Digging at the source

Archeologist Ronny Reich documents the findings excavated in the City of David, showing where they augment and clarify the biblical text.

City of David 521 (photo credit: Courtesy City of David)
City of David 521
(photo credit: Courtesy City of David)
On April 23, 1971, The Jerusalem Post published an article entitled “Neglect at the source” in which I wrote: “Of all the reminders of our past in Jerusalem, it is the Gihon Spring and the remains of Ophel, the city of David, which are most neglected today. The strong stench which meets an occasional visitor hardly pays justice to this illustrious historical site.
The mound of a city, patiently excavated by Kathleen Kenyon, is being washed out by rain. Nothing testifies to the ancient glory of Israel at this spot. Few visitors realize that this is the source.”
The City of David Committee was formed in 1977 with Teddy Kollek as president, author Ronny Reich as vice president and Yigal Shiloh (to whom the book is dedicated) as chief archeologist. Joseph Amiram, director of the Israel Exploration Society and Dan Bahat, Avi Eitan and Ruth Cheshin of the Jerusalem Foundation made a substantial contribution toward the most-needed change. They began the serious archeological exploration and restoration work that is still continuing.
Mendel Kaplan, who provided funds for the excavations, proposed that Shiloh write a book, summarizing in language accessible to all, the history of the research on the City of David area and the role it played in Jerusalem’s history. Reich, who won the Jerusalem Prize for his 40 years of archeological research and today is a professor of archeology at the University of Haifa, undertook and successfully executed the task.
Reich describes himself as a minimalist who, like his late boss Shiloh did, correlates his teachings first and foremost to archeological findings. Some archeologists might have been more liberal in their wish to see large parts of the biblical text as plain historical truth. However the wealth of dependable, scientific experience Reich offers his readers proves that his is the only way. He writes that the dialectic of exposing new data, which gives rise to new understanding and interpretations, over the years separates the scholarly wheat from the chaff as we improve our knowledge of reality in ancient times.
The book is divided into two parts: the history of the excavations and a not-so-brief history of the City of David. In the first part we are introduced to the scores of world-famous archeologists who excavated in Jerusalem, beginning with Edward Robinson (1794-1863), Charles Warren (1840-1927), who excavated on behalf of London’s Palestine Exploration Fund, Charles Clermont-Ganneau (1846-1923) and numerous others, all eager to dig into Jerusalem’s past in search of ancient treasures and of a confirmation of their own dreams and ideas. Few of them realized that it was the City of David, outside of today’s Old City walls, where Jerusalem’s history began. Many made mistakes and false assumptions, but their digs contributed to our knowledge. Kathleen M.
Kenyon (1906-1978) opened a new age in the history of the archeology of the City of David. She was followed by David Ussyshkin, David Adan Bayewitz, Yigal Shiloh (1937-1987), Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron.
The second part of the book contains an archeological survey of the City of David from the Pottery Neolithic period (9500- 6400 BCE) and Chalcolithic period (6400- 3600 BCE) until today. The first city appeared in the 19th-16th centuries BCE over Gihon, the only permanent water source around for miles. A small portion of its protecting wall was first found and excavated by Kenyon, while Reich and Shukron excavated its extension.
The word “Jerusalem” appears in consonants as RSLMM in Egyptian execration texts found on figurines at Sakkara. El Amarna letter No. 287, sent by Abdi-Hepa, a chief of Jerusalem, to an Egyptian pharaoh asks for defense against an invading Habiru tribe. The shards excavated around the spring testify to the town’s successive levels of occupations through 5,000 years of history.
The Warren’s Shaft system, a long vertical tunnel that supplied water to the city, and through which, as many scholars believed, “Joab, the son of Zeraiah went up first” to defeat the Jebusites, could not be the Biblical “tzinor” (pipe) due to archeological evidence.
Reich proposes that the word “tzinor” in the Bible indicates some kind of other underground space, hewn or natural, horizontal or vertical, that may indeed have played a role in King David’s conquest of Jerusalem.
While maps of ancient Jerusalem translate the Tyropoeon from Greek to mean “the cheese-makers’ valley,” Reich translates it from the Phoenician as Tyre. He recalls that Nehemiah (13:16) mentions the local governor who expelled from Jerusalem the Tyrian merchants who sold fish on Shabbat. Excavated Jerusalem garbage proves this testimony.
Reich believes that the model of Jerusalem reconstructed by Avi Yonah, where a whole quarter of small houses appears on the slope of Mount Zion down to the Tyropoeon Valley, needs to be corrected.
Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple was a wealthy city with large, beautiful houses.
We call the spring that flows from Kidron’s streambed Gihon, but Reich claims that this is the name of the entire water system. The Arabic name is “Ein Umm ed-Daraj” (the spring of the mother of steps), and Reich proposes that it was called once “Ein Shemesh” due to the fact that the sun’s rays hit the spot from which the water emerges for a few minutes every morning. This name might have been changed when King Josiah’s reforms got rid of all foreign rites including “the chariots of the sun.” Consequently Reich proposes a variation in the border between the tribes of Benjamin and Judah.
Most of the archeological research is difficult and painstaking work, often hampered by financial difficulties, physical obstacles and religious interventions by the Atra Kadisha (Haredi group dedicated to protecting Jewish graves) and ultra- Orthodox fanatics. Everybody agrees that graves ought to be left in peace, but they provide the most reliable archeological evidence.
In 1981 the High Court authorized the continuation of Shiloh’s City of David excavations.
The book’s wealth of photographs, diagrams, explanations and references assists the reader in understanding the more complicated archeological issues. The series of diagrams showing in detail the two – not one – ancient channels connecting the spring with the pool of Shiloah explain how these wonders of ancient engineering were excavated, marking every step of the workers’ progress. There are detailed descriptions and illustrations of the the pools, various walls and fortifications, chambers and towers and scores of interesting finds and inscriptions.
Appendices include a chronological table, a selected bibliography and an index.
It is a beautifully edited, bound and illustrated and color volume.