Acra, the

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ACRA, THE (from the Greek akros, "high"), fortress established in Jerusalem on a site in close proximity to the Jewish Temple in 167 b.c.e. by Antiochus Epiphanes in order to keep the Jewish population of the city in subjection. It seems to have replaced another Hellenistic citadel (acropolis) used as the administrative center for the eparchos, who was responsible for maintaining public order and collecting revenues from the inhabitants, but little information about this place is known except that it was the place to which Menelaus fled when the fortifications of the city were breached by Jason (ii Macc. 4:27, 5:5). It was also mentioned in the Letter of Aristeas (2nd century b.c.e.) as situated "in a very lofty spot and [it] is fortified with many towers, which have been built up to the very top with immense stones, with the object, as we were informed, of guarding the Temple precincts …" The exact topographical situation of the subsequent Seleucid Acra is also unclear. It was built in 167 b.c.e. following the destruction of the city by Antiochus iv and was in use until it was dismantled by Simon or Jonathan at the time of the construction of the "First Wall" fortifications of Jerusalem c. 140 b.c.e. During the Maccabean revolt the Acra was regarded as a symbol of wickedness and inequity overshadowing the Temple of the pious. Various attempts were made by Judah Maccabee and the Hasmonean Jonathan to oust the Greeks from their stronghold, with success eventually falling to Simon (i Macc. 13:49–50) on the 23 Iyyar of 142 (Meg. Ta'an., 2) and it was he who subsequently had it leveled. Josephus Flavius in his writings (Ant., 12:252, 13:215; Wars, 1:39, 5:138, 253, 6:392) pointed to the Acra as situated in the Lower City, i.e., in the area of the southeastern hill (the "City of David"), at the same time indicating that it was higher than the adjacent Temple Mount which therefore allowed the Greek garrison to control the activities in the area of the Temple. Scholars regarded the situation of the Acra as suggested by Josephus unsustainable on both topographical and archaeological grounds, since the Lower City area had always been substantially lower than the uppermost part of the Temple Mount area, and also because excavations in the City of David area had not brought to light remains of a separate Hellenistic fortress. Hence, alternative locations for the Seleucid Acra were sought by scholars – on the Ophel, at the southeast corner of the Temple Mount, north of the Temple Mount, and at various places on the Western Hill – none of which could be proven archaeologically. Of these the Ophel seems to be the most likely location since it was situated within the area of the northern extension of the "City of David" in the Lower City and also because it was a topographical prominence which could very well have supported a building or tower that easily might have reached the level of the adjacent Temple Mount, i.e., a height of 60–100 ft. (20–30 m.).


L.-H, Vincent, "Acra," in: Revue Biblique, 43 (1934), 205–236; W.A. Shotwell, "The Problem of the Syrian Akra," in: basor, 176 (1964), 10–19; Y. Tsafrir, "The Location of the Seleucid Akra," in: rb, 82 (1975), 501–21; idem, in: Y. Yadin (ed.), Jerusalem Revealed (1975), 85–86; M.Ben-Dov, "The Selecuid Akra – South of the Temple," in: Cathedra, 18 (1981), 22–35 (Heb.); B. Mazar, "The Temple Mount, in: Biblical Archaeology Today (1985), 463–68; L. Dequeker, "The City of David and the Seleucid Acra in Jerusalem," in: E. Lipinski (ed.), The Land of Israel: Cross-Roads of Civilizations (1985), 193–210; G.J. Wightman, "Temple Fortresses in Jerusalem. Part i: The Ptolemaic and Seleucid Akras," in: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Societies, 9 (1989–90), 29–40; G. Finkielsztejn, "Hellenistic Jerusalem: the Evidence of the Rhodian Stamped Handles," in: New Studies on Jerusalem, 5 (1999), 21–36.

[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]