Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Legend Of Jerusalem From The 12 Century

In honor of Yom Yerushalim, I thought to share this story from the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. It is commonly thought that BoT started his travels in the year 1160:

Jerusalem is surrounded by high mountains. On Mount Sion are the sepulchers of the house of David, and those of the kings who reigned after him. In consequence of the following circumstance, however, this place is at present hardly to be recognized. Fifteen years ago, one of the walls of the place of worship on Mount Sion fell down, and the patriarch commanded the priest to repair it. He ordered stones to be taken from the original wall of Sion for that purpose, and twenty workmen were hired at stated wages, who broke stones from the very foundation of the walls of Sion. Two of these laborers, who were intimate friends, upon a certain day treated one another, and repaired to their work after their friendly meal. The overseer accused them of dilatoriness, but they answered that they would still perform their day's work, and would employ thereupon the time while their fellow laborers were at meals. They then continued to break out stones, until, happening to meet with one which formed the mouth of a cavern, they agreed to enter it in search of treasure, and they proceeded until they reached a large hall, supported by pillars of marble, encrusted with gold and silver, and before which stood a table, with a golden scepter and crown. This was the sepulcher of David, King of Israel, to the left of which they saw that of Solomon in a similar state, and so on the sepulchers of all the kings of Juda, who were buried there. They further saw chests locked up, the contents of which nobody knew, and were on the point of entering the hall, when a blast of wind like a storm issued forth from the mouth of the cavern so strong that it threw them down almost lifeless on the ground. There they lay until evening, when another wind rushed forth, from which they heard a voice like that of a man calling aloud, "Get up, and go forth from this place." The men rushed out full of fear, and proceeded to the patriarch to report what had happened
p. 394
to them. This ecclesiastic summoned into his presence R. Abraham el Constantini, a pious ascetic, one of the mourners of the downfall of Jerusalem, 14 and caused the two laborers to repeat what they had previously reported. R. Abraham thereupon informed the patriarch that they had discovered the sepulchers of the house of David and of the kings of Juda. The following morning the laborers were sent for again, but they were found stretched on their beds and still full of fear; they declared that they would not attempt to go again to the cave, as it was not God's will to discover it to any one. The patriarch ordered the place to be walled up, so as to hide it effectually from every one unto the present day. The above-mentioned R. Abraham told me all this.
Miracles are fairly rare in Benjamin of Tudela's diary. Joshua Prawer estimates that Benjamin of Tudela visited Jerusalem roughly in 1169-1171. If so the story of the workers should have occured sometime in 1154-1156. Prawer can not find any mention of an event on Mount Zion during those years, except for a lightning bolt hitting a church in 1146 (10 years too early). R. Abraham el Constatini is almost certainly the same as mentioned in the travels of Rabbi Petachia of Ratisbon, and is probably a member of Chasidei Ashkenaz.

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