Purim and the Miracle of Jewish History
The Temple of Artemis was a temple dedicated to Artemis completed in its most famous phase, around 550 BCE at Ephesus (about 50 km south of the modern port city of İzmir, in Turkey) under the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire.
Only one column remains of the temple, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There were older temples built before it on its site.The old temple antedated the Ionian Greeks immigration by many years. In the seventh century the old temple was destroyed by a flood. Around 550 BCE, they started to build the “new” temple.
It was described by Antipater of Sidon, who compiled the list of the Seven Wonders: “I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the temple of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from (mount) Olympus, the Sun never looked on anything so grand”.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed on July 21, 356 BCE in an act of arson committed by a madman whose motivation was fame at any cost. Valerius Maximus, VIII.14.ext.5 states: “That very same night, Alexander the Great was born. Plutarch remarked that Artemis was too preoccupied with Alexander’s delivery to save her burning temple.”
Eventually, the temple was restored after Alexander’s death, in 323 BCE.
This reconstruction was itself destroyed during a raid by the Goths in 262 CE. In 401 CE, the temple was finally destroyed by a Christian mob led by St. John Chrysostom. Some of the columns in Hagia Sophia originally belonged to the temple of Artemis. Today the site of the temple is marked by a single column constructed of fragments discovered on the site.
Euripides opens his play “Ion” with the words of the God Hermes “I have come to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the navel of the world”. Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god Apollo (twin of Artemis). His sacred precinct in Delphi was where every four years athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, the precursor to the Olympic Games.
Apollo’s Temple and Delphi have been in ruins for fifteen centuries and no one mourns for them. Jerusalem’s Temple was a ruin for nineteen and a half centuries and millions of Jews still mourn its destruction; and for more than fifteen centuries millions of Jews and Christians have believed that Jerusalem was the navel of the world.
In the Greek world, the Jerusalem Temple (Beit HaMikdosh) was well known, while the Ka’ba, the House of God (Baitullah) in Mecca was not known by name at all. The first Roman reference to the Baitullah is from Diodorus Siculus, a first century BCE Roman historian who wrote that in Arabia there was a temple greatly revered by the Arabs.
According to G. E. Von Grunebaum, who I studied with at the University of California Los Angeles in 1959, Mecca was also mentioned by Ptolemy, a second century Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer who wrote, “The name he gives it allows us to identify it as a South Arabian foundation created around a sanctuary.” (G. E. Von Grunebaum, Classical Islam: A History 600–1258, p. 19)
Yet just seven centuries later both of these cities and sanctuaries, one almost unknown by the Romans and the other totally destroyed by the Romans, were destined, throughout the Middle Ages in both Europe and west Asia, to be viewed as the heart, lungs or navel of the world.
Jerusalem and Mecca were frequently portrayed by Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the center of their maps. God willing, someday everyone may see both cities and their sanctuaries as central to our monotheistic connections to the One God of Prophets Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.
Indeed, much of the folklore about these two holy spaces is very similar. The following narrative, transmitted orally in both Arabic and Hebrew for many centuries and finally written down in several versions in the 19th century, illustrates how these two holy spaces can be connected even though they are over 700 miles apart.
Two brothers who inherited a ‘valley to hilltop’ farm from their father divided the land in half so that each one could farm his own section. Over time, the older brother married and had four children, while the younger brother was still not married.
One year there was very little rain, and the crop was very meagre. This was at the beginning of a long term drought that would turn the whole valley into an arid, treeless, desert where even grain did not grow, and all the springs dried up.
The younger brother lay awake one night praying and thought: “My brother has a wife and four children to feed, and I have no children. He needs more grain than I do; especially now when grain is scarce.”
So that night, the younger brother went to his barn, gathered a large sack of wheat, and left his wheat in his brother’s barn. Then he returned home. Earlier that very same night, the older brother was also lying awake praying for rain when he thought: “In my old age, my wife and I will have our grown children to take care of us, as well as grandchildren to enjoy, while my brother may have no children. He should at least sell more grain from his fields now, so he can provide for himself in his old age.
So that night, the older brother also gathered a large sack of wheat, and left it in his brother’s barn, and returned home. The next morning, the younger brother, surprised to see the amount of grain in his barn seemed unchanged, said “I did not take as much wheat as I thought. Tonight I’ll take more.”
That same morning, the older brother, standing in his barn, was thinking the same thoughts. After night fell, each brother gathered a greater amount of wheat from his barn and in the dark, secretly delivered it to his brother’s barn.
The next morning, the brothers were again puzzled and perplexed. “How can I be mistaken?” each one thought. “There’s the same amount of grain here as there was before. This is impossible! Tonight I’ll make no mistake—I’ll take two large sacks.”
The third night, more determined than ever, each brother gathered two large sacks of wheat from his barn, loaded them onto a cart, and slowly pulled his cart toward his brother’s barn. In the moonlight, each brother noticed a figure in the distance.
When the two brothers got closer, each recognized the form of the other and the load he was pulling, and they both realized what had happened! Without a word, they dropped the ropes of their carts, ran to each other and embraced one another.
Only God can make a place holy; and Allah noted the two brothers’ love and concern for each other, made their descendants worthy to build a holy House on this hill; and rebuild a holy House in this valley.
When all those, both near and far, who revere these sacred places as a standard, share it in love with everyone else who reveres it, then Prophet Abraham’s request for Allah to “make this a land of peace, and provide its people with the produce of the land”. (Qur’an 2:126) will be extended throughout the world; and all the children of Noah and Abraham will live in Holiness, Peace and Prosperity.
Jews and Christians believe the hill is Jerusalem. Muslims believe the valley is Mecca. I believe they are both right and someday if we can live up to the ideal that religious pluralism is the will of God, we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah:
“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)