Ἡλιούπολις: The Ancient City of Baalbek
The history of settlement in the area of Baalbek dates back about 9,000 years, with almost continual settlement of the tell under the Temple of Jupiter, which was probably a temple since the pre-Hellenistic era. Nineteenth century Bible archaeologists wanted to connect Baalbek to the “Baalgad“ mentioned in Joshua 11:17, but the assertion has seldom been taken up in modern times. In fact, this minor Phoenician city, named for the “Lord (Baal) of the Beqaa valley” lacked enough commercial or strategic importance to rate a mention in Assyrian or Egyptian records so far uncovered, according to Hélène Sader, professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut.
Baalbek is a town in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon situated east of the Litani River. It is famous for its exquisitely detailed yet monumentally scaled temple ruins of the Roman period, when Baalbek, then known as Heliopolis, was one of the largest sanctuaries in the empire. It is Lebanon’s greatest Roman treasure, and it can be counted among the wonders of the ancient world, containing some of the largest and best preserved Roman ruins.
Recent archaeological finds have been discovered in the deep trench at the edge of the Jupiter temple platform during cleaning operations. These finds date the site Tell Baalbek from the PPNB neolithic to the Iron Age. They include several sherds of pottery including a teapot spout, evident to date back to the early bronze age. Previous excavations under the Roman flagstones in the Great Court unearthed three skeletons and a fragment of Persian pottery dated to around 550-330 BCE. The fragment featured cuneiform letters and images of figurines.
Some archaeologists might well wish that Baalbek had been buried forever. For it is here that we find the largest dressed stone block in the world – the infamous Stone of the South, lying in its quarry just ten minutes walk from the temple acropolis. This huge stone weighs approximately 1,000 tons – almost as heavy as three Boeing 747 aircraft.
The main temple of Baalbek, however, was reserved for the chief deity himself – Iovi Optimo Maximo Heliopolitano ‘Jupiter the Most High, the Most Great’. This is the view of what remains from the staircase we saw earlier. The destruction of this magnificent temple is thought to have begun with the earthquake of 526 or 551. Curiously, the chronicler Michael the Syrian records the popular belief that the temple was destroyed by fire from the sky.
Observe in the above photograph the impressive platform of stones which underpins the Trilithon. Each of these stone blocks (the fifth visible layer of the wall) measures 33 by 14 by 10 feet and thus, according to my calculations, weighs approximately 300 tons. Note the outward tapering of these blocks. In the absence of any proof as to who built the platform of Baalbek, it becomes very difficult to draw any firm conclusions as to the construction methods used. What we can do, however, is demonstrate the scale of the job by explaining how the Trilithon would be erected using today’s technology.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16