Overlooking the Mount

Where was the Akra, and how could it overlook the Temple Mount, which was higher than all the surrounding areas?

Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount
We celebrate Hanukka in commemoration of the Maccabee revolt against their hated Syrian overlords and recapture of the Temple Mount from these Syrian Greeks in around 167 BCE. But in that year the Syrian Greek leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes built the Akra (Citadel) to overlook the Temple Mount and keep watch over our rebellious Maccabean ancestors. The Akra was a thorn in their flesh: it was a constant threat to them to have the Syrian Greeks watching all they were doing on the Temple Mount.
But where was the Akra, and how could it overlook the Temple Mount, which was higher than all the surrounding areas? The First Book of Maccabees tells us that it was a glorious event in 141 BCE when Simon Maccabeus captured the Syrian Akra and expelled its evil foreign soldiers. The early Jewish historian Josephus also mentions the event. He says that Simon took the Akra by siege, razing it to the ground that it might not serve his, Simon’s, foes as a base to occupy and do mischief from (Jewish Antiquities XIII:215). So where was the Akra? Where was it located, where did it originally stand, where could it have stood to overlook the Temple Mount? Its location has been sought for many years by archaeologists, without success.
But, as so often happens in archaeological work, evidence has surfaced unexpectedly in an unrelated context. For some years now the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been working at the Givati car park site, immediately to the south of the Temple Mount, where it has uncovered many interesting finds relating to the life of the post-Second Temple Jews who had returned to a destroyed Jerusalem from Babylon after their lengthy exile.
But just recently the archaeologists went deeper, and uncovered something else.
They have exposed the massive foundations of a large tower, the foundations of its adjoining stone walls and the remains of a fine neighboring glacis, a sloping protective rampart that was built to ward off, avoid and discourage enemy attacks. The archaeologists claim that the tower foundations are so massive that the tower could have risen to a great height, and that it was probably built to overlook the Temple site, located to the north and not far away. The original supporting ground on the site had been built up to give even greater height to the tower, which thus made it possible for the Syrian Greeks on the tower, if it was them, to keep their rebellious Jewish subjects on the Mount under constant surveillance, and at the same time under the likely threat of retaliation.
The archaeologists claim they have found the Akra, or at least its foundations.
Furthermore, the dig an the Givati site exposed the remnants of what must have been a battle around the tower base, with numbers of heavy lead slingshot projectiles and somewhat lighter ballista sling stones.
Remnants of many metal arrow heads were also found, some of them in bronze and marked with a small symbolic trident, which was the insignia of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, leader of the Syrian Greeks.
Also at the tower site the IAA archaeologists found numerous foreign coins and extensive clay sherds of large amphorae (porous wine jars) that gave them the probable dates of the finds, as well as indicating that the tower’s inhabitants were non-Jewish.
The Maccabees could not tolerate the presence of this overbearing and threatening tower, and on 23rd Iyar of the year 241 BCE they captured it “to a chorus of praise [singing the Hallel psalms] and the waving of palm branches, with lutes, cymbals and zithers, with lyres and songs” (1 Maccabees 13:51-52), to celebrate Israel’s final riddance of a formidable enemy. Simon decreed that this day should be observed as an annual festival, and so it was to be.
The author is a Senior Fellow at the W. F.
Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.