fbpx

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.

Share:

Eilat Mazar excavated the palace of David. That’s what she claims, and it’s an amazing possibility to consider.

Mazar summarizes her excavations of the summit of the City of David in a chapter in the new Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Archaeological Discoveries, 1998-2018. I told you last week that if you wanted fewer questions and more answers, you would prefer Mazar’s excavation report to Reich and Shukron’s.

The chapter proceeds through the excavation chronologically beginning with the earliest periods. But the discoveries were very limited from all of the pre-Iron periods, and so I am going to skip right over them in this summary. The lack of early evidence in this area may indicate that this area was outside of Jerusalem until the time of David.

As with all of the articles in this book, we are treated to some great photos. This article also has three fantastic plans that help you see what Mazar is explaining. The main feature is the “Large Stone Structure.” This is what Mazar (and others) believes is the palace of David. Or more precisely, she considers it to be “a new significant addition to the already existing Canaanite-Jebusite Palace-Fortress or Mezudat Zion; an addition built by King David during his initial rule in Jerusalem.” So I interpret that to mean that this is David’s pre-Hiram residence. (In another study I’m working on, I reject the notion that David built a pre-Hiram residence, but that’s another discussion.)

Just how “large” is this “Large Stone Structure”? Unfortunately the excavation area was limited and the building extends beyond the edges in several directions. But the outer eastern wall is 20 feet wide, and a portion of it stands on a rock cliff that was chiseled to a height of 22-25 feet. Kathleen Kenyon discovered a royal (proto-Aeolic) capital just below this, but Mazar did not find any more in her area.

A quarried channel discovered behind the Stepped Stone Structure (which is the large foundation of the Large Stone Structure, readily visible in “Area G)” dates to the early Iron Age IIA (= time of David), and Mazar identifies this with the tsinnor mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:8, by which David’s men conquered the city.

Did I mention how much I like the color diagrams?

The finds of later periods were not quite so impressive, and it’s surely disappointing that none of the royal treasures escaped the greedy hands of the many plunderers of Jerusalem. But we can note a few discoveries in brief:

  • A wall possibly constructed ahead of Shishak’s invasion
  • A Hebrew seal impression with the name of Jehucal son of Shelemiah son of Shevi (cf. Jer 38:1)
  • The wall built by Nehemiah
  • A seal inscribed slmt that may have belonged to Shlomit the daughter of Zerubbabel (1 Chr 3:19).

Much of this material has appeared before in news reports and BAR articles, but this article provides a single summary that pulls it all together in a convenient fashion, with great illustrations.

Share:

In a nutshell, Ancient Jerusalem Revealed: Archaeological Discoveries, 1998-2018 is a summation of the results of a couple dozen excavations all over Jerusalem. Each article is written by the excavator(s), with the result that you feel like you’re standing at the site, getting the final synopsis of what they discovered. The volume is loaded with photographs and diagrams.

My intention is to summarize a few of these articles in upcoming posts. There are four articles from the “Old Testament” period (Bronze and Iron Ages), and today’s post is about the first one.

Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron excavated in the City of David for 14 years (1995-2008), and their chapter on “Recent Discoveries in the City of David” focuses on two subjects: (1) the rock-cut pool and (2) the Gihon Spring fortifications. Both of these are in close proximity to each other, and both of them have proven quite difficult to understand.

The Rock-Cut Pool was not a pool, but its walls chiseled into the bedrock at a height of [oops – the article doesn’t even say; I’ll guess 20 feet] are amazing. But holes in the bedrock, even really large ones, do not tell stories, and so the excavators focus all of their attention on what they found inside the “pool,” which necessarily dates to a period later than the “pool’s” earliest use.

What did they find inside the pool? (1) Lots of pottery, mostly from around 825-750 BC, which was tossed in from the surrounding area when someone built (2) a house. Yes, this seems like a strange place to build a house, but someone did. The excavators compared it to the house of Ahiel in Area G.

(3) Fish bones. A lot of fish bones. And strangely enough, this is the only place in Jerusalem where they have found lots of fish bones. Of the 10,600 fish bones, they identified 14 different fish families, but the favorites on Jerusalem dining tables were Sparidae (porgies) and Mugilidae (mullets). All of these were obviously imported, and a study of their size indicates that only small fish were transported, possibly because of the need to package them for transport up into the hill country by donkey.

(4) About ten seals and scarabs as well as fragments of more than 170 seal impressions. Because they were from an earlier period than the collection found in Area G, they did not have inscriptions in any Semitic languages. A few had Egyptian inscriptions. And there were some cool decorations such as boats, fish, sphinxes, and palmettes. The archaeologists believe that an administrative center existed near the Rock-Cut Pool. (5) An ivory pomegranate with a dove perched on top.

The archaeologists believe that these finds point to ties with Phoenicia, a proposal which corresponds with the presence of Queen Athaliah (the daughter of a Phoenician princess). The article only hints at the possibilities here, but the date seems to line up.

The second major subject of the article is the Gihon Spring fortifications. The main point of this discussion is that the Pool Tower is not a tower but a fortified passageway. Now this passageway is very impressive, with its northern wall preserved to a height of 25 feet! They traced the parallel walls for 75 feet before they had to stop because of modern obstructions. The problem is that the excavators cannot figure out what this (obviously expensive) fortification did, and they seem to conclude that it went out of use before it came into use, being replaced by a subterranean equivalent known as “Warren’s Shaft.” All of this they date to the Middle Bronze Age.

The authors are honest, and I appreciate that. Here’s a sample paragraph that reflects their wrestling with the difficulties:

The key question is: How did those drawing water reach the place above the northeastern corner of the Rock-Cut Pool? Did they descend from the city between the two parallel walls, or perhaps through the subterranean tunnel (of the Warren’s Shaft complex), to emerge from it at the eastern end of those two walls, and then turn south toward the deepest part of the Rock-Cut Pool? Were these routes perhaps in use at different periods of time? We have no stratigraphic data that might point to such a sequence of phases of use and they should, therefore be interpreted based upon contemporary logic.

I’m not too impressed with the use of logic in archaeological interpretation, but it’s nice that they don’t pretend that they have evidence that they don’t.

I’ll conclude where they conclude, with what I see as an astonishing admission of our lack of knowledge about the most basic question of them all: where was the city of Jerusalem at this time?

Answer: the city may have been north of these fortifications. Or it may have been south. The fortified passageway may be in the southeastern corner of the fortified urban area, or it may have been in the northeastern corner. I guess I’m just glad that the Kidron Valley is on the east side of their excavation, or we probably wouldn’t even know if this was the eastern or western side of the city!

If you like a little bit more certainty (or a lot!) in your archaeology, check back next week for my summary of Eilat Mazar’s excavation of the palace of David.

Share:

The big story of the week was the “discovery of Ziklag,” a claim made by archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel regarding his recent excavations of Khirbet a-Ra‘i. You can read about it in the The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, and Haaretz (premium). You can download high-res photos or watch a one-minute silent video showing excavations at the site. I think the whole thing is sad.

Now, to the week’s stories, of which there are not so many:

You might have trouble picking out your friends in this year’s group photo of the Gath excavation team. (Very clever!) You can poke around the blog for recent updates and lots of photos.

The Tel Burna excavation season is over. John DeLancey created a video of the site with his drone.

A journal article has been published on last year’s discovery of a ceramic pomegranate at Shiloh.

Scott Stripling is back on The Book and the Spade discussing this year’s excavations at Shiloh.

A newly constructed building on an archaeological site in the hills near Hebron has been bulldozed.

On the Logos blog, Karen Engle explains the value of biblical archaeology.

It’s always more enjoyable to think about a difficult passage when you feel more immersed in its setting, and that’s what Wayne Stiles does this week with Jesus’s question at Capernaum.

Israel’s Good Name enjoyed a fascinating outing to the Nizzana Dunes. Don’t skip this one if you love wildlife.

Carl Rasmussen has begun a very interesting series (part 1, part 2) on Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta.

Ferrell Jenkins shares a photo of Capernaum with a unique perspective.

OK, so I’ll elaborate briefly on my thoughts on “Ziklag.” First, the lead archaeologist who made the claim has a track record of making dubious sensational claims. Second, the archaeologist was very careful to conceal his idea from other scholars until he made his big announcement to the press. Now, that may be the way to do things in the competitive business world, but in academia, you’re supposed to share your ideas with colleagues for fruitful critique. Garfinkel’s approach, once again, is more designed to make headlines than to discover truth.

Third, other sites, such as Tel Sera, have appropriate occupation levels, from the Philistines followed by the Israelites, with destruction layers. From the biblical text, we know that there were dozens of sites in this area, and David no doubt removed the Philistines from more than one of them (1 Chr 18:1). Furthermore, the minimal amount of Philistine pottery gives reason to doubt that Kh. a-Ra‘i was actually a Philistine site at all.

Fourth, Khirbet a-Ra‘i (coordinates 31°35’26.83″N, 34°49’10.03″E), is near Lachish (2.5 miles northwest), but according to Joshua 15, Ziklag is located in a more southern district (grouped with sites like Beersheba and Hormah). That is why scholars have proposed for Ziklag the sites of Tel Sera (15 miles southwest of Lachish) and Tel Halif (13 miles south of Lachish). If Khirbet a-Ra‘i was Ziklag, it should be in verse 38 of Joshua 15, not in verse 31. Fifteen miles distant is a long way in the land of Israel!

As with Kh. Qeiyafa, Garfinkel simply ignores what the Bible says about the geographical situation of sites and chooses the most spectacular name to attach to his site. The press will let him get away with it, because sensational stories mean more money for them. By the time that journal articles are written or professors speak up, the headlines have already raced around the world, and the public’s attention is elsewhere. Khirbet a-Ra‘i is a fine archaeological site; it doesn’t need false claims in order to make it worthy of study or publicity.

Final note: Amanda Borschel-Dan has written a solid report for The Times of Israel in which she quotes at length two scholars dumbfounded by Garfinkel’s claim. Luke Chandler (a volunteer at the site this year) and Ferrell Jenkins also weigh in. My analysis here was written before I read these reports, but you’ll see there’s a good bit of overlap.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade, Keith Keyser, BibleX

Share:

To judge from the weekend roundups compiled here, there is always something interesting being discovered or announced. The difficulty can be that there is too much, and it becomes challenging to recall what is most important out of the constant barrage.

The list below comes from stories noted in the weekend roundups. Some of the artifacts were discovered in previous years, but only announced in 2018. For each item, I suggest a reason for its significance. I don’t deny a bias towards objects and sites more closely related to the Bible.

1. A copper alloy ring bearing the inscription “of Pilatus” may have belonged to an administrator who served Pontius Pilate. Though excavated at the Herodium many years ago, its significance was only recently discovered. Why is this in my top 10? Artifacts with names of biblical figures are relatively rare, and Pilate played a major role in the crucifixion of Jesus.

2. A seal impression that belonged to a man named Isaiah was discovered in Jerusalem. Why is this in my top 10? Though there’s good reason to doubt that this is the prophet by the same name, we still have the convergence of name (Isaiah), city (Jerusalem), and date (8th century BC).

3. A glazed ceramic head from Tel Abel Beth Maacah that dates to the 9th century BC may depict a royal official. Why is this in my top 10? I’m less convinced by the claim that this depicts an Israelite king than I am by the quality of this colorful work of art. That’s rare enough among the Israelites that you don’t need a royal connection to argue for its significance.

4. Excavations of Kiriath Jearim revealed a large platform that is 110 by 150 meters in size, with walls preserved 6 to 7 m high. Why is this in my top 10? You don’t have to believe the archaeologist’s wild theories to recognize that this is a major building project at a site we knew almost nothing about.

5. An undisturbed Canaanite tomb from the 17th century BC was discovered at Megiddo. Why is this in my top 10? I’m a sucker for undisturbed tombs, and it doesn’t hurt that this one was next to the royal palace.

6. The Galilean synagogue at Huqoq continues to produce beautiful, biblical mosaics, including a scene of the Israelite spies, a youth leading an animal, and a fragmentary Hebrew inscription reading “Amen selah.” Why is this in my top 10? I’m a big fan of ancient depictions of biblical scenes, as you might have guessed from my dream to create the Photo Companion to the Bible.

7. More than 1,000 Hellenistic-era seal impressions were discovered in excavations at Maresha. Why is this in my top 10? For a country that has so relatively few inscriptions preserved, this is an enormous trove that will bear fruitful study for many years to come.

8. An inscription at a site on Israel’s coast provides evidence for Babylonians living in Samaria after the fall of Jerusalem. Why is this in my top 10? This discovery helps to fill in details for an all-too-elusive period in the historical and archaeological record.

9. Excavations of Ein Hanya uncovered an Israelite royal capital (proto-Aeolic?), a 4th century Greek drachma, and a Byzantine pool system. Why is this in my top 10? Israelite royal capitals stir the imagination, and Ein Hanya has been off everyone’s radar until now.

10. Archaeologists discovered a 5th-Dynasty tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, that has never been looted. Why is this in my top 10? Top 10 lists need 10 items. Besides, the photos are impressive.

Honorable mention:

Others have created their own top ten lists, including Gordon Govier (Christianity Today), Bryan Windle, Christopher Eames, Ruth Schuster #1 and #2 (Haaretz), Amanda Borschel-Dan (Times of Israel), and J-P Mauro (Aleteia). The Epoch Times’s list covers the world.

Those we lost in 2018 include Philip Davies, Gary Knoppers, Jack P. Lewis, John McRay, Richard Rigsby, Ephraim Stern, James F. Strange, and Ada Yardeni.

New releases from BiblePlaces.com this year were Ruth, Psalm 23, and Persia. Get all three volumes at a discount.

You can revisit the top stories of previous years at the links below:

Share:

In Christianity Today, Gordon Govier has identified “Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.” He and I discuss his article in the latest The Book and the Spade.


Haaretz has produced a list of stories they published each month.

Atlas Obscura identifies “the 50 Greatest Finds of 2017” from all parts of the globe.

Bible History Daily posts a list of the top 10 blog posts that received the most web traffic in 2017, but none are related to an archaeological discovery this year.

Live Science has created a slide show of the “big year” that 2017 was for biblical archaeologists.

Bryan Windle has compiled a list of top ten discoveries in biblical archaeology based on his weekly updates for the Associates for Biblical Research.

The International Business Times has published a list of the 11 most significant archaeological discoveries of the year.

What did we miss? If you see any other lists, add a comment below or send me an email and I will update this list.

We wish a happy new year to all our readers!

Share: