The Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria was reported on August 31, 2015 to be significantly damaged. Unitar (The United Nations Institute for Training and Research) both conducted the investigation and released the report.
The Guardian quoted Unitar’s statement: “‘We can confirm destruction of the main building of the Temple of Bel as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity,’ the agency said on Monday, providing satellite images from before and after a powerful blast” (Quinn, 2015).
The first image, taken on August 27, is a high quality photo showing great detail of the temple site and its surrounding wall. The second image is blurry and dark, apparently showing a smudged-out rectangle in place of the temple, and one solitary arch.
The blast was heard on Sunday, August 30. According to an anonymous group and unnamed activists on an unnamed social media platform, the demolition was the work of Isis (Reuters, 2015).
The relics of Syria hold a special meaning for today’s world leaders. “Chief among these was the Temple of Bel, which has been called the most important temple in the entire Middle East, along with Lebanon’s Baalbek” (Pruitt, 2015).
Bel is the Mesopotamian counterpart of Ba’al (pronounced like “ball” with a break as in “uh-oh”), a pagan-Semitic god. First mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 25:3, Israel began to worship Ba’al after mingling with the culture in the region of Peor in Shittim. Ba’al was also the god of Jezebel and Ahab, whose false prophets were famously tested by Elijah (1 Kings 16:31-33, and I Kings 18).
The destruction of the Temple of Bel was predicted a week earlier when The Guardian named it a likely target after a similar demolition that August.
Palmyra’s Temple of Ba’al Shamin was reportedly destroyed roughly three months after “troops loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, suddenly withdrew, smuggling out large numbers of statues from the museum (Shaheen, August 24 2015).
The Guardian released photos of the Ba’al Shamin vandalism on August 25 from the Associated Press. The photos were taken from unnamed users on an unnamed social media platform. Close-up images show barrels and cans placed throughout the temple and strung together with wire. The mushroom cloud and rubble after the detonation are also depicted. The Guardian declined to speak to their authenticity, and “could not independently verify the images. However, they were released like other group propaganda and carried a logo Isis often uses in Palmyra” (Shaheen, August 25, 2015).
The day after the Temple of Ba’al Shamin was demolished, Irina Bokova, Unesco chief, declared, “This destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity” (Shaheen, August 24, 2015).
On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, the Institute for Digital Archaeology unveiled a fifteen-foot, two-thirds scale, model of the Triumphal Arch in London’s Trafalgar Square (Boyle, 2016). The original was a prominent arch that once welcomed Syrians from the Colonnade to the Temple of Bel. The replica was built out of Egyptian marble with 3D technology.
Originally, the sculpture was to be modeled after the Temple of Bel’s main entrance and twin models were to be unveiled simultaneously in April 2016 in Trafalgar Square and New York City’s Times Square (Pruitt, 2015). After some controversy, it was determined that only one arch would be built, cancelling the Times Square release. Also, the model’s source changed from the surviving main entrance arch to the partially destroyed monumental arch (or Triumphal Arch) of the Temple of Bel (Richardson, 2016).
It is, after all, easier to market something called “the Triumphal Arch” than something called “main entrance to the Temple of Bel,” especially since the ancient deity is associated with human sacrifice.
However, there is still skepticism under the new plan. Tim Schadla-Hall, reader in public archaeology at University College London, told the Telegraph, “It seems to me it’s a bizarre expenditure of money, possibly with worthy but misinformed aims, to promote something which isn’t a real past, in an entirely reproduced form. I don’t get it; I find it very, very odd” (Richardson, 2016).
Previous temples of Bel and Ba’al have been destroyed several times in the past (II Kings 10:18-28, II Kings 11:17,18, II Chronicles 23:16-18, and Judges 6:24-32). And the God of the Bible has given multiple warnings against Bel worship in its various forms (Deuteronomy 4:3,4; Jeremiah 19:4-6, Revelation 2:14).
But today, the many faces of Bel stand triumphant with the United Nations against the common enemy of Isis.
Unesco’s Bokova says Daesh (Isis) “cannot silence history and will ultimately fail to erase this great culture from the memory of the world” (Shaheen, August 24, 2015). And with the help of the Institute for Digital Archaeology, the great culture of Bel will live on.
Roger Michel, the Institute for Digital Archaeology’s executive director, told the Times: “It is really a political statement, a call to action, to draw attention to what is happening in Syria and Iraq and now Libya. We are saying to them ‘if you destroy something we can rebuild it again’. The symbolic value of these sites is enormous” (Pruitt, 2015).
Bel’s triumphal replica will be packaged, shipped, and rebuilt for the admiration of various cities across the world, such as New York City and Dubai, before coming to rest in its spiritual home of Palmyra (Boyle, 2016).
Boyle, Danny. “Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph Rises Again in London’s Trafalgar Square after Being Destroyed by Isil.” The Telegraph. April 20, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/19/palmyras-arch-of-triumph-rises-again-in-londons-trafalgar-square/.
Pruitt, Sarah. “Palmyra Arch That Survived ISIS Will Be Recreated in New York and London.” History.com. December 28, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.history.com/news/palmyra-arch-that-survived-isis-will-be-recreated-in-new-york-and-london.
Quinn, Ben. “Isis Destruction of Palmyra’s Temple of Bel Revealed in Satellite Images.” The Guardian. September 01, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/01/satellite-images-reveal-isis-destruction-of-palmyras-temple-of-bel.
Reuters. “Islamic State Attacks Another Ancient Temple in Palmyra.” The Guardian. August 30, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/30/islamic-state-attacks-another-ancient-temple-in-palmyra.
Richardson, Nigel. “The Arch of Triumph of Palmyra Is Recreated in London – 1,800 Years after It Was Built.” The Telegraph. April 18, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/08/why-the-arch-of-triumph-of-palmyra-is-being-recreated-in-london/.
Shaheen, Kareem. “Palmyra: Destruction of Ancient Temple Is a War Crime, Says Unesco Chief.” The Guardian. August 24, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/24/palmyra-destruction-ancient-temple-baal-shamin-war-crime-un-isis.
Shaheen, Kareem. “Islamic State Releases Images Said to Show Destruction of Palmyra Temple.” The Guardian. August 25, 2015. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/25/islamic-state-images-destruction-palmyra-temple-baal-shamin-isis.