Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Jewish Winter Palace

November 7, 1917, or October 25th on the Julian Calendar that was still used by the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, marks the climax of the Russian Revolution. On that day, the Bolsheviks stormed the Czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the last remaining holdout of the official provisional Czarist government, paving the way for the creation of the Soviet Union. The gorgeous and glorious Winter Palace, which contained the throne of Peter the Great, was renamed The Hermitage, and functioned as a Soviet Museum during the decades-long rule of the Bolsheviks.

Jewish history also has a Winter Palace.

After the victory of the Maccabees in 165 BCE, the Seleucid Greeks were expelled from their hegemonic rulership over the Land of Israel. In 142 BCE, the Hasmonean Dynasty was established to rule over Judea. Later, when the Roman general Pompey conquered Judea, the Hasmonean kings became puppets to Rome. In 34 BCE, Herod overthrew the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus, after winning a three-year civil war, initiating the Herodian dynasty.

The Maccabees and Hasmoneans were the same people, all descendants of Mattityahu the High Priest. While Hasmonean rule emerged from Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital city for millennia, a winter palace was constructed in the city of Jericho, about one day’s horse ride from the Capital, because its weather during the winter was milder. The palaces were places for the monarchs to rest, but also to conduct state business. Aqueducts from the nearby Wadi Kelt brought fresh water to the palaces, which was used for drinking and irrigating the vast agricultural fields that grew dates, plants and spices.

The Hasmonean palaces featured an open courtyard surrounded by rooms, a design closely paralleling Hellenistic architecture. There were bathrooms with bathtubs, colored frescos and twin swimming pools. Subsequent renovations included bathhouses and mikva’ot (pools for ritual immersion).

After the overthrow of the Hasmoneans, Herod built his Winter Palace over the Hasmonean palace. It was much larger and more lavish. It included the Hasmonean palaces on the north side of Wadi Kelt, and a palace on the southern side of the wadi was added, from land Cleopatra of Egypt leased to Herod. She received it as a gift from Marcus Antonius in 36 BCE. It was built in 3 stages, even connecting the two palaces with a bridge.

The palaces were destroyed during the Jewish rebellion against Rome from 66 to 70 CE.

The Hasmonean winter palace and Herod’s updates were some of the earliest archeological discoveries after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.

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