A Memorial Day For 9 Muharram And Av 9 But Not For Artemis – OpEd


The Shiite commemoration of Ashura, the 9th day of the month of Muharram, falls this year on July 28, 2023 a day after the Jewish commemoration of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its Temple on the 9th day of the month of Av.

Both of these tragic religious events are still remembered although forgotten is the great Temple of Artemis (Temple of Diana), which was dedicated to Artemis (twin of Apollo- God of poetry, music, and healing) and was completed in its most famous phase, around 550 BCE at Ephesus (in present-day 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. The one column was rebuilt from broken pieces in the 20th century. Its area was about three times as large as the Parthenon. The temple’s cella was enclosed in colonnades of 127 Ionic columns, each 60 feet (18 meters) in height. The Temple of Artemis housed many fine works of art. Sculptures by renowned Greek sculptors Polyclitus, Pheidias, Cresilas, and Phradmon adorned the temple, as well as paintings and gilded columns of gold and silver.

Pausanias understood the original shrine of Artemis to be very ancient. He states with certainty that it antedated the Ionic immigration by many years, being older even than the oracular shrine of Apollo at Didyma. He said that the pre-Ionic inhabitants of the city were Lydians. The old temple was destroyed in a flood in the late 7th century BCE, and an enriched reconstruction was built at the expense of Croesus, the wealthy king of Lydia.

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. 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. 

Alexander later offered to pay for the temple’s rebuilding, but the Ephesians refused. 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 401CE, the Temple of Artemis was finally destroyed by a mob led by a Christian saint, John Chrysostom, and the stones were used in construction of other buildings. Some of the columns in Hagia Sophia Church originally belonged to the Temple of Artemis.

Normal history is about the winners, not the losers; the victors, not the victims. The 8th of  Av-  Tisha B’Ab is the first holy day to memorialize a national historical defeat. Before the Book of Lamentations – Eicha there were pagan lamentations expressing grief about the destruction of  a city like Ur, and six centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Romans, the Shiite Muslim community began annual memorial rituals for the massacre of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husain, his family and his followers on Ashura, a fast day with many similar rules and ceremonies to Tisha B’Av. 

The 10th (Ashura) of Muharram is observed as an important day by both Sunni and Shia Muslims – however, for very different reasons. Sunni Muslims believe Ashura is “good” while Shia Muslims believe it should be “a day of mourning and sorrow”. Again – for very different reasons. 

The Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 1 p. 628 15th ed. 1989, mentions “Ashura was originally designated in AD 622 by Prophet Muhammad soon after the Hijra as a day of fasting from sunset to sunset patterned on the Jewish Day of Atonement Yom Kippur.”

In various Ahadith ( e.g. Sahih Bukhari – Hadith No: 261 Volume : 6 Book : 60 Subject : Prophetic Commentary on the Qur’an Narrator : Ibn Abbas), it is mentioned that the Ashura Fast was observed by the Jews of Medina and that the Prophet Muhammad ordered Muslims to adopt that fast: “”When Allah’s Apostle arrived at Medina, he found the Jews observing the fast on the day of ‘Ashura’ (10th of Muharram). The Prophet asked them (about it) and they replied, “This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh.” The Prophet said (to the
 Muslims), “We are nearer to Moses than they, so fast on this day.””

The Prophet arrived in Medina in the year 622. If we input the Islamic date of 10 Muharram we find the Gregorian date of 25 July 622. That date converted to the Hebrew Calendar on the calendar converter provides us the date of 9th of Av 4382. Some sources hold that the Hijra took place in the month of Safar, which follows the month of Muharram in the Islamic Calendar. 

Thus,implying that the Prophet should have seen the Jews of Medina fasting not in the first but the second year of the Hijra. Thus when the Islamic Calendar date of 10 Muharram is processed, the corresponding Gregorian date becomes 14 July 623. This date converted to the Hebrew Calendar provides the date of 8th of Av 4383. (A discrepancy of 1 day) 

This seems weak because the Hadith mentions “When Allah’s Apostle arrived at Medina” implying that the Prophet came rather recently from Mecca to Medina. To conclude, the Prophet could have joined Jews fasting on Tisha beAv, rather than Yom Kippur which falls on the 10th of the Hebraic month of Tishri, corresponding that year to 23 September 622 or 11 Rabi1, according to the Islamic Calendar.

In the year 2022, the Muslim fast of Ashura (Muharram 10th) coincided with the Jewish fast of Tisha b’Av (Av 9th) as it did 1400 solar years previously in 622 CE, the year Muhammad escaped from Macca and settled in Medina. Actually, the two dates will overlap since many Muslim scholars say that the 9th or the 11th should also be observed, and the Rabbis say that if Av 9th falls on Shabbat it should be observed on Av 10th. 

In addition, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakki, who escaped from the besieged city of Jerusalem shortly before it was captured by the Romans in 70 CE says that mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple should be observed on Av 10th because, while the Temple was set on fire on the 9th, it was not totally destroyed until the 10th. 

The observance of Ashura began at sunset August 7th 2022; and the observance of Tisha b’Av began (a day late due to Shabbat) at sunset August 7th 2022. We do not know if the Jews in Medina always fasted on the 10th in accord with the view of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai or if Av 9th fell on Shabbat that year. 

What we do know is that a reliable Hadith in the name of ibn Abbas reports: “When Allah’s Apostle arrived at Medina, he found the Jews observing the fast on the day of ‘Ashura’ (10th of Muharram). The Prophet asked them (about it) and they replied, ‘This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh.’ The Prophet said (to the Muslims), ‘We are nearer to Moses than they, so fast on this day.'” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume: 6 Book: 60  Hadith No: 261) 

Friedrich the Great of Prussia built a special church to commemorate his victories in an extravagant example of using religion to bless military and political victories. Nothing new in this; the Geeks and Romans did the same, as did the Assyrians and the Babylonians before them. But the Jews never erected any victory statues in their Jerusalem temple. 

King David was rebuked in public by Prophet Nathan and told not to erect the Jerusalem Temple due to the blood on his hands. King David repented in public, was forgiven by God who judged King David worthy of becoming Prophet David. Hezikiah and Josiah never built a special religious edifice or statue to commemorate their victories. 

In Babylonia and in Egypt the gods were kept in enclosed rooms in the temple and only taken on parade during holy day celebrations a few times a year. 

In Jerusalem’s Temple the inner sanctum was empty. The cherubim embracing each other were revealed once a year as a sign of the loving relationship between God and Israel (Midrash) The great temples in 6th century BCE Greece: Olympia and Delphi were frequently gifted with gold and religious art to celebrate military victories. That never happened in Jerusalem.

The Mithrab prayer nitch in a mosque became a decorative motif in homes entryways in Damascus in the 15-17 century and even Jews and Christians had them in their homes. They all look alike except in their verses so that a Jewish one in the Pergamon museum in Berlin has verses from Exodus and Deuteronomy written in a Samaritan script, so perhaps it was a Karaite or Samaritan home. 

Jerusalem and other cities: Caesarea and Jerusalem. If one says to you both are destroyed; do not believe it. Both are flourishing, do not believe it. One of them is flourishing and the other is a wasteland; believe it. If one is filled the other is laid waste.  Megillah 6a  Today Jerusalem is filled while Caesarea is an archeological site. 

The enemy ends but the fallen cities endure (Psalms 9:7)   “Israel’s enemies have perished, but their cities which deserve to fall, remain.” Constantine, Philippus who built Philippa, Antiochus, Romulus, Alexander, and Seleucus who built Seleucid–these enemies are gone; but the cities which deserved to fall still endure. YES AND NO. 4 REMAIN, 2 ARE GONE. “A time will come when the cities which deserve to fall will also be destroyed” states a Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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