Building the Iron Gates of Alexander: The Migrant Caravan & Geographies of Fear

Sarah E. Bond
7 min readNov 25, 2018

Thousands of refugees are currently standing at the US-Mexico border. In their 2,500 mile journey from Central America, these women, children, and men from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have endured much in order to petition for a grant of asylum within the United States. As I have written about before, the concept of the sanctuary city is an ancient one; within the archaic and classical Greek world, the concept of ἀσυλία (asulia) developed in relation to spaces in and around temples.

Despite the fact that these individuals are unarmed, President Trump has sent 5,800 troops to the border in order to stave off any attempt to enter the country by persons he has dubbed “invaders.” A look back at the late Roman and Byzantine world reveals that the otherizing language and actions of Trump are nothing new. The Biblical myth of Gog & Magog and the later role of Alexander the Great demonstrates how both language and mythical architecture–of walls and gates–were perpetuated by Christian, Jewish, and early Islamic sources as a means of reifying fear.

Alexander shuts out Gog and Magog (14thC CE, Hellenic Institute codex 5 f. 179v. Image via Wikimedia and is in the Public Domain).

A few months ago over at Hyperallergic, I reported on the new mosaics uncovered at Huqoq along the Sea of Galilee. Since about 2012, Jodi Magness (UNC-Chapel Hill) and her excavation team have uncovered mosaics that depict both scripture and myth in vibrant colors. While some of the most recently uncovered mosaics have Hebrew inscriptions that label the scenes, the most enigmatic find at Huqoq has been a mosaic possibly depicting the meeting of Alexander the Great with the high priest of Jerusalem that dates to the 5th century CE.

The story of Alexander and the high priest was retold by the first century CE Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 11.317–345). Many have argued that the meeting never actually happened. True or untrue, the lore of Alexander’s interaction with the high priest was widely mythologized and retold well into Late Antiquity. From his death in 323 BCE, the biography and escapades of Alexander the Great became the inspiration for much literature, art, and even hairstyling. What interests me today is the late antique blending of the myths surrounding the deeds of Alexander the Great with the Book of Ezekiel, which transmits the prophecies of Ezekiel ben-Buzi, a priest…

Sarah E. Bond

Associate Professor of History at the University of Iowa. Ancient History, Digital Humanities, and Public History For All. Thoughts are my own, y'all.