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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On a Battlefield and Two Monuments

View east from the Horns of Hattin, photograph by Inbal Barsella

The heat is rising, though not yet unbearable. Our minibus carries us along a narrow dirt road, billowing dust across the fields as we drive towards the saddle-shaped hill of Hattin. Around it the land drops away, gently but steadily to the south, more severely to the north, and in the east the lake shimmers beyond the cleft of Arbel. The sky too is shimmering, a blinding haze, and the lake is white. We stumble breathlessly up this boulder-strewn long-dormant volcanic crater that dips before us like an empty bowl. A path cuts across the dry grass, and the crater is bordered by a few stumpy trees and piles of boulders that were once fortifications of a town forgotten long before the Frankish knights and foot soldiers sought refuge here from the failing battle.

There is almost nothing to be seen now in this silent place that can connect us to the events of 1187 and to the battle that changed history. Almost nothing, but not entirely perhaps, for there are remains of a small building that some believe to be directly connected to the battle and to have been constructed by one of its participants. At the high point of the southern horn there is a pile of scattered stones among the thorns. It looks like nothing at all, but is proposed by its excavator to be a remnant of the monument constructed by Saladin to commemorate his great victory over the Christians. Such a monument is known to have existed, the so-called Dome of Victory, recorded in thirteenth century Muslim and Frankish sources.* But, as it now appears it is so disappointing in that role that one cannot help but doubt this identification.

There is another structure here, not intentionally relating to the medieval history of this site but perhaps in some way allied to it. It is certainly no less remarkable than the proposed Saladin monument. At the foot of the crater stands an odd, squat obelisk of highly polished black granite. It was placed here in 2014 by the an American Pentecostal church, the Church of God, a denomination that believes that this hill was the location of the Sermon of the Mount. It replaced an earlier monument and was, so the church representative say, placed here as an act of love. On one side of the monument is inscribed the phrase: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself". But its erection has apparently been regarded in certain quarters as an act of antagonism and somebody has gone to a great effort to coarsely scratch away all of the inscriptions in its sides; quotations from the psalms, the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark; so that it has in the end become a monument to intolerance. As such it is perhaps a more fitting memorial for the site of a great battle between two religions.

* Zvi Gal, "Saladin's Dome of Victory at the Horns of Hattin", in Benjamin Z. Kedar (ed.), The Horns of Hattin, Jerusalem and London, 1992, pp. 213-15

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