This Anglo-Saxon casket is covered with scenes from Jewish, Christian, German and Classical mythology and history and provides one of the earliest examples of a medieval depiction of the fall of Jerusalem—in this instance, its fall to the Romans in 70 CE. On the back of the casket, Titus’ attack on the city is carved out to dramatic effect. The whole panel is densely populated, with Roman soldiers on the left and fleeing Jewish inhabitants of the city under siege on the right. In the centre of the work is the Jerusalem Temple, with the Ark of the Covenant within it. The inscription on this part of the casket reads: ‘Here Titus and a Jew fight: here its inhabitants flee Jerusalem’. For an eighth century CE Christian artist, the fall of Jerusalem signified the end of the Jewish era and the beginning of a superior Christian Empire. This would have been particularly resonant in Anglo-Saxon England, which had only very recently been converted to Christianity.
This clay tablet, the Babylonian Chronicle for the years 605–594 BCE, records events from the twenty-first and final year of the Babylonian king Nabopolassar’s reign and the first twelve years of king Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. The text describes king Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Jerusalem, including his capture and exile of king Jehoiachin. The text reads: “In the seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Babylon mustered his army and marched to Ḫatti-land (=the Levant). He encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of Adar he took the city and captured the king. He appointed a king of his own choice there, received its heavy tribute and sent (them) to Babylon.” Nebuchadnezzar invaded because king Jehoiachim (Jehoiachin’s father) had rebelled against him, refusing to send tribute (2 Kings 24:1). Jehoiachim, however, died shortly before or during the siege. He was replaced by his son Jehoiachin who, at the tender age of 18, found himself on the receiving end of Babylonian wrath. Nebuchadnezzar deported Jehoiachin and other members of the royal family and some of the elites of Jerusalem—warriors, priests, artisans, and officials—into exile in Babylon (2 Kings 24:14–16), and placed Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s uncle) on the throne instead (which indicates that not all of the elite was exiled). The tablet does not say what “heavy tribute” Nebuchadnezzar received, but 2 Kings 24:13 reports that he took all the gold, vessels, and treasures of the Jerusalem temple. The Babylonian Chronicle constitutes an extra-biblical witness to events reported by the biblical text and, in this instance, this evidence corroborates the basic version of events in the Bible. This agreement means that three things may be considered very likely to be historical. First, Jerusalem was invaded but not destroyed in 597 BCE. Second, a king of Jerusalem (Jehoiachin) was deported to exile in Babylon (see also Weidner's ration list). Third, Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with a king of his own choosing—the Bible gives the name Zedekiah. From this point on, Jerusalem's and Judah’s fate were firmly intertwined with that of Babylon. In hindsight, the state and the city had little more than a decade to stand.
This wall panel from the South West Palace of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III (ruled 745–727 BCE) shows Assyrian soldiers carrying away four statues of gods, captured from a city the army has just conquered. Although the exact location of the city is unknown, it was perhaps in Syria. The relief depicts the practice of 'godnapping', in which a conquering army carried off statues of the defeated enemy's gods. Although the exact contents of the Jerusalem temple when it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE are unknown—Ezekiel 8–11 claims that all manner of objects and practices were present—it is likely that the Babylonian army would have carted off whatever it found there.Deporting the statues of the defeated people's gods demonstrated the power of the Assyrian or Babylonian king's god, who had enabled his victory by defeating the gods of the conquered. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonians posed a major theological crisis for the defeated people of Judah, because it implied that Yhwh was weaker than the Babylonian gods. Many texts from this period seek to understand how this could have happened. Rather than admit that Yhwh was weaker than the Babylonian gods, however, most of these texts (such as Ezekiel) argue that Yhwh has authority over all of human history, and that the disaster was punishment for their accumulated sins, including and especially the worship of other gods. The experience of defeat and deportation thus was an important contributor to the theological development of the idea that the Israelites should only worship one god and, ultimately, that their god was the god of all.
This elaborately carved tripod vessel may have served as an incense burner, as evidence of burning substance was found in the bowl. It comes from a royal tomb of the tenth or ninth century BCE at Tel Halaf (ancient Guzana). Tel Halaf was an important Aramean site that became a vassal of the Neo-Assyrian empire in the early ninth century and was assimilated fully into the Neo-Assyrian empire by the end of that century. The sides of the vessel are decorated with carvings of bulls, a winged quadruped, and a man shooting a bird with a bow and arrow. The legs of the tripod are decorated with incised rosettes. Another example of an incense burner may be found here.
Although referred to as 'The New Jerusalem' image from Dürer’s Apocalypse, it is unclear whether this image is really meant to represent the New Jerusalem. If so, it is notable for its rendering of Jerusalem as contemporary Nuremberg, the town in which Dürer himself lived. Heavily influenced by the Koberger Bible of 1483 CE, Dürer’s Apocalypse of 1498 was one of the first printed Apocalypses and one of the most successfully early printed illustrated books. Capitalising on the new medium of print, Dürer visualised the entire narrative of Revelation in just fifteen images. The condensed visual narrative has both a synchronicity and an immediacy that earlier book versions of Revelation often lacked. Throughout the series, the heavenly and earthly realms are clearly demarcated, by clever placement of clouds and dense hatching over the human portion of the sky to evoke the spiritual darkness that plagues it. However, in this final image the sky is clear save for a few birds: it is as if a new dawn has broken, ushering in the New Jerusalem. At the gates, of the city an angel stands ready to usher in the multitudes. Nevertheless, the placement of the ‘chaining of Satan’ at the foreground of the image (Revelaation 20:1–3), leaves the viewer unsure of what Dürer intends to depict: the 'chaining of Satan' is the prelude in Revelation to the ushering in of the Millennium that precedes Armageddon and the Last Judgement. It is thus unclear whether Dürer meant this as an evocation of the New Jerusalem, or of the Millennial Age that will precede the arrival of the eternal city. Either way, we see a return of the urban emphasis in Dürer’s depiction, in contrast to The Ghent Altarpiece, as well, perhaps, as a hint at the idea that the New Jerusalem cannot be satisfactorily visualised by the human imagination at all.
Laments are well-known from the Bible, especially the book of Lamentations, but are also found throughout the ancient Near East. Biblical authors likely took inspiration from the forms used in these surrounding cultures. An early and famous example of such a poem is the Sumerian Lament over Ur (c. 2000 BCE), a city-state in the region of Sumer in modern-day Iraq. The lament is one of five such Sumerian poems, each of which mourns the loss of a different city. At 438 lines long, the Lament over Ur presents a detailed story of the city's destruction, starting with the goddess Ningal's pleas that the god Engil turn back the storm sent to ravage the city, then moving into graphic descriptions of Ur's eventual destruction. The tablet above, which has preserved this lament for four millennia, is housed at the Louvre in Paris. Although nearly 1500 years elapsed between the destruction of Ur and the fall of Jerusalem, the genre of the city lament remained popular, and has visible influence on biblical literature. The impact of the genre is perhaps most obviously felt in the Book of Lamentations, but traces can also be found in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Psalms. The bleak tones of these poems, in which Yhwh deserts the city and allows—or even causes—its destruction, have been a key feature of the literary responses in the wake of heavy loss.
Unlike Albrecht Dürer’s very ambiguous version of the New Jerusalem, in which it is unclear whether the woodcut is depicting the Millennium or the New Jerusalem, Lucas Cranach's version is a fairly standard Reformation view of the scene from Revelation. The image was produced some as part of Cranach's Apocalypse series for Martin Luther’s New Testament of 1522 and, while it is fairly faithful to the text of Revelation 21:10—which tells us that John is taken by an angel to look down on the newly descended city—Cranach has clearly visualised the city in the style of a contemporary German city, much more than the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation or the historical city of Jerusalem of Cranach's own time. Thus there are angels appearing at three of the twelve gates, as described by Revelation 21:12, but otherwise the architecture is very much in the sixteenth century German style, with none of the gold and jewels or extreme dimensions stipulated by the text of Revelation 21. All in all the image constitutes a rather underwhelming end to the Cranach series—the angel ends up being the focal point, rather than the city—perhaps giving credence to those who argue that Revelation, as written, is impossible to visualise.
As in some of the other images in this section, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 586 BCE by the Babylonians is conflated in the Gospel Book of Otto III (c. 998–1001 CE) with its later destruction in 70 CE by the Romans. The iconography of Jerusalem is quite unique to this manuscript. In this particular image, Christ is seen mourning for Jerusalem in the top half of the image, and this is paired with a depiction in the bottom half of the page of Mary of Bethezuba's cannibalism of her infant child as reported by Josephus. In Josephus’ account of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, he describes the extent of the ravages of war on the city. Influenced by the biblical books of Ezekiel and Lamentations and by their descriptions of the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem centuries earlier, Josephus describes the plight of one particular Jewish woman, Mary of Bethezuba. Having lost her entire world to the Roman invaders and in a state of rage and desperate hunger, the woman decides to kill her son, roast him, and consume his flesh. By presenting Mary of Bethezuba’s infanticide beneath the figure of Christ, the artist implies that this horror of war was a fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the city (Luke 19). The Christian fascination with Mary of Bethezuba as a means of representing the fall of Jerusalem was unlikely to have been produced because of any sympathy for her extreme action. Indeed, in the Christian West the holy calendar included a specific day to celebrate Titus’ sack of Jerusalem. It is much more likely, therefore, that the image was intended as a parody of the sacrifice of a child, an idea that is core to Christian theology and its focus on the sacrifice of Jesus the Son. The Jewish Mary of Bethezuba was, for medieval Christians, a sinful negative type of a mother in crisis, to be contrasted with the more positive and hopeful Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. This image in the Gospel Book of Otto III, then, offers a strongly Christianised reading of the trauma of the destruction of Jerusalem.
The manufacture of cloth and garments formed an important part of daily life in a late Iron Age household, as attested by the presence of loom weights and spindlewhorls in excavated homes. This group of 24 clay loom weights were found in the City of David in Jerusalem. Two other collections of of clay loom weights were found on a possible living surface immediately below the House of the Bullae. The location of these loom weights suggest that in a previous period (before the floor of the House of the Bullae was laid down) the room contained a loom and was used for the manufacture of cloth. The spindle whorl, made of decorated limestone, come from the House of Ahiel, also in the City of David. An image of a reconstructed warp-weighted loom gives an idea of the way that these loom weights would have been used in an Iron Age domestic context.
In one of the houses destroyed by the Babylonians in Jerusalem, excavators discovered 53 clay seal impressions ('bullae'). These small lumps of clay, impressed with the seal of a particular individual or official, were used to seal documents, and suggest that by time of the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE the kingdom of Judah had a group of literate elites, who presumably controlled the administration of the city.
It is a pleasant surprise to find, among these bullae, two with likely connections to biblical personages: Gemeriah, son of Shaphan, and Azariah, son of Hilkiah.
Bulla of Gemariah son of Shaphan The inscription on the seal reads: (Belonging) to Gemaryahu [s]on of Shaphan
This Gemariah, son of Shaphan, should probably be identified with the person by this name known from the book of Jeremiah:
"Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of Yhwh, in the chamber of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of Yhwh's house." (Jeremiah 36:10)
Gemariah's father Shaphan was the chief scribe at the time of King Josiah and appears as a key player in the story of the finding of the law during work in the Temple (2 Kings 22). It is important to note that the term scribe is probably best translated as secretary, and to be understood as a high ranking official as in 'secretary of state'.
Bulla of Azariah son of Hilkiah The inscription on the seal reads: (Belonging) to 'Azaryahu son of Hilqiyahu
This Azariah, son of Hilkiah, may be identified with the person by the same name in the priestly genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6:13. Azariah himself is not a major biblical figure but, if the identification is correct, his father Hilkiah was high priest in the temple in Jerusalem at the time of King Josiah, and a key figure in the story of the finding of the law in the Temple (2 Kings 22).
This is a toilet installation in one of the service rooms to the north of the House of Ahiel in the City of David in Jerusalem. The installation was set into a thick plaster floor over a deep cess pit. Unsurprisingly, the excavations of the cesspit turned up faecal remains, as well as human parasite eggs and other organic matter, including fish bones. The presence of a stone toilet seat and cess pit shows a significant level of sophistication in the hygiene practices within the city, or at least in parts of it, while the remains from the cess pit shed light on the diet of the ancient inhabitants. The parasite eggs may reflect the difficulties brought upon the city by the prolonged siege of the Babylonian army in 588–586 BCE, while the fish bones suggest commercial activities between the city and traders operating more widely afield.
The grinding of grains into flour was perhaps one of the most laborious and time-consuming aspects of food production in the ancient world and therefore a very regular part of domestic life. The tool used for grinding up the grains in ancient Judah consisted of a larger lower grinding stone, which served as the main grinding surface, and a smaller upper stone that was rubbed against the lower one. The grains, caught between the two stones, was crushed and pulverized, eventually broken into pieces small enough to serve as flour for baking The size of the lower grinding stone means that it would likely have been difficult to move, and suggests that the stone may be in, or close, to the place where it was used, in the service rooms of the House of Ahiel.See also: cooking pot and baking tray; clay oven.
The typical domestic unit in the cities of Judah during the late Iron Age was the four-room house. The House of Ahiel, excavated in the City of David in Jerusalem, follows this typical type: there are side rooms, separated by monolithic pillars and piers, and adjoining service rooms to the north. These service rooms provide good examples of spaces dedicated to food preparation and food storage, as well as the house's toilet facilities.
Fragments of carved wooden items from the House of the Burnt Room, Jerusalem These tiny fragments of carved wooden items come from a house in Jerusalem, in the City of David area. Their presence suggests that at least some members of the local population were rich enough to afford luxury items like furniture. The items were made mostly of boxwood, which does not grow locally in the southern Levant. Identifying the wood as something not grown locally means that its presence in Jerusalem had to come from trade, with either the raw material or, more likely, the finished objects imported and sold in the city.
The ability to store food is easily taken for granted in a modern context, but could easily spell the difference between life and death in the ancient world. Food storage was crucial to a family's ability to survive the winter each year, as well as its ability to survive crises such as famine or siege. The administrative ability of the Judean state to control and direct food resources was also fundamental to its citizenry's survival in such crises. The collection of vessels shown here comes from a service room in the House of Ahiel (named after the man whose name appears on clay shards also found in the house). Excavators discovered thirty-seven storage jars in the room, most of which had been marked by a rosette-type stamp impression. These stamp impressions were part of the state's administrative system for the distribution or taxation of produce in the last years of the kingdom of Judah, just prior to the destruction of 586 BCE.
California-based artist Michele Myers was inspired by Psalm 137:1–6 to create this striking picture. The vivid colours and unguarded expressions of the three figures in 'By The Rivers of Babylon—Psalm 137' bring to life the raw emotion of the psalm. The raised right hand of the central figure, so clearly outlined against the bold green of the trees, recalls the defiant cry of verse 5: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [its skill]!” Myers is by no means the first interpreter to be moved by the earlier parts of Psalm 137 rather than the latter. The end of the psalm calls for violent retribution, pronouncing “Happy is the one who seizes and smashes your children against the rock!” The threat has caused theological quandaries for Jewish and Christian readers alike. It is important to understand these words in their historical context. In the aftermath of exile, Psalm 137 was an honest response to the trauma of destruction and displacement, which had shaken the core of the exiles’ understanding of their relationship with their God, Yhwh.
Rudolf Mauersberger's motet 'Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst' was written on Good Friday and Holy Saturday in 1945 CE (see the composer's autograph manuscript here). The liturgy of Holy Week had gained a new meaning for Mauersberger in the aftermath of the firebombing and large scale destruction of Dresden, including the Kreuzkirche, where he was director of music. Among the many dead were eleven boys of Mauersberger's choir. Mauersberger's setting includes words from Lamentations 1:13: 'Er hat ein Feuer aus der Höhe in meine Gebeine gesandt und es lassen walten' ('From above he has sent fire into my bones, and let it rule'). The text differs from standard English translations—NRSV has 'From on high he sent fire; it went deep into my bones'—due to a different interpretion of the Hebrew, and is particularly striking here. This verse, originally written to describe God's destruction of Jerusalem, finds a poignant new home in a city destroyed by incendiary bombs. The setting is largely very quiet and expresses despair and sadness, but also hope for salvation. With the translation of the Bible into the spoken languages of Europe from the sixteenth century CE onwards, the biblical text became part of everyday experience. European Christians understood many of the texts to refer not only to the real city of Jerusalem and its environs, but also to their own homelands, as this setting illustrates. It may be troublesome to some to see a German composer use biblical texts to lament the destruction of his city during World War II, in which Germany destroyed so many cities and killed 6,000,000 Jews. Some have accused Mauersberger of not including a clear statement of German guilt in his selection of texts. The inclusion of the last few lines, however, requesting that God bring 'us' back to him, may be understood as a recognition that contemporary Germans were far from God (the Lutheran understanding of sinfulness). The setting also uses both the beginning and end of the text of Lamentations, indicating that the hearer is to understand the entire text as part of the work, including Lamentations 5:16b: 'Woe for us, for we have sinned!'.