What's new in Jerusalem?

Recent archeological work in Jerusalem has been particularly productive. Some of these finds include the oldest coin found in Israel and houses of the well-to-do of Jesus' time.

Lawrence T. Geraty, Ph.D., is professor of archeology and history of antiquity, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Though modern archeological discoveries in Jerusalem began with pioneer archeologists De Saulcy and Warren in the 1860s, more has been learned in the past fifteen years about Jerusalem and its archeological history than in the previous hundred. The purpose of this report is to provide the reader interested in Biblical history with an update of some of the most important recent discoveries. These can be summarized under four headings, each connected to the name of a well-known Israeli archeologist.

Temple Mount (Mazar)

By far the largest dig in Jerusalem has been the eight acres on the slopes of the Temple Mount where Binyamin Mazar, the dean of Israeli archeologists and a former president of Hebrew University, has uncovered the upper portion of what in the Bible is called "Ophel" (e.g., 2 Chron. 27:3; 33:14). The excavated area lies immediately to the south and west of the walls that currently enclose what the Arabs call the Haramesh-Sharif, the ancient site of the Jewish temples.

The oldest evidence discovered comes from the time of the "First Temple," that is the temple built by Solomon. Nothing of the Temple itself has been found, but rather the necropolis, or cemetery, on the western hill that faced the Temple area. A few ritual baths from the period indicate the seriousness with which at least some Jews took their religious requirements. Perhaps of greatest inter est are the Biblical names, such as Haggai and Nahum, that were found on seals. Though not belonging to personalities mentioned in the Bible, they nevertheless show us that the Biblical characters were people of flesh and blood.

The most extensive evidence comes from the period of the "Second Temple" (this term should refer to the temple built by Zerubbabel, but usually describes the structure as it was enlarged and refurbished by Herod the Great). Archeologists found that Herod had greatly extended the platform on which the Temple rested by building up the slopes and valleys to the east and west. Portions of the exterior walls for this substructure have been uncovered, revealing superb planning and workmanship. Some of the stones are up to 30 feet long. One can imagine the visual impression such a grand construction would make as well as the awe it would inspire when destroyed. And dramatic evidence for the latter was dug up, too, reminding one of Jesus' predictions in Matthew 24:1, 2. From the rubble came one large stone of special interest. It bore a Hebrew inscription that reads, "To the place of trumpeting ..." Mazar considers this to be the top cornerstone of the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, the point from which a priest would blow the ram's horn to usher in the beginning of the Sabbath.

Hundreds of small artifacts were found illustrating particularly the range of objects brought by pilgrims to the Temple in Jesus' day. These objects included coins, bone objects, glassware, pottery, and stoneware. One of the latter is of special interest because it bears the Hebrew word qorban, "sacrifice," reminding one of Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees whose sacrifices became pious excuses for neglecting their obligations to parents (Mark 7:11).

During the fourth century A. D. reign of Emperor Julian, called "the Apostate" because he was not a Christian, the Jews entertained the hope that they might rebuild the Temple. This hope is undoubtedly reflected in a Hebrew inscription incised at this time on the Temple platform wall. Adapted from Isaiah 66:14, it reads, "And when you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones [shall flourish] like an herb." Archeologists working in Jerusalem have found that contemporary Byzantine buildings were apparently taken over by Jews at this time—as they were later, after the Persian invasion of A.D. 614, in which the Jews joined the conquerors as allies. Such a state of affairs is illustrated by the painting in red on a lintel of two seven-branched menaroth (candelabra) flanking a previously incised cross.

Last year at about this time this entire area was opened to the public as part of an archeological park. Guided tours in English are available for visitors to the site.

Upper City (Avigad)

Overlooking the Temple Mount from its vantage point on Jerusalem's Western Hill was the city's upper class residential quarter in Jesus' day. Today this area lies within the Jewish Quarter. The feverish building activity carried on in this part of Old Jerusalem since 1967 has brought to light numerous interesting and important archeological finds. Nahman Avi gad, a careful and knowledgeable professor of archeology at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, has been conscientiously taking advantage of every opportunity to dig there. Although the total area dug and the time span covered by the finds are not as great as Mazar's project, their dramatic character and subsequent integration into the renewed Jewish residential quarter offers the visitor a rare sense of historical continuity.

Just when this western hill was incorporated into Jerusalem proper has been a topic of scholarly debate. Avigad's work has established Israelite settlement on this hill in the eighth century B.C. , owing perhaps to the influx of refugees connected with the demise of the northern kingdom of Israel and the Assyrian destruction of its capital city, Samaria, in 722 B.C. In fact, Avigad excavated a 125-foot length of the city wall probably built by Hezekiah as part of his own defensive effort against the Assyrians (cf. 2 Chron. 32:5). Readers will recall that the construction of his now-famous water tunnel from the Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam is thought to be part of the same effort. Preserved in spots to a height of nearly 10 feet, the wall was nearly twenty-three feet across; hence the excavators labeled it the "broad wall," after the term in Nehemiah 3:8 and 12:38. Associated with this wall was a tower guarding one of the city gates. At its foot Avigad found several Babylonian arrowheads—striking evidence of the Babylonian takeover in 586 B.C.

Many objects depicting what everyday life was like in the days of the Old Testament kings and prophets came to light on the Western Hill. These objects included numerous fertility figurines as well as seals and other impressions, the latter again mentioning names known from the Bible (e.g., Menahem and Micaiah). Of special interest was a jar bearing an inscription comparable to the phrase in Genesis 14:19, "the Most High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth." Since the Temple was not far away, could this vessel have been intended for offerings?

This area of the city was apparently abandoned after its Babylonian destruction and not occupied again till the Hasmonean and then the Second Temple periods. Avigad excavated three nearly complete houses from this latter period, showing what the life of the well-to-do was like in Jesus' time.

Covering some two hundred square yards, the "Herodian House" (first century B.C. ) had a series of rooms arranged around a central courtyard with four ovens. A large reservoir beneath the house was reached by a stairway. The rooms produced a fine set of red ceramic tableware and amphorae bearing Latin inscriptions.

The "Mansion" (first century A.D.) occupied six hundred square yards, again with a series of rooms around a central courtyard with an opening to a cistern. The rooms were ornamented with frescoes, stucco, and mosaic floors. From the courtyard, stairways led down to a terrace, on which was built the lower story of several more rooms, some containing stepped pools. The most notable find was a Phoenician glass vessel made by the famous Ennion.

The "Burnt House" (first century A.D.) was destroyed by the Romans. Only some fifty square yards of the basement level have been exposed. The conflagration preserved the contents of several rooms and a bathing pool; the finds included coins, common pottery vessels, stone vessels and tables. One stone weight was incised with the Aramaic inscription "(of) BarKathros," perhaps referring to the family known by that name from the Talmud.

The single find which has created the greatest interest was the incision on unpainted plaster of a drawing of a seven-branched menorah. The depiction appears to be the earliest detailed representation of this Jewish symbol. (The well-known carving on the Arch of Titus in Rome was done some time after the Temple's destruction.) And what makes the Jerusalem discovery so important is that it was incised into the plaster at a time when the original menarah was located just across the Tyropoean Valley, in the Temple.

Avigad also uncovered a lengthy stretch of Jerusalem's main north-south street from Roman/Byzantine times. Known as the "Cardo," it is some forty feet wide, and had a twelve-foot-wide promenade lined with shops on each side. This fourth/fifth century A.D. thoroughfare has been partially restored and in 1983 was reopened with modern shops on the old foundations. Its northernmost end, dating earlier, to the time of Hadrian, can also be seen today just beneath the Damascus Gate.

Of particular interest to Christians is Avigad's discovery of one of the greatest churches of the Byzantine world: Jerusalem's "Nea" church, built by Justinian and depicted on the contemporary mosaic map discovered in Madaba, Jordan. The accuracy of Avigad's identification was confirmed recently by a Greek monumental inscription.

City of David (Shiloh)

The Jerusalem excavations that have stirred the most controversy are those directed by Yigal Shiloh, another professor of archeology at Hebrew University. Since 1978 he has chosen to dig on the eastern portion of the ridge south of the Temple Mount because this is the area of Jerusalem's oldest occupation. Why did the Canaanites build a city there, where the hillsides were so steep that terracing was necessary? Because the only defensible water source, the Gihon spring, rises at the foot of that ridge. It was this Canaanite citadel, dating back to the third millennium B.C. , that formed the basis of the City of David and Solomon. But today certain orthodox Jews claim that a medieval Jewish cemetery was located there, and disturbing it would be cause for trouble. Consequently they have mounted demonstrations against the archeologists, involving up to ten thousand people at a time. In their zeal they have even desecrated the graves of the parents of Yigael Yadin, Israel's foremost archeologist! Shiloh vehemently denies having found arry human remains, and so has kept on digging. How the controversy will be resolved is still not clear. In the meantime, some fascinating information about Biblical times has come to light.

Shiloh's dig has produced the most extensive information thus far available on the last years of the Judaean monarchy. Several houses of the late preexilic period were found. Built on terraces, these structures become progressively poorer the closer in time they come to the Babylonian destruction. Several characteristic two-story, four-room houses of this period were excavated. The ground floor comprised a courtyard and service area containing space for animals, the kitchen, food and fodder storage, and toilet. Otherwise the family lived and slept upstairs. Actually, Jerusalemites of those days did not live their daily lives very differently from those in many Palestinian villages today. For women, social life probably centered around the well; for men, the focus was the city gates.

A typical range of small objects of daily life was uncovered. Seals discovered in 1983 bear the Biblical names Eliakim and Micah. But the most sensational find was a hoard of fifty clay seals, among which was one belonging to "Gemariah, the son of Shaphan" certainly the same individual mentioned in Jeremiah 36:9-12 as scribe to King Jehoiakim. Shiloh believes the building where this seal was found may have been part of the royal chancellery.

The City of David dig has also given us the clearest evidence we have to date of the resettlement of Jerusalem by the exiles from Babylon about the end of the sixth century B.C. By the end of the Hellenistic or Maccabean period the inhabitants of Jerusalem had grown sufficiently in both numbers and wealth to support the building of an impressive defense wall supported and protected by a remarkable beaten earth rampart found in this area.

After the Roman destruction of A.D. 70, no further significant occupation of this area south of the Temple Mount seems to have occurred. Though it had been the location of Jerusalem from the beginning, the core of the city then shifted northward and westward, no longer dependent on the water from the Gihon spring. (Even now, Jerusalem's growth is in these directions.)

Shoulder of Hinnom (Barkay)

One can hardly summarize the discoveries made in Jerusalem within the past few years without mentioning at least one other location among the many that ring the ancient holy city. That is the slope just beneath the Scottish Presbyterian Church of St. Andrew. There, since 1979, at a site overlooking the Hinnom Valley, Gabriel Barkay, a young professor of archeology from Tel Aviv University, has been reexcavating mostly robbed-out burial caves of the seventh century B. c. Most of these tombs contained squarish burial chambers. Three sides included benches where the deceased and their burial goods could be laid out. When these spaces were needed for new burials, the remains and the burial goods were gathered up and placed in the repository, a smaller chamber beneath one of the benches. This practice in tombs of the First Temple period probably gave rise to the Biblical phrase about being "gathered unto one's fathers" (cf. Judges 2:10; 2 Chron. 34:28).

In any case, Barkay discovered that the repository of Cave 25 had not been robbed. Rather, it proved to be the richest ever found in the vicinity of Jerusalem. It contained some seven hundred objects, including Jerusalem's largest cache of jewelry and the oldest coin ever found in the country. The latter was a sixth century B.C. coin with a crab design from the Aegean island of Kos. Among the more than one hundred pieces of silver jewelry were two tiny silver scrolls. After a three-year wait these intriguing objects were carefully unrolled and found, in reality, to be amulets. One is nearly four inches long. It will take some time to decipher the minuscule texts, but one word is very clearly readable: yod-he-waw-he, the Tetragrammaton, or four Hebrew letters which make up the personal divine name (Yahweh) in the Old Testament.

Though the divine name appears more than 6,800 times in the Old Testament and even in a few inscriptions archeologists have found elsewhere in the country, this is the first time the name has appeared on an archeological find in Jerusalem, the holy city. And the amulet appears to date from the sixth century B.C., about the time of Jerusalem's destruction. Did it belong to someone who felt keenly about the Temple's destruction? Perhaps we'll find out more when the scrolls are completely deciphered.

Jerusalem Congress

Much more could be said about recent discoveries in Jerusalem. In addition to reading excavation reports, the interested reader might want to see the sites in person and hear an explanation of the finds by the excavators. Those who attend the First International Congress on Biblical Archaeology in Jerusalem April 1-10, 1984, will have that chance. The Congress marks the seventieth anniversary of the Israel Exploration Society and will feature each of the archeologists mentioned above, and many more.

(If you would be interested in attending the Congress or accompanying the author on a Bible lands tour that would include the Congress but will also visit Jordan, Egypt, and other sites in Israel between March 25 and April 15, 1984, write Ed Dass, A-l Travel, Inc., 1105 St. Joseph Road, Berrien Springs, Michigan 49103, or phone him at [616] 473-3300.)


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Lawrence T. Geraty, Ph.D., is professor of archeology and history of antiquity, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

March 1984

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