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Where is King David’s Tomb?

Where is King David’s Tomb?

The traditional site of David's tomb on Mount Zion dates no earlier than the early Islamic period.
The traditional site of David’s tomb on Mount Zion dates no earlier than the early Islamic period.

Where is the burial place of Israel’s most famous king? When touring Israel, groups are often taken to the traditional site of the Upper Room on what is called Mount Zion today. The ground floor of this structure is reputed to be the location of David’s Tomb (click here for video). This area is not only a tourist attraction, but a place of contention, as orthodox Jews have been known to block others from entering it (click here to read an article from the Jerusalem Post). I have had the opportunity to visit this site on a few occasions. It is a place believed to have healing powers by some of the orthodox faith where prayers are offered for fertility. The problem is, this is the wrong location for David’s tomb. As noted in a previous post (The City of David: Lost to History), the identity of Mount Zion was shifted from the original hill on which the City of David stood, to the hill west of it. The Bible states that David (as well as many of his descendants) was buried in the City of David (1 Kgs 2:10). The Western Hill, where the traditional site of David’s tomb is, was not part of Jerusalem in the time of David. The traditional site of David’s tomb appears to date from the early Islamic period, although some suggest it is as late as the Middle Ages (see Wikipedia on David’s Tomb, also see the link to the Jerusalem Post article above).

What Evidence Exists for David’s Tomb in the City of David?

In an article entitled, Is This King David’s Tomb (BAR, Jan/Feb 1995), editor Hershel Shanks lists 5 criteria all agree on as a starting point:

(1) King David’s Jerusalem was located on the eastern ridge of the city, south of the present Temple Mount, the area called today the City of David. All agree that this is the original City of David and that it is a mere 10 or 11 acres.
(2) There was a widespread ancient belief that corpses contaminate. Israelite law reflects the belief that corpses impart impurity. Burials were almost always outside, not inside the city. Royal burials were exceptions.
(3) The Bible tells us that the kings of Judah from David to Ahaz were buried “within the City of David”—somewhere in this small 10-acre site.
(4) Nehemiah tells us that the Davidic tombs were in the southern part of the City of David (Nehemiah 3:16).
(5) The proposed site of David’s tomb, and of others adjacent to it, is precisely where one would expect to find the burial site mentioned in the Bible—in the southern part of the City of David, an area that would normally be forbidden to burials.

In 1913-1914 archaeologist Raymond Weill undertook an excavation in the southern end of the City of David (where the Bible locates David’s tomb). He located 8 tombs hewn out of the bedrock, and found a 9th tomb in an additional excavation in 1923-1924 (Ahron Horovitz, City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem, p. 150). The largest of these tombs is referred to as T1. Although Weill, and others, believed he had found the tombs of the ancient Davidic kings, objections have arisen that cast some doubt on the discovery. Some have argued:

  1. The so-called tombs are water cisterns from the Second Temple Period (famed archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon made this suggestion and she is followed in this by current City of David excavator, Ronny Reich). They have also been considered to be basements of Second Temple period houses.
  2. The so-called tombs are not impressive enough to be royal tombs. Opponents note that there are other First Temple period tombs to the north and east of the city of Jerusalem (belonging to nobility) which are much grander in style. How is it possible, they argue, that the tombs of these nobles could be grander than the tombs of the kings?
The sarcophagus of Ahiram, king of Byblos, a close contemporary to David. Ahiram's tomb is not impressive, like many royal tombs of this time period.
The sarcophagus of Ahiram, king of Byblos, a close contemporary to David. Ahiram’s tomb itself is not impressive,. This is true of  many royal tombs of this time period.

In a more recent article entitled Is T1 David’s Tomb? (BAR, Nov/Dec 2012–available at this link), author Jeffrey R. Zorn responds to the objections as follows:

  1. Regarding the cistern theory: a) Cisterns of the Second Temple Period are usually constructed of masonry (which is not true of the T1 tomb). b) The tombs are longer than any known cisterns. c) Certain features such as triangular niches and mortar cement suggest that T1 was altered during the Second Temple Period. d) Finally, even if T1 was used as a cistern in the Second Temple Period, this does not preclude its use as a tomb in the First Temple Period.
  2. Regarding the “not impressive enough to be royal tombs” theory: a) The tombs of the nobility used as comparisons (in the northern and eastern parts of Jerusalem) date from 200 years later. Since they date from a later time period, this disqualifies them. b) Royal tombs that date closer to the time of David, like the tomb of Ahiram in Byblos, are far from spectacular. In fact, while the sarcophagus of Ahiram is impressive, the tomb itself is very plain.

Zorn is convinced that T1 is David’s tomb, while the other tombs (T2-T9) are the tombs of his descendants.

Concluding Thoughts on the Identification of T1 as David’s Tomb

Tombs labelled T1 and T2 discovered by Robert Weill in 1913-1914 are thought by some to be David's tomb and that of the kings of Judah.
Tombs labelled T1 and T2 discovered by Raymond Weill in 1913-1914 are thought by some to be David’s tomb and that of the kings of Judah.

One of the unfortunate things about these tombs is that, to date, they have not yielded a single bone or artifact. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Royal tombs have been the prey of treasure hunters from ancient times to the present. In fact, if Josephus’s accounts are accurate, David’s tomb was raided twice by other royals in Jerusalem! Josephus notes that John Hyrcanus (the Hasmonean ruler from 130-104 B.C.) swiped 3000 talents of silver from David’s tomb in order to pay off the Syrian ruler Antiochus who was besieging Jerusalem (Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, viii, 4). He also reports that King Herod looted David’s tomb (Antiquities, XVI, vii, 1). From these incidents, and other potential robberies, it appears the royal tombs were emptied of their contents long ago.
  2. The area in the southern portion of the City of David also became a quarry area. Ronny Reich dates quarrying activity to the Persian Period (5th century B.C.), but others date it later. It appears that the Romans under the emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) used this area for quarrying stones in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which they renamed Aelia Capitolina. This means the original landscape has been greatly altered, along with damage to some of the tombs. One would also guess that any remaining artifacts (if there were any) would have been removed by this time.

Unfortunately, if these tombs were the tombs of David and his royal descendants, there appears to be nothing left except the hollowed out rock which once housed their bones. Because no evidence has been discovered, it leaves many questions unanswered, and therefore, also leaves doubt about whether David’s tomb has indeed been found. One of the weaknesses in Zorn’s argument for these being the tombs of the kings is that they appear to have been altered during the Second Temple period. It seems unlikely that the Jews of this period would have tolerated the desecration of David’s tomb (or that of his descendants). The fact that King Herod still knew where to find David’s tomb, as apparently did others in Jerusalem according to Acts 2:29, suggests it was still largely intact (although already looted). If the quarrying can be shown to have happened much later (i.e., 2nd century A.D. under the Romans), this leaves open the possibility that these were the tombs of the Judean kings. However, if it is proven that the quarrying happened much earlier (the Persian period), this makes it less likely in my opinion, unless the Persians were careful to avoid desecrating  the tombs. However, since ancient Jerusalem was such a small site (only 10-11 acres), and since we know David’s tomb was located in the southeast portion of the city, one wonders whether any other option is possible. So even though there are some doubts, these may well be the tombs of the Judean kings, and if so, we must live with the sad fact that they were looted and destroyed long ago, leaving us no physical trace of David and his dynasty.

Seeing the City of David: Part II

Seeing the City of David

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.

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

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.

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

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.