taken over by a giant (and many say ugly) apartment complex - offered it to the museum for free.
One thousand pieces, many only a square meter in size, were removed from the Holyland site and transported 20 at a time on the back of large trucks. The only thing that prevents it from looking absolutely lifelike is the absence of crowds of people and streams of water that used to flow there.
First opened at the hotel in 1966 - a year after the Israel Museum was opened by then-mayor Teddy Kollek - it recreates the holy city as it was just before 66 CE, the year in which the Great Revolt against the Romans erupted and the city and the Temple were destroyed. Jerusalem then was twice the size of today's Old City, and the Holy of Holies - with its golden touches - was seen from afar.
The model was created by using ancient writings as reference, especially works by the Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, the Gospels, the Mishna and the Gemara, as well as data on other ancient Roman Empire cities that have been excavated and archeological discoveries in Jerusalem itself.
Admission to the site, which is near the Shrine of the Book and the outdoor sculpture garden, is to be included in the price of museum entrance tickets. While Snyder said that numerous haredim had visited the museum, the presence of the Second Temple model is expected to attract more from this community who usually eschew museums with human (and sometimes naked) sculptures.