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Intolerance in Antiquity Volume 54 Number 3, May/June 2001
by Kristin M. Romey

[image] A mosaic floor from a second-century B.C. Greek temple at Tel Dor, Israel, fell victim to a crusade to destroy pagan symbols during a revival of Jewish traditionalism. (UC Berkeley) [LARGER IMAGE]

Iconoclasm is not new, nor is it solely the province of one-eyed mullahs. Archaeologists are currently debating whether to restore a 3,200-year-old colossal statue of Rameses II that lies in pieces within his temple at Luxor. It has been assumed that the 50-foot high statue collapsed in an earthquake around 27 B.C., but there is now evidence that it was deliberately cut up and pulled down by Christian monks in the fifth century A.D. "The face was attacked, as early Christians often did, and traces of hammering can be found all over the place, clearly showing that the destruction was willed," says Christian Leblanc of France's National Center for Scientific Research.

According to Leblanc, the issue of whether to return the pharaoh to his pedestal is unclear because "the statue's presence on the ground constitutes an historic event, and bears witness to the destructiveness of Christians."

Meanwhile, remains of a Greek temple excavated by a University of California, Berkeley, team at Tel Dor in Israel may be the first evidence of a crusade to destroy symbols of paganism during a revival of Jewish traditionalism around 100 B.C. Temple columns, a headless statue of a winged Victory, and fragments of the temple's superstructure and mosaic floor were excavated from pits where they had been discarded in antiquity to create the foundation for another building. "This was part of a crusade by the Hasmonean dynasty to wipe out all pagan symbols," says archaeologist Andrew Stewart. The temple, dating to the second century B.C., is also the earliest yet discovered in Israel, and pushes back evidence of a considerable Greek presence in Palestine and surrounding territories by 200 years.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America