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A small synagogue, which during Mandate times housed the British army`s chief medical officer, is located just beyond the gate to the compound on Avigail Street. Rising up from the undergrowth just behind the synagogue is a large serpentine rock
that geologists describe to their visiting students as a natural flint and limestone outcrop. Th e outcrop has been
identified as a possible altar from the Canaanite period 3-4000 years ago and perhaps earlier. Its sides have been manually hollowed out to form a series of symmetrically-aligned alcoves, visibly blackened by fire. This may well be the place where
Baal, the principal Canaanite deity, was worshipped; idols of Baal have been found nearby during excavations.
The existence of such a cultic site would be geographically logical. The Greek compound overlooks the Hinnom Valley and he
biblical Tophet where idol worship and child sacrifice was condemned by the prophets.
Perhaps there’s a specific connection between the god Baal and the name Abu Tor. For the ancient Canaanites, the “Father of the Bull was El, or his son Baal, described in this excerpt from a 3000-year-old epic Canaanite poem, discovered at Ras Shamra – the ancient city of Ugarit in northern Syria.
“Let Bull El my father, (tor `il aby), answer me..” (From The Goddess Anath, translated by U. Cassutto)
A few meters south of this rock lies another subterranean antiquity that may once have served either the Canaanite cultic site and /or later Jewish and Christian inhabitants. Below a relatively modern octagonal stone structure, constructed by monks from the adjacent monastery (now a private house) as a place for quiet contemplation, another large water cistern was found. It is now neglected and filled with refuse – a casualty of the monastery`s closure in 1942, apparently because of problems bringing new monks to Jerusalem during the wartime Nazi occupation of Greece. In all events, this ancient structure is of uncertain date and awaits further exploration to discover what other secrets it may contain.