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Seven Questions: Unearthing the Bible

April 8, 2010 | by Jenny Hazan

Dr. Eilat Mazar is revealing the footsteps of Jewish biblical history in Jerusalem.

After excavating the City of David in the 1970s and 80s and finally unearthing the 3,000-year-old archeological jewel that is King David’s palace in 2005, leading Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has just uncovered another Old City treasure of incredible historical and biblical significance: a royal compound dating back to the 10th century, B.C.E.

According to Mazar, author of The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations (2002), this latest dig, the first such find from this time period in the area, provides compelling evidence of the Bible’s depiction of the reign of King Solomon. By following in the footsteps of her renowned archeologist grandfather Benjamin Mazar, Dr. Mazar has revealed the footsteps of Jewish biblical history.

Q1: Tell me in more detail about your latest discovery. What exactly did you find?

Seal impressions (bullae) with Hebrew names

We found two sections of a city wall, one 70 meters long and six meters high, and the other 35 meters long and five meters high, between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Inside the walls we found the remains of a 6-meter-high gatehouse, a royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse, and an 8-meter-long and 6-meter-high corner watch tower, built of carved stones of unusual beauty, that overlooks the Kidron valley.

We proved to a high degree of certainty that the whole structure was erected in the 10th century B.C.E. and that it was in use during all the centuries until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E.

On the ground we found a wealth of material that proves the structures were used for royal, public, or administrative purposes: arrow heads, beads, jewelry, figurines, and an archive of dozens of seal impressions bearing decorations, Hebrew names and the inscription ‘the king’ testifying to its use within a monarchy.

In the 80s, we had already uncovered on site the largest storage jars -- 1.15 meters high -- ever found in Jerusalem. On one of them there was a partial inscription in ancient Hebrew indicating that it belonged to a high-level government official, the person responsible for overseeing the provision of baked goods to the royal court.

See related article: Reclaiming Biblical Jerusalem

Excavation site

Q2: What is the significance of these findings?

The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence. Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering. A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of certainty that the wall that has been revealed was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the 10th century B.C.E.

The wall was likely built by King Solomon in the latter part of the 10th century B.C.E.

This is the first time that a structure from that time period has been found that correlates with written descriptions of King Solomon’s building in Jerusalem. The Bible tells us that he, along with help from the Phoenicians, built a temple, then his own palace, and surrounded them with a city wall to protect both them. The third chapter of the first book of Kings says, “…until he (Solomon) had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about.”

Q3: How did you decide where to dig?

Actually, it’s another phase of a series of excavations that started in the 19th century. The first surveyor to excavate here was Charles Warren, who did an underground survey of the shafts and galleries in the area and first described the outline of the large tower in 1867. He was the first to discover the fortification line between the City of David and the Temple Mount.

Then in the 60s, a small section of the fortification line was revealed. Afterwards, in the 70s, my grandfather, Benjamin Mazar, who conducted the Southern Wall excavations next to the Western Wall, excavated the site and revealed quite a lot of constructions that are part of this line. My team excavated there in the 80s and this latest excavation was meant as a concluding one, in order to open the area to the public. It turned out to be much more than I expected.

Q4: How can you be sure that you found what you think you found?

Dr. Eilat Mazar next to an 8 meter section of the corner tower that was excavated.

Before this excavation, we had suspicions about what we had found, but we didn’t have enough material on hand to conclude with confidence. Now it’s not much of a question. We can date the fortification line with much more certainty. Pottery shards discovered within the fill of the lowest floor of the royal building near the gatehouse testify to the dating of the complex to the 10th century BCE. And the ruling presence in Jerusalem at this time was King Solomon.

In several weeks we will have the results of the carbon dating. I am confident these results will fit what we see in the pottery. I am also confident that our lab work will produce the same conclusions. We have a lot of material to study: the seal impressions and figurines, the pottery, the botanical finds, the theological finds. This is a huge case study and we are going to gather all the information in order to reveal as full a picture as possible.

Q5: How do you react to those who deny this and other biblically significant archeological findings?

I don’t have to react. It’s very important to stick to the facts and let the facts draw the picture. These facts draw a picture of a central power in the 10th century B.C.E. You can ignore what the Bible tells us about King Solomon, but you can’t get around the fact that at the time Jerusalem was very strong and led by a monarch and those who deny the biblical picture still have to deal with that reality. Everyone is free to suggest their own interpretations, but the data doesn't lie. The history of the Jewish people in Jerusalem is a scientific fact. History is in the past, and you cannot change history.

There are always people who try to twist the evidence one way or another and there are always attempts to rewrite history. The Moslem Waqf [the religious authority that administers the Temple Mount] has been claiming for years that there was never a temple there. As a member of the public Committee Against the Desecration of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, I have done my best to alert the world to the Waqf agenda to destroy all proof of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem.

They are destroying the most important evidence of the history of the Jews.

It disgusts me to think of the ruins that have been destroyed in the 40-acre area around the Temple Mount that falls under Waqf jurisdiction. They are destroying the most important evidence of the history of the Jews. It is completely uncivilized.


Q6: How does this find compare to your other discoveries?

No one has ever found such a trove of artifacts from 10th century B.C.E. in Jerusalem, and certainly not so well-stratified or attached to such a monumental construction as a city wall. We are very lucky that this wall was built directly on the bedrock.

There have been other findings from King Solomon’s time period in Megiddo, Chatzor and Gezer, but never before in Jerusalem, and this makes this finding very unique and very exciting for me.

Q7: As a Jew, how does this discovery make you feel?

I never felt that the Jews in Israel needed any further proof of their history in Jerusalem. It has been proven each generation, as we go along. But this discovery is about making that history more tangible. And I believe strongly that you need to appreciate your past in order to understand your future. I feel a great sense of continuity.

I also feel the continuity of the dig itself. It’s the same site. It’s a continuation of what we did in the ’80s, a continuation of my grandfather’s work, and it’s a continuation of the story of the ancient Jewish core of Jerusalem. It’s all about continuity.

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