Top 10 Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2019

We live in remarkable days, archaeologically speaking. More excavations at more sites are uncovering a tremendous amount of all kinds of information about ancient civilizations. Much of what is learned doesn’t make for a sensational news story, but is perhaps more important than the headline discovery.

The end of the year is a good time to look back over the stories, and attempting to identify highlights, and even to rank them, provides a good opportunity to determine what we consider important and why. My list here is decidedly subjective, and with my own undeniable biases towards discoveries from the biblical periods made in the land of Israel. The value isn’t in the accuracy of the list but in the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve gained and what may lie ahead. Here, then, is my list of the top 10 discoveries in biblical archaeology in 2019:

1. A seal impression belonging to “Nathan-Melech, servant of the king” discovered in Jerusalem’s City of David. Why is this in my top 10? Scholars believe this is likely the same individual who served Josiah, king of Judah (2 Kgs 23:11). If so, this is an archaeological artifact created by someone named in the Bible.

2. A statue likely depicting an Ammonite king in the 9th or 8th centuries BC discovered in Amman. Why is this in my top 10? Depictions of ancient kings are quite rare from Israel or their neighbors in Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Phoenicia, or Aram.

3. A destruction layer from the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC discovered on the Western Hill of Jerusalem. Why is this in my top 10? The Babylonian conquest is well-documented in the Bible, but archaeologists have found less trace of it in excavations than you might expect.

4. Massive fortifications exposed at Gath. Why is this in my top 10? This provides further insight into the nature of this Philistine city at the time when Goliath went out to battle and never came home.

5. A 7th-century BC seal impression “belonging to Adonijah, the royal steward” discovered in the City of David. Why is this in my top 10? Though this is not the famous Adonijah, son of David, it gives us an ancient example of the same name, in the city where he lived. In addition, this Adonijah was “chief of staff” to one of the kings of Judah, possibly Manasseh and Josiah.

6. The possible discovery of the “Church of the Apostles” at el-Araj (Bethsaida?). Why is this in my top 10? Anything that furthers the discussion about the correct identification of Bethsaida is valuable.

7. A mosaic depicting the Israelites’ encampment at Elim as well as two of the four beasts of Daniel 7 discovered in the ancient synagogue of Huqoq. Why is this in my top 10? Before there were photographs illustrating the biblical record, there were mosaics. But most synagogue mosaics depict Zodiacs and other non-biblical subjects.

8. A mosaic floor in a church at Hippos apparently depicts Jesus’s multiplication of the fish and loaves (Haaretz premium). Why is this in my top 10? This may well be an ancient depiction of a miracle near the place where it happened.

9. An Byzantine Church near Beth Shemesh with an inscription mentioning a “glorious martyr.” Why is this in my top 10? This church is well-preserved, and its mosaics are beautiful.

10. A new DNA study indicating that Philistines living in Ashkelon in the late 12th century BC originated from Greece, Crete, or Sardinia. Why is this in my top 10? The origins of the Philistines has long been debated, and this provides some definitive scientific evidence of their Aegean origin.


Fake News:

Khirbet a-Ra‘i is Ziklag.

Kiriath Jearim is Emmaus.

Temple that housed the Ark of the Covenant discovered at Beth Shemesh.


Top Stories Related to Tourism:

The Ketef Hinnom Archaeological Garden opened, no longer requiring passage through the Begin Center to visit the First Temple period tombs.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project was relaunched at a new location.

A $6 million, 9-year project has made much of Jerusalem’s Old City accessible to wheelchairs.

The outer courtyard of the Tomb of the Kings was reopened to tourists.

$55 million will be invested to renovate several sites in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Burnt House, the Wohl Archaeological Museum, and the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue.

With restorations complete, Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity was removed from UNESCO’s list of endangered world heritage sites.

A new sound-and-light show, used advanced technologies, was unveiled at Masada.

A new visitor’s center opened at Caesarea in four reconstructed vaults underneath Herod’s temple.

A new archaeological visitor center opened at Jokneam, at the base of Mount Carmel not far from Megiddo.

The new Petra Museum was inaugurated.

Egypt opened a 105-mile hiking trail called the “Red Sea Mountain Trail” that is west of Hurghada.

Greek authorities granted permission for the restoration of the interior of the Parthenon in Athens.

The palace of Nero, with virtual reality features, opened to visitors.

Saudi Arabia is now giving visas to foreign tourists.

Losses This Year:

Tim Bulkeley

George Giacumakis

Doug Greenwold

Philip J. King

Amos Kloner

William B. Tolar


Other Compilations:

The two I would recommend first are those by Gordon Govier and Bryan Windle. Others are a bit broader in scope or have different criteria, including those by Owen Jarus, Stephanie Pappas, and Aaron Earls. Israel HaYom suggests the top 5 of the decade, and Haaretz (premium) offers their top discoveries of the decade.

I compiled my lists before reading any others, and I see there’s quite a bit of difference between them. One reason: I excluded discoveries made or announced in previous years. But it can be tricky knowing when a discovery was “made,” as sometimes a lengthy analysis delays the announcement. Of course, in some cases, the announcement is necessarily made before the analysis!


Previous Years:
You can revisit the top stories of previous years with these links:

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What Archaeology Cannot See

In a recent roundup I criticized Haaretz for writing a dishonest headline, and I chose not to include a link to the story. The headline was “A Chance Discovery Changes Everything We Know About Biblical Israel.” Because time was short, and because Haaretz was making it difficult at the time to access the article, I did not read it.

I have read it now, and I believe that Haaretz did a grave disservice to Erez Ben-Yosef in their headline. Though my assumption was that this story was mere clickbait, what Ben-Yosef writes is quite important.

At the heart of Ben-Yosef’s argument is that archaeology is often used to answer questions that it cannot answer. The foundation of his argument comes from his work at Timna as well as analysis of the comparable mines at Faynan in Jordan. Here’s one quotation:

We know about the existence of a strong nomadic kingdom in the Arava solely because of its copper production; if the economy of the nomadic tribes of the Kingdom of Edom had been based only on commerce and agriculture, archaeologists would probably have reconstructed an “occupation gap” in the Arava region.

You have several options in what to read, should the issue of “archaeological invisibility” be of interest to you. (I’m particularly interested in it with regard to the Israelites in the time of Merneptah, but that is not addressed here.) There is the popular-level Haaretz article which Ben-Yosef wrote himself. That is based on his article in Vetus Testamentum, “The Architectural Bias in Current Biblical Archaeology,” which is available on Academia. A three-page version is published in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (also available on Academia).

As noted before, Israel Finkelstein wrote a response on  Facebook. And Ben-Yosef posted a response on Facebook and Academia, concluding thusly:

In other words, while assertions such as that Genesis 36 depicts a 6th century BCE reality or that David’s activities in Edom reflect an 8th century reality might be based on valid arguments, archaeology cannot be one of these arguments. It is often the case that when convenient, biblical archaeologists from the minimalist school resort to biblical criticism, and when less so, to archaeology (mostly to “absence of evidence”). However, one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too.

Those keeping score at home might be most surprised when they realize that this argument is being made by a professor at Tel Aviv University.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Eastern Cardo

In the Old City of Jerusalem, opportunities are rare to excavate large areas. The best such opportunity followed the recapture of Jerusalem in 1967 when archaeologist Nahman Avigad opened areas that led to the discoveries of the Broad Wall, Israelite Tower, Nea Church, and the Byzantine Cardo. Most tourists to the Old City today see the remains of that Cardo, perhaps while grabbing a bite to eat or doing some shopping.

Jerusalem, as depicted on the Medeba Map (circa AD 580); the excavation area is marked with a black box

The Cardo is depicted on the Medeba Map, a Byzantine-era mosaic that once displayed all of the Holy Land, with Jerusalem at the center. The map shows two colonnaded north-south streets through Jerusalem. The western street is more prominent, and it connected the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the northern gate (today the Damascus Gate) and the Nea Church.

Plans to construct a heritage center at the back side of the Western Wall prayer plaza provided Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn with the opportunity to see what lay beneath before the building went up. Their large-scale excavations from 2005 to 2010 revealed a Old Testament-era four room house (described here last week) and the Eastern Cardo. They uncovered a few other things as well, including a portion of the Low-Level Aqueduct, but these are the two main discoveries described in their report in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.

If you can picture the Western Cardo (aka “the Cardo”) in the Jewish Quarter, you can picture the Eastern Cardo. Both consist of a large paved street with sidewalks on either side and with porticoes probably on both sides as well. The street continued in use for nearly 2,000 years, so a lot of the superstructure was missing, including nearly all of the columns. The Eastern Cardo is slightly wider than the Western Cardo, which is not what you would expect from the Medeba Map. The excavators suggest that the Western Cardo was more prominent on the map because this street connected the churches that the pilgrims visited.

Eastern Cardo excavations, with paving stones visible

The Eastern Cardo ran from the present-day Damascus Gate south to the area of the present-day Dung Gate, but unlike the Western Cardo, it was constructed in its full length in the Roman period. The archaeologists know that because they found the latest material they found in sealed contexts beneath the paving stones is early 2nd century AD. But while most have expected that the street was built during the Aelia Capitolina renovation circa AD 130, the excavators think it predates that by a few years. It cannot date before Hadrian’s reign (117-138), because of a coin found beneath the pavement, but it may date to Hadrian’s earliest years. The street continued in use through the Byzantine period.

The conclusion of the article describes the history of the street over the following 1,500 years. The short version is this: as years went by, the street’s elevation increased (ultimately 13 feet higher in the 20th century) and its width decreased (down from 77 feet to 9 feet). Presumably at least a portion of this street will be displayed to visitors in the lowest level of the heritage center now under construction.

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Four-Room House near the Western Wall

For many years there was a big pit at the back of the Western Wall prayer plaza. If you climbed up the hill, you could see over the barrier walls and watch the hole get deeper. But it was difficult to know what they were finding. One natural guess, given the position of the pit, was that they would find the eastern branch of the Cardo. And they did. They continued digging and discovered a house from the Old Testament period. Their findings are given in a chapter of Ancient Jerusalem Revealed entitled “A First Temple Period Building and the Roman Eastern Cardo in the Western Wall Plaza.” The authors are the archaeologists Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn.

Western Wall plaza excavations, 2008

Below all of the human remains, the archaeologists found bedrock that had been quarried in the 7th century BC. On top of that, they found a portion of a “four-room house,” also dating to the 7th century. In the Bible, the two most significant kings ruling over Jerusalem in the 7th century were Manasseh and Josiah. So this house was likely built during the reign of one of them.

They uncovered a portion of the house that measures 27 x 27 feet (8.5 x 8.5m). The walls were preserved to a height of—get this—16 feet (5 m)! That is very unusual for something this old, with all of the later bulldozers to come through (I’m thinking here of Nebuchadnezzar, the Romans, the Persians, even Herod). The structure was well-built, with “uniform, homogeneous courses of slightly trimmed stones.” The layout of the house had three parallel rooms, characteristic of the “four-room house.” The fourth room, running along the back, was beyond the area of the excavation.

The destruction of the building is interesting. The archaeologists determined that the building was destroyed quickly, either by an earthquake or more likely by the Babylonians. Yet the building lacked complete vessels, indicating that the house was abandoned before the destruction. One theory the excavators suggest is that the inhabitants may have been deported to Babylon in the days of King Jehoiachin (2 Kgs 24:12-16).

Western Wall excavations, 2006

What do you think they found in the house? If you’re an archaeology fan, you might just pause here and think about what you would expect to find in a 7th-century house in Jerusalem. You should get some of your guesses right, because the findings are not surprising.

1) Pottery characteristic of the 7th and early 6th centuries.

2) Lots of figurines. About 450 fragments of females, male riders, and animals. This almost sounds like a toy store. A particularly interesting one is of a lion with a small animal in its mouth. This may be a lion having lunch or a lioness carrying its cub.

3) Personal seals with Hebrew names. One of these seals has a cool depiction of an archer. (I’d like a seal like that, please.) Inscribed names include: Hagav, Netanyahu, Yadayahu, and Nawa or Nera.
The archaeologists consider the seals of most value in determining who lived in this house. They believe that these seals “suggest that its inhabitants belonged to the upper class and perhaps served as part of the administrative apparatus in Jerusalem.”

I suppose that we can imagine that the people who lived here were well-connected in Jerusalem, and it’s quite reasonable to think that they may well have been acquainted with Jerusalem inhabitants we know from the Bible, such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, and Josiah.

The article continues with what they found from later periods—primarily the Eastern Cardo. I hope to to read and summarize that here next week.

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Mamilla Pool and Aqueduct

Excavations by David Amit in the area where the Museum of Tolerance is being built in West Jerusalem have revealed that the Mamilla Pool dates to the time of King Herod. While there are a number of pools in the Jerusalem area that date to the time of Herod, no one has ever been sure about the large one that’s rather tucked away down the street from the King David Hotel. Amit reports the results of his excavation in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.

Amit comes to this conclusion from his excavations of an area slightly uphill from the pool where he uncovered a portion of the Upper Aqueduct system from the Second Temple period. By determining that that the pool is part of this aqueduct system, it is clear that the Mamilla Pool dates to the Second Temple period.

In addition, the excavations revealed an earlier water system from approximately the time of Hezekiah. A massive dam was constructed to divert run-off into Jerusalem, possibly into the Mishneh Quarter. This forerunner to the Upper Aqueduct system may have been constructed to provide water to the new inhabitants on Jerusalem’s Western Hill. Next to the dam, a contemporary Iron Age building may have served as an administrative building, possibly for supervising and maintaining the system. Amit notes the large number of royal seal impressions found in the area may support this theory.

It does seem that wherever one digs in Jerusalem, or in its vicinity, one finds something of interest. This rather modest dig adds significant contributions to our understanding of the water systems of Jerusalem in both the Old and New Testament eras.

Mamilla Pool, circa 1860. You don’t realize how close it is to the Old City until you move the buildings out of the way.

Mamilla Pool, circa 1910, with some buildings in the way.

Mamilla Pool, filled with water, early 1900s.

Mamilla Pool, in more recent days.
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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Hezekiah’s Wall and Herod’s Palace

There is an Israeli police station today just inside Jaffa Gate to the right. The Israelis took it over from the Jordanians who used it for the same purpose. The Jordanians inherited it from the British Mandate authorities. One of the buildings of this complex is known as the Kishle. The Kishle served as the prison during British Mandate times. Before the British, the building served the Ottoman police force. And before them, this was the location of the Roman legion charged with keeping the peace in the centuries following the Jewish Revolt. And below that archaeologists have discovered foundations of King Herod’s palace.

There’s clearly a pattern here, and it’s likely related to the geography. This area is the high ground on the Western Hill, and it provides a commanding position of the surrounding area. Unfortunately all of this construction has made uncovering earlier remains difficult. In fact, in the conclusion of the article being summarized here, the archaeologist soberly notes that all that left of Herod’s great palace are scattered remnants of its podium.

Kishle building from the north

Amit Re’em excavated the Kishle in 2000 and 2001, and his report in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed provides a summary of his discoveries. The article is succinct and well-illustrated, moving from the earlier periods to the later ones. My focus here will be the same as that named in the title of the article, “First and Second Temple Period Fortifications and Herod’s Palace in the Jerusalem Compound.”

Kishle interior

What gets me most excited about this excavation is not the foundations of Herod’s palace but a large section of wall constructed by Hezekiah. If you have studied Jerusalem’s history, you know of the “Broad Wall,” a 25-foot-wide fortification located today in the middle of the Jewish Quarter. What Re’em revealed is more of this same wall, but on the western side of the Western Hill. This is valuable because this is now only the second portion of this wall discovered to date. (This point is a useful illustration of how relatively little is either preserved or accessible in Jerusalem today.)

A length of about 50 feet was exposed, preserved to a height of 8 to 9 feet. That’s not as big as the “Broad Wall” portion, but it’s quite substantial. The construction was also impressive, as the wall was made of “large, well-trimmed stones (90×35 cm.) laid in header/stretcher fashion in the best tradition of First Temple period fortification construction.”

City wall from time of King Hezekiah

But then Re’em goes a step further, claiming that the common view that Jerusalem’s Western Hill was quickly populated with exiles from Samaria is wrong. I think it’s best to hear his claim in his own words:

The new finds from the Kishle contradict [previous] researchers’ conclusion that Jerusalem, limited to the area [of] the City of David and the Temple Mount, rapidly developed to occupy the Western Hill as a result of a mass influx of refugees to Judah and Jerusalem following the Assyrian destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel at the end of the 8th century BCE. The settlement process on the Western Hill appears to have been gradual, beginning during the first half of the 8th century BCE.

Unfortunately he moves straight on to the next subject without giving a scrap of evidence for his conclusion. I would say that there is evidence in the Bible, usually ignored, that indicates that Jerusalem’s Western Hill was not only settled earlier in the 8th century, but it was also fortified! I think I’ll follow Re’em’s example by throwing that out there and then just moving on.

The Kishle excavations also revealed some of the “First Wall,” built by the Hasmoneans in the 2nd century. Re’em uncovered remains of this wall that were 16 feet wide and exposed for a length of 75 feet. It may be noted that all of these excavations are constrained by the walls of the elongated structure of the Kishle.

From Herod’s palace we have some walls, and the article gives the dimensions, the most interesting of which is one that was preserved to a height of 22 feet. The discussion here is not much more than a page long, and the bottom line is that when you combine results from this dig with others in the area, it is clear that Herod’s palace was massive in size, covering the area of the Citadel, the Kishle, the Armenian Garden, and most of today’s Armenian Quarter.

Foundation wall of Herod’s palace

The final section of this article surveys discoveries from later periods, including a Late Roman channel, medieval dyeing vats, a wall that is probably Ayyubid, and graffiti inscribed by prisoners held by the British Mandate authorities.

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Western Wall Tunnel

I mentioned in my introduction to this book that Ancient Jerusalem Revealed really provides a “who’s who” in modern Jerusalem archaeology. Dan Bahat is another well-known name, having served as district archaeologist of Jerusalem for some years and having written the Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem. Bahat is also known for his excavations of the Western Wall Tunnel, and this article provides information from more recent work.

The main point that Bahat wants to make in this article is that Amos Kloner is wrong about the dating of the arched bridge that begins with Wilson’s Arch and runs west. All agree it originally dates to the Herodian period and was destroyed by the Romans. Kloner challenged Bahat’s dating to the Umayyad period, proposing instead that was rebuilt in the Late Roman period (AD 70-330). Bahat is back to prove that he was right all along. This debate does not interest me much, so I’m going to move along.

Unlike the Triple Gate article from last week, this chapter has more illustrations. I especially like the one showing the two-story vault structure supporting the bridge, built over a couple of ritual baths with a four-sided mikveh used for the purification of vessels in the foreground. The reconstruction of the Temple Mount in the Crusader era is strange, however: I don’t think that the Dome of the Rock used to be on the northern end of the Temple Mount.

A few other discoveries round out the article:

  • A three-story Crusader building
  • A Roman-era latrine beneath the three-story Crusader building
  • A Hasmonean ritual bath beneath the latrine beneath the three-story Crusader building

Every article concludes with a selected bibliography. This one has six entries, including one by Bahat, two by R. W. Hamilton, and one by Charles Warren.

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Southern Temple Mount Wall

From 1997 to 1999, Yuval Baruch and Ronny Reich excavated along the southern wall of the Temple Mount. More specifically, they unearthed material in front of the Triple Gate and along the wall to the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount. Their work is summarized in a chapter they wrote in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed.

The first interesting discovery they made was of a ritual bath (mikveh) underneath the wall of the Temple Mount. Since this predates the Herodian construction, it dates to the Hasmonean period. The mikveh has a double entrance divided by a quarried pilaster. Those are my favorite kind.

A second find is more briefly described: they discovered the fragment of a Herodian doorpost that matches the western doorpost of the Triple Gate. I am sad that there was not a photo.

They also found fragments they believe belonged to the Royal Stoa on the Temple Mount above.

These were thrown down when the Romans destroyed the city. The authors don’t mention, but I will add, that it is absolutely amazing just how little is preserved of this structure that Josephus described as “more noteworthy than any other under the sun” (Ant. 15.412). BTW, if you’re looking for a handy description of the “magnificent stones and wonderful buildings” of the Temple Mount, I wrote an essay on this for the Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels.

Here’s another remarkable fact: the excavators revealed some 80 meters of the Temple Mount wall east of the Triple Gate, and they determined that a sloped street ran along the top of a series of 18 vaulted shops, yet they found no actual evidence for the street itself. It is amazing to me how much of antiquity has just vanished.

I love the photo of the arches burned into the Temple Mount wall. While it was a sad day for Jerusalem shopkeepers, it provides a poignant scene of the city’s destruction in AD 70. (I have a less dramatic photo here.)

Ronny Reich is the mikveh expert, so I was interested to read his suggestion that ritual baths near the Temple Mount can be dated based upon which direction they pointed. Those quarried along a southeast-northwest axis are pre-Herodian, while those oriented north-south are Herodian. The change in orientation is owing to the dominant feature in the area: the earlier ritual baths follow the natural topography of Mount Moriah, while the later ones are aligned according to Herod’s Temple Mount.

Baruch and Reich save the best for last. They propose that the sloped street that ran from the Triple Gate eastward was used for bringing sheep into the Temple Mount for slaughter. It also was periodically used for the removal of the red heifer. In support of this is the fact that the street is sloped, not stepped, and they contend that the third gate of the Triple Gate was used for animals, not people. This, they believe, makes better sense than a 200-foot high bridge spanning the Kidron Valley.

I enjoyed reading this article, but it would have been better with more illustrations.

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Pool of Siloam

Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron excavated what I consider to be one of the most interesting discoveries of recent years related to the New Testament. Their work at the southern end of the City of David began when construction work on a sewer line accidentally revealed several beautiful stone steps.

After several years of work, the entire northeastern side of the first-century Pool of Siloam was revealed. Our IBEX students worked with the excavators on this project a few days at a time over the course of several years, and so the published results are of particular interest to me.

As with other chapters in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, the archaeologists wrote the report. They begin by sketching out the history of excavation in the area, with the surprising note that five steps from the southern side of the pool were already revealed by Biss and Dickie in their excavations in 1898. But they didn’t realize what they had found.

The pool itself measures 50 meters on the exposed side, and an estimated 60 meters on the perpendicular sides. They uncovered the entire length on the northeastern side, including both corners. Why didn’t they go further? The article only hints at the reason: The pool “is the property of the Greek Orthodox Church.” A less professional report would have added, “and it is ironic that it is Christians who obstinately refused to allow excavation of an important site mentioned in the New Testament.”

The pool was built in two phases, and this is more important than you might think. The first phase was made of plastered stairs, but these could not withstand the large numbers of people who used the pool. But here’s the interesting part: the construction style of this phase indicates that the pool was built by workmen who specialized in constructing ritual baths.

It is, of course, tempting to dismiss the identification of the Pool of Siloam as one large ritual bath on the grounds that the lead excavator (Reich) did his doctoral dissertation on ritual baths, and we know how you end up seeing your own specialty everywhere you look. But Reich supports this theory with two additional points: (1) holes to support modesty partitions have been found in the stone steps; (2) the design of the staircase, with five steps between landings, is ideal for people trying to reach the water level at varying levels.

The date of the pool is not controversial. The first phase was built in the mid-first century BC and the pool went out of use in the First Jewish Revolt (AD 66-70).

On the northern end of the excavation area, the archaeologists uncovered a paved esplanade that was made of stones similar to those in the Herodian street below Robinson’s Arch. They identified the location of a row of columns and found a number of column drums in various places in their excavations. One of those drums had a mason’s mark with two Hebrew letters (het, tsadi) and three vertical lines. A street led from this esplanade to the north, underneath which they found a large drainage channel. This has been publicized in the past because it was apparently used as a hiding place for refugees in the Jewish Revolt.

This is a brief summary of the whole. The article is 11 pages long and includes 12 photos and 2 diagrams, many of them large and excellent.

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Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: The Ophel

I am personally very interested in Jerusalem in the Old Testament period (aka First Temple period), so I’m going to indulge myself by writing yet again on a third article (of four total) from that era in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Archaeological Discoveries, 1998-2018. This article is also by Eilat Mazar, and it is entitled “The Royal Quarter Built by King Solomon in the Ophel of Jerusalem in Light of Recent Excavations (2009-2013).”

As before, I am handicapped by not being able to show you the diagrams and archaeological photos in the article. There really are some spectacular views, without overgrown weeds, faded placards, or some tourist who just won’t move out of your way! But my goal in these brief summaries is to give you a sense for what they’ve found, along with a pointer to where you can read more.

Let’s start with a definition: the Ophel, according to this article, is the area between the City of David (to the south) and the Temple Mount (to the north). I’m not so sure that this is how the Bible uses the term (cf. 2 Chr 27:3; 33:14; Neh 3:26-27; 11:21), but that’s how it is used here. If you want to see these discoveries in person, you need to go to the “Southern Temple Mount Excavations,” later renamed the “Jerusalem Archaeological Park” (as if there is only one), and marked by the Davidson Center near the entrance.

This article focuses on Mazar’s work on the southern end of the excavation area (just north of the modern road that takes buses to the Western Wall). Here she found some monumental architecture which she dates to the time of Solomon. In fact, four of the five buildings date to the time of Solomon, with the fifth from the time of David. She writes, “One gets the impression that the construction of buildings in the Ophel ended during the third quarter of the 10th century BCE.”

Building I she identifies as “the Far House,” proposing that it served King David and his allies when he fled from Absalom (2 Sam 15:17). The NASB translation reads, “The king went out and all the people with him, and they stopped at the last house.” Mazar writes, “The features of bayt ha-merhaq [the far house] as described in the Bible match in date and location those of the early structure in the Ophel and it is possible that they are the same building.” I think I would have more confidence in that conclusion if we had other buildings from this time period to compare it with (and thereby determine that this in fact was the “farthest” one), but we don’t.

Building II was a fortress-tower even further than the “far house,” but she dates it to a few decades later. She estimates its size at 50 by 40 feet, though much of the structure has not yet been uncovered.

But she thinks it fits with a description in Nehemiah 3:27 of “the great projecting tower.”

Building III is the gatehouse and casemate wall. Other archaeologists aren’t so sure that this was a gatehouse (only a portion of the structure was preserved), but if it is, this is the only known gatehouse from Jerusalem prior to the “Middle Building” mentioned in the Babylonian conquest description of Jeremiah 39.

Building IV is the “Straight Wall” and it has a length of more than 100 feet, with a width of 8 feet.

Nehemiah mentions a portion of the wall that is called “straight” (Neh 3:25), and Mazar believes that she has found it.

Building V is the casemate wall, also built during the time of Solomon, as one of the elements in “the wall of Jerusalem” (1 Kgs 3:1). So Mazar has found this as well.

This is all truly fascinating, especially given the almost complete lack of material elsewhere in Jerusalem from the time of David and Solomon. My advice, though, to someone who has identified so much is to stop digging before you run out of biblical names to associate with your discoveries.

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