Category Archives: Biblical Sites

This feature includes photos of biblical sites and a brief overview of the significance of the site.

Has Jesus’ Home Been Found?

Has Jesus’ Home Been Found?

Jesus' home in Nazareth is located only a few miles away from the Sea of Galilee where a major portion of his ministry occurred.
Jesus’ home in Nazareth is not far from the Sea of Galilee where a major portion of his ministry occurred.

It sounds like a title to simply grab headlines doesn’t it? Throughout the centuries claims have been made to have pieces of the cross of Christ, or an actual nail used in crucifying Jesus. On and on the claims go. During the Byzantine and Middle Ages pilgrimages were frequently made to see such so-called “relics.” So when someone claims that Jesus’ home in Nazareth may have been discovered, it is quite natural to expect that claim would be met with a great deal of skepticism. However, when a reputable magazine like BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review) lists Jesus’ home as one of the top ten discoveries of 2015, it’s at least worth investigating.

The Original Discovery of What May Be Jesus’ Home

Sisters of Nazareth Convent where Jesus' home may have been discovered.
Sisters of Nazareth Convent where Jesus’ home may have been discovered.

Although the discovery has only made headlines this past year (see the article by the Daily Mail here), the story actually begins in the 1880s when an ancient cistern was accidentally discovered at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. The nuns and others associated with the school began excavating the area and uncovered a number of ancient features including Crusader period walls and vaults, a Byzantine  cave-church, Roman period tombs and other structures. The nuns created a small museum from the coins, pottery, glass, and other objects that were uncovered. Previously, construction on the convent had revealed a large Byzantine church which included mosaic floors and marble fittings, rebuilt during the Crusader period. Jesuit priest Father Henri Senès carried out further work in 1936, including making detailed drawings of the discoveries.

Recent Excavations in Nazareth and the Evidence for What May Be Jesus’ Home

The exterior of the house that may have been Jesus' home, showing a doorway which is still preserved to its original height.
The exterior of the house that may have been Jesus’ home, showing a doorway which is still preserved to its original height.

The Nazareth Archaeological Project which began in 2006, is the first professional archaeological excavation to take place on this site, although discovered long ago. This recent excavation project has revealed “a lengthy chronological sequence of well-preserved structures and features” (Ken Dark, “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?,” BAR, Mar/Apr. 2015). These include the features mentioned above plus “a rectilinear structure with partly rock-cut and partly stone-built walls” (Ken Dark, BAR). Further investigation confirmed that this structure was a house from the earlier Roman period, built in either the 1st century AD or shortly before. A doorway survives to its original height and part of the original chalk floor is still visible. The date is confirmed by cooking pottery and other items  (including a spindle whorl) which also date to this period. The discovery of limestone vessels also suggests that this was a Jewish home, since limestone was not considered subject to impurity.

The forecourt of the tomb can be seen in this photo. Note the stone on the right and the two niches inside for bodies. These tombs cut right through the house
The forecourt of the tomb can be seen in this photo. Note the stone on the right and the two niches inside for bodies. These tombs cut right through the house

The age of the house is further confirmed by a curious feature. Two Roman period tombs cut through the house. Archaeologist Ken Dark confirms that the tombs are 1st century AD but were made after the house had already been built. Of course no Jew would have had a tomb in their house while the house was being occupied. It is interesting to speculate why the tombs were built. If this was the boyhood home of Jesus, were the tombs built by unbelievers to desecrate what had come to be considered a sacred place? Or, what seems to me less likely because of the uncleanness associated with tombs, would some zealous believer have wanted to be buried in the boyhood home of Jesus? These are questions that cannot be answered, but the presence of the tombs further confirms the date of the house.

This map taken from Ken Dark's article in BAR shows the site of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, as well as other significant sites in Nazareth.
This map taken from Ken Dark’s article in BAR shows the site of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, as well as other significant sites in Nazareth.

But what evidence connects this with possibly being Jesus’ home? The churches that have been built on the site are strongly suggestive of this being considered a sacred area. In fact, Ken Dark notes that great efforts were made by both the Byzantine and later Crusader churches to completely encompass the house, thus protecting it from further destruction. Why build a church on this site and why go to the trouble to protect an old house? The most obvious answer is that the house was considered to be a special place. What house in Nazareth could be considered more special by future generations of Christians than the house of Jesus? Of course, this involves making some intuitive leaps, but there is one other piece of historical information that is intriguing. An ancient pilgrim text written in 670 AD by abbot Adomnàn of Iona  known as the De Locus Sanctis, speaks of making a pilgrimage to Nazareth and seeing two churches. One can be identified as the Church of the Annunciation (well known in Nazareth). The other church is said to be built over vaults that contain a spring and two tombs. Between the tombs Adomnán says there was a house in which Jesus was raised. The church is called The Church of the Nutrition, meaning, “the upbringing of Christ.” Adomnán’s description is clearly speaking about the same house that has been uncovered and now sits in the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. Is the tradition reliable? Who can say? But the fact that a church had been established on this site before Adomnán’s trip in 670 AD suggests that the house had a long tradition of being identified as Jesus’ home.

Is the House in Nazareth Jesus’ Home?

Another 1st century house has been discovered in the recent excavations in Nazareth.
Another 1st century house has been discovered in the recent excavations in Nazareth.

The best answer to this question is given by Ken Dark himself when he states, “Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds. On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted. What we can say is that this building was probably where the Byzantine church builders believed Jesus had spent his childhood in Nazareth.

Besides the house that may be Jesus’ home, archaeologists have uncovered another 1st century house in Nazareth across from the Church of the Annunciation (see photo on the left). I’ve made a number of trips to Israel, but I have only been to Nazareth on one occasion and even then, we were just passing through on a bus. I inquired why tours never seemed to stop in Nazareth and was told that there was simply “nothing to see.” I asked that question back in 2006, the same year that the Nazareth Archaeological Project began. Thanks to the recent efforts of archaeologists, our knowledge of ancient Nazareth is slowly being transformed. I imagine if I were to ask the question again, the answer would be quite different!

(For another informative article on the archaeological excavations on Jesus’ home, see the Bible Blender by clicking here. Of course, if you have a subscription to BAS library you can see the original article by clicking here.)

Where Will the Battle of Armageddon Be Fought?

Where Will the Battle of Armageddon Be Fought?

The battle of Armageddon is pictured in the Book of Revelation as the final battle where God defeats evil.
The battle of Armageddon is pictured in the Book of Revelation as the final battle where God defeats evil.

Although the word Armageddon comes to us via the Bible, it has entered the modern vernacular as a term that refers to doomsday, or a cataclysmic event. Biblically speaking, it is the final battle to end all wars when evil is dealt a decisive blow. In the Book of Revelation, the apostle John describes it this way: “And the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth, and of the whole world to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty….And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (Rev. 16:12-14, 16).

Tel Megiddo and the surrounding valley is frequently identified as the site of the battle of Armageddon.
Tel Megiddo and the surrounding valley is frequently identified as the site of the battle of Armageddon.

Most bible scholars and commentators preoccupy themselves with when Armageddon will occur, based on their understanding of Revelation and end-time events. When asked where the final battle of Armageddon will take place, the usual answer is the valley of Megiddo in Israel. This identification is based on breaking the word “Armageddon” into its two parts. “Ar” is the English equivalent to the Greek and Hebrew rendering which is “Har.” “Har” in Hebrew means “mountain.” The second part of the word “magedon” (one “d” in the Greek, not two) is usually thought to refer to the city of Megiddo. Because the ancient city of Megiddo was built and rebuilt many times over the centuries, a tell or small mound has developed. This is the result of the ancient practice of building one city on top of another. Thus Megiddo has the appearance of being a small hill or mountain as can be seen in the photo to the left. Armageddon, or Harmageddon is thus interpreted to mean “the mountain of Megiddo.”

Could the Equation of Armageddon with Mountain of Megiddo Be Wrong?

In his recent book The Unseen Realm, Bible scholar Michael Heiser argues that Armageddon should be equated with Jerusalem, not Megiddo. (If Heiser is correct, this means I need to revise one of my statements in  my post entitled: Tel-Megiddo!) Heiser makes the following points to advance his argument:

  1. Megiddo is a tell, it is not a mountain.

2.  Zechariah 12:9-11 pictures Jerusalem as the place where the final battle against the nations will take place. Interestingly, Megiddo is also mentioned in this passage. Heiser states, “It is crystal clear that the final conflict occurs at Jerusalem, not Megiddo. Megiddo is referenced only to compare the awful mourning that will result.” He continues by also noting, “verse 11 tells us explicitly that Megiddo is a plain, not a mountain!” (p. 370, all italics are the author’s).

417i-jxItJL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_3.  Heiser’s third point  is more complicated and involves knowing a little Hebrew as he attempts to show that the word “magedon” does not come from Armageddon, but from a different Hebrew expression. He points out that there are 2 letters in the Hebrew alphabet that are transliterated with a “g” in Greek and English. Transliteration means writing the letters of another alphabet in the equivalent forms of our alphabet. One of those letters is the Hebrew letter ‘ayin (ע). An ‘ayin is pronounced in the back of the throat like a hard “g” but it is represented in English transliteration as a backwards apostrophe (‘). Heiser notes that the transliteration of the city Gomorrah is ‘amorah. I would add, the same is true for the city Gaza which also begins with an ‘ayin and is transliterated as ‘aza. If the letter “g” in “magedon” is an ‘ayin, then, Heiser argues, that the Hebrew expression would be har mo’ed which means “mountain of assembly.” If you’re unfamiliar with Hebrew, I know that going from “Armageddon” to “har mo’ed” seems like a stretch. But trust me, it works. Heiser notes that this expression is found in Isaiah 14:13. This is a passage usually attributed to Satan’s defiance of God and Heiser treats it fully elsewhere in his book. To fully appreciate his point, it is necessary to read the book. For the full argument on this particular point see pages 370-373.

4. “Jerusalem is a mountain–Mount Zion” (p. 373). Heiser’s point is that when John uses the word Armageddon, he is meaning the mountain of assembly which every one who knew Hebrew would equate with Mount Zion, or Jerusalem.

Megiddo or Jerusalem?

Since David conquered Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, it has been the center and hearbeat of Israelite life. Something rings true to me about the final battle taking place in Jerusalem. After all, even today, Jerusalem remains the focal point of controversy and contention when it comes to the Middle East. Even if it can’t be proven that Armageddon means “mountain of the assembly,” Heiser’s other arguments make sense of an important biblical event that all Christians long to see take place. For more of Heiser’s arguments regarding Armageddon or his book, The Unseen Realm, check out his website at moreunseenrealm.com.

Bulla of Hezekiah Discovered in Jerusalem

Bulla of Hezekiah Discovered in Jerusalem

A bulla of Hezekiah of Judah. It reads "Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah
A bulla of Hezekiah of Judah. It reads “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah

It was recently announced that a clay bulla of Hezekiah King of Judah (727-698 B.C.) was discovered during excavations in the Ophel area of Jerusalem. Although found in 2009, the discovery has only recently been made known to the public. While previous bullae (plural of “bulla”) of Hezekiah are known, this is the first one discovered in an archaeological context (others have appeared on the antiquites market and in the collections of antiquities dealers). A bulla is a small piece of clay, which has been impressed by the owner’s seal. Bullae were used to seal papyrus documents that were rolled and tied with a string (see picture below). In the middle of the bulla of Hezekiah is a picture of a two-winged sun disk. The wings of the sun disk point downward and it has six rays of light projecting from it (3 from the top and 3 from the bottom). On either side of the sun disk (the one on the right is most clearly visible) are ankh symbols from Egypt known as “the key of life.”

Example of an ancient papyrus (from the 5th century B.C.) still rolled and tied with strings. The back of the bulla shows the imprint of the papyrus grain. Image taken from http://www.archaeological-center.com/en/monographs/m13/
Example of an ancient papyrus (from the 5th century B.C.) still rolled and tied with strings. The back of the bulla shows the imprint of the papyrus grain. Image taken from http://www.archaeological-center.com/en/monographs/m13/

Given Israel’s aversion to symbols, especially by a King known for his sweeping religious reforms (2 Kgs. 18:1-6; 2 Chron. 29), it is somewhat surprising to find this iconography on King Hezekiah’s seal. The use of Egyptian symbols may also surprise many. As far as current knowledge tells us, Hezekiah seems to be the first king of Judah to use a royal emblem with an icon on it. It is also known from other bullae that Hezekiah adopted the use of the two-winged scarab (dung beetle), known in both Egypt and Phoenicia. Thus, we are now aware of two different images that were employed on the royal seals of Hezekiah. There are several passages which suggest a dependence on Egypt by Hezekiah, and this may be why the king’s seals show Egyptian influence. For example, when Sennacherib is laying siege to Jerusalem, the Rabshakeh (an Assyrian official) rebukes Hezekiah for trusting in Egypt (Isa. 36:4-6). Although Hezekiah is not specifically mentioned in Isaiah 30, this passage condemns Judah’s leadership for trusting in Egypt for military aid. As far as the imagery on the seal itself, given Hezekiah’s aversion to idolatry, Robert Deutsch’s conclusion seems correct. He states, “Although winged sun disks and scarabs had originated in foreign lands, by the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, when they appeared on Hebrew seals, they were already quite old and bereft of any religious significance. They were used solely for their decorative value and their connotation of power – and should be regarded as Israelite/Judahite. When Hezekiah adopted the two-winged scarab and the two-winged sun disk with six rays as royal emblems, he was simply appropriating generally accepted icons of royal power and not importing meaning from either Phoenicia or Egypt” (Lasting Impressions: New Bullae Reveal Egyptian-Style Emblems on Judah’s Royal Seals–the whole article is worth reading).

The Bulla of Hezekiah and the Ophel

The bulla of Hezekiah was found in the Ophel which is the area circled in the photo above..
The bulla of Hezekiah was found in the Ophel which is the area circled in the photo above..

As noted above, the bulla of Hezekiah was discovered during excavations of the Ophel in Jerusalem. The Ophel is the area between the Temple Mount and the City of David (see the picture on the right). The bulla was found in an ancient refuse dump near a royal building that dates back to Solomon’s time (mid-tenth century B.C.). I had the opportunity of exploring this area last Spring (2015). The bulla was discovered through a process known as wet-sifting. Wet-sifting is a process utilized by Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Zachi Dvira at the Temple Mount ever since the illegal dumping of tons of soil bull-dozed on the Temple Mount in 1999 by the Waqf. These archaeologists realized that “this discarded earth represented a treasure trove of information relating to the Temple Mount’s history” (see Temple Mount Sifting Project). Since Barkai and Dvira implemented this system of searching through the dug up soil, it has become a staple of archaeological excavations. Many smaller items, like this bulla of Hezekiah, would easily go undiscovered if this method were not employed.

Wet-sifting continues at the Temple Mount and thousands of volunteers participate each year.
Wet-sifting continues at the Temple Mount and thousands of volunteers participate each year.

Well known Israeli archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar was in charge of the excavations at the Ophel. You can watch a very interesting video here showing Dr. Mazar’s explanation of the discovery, and of the bulla of Hezekiah. The same video with an accompanying article can be found at phys.org. The bulla of Hezekiah is not only one of several bullae that exist of the Judean King, it is also one among a number of other bullae that have been discovered that refer to people mentioned in the Bible. Bullae of several of Hezekiah’s court officials have also been discovered (see the link to Deutsch’s article above). We also have a seal impression of King Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, as well as several Judean officials from the time of Jeremiah. Whether archaeological discoveries in Israel are big or small, they continue to help us better understand the ancient world of the Bible.

The Ishbaal Inscription At Khirbet Qeiyafa

The Ishbaal Inscription At Khirbet Qeiyafa

Ishbaal inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa. Photo by Tal Rogovski, borrowed from http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2015/06/second-inscription-from-qeiyafa.html
Ishbaal inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa. Photo by Tal Rogovski, borrowed from http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2015/06/second-inscription-from-qeiyafa.html

After Saul was killed in battle against the Philistines (1 Sam. 31), his army captain Abner took Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth (Ishbaal) and made him king (2 Sam. 2:8-10). As I discuss in my book Family Portraits, Ish-bosheth is also known by the names Ishbaal and Eshbaal in the Bible (1 Chron. 8:33; 9:39). It has recently been announced that in the summer excavations of 2012 at Khirbet Qeiyafa (see my article on Khirbet Qeiyafa), a large stone storage jar (pithos) was discovered with the name Ishbaal / Eshbaal inscribed on it.

One of the latest finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa is an inscription with the name Ishbaal. (map taken from holylandphotos.org)
One of the latest finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa is an inscription with the name Ishbaal. (map taken from holylandphotos.org)

This discovery has several interesting features. For starters, this is the first time that the name Ishbaal has been found outside of the Bible. Second, the layer in which the Ishbaal inscription was found dates to the period of 1020-980 B.C., according to radiometric dating. This is precisely the time period in which Saul’s son, Ishbaal would have been active. This Ishbaal, however, is not the son of Saul. We know that because the inscription goes on to read, “son of Bedaʿ.” The name Bedaʿ is unique, not being found in the Bible or in an archaeological context before. According to the authors of a recent article in BASOR (Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research) announcing this discovery, “The letters of the inscription are large and clear, similar in size and evenly spaced, and were written by a skilled hand in Canaanite script” (see the full article here). The inscription is the result of a skilled scribe and thus suggests the presence of a developed society. The fact that this inscription is Canaanite is of special interest to paleographers (those who study ancient scripts). Originally it was thought that the Canaanite script was replaced by the so-called Phoenician script at the end of the second millennium B.C. Now we have evidence of the Canaanite script being in use during the monarchy of David thanks to this discovery, along with four other inscriptions (2 more from Khirbet Qeiyafa, 1 from Beth Shemesh, and 1 from Jerusalem).

A bronze statue of Baal discovered at Ugarit from the 14th-12th centuries B.C.
A bronze statue of Baal discovered at Ugarit from the 14th-12th centuries B.C.

Baʿal is the name of the Canaanite storm god and was often attached to names just as God (el) orYahweh (yahu, usually spelled with “iah” in English) was. This practice is called using a “theophoric” element, which simply means that the name of the god is embedded in a person’s name. What is interesting about the use of “baal” as a theophoric element in names is that the Bible shows no evidence of its use after the early monarchic period (10th century B.C.). Previous to, and including the early monarchic period, it is found in names like Jerubaal (Gideon’s other name), Meribbaal (Jonathan’s son, also called Mephibosheth), and, of course, Ishbaal. Archaeology reflects the same practice. No inscription has ever been found in Judah from the 9th – 6th centuries with “baal” used as a theophoric element. While Baʿal means “lord” or “master,” its association with the Canaanite god seems to have made it an unpopular name in Judah during those centuries.

There is still one more inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa yet to be translated. It will be interesting to see what further light it might shed on this period of history.

Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

In Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer reveals the location of the Temple.
In Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer reveals the location of the Temple.

Where exactly was the Temple located on the Temple Mount? There are several popular theories regarding the exact location of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Many believe that it was built in the same area where the present Dome of the Rock now stands. Another popular theory suggests that it stood over the Dome of the Tablets, a small shrine to the northwest of the Dome of the Rock. Still yet, another theory proposes that it was built between the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Since it is impossible to do any excavation on the Temple Mount (although see the recent article at ritmeyer.com “Illegally Digging Up the Temple Mount”), is it possible to determine the Temple’s location? In Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer, an expert with over 40 years of experience involving excavations and research on the Temple Mount, reveals his understanding of the exact location of the Temples of Solomon and Herod, including the location of the Holy of Holies. From 1973 to 1977 Ritmeyer was chief architect of the Temple Mount excavations directed by Benjamin Mazar. From 1978 to 1983 he was field architect of the Jewish Quarter excavations of the Old City of Jerusalem headed by Professor Nahman Avigad. Since that time Ritmeyer has continued his research on the Temple Mount, even writing his doctoral dissertation on “The Architectural Development of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” These qualifications make him an expert worth listening to.

Secret’s of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Contents

Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount: Updated and Enlarged Edition is available at Amazon USA / UK as well as the Biblical Archaeology Society.
Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Updated and Enlarged Edition is available at Amazon USA / UK as well as the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Ritmeyer bases the conclusions in his book on ancient accounts such as Josephus and especially Middot (a portion of the Mishnah written around 200 A.D.). He also relies on archaeological evidence from recent excavations, as well as the pioneering work of Charles Warren who, in the 1860s, was able to dig various shafts and tunnels around the Temple Mount and explore underground areas no longer accessible due to the modern political situation. Warren and his team left very detailed accounts of their findings as well as some artistic drawings. The Contents of Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount are as follows:

1. “A Tour of the Temple Mount with Herod the Great,” is a fictionalized account written by Kathleen Ritmeyer, Leen’s wife, based on historical information of the period. The purpose is to provide the reader with some historical background in an entertaining way.

2. “Reconstructing Herod’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” This chapter gives a detailed description of what Herod’s Temple Mount Complex would have looked like. It includes photos, diagrams, and drawings of various aspects of the Temple Mount, including a drawing of what Ritmeyer believes Herod’s Temple Mount would have looked like.

3. “Quarrying and Transporting Stones for Herod’s Temple Mount,” is a short chapter that looks at the methods which would have been employed in cutting and preparing the stones, as well as how these massive stones were moved into place. One technique of moving the stones overlooked by Ritmeyer is attaching wheels to the stones so that they could be rolled to the site.

This diagram shows the size and position of Solomon's Temple Mount, according to Ritmeyer in his book, Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. It also shows how it was expanded by the Hasmoneans and Herod.
This diagram shows the size and position of Solomon’s Temple Mount, according to Ritmeyer in his book, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. It also shows how it was expanded by the Hasmoneans and Herod.

4. “Reconstructing the Triple Gate.” In my times in Israel, I have heard some speculate that the Triple Gate and Double Gate at the top of the southern steps were for exiting and entering the Temple Mount. Ritmeyer, however, argues that the Triple Gate was only used by the priests and led to a large storage area. The Double Gate, on the other hand was used for visitors and had a very broad staircase (210 feet) that would have accommodated people entering and exiting. By contrast, the staircase in the Triple Gate is only 50 feet wide (p. 61).

5. Chapter 5, “Locating the Original Temple Mount,” is an indepth discussion which includes many helpful drawings and diagrams explaining Ritmeyer’s conclusions on where the original platform on which Solomon’s Temple was located. I have included one of those diagrams here which shows the position and dimensions of the original Temple Mount, according to Ritmeyer.

This diagram shows Ritmeyer's understanding of where the walls of the Holy of Holies would have been. The red rectangle marks the depression where the Ark would have set.
This diagram shows Ritmeyer’s understanding of where the walls of the Holy of Holies would have been. The red rectangle marks the depression where the Ark would have set and is right in the center of the Holy of Holies.  (Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, p. 109).

6 & 7. Chapters 6 & 7 go together establishing Ritmeyer’s view on where the Holy of Holies was located and where the Ark of the Covenant rested. They are entitled respectively, “The Ark of the Covenant: Where It Stood in Solomon’s Temple,” and “Mark of the Ark Confirmed by Modern Technology.” Ritmeyer is convinced that the Ark rested in a rectangular depression on the es-Sakhra. The es-Sakhra is the highest point on the Temple Mount and lies exposed in the Dome of the Rock. Muslims believe it is the place where Mohammed ascended into heaven. Although some quarrying was done on this rock when the Crusaders briefly held it and turned the Dome of the Rock into a Christian Church (12th century), Ritmeyer argues that the area where the Ark rested has been preserved. He argues that the rectangular depression is just large enough for the Ark and a copy of the Law to lay before it. The depression is angled so that the longer side of the rectangle faces east-west. At first this puzzled Ritmeyer, but he notes that it agrees with the evidence found in 1 Kings 8:8 and with what the Talmud says about the length of the poles used to carry the Ark (pp. 117-118).

sakhra3

8. “The Structure of Herod’s Temple: Why We Can Rely on the Description in Middot,” is Ritmeyer’s defense of why this description in the Mishnah is the most reliable source. This chapter also goes into detail regarding the various sections of the Temple complex in the time of Herod such as the Women’s Court, the Court of the Israelites and Court of the Priests, etc., and includes another nice diagram of this area. Page 144 also includes a 3-D cut-away drawing of Herod’s Temple.

9. “What Did Solomon’s Temple Look Like,” is the final chapter in Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Ritmeyer states, “It is not difficult to draw a plan of Solomon’s Temple from its description in 1 Kings 6 and 7; it is much more difficult to draw a section through the building–to envision, in other words, what the building would have looked like if we sliced through it like a cake and looked at the inside” (p. 153). Ritmeyer says that the two biggest obstacles he faced in understanding the design of Solomon’s Temple was the difference in size between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (30 cubits high as compared to 20), and the relationship of the two bronze pillars (named Jachin and Boaz) to the Temple itself. Regarding the height difference, many have suggested that there was an upper chamber of 10 cubits above the Holy of Holies or that the Holy of Holies stood 10 cubits higher than the Holy Place. However, Ritmeyer notes that if es-Sakhra is the location of the Holy of Holies, it stands 5 cubits higher than its surroundings. Given this information, Ritmeyer believes that there was a natural rock ramp that led up into the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place and that the roof of the Holy of Holies was 5 cubits lower than that of the Holy Place (p. 155). Concerning the bronze pillars, Ritmeyer notes that there is no evidence that they were freestanding, apart from the porch of the Temple, as found in some reconstructions. In every case in the ancient world, the pillars of a temple supported the porch. While conducting this research, Ritmeyer was requested to construct a model of Solomon’s Temple. He states that this request caused him to scrutinize the text of 1 Kings 6-7 even more carefully and led to a deeper understanding of Solomon’s building. His model can be seen below.

Ritmeyer's model of Solomon's Temple.
Ritmeyer’s model of Solomon’s Temple.

Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Evaluation

I have always leaned toward believing that the Temple originally stood on the site of the Dome of the Rock. First, temples were usually constructed on the highest point of a mountain. Second, once a place was considered holy in the ancient world, it usually stayed holy unless somehow desecrated. Since es-Sakhra is the highest point on the mountain, it makes sense this is where Solomon would have built the Temple. It also makes sense that Zerubbabel, and later Herod would have rebuilt the Second Temple on the same spot. It’s hard to imagine that Jews would have accepted moving the Holy of Holies to a different location, or any other part of the sacred structure. This is one reason I have never favored any of the other theories that have been proposed. Ritmeyer’s experience and study of the Temple Mount, and his indepth arguments have only served to strengthen my belief. Furthermore, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, taught me many other details that I had no knowledge of. Even though this book is written for a general audience it is very detailed and technical and therefore it may not appeal to everyone. But for those who are interested in the Temples of Solomon and Herod, their significance, where they stood, and what they looked like, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is a goldmine of information. I highly recommend it!

For further information on the Temple Mount, including video presentations, go to http://templemount.org/

Seeing the City of David: Part II

Seeing the City of David

IrDavid1
Seeing the City of David has become a more pleasant and informative experience over the years. Here is a view of the entrance.

The first time I travelled to Israel was in 2005 on a tour with my church from Calvary Chapel York. I had anticipated coming to Israel all my life. When I was younger I wanted to study at the Hebrew University. Unfortunately, those plans never materialized. In 2000 my home church in the states planned a trip and Gloria and I were going, but the Intifada cancelled our plans. Needless to say, by 2005 (our next opportunity to go) I was chomping at the bit, and tops on my list was seeing the City of David. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that a tour of the City of David wasn’t even on our list of sites to see! Seeing the City of David would have to wait until my next visit in 2006. As evidenced by my first tour in 2005, the City of David has not always been considered a “must see” site. But things have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Archaeological excavations have continued to uncover dramatic finds, such as what some believe to be David’s palace (known as the “Large Stone Strucuture”), and the Canaanite tower that protected Jerusalem’s main water supply–the Gihon Spring.

On my recent visit (2015), I was impressed how seeing the City of David is becoming a more enjoyable and tourist-friendly experience. I was fortunate enough to visit Israel in 2005, twice in 2006 and again in 2007, 2008, and 2009. However, my current visit in February-March of 2015 was my first time back in 6 years. As everyone who is interested in Israel and the Bible knows, new discoveries are constantly being made. But one of the things that impresses me is how Israel continues to develop many of its sites, like the City of David, and make it a more informative and pleasant experience. This post is about the changes I have noticed between my earlier visits to the City of David, and my recent visit in 2015, as well as things you can expect to see and experience at the City of David.

Seeing the City of David: The Large Stone Structure

Seeing the City of David in 2006, once could look down through some boards to see the excavation of the Large Stone Structure in progress.
When seeing the City of David in 2006, one could look down through some boards to see the excavation of the Large Stone Structure in progress.

When I first visited the City of David in March 2006, Eilat Mazar was only a year into excavating what she, and others, now believe to be David’s palace. Today as you enter the City of David, you descend a few stairs to a platform that houses a ticket office, gift shop, bathrooms, and a small store. Underneath the platform are the results of Mazar’s excavation which can be accessed by a stairway that takes you down to the “Large Stone Structure.” Obviously, none of this was there when I first visited the City of David in 2006. Above is a photo I took of the excavation that was then in progress.

capitol
A reproduction of the Proto-Aeolic capital discovered by Kenyon. Such capitals are known to have adorned palaces and governmental buildings of the 1st Temple Period.

Today, not only can you descend the stairs to see the Large Stone Structure (which was also possible in some of my earlier trips), but there is a display of a few other significant findings. One of the most significant is an ornate Proto-Aeolic capital (The one at the site is a reproduction. The original is in the Israel Museum.). This capital was not found by Mazar, but by Kathleen Kenyon years earlier. However, it was one of the pieces of evidence that led Mazar to believe there was an Israelite palace in the area she ended up excavating. The result, of course, was the uncovering of the Large Stone Structure. Archaeologists are still debating whether this building dates to 1200 B.C. and, thus, to the Jebusite occupation, or to 1000 B.C. to the time of David. Either way it is clearly an old building and an important one.

Clay bullae discovered in the Large Stone Structure with names of individuals mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.
Clay bullae discovered in the Large Stone Structure with names of individuals mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.

Further confirmation of the significance of this building occurred with the discovery of two bullae that are from ministers in the court of King Zedekiah (the last King of Judah). Horovitz (City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem) gives the following details: “The ‘Large Stone Structure’ remained standing until the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E., as proven by pottery from the sixth century B.C.E. discovered at the site. A surprising find amidst the structure’s large stones delineated the time-frame in which the structure was destroyed. This was a bulla, a clay seal impression used for sealing scrolled documents written on parchment or papyrus, belonging to a high-ranking minister of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah. The minister’s name was Jehucal the son of Shelemiah…” (p. 117). Jehucal is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. Another bulla was subsequently discovered with the name Gedaliahu the son of Pashhur, another individual in the court of Zedekiah who is also mentioned in the book of Jeremiah (Jer. 38:1).

Seeing the City of David: The Canaanite Tower

Artist's conception of the Spring Tower.
Seeing the City of David in ancient times would ahve involved seeing this protective structure around the Gihon Spring. This is an artist’s conception of the Spring Tower.

The newest, and most dramatically altered, area in the City of David since my last visit, is the presentation of the ancient Canaanite walls and tower that protected the Gihon Spring. Archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have been excavating this area (near the bottom of the eastern hill where the Gihon Spring bubbles to the surface) since 1995. Over the years, as I observed this excavation I was excited about what would be learned. The Gihon was the main water source of ancient Jerusalem, but it is situated in a difficult place for an ancient city. For the protection of the city, the walls had to be built higher up the slope, but this meant the Gihon was exposed. This is fine during peaceful times, but during times of siege, this was a great problem. Along with tunnels carved out of the rock, the Canaanites built a large tower that came out from the city walls and enclosed the Gihon. This tower is usually called the “Spring Tower,” or “Pool Tower.” The drawing in the upper right is one artist’s conception of what the Spring Tower may have looked like.

The Spring Tower area. My visit in 2006.
The Spring Tower area. My visit in 2006.

What impressed me the most on my recent visit was how the vicinity around the Spring Tower has been transformed into a tourist friendly, and more informative area, than in my past visits. There are now two movies that run offering explanations of the area in Canaanite times and later, as well as offering visuals of what the Tower would have looked like.

ir david foundation
This photo from the Ir David Foundation shows a stairway in the back, as well as a walkway that takes you around the ruins of the ancient Canaanite walls.
Here is another view (courtesy of bibleplace.com) of the way it looks today.
Here is another view (courtesy of bibleplaces.com) of the way it looks today.

For more information on the Spring Tower, or Pool Tower as it is also known. Click on the following link: https://lukechandler.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/15-year-excavation-completed-at-jerusalem-gihon-spring-video/ Also, see the video link at the bottom of this article.

Seeing the City of David: Other Attractions

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This tunnel was the ancient drainage system that led from the Temple Mount down to the Pool of Siloam. Many Jews tried escaping through this tunnel when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. That’s my wife Gloria bravely leading the way!

Of course a must on anyone’s list when seeing the City of David is Hezekiah’s tunnel. Hezekiah’s tunnel is the next stop after the Canaanite Tower. Exiting the tunnel brings one out at the steps of the ancient Pool of Siloam (John 9:7). One of the other new attractions that was not available on my last trip in 2009 is the tunnel that can be followed underneath the City of David, leading one all the way up to the base of the Temple Mount. There are actually two tunnels. The entrance to both is just outside Hezekiah’s tunnel. One tunnel shows the ancient street that existed in the time of Jesus that led from the Siloam Pool all the way to the Temple Mount. However, only a small portion of this street has been excavated. If you want to go all the way to the Temple Mount, you must enter the second tunnel which is actually a drainage system that goes underneath the ancient street. Our guide jokingly referred to it as the “sewer tour,” which is, in fact, what its purpose was in the 1st century.

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These tombs are believed to be the tombs of the Judean Kings, with the one on the left being identified by some as the possible tomb of David.

Besides exiting through Hezekiah’s tunnel, one can also opt to take the “dry” tunnel (which is an ancient Canaanite tunnel–I know, yet another tunnel!). The exit from the Canaanite tunnel actually brings you out in the middle of the ancient city near some of the ancient walls on the eastern slope of Jerusalem. A little further down the slope you can see the remains of what is believed to be the tombs of the Judean kings. One is even speculated to be King David’s tomb.

If you’ve never been to the City of David, hopefully this brief post will whet your appetite for seeing its many interesting discoveries. If you’ve been to the City of David, but it has been a few years, I think you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was about the continuing progress being made regarding both new discoveries and the tourist-friendly environment.

(For those who would like more information on the City of David, I have included a few links below that I have found helpful.)

Here is a brief video introducing the City of David: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KShWyvHYyvM

To watch a short video on the excavation of the ancient Canaanite Fortress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDRDjOxFSuc

Link to the City of David: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/en/tours/city-david/city-david-tours-biblical-jerusalem

Tel Beersheba: My Impressions

The following post is based on my visit to Tel Beersheba on March 2, 2015.

Tel Beersheba: Location

This map shows the Negev region in Israel. Tel Beersheba can be found at the center of the map.
This map shows the Negev region in Israel. Tel Beersheba can be found near the center of the map.

Tel-Beersheba is located in the northern Negev (“Negev” meaning “South,” so the southern area of Israel) east of the modern city of Beersheba. Tel Beersheba is situated in the heart of the Beersheba Valley, an area with rich soil for cultivation. However, the valley sits near the edge of the desert and receives little rainfall. Beersheba is, of course, famous in the Bible as one of the places where Abraham and Isaac stayed (Gen. 21:22-34; 26:15-33), although Tel-Beersheba did not exist in their day. There are many other ancient sites in the area, even some buried beneath the modern city of Beersheba, and it is probably one or more of these sites that would have existed in the time of Abraham and Isaac (some scholars think that a site known as Bir es-Saba’ may be the site of the patriarchs).

The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. There are currently 5 vols. available.
The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. There are currently 5 vols. available.

The Negev region around Tel Beersheba is more hilly than I expected, and I learned that the Tel sits on a hill that overlooks the Beersheba and Hebron valleys. “The city that developed at Tel Beersheba is located at an important crossroad: Mount Hebron in the north; to the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea in the east; to the Coastal Plain in the west; and to the Negev hills, Kadesh-Barnea and Elath in the south” (Ze’ev Herzog, The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 1, ed. Ephraim Stern, 1993, pp. 167-173–some of the information from this post comes from this source, see photo on the left). In biblical times, Beersheba, which was alloted to the tribe of Simeon (Josh. 19:1-2), was known for being the southern boundary of Israel. “From Dan to Beersheba,” is a well-known expression in the Old Testament (e.g., Judg. 20:1; 1 Sam. 3:20; 2 Sam. 3:10) describing the entire land from north to south.

Tel Beersheba: History

An aerial view of Tel Beersheba
An aerial view of Tel Beersheba borrowed from http://shalomisraeltours.com/

Tel Beersheba consists of 9 different layers (or strata). It was originally inhabited in the 4th millenium B.C., but was then abandoned for 2,000 years and only resettled during the beginning of the Iron Age (for Old Testament readers, this is the period of the Judges and dates from 1200-1000 B.C.). The city was continuously inhabited for about 500 years and experienced a violent destruction, probably at the hands of the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 B.C. Sennacherib boasts to have destroyed 46 fortified cities in Judah and left Judah’s King Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage” inside Jerusalem. The first four strata (IX-VI) date to the Judges era. The city was not fortified early on and consisted of simple dwellings with houses gradually appearing in later layers. Stratum VIII shows evidence of the first houses and it is suggested that these houses mark the progress toward a permanent settlement and may reflect the time period of Joel and Abijah, the sons of Samuel, who were appointed judges in Beersheba (1 Sam. 8:1-2).

This photo shows a storage room to the right of the main gate of the city upon entering. Notice the line that separates the original walls from the reconstruction.
This photo shows a storage room to the right of the main gate of the city upon entering. Notice the line (center wall) that separates the original walls from the reconstruction.

The time period most clearly reflected at Tel Beersheba is what is known as Iron Age II–specifically, 1000-700 B.C., the time of the united kingdom (David and Solomon), through the time of Hezekiah (the Judean monarchy). This consists of Stratum V-II, but it is particularly Stratum II (which represents the final destruction stage) that is most apparent. The city was clearly laid out according to a plan and I was struck by the fact that Tel Beersheba allows you to picture what a small fortified city in Judah would have looked like. The gate, houses, governmental buildings, and the streets have all been uncovered. In fact, the original excavation (led by the well-known Israeli archaeologist Y. Aharoni from 1969-1975) took great care to not only preserve the original walls, but also to rebuild part of the walls with the original material. The reconstructed area can be seen today by a line that marks the original from the reconstruction (see my photo at right).

 A modern tower has been constructed at Tel Beersheba that allows one a wonderful view of the layout of the city. The following photos show the city from left to right from the vantage point of the tower.

Tel Beersheba
Tel Beersheba
Tel Beersheba
This view of Tel Beersheba shows the city square ( upper middle to right of the photo). The “governor’s palace is just to the left of the city square.
Tel Beersheba
This view of Tel Beersheba shows the city gate (upper middle) and the storage room to the left of the gate.

Tel Beersheba: Important Discoveries

The 4-horned altar from Tel Beersheba which is now located in the Israel Museum.
The 4-horned altar from Tel Beersheba which is now located in the Israel Museum.

One of the interesting discoveries at Tel Beersheba was of a four-horned altar. This altar helps to confirm that Beersheba had a “high place.” Aharoni (the original excavator) believed that it provided proof of a temple in the city (similar to Arad, click here to read my article on the temple at Arad). The parts of the altar were found incorporated into one of the storehouse walls (see photo of storehouse above), which suggests it was dismantled during the cultic reform carried out by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1-6). The prophet Amos denounces those who worship at Beersheba (Amos 8:14). He compares it to the “sin of Samaria” and the false temple at Dan (see my article on Tel Dan here), which may suggest that Aharoni was right about an actual temple existing in Beersheba.

I am standing in a typical Israelite 4-room house at Tel Beersheba.
I am standing in a typical Israelite 4-room house at Tel Beersheba.

Although 4-room houses are not an unusual discovery–they were the common Israelite house of the First Temple period–I was surprised how many were uncovered at Tel-Beersheba. The photo at the right shows me standing in a typical 4-room house. These houses consisted of 3 parallel rooms with one long room against the back of the house. Based on the housing available, estimates of the population of Tel Beersheba are small. The inhabitants appear to have numbered no more than 300-400. The reason for this, however, is because it was a special admistrative and defensive city. Therefore, the city consisted of officials, soldiers, and their families.

My friend and host in Beersheba, Howard Bass, standing in the governor's palace.
My friend and host in Beersheba, Howard Bass, standing in the governor’s palace.

The most impressive building at Tel Beersheba is what is referred to as “the governor’s palace.” This is the building that was used by the commanders of the city and (as noted in the photo above) it is situated near the city square. This building consisted of 3 large reception halls, plus two dwelling units, and a kitchen and storeroom. Down the street is another large structure called the “Basement House.” The special characteristics of this building caused Aharoni to suggest that this was the area where the temple in Beersheba had originally stood. All of the rooms of this building had their foundations dug down to bedrock and the space between the rooms was filled with earth. This could have been the result of Hezekiah’s destruction of the temple at Tel Beersheba.

Bible Walks has helpfully provided a plan of the city, showing it's significant structures. For more info go to http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/TelBeerSheba.html
Bible Walks has helpfully provided a plan of the city, showing it’s significant structures. The basement house can be found in the upper corner in blue, while the governor’s palace is in yellow at the bottom left. For more info go to http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/TelBeerSheba.html
This photo also from biblewalks.com provides a nice overview of some of the important places at Tel Beersheba.
This photo also from biblewalks.com provides a nice overview of some of the important places at Tel Beersheba.

The water system at Tel Beersheba is also very impressive. Besides the ancient well that sits in front of the city gate (dated to about 1200 B.C.), there is a huge reservoir than can be accessed by going down a long stairway and into a tunnel that has been carved out of the rock. This water system was excavated by Ze’ev Herzog between 1993-1995, who formerly worked with Aharoni and took over the excavation in 1976 after Aharoni died. The system, as is the case in other cities as well, was built to access the water supply during times of siege. It consists of three parts: 1) A shaft 17 meters deep with a flight of steps; 2) a reservoir hewn into the chalk rock and thickly plastered, divided into five spaces, with a total capacity of about 700 cubic meters; 3) a winding channel that led flood waters from the Hebron streambed into the reservoir (this information is taken from the brochure at Tel Beersheba). Below are a few photographs I have taken of this impressive system.

The shaft leading to the reservoir at Tel Beersheba
The shaft leading to the reservoir at Tel Beersheba
The entrance to the tunnel at the bottom of the shaft at Tel Beersheba
The entrance to the tunnel at the bottom of the shaft at Tel Beersheba
One of the reservoir compartments inside the tunnel at Tel Beersheba.
One of the reservoir compartments inside the tunnel at Tel Beersheba.

Finally, I’ll end my tour of Tel Beersheba where I probably should have started–at the gate of the city! The first photo shows the gate and the second shows the old well that sits out in front of the gate.

The city gate at Tel Beersheba
The city gate at Tel Beersheba
The old well near the gate at Tel Beersheba.
The old well near the gate at Tel Beersheba.

Tel Beersheba isn’t usually on the list of top spots to see in Israel. For one thing, it’s a bit out of the way, and for another, it can’t be identified with Abraham or Isaac. However, if you can sqeeze in a visit while you’re in Israel, I definitely believe it’s worth the time and the 15 shekel entry fee. It will give you one of the best views (if not the best) of the layout of an ancient Israelite fortress city. After all, Elijah stopped here (1 Kings 19:3), why shouldn’t you?

(All photos are my own unless otherwise noted. They may not be sold or used for commercial purposes, but they may be freely used for educational purposes)

The City of David: Lost to History

The City of David: Lost?

Entrance to the City of David
Modern Entrance to the City of David

Did you know that the City of David was actually lost to history? Because of my love for 1&2 Samuel, and the Old Testament in general, the City of David has always been a favorite place of mine. Hard to believe that for more than 2000 years it was totally forgotten about! If this surprises you, allow me to explain. By the 1st century, the City of David was being identified with the wealthier neighborhood of the Upper City of Jerusalem. This same area today includes the Zion Gate, the traditional site of the Upper Room, the traditional site of David’s tomb, and further to the south, Saint Peter in Gallicantu (click on the link to also see a nice map of this area), one of the possible sites of the house of Caiaphus. This hill is actually to the west of the ancient City of David. In his book City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem, Ahron Horovitz refers to this hill (called Mount Zion today) as the “Western Hill.” It appears that the location of Mount Zion in David’s time, was the smaller hill south of the Temple Mount. 2 Samuel 5:7 states, “Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David). Here the Scripture identifies Zion with the City of David. So how did such a misindentification occur, and how was the original location of the City of David forgotten? Horovitz explains, “To a certain extent this can be attributed to the forgetfulness that plagues every city which at various stages of development moves away from its original core” (p. 16). By the time of the first century, the (real) City of David was composed of the poorer people. No one would have thought of it as the place where Jerusalem began. Thus, as previously mentioned, David’s City was thought to be in the Upper City where the wealthy resided.

Centuries of History Bury the Memory of the Location of the City of David

City of David by Ahron Horovitz available at Amazon USA / UK or come buy it at the City of David for less than half price!
City of David by Ahron Horovitz available at Amazon USA / UK or come buy it at the City of David for less than half price!

The first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73 AD) resulted in the destruction of the City of Jerusalem. Following the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 AD), the Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city and greatly altered its layout. He even renamed it “Aelia Capitolina” seeking to erase all traces of its Jewish history and identity. Horovitz points out that by the Byzantine Period “Jerusalem’s biblical name, ‘Zion’, shifted to the southern portion of the Western Hill which is called ‘Mount Zion’ to this day” (p. 16). This misidentification was further complicated by an earthquake in 1033 which caused the walls of Jerusalem to collapse. When the walls were restored under the Fatimid rulers, they did not include the old City of David. Thus, the most ancient part of the city, the very site where Jerusalem began, was forgotton by all the subsequent inhabitants of Jerusalem (Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ottomans).

The City of David Accidentally Rediscovered

The ancient Canaanite tunnel in the City of David leading to Warren's Shaft.
The ancient Canaanite tunnel in the City of David leading to Warren’s Shaft.

By the mid-19th century, archaeology of the biblical lands was becoming a major interest of Christians in Europe. One of the early explorers was a man by the name of Charles Warren. Warren, and others, wanted to find the ancient city of Jerusalem. Their natural inclination was to begin looking in what is today called the “Old City of Jerusalem.” Warren wanted to focus on the Temple Mount. But because he wasn’t Muslim, he was not given permission. Therefore Warren decided to sink some deep shafts south of the Temple Mount and to tunnel toward the walls! However, in the process of digging these shafts he discovered the remains of ancient fortifications. Further to the south, he uncovered a shaft that has famously retained his name “Warren’s shaft.” These discoveries created a lot of interest. A few years later, a young boy was walking through a tunnel (now known as Hezekiah’s tunnel–click on link to see a short video) and discovered a Hebrew inscription dating to the reign of King Hezekiah. As Horovitz states, “It was becoming more and more clear that all earlier theories placing the City of David on the Western Hill were wrong” (p. 17).

Today we know the true location of the City of David. There are many interesting finds besides those mentioned above. In my next post, I will talk about some of these discoveries and give some impressions on my most recent visit to the City of David.

Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in 2014

Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in 2014

Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) has just released its top 10 biblical archaeology discoveries for this past year. For those of you who do not subscribe to BAR but are interested in biblical archaeology, I thought I’d share those top 10 discoveries. I will list them in the order they appear in the BAR article, although it doesn’t appear that the order has anything to do with their significance. I have included many links throughout this post that lead to further information on each discovery, including some video links that I think you’ll find interesting. While all of the discoveries are not directly related to biblical archaeology (i.e., some do not relate to a particular text or event), they do concern the biblical period and give us a broader understanding of the biblical world.

The translation of the "Ark Tablet" no larger than a mobile phone is one of biblical archaeology's great discoveries in 2014.
The translation of the “Ark Tablet” no larger than a mobile phone is one of biblical archaeology’s great discoveries in 2014.

1. The Ark Tablet–This small mobile phone-sized object has been known about for years, but has only recently been translated by Dr. Irving Finkel who is the curator in charge of cunieform (ancient Babylonian script) clay tablets at the British Museum (you can read his own story about it here in The Telegraph). This tablet dates somewhere between the years 1900-1700 B.C. and describes in detail the building of an ark. Students of Genesis are probably familiar with the fact that there are several ancient versions of a flood that include a hero buidling an ark. Among these are the Gilgamesh Epic and the Atrahasis Epic. These accounts have interesting similarities with the biblical story of Noah, as well as important differences. The Ark Tablet is apparently related to the Atrahasis Epic and describes the ark as a circular vessel, similar to a vessel known as a coracle still used today in some places. Of course, the ark is described as being much larger. One other interesting feature of the Ark Tablet is that it mentions the animals on the boat in pairs (two each, or two by two). For more information you can read Finke’s article in The Telegraph (see link above). Articles are also available at Mail Online, and at BAR’s Bible History Daily (if you’re are a subscriber).

Phylacteries containing Dead Sea Scroll texts. Another biblical archaeology discovery in 2014! Photo: The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.
Phylacteries containing Dead Sea Scroll texts. Another biblical archaeology discovery in 2014! Photo: The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.

2. Qumran phylacteries revealing 9 new Dead Sea Scrolls–Just to be sure everyone understands what this discovery entails, allow me to provide a few definitions. The Dead Sea Scrolls are, of course, the world-famous discovery from the 1950s that gave us copies of the Old Testament text 1,000 years older than any we had previously. Qumran is the archaeological site believed by most scholars to be the community that produced and/or preserved these scrolls which were discovered in 11 different caves throughout Dead Sea area. Phylacteries (or teffelin–the Jewish word) are small leather boxes containing texts from the Jewish law worn on the forehead or arm by Jews as they recite certain prayers. When a CT scan was performed on a phylactery uncovered at Qumran, it was found to contain a text. This led to a further investigation of other phylacteries at the Dead Sea Scroll lab at the Israel Museum. In total 9 new texts were discovered. It is a delicate process to remove and unroll these texts, so they have yet to be deciphered. When examined, however, they should contribute yet another witness to the ancient text of the Hebrew Bible. For further information on this discovery click on this article in The Times of Israel.

The Spring Citadel, a 3800 year old Canaanite fortress recently unearthed.
The Spring Citadel, a 3800 year old Canaanite fortress recently unearthed.

3. Canaanite Fortress in the City of David–Archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have been excavating in the ancient City of David for the last 19 years. In 2014 a monumental Canaanite fortress dating to the 18th century B.C. (1700-1800 B.C,) was uncovered. This fortress, called the “Spring Citadel” by archaeologists because it protects the Gihon Spring (link = youtube video), is believed to be the fortress referred to in 1 Samuel 5:6-7 that David conquered. It is also the location where Solomon was anointed king (1 Kgs. 1:32-34). The walls are 23 feet thick and consist of stone blocks up to 10 feet wide! This means it is the largest Canaanite fortress ever discovered. The significance of this discovery demonstrates that Jerusalem was an important city in Canaanite times, contrary to the theory of some more liberal scholars who insist that it was no more than a tiny insignificant city in David’s time. For more information see this article at jewishpress.com or this article at the Jerusalem post. You can also view a video at this link.

A possible image of Alexander the Great in the Jewish synagogue in Huqoq.
A possible image of Alexander the Great in the Jewish synagogue in Huqoq.

4. Mosaic at Huqoq–Huqoq is a small village in Lower Eastern Galilee, 3 miles west of Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s home). This discovery is not directly related to biblical archaeology, but concerns a possible incident in Jewish history. The Jewish historian Josephus reports that when Alexander the Great was conquering the Persian empire that he stopped near Jerusalem to pay homage to the Jewish high priest and the God of Israel. Scholars are not certain how factual this account is, but recently at Huqoq a mosaic floor has been uncovered in a 5th century A.D. Jewish synagogue that appears to depict this meeting related by Josephus. For more information on the excavation at Huqoq click on this link.

The entryway recently uncovered at Herodium.
The entryway recently uncovered at Herodium.

5. Monumental Entryway to Herod’s Palace at Herodium–Herod the Great had many palaces and fortresses throughout his kingdom. Herodium was one of them and is located 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem and roughly 2 miles from Bethlehem. Based on information from Josephus, Herod is believed to have been buried at Herodium. It is also possible that the soldiers that Herod dispatched to slaughter the children of Bethlehem came from Herodium (Matt. 2:16). The entryway which was discovered consists of a series of arches measuring 65 feet high, 65 feet long, and 20 feet wide. According to the BAR article, “The excavators believe the corridor was backfilled in the process of turning the entire hilltop complex into a massive royal burial mound when Herod became aware of his imminent death.” For further information, click on this link from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Coins dated to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome.
Coins dated to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome.

6. Coins from the First Jewish Revolt–Excavations along a main highway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv revealed a house built in the 1st century B.C. and later destroyed in the revolt against Rome in 69/70 A.D. In the ground underneath the house a ceramic box was found containing 114 coins each containing the words, “To the Redemption of Zion,” and dated “Year 4” (meaning the 4th year of the revolt = 69/70 A.D.). The money box was apparently hidden by the owner in hopes of recovering it later. For further information of this discovery see this link on the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) Press release.

7000 year old copper awl.
7000 year old copper awl.

7. 7,000 year-old copper awl–The discovery of a small 4 cm (1.6 inch) awl may not seem significant to some, but actually it has important ramifications. The awl was found in the grave of a wealthy woman who lived in the Jordan Valley around the 5th-6th millenium B.C. The site is known as Tel-Tsaf, and this discovery demonstrates that metal was available in this area hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. The importance of this discovery, the Canaanite fortress mentioned above (see #3), and the Canaanite Temple mentioned below (see #8), is that all these discoveries suggest much more advanced conditions in ancient Canaan than archaeologists and scholars previously thought. This understanding supports the biblical portrayal of an advanced culture in Canaan very well. Some scholars have attacked the biblical account believing that authors who lived much later (e.g., the exilic period) projected their own culture back on the time of the patriarchs and early Israelite period. In other words, the argument by these scholars is that the biblical writers wrote anachronistically. But the discoveries that continue to be made seem to support the idea that the biblical authors knew what they were talking about! For more information on the discovery of this awl click on the following link from sci-news.

The great temple complex at Megiddo reveals a more complex society than previously thought.
The great temple complex at Megiddo reveals a more complex society than previously thought.

8. The Great Temple at Megiddo–The discovery of a very large Early Bronze Age I (3500-3300 B.C.) temple at Megiddo, six times the size of an average temple of its type, was a complete surprise to archaeologists. A temple of this size requires a complex social and political structure that was not believed to exist in the Levant (the geographical area comprised of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan) during this time. The temple is the most monumental structure so far uncovered in the Levant during this time period.  Archaeologists have also been excavating an area to the east of Megiddo known as “Tel Megiddo East,” which provides further confirmation that during the Early Bronze Age I a prosperous and complex society existed at this location. This challenges the view which saw this area and time period as consisting of only small village societies. See my comments in #7 above for the significance of this new evidence. More information is available at this link and especially at this link at ASOR. For general information on the biblical significance of Megiddo, see my article here.

Animal bones offer new insights on social status
Animal bones offer new insights on social status

9. Social status and the Copper mines at Timna–The Timna referred to here is not the Philistine city known from the Samson story (spelled Timnah–Judg. 14:1), but the Timna of ancient Edom located south of the Dead Sea. This area was famous in the ancient world for its copper mining. Being forced to mine copper was one of the most terrible fates a person in the ancient world could imagine. It was reserved for the lowest of slaves, usually criminals. Until recently it was assumed that those involved with copper production were all slaves. But a recent study of animal bones suggests that the industrial workers had it better than the slaves in the mines. Researchers contend that the animal bones in the industrial area demonstates that they received better cuts of meat than the slaves in the mines. Examination of ancient peoples’ diets by examining animal bones, plants, and grains that remain in ancient bowls are just some of the more interesting ways that archaeology is helping to present a more nuanced view of ancient society. For a more indepth treatment of this topic click here.

6500 year old skeleton from Ur.
6500 year old skeleton from Ur.

10. 6500 year old skeleton from Ur–This last discovery was originally made in an excavation that took place in 1929/30 at the ancient site of Ur in Mesopotamia. The story sounds more like an “Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark” movie plot. The skeleton dug up in 1929/30 was put in a box in the basement of the Penn museum and contained no identifying information. When the Penn Museum and British Museum decided to do a joint exhibition entitled, “Ur of the Chaldees: A Virtual Vision of Wooley’s Excavations” (Wooley being the archaeologist from the 1929/30 excavation), the unaccounted for skeleton was matched up with the data from Wooley’s excavation records. After 85 years in the Penn Museum basement, the skeleton has finally returned to the land of the living! You could say, “he once was lost, but now is found!”

So this is BAR’s top 10 biblical archaeology discoveries for 2014. Some, like the phylacteries and our skeleton friend from Ur, might be more properly termed “rediscoveries.” Others, it could be argued, have little to do with “biblical archaeology,” but nonetheless they are interesting and they help to paint the bigger picture of the ancient Near Eastern world.

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea is located on the north western coast.
Caesarea is located on the north western coast. (It can be found left of center in the above picture inside the rectangular box.

Caesarea Maritima, located about 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem on the coast, was one of Herod the Great’s most impressive building accomplishments. The name Caesarea Maritima is used to distinguish it from the well-known Caesarea Philippi, located northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Originally, Caesarea Maritima was the site of an old dilapidated town known as Strato’s Tower, but Herod transformed it between the years of 21 B.C. to 9 B.C. into a magnificent harbor city and renamed it in honor of Caesar Augustus. Before the creation of Caesarea, the area ruled by Herod had no harbour. The only natural harbour in the area was at Haifa, farther to the north and outside of his domain. It is difficult to overstate the enormity of Herod’s accomplishment. “Caesarea was the first artificial harbor constructed in the ancient world” (IVP Dictionary of New Testament Background, p. 176). The success of this man-made harbor depended on the new invention of hydraulic concrete, used for the first time at Caesarea.

Israel Aerial View
The man-made harbor at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate, Jews and Gentiles at Caesarea

This inscription found in the theatre at Caesarea includes the name of Pontius Pilate
This inscription found in the theatre at Caesarea includes the name of Pontius Pilate

Although Caesarea Maritima had a mixed population, it was created as a gentile city. This is most evident from the Temple to Augustus and Roma that was built “centrally located and adjacent to the inner harbour area” (IVP Dictionary of NT Backgrounds, 176). This means that as a ship sailed into the harbor, the first sight would have been of this imposing temple; no doubt a site that would have inspired a sense of awe in a gentile, while creating a sense of consternation and repulsion to a faithful Jew. This mixture of populations with very different viewpoints would cause constant problems in Caesarea.  Josephus relates one such incident, when after recently arriving as governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate marched his army into Jerusalem with the Roman standards proudly displayed and posted them in front of the Temple. The Roman standards were offensive to the Jews because of the animal imagery they contained. The Romans knew this and normally avoided such a display. Many Jews came to Caesarea and complained to Pilate that the standards be removed. On the sixth day, Pilate stationed his soldiers in the crowd with their weapons hidden. As he sat on the judgment seat and the Jews brought their complaint once again, Pilate had the soldiers draw their swords and threaten the Jews with death. The Jews bared their necks and said they would rather die than allow their law to be profaned. As a result, Pilate backed down (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.1). Considering this story involving Pilate, it is interesting that Caesarea has yielded the only physical evidence for his existence. During archaeological excavations an inscription was uncovered from the theatre dedicating the theatre to the emperor Tiberius, while also mentioning Pilate as the governor of Judea (see the photo at the right).

Later problems between Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea would result in the slaughter of 20,000 Jews and lead to the outbreak of the Jewish War against Rome. This war, which began in 66 A.D., eventually resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple.

Caesarea: Capital of Roman Judea

Herod's swimming pool at the backside of his palace in Caesarea
Herod’s swimming pool at the backside of his palace in Caesarea

Caesarea became a source of wealth for Herod because it opened up the shipping trade, and thus became a major supply of revenue for his kingdom. Herod built a luxurious palace, including a swimming pool that jutted out into the ocean, the remnants of which can still be seen today. After Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed (6 A.D.), Judea became a Roman province ruled by a governor and the capital was located at Caesarea. Thus Herod’s palace became the residence of the Roman governor, who normally travelled to Jerusalem only during important occasions such as the Jewish feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, etc.) . The city contained many lavish buildings all in the Hellenistic (Greek) style. This included a bathhouse, theatre, various temples and governmental buildings. The city was laid out according to other major Roman cities and included paved streets and sophisticated water and sewer systems.

Just outside of Caesarea are the remants of the ancient aqueduct that Herod built to supply the city with water. The aqueduct stretched 13 miles from Mount Carmel to Caesarea.
Just outside of Caesarea are the remants of the ancient aqueduct that Herod built to supply the city with water. The aqueduct stretched 13 miles from Mount Carmel to Caesarea.
A bathhouse in Caesarea.
A bathhouse in Caesarea.

Caesarea in the New Testament

Caesarea is frequently mentioned in the Book of Acts. Peter was sent by the Lord to share the gospel with a centurion named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea (Acts 10). This event opened the door for the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). How interesting that a city known for ethnic struggles between Jews and Gentiles would be the place that God chose to send the Jewish apostle Peter to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius! According to the story, Peter had many reservations and had to be convinced by the Lord to go to the house of Cornelius. Could it be that some of the ethnic tension that Caesarea was known for contributed to his hesitation?

It is possible that Philip, known as “The Evangelist” planted the first church in Caesarea. After teaching and baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch, Philip is said to have preached in many of the cities along the coast, ending up in Caesarea (Acts 8:40). When Paul visited Caesarea later, on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed in Philip’s house where we are also told that Philip had “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9).

The theatre in Caesarea where Herod Agrippa I was struck by God (Acts 12:19-23)
The theatre in Caesarea where Herod Agrippa I was struck by God (Acts 12:19-23)
Where Gloria and I are sitting is believed to be the place where kings and governors would have sat in the theatre.
Where Gloria and I are sitting is believed to be the place where kings and governors would have sat in the theatre.

One of the most famous stories in Acts involving the city of Caesarea concerns the very popular monarch, at least among the Jews, Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great). Agrippa appeared in the theatre in radiant royal clothing and gave an oration to the crowd. Following his speech the multitudes shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” Because he did not give the glory to God, Herod Agrippa I was struck immediately with a fatal illness (Acts 12:19-23). Josephus’s account corroborates the story in Acts by rendering a very similar version of events.

Looking at the area where Herod's palace was located.
Looking at the area where Herod’s palace was located.
Some believe that this part of the palace (where everyone is standing) is the area where Paul would have appeared for his trial.
Some believe that this part of the palace (where everyone is standing) is the area where Paul would have appeared for his trial.

Caesarea appears a final time in the Book of Acts as the city of Paul’s imprisonment. After being arrested on the Temple Mount due to false charges of having brought a Gentile with him, Paul was put in prison in Jerusalem (Acts 22:23-30). When a plot was uncovered that certain Jews had planned to kill Paul, he was sent with a Roman escort to Caesarea to appear before the Roman governor, Felix (Acts 23:20-35). Paul ended up staying in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. During that time, he not only appeared before Felix, but also before the new governor, Festus. Festus, who did not understand Jewish law, invited King Herod Agrippa II (son of Herod Agrippa I) to hear Paul’s case (Acts 25-26). Paul’s stay in Caesarea ended when he appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome.

The Later History of Caesarea

Caesarea continued to grow and expand after the first century. In the time of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) a second aqueduct was built. A hippodrome was also built (see photo below). It was one of the larger hippodromes of the Roman empire and could seat over 30,000 people (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Supplementary Vol., p. 120). Christians continued to live in Caesarea and two of its more famous residents were the great theologian and Bible scholar Origen, and Eusebius who created the first history of the Church. Caesarea continued to thrive until 614 A.D. when it was captured by the Persians. Shortly afterward in 639 A.D. it was destroyed by the Arabs.

Standing on the racecourse of the hippodrome, looking back toward Herod's palace
Standing on the racecourse of the hippodrome, looking back toward Herod’s palace
Looking down at the hippodrome built in the time of the emperor Hadrian.
Looking down at the hippodrome built in the time of the emperor Hadrian.

 

(All photos, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and may be used for educational purposes only).