Locating Pentecost – Part 2

By Chris McKinny

In the previous post – I indicated that I was cynical about the Cenacle being the location of Pentecost. For Part 1 – see here. In this post, we will look at some of the implied intertextual allusions related to Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. In the last post, we also highlighted Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Book of Acts through Revelation. For this one – I’d like to highlight the excellent collection of photos and notes put together by the BiblePlaces team. The full entry is Anderson, Steven D., A. D. Riddle, Kris Udd, and Todd Bolen. Photo Companion to the Bible: Acts. BiblePlaces, 2019. This amazing resource is available on this site – click the above link or photo below. This current post utilizes many photos from the PCB Acts.

Continuation of excerpt from McKinny, Chris. “The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2.” Pages 77–93 in Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Book of Acts through Revelation. Edited by Barry J. Beitzel. Lexham Press, 2019.

We will now turn our attention to the numerous intertextual allusions between the Old Testament (and the Gospel of Luke) and Acts 2. [1] We will organize these possible allusions chronologically, but our intention is to show both the chronological and geographical development of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and God’s people with specific emphasis on the temple mount.[2]

The Reversal of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:5-13

The first allusion to an Old Testament passage is rather obvious – the reversal of the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) with the supernatural ability to understand foreign speech in their original language at Pentecost (Acts 2:5-13).[3]

  • Compare the “whole world… moved eastward to the plain of Shinar and settled there” (Gen 11:1) to the gathering together of Jews from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).
  • Compare the “whole earth had one language and the same words” (Gen 11:1) to “each one was hearing them (the disciples) speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6).
  • Compare the confusion after the change of languages (Gen 11:7-9) to the “bewilderment” of understanding those hearing their own language come out of a Galilean mouth (Acts 2:6, 12).
  • Compare the “plain of Shinar” and “Babel” (Gen 11:1, 9) to the first Jews mentioned in “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia” (Acts 2:9) who are clearly identified with Jews of the Babylonian diaspora.
  • Compare the preceding table of nations in Genesis 10 (who are the subject of Gen 11:1-9) to the list of Jews from all over the known world in Acts 2:8-11.
  • Compare the source of the language confusion in Genesis 11:5-8 (Yahweh)[4] to the source of the language understanding in Acts 2:11 (i.e., God, cf. also Acts 1:8)
Model of Babylon in the 7th and 6th centuries BC – the ziggurat of Marduk (left) is often thought to be the Tower of Babel mentioned in Genesis 11. Its earliest foundations are unknown, but it goes back to at least the early 2nd millennium BC. Photo by Mark Bolen.

Finally, the intertextual link between Babel and Pentecost points to the conclusion that the coming of the Holy Spirit would undo the division of peoples and their “scattering over all the earth” (Gen 11:8) by inaugurating a new era of “understanding” between the nations, even those who are “far off” (Acts 2:39; cf. also Acts 10:44-48). Moreover, it also implies that God was opening a new way to heaven for at least 3,000 (Acts 2:41) of the “devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), after the failed attempt at Babel to reach heaven by means of “brick, stone and mortar” (Gen 11:4). With regards to the three-fold geographical “outline” of the events of the Book of Acts (Acts 1:7 – Jerusalem/Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth), the reversal of Babel at Pentecost is the first step in the process which will culminate in the apostle’s bringing the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

The Giving of the Law – Exodus 24:12-18; Acts 2:1-13

There are not explicit textual allusion between Pentecost (Acts 2) and the giving of the Law (Exod 24:12-18).[5] However, second temple Jewish literature plainly points to the fact that contemporary Jews believed that Pentecost was the day when the law was given at Sinai.[6] Specifically, it was understood that Moses was given a covenant that had already been given to Noah (“on heavenly tablets”), which had been lost until Sinai (Jub 6:15-23). Against this contemporary backdrop, parallels between the two events are relatively straightforward.

  • Both events contain fiery theophanies (Exod 24:16-17/Acts 2:3-4, cf. also Christ’s “cloud” in Acts 1:9). Both events are connected with a new covenant (cf. Luke 22:20; Jer 31:31).
  • Both events use a prophetic messenger to explain the significance of what God has done (Moses – e.g., Exod 25:1-2; Peter – Acts 2:14). Regarding this, VanderKam points to the possible echo of a rabbinic tradition in which all the foreign speakers heard the giving of the Law from Sinai in their 70 languages (b. Shabb. 88b).[7]
  • Finally, one can also point to the subsequent spiritual anointing of the 70 elders at the tent of meeting in Numbers 11:25.[8] This event directly links the transfer of Yahweh’s Spirit from Moses to the elders at His place of residence (i.e., the tent of meeting). Moses’ following statement to Joshua in Numbers 11:29 indicates the hope that one day “all Yahweh’s people were prophets, that Yahweh would put His Spirit on them!” This text likely lies behind Joel 2:29,[9] and is therefore particularly relevant to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Wadi er Raha near Mount Sinai/Jebel Musa, traditionally connected with the giving of the Plain of Law, photo taken from Ras Safsafa, Matson collection

The “Cloud” of Yahweh in the Solomonic Temple – 1 Kings 8; Acts 2; cf. Acts 1:9

The next allusion is connected to an intertextual chain that can be traced back to the theophanies associated with Yahweh’s cloud seen at the giving of the Law (Exod 24:15-18), throughout the wilderness wanderings (e.g., Exod 13:21-22; Num 14:14), and his residence in the tent of meeting after its construction (Exod 33:9; Num 12:5; Deut 31:15). Significantly, the rest of my suggested allusions are geographically localized to the temple precinct as a result of Solomon building “the house of Yahweh” (1 Kgs 6 ) and, subsequently, Yahweh’s physical indwelling of his house (1 Kgs 8:10-13).

First Temple Model from c. 720-586 BC, the Solomonic Temple is located in the lower right corner of the photograph, this model is on display at the Bible Lands Museum, photo by A.D. Riddle

On this occasion (which is probably a parallel to the Feast of Tabernacles, cf. 1 Kgs 8:2), Solomon assembled all of the leaders of Israel and had the priests bring up the “ark of Yahweh, the tent of meeting, and all the of the holy vessels that were in the tent… to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place (i.e., the Holy of Holies), beneath the wings of the cherubim” (1 Kgs 8:4-6).[10] With his physical mobile throne and his treasures secured in his new residence, Yahweh appeared once more in his theophanic cloud that “filled the house of Yahweh, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). In my opinion, Solomon’s inauguration of Yahweh’s temple is clearly parallel to the events of Pentecost. Consider the following parallels:

  • Both events feature the gathering of Israelites/Jews from everywhere (the kingdom/diaspora) to the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kgs 8:1; Acts 2:5).
  • Both groups witnessed the astonishing, supernatural physical manifestation of God’s Spirit in the form of cloud (1 Kgs 8:10-13) and tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-5).
  • Both events specifically reference the “house” being filled by Yahweh’s Spirit (1 Kgs 8:10; Acts 2:2). From my perspective, this intertextual link is one of the main reasons why the events of Pentecost should be located on the temple mount.[11]
  • Both events were followed by the main leader (Solomon/Peter) delivering a long oration directed at explaining the significance of what the crowd had just seen (1 Kgs 8:12-61; Acts 2:14-40).
Close-up image on the Solomonic Temple, Bible Lands Museum, photo by A.D. Riddle

This last parallel requires some unpacking. For Solomon (1 Kgs 8:12-61), Yahweh’s presence in this new house meant the fulfillment of Solomon’s end of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7; cf. 8:12-26) and the perpetuation of the Mosiac covenant with its blessings and cursing (e.g., Deut 32-33, cf. 1 Kgs 8:31-61). Significantly, Solomon also expressed his humility and incredulity that the uncontainable Yahweh would graciously choose to reside in a permanent structure from which he would hear the “pleas of your servant (i.e., Solomon and Davidic kings) and of your people” (1 Kgs 8:27-30).

Model of Herodian Temple Mount, on display at the Israel Museum campus. This model provides the dramatic setting of the events of Pentecost, photo by Todd Bolen

Likewise, Peter employed Joel 2:28-32 to explain the supernatural phenomenon that they had just observed – namely the outpouring of Yahweh’s Spirit (Joel 2:29) upon them. In its contemporary first temple setting (as well as Peter’s day), the prophecy of Joel is based on the basic understanding that Yahweh’s Spirit was not at that time upon individual people (except for unusual circumstances, e.g., Elisha – 2 Kgs 2), but resided in the inner sanctuary of the temple. Therefore, it stands to reason that Joel 2:28-32 is textually linked to 1 Kings 8 (as well as 2 Ch 5-6). Accordingly, the prophecy of Joel concerns a future event that will shift the localization of Yahweh’s Spirit from a physical structure to a spiritual people (cf. also Jer 3:15-18; Zech 12:10). Therefore, Peter was claiming that the prophecy of Joel was currently being fulfilled before their very eyes. In light of the connections that we have outlined above, Peter was also implicitly referencing the earlier indwelling of the Solomonic temple on which Joel’s prophecy is based. Peter, like Solomon, then explained that this amazing change had occurred on account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the son of David (Acts 2:32-41; cf. Solomon’s use of the Davidic Covenant above). But he also makes the bombastic claim that Jesus received the “promise of the Holy Spirit” from the Father and was the one “who poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33). In this regard, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was responsible for the filling of Yahweh’s new temples (i.e., the disciples) with his Spirit, in the same way that Yahweh was responsible for filling his physical temple in the days of Solomon. To underscore this intertextual link, compare Jesus’ “cloud” that the disciples saw at his ascension a few days before the events of Pentecost (Acts 1:9).

Aerial of the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives from the west, the Church of the Ascension is in the upper center of the photo, photo by William Schlegel

The Departure of Yahweh’s Spirit from the Solomonic Temple – Ezekiel 8-11

In relation to what we have discussed above, it is worth mentioning that according to the prophetic visions of Ezekiel, Yahweh’s Spirit departed from the Solomonic temple in the years before its destruction (Ezek 8-11).[12] In this vision, the Spirit is personified as a mobile throne with “whirling wheels” (for details see Ezek 10:2, 9-17; cf. 1:5-21) and also as a “cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually” (Ezek 10:3; cf. 1:4). With regards to the latter description, the cloud is obviously linked with 1 Kings 8:10-13, and it seems probable that the fire (πυρὸς in the LXX) of Ezekiel 1:4 and 10:6 can be connected to the “tongues of fire (πυρὸς)” of Acts 2:3.[13]

Jerusalem and mountains of Moab from west, photo by Eric Matson
Mount of Olives, wilderness and Rift aerial from northwest, showing flow of wadis down to the Dead Sea, photo by Todd Bolen; see note 14 concerning the relationship between John 7:37-39 and Ezekiel 47:1-12 as well as other related passages.

Besides similar imagery between the depictions of Yahweh’s Spirit, Ezekiel’s multi-step departure of Yahweh’s glory/Spirit from the Solomonic temple in Ezekiel 10-11 can be linked to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. First, before the departure of the Spirit, Ezekiel 11:19-20 indicates that a “new spirit” would be placed within the returning Israelites. This is a clear connection to Christ’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:33). Second, Ezekiel’s address was to those who were “far off among the nations… those scattered among the nations” (Ezek 11:16), which mirrors the addressees of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:39 (cf. Joel 2:32). Third, Jesus ascended from the same location that the Spirit had departed to – the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12; Ezek 11:22; cf. also Zech 14:4). Therefore, Jesus’ outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is a geographical reversal of the Spirit’s departure in Ezekiel 8-11. This geographical reversal is all the more intriguing when one considers that after mirroring the path of the Spirit from the Mount of Olives (Jesus – Acts 1:7-11) to the temple courts (Acts 2:1-5), the Spirit entered the disciples instead of re-entering through the torn curtain of the holy of holies (Luke 23:45; Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; cf. Heb 10:20), and thereby fulfilled the prediction of the prophets (e.g., Ezek 11:19-20).[14]

Dome of the Rock with clouds above, Eric Matson

The Return of Yahweh’s Spirit in and from His Son – Luke 3:16; Acts 2:33

On a related point, there does not appear to be a clear reference to the return of Yahweh’s Spirit to Zerubbabel’s temple. In my view, there are a number of textual parallels between Ezra 3 and 1 Kings 6-8 and the parallel passage of 2 Chronicles 2-6 (e.g., the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles – 1 Kgs 8:2; Ezra 3:4; receiving cedars from Tyre and Sidon via Joppa – 2 Chr 2:16; Ezra 3:7; etc.). These parallels likely indicate that Ezra’s presentation of the return to and rebuilding of the temple is attempting to follow in the steps of its glorious predecessor. However, these similarities stop abruptly with a huge difference at their conclusion. As we have seen, when Solomon inaugurated the temple (1 Kgs 8:1-12), Yahweh’s Spirit filled it and the people rejoiced. However, when the exiles finished inaugurating the temple – just at the point where one would expect to see the theophanic cloud return – nothing supernatural happened. In fact, Ezra 3:12-13 indicates that the “old men” who had seen Solomon’s temple wept over the sight of the new one. While it is obviously incorrect to state that Yahweh’s Spirit was not active during the second temple period, it seems significant that (to my knowledge) no reference is made to the return of Yahweh’s Spirit to its former home on Zion.

Dome of the Rock from above, the likely location of the holy of holies for the temples of Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod, photo by Eric Matson.

Against this backdrop, one should pay close attention to the Gospel predictions and depictions of Christ’s role in returning the Spirit both to its rightful home (i.e., the temple) and its new home (i.e., the hearts of his disciples). John the Baptist’s announcement of the Messiah who “will baptize you with Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16; cf. John 1:26) is a prediction that was fulfilled in Jesus’ outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Luke makes this clear within Peter’s appeal at the end of the sermon (Acts 2:38-40), which employs very similar language to Luke 3:16, 21-22. Therefore, in its main context within Luke-Acts, Pentecost serves as the fulfillment of Christ’s ultimate destiny that was promised by his forerunner. Still, one must also be attuned to the fact that the Gospel writers depicted Christ’s life and ministry as being “filled with the Spirit” following his baptism by John (e.g., Matt 4:1; Luke 4:1). As a logical inference, and even though this is never explicitly highlighted in the Gospels, one should not miss that Christ’s actions in the temple (e.g., Luke 4:9; cf. Luke 9:31) represented an actual physical return of God’s Spirit to his former residence. Nevertheless, Peter grounds his culminating argument in two great truths that are explicitly tied to location (or geography). First, the risen Jesus was currently seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Second, “this” Jesus had poured out the Holy Spirit in their midst (Acts 2:32-36).

Model of Herodian temple, photo by Mark Bolen

Conclusion

In conclusion, and despite early Christian tradition to the contrary, the events of Pentecost should be entirely localized to the temple mount. This localization underscores numerous implied intertextual parallels between the appearances and activities of Yahweh’s Spirit from his residences (i.e., Sinai, tabernacle, and Jerusalem temple) and the outpouring of Yahweh/Jesus’ Spirit upon the disciples in Acts 2. The absence of the Holy Spirit from the temple following its departure (Ezek 11) and the prediction of Christ’s “baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16) represent the major turning point in this geographical change from physical to spiritual. Notably, the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of the followers of Jesus from Pentecost onward is one of the major pieces of Christ’s culminating redemptive work that supersedes the need for a physical, atoning temple with its various cultic protections and rituals (e.g., priests, curtains of separation, etc.) The transformation of the abode of the Spirit from a physical mountain, tent, or building, to a spiritual, sacerdotal people has massive implications for believers. This point is made clear by the temple imagery of Peter (1 Pet 2:9), John (Rev 1:6; 5:10; cf. “kingdom of priests” Exod 19:5-6), Paul (1 Cor 6:19), and the writer of Hebrews (especially Heb 9:6-22). Therefore, one can take immense joy when observing the geographical movements of the Holy Spirit that Peter (as recorded by Luke) described and implied during his Acts 2 sermon. In response, we might also, like Solomon did when witnessing Yahweh’s cloud filling “the whole house” (1 Kgs 8:27; Acts 2:2), marvel that our uncontainable God through the manifestation of his Spirit would choose to reside in his redeemed people, and thereby make them living, breathing temples of God (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5).  


[1] There are certainly more than I have discussed below, as my focus is primarily on the geographical implications associated with the intertextual allusions. For example, the reference to drunk priests and prophets in Isaiah 28:1-15 may be linked with Peter’s initial statement “these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” Marshall, “Acts,” 531.

[2] When it comes to determining the viability of intertextual allusions or echoes, as a general guiding principle we should pay close attention to Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians  (compare especially his association of Christ with “the spiritual Rock that followed them” 1 Cor 10:4). See discussion of method in A. Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles (Kregel Academic, 2018). With specific reference to Luke’s use of the Old Testament see B. Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 1998), 123–27.

[3] Contra Marshall, “Acts,” 532 who does not see any “concrete evidence” for this connection.

[4] With the plural “us” in Genesis 11:7.

[5] James C. VanderKam, “Weeks, Feast Of,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6.897.

[6] Marshall, “Acts,” 531.

[7] See discussion in VanderKam, “Weeks, Feast Of,” 6.897. B. Shabb. 88b reads as follows, “with regard to the revelation at Sinai, Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “The Lord gives the word; the women that proclaim the tidings are a great host” (Ps 68:12)? It means that each and every utterance that emerged from the mouth of the Almighty divided into seventy languages, a great host,” A. E. I. Stensaltz, “Shabbat 88b,” in William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria (Koren Publishers, 2017), https://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.88b.3?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en. 

[8] “Yahweh came down in the cloud spoke to him (Moses), and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders” (Num 11:25).

[9] Marshall, “Acts,” 531.

[10] For the location of the Holy of Holies currently beneath the Dome of the Rock, see discussion in Ritmeyer, The Quest, 312–17.

[11] See discussion in Keener, Acts, 796–97.

[12] The return of Yahweh’s Spirit to the temple (from the Mount of Olives – “coming from the east”) is also predicted in Ezekiel 43:1-9, which is the reverse vision of Ezekiel 8-11 (cf. 43:3). Whether or not this was fulfilled or partially fulfilled at Pentecost is a matter of theological debate that goes beyond the scope of our discussion.

[13] Marshall, “Acts,” 531–32; see also D. L. Bock, Acts, 2 vols., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Baker, 2007) who in his discussion on Acts 2:2-3 connects Philo’s discussion of “fire” in Decalogue 11.46 and several Old Testament passages.

[14] A similar geographical connection can be seen in the use of Spirit/river imagery flowing from the the temple in Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 13:1; 14:8 which appear to be some of “the Scriptures” that Jesus was referring to in John 7:37-39.

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Locating Pentecost – Part 1

by Chris McKinny

As we enter into the holiday of Shavuot/Pentecost – this year from May 28-30 – I thought this would be a good occasion to discuss the location and setting of Shavuot/Pentecost in AD 33 (or AD 30 if you prefer). That festival of course was the setting of the events that are recorded in Acts 2 – which detail the coming of the Holy Spirit.

There are two main candidates for the location of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost – the Church of the Upper Room/Cenacle and the Temple Mount. For several reasons, I think it is much more likely that this event occurred only on the Temple Mount, but we will discuss this in more detail later. We will begin by discussing the traditional candidate – the Church of the Upper Room. The text below is excerpted from “The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2,” which I wrote for Beitzel, Barry, ed. Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation. 2. Lexham Press, 2019 or for the entire excellent (and quite unique!) series see here. This series is highly recommended!

Before we begin – readers may be interested in reading and watching last year’s 3D scan of the Cenacle produced by Alex Wiegmann in connection with Amit Reʿem’s excavation and re-analysis of the building (also cited below). You can also read about the small-scale excavation that took place several years ago in the courtyard. Readers may also be interested in the excellent study of the building by David Clausen.

Tomb of David and Cenacle from the north. For modern visitors – the gaudy, golden statue of King David playing the harp was not made yet (it would have been in the lower right-hand corner of the photo) – Photo by Eric Matson
This photo is from more or less the same angle and by the same photographer – but notice that the courtyard has not been paved and a building (Dormition Abbey) is missing

Beginning of excerpt from McKinny, Chris. “The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2.” Pages 77–93 in Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Book of Acts through Revelation. Edited by Barry J. Beitzel. Lexham Press, 2019.

Textual Evidence

It should be noted that we are only attempting to pinpoint the location of the apostle’s reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Thus, we are not questioning the location of the reaction of the multi-ethnic multitude (Acts 2:5-13) or Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-40). It would seem obvious that these events clearly took place on the temple mount. This is made clear by the reference to many Jewish worshipers hearing their own native tongues on the lips of the Aramaic-speaking disciples (Acts 2:6-12). In addition, Acts 2:41 indicates that those “who received his (Peter’s) word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” This number should be compared to the “120” in Acts 1:15, who were present at the selection of Matthias as the replacement for Judas (Acts 1:15-26). The setting of this earlier event is clearly the “upper room” (Acts 1:13). However, there seems to be a time gap between Acts 1:26 and 2:1, as noted by the reference to “when the day of Pentecost arrived.” Thus, the events of Acts 1:15-26 (the selection of Mattathias) and Acts 2:1-4 (the outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples) are separate events, even if the setting of the latter has not been certainly determined. In any event, the baptism of 3,000 people is clearly a mass religious event that would have required a large facility with available ritual baths.[1] Excavations around (various) and beneath (C. Warren in the 1860s) the temple mount revealed numerous ritual baths and cisterns that would have been available to second temple Jewish worshipers.[2] Therefore, we can conclude that the majority of Acts 2 occurred on the temple mount and its environs, but the location of the event in Acts 2:1-4 remains debated.

Survey of the Temple Mount – public domain – available here

From a textual standpoint, the location of Pentecost may possibly be connected to the “upper room” of Acts 1:14 by the reference in Acts 2:1-2. The latter indicates that the outpouring of the Spirit occurred where they were “all together in one place” and describes the Spirit’s rushing wind noise as “filling the entire house.” However, a literary connection between these two passages is not definitive, as no transition from the presumed “upper room” location to the temple mount is included in Acts 2:4-5. Moreover, Acts 2:6 indicates that the multitude heard “this sound” (i.e., the rushing wind of Acts 2:2), so in order to hold to the traditional view (see below) that Pentecost occurred in the upper room (i.e., on the western hill) then one must assume that the apostles moved from there to the temple mount after receiving the Holy Spirit.

Traditional Evidence

While the evidence for locating the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2:1-4 from the Book of Acts is relatively inconclusive, Byzantine tradition clearly favored a connection between the upper room of the Last Supper and the location of Pentecost connecting both events with the Cenacle/Tomb of David on Mt. Zion.[3] The two earliest traditions come from Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-373 CE)[4] and Epiphanius of Constantia/Salamis (c. 315-403 CE),[5] who connected the “Upper Church of the Apostles” or the “Church of God” with the events of Pentecost. Notably, Epiphanius’ referred to the “Church of God” beside the “seven synagogues which alone remained standing in Zion.” While not mentioning the church directly, the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux (written in c. AD 333) provides even earlier testimony corroborating Epiphanius’ statement about seven synagogues on Mount Zion (i.e., the western hill).[6] After visiting the Pool of Siloam and the Gihon Spring the Pilgrim writes,

“On this side one goes up Sion, and sees where the house of Caiaphas the priest was, and there still stands a column against which Christ was beaten with rods. Within, however, inside the wall of Sion, is seen the place where was David’s palace.[7] Of seven synagogues which once were there, one alone remains; the rest are ploughed over and sown upon, as said Isaiah the prophet (actually Mic 3:12; cf. Isa 1:8, Itinerarium Burdigalense Jerusalem).”[8]

Map showing the route of the anonymous Pilgrim in 333 AD – produced by Wiemers used with permission see here.

These traditions indicate that the western hill of Jerusalem was still in ruins during the 4th century AD. Within these ruins, only one of the seven synagogues remained with the rest presumably destroyed in either the AD 70 destruction by Titus or following the Bar Kochba Revolt in AD 132-135. Notably, this lone remaining synagogue (see Epiphanius and the Pilgrim) is distinct from the “the church of God” (Epiphanius), which was built in the small area of the western hill that “escaped destruction.” Eusebius (Ecc. Hist. 3.5.3) and Epiphanius (Weights 54a) relay that the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem, which had fled to Pella during the Jewish Revolt, returned to Jerusalem following the AD 70 destruction. Subsequently, they apparently resided in the city until the arrival of Hadrian (cf. Proof 3.5.124d). Later Byzantine tradition held that it was this community that built the church on Mount Zion connected with the Last Supper and Pentecost.[9] In the late 4th century AD, the large Hagia Sion church[10] was built on the western hill in near proximity to the pre-existing “Upper Church of the Apostles.” Christian pilgrim accounts, iconographic,[11] and archaeological evidence (see below), indicate that these two buildings were separate, but nearby structures as late as the 7th century.

To this point, we can conclude the following. First, Byzantine tradition connecting the “Upper Church of the Apostles” with the upper room of the Last Supper and Pentecost is well attested by the earliest Christian sources. Second, to my knowledge there does not appear to be a rival Byzantine tradition connecting Pentecost (whether the entire event or only the witness of the multitude and Peter’s sermon) with the temple mount. Third, it seems abundantly clear that there was an early Jewish-Christian community on the western hill, who built a church there at least sometime before Cyril of Jerusalem (c. AD 350). While it is possible that this church has not been located, it seems probable that the building known today as the Church of the Upper Room and the Tomb of David is in fact the original church built at some point before the mid-4th century AD.[12]

David’s Tomb and Upper Room building – wall with re-used Herodian stones, photo by Todd Bolen. Reʿem’s 2011 excavation took place in the area photographed.

Archaeological Evidence

Possible archaeological support tying Pentecost to the Cenacle comes from the suggestions of Bargil Pixner. Pixner developed a complex theory that incorporated the biblical text, the above referenced traditions, and J. Pinkerfield’s unpublished excavations of the floor of the “Tomb of David” in 1949.[13] Pinkerfield claimed that the building was originally a synagogue constructed in the Late Roman period.[14] In response to this, Pixner agreed that it was a synagogue, but suggested that it should be dated to the 1st century AD since it was built using Herodian-style masonry. He further hypothesized that this synagogue was none other than the room of the Last Supper (as well as the home of John Mark), the location of Pentecost, and the church/synagogue that is referenced by Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, and the Pilgrim of Bordeaux.[15] While future excavations in the Cenacle might indicate the viability of Pixner’s theory, several scholars point out that there is very little archaeological evidence in support of Pinkerfield or Pixner’s conclusions suggesting that the original structure was a synagogue.[16] A recent, limited excavation inside of the Cenacle and in the adjacent courtyard by Reʿem seemed to indicate that the building was constructed in the 4th century AD.[17]

Conclusion

The Church of the Upper Room has early Christian tradition connecting it with both the location of the Last Supper and Pentecost. This tradition is probably based on a supposed textual connection between Acts 1:13 and 2:1-4. But as we have seen, Acts 2:1-4 does not necessarily have to be connected with the upper room. Therefore, I would conclude that this early Christian tradition connecting Pentecost with the upper room probably originated from a misreading of Acts 1-2 and not an independent Pentecost tradition. Nevertheless, this negative conclusion concerning the location of Pentecost does not mean that one should determine that the Cenacle was not the location of the Last Supper (as well as other possible connections, see above). Regarding the archaeology, we must remain cautious, but it appears that the Cenacle was either constructed or underwent significant building activity in the 4th century AD. This evidence matches the contemporary references to the “Upper Church of the Apostles,” if not their attestations to earlier building activity and occupation by “Jewish-Christians” during the Early and Late Roman periods.[18]

Aerial showing location of Cenacle in relation to Temple Mount, photo by William Schlegel
Jerusalem second temple model from southwest showing temple mount, the location of the Cenacle is marked by the monument in the center of the photograph, photo by Austen Dutton

Therefore, if the Church of the Upper Room should not be connected with Pentecost, then it seems highly probable that the entirety of the Pentecost event (including Acts 2:1-4) took place in the temple precinct. From a historical and archaeological perspective, this conclusion clearly matches the purposes of the Herodian temple mount as a place for mass religious gathering. In addition, it is worth mentioning that religious Jews were supposed to be worshiping in the temple during the festival of Pentecost (Acts 20:6; 1 Cor 16:8), as well as during Passover (e.g., John 11:55) and Tabernacles (e.g., John 7:2). So, by referencing Pentecost (Acts 2:1), Luke is allowing for the inference that the disciples were in the temple, because that would be the obvious location for celebrating the feast. In addition, locating Pentecost entirely on the temple mount implies intertextual geographical parallels between the descent of the Holy Spirit on believers and the activities of Yahweh’s Spirit (in various forms) in the Old Testament. 

We will discuss these intertextual geographic parallels in Part 2.


[1] E.g., C. S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (InterVarsity Press, 2014), 322.

[2] See discussion in L. Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), 221–33.

[3] Also known as the mother of all churches, the church of the apostles, the church of God, the Coenaculum, the church of the Upper Room, etc. See discussion in C. Kopp, The Holy Places of the Gospels (New York: Herder, 1963); A.F. Rainey and S. Notley, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), 370; see discussion in Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, 5th ed. (OUP Oxford, 2008), 115–18; see especially D. C. Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David: The History, Art and Archaeology of the Cenacle on Mount Zion, Kindle version (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2016).

[4] “We know the Holy Ghost, who spake in the Prophets, and who on the day of Pentecost descended on the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues, here, in Jerusalem, in the Upper Church of the Apostles; for in all things the choicest privileges are with us. Here Christ came down from heaven; here the Holy Ghost came down from heaven. And in truth it were most fitting, that as we discourse concerning Christ and Golgotha here in Golgotha, so also we should speak concerning the Holy Ghost in the Upper Church… (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XVI.4).” See translation in Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Catecheses, trans. F. L. Cross (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1951). Apparently, Cyril of Jerusalem also mentioned that the supposed bones of James (the brother of Jesus) were temporarily interned near the church, see Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapter 3.

[5] “And he (Hadrian) found the temple of God trodden down and the whole city devastated save for a few houses and the church of God, which was small, where the disciples, when they had returned after the Savior had ascended from the Mount of Olives, went to the upper room. For there it had been built, that is, in that portion of Zion which escaped destruction, together with blocks of houses in the neighborhood of Zion and the seven synagogues which alone remained standing in Zion, like solitary huts, one of which remained until the time of Maximona the bishop and Constantine the king, “like a booth in a vineyard,” as it is written (quoting Isa 1:8; Epiphanius Weights 54c).”  Epiphanius of Salamis, Epiphanius’ Treatise on Weights and Measures: The Syriac Version, trans. J. E. Dean, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations 11 (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1935), 30.

[6] According to O’Connor, the Byzantine tradition relating the western hill of Jerusalem to Zion is rooted in a misunderstanding of Hebrew poetry, which employs synonymous parallelism instead of referring to two (or three) different hills in Jerusalem, see Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 115.

[7] These traditions connecting Zion and the Palace of David (cf. 2 Sam 5:11-12) with the western hill of Jerusalem are indicative of Byzantine confusion regarding the location of the original settlement of Jerusalem.

[8] Pilgrim of Bordeaux, Itinerarium Burdigalense, ed. A. Stewart, Online Edition-Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 175 (London: Palestine Pilgrim’s Text Society, 1887), http://www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/pilgr/bord/10Bord01MapEur.html.

[9] See sources in D. C. Clausen, “Can the Cenacle on Mount Zion Really Be the ‘Upper Room’ of Jesus’s Last Supper?,” The Bible and Interpretation May (2016), http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2016/05/cla408003.shtml; Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David.

[10] The ruins of Hagia Sion are located beneath Dormition Abbey, which was constructed in the early 20th century.

[11] These include two 6th century AD depictions of the Hagia Sion church with a small church (presumably the Cenacle) in immediate proximity;  the Medeba Map’s depiction of Jerusalem and a similarly dated mosiac from the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Clausen, “Can the Cenacle on Mount Zion Really Be the ‘Upper Room’ of Jesus’s Last Supper?,” 10–11; Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapter 3.

[12] See Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapters 12-14 who persuasively argues for this view against the suggestions of an original Jewish synagogue or a pagan Mithraeum.

[13] Before he could finish his report, Pinkerfield was murdered (along with three others) by Jordanian soldiers during an archaeological tour of Ramat Rahel in 1956.

[14] J. Pinkerfield, “‘David’s Tomb’: Notes on the History of the Building: Preliminary Report,” in Bulletin of the Louis Rabinowitz Fund for the Exploration of Ancient Synagogues, ed. M. Avi-Yonah, vol. 3 (Jerusalem: Hebrew Univeristy, 1960), 41–43; Clausen, “Can the Cenacle on Mount Zion Really Be the ‘Upper Room’ of Jesus’s Last Supper?,” 3.

[15] See discussion in Pixner, Paths of the Messiah and Sites of the Early Church from Galilee to Jerusalem, 319–59.

[16] E.g., Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 155–58; Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapter 12.

[17] A. Reʿem, “The Tomb of David on Mount Zion: Theories versus Archaeological Reality,” Hidushim Ba’archiologiyah Shel Yerushalayim Usvivoteha 7 (2013): 185–86; see also A. Reʿem and I. Berkovich, “New Discoveries in the Cenacle: Reassessing the Art, Architecture and Chronology of the Crusader Basilica on Mount Sion,” New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region 10 (2016): 56*-92* for an interesting new analysis of the Crusader chapel.

[18] In light of these references, it seems likely that a post-AD 70 church (or a Jewish-Christian religious structure, as it unclear if the term “church” would have been used for such a structure during this period) was constructed on the western hill, which is either represented by the Cenacle or in its immediate proximity.

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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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