THE CASE OF THE VIRTUAL TEMPLES

"A 3-D re-creation at UCLA lets you roam ancient Rome," was the headline this month (February 2003) on reports from California announcing the latest achievement of computer wizardry: The re-creation by UCLA's Cultural Virtual Reality Lab of 22 temples, courts and monuments of the Roman Forum as it was in AD 400.

A supercomputer projects the images on a special spherical screen, and the computer operator can then take the "visitor" for a tour of ancient Rome -- up the steps of the Temple of Saturn, pass between the columns of the Law Courts, enter the Senate building, or take a close look at the bas-reliefs on the Arch of Septimus Severus.

The technical achievement was based on extensive research by UCLA historians and architects who searched through Roman records, studied depictions on coins and artifacts, and "rebuilt" extant remains of structures.  The teams believe that they had achieved maximum accuracy in recreating both the exteriors and interiors of the Roman Forum.

A Pilgrimage in Jerusalem

Few are aware that this recreation of the center of Rome of AD 400 comes two years after the completion of a computerized Temple Exhibit in Jerusalem, Israel.  There, however, the re-creation is located just steps away from where the Temple had actually stood before it was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 -- at the foot of the Temple Mount.

The Virtual Reconstruction Center is part of the Ethan and Miriam Davidson Archaeological Center, located within the Jerusalem Archaeological Park at the entrance to the Old City.  Augmented by actual artifacts discovered in the area, the exhibits include a brief video showing a modern visitor and his ancient counterpart bringing an offering to the Temple; two computer workstations where the visitor can surf an interactive website on Jerusalem's history; and the highlight: A computer simulation which allows the visitor to enter the Temple and its surroundings, see and hear a trumpeter signal the Sabbath, pass through the Mount's gates, or examine the decorations of domed ceilings.

The simulation of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus required both meticulous research and computer wizardry.  The historical and structural accuracy was supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority; the technical aspects were based on computer technology developed by the US Navy for flight simulators.

Virtual Technology -- Millennia Ago?

As impressive as these modern-day achievements in virtual temple visits are, they pale by comparison with biblical reports about the experience of the Prophet Ezekiel in the 6th century BC -- more than 2,500 years ago!

Ezekiel was one of the Jewish noblemen taken as captives to Babylon by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who first captured Jerusalem in 597 BC and then destroyed its temple (the Temple of Solomon or First temple) in 586 BC.  In a series of divine visions -- including that of the Divine Chariot -- Ezekiel was reassured that the exiles would return and that the Temple would be rebuilt; then he was carried aloft to a mountain outside the city -- for a virtual tour of a Temple that did not yet exist...

Following in the footsteps of a Divine Measurer, Ezekiel was provided with the architectural details of the future temple -- details so accurate that biblical scholars have been able to redraw the plans of the Temple (see illustration).  And then Ezekiel himself was taken into a tour of the Future Temple -- entering through gates, passing through courtyards, examining structural details...

In three long chapters of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet went on to describe this virtual visit to a Temple that did not yet exist.  He was walking through a vision of the future.  "It was a simulation that beats the most advanced virtual reality techniques of out time," I wrote in my book Divine Encounters (1995).

It still beats even the virtual reality advances of AD 2003.

ZECHARIA SITCHIN

Z. Sitchin 2003