This article has been awarded the Numismatic Literary Guild's "Best Web Site Article" for 1999
The banknotes of the Palestine Currency Board contain, out of political considerations, vignettes of those scenes having historical and religious significance to both the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Palestine. For the six denominations ranging from 500 mils to £P100, there are three obverse vignettes that illustrate Rachel's Tomb, the Dome of the Rock, and the Tower of Ramlah. All notes of the 22 possible date and denomination combinations have the single common reverse vignette showing the Citadel and Tower of David.
The obverse of all 500-mil banknotes pictures the traditional Tomb of Rachel. Known as Kaver Rahail in Hebrew and by Muslims by Qubbat Rakhil in Arabic, this white domed structure lies on the Hebron Road from Jerusalem at the northern entrance to Bethlehem. Venerated by both Jews and Muslims, Rachel was the second and favorite wife of Jacob who, as the grandson of Abraham, continued the patriarchal line. As described in Genesis 35:18-20, Rachel died while giving birth to her second son Ben-oni, who was renamed Benjamin by Jacob. Jacob then marked her grave with a memorial pillar, made up of eleven stones, symbolizing the eleven sons of Jacob who were born before Rachel died.
Rachel's Tomb in its present location was probably built by the Crusaders when they occupied Jerusalem from 1099 to 1187 C.E. In 1615, Muhammad, the Muslim Pasha of Jerusalem rebuilt the Tomb and granted the Jewish community exclusive use of it, although Muslims continued to look upon Rachel's Tomb both as a source of prayer and as a distant part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, commonly known as the Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:9), and as Haram el-Khalil (Sanctuary of the Friend of God - i.e., Abraham) by Muslims, situated in Hebron to the South. The eleven stones were eventually cemented together so that a cupola was placed over the tomb resting on four pillars. Later on, walls were built between the pillars so that the grave was enclosed in a small room.
Sir Moses Montefiore, a Jewish philanthropist, bought the Tomb and surrounding land from the Turkish Sultan in Constantinople and repaired the structure for Jewish worship in 1841. However, he specifically assigned the antechamber with a mihrab (prayer niche) facing Mecca for use by Muslims. Since then, the structure was periodically repaired, but in 1921 when the chief rabbinate applied to the British Mandate government for permission to perform additional repairs, local Muslims objected. On the other hand, when the Mandatory government decided that itself would be responsible for those repairs, Jews protested.
Since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 until the Six Day War in June, 1967, the Tomb was located in Jordan. After the Six Day War, Rachel's Tomb passed into Israeli hands and has since been renovated. Today as in centuries before, pious women pray at the tomb for fertility and successful childbirth as well those who pray for the redemption of the dispersed nation to its homeland, particularly during the Hebrew month of Elul.
Inside the Tomb is Rachel's catafalque with a purple pall, embroidered in Hebrew with the verse from Jeremiah 31:15:
"Thus saith the Lord; a voice is heard in Ramah,
This verse is from the haftorah (conclusion) reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish religious New Year), which is said to refer to Rachel's weeping for her children and refusal to be comforted, as well as the procession of Jews deported to Babylon, which passed by her grave on their way into exile after the destruction of the first Temple in 587 B.C.E.
The obverse vignette of the £P1 banknote of the Palestine Currency Board shows the historic Dome of the Rock, or Qubbat al-Sakhra in Arabic. The Dome is situated on the highest point of a 30-acre rectangular esplanade, called al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) in Arabic and Har ha'Bayit (The Temple Mount) in Hebrew. Located at the summit of the biblical Mount Moriah in eastern Jerusalem, it is considered the most recognizable scene attributed to the skyline of Jerusalem. It is here that once stood the First Temple (i.e., Solomon's Temple, 960-587 B.C.) and the Second Temple (538 B.C.-70 A.D.). All that remains today is the Temple's Western, or Wailing Wall, which is a section of the defense rampart which encircled the Temple Court. A large portion of the wall is buried below ground level, which may actually date from the First Temple. The name Wailing Wall was applied to it because Jews came here pray and bewail the destruction of the Temple and their subsequent exile. In ancient times it was to this point and no further that all observant Jews would approach the Temple site. As such, the Wailing Wall is Judiasm's most sacred shrine. Located in the southeastern corner of old Jerusalem, the Old Temple Mount is considered the most recognizable scene attributed to the city's panoramic skyline.
Historically, both Jews and Muslims trace their origins from the biblical patriarch Abraham. Abraham had married Sara, but she was barren for a long time. Wanting to continue the family line, Abraham also married Hagar, an Egyptian handmaiden who bore him his first son Ishmael, from whom Arabs trace their origin. Jews trace their origin from Abraham's second son Isaac, whose mother was Sara. It was Sara who out of jealousy had Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael into the desert and later traveled to Mecca. These religious interrelationships as well as their differences still hold to this day. For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock ranks third in sanctity after the Ka'aba meteor stone in Mecca erected by the patriarch Abraham and his first son Ishmael, and the Tomb of the Prophet in Medina - both located in present day Saudi Arabia. Sharing a common focal point for Jews and Muslims, the rock within the Dome holds many stories. As described in Genesis 22:2 in the Torah reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, it was on this point of Mount Moriah that the Akedah (binding) took place. Abraham was to heed God's instructions to bind his son Isaac on an altar and sacrifice him to God as a test of his faith:
"Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac,
and get thee unto the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering
upon opon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
It was also on this rock that King David (c. 1000 B.C.) purchased this site as the home for the ark of the covenant from Ornan the Jebusite. Here was to rest the Holy of Holies as the heart of the First and Second Temples. There have been several hypotheses as to why this mountain was called Moriah. One is that Moriah is derived from the Hebrew mora, meaning "awe" - from that mountain went forth the fear of God to all mankind. Another is that it is derived from orah, which means "light." This was assumed from when God commanded, "Let there be light" (ref: Genesis 1:3), it was from Mount Moriah that light first shone forth upon all mankind. A third hypothesis is that it derived from the Hebrew mor - myrrh, a fine perfume burnt as incense in the Temple. The Song of Songs (4:6) tells: "I will get me to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense." The mountain refers to Moriah.
Since Muslims also venerate Abraham as a prophet and patriarch, the Qur'an, meaning "recitation," also gives its account of the Akedah in Sura XXXVII:103 ( Saffat - The Ranks):
"So when they had both submitted their wills (to God),
and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice)."
This verse in the Qur'an uses the Arabic verb aslama, meaning "submit," such that Islam (submission of oneself to God) undoubtedly derived its name.
According to Islamic lore, angels visited the rock 2,000 years before Adam was created, and Noah's ark rested here after the biblical flood. All the prophets of God prior to Muhammad were believed to have prayed at the rock which is surrounded daily by 70,000 angels. Furthermore, it is here that Israfil, the four-winged Angel of Death will blow the last trumpet on the Resurrection Day when the dead rise from their graves.
As tradition goes, one night the prophet Muhammad (c. 571-632), whose given name was Ahmed, but is referred to in the Qur'an as Muhammad, or al-Ameen (the honest), was on a journey from Mecca to Medina. Riding at night on a half mule-half donkey with wings, named al-Buraq (the lightning), Muhammad was escorted by the archangel Jibrail (Gabriel) to the Old Temple Mount. Entering the al-Haram al-Sharif area through a gateway, both Muhammad and Gabriel stood atop the rock and ascended up a ladder of light through the seven heavens and stood before the almighty Allah.
After Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 A.D., the Romans under Hadrian both rebuilt and renamed the city as Aelia Capitolina in 136, and erected a pagan temple in honor of Jupiter atop the sacred rock. In 638, the second caliph, Umar (or Omar) Abu ibn al-Khattab captured Jerusalem and asked the Christian Patriarch, Sophronious to take him to the al-Haram al-Sharif area. Upon reaching the site, Omar was so shocked to see the area covered with dung and refuse, that he made Sophronious crawl through the muck on his hands and knees as punishment for the Christian abasement of the holy Muslim site. After the site was cleaned, Omar built an initial shrine of wood and clay over the sacred rock.
The Dome of the Rock is also known as the Mosque of Omar, a name given to it by the crusading Franks who in error believed it to be the fabled Second Temple. In fact, the Mosque of Omar is neither a mosque, nor was it built by Omar. As we now know it, Qubbat al-Sakhra was a shrine built in 691 by the fifth Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (685-705). Intended to be an architectural rival to the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre in its size and proportions, Abd al-Malik as the ninth successor to Muhammad, built the Byzantine-styled dome as a substitute shrine for the obligatory Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Its construction was financed by utilizing all the taxes col lected in Egypt for seven years. The Dome is an octagonal structured mosque 177 feet high and 72 feet in diameter with a frieze of yellow Cufic script from the Qur'an (Sura XVII:1, Bani Isra'il - The Children of Israel), on tourquoise and deep blue tiles outside, reading:
"Glory to Allah who did take His servant for a journey
by night from the sacred mosque to the farthest mosque."
The sacred mosque (i.e., Masjid al-Haram) mentioned in the above verse refers to the mosque at Mecca, while the farthest mosque (Masjid al-Aqsa) refers either to Jerusalem or to the entire al-Haram al-Sharif area because the al-Aqsa mosque did not yet exist in the days of Muhammad. Besides this verse from the Qur'an, another Arabic inscription, located above the cornice, reads: "Hath built this dome the servant of Allah abd allah the Immam al-Mamum Commander of the Faithful in the year two and seventy - Allah accept of him!" Although the inscribed hegira date of 72 A.H. (691 A.D.) was during Abd al-Malik's reign, the name of the Abbasid Caliph, al-Mamum, was forged and substituted in the year 831 following repairs to the dome. The forgery is easily detected as the added mosaic tiles are of a darker blue color while the letters of al-Mamum's name are spaced closer together.
In 1016, the Dome of the Rock was severely damaged by an earthquake, and was repaired and strengthened six years later. In 1067, another earthquake struck Jerusalem. This time the sacred rock was split, but the building escaped severe damage. On July 15, 1099 the Crusaders led by Godfrey de Bouillon conquered Jerusalem and Godfrey's brother King Baldwin II later converted the structure into a church of the Knights Templars, naming it Templum Domini (Temple of the Lord) in honor of Jesus. In 1187, Salah ad-Dunya wa'ad-Din (Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty) captured Jerusalem from the Latin Kingdom and restored the Muslim shrine to its previous glory.
In 1448, the roof of the dome was destroyed by fire and was restored by Sultan al- Malik ibn Dhabir to be more beautiful than before. Impressive renovations were made in 1552 by the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, which transformed the exterior of the building from a Byzantine to a Persian style. Of these changes, the most notable were the replacement of all 16 windows in the dome's drum with stained glass and the facing of sections of the outside walls with tiles from Kasham, Persia. While under Jordanian control in 1958, the last restoration replaced the dome's 200-ton lead sheeting with a special lighter aluminum and bronze alloy from Italy, weighing over 30 tons, that shines like gold.
Around the interior of the dome near the top is a circular frieze reciting the Bismillah and the Ayat al-Qursi (Verse of the Throne) passage from the Qur'an (Sura II:255 Baqara - The Cow ):
"God! There is no God but He; the Living;
the Eternal; Nor slumber seizeth Him nor sleep;
His, whatsoever is in the Heavens and whatsoever is in the Earth!"
The rock itself, called al-Sakhra in Arabic, is about 56 feet long by 42 feet wide and rises out of the floor to approximately five feet surrounded by a broad wooden balustrade. As it was once believed that the rock was the foundation marking the center of the earth, which was in Medieval times considered to be round but flat, Jews often refer to the rock in Hebrew as Even ha'Shettiya, (The Stone of Foundation). On the maps of the Middle Ages, Jerusalem was placed at the center (i.e., navel) of the world.
On the south side of the rock, there is an appearance of a footprint. Some say that this was made by Abraham, while others claim that it was made by Muhammad on his as cent to heaven from the rock. It is known as either Kadam en-Nebi (Heel of the Prophet) or Kadam al-Sharif (Heel of the Noble One). When the rock was in Christian hands during the Crusades, the indentation quite naturally was called the "footprint of Jesus." Near the "footprint" is a small box which reportedly holds a few hairs of Muhammad's beard. Besides the footprint, on the west side of the rock is the Qaf Sayidna Jibrail (handprint of Gabriel), where Gabriel was to have held down the rock when it was about to rise with Muhammad. However, it should be noted that Crusaders were usually prone to chip souvenir pieces from the rock, which in time would result in the indentations similar to the believed footprint and handprint.
Through an opening, Bab al-Meghara (Gate of the Cave) at the rock's southeast corner, eleven steps descend to a six-foot high subterranean cave carved out of the rock. In this cave, called Bir al-Arwah (Well of Souls) by Arabs, it is believed that here the souls of the dead assemble twice weekly to hold prayers. In the Well of Souls are spots where it believed that the Prophets Elijah and Muhammad, and the Kings David and Solomon prayed.
Also pictured on the £P1 notes in front of the Dome of the Rock is the southern, or Mecca gate of the Dome and al-Qas (the cup). This is the ablution fountain where the faithful are commanded to heed the Qur'anic wudkhu (ritual ablutions preparatory to prayers) five times daily (Sura V:7 Ma'idah - The Table Spread):
"Oh ye who believe! When ye prepare for prayer,
wash your faces and your hands to the elbow; rub your heads;
and wash your feet to the ankles."
Built in 709, al-Qas is attached to numerous underground cisterns on the Temple Mount. Beyond al-Qas are one of eight graceful arcades at the head of stairways leading up to Qubbat as-Sakhra. Muslims call these stairs in front of the Dome's southern Mecca Gate (Makam al-Nebi). The Qur'an in Sura XXI:47 (Anbiya'a - The Prophets) says that the al-Mizan or scales upon which the weighing of the souls of men will take place on the Day of Judgement will be hung from these arcades:
"We shall set up scales of justice for the day of judgement,
so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least."
On the obverse of all £P5, £P10, £P50, and £P100 banknotes is the vignette of the Tower of Ramlah. Known as al-Ramla by Muslims, the city of Ramlah was was the Arab capital of the province of Filistin (Palestine), replacing Lyyda (now Lod), from its foundation in 716 C.E. by Caliph Suleiman ibn el-Malik until its capture by the Crusaders. The name Ramlah is derived from the Arabic word raml, meaning "sand," referring to the sandy ground on which the city arose. Despite the many years of Arab domination, Ramlah was the only town ever to be founded by Arabs in Palestine and lies in the Judean Plain southeast from Tel Aviv near Lod on the main road to Jerusalem. From a late medieval Christian tradition, Ramlah is held as the traditional site of Arimathea and the home of St. Joseph, who, with Nicodemus arranged Jesus' burial (ref. John 19:38-39).
In the town stands the White Mosque (Jami el-Abiad), also known as the Great Mosque (Jami el-Kebir), which was dedicated to the Muslim prophet Saleh. However, it was later transformed by the Crusaders into a church in the 12th century. The rectangular tower pictured on the banknotes was errected just east of the Great Mosque by Sultan Baibars as a minaret of the mosque when he conquered Ramlah back from the Crusaders in 1268. Its style appears to immitate a gothic belfry, although its decorations are Moorish. Standing approximately 30 meters high with six stories, the tower contains a spiral staircase of 119 steps. Each story is marked by arched windows on all four sides. Vast subterannean vaults which were used as water reservoirs, can be seen near the tower.
The structure is often inaccurately referred to as the Crusader's Tower (of King Richard the Lionharted), probably because its companion mosque was used as a church by them. Over the years, however, it has enjoyed other names. Christians have called it the Tower of the Forty Martyrs, while Muslims refer to it as the Tower of the Forty Companions of the Prophet. Since it was built as a companion to the White Mosque in honor of Saleh, the Tower is also sometimes called the White Tower. Each spring, Arabs hold festive gatherings beside the tomb of Saleh.
The circular vignette on the obverse of all 500-mil, £P1, £P5, £P10, £P50, and £P100 banknotes depicts the Citadel and Tower of David. It is loacated at part of the Western Wall of the Old City of Jerusalem next to the Jaffa Gate and the Armenian Quarter. After the Dome of the Rock, the Citadel area is perhaps Jerusalem's most prominent landmark. The Citadel (al-Qal'a in Arabic) is believed by most historians to have been built by the Judean King Herod in 24 B.C.E. as a palace in what was then the northwest corner of the Upper City on the slopes of Mt. Zion. It is said to stand on a fortress built by King David, as tradition holds that from here he first caught sight of Bathsheba. At the Citadel's northern end, Herod errected three enormous towers and their connecting ramparts to the memories of his elder brother Phasael, his faithful friend Hippicus, and his wife Mariamne, all of whom Herod had killed. Each tower was built with battlements and turrets for the defense of Jerusalem. When Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E., he ordered these towers preserved as the defenses of the Roman Tenth Legion, whose name was Fretensis. The seal of this legion, the letters LXF (for Legionis X Fretentis), can be found in a number of places in the tower. However, all that remains today is the base of the northeast "Phasael" Tower which is now referred to as the Tower of David (Migdal David in Hebrew; Burj Daoud in Arabic).
The Citadel was rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1540 and contains Mameluke and Ottoman superstructures that were built on Hasmonian, Herodian, and Crusader ruins. The prominent minaret was added in 1665 as an addition to a 14th century mosque in the southwest corner of the palace. Because the view of the Citadel looks so impressive from outside the city walls, the tall minaret in the background is often incorrectly identified as the Tower of David.
The name Tower of David was probably applied after Herod's death, possibly being attributed to the biblical Song of Songs (4:4):
"Thy neck is like the Tower of David,
builded with turrets, whereon there hang a thousand
shields, all the armor of the mighty men."
Return to the Main Page
© 1999-2010, Howard M. Berlin.