Jesus’ Burial Place Exposed for First Time in Centuries

The small building covering the traditional burial site of Jesus is getting a thorough renovation, and the original stone burial slab has been revealed for the first time in centuries. National Geographic posts a nice article and video on this. After visiting once or twice every year for a while, I recognize a Greek Orthodox priest, a Coptic priest, and (I believe) a Catholic priest whose faces are featured in the video. The Holy Sepulcher Church is shared among those groups along with members of the Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian churches.

Is the Aedicule (or, Edicule) in the Holy Sepulcher Church actually the tomb of Christ? I explored this in an earlier post. Several edicules have come and gone since the first one built by Constantine in the 4th century. The current structure was finished in 1810 but was destabilized by an earthquake in 1927. Since then, the Edicule has been held together by an unattractive steel frame.

Version 2

The Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, covering the traditional location of Jesus’ tomb. Crossing bars of the metal cage from the article are visible on the left. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Restoration work began earlier this year and was ongoing during my visit in June.


The Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher Church under renovation in June, 2016.

The restoration work is scheduled to finish next year, so I can hopefully show photos of the finished work during my trip next summer.

HT: Steve Wolfgang for the National Geographic link.

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First Temple “Jerusalem” Papyrus Revealed to Public

We have more news about the papyrus discovery I mentioned earlier. The Israel Antiquities Authority has revealed what they describe as “the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.” C14 tests and paleographic analysis date the papyrus to the 7th century BC, around the time of kings Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah.


A First Temple-era, 2,700-year-old papyrus bearing the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew. (Credit: the Israel Antiquities Authority)

This papyrus was plundered from a desert cave before being recovered in an IAA anti-theft operation. It is an ancient packing slip. Here is an interesting excerpt from the IAA press release.

Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows:

[מא]מת. המלך. מנערתה. נבלים. יין. ירשלמה.

[me-a]mat. ha-melekh. me-Na‘artah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima.

“From the king’s maidservant, from Na‘arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”

This is a rare and original shipping document from the time of the First Temple, indicating the payment of taxes or transfer of goods to storehouses in Jerusalem, the capital city of the kingdom at this time. The document specifies the status of the sender of the shipment (the king’s maidservant), the name of the settlement from which the shipment was dispatched (Na‘arat), the contents of the vessels (wine), their number or amount (jars) and their destination (Jerusalem). Na‘artah [Hebrew rendering – LC], which is mentioned in the text, is the same Na‘arat [English rendering – LC] that is referred to in the description of the border between Ephraim and Benjamin in Joshua 16:7: “And it went down from Janohah to Ataroth, and to Na‘arat, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan”.

According to Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, “The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah. It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century BCE… It is not possible to know for certain which of the kings of Jerusalem was the recipient of the shipment of wine”.

Israel Prize laureate and biblical scholar Prof. (Emeritus) Shmuel Ahituv attests to the scientific importance of the document, “It’s not just that this papyrus is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing; it is the fact that to date no other documents written on papyrus dating to the First Temple period have been discovered in Israel, except one from Wadi Murabba‘at.  Also outstanding in the document is the unusual status of a woman in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE.”

One might think we have many examples of the name Jerusalem in Hebrew from the First Temple period, but in fact we have virtually nothing at all on papyrus from that time. (The Dead Sea Scrolls are from the Second Temple period, roughly half a millennium later.) Papyrus does not hold up in environments with moisture, which leaves us only the desert as a source for more manuscripts. Is the Judean Desert tapped out yet? This discovery gives hope that more manuscripts may be found in time.

Here’s a YouTube video showcasing this First Temple papyrus.

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Two New Discoveries Relate to Ancient Jerusalem

Two new archaeological finds relate to Jerusalem in the Old and New Testament periods.

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have found the northernmost wall of 1st century AD Jerusalem and discovered the point where the attacking Romans breached it during the Jewish War in AD 70. Excavators found many ballista balls and sling stones fired by the Romans during the battle. You can read the original press release here.

Josephus records how the Romans under Titus besieged Jerusalem and broke through the northern defenses. The fighting eventually reached the Temple Mount and resulted in the destruction of the entire city.

Perhaps many of us have seen maps of 1st century Jerusalem showing two possible locations for the northernmost wall. This find seems to settle that debate, showing the city wall located well north of the current Ottoman wall. This article describes the finds and has photos.


The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. (Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)


A sling stone on the ground, used during the battle waged along Jerusalem’s northernmost wall nearly 2,000 years ago. (Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)


A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. (Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Also… scholars are about to reveal an 8th a 7th century BC papyrus fragment from the Judean Wilderness that mentions “Jerusalem” in Hebrew. This dating puts the fragment around the time of Uzziah or Hezekiah, perhaps even Manasseh. It will be formally presented in a conference next week.

There is one problem with this Hebrew fragment. It is unprovenanced, meaning we don’t know from where it came. Radiocarbon tests supposedly date the papyrus material to the 8th 7th century, so we will hope the inscription is just as old. Forgers have been known to create fake ancient manuscripts on ancient materials.

Aren Maeir will be a respondent in next week’s conference session on this papyrus. He wrote about it under a gag order but the cat seems to have gotten out of the bag with this short article. We’ll hope that when full details are revealed, its authenticity can be confirmed.

HT: Jim Davila, Joe Lauer

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Yossi Garfinkel at Florida College Nov. 7th

For anyone in Central Florida on Monday, November 7th, archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel will be at Florida College to present on recent discoveries from biblical Lachish. His work will focus on physical evidence regarding the early Kingdom of Judah, a subject of controversy among archaeologists.

Here is the official announcement from Dr. David McClister, chairman of the Biblical Studies Department at Florida College.

This year the Department of Biblical Studies is honored to sponsor a presentation by Dr. Yossi Garfinkel, on our campus on the evening of Monday, November 7. Dr. Garfinkel is a world-renowned Israeli archaeologist and is currently the Yigael Yadin Chair in Archaeology of Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of a dozen books and numerous scholarly articles; he most recently was director of the dig at Khribet Qeiyafa (2007-2013) and is currently co-director of the Fourth Archaeological Expedition at Lachish (2014 to present).

Dr. Garfinkel will share a presentation on the latest work at the Biblical site of Lachish. The presentation will be at 7pm in the Puckett Auditorium. Admission to the event is free.

Please mark this date on your calendar, and we hope to see you there.

Prof. Garfinkel spoke at Florida College two years ago on his excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site at a great location that dates to the time of David’s kingdom in the Bible.

Prof. Yossi Garfinkel (green shirt) examining a fresh discovery at Lachish in 2014. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

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The New “Dead Sea Scrolls” – Are They Real?

My previous post on newly-surfaced fragments of “Dead Sea Scrolls” mentions they may be a great discovery “if they can be authenticated.” A followup article by the same author asks if some or most of these fragments are forgeries. That’s an important question since they are unprovenanced. (def.- We don’t know where they come from.)

Around 70 papyrus fragments have appeared on the antiquities market in the past 15 years. They are allegedly from the Dead Sea region, perhaps even some of the missing fragments from Dead Sea Scrolls. Professor Eibert Tigchelaar believes this new batch is a mix of genuine fragments from Dead Sea caves amongst some fake manuscripts.

Why might many be fake? According to Tigchelaaar only one or two of the new scroll fragments, a “statistically impossible” low number, appear to belong to the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in caves near Qumran. Some fragments seem to have small letters crammed into the limited space on the papyrus fragments, which shouldn’t be the case since the fragments would have detached from larger scrolls. These new fragments also consist entirely of Bible texts, but the Dead Sea Scrolls include many non-biblical texts.

It is exciting to find potential Dead Sea Scrolls, but we should not embrace these kinds of new discoveries too quickly until we can confirm if they are truly ancient.


Cave 4 at Qumran, which yielded the largest number of Dead Sea Scroll manuscript fragments. There have been many caves along the shores of the Dead Sea, and perhaps some of the newly-surfaced scroll fragments originated in these. There is a lot of antiquities fraud, so we must be careful about accepting new claims as true. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

HT: Joe Lauer

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25 New Dead Sea Scrolls(?) Revealed

25 published Bible manuscripts may be genuine “Dead Sea Scrolls” from some 2,000 years ago, and there are more to come. This is a great discovery if they can be authenticated, though some are concerned they could be forgeries.

The origin of these scroll fragments is unknown. They include portions of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel and Jonah.

See the full article about them here.


This scroll fragment preserves parts of Leviticus 26:6-9, in which God promises to reward the people of Israel if they observe the Sabbath and obey the 10 commandments. Credit: copyright The Schøyen Collection, Oslo and London, MS 4611

These new fragments are currently owned by a couple of private collectors. One of them is Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, who has donated them to the Museum of the Bible, opening next year in Washington D.C.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Temple from Hezekiah’s Time Found at Lachish (Photos and Video)

Archaeologists announced the discovery at Tel Lachish of an ancient Judahite shrine dating to around the time of King Hezekiah. The shrine had been desecrated, which may relate to biblical accounts of Hezekiah’s religious purge against idols and “high places.” These finds include a toilet, which relates to another Bible account. More on that in a moment.


Toilet seat from the 701 BC destruction of Lachish by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. It was set up in a desecrated temple shrine in the Lachish gate. (Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

Excavators discovered the temple shrine in the inner gate of Lachish III, the city level destroyed by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in 701 BC during the reign of Hezekiah. The Israel Antiquities Authority’s press release has a good description and is worth reading in full. Here are a few highlights:

  • This gate is the largest one known in the country from the First Temple period.
  • The first chamber had benches with armrests, numerous storage jars, grain scoops, and stamped LMLK jar handles. [Note: Jars stamped with LMLK (“belonging to the king”) held grain taxes. The grain scoops probably relate to food rationing during Sennacherib’s siege. – L]
  • The third chamber had a stepped entrance leading into the temple shrine. A walled off “Holy of Holies toward the back contained two four-horned altars.
  • The altars’ horns had been cut off, apparently to desecrate them. This may be evidence of Hezekiah’s religious reforms to centralize worship at Jerusalem’s temple. “He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.” (2 Kings 18:4)
  • A toilet had been installed in the “Holy of Holies” to desecrate the shrine. This recalls Jehu’s destruction of the Baal temple in Samaria, when the site was turned into a latrine. (2 Kings 10:27) Tests indicate the Lachish toilet was never used, which would make its installation symbolic. [Note: I understand the toilet may have been fashioned from one of the altars, but there is no mention of this in the press announcement. – L]

The has a release with additional photos.

This excavation was conducted by the IAA in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority to develop Tel Lachish for tourism. It is not associated with Hebrew University’s Lachish Expedition that I work with, though some individuals work with both of these digs. The gate excavation site is currently covered for conservation purposes but will eventually be open to the public.


Lachish gate shrine, viewed from above. It is currently covered for conservation purposes. This is the chamber with the small temple. The narrowed, stepped entrance is visible on the far side. The rectangular box mid-chamber is the dividing wall for the “Holy of Holies” which contained the altars and toilet seat. (Photo by Luke Chandler)


Interior of the first gate chamber, showing part of a covered bench and white plaster still covering parts of the mud brick wall. (Photo by Luke Chandler)


Desecrated four-horned altar found in the Lachish II gate. The horns were cut off in antiquity, possibly during King Hezekiah’s purge of religious shrines outside of Jerusalem. (Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)


Arrowheads found in the excavation, attesting to the intense battle between Assyrian and Judahite soldiers in the gate area. (Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


Finds from the IAA Lachish gate excavation, including oil lamps, jar handles, and arrowheads. (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)


Toilet seat being excavated from the gate shrine at Tel Lachish. (Credit: Igor Kreimerman)

Here is a short YouTube video with archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor that shows some of the finds.

More photos and information when I have it!

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The new King David exhibit (video, photos)

The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem has opened a new exhibit, In the Valley of David and Goliath, featuring artifacts from the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations. I worked with this dig from 2009 to its conclusion in 2013. The discoveries are illuminating the culture and political situation in Southern Canaan during the earliest days of the Israelite/Judahite kingdoms.

The time of David, around 1000 BC, has until recently been problematic in archaeology for a lack of finds. The Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations changed this equation with abundant discoveries illuminating many aspects of life and faith in that period. It is the first fortified city we have found in Judah that dates specifically to the time of the biblical kings Saul and David.

This short video explains the importance of the excavation results and the aims of the exhibit. It is worth watching.

Here are photos of the new exhibition:


Discoveries from Khirbet Qieyafa on display at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The displays from left to right: a standing stone (massebah) with offering table for worship, a group of chalices, shrine/temple models, and other religious/cultic finds including a basalt altar. (Credit: Oded Antmann)


Model of a typical residential building in Khirbet Qeiyafa.  (Credit: Oded Antmann)


Examples of storage vessels from Khirbet Qeiyafa. We found hundreds of these jars and/or their stamped handles. (Credit: Oded Antmann)


Cooking ware and flint knives from Khirbet Qeiyafa. (Credit: Oded Antmann)

The Bible Lands Museum is dedicated to understanding and appreciating the history of the Bible and the Ancient Near East. Most of its permanent displays are the private (and extensive) collection of Dr. Elie and Batya Borowski. I visited this museum for the first time in the summer of 2016 and enjoyed the experience. An informative English-language tour was included in my admission price. I look forward to visiting again, especially if the David and Goliath exhibit is still running in June of 2017. It is located next to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

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Archaeologists restore floor tiles from 2nd Jerusalem Temple

What did people see beneath their feet when walking on the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago? What surface did people stand on during events such as the Passover, or when listening to a favorite rabbi’s discourse?

The Temple Mount today is mostly paved with the honey-colored stone typical of Jerusalem, but this was not the case in the time of Jesus. The walking surface of the ancient temple courtyards appears to have been made of imported stones, cut and polished to create ornate geometric designs.


Reconstructed floor tiles of the Second Temple courtyards. Each of these two reassembled squares measures around 1 foot in diameter. (Credit: The Temple Mount Sifting Project)

In 1999, tons of Temple Mount sediments were illegally removed and dumped by Islamic authorities during construction of an underground mosque. To sift and analyze the massive piles of dumped debris, archaeologists Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira established the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Volunteers working at the project have since found thousands of objects from all periods of Jerusalem’s history. Among the finds are, currently, more than 100 pieces of floor tile that can be dated to the time of Herod’s temple.

This article in the Jerusalem Post contains many interesting details and is worth reading in full.


TODAY… the Temple Mount as it appears now, with even-colored paving stones. The walking surfaces were  once very different. We have evidence of colorful inlaid work some 2,000 years ago. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The image below shows a section of reassembled floor tiles from the Temple courtyards. They are made of cut, polished, high-quality stone imported from across the Roman world. This is what priests, worshippers, Christians, and Jesus Himself walked on while visiting the Temple Mount.


Restored floor tiles from the Second Jerusalem Temple. The inlay work is so exquisite, no one on the research team could fit a sharp blade between the stone segments, even after 2,000 years. (Photo credit: Zachi Divira/Temple Mount Sifting Project)

When I think of New Testament events such as Jesus teaching in the Temple, or 12 year-old Jesus staying behind to discuss the Law with scholars of the day, or of the early church meeting underneath the porticos that surrounded the temple platform, these elaborate stone surfaces will now come to mind. With such costly and labor-intensive courtyard floors, it is no surprise the buildings themselves were remarkable to behold. The words of Mark 13:1-2 really come to life.

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

We can see evidence of both the beauty and the destruction in these recovered floor stones. Below are additional examples of reconstructed floor tiles from the  1st centuryTemple Mount.


Reconstructed stone floor tiles from the 1st century Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Temple Mount Sifting Project)


Reconstructed stone floor tiles from the Second Temple. (Temple Mount Sifting Project)


The fine and expensive craftsmanship evident in these reconstructed floor tiles is similar to other projects associated with Herod the Great. (Temple Mount Sifting Project)

Posted in Ancient Architecture, Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem, Jesus, Links to interesting stuff, New Discoveries, New Testament | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

10th Century BC “Solomonic” Palace Found at Gezer

The Tel Gezer Expedition just announced the discovery of a palatial building tentatively dated to the 10th century BC, around the time of King Solomon in the Bible. The Bible says Solomon fortified Gezer, so a large building from this period attracts public interest. Is this a structure of Solomon’s government?


Aerial view of the palatial building found in ancient Gezer, which archaeologists have tentatively dated to King Solomon’s time. This image shows the building is adjacent to the city’s well known 6-chambered gate (left). Credit: Tel Gezer Excavation Project, Steven M. Ortiz

In the biblical record, Gezer (pronounced geh-zer not “geezer”) came under Israelite control when a Pharaoh destroyed the Canaanites there, burned the city, and gave it as a dowry for his daughters marriage to Solomon. (The current expedition recently found this destruction layer as well.) Geer joined Megiddo and Hazor to become one of three administrative centers for the Jerusalem government as Solomon created new centralized bureaucracy to replace the clan-based system that had been in place for generations. (1 Kings 4:1-19)

The text from the Ha’aretz article by Philippe Bohstrom is below along with photos. You can also view this article on the Ha’aretz site before it goes behind a paywall.

It will be interesting to see if the preliminary dating holds up after further analysis and the radiocarbon results. The article includes information on the building’s architecture. It will be good to see further results on how it compares/contrasts with the palatial buildings at Megiddo, Lachish, and other regional sites from late Iron I and early Iron II. How much of the building, if any, remains to be excavated?

Expeditions at Gezer have been difficult since Macalister’s work there over a century ago pretty much butchered the site. It is encouraging to see more of the current expedition’s success.

HT: Joe Lauer

– – – – – – – –


King Solomon-era Palace Found in Biblical Gezer 

 Monumental 3000-year-old ruins, Philistine pottery support biblical tales of Gezer’s rise, and fall to a jealous pharaoh. 

Philippe Bohstrom

A palatial building dating to the era of King Solomon 3000 years ago has been discovered in the royal city of Gezer, though there is no evidence which of the Israelite kings lived there, if any.

The monumental building dates to the 10th century BCE, the era associated with King Solomon, who is famed for bringing wealth and stability to the newly-united kingdom of Israel and Judah. The American archaeological team also found a layer featuring Philistine pottery, lending credence to the biblical account of them living in the city until being vanquished by King David.

The complex features a large central courtyard, like contemporary palace-like buildings found throughout the southern Levant, including at Hatzor and Megiddo. Though there’s no telling who ruled from there, if anybody did, the edifice is significantly larger than the size of ordinary houses of the time, excavation co-director Prof. Steve Ortiz, representing the Tandy Museum of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary of Fort Worth, Texas, told Haaretz. Among the features not found in usual domestic structures is ashlar masonry – large rectangular-shaped monolithic hewn stones – in the corners of rooms, Ortiz said.

Violent 6000-year history

Gezer, located in the Shephela (foothills) region of Israel overlooking the coastal plain, at the junction of a pass leading up to Jerusalem, goes back way before King Solomon. The site was occupied as far back as the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE), and 3400 years ago, its Canaanite population was closely tied with far-off Egypt, as we know from cylinder seals and a large cartouche of Pharaoh Amenhotep III uncovered there in previous seasons.

Excavations have proven that the city did suffer violent destruction at the hands of the Egyptians, who mention Gezer time and again in their records. Thutmose III recorded its capture on the walls of the temple at Karnak; The city later played a prominent role in the Amarna Tablets, mentioned by name at least nine times. Pharaoh Merneptah boasted on his stele that he “seized Gezer.” Later an Egyptian pharaoh turned on Gezer, for reasons we no longer know, burning down the city and slaughtering its Canaanite population.

According to the Old Testament, the city was also associated with the Philistines in David’s time: the king broke their power “from Geba to as far as Gezer” (2 Samuel 5:25; 1 Chronicles 14:16). This excavation season has proved the Philistine link too, when the archaeologists revealed a layer with Philistine bichrome pottery. The archaeologists also found a tell-tale fragment of a so-called “Ashdod figurine,” long-necked, bird-faced female figures that many believe depict an Aegean goddess. Such figurines have been found associated with Philistine remains in other excavations, such as in Ashdod, Timna, Ekron and Ashkelon.

Ortiz puts these discoveries into proportion: Archaeologists still believe Gezer was mainly a Canaanite city, but during their era from about 1200 to 600 BCE, Philistines either lived in it alongside the Canaanites, or the two peoples had trading relations. “Gezer sits at an important crossroads. By location, it was an important border city,” Ortiz says.

Dowry to Solomon’s wife

The newly discovered palace is west of the so-called Solomonic Gate, a six chambered inner gate, although it is doubtful that a Jerusalemite king actually spent time at Gezer. The excavation team calls the building “Solomon’s Palace” because of the biblical tradition of Solomon building grand projects at Hatzor, Megiddo, and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15: “And this is the reason of the levy which king Solomon raised; for to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer“).

The bible says that Egypt’s powerful monarch gave Gezer as a dowry to Solomon’s wife (or one of them – legend says his harem consisted of 700 wives and 300 concubines) and that Solomon rebuilt the city: “Pharaoh king of Egypt had come up and captured Gezer and had burned it with fire, and he had also killed the Canaanites dwelling in the city. So he gave it as a parting gift to his daughter the wife of Solomon. Solomon built up Gezer” – (1 Kings 9: 16-17). The excavations have uncovered tantalizing evidence that this biblical passage was based on actual events.

The city was destroyed in the late Iron Age I (around 1200-1000) BCE. On the ruins, a new city with fortifications, the famous gate complex, and a palace were constructed, dating to the second half of the 10th century BCE – Solomon’s era. The sheer scale and craftsmanship of the palace shows that only a ruler with vast resources and a highly organized and skilled labor forces could afford, let alone organize, the construction of this palace complex.

The main feature is two parallel long rooms, or courtyards, surrounded on all sides by various rooms, numbering at least 15. The palace has two entrances from the east and west. The entrance from the west also connects this building to the monumental six-chambered gate associated by most scholars with Solomon. This entrance is more robustly built than the rest of the building: The walls are constructed with two to three rows of stones wide, built of roughly dressed field stones somewhat smaller in size than those used in the rest of the building.

Egypt invades Israel and Judah

Several of the rooms and the courtyards, which had once been thickly plastered, suffered destruction, judging by roughly meter-thick layer of building stones and rubble on the floors. This destruction is tentatively associated with the Shishak invasion in 925 BCE: the pharaoh (also known as Sheshonk I in the Egyptian records) is famous for his invasion of Israel and Judah, as recorded in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 12:1-12).

When Solomon died, his kingdom descended into chaos. With a mighty force of chariots and horsemen, Shishak attacked ancient Israel, seeking control of trade routes with Egypt and to extend his power and influence in the region. Ample evidence of his assault remains in Israel and Judah. A fragment of a stele found at Megiddo mentions Sheshonk (Shishak), possibly indicating that the stele was erected there to commemorate his victory. Also, a relief on a temple wall at Karnak (in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes) lists numerous local cities or villages that Shishak conquered.

Archaeologists had assumed that once they cleared the massive stones left behind from the destruction, they would find storerooms filled with artifacts. To their dismay, most of the rooms were empty. “It appears that everything was cleaned out before the destruction. Perhaps they knew of the impending attack and removed most of the objects,” Ortiz says.

Several finds indicate the relative wealth of the inhabitants. One is a lid from an ivory gamebox, consisting of 20 squares with elaborate rosette carvings. The diggers found faience amulets and a Canaanite-type female fertility figurine that was missing its head. That figurine was either a leftover from earlier occupants or an indication of continuity from the Canaanite tradition into the 10th century BCE.

The researchers also found three ovens in the courtyard, but no complete vessels associated with them. One room had a complete cooking pot and a baby rattle.

Dr. Sam Wolff, an archaeologist employed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and co-director of the excavation along with Ortiz, urges caution in connecting the finds from the excavation with biblical texts.

Regarding attribution of the palace to the time of King Solomon, Wolff tells Haaretz, “Our 10th century date is tentative, pending further study of the ceramic assemblage and the results of carbon 14 analyses. Others may claim that the pottery we are calling 10th century is in fact 9th century.

“In this regard, I would point out that we have found a significant stratum between what we are calling the 10th century and the 8th century strata, and we date this stratum to the 9th century,” Wolff says. “For the earliest stratum to be 9th century as well is certainly possible, but it would then squeeze two significant strata into one century. For the time being we prefer to date this earlier stratum, along with the six-chamber gate and the fortification wall connecting the two, to the 10th century; that is, to the time of Solomon.”

Philistine ptty_Gezer

Pieces of typically Philistine-style bichromatic and multicolored pottery found at ancient Gezer. (Credit: Sam Wolff)

Gezer_IronBldg 2

A building dated to 10th century Gezer, the era of King Solomon. (Credit: Tel Gezer Excavation Project, Steven M. Ortiz)


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