That is just rood.

True-Cross-and-Templars

Jerusalem marches behind the true cross: Kingdom of Heaven directed by Ridley Scott

For Good Friday here is the oldest known Christian poem written in English.  The “rood” is the name given to the Cross of Christ, the holy relic found by Empress Helena, Mother of Constantine the Great.  This was in 328 AD a mere 295 years after the events central to the Christian faith.  Helena found 3 crosses, that of Jesus and the two thieves.  It was “revealed” to her by divine inspiration which was the true cross.

In 614 AD the Sassanid Persian Emperor Khosrau II sacked Jerusalem and brought the relic back to his capital as part of the spoils of war.  The Byzantine emperor Heraclius defeated Khosrau in 628 AD and brought the reliquary back to Constantinople.  There is much debate about what was in the reliquary when it returned to Christian lands.  By the time it was returned to Jerusalem two years later the rood had returned to its rightful place.

The “True Cross” was lost again during the crusades, taken by the Victorious Saladin at the battle of Hattin and brought to Damascus.  It was never seen again.  Or was it?

From “The Dream of the Rood
Anglo-Saxon, 8th century, trans. Richard Hammer (1970)

The Rood speaks:

“It was long past – I still remember it –
that I was cut down at the copse’s end,
moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
told me to hold aloft their criminals,
made me a spectacle. Men carried me
upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
a host of enemies there fastened me.

“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
upon me. I durst not against God’s word
bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
the surface of the earth. Although I might
have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.

“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
bold in the sight of many watching men,
when He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.

“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
the noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
the scars can still be clearly seen on me,

the open wounds of malice. Yet might I
not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
which poured out from his side, after He had
sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
black in the darkness. All creation wept,
bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
that I have suffered deeds of wicked men
and grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
that far and wide on earth men honor me,
and all this great and glorious creation,
and to this beacon offers prayers. On me
the Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
and I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

Montgisard

Schlacht_von_Montgisard_2

The Battle of Montgisard, 1177, by Charles Philippe Larivière

In the film “Kingdom of Heaven” the masked Baldwin IV, dying of leprosy, reminisces on a great victory in battle when he was only 16 years old.  That victory was genuine.  It was the battle of Montgisard, on this day in the year 1177.

Saladin led his Mameluke army from Egypt to attack a Crusader Castle, possibly Blanchegarde on Tell es-Safi near Ramla.

Baldwin IV, king of Jerusalem,  Raynald of Châtillon, Bailan of Ibelin and the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Odo de St Amand all featured and you will hear these names bandied about in the movie, but beware the poetic licence taken by Ridley Scott with the characters.

The truth is that an outnumbered army of Christian knights prevailed and drove Saladin out of the Holy Land.  Saladin returned to Egypt with only one tenth of his force.  It was a disastrous defeat for him.

It took ten years for Saladin to get his revenge at the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187.

Unpicking the details it seems that Saladin sent a detachment of his forces to bottle Baldwin up in Ashkelon and mistakenly thought he had neutralised that threat.  Believing himself in control Saladin permitted his forces to break up to pillage the country and forage for supplies.  Recent rains caused a stream to flood and his baggage train became enmired in the crossing.

When the Christian knights appeared the Mameluke army was in disarray.  Many of them charged back to the baggage train to retrieve weapons.  The Christian army brought out the relic of the true cross.  Baldwin IV dismounted and prayed before it for strength from God.  He rose to the accolade of his troops, his leprosy bandaged, and charged the Muslim army.  Saladin, it is said, escaped only because he had a racing camel at his disposal.

The Crusaders; by Edward George Dyson

What price yer humble, Dicko Smith,
in gaudy putties girt,
with sand-blight in his optics, and much
leaner than he started,
round the ‘Oly Land cavorting in three-
quarters of a shirt,
and imposin’ on the natives ez one Dick
the Lion ‘Earted?

We are drivin’ out the infidel, we’re hittin’
up the Turk,
same ez Richard slung his right across the
Saracen invader
in old days of which I’m readin’. Now
we’re gettin’ in our work,
‘n’ what price me nibs, I ask yeh, ez a
qualified Crusader!

‘Ere I am, a thirsty Templar in the fields of
Palestine,
where that hefty little fighter, Bobby
Sable, smit the heathen,
and where Richard Coor de Lion trimmed
the Moslem good ‘n’ fine,
‘n’ he took the belt from Saladin, the
slickest Dago breathin’.

There’s no plume upon me helmet, ‘n’ no red
cross on me chest,
‘n’ so fur they haven’t dressed me in a
swanking load of metal;
We’ve no ‘Oly Grail I know of, but we do
our little best
with a jamtin, ‘n’ a billy, ‘n’ a battered
ole mess kettle.

Quite a lot of guyver missin’ from our brand
of chivalry;
We don’t make a pert procession when
we’re movin’ up the forces;
We’ve no pretty, pawin’ stallion, ‘n’ no
pennants flowin’ free,
‘n’ no giddy, gaudy bedquilts make a
circus of the ‘orses.

We ‘most always slip the cattle ‘n’ we cut out
all the dog
when it fairly comes to buttin’ into battle’s
hectic fever,
goin’ forward on our wishbones, with our
noses in the bog,
‘n’ we ‘eave a pot iv blazes at the cursed
unbeliever.

Fancy-dress them old Crusaders wore,
and alwiz kep’ a band.
What we wear’s so near to nothin’ that it’s
often ‘ardly proper,
and we swings a tank iv iron scrap across
the ‘Oly Land
from a dinkie gun we nipped ashore the
other side of Jopper.

We ain’t ever very natty, for the climate here
is hot;
When it isn’t liquid mud the dust is thicker
than the vermin.
Ten to one our bold Noureddin is some wad-
dlin’ Turkish pot,
‘n’ the Saladin we’re on to is a snortin’
red-eyed German.

But be’old the eighth Crusade, ‘n’ Dicko
Smith is in the van,
Dicko Coor de Lion from Carlton what
could teach King Dick a trifle,
for he’d bomb his Royal Jills from out his
baked-pertater can,
or he’d pink him full of leakage with a
quaint repeatin’ rif1e.

We have sunk our claws in Mizpah, and
Siloam is in view.
By my ‘alidom from Agra we will send the
Faithful reelin’!
Those old-timers botched the contract, but we
mean to put it through.
Knights Templars from Balmain, the Port,
Monaro, Nhill, andl Ealin’.

We ‘are wipin’ up Jerus’lem; we were ready
with a hose
spoutin’ lead, a dandy cleaner that you bet
you can rely on;
And Moss Isaacs, Cohn, and Cohen, Moses,
Offelbloom ‘n’ those
can all pack their bettin’ bags, and come
right home again to Zion.

 

Enter a Pilgrim

Allenby

On this day, Dec 11th, 100 years ago, 1917, General Allenby entered Jerusalem.  In doing so he became the first Christian to take effective control of the city since Bailan of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin  in 1187.  (Excluding a limited negotiated return by Frederick II in the 6th crusade 1229-1244).

Allenby clearly understood the deep significance of his arrival in the holy city.  For this reason he elected not to enter in triumph as a conqueror.  Instead he entered as a pilgrim.  He walked in via the Jaffa gate in what was a low key affair, as depicted by the photo above.

I contrast this with the recent decision by Donald Trump to overturn decades of US foreign policy and order the removal of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Trump has done exactly what Allenby sought to avoid.  He made a clear political statement favouring one community over all others.

The result of Donald Trump’s announcement is widespread rioting in the Middle East, not only in Palestine but also extending into neighbouring countries.  The usual flag burning is taking place outside US embassies all over the muslim world.

This manic and destructive act neatly focuses US media attention away from his tax bill, which rewards the super-rich at the expense of the middle class and poor Americans.  So what if a few muslim youths are shot, buildings torched and the people of Israel face a violent backlash?  The important thing is that US Oligarchs can look forward to even greater expansion of their wealth.  And let’s not forget, Trump is one of them.

 

 

The Temple Mount

Tiling

I have always been interested in the history of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Why is there a mosque sitting on the site most sacred to the Jewish religion?

The Al Aqsa mosque sits upon a rocky outcropping at the centre of the temple mount.  This is alleged to be the rock where Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son by Jehovah.  When he demonstrated his obedience God stayed his hand, so the dogma goes.

I have my own ideas on this.  I believe that Abraham was an intelligent Rabbi and spiritual leader of his people.  He figured out that you did not have to kill people to worship God.  For me the lesson here is “Don’t kill children, you can substitute them with a Goat or a Lamb, or a Dove, or a Fatted Calf.”

Abraham is important because he is a father to three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  All three lay claim to his legacy.

The rock on the temple mount became the central focus of the Jewish religion.  At some time around 832 BCE Solomon is held to have constructed the First Temple.  However there is no archaeological record for this construction.  This temple was allegedly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar after the siege of Jerusalem in 589-587 BCE.  The Jews were clearly a problem for the Babylonians who felt it necessary to exile the leadership to their capital where they could monitor them.

In 538 BCE Cyrus the Great allowed the Jewish leaders to return to the city of Jerusalem.  They immediately set about re-establishing the temple, but not without opposition from others in the area.  Some form of Jewish Temple existed on Mount Zion until the Hellenistic Period.

Following the conquest of the east by Alexander the Great, and the division of his empire, Judea became a pressure point between the Ptolemaic Egyptian lands and the Seleucid lands.  In 167 BCE Antiochus III drove out the Egyptians under Ptolemy V.  The Seleucids clearly saw the Jews as loyal to the Ptolemies and set about reducing their power base.  The temple was looted, services were stopped and the buildings were dedicated to Zeus.  Judaism was effectively outlawed.

In 160 BCE following the revolt of the Maccabees the Temple site was again back in Jewish hands and was cleansed and re-dedicated.

Between 20 and 18 BCE the temple was totally rebuilt by Herod the Great, a client king of the Roman Empire.  This is the Temple where the Christian Jesus is alleged to have overturned the tables of the moneychangers.

The temple was the centre of Sadducee control of Judaism.  Jesus was from a Pharisee sect and did not hold that worship needed to be tied to a particular pile of stones.  The money changing incident was a demonstration of belief by Jesus.  Abraham said “don’t kill children – kill animals instead” and Jesus said “don’t kill animals – the simple act of breaking your daily bread can be worship of God”.

This is not a message designed to sit well with the Sadducees, who made a profit on every sacrificial animal sold on the temple mount, and who also made a fortune on the Currency Exchange market when the rural hicks found that their silver was no good in the temple.  They had to buy “Temple Silver” to purchase their sacrifice.  No wonder the Sadducees had a problem with Jesus!  He was threatening their entire economic foundation.

Ignoring the economics and religious dogma, the Jews were not comfortable citizens of the Roman Empire, and rose up in rebellion (notice a pattern here?).  The “Great Revolt” lasted from 66-70 CE.

The Roman Emperor Vespasian sent in his son Titus, who besieged Rome in 70 CE, punished the population and burned the temple to the ground.  The destruction of the temple removed the power base from the sects that were centralised there.  In this power vacuum the new “Christian“  religion was able to prosper.

The subsequent Bar-Kokhba revolt in 132-136 CE sealed the fate of the Temple Jews, who were massacred by Hadrian’s troops in large numbers.   It also firmly established the distance between Judaism and Christianity.  Following the revolt both Sects were barred from Jerusalem.

By this time the Christians had already established Golgotha as their primary site of worship.  There is no doubt that the Jews would have had issues with Christian worship on the Temple Mount, despite their common link to Abraham.

The Christians therefore opted to venerate the site of Christ’s death and the associated tomb.  When Hadrian expelled the Jews and Christians from the city he had a temple dedicated to Venus constructed on the Christian site, presumably to remove their power base.

From here we roll forward to the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Golgotha.  In 325/326 CE Constantine the Great began construction of two interlinked churches over the tomb and the peak the hill of Calvary.  This firmly established the Christian centre of Jerusalem as separate to the Jewish site.

Under Byzantine rule the Jews and Samaritans faced increasing persecution which led to a number of Jewish and Samaritan revolts.  The final revolt occurred when the Jews sided with the invading Sassanid Empire against the Byzantines.  In 602 CE under Sassanid occupation the Jews re-established control over Jerusalem for a short time, but the Sassanids ended up siding with the majority Christian population by 617.

The Jews then played the other side of the coin and supported the reconquest of Jerusalem by the Byzantines under Heraclius in 630 CE.  There were attempts by the Jews to re-establish a temple on Mount Zion during the Sassanid occupation and during the subsequent Byzantine re-occupation, but they were torn down and the site was left as a ruin.  It seems no ruler wanted to see the rise of a new Jewish power base.

So it was when Umar led the victorious Islamic armies into Jerusalem in 638 CE.  By agreement with the Christian Bishop his entry was a peaceful one.  Umar was invited to pray at the Holy Sepulchre.  He declined on the basis that Muslims might subsequently claim it as a Mosque, and invalidate his promise to protect Christian interests.  Instead he had the Temple mount cleared, and constructed a wooden mosque on the site.

Umar found a prime piece of real estate in Jerusalem, at the heart of the city, good location, nice views and absent of a formal place of worship.  So he took it over.

Subsequently the Ummah defined the site as “The Furthest Mosque” (al-Masjid al Aqsa), revealed to Muhammed on his mystical night journey undertaken in 621 CE.  This cemented the al-Aqsa Mosque  as the third holiest site in the Islamic world.

Over the years Caliphs improved the mosque.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 746 and rebuilt.  It was destroyed by another earthquake in 1033 (a religious Jew might take this as a sign).  The current mosque largely dates from the 1035 reconstruction.

Under Crusader rule of Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187 the Al Aqsa was used as a palace.  It was restored as a mosque by Saladin and has remained as such to the present day.

During the six day war in 1967 when the Israeli forces gained control of the old city of Jerusalem they secured Jewish access to the Western Wall.  There were suggestions from some hawks that only a few sticks of dynamite stood between the Jews and their ancient site of worship.  But cooler heads prevailed on that day.