Haaretz is reporting on the discovery of a hoard of coins at a site three miles south of ancient Jerusalem.

A few days ago, archaeologists made a most surprising find at the bottom of such a columbarium, at a site at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem – a hoard of coins from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.).
Late in July, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University identified, beneath the floor of the columbarium, a ceramic cooking pot from the 1st century C.E. that held 15 large gold coins. “It’s very special to find a hoard like this, and it’s very exciting,” related the director of the excavations at the site, Dr. Oded Lipschits, of TAU. “We discovered the hoard with a metal detector, and then we went down into the niche and found this small cooking pot inside it.”
What was a pot holding coins doing at the bottom of a cave used for raising pigeons? According to Lipschits, the pot was covered up in a way that indicates that it had been concealed in a hurry. “We know that coins like these were brought to the Temple,” he says. “Possibly after the Temple was destroyed there was no place to bring the coins, and since the columbarium was no longer in use, they buried the coins here. This arouses sad thoughts as we approach Tisha B’Av,” he added, referring to the Hebrew date (the ninth of Av) that traditionally marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

For photos, see the Hebrew version of the article. (HT: Joe Lauer).

Unrelated to the coin discovery is discussion of the function of the building that has previously been identified as a palace of the Judean kings (something akin to Camp David in the U.S.). 

Lipschits says that one of the aims of the current dig is to clarify the purpose of this structure. “The accepted claim is that it is a palace of the kings of Judea, but I’m dubious of that. The palace lacks any Judean characteristics, and there is no reason that a royal palace would have been built here, when the City of David is not far away.”
Lipschits believes that the palace was built during the period of the Assyrian subjugation. “This entire complex is, in my opinion, an administrative center for the occupying regime, a place where agricultural produce was collected, for delivery as a tax to the Assyrians.”
During the period of the return to Zion (beginning 539 B.C.E.), the Assyrian regime was replaced by a Persian one, but the administrative center continued to operate. Many seal impressions from this period have been found, bearing the name “Pahwat Yahud,” the name of the country under this regime. The Ramat Rachel excavation is is the main accumulation in the country of impressions of this sort, and Lipschits sees this as further proof that the site was an administrative center.

There’s some confusion about this elsewhere, but I think the journalist has it correct.  What Lipschits is suggesting, contrary to his predecessors (Aharoni, Yadin, and Barkay) is that the palace was an Assyrian center, following the time of the Assyrian subjugation of Judah under Hezekiah.  While most would agree that Assyria maintained some sort of control over Judah for about 50 years after Sennacherib’s failed attempt to conquer Jerusalem, Lipschits goes farther in claiming that Ramat Rahel was an on-site command post for Assyria.  Here’s a brief summary of archaeologists’ conclusions about this important and beautiful building:

  • Yohanan Aharoni: Palace of Judean king Jehoiakim (cf. Jeremiah 22); ca. 600 B.C.
  • Yigael Yadin (never missing an opportunity to disagree with YA):  Palace of Judean queen Athaliah; ca. 840 B.C.
  • Gabriel Barkay: Palace of Judean king Hezekiah; ca. 700 B.C. (possibly built, destroyed, and rebuilt during his reign)
  • Nadav Na’aman and Oded Lipschits: Assyrian headquarters in Judah; ca. 700 B.C.

If you’re interested in more, you can start with the article by Barkay in Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 2006, pp. 34-44.


This dramatic new find may not be directly related to the Bible, but it will certainly provide helpful information about the biblical world during the time of a critical period in the history of Israel and Judah–the 8th century B.C.  Here is the press release:

On July 21, 2008, the Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli, directed by Prof. David Schloen of the University of Chicago and by associate director Amir Fink, found an inscribed basalt stele at the site of Zincirli (pronounced “Zin-jeer-lee”) in Gaziantep province in southeastern Turkey. The remarkably well-preserved stele, 70 centimeters wide and 95 centimeters tall, was found intact in its original location. It was set into a stone wall with its protruding tenon still inserted into the stone-paved floor. The alphabetic inscription on the stele is written in Sam’alian, the language spoken in the region of Zincirli (ancient Sam’al) during the Iron Age. It commemorates the life of “Kattammuwa servant of Panamuwa,” probably a high official of King Panamuwa, who reigned during the eighth century B.C. A bearded figure is depicted on the stele, seated in a chair in front of a table laden with food. Beside him is a thirteen-line inscription, elegantly carved in raised relief and preserved in almost pristine condition nearly three millennia after it was inscribed. It describes the establishment of the memorial stele and associated mortuary rites. This stele is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus is an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture. An analysis and translation of the inscription will be presented by Prof. Dennis Pardee of the University of Chicago at the November 2008 meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature in Boston and will be published soon thereafter. Zincirli is the site of the ancient walled city of Sam’al, capital of an Iron Age kingdom that inherited both West Semitic and Neo-Hittite (Luwian) cultural traditions. The 40-hectare (100-acre) site was first excavated more than a hundred years ago and produced a number of royal inscriptions and other fascinating finds that are on display in various museums. Since 2006, Zincirli has been excavated annually by a team from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago—the Neubauer Expedition, a large-scale and long-term project of archaeological research at this important site.

We’ll have to wait a few more months before the content of the inscription is revealed.  For more comments, see Paleojudaica.


The season at Philistine Gath (Tell es-Safi) is concluded and archaeologist Aren Maeir has a great wrap-up of the season for all who couldn’t be there. Gath is proving to be one of the most important excavations of recent times and Maeir’s helpful reviews to the public should be a model for all excavations (and we get it straight from the horse’s mouth and not garbled through a journalist!). 

Some highlights (from my perspective):

  • They excavated material from Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron II, and Crusader.
  • Gath appears to have been a large, significant site in Early Bronze, before the arrival of the Philistines.
  • Remains were found related to the earliest arrival of the Philistines at the site, including locally made Mycenean IIIC ware.
  • Important discovery from the time of David/Solomon: “a well-dated fragment of a seal impression (of the late 21st Dynasty in Egypt, ca. mid-10th cent BCE), and several nice clusters of carbonized grape pips. This latter find should be able to provide nice 14C datings for this phase. One cannot overemphasize the importance of the finds in this level, since it may provide the first concrete, well-dated (from several perspectives) context from the early Iron Age IIA in Philistia.”
  • Gath was a large site in the time of the first kings of Judah: “As such, it appears to mirror the role that Gath is portrayed as playing in the biblical text in the early monarchy, that of the major Philistine city, primus inter pares among the five Philistine cities.”
  • More evidence was revealed of Hazael’s destruction of the site in about 800 B.C.
  • Gath may have been destroyed twice by the Assyrians – first by Sargon II (712 B.C.?) and then by Sennacherib (701 B.C.).

Maeir concludes: “All told, the season was great, the team was fantastic and the find were extraordinary!”

Read the whole thing here.