Excavating a Biblical city north of Jerusalem

We are just back from another season at Kh. el-Maqatir, where the newly appointed dig director, Dr. Scott Stripling, wanted me to concentrate on the layout of the First Century village. Examining the architectural remains, it became clear that this village was fortified with a city wall and a massive fortress, updating its status to a “city”.  The dig, which is located c. 10 miles north of Jerusalem, is organised by the Associates for Biblical Research. Gary Byers wrote an account of the first week of the dig. Here is a picture of the remains of the fortress:

The newly discovered fortress at Maqatir

Last February, a conference was held at the Houston Baptist University , where I was asked to lecture on the topic “Does the Byzantine Church at Maqatir Reflect the Sacred Architecture of the Temple in Jerusalem?” If you have nothing better to do, you can watch the presentation here:

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A smooth stone found in the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Nadav Shagrai wrote a lengthy article, called A Heart of Stone, in Israel Hayom about the amazing feat of tunneling deep underground along the foundations of the Western Wall by Eli Shukron and his team. This uncovering has undoubtedly increased our understanding of how this mighty wall, and indeed all other walls too, were constructed. It was reported earlier that some coins dating from about 17-18 CE had been found in the fill of a mikveh below the Western Wall. This find was used to suggest that not Herod the Great, but one or more of his sons completed the project.

This stretch of foundation stones of the Western Wall is located right next to the main drain that runs the full length of the Herodian street that began at the Damascus Gate and ended at the southern gate near the Siloam Pool. One doesn’t need much imagination to understand that maintenance work would have frequently been carried out in and near the drain during the long period that it was in use. The filling in of the above mentioned mikveh, that was located in between the drain and the foundation of the Western Wall, could have been carried out during such work.

It is now also reported that one of the Herodian foundation stones had no margins, but a smooth finish. This what Eli has to say:

Photo of the smooth stone at upper left. Photo credit: Vladimir Neichin

“This stone came from the Temple Mount, from the surplus stones that were used in the construction of the Temple itself. Those stones were high-quality, chiseled and smooth, like this unusual one, which was discovered among the Western Wall’s foundations. This stone was intended for the Second Temple, and stones like it were used to build the Temple — but it was left unused. The builders of the Western Wall brought it down here because it was no longer needed up above — and this is how the other stones of the Temple looked,” he says, adding, “Anyone who passes a hand gently over this stone feels a slightly wavy texture, just like the Talmud describes.”

It is true that all the external faces of the Herodian stones have margins on all four sides, apart from this unique stone. The suggestion that this particular stone could have come from the Temple itself would have been a possibility if only the stones that were used to build the Temple had a smooth finish. That, however, is not the case. In studying Herodian architecture, one needs to differentiate between external and internal finishes of the stones. The internal parts of the stones that make up the retaining walls were never seen and therefore were roughly squared on the inside. The stones of the Western Wall above the level of the Temple Mount could be seen from inside the porticoes that were built all around. The interior finish of these stones was smooth. Several of these stones were found in the Temple Mount Excavations. One such stone was later reused in a Byzantine building. That stone was a pilaster stone, part of the outer wall of the porticoes that ran above the Temple Mount retaining walls. These stones had an external finish with margins, like the ones we see today, and a smooth internal finish. From the inside therefore, the portico wall looked smooth. It is quite possible, and indeed more likely,  that the newly discovered smooth stone came from the porticoes and not necessarily from the Temple itself.

It is necessary to exercise caution before suggesting that this smooth stone must have come from the Temple. Although it is exciting to find the first in situ stone without margins, one needs to be careful not to draw unwarranted conclusions.

HT: Joe Lauer

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2,000-year old chisel found near the Temple Mount

In today’s Ha’aretz newspaper, Nir Hasson reports on the finding of a chisel that dates back to the building of Herod’s Temple Mount. It was found at the base of the Western Wall, some 6 meters below the Herodian street. It certainly looks like a chisel that masons used to carve stones with. The flattened head was caused, not from “being repeatedly banged on rock”, but by the hammer that was used by the masons.

Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Shukron who excavates the Herodian drain beneath Robinson’s Arch, said:

It is true that the rocks comprising the Western Wall had been transported there from far away. But the final work on the giant stones, and the job of fitting them with incredible precision, were done on site.

One wouldn’t use chisels, however, to fit the stones together. That was done by cranes and levers. The stones of the Temple Mount walls were completely finished in the quarry and then transported to the building site.

After quarrying, the rough stone blocks were dressed on site, taking care to leave small projections of two sides of the stone. Using a crane, ropes were looped around the projections and the stone lifted up on one side. Wooden rollers were placed below the stone, so that it could be transported. Teams of oxen were used to pull the stones. © Leen Ritmeyer

To lift the stones, the masons left small projections on the side of the stones, and those were cut off once the stones were in place. The short chisel that was found, would have been eminently suitable for that job.

A projection, used to lift the stones. They were chiselled off once the stone was in place. This knob on one of the stones of the Eastern Wall, however, survived. Perhaps it was forgotten or the scaffolding had been prematurely taken down.

Although coins from the beginning of the first century were found, that does not necessarily indicate that the Western Wall was finished after Herod’s death. If that would have been the case, then the Royal Stoa must have been built later too. None of Herod’s sons would have had the means or the vision to complete the building of the southern part of the Temple Mount. These coins were probably dropped  later by workmen doing maintenance or repair works to the Herodian drain.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Newly released historic film collection includes scenes of the Holy Land

Israel’s History – a Picture a day announced that:

The giant newsreel archive British Pathé, released its entire collection of 85,000 films to the public this week.

The films, dating from 1896 to 1976, include hundreds of newsreels from Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948.  We found of particular interest the films of combat between British and Turkish forces during World War I and the brave attempts to push desperate Jewish refugees from Europe past British barriers in the 1930s and 40s.

“This unprecedented release of vintage news reports and cinemagazines is part of a drive to make the archive more accessible to viewers all over the world,”British Pathé announced.

“Our hope is that everyone, everywhere who has a computer will see these films and enjoy them,” said Alastair White, General Manager of British Pathé. “This archive is a treasure trove unrivalled in historical and cultural significance that should never be forgotten. Uploading the films to YouTube seemed like the best way to make sure of that.”

We present here several of the exciting films now on the British Pathé YouTube collection. Many of the newsreels are silent films.

The ones shown on the website are:

Dedication of the Hebrew University  and speech by Earl Arthur Balfour (1925)

1929 disturbances against Jews, a crude Jewish barricade,  and the arrival of aBritish naval ship in an attempt to restore order.

Thousands of American Jews take part in [1929 "monster"] demonstration before offices of the British Consul, demanding protection for their kinsmen in Palestine. New York, U.S.

“In Palestine Today (1938)” shows how the British restored peace in Jerusalem with the loss of “only” 9 people:


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The Irene Levi-Sala award for best final excavation reports

On April 24, 2014, the award ceremony of the Irene Levi-Sala Book prize will take place at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva on the occasion of the Irene Levi-Sala Annual Research Seminar.

The Irene Levi-Sala Book prize award is dedicated by the Sala Family Trust, London, to the memory of Dr Irene Levi-Sala who was a gifted archaeologist and maintained a keen interest in the culture and archaeology of Israel. The purpose of this prestigious prize is to encourage and reward high quality publications, both scholarly and popular, on the archaeology of Israel against the wider context of Near Eastern history and archaeology.

I was particularly pleased to see that Oren Gutfeld and Amihai Mazar were nominated for the best final excavation reports. Mazar published: Excavations at Tel Beth Shean, Volume IV, The 4th and 3rd Millennia BCE, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Exploration Society, 2012, and Gutfeld published the Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem, conducted by Nahman Avigad 1969-1982, Vol. V: The Cardo and the Nea Church. Israel Exploration Society and Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2013.

I was pleased to have been asked to contribute a chapter in the latter volume on the “Restoration of the Cardo”. It was fascinating to have been involved in the reconstruction of the southern part of this major colonnaded street of Byzantine Jerusalem.

The author verifying the exact positioning of a Byzantine  capital in the reconstruction of the Cardo.

This reconstruction drawing shows the Byzantine Cardo in Jerusalem. The colonnaded street began at the Damascus Gate, passed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and ended at the Nea Church.


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New City of David Centre approved

It was announced today that the new City of David Centre for visitors, called in Hebrew “Mercaz Kedem” has been approved. It is to be built over the archaeological remains found in the Givati Parking lot. Ari Yashar of Arutz Sheva writes:

“The plan to build the visitors’ center will aid in exposing the important archaeological finds to the broader public and serve as a focus for tourism that will help in developing the city of Jerusalem,” noted the Committee’s announcement of the project’s approval.

The new approval will advance construction on the center, containing a museum, visitors’ center and auditorium in City of David’s Givati parking lot excavation site, reports Haaretz. The center will also provide access to the City of David National Park, and display recent archaeological finds.

In approving the project, the Committee gave conditions that the height of the building must not exceed the street level above the area near the Old City wall, so as to maintain the general building height in the neighborhood. The center’s roof and passages to the lower level were ordered to be open to the public.”

The following illustration was published in Haaretz newspaper:

The building was designed by the architect Arie Rahamimov. According to the Ministry of Interior:

“The plan is an example of outstanding architecture that will contribute to the development of the national park and create public space that befits the location within the site and the city, as well as address the needs of the million and a half annual visitors to the national park.”

In order to facilitate the new building, a complex built by Silwan residents that included a playground, community center and cafe, was razed, drawing criticism from local residents and left-wing groups in Israel.

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Conclusion of City of David Excavations

The Jerusalem Post carried an article yesterday on the conclusion of the excavations in the area of the Gihon Spring in the City of David. Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and Eli Shukrun of the Antiquities Authority uncovered a huge Canaanite fortress built around this life-giving spring to protect it from invaders. This fortress was connected to the walled City of David by a strongly fortified passageway. Oriya Dasberg, the director of the development in the City of David, commented:

“The Spring Citadel was built in order to save and protect the water of the city from enemies coming to conquer it, as well as to protect the people going down to the spring to get water and bring it back up to the city.”

In a  video made by Eli Mandelbaum, Joe Uziel explains what was found. Initially, the excavators thought that these massive fortifications surrounded only the spring and the pool, as shown in a previous post. It is plausible that an area to the south was included in this fortified area, perhaps even larger than this reconstruction drawing suggests:

This drawing shows the City of David on the Eastern Hill of Jerusalem. The Kidron Valley is to the east (right in the drawing) and the Hinnom Valley to the west (left). The Central Valley (later called the Tyropoeon Valley) runs between the two. The Western Hill (left) remained unoccupied and unfortified till the time of Hezekiah. This drawing also shows a fortified area to the east of the City of David with a large tower.

Future excavations will hopefully cast further light on the eastern extent of the City of David.

HT: Bibleplaces.com

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New German Bible Lexicon

At the end of last year, SCM R. Brockhaus published a new German Bible Lexicon, the Lexicon Zur Bible. The lexicon has been in print for many years, but this new edition has been very much updated and expanded. The entries are arranged in alphabetical order and many archaeological sites are conscisely described. The Google Map geo-data of each archaeological site is also included. In contrast to the previous versions, the almost one thousand illustrations are in full color and consist of photographs, maps, charts and diagrams. About 40 of my reconstruction drawings, some of which were specially commissioned, are also incorporated, see my drawing of Nehemiah’s Jerusalem below.

This lexicon is a serious reference work on the Bible, written from a Christian perspective. Many of the new archaeological entries have been written by Alexander Schick, who is one of the four editors. He has visited Israel many times and personally knows the Israeli archaeologists whose excavation photographs appear in the lexicon, e.g. Amnon Ben-Tor, Amihai Mazar, Eilat Mazar, Aren Maier and Ronny Reich. Alexander is an avid and gifted photographer himself and can always be relied upon to have up-to-date photographs of sites of biblical interest. He also runs a Qumran and Bible Exhibition.

After the Babylonian Exile, many Jews returned to Jerusalem. They came in relatively small numbers, not sufficient to occupy both the Eastern and Western Hills.
In this annotated drawing we see the rebuilt city of Jerusalem on the Eastern Hill with a smaller Temple on Mount Moriah. The reconstructed Temple Mount had gates and towers and chambers along the inside of its boundaries. The Ophel was to the south of the Temple. The city walls have been reconstructed following archaeological remains that have been found, complemented by the description of the walls in Nehemiah Chapter 3.

Here is a snippet from the publisher’s blurb on the German Amazon website, advertising the book, the publication of which is a major event for Christians in Germany: “The basic character of a reliable reference work based on sound biblical theology remains fully intact. It is a must for anyone who wants to study God’s Word in a deeper way”.

One could only wish that this lexicon was available in English!

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“Jerusalem 3D” Film Premiere in London

My wife Kathleen and I are excited to have been invited by Taran Davies to attend the Jerusalem 3D Premiere in the iMax cinema in London this Wednesday, the 15th of January, 2014. Taran Davies is co-producer with George Duffield and Daniel Ferguson is the director.

Josh Glancy wrote in today’s Sunday Times:

“The documentary follows a trio of teenage girls from the three faiths that have their home in Jerusalem: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Despite their different religions, they seem to experience the city in strangely similar ways. They live within minutes of each other, but their paths never cross.

Their stories are woven around an extraordinary portrayal of perhaps the world’s most religious and contested city at its most fervent. The 45-minute film has sold out at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution and has now been booked to play at cinemas and museums around the wold. It opens at London’s iMax cinema in Waterloo this week.”

“The crew weren’t allowed to put a camera on the Western Wall, but they persuaded the Israelis to let them erect a crane on the roof of a nearby police station that allowed them to capture the bobbing, shawl-covered masses below during Passover prayers.” Duffield added: “You had a camera the size of a small car directly over the middle of the Western Wall plaza. But we didn’t disturb anyone – they were so enraptured they didn’t look up.” Photo: George Duffield

In a previous post we mentioned that we have been involved with the making of three digital reconstructions, of Herod’s Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Golgotha. Although we have been in contact via email and other digital media, it will be interesting to meet some members of the team in person.

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New Discoveries on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

I was alerted by Zachi Dvira of  The Temple Mount Sifting Project to new excavation activities on the Temple Mount:

Recently, the ground level near the new generator room north of the raised platform was lowered by one foot. This work exposed an unknown course of stones from an earlier phase of this wall. This course could be dated to the Early Umayyad period or even the Herodian Period. L. Ritmeyer suggested that the foundation of this course was the original northern wall of the Temple Mount, and there is evidence for this thesis in various spots along this line.

Zachi sent me a photograph showing a line of large stones below the northern wall of the raised platform.

The newly discovered stones are below the platform wall at the back of the picture. New paving is being laid against it. Photo: Zachi Dvira

Needing more information, I asked a friend of Nathaniel, one of my sons, to send me additional photographs showing what is happening on the Temple Mount at present. The location in question is to the east of the eastern stairway that leads up to the raised platform from the north:

Looking northeast, the site in question is behind and below the wall where the arrow points

In the following picture, we see the area below the blue container that was lowered by about 1m. (3 feet):

The area in lower foreground has been lowered, exposing a line of ancient ashlars at the foot of the platform wall on the left.

The following photograph shows the single course of beautifully carved ashlars (large stones):

It is difficult to say when this monumental masonry was built, but it is located along the line of the northern wall of the raised platform, which we had previously (The Quest, pp. 165-186) identified as the northern boundary of the pre-Herodian Temple Mount. To the west of this same line is the northwest corner of the 500-cubit square Temple Mount of the First Temple period and we had suggested that this was built by King Hezekiah:

Northwest corner of square Temple Mount, looking southeast. Photo: Nathaniel Ritmeyer

To the east of the newly discovered masonry there are equally large stones to be seen at the northeast corner of the raised platform.

Northeast corner of raised platform showing large ashlars. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

Putting these three points together, we see that all three masonry remains lie on the northern boundary of the ancient square Temple Mount:

Plan of the Herodian Temple Mount with indications of ancient masonry. © Leen Ritmeyer

The masonry at the northwest corner of the square Temple Mount is characterised by rough bosses, while the other two sections have smooth masonry. It is possible that these two sections were built at a later time, above earlier masonry.

Reviewing the discovery of this new wall, we can see that it lies on the northern boundary of the ancient Temple Mount. It is unlikely that this wall was built in the Umayyad period as no other masonry of this calibre can be seen anywhere in the outer walls of the raised platform. No major building projects were carried out on the Temple Mount in the Byzantine period. That leaves us with either the Roman (Aelia Capitolina) or the Herodian period. Although we cannot prove it, the latter would be an exciting possibility! In any case, the fact that monumental masonry is built on the northern boundary of the ancient Temple Mount appears to confirm the location of the square Temple Mount of the First Temple period.

All this goes to show that many more archaeological remains may still be hidden below the surface of the Temple platform and how much more we could learn if excavations were made possible! This would be extremely valuable, as only excavation would make it possible to identify the period of these wall remains.


Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, News, Temple Mount | 23 Comments