Archaeologist Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem discusses findings near the archaeological site known as the City of David.
(photo credit: GIL COHEN MAGEN)
RECENT EXCAVATIONS in and around Jerusalem’s Old City are helping to understand what the city looked like two and three thousand years ago.
In an area below the southern wall of the Temple Mount, across the road from the City of David, Hebrew University Prof. Eilat Mazar revealed construction and fortification walls, which she contends date back to the time of King Solomon.
Based on distinctive pottery shards, she identified the city wall which Solomon built on the edge of the Kidron Valley (Kings, I, 3:1). The 6-meter-high wall, built on bedrock, she says, was part of a 10th century BCE city gate and tower system that provided access to and protected the entrance to the royal quarter.
In addition, she found dozens of small seals used for official documents, bullae, and engraved jug handles in ancient Hebrew script from the 7th and 8th centuries BCE.
She recently discovered a seal thought to be used by the Prophet Isaiah. Over 50 such seals were found inside the City of David 30 years ago – bearing names found in the Bible.
Mazar is also excavating what she believes was the palace of King David in the City of David, although she has yet to find enough evidence to prove her contention conclusively.
Also in the City of David, at Warren’s Shaft and at the bottom of the valley below, around the Gihon Spring, Prof. Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukron have exposed structures which date back to the pre-Israelite Jebusite period. At the southern end of the City of David, they excavated what they believe was a large open ritual bath, mikve, from the Second Temple period, a site mentioned in John 9, as “the pool of Siloam,” where, according to the New Testament, Jesus healed a blind man.
Adjacent to the pool, Reich and his team uncovered a stairway used during the Second Temple period which reached the Temple Mount. Recently, a tiny seal from the First Temple period was found with the word “Bethlehem” – the earliest proof that the city of Bethlehem existed at that time.
Excavations just inside the Jaffa Gate, led by Prof. Ofer Sion, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, exposed a Byzantine-era street depicted in the 6th century CE Madaba Map, part of a mosaic floor from that period found in a church in Jordan. Discovered about a hundred years ago, the Madaba Map includes major churches and streets of “Holy Jerusalem” at the time. After 1967, archaeologists revealed many of these sites, including the Cardo, in the Jewish Quarter, and a secondary Cardo near the Western Wall. The dig at the Jaffa Gate is the first confirmation of a street depicted in the Madaba Map, which is now called the Arab shuk (market) and an aqueduct from the late Second Temple (Roman) period.
The aqueduct brought water from springs and reservoirs in Gush Etzion, about 20 kilometers away, via tunnels into a large reservoir, the Mamilla Pool, located in the park and former Muslim cemetery, and from there into another reservoir just inside the Jaffa Gate.
In the Second Temple period the Jaffa Gate was apparently far below where it is today.
This water system was an extraordinary engineering feat, since the grade from the source to the pool is only 1 percent and had to account for dips in the topography by using only the siphon system.
As Mazar says, stones and artifacts can’t speak, but, as silent witnesses, they often reveal the authenticity of Biblical sources and provide a link between the Jewish people and their ancient homeland.
Contested by those who believe that Biblical stories are myths with no connection to archaeology, these discoveries are also disputed by Arab and Muslim activists and academics who view them as “Palestinian,” rejecting their origins and Jewish history.
Regardless of which side you’re on, archaeological discoveries in areas once under Jordanian occupation and often claimed by Palestinians are impacting not only our historical understanding, but are shaping political reality based on Jewish history.
Archaeology provides the most powerful proof of the authenticity of Jewish history and the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and particularly, Jerusalem. The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist.