Stepped podium found in Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today that a stepped podium/auction block has been found in the City of David.

An intriguing find consisting of an impressive pyramid-shaped staircase constructed of large ashlar stones was uncovered in an archaeological excavation currently conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavators Szanton and Uziel siting on the recently uncovered podium, looking north. Photo: IAA

This stepped podium was situated on the east side of the Tyropoeon Valley Street in between the Siloam Pool and the Temple Mount:

The arrow indicates the location of the stepped podium in 1st century Jerusalem. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

This structure is situated alongside the 2,000 year old Second Temple stepped street, which carried pilgrims on their way from the Shiloah (Siloam) Pool to the Temple, which stood atop the Temple Mount.

Joe Uziel sitting on the podium, looking south. Photo: Shai Halevy

According to archaeologists Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel, who direct of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, ”The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it. For this reason, its exact use remains enigmatic. The structure is built along the street in a place that is clearly visible from afar by passers-by making their way to the Temple. We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know. Bliss and Dickie, two British archaeologists who discovered a small portion of this structure about 100 years ago, mistakenly thought these were steps that led into a house that was destroyed. They would certainly be excited if they could come back today and see it completely revealed”.

Bliss and Dickie were indeed the first archaeologists to find this structure while excavating the Tyropoeon Valley Street. They called this particular site M3:

“At M3 a fine flight of steps projects some 5 feet beyond the kern=b line. The steps are five in number and return around both angles. Hoping that it might lead to an interesting building, we pushed back, but only to find that the house to which it belonged was quite ruined, only a sort of cellar remaining.”(Bliss, F.J. and Dickie, A.C., Excavations at Jerusalem 1894-1897, pp. 141-2).

They published a plan and section of this area:

Map of the City of David area with an arrow pointing at M3

A section through the Tyropoeon Street with the arrow pointing at the stepped podium.

Lacking any parallels to such a structure, the modern excavators don’t know what this structure was used for. They suggested an auction block for slaves or a “Stone of Claims” where lost property was announced. On Thursday, the 3rd of September, the 16th Jerusalem Annual Conference will be held at the City of David Studies. It will be interesting to hear if any plausible explanation may be forthcoming.

 

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Crowdfunding campaign to publish new Jewish guide book to the Temple Mount

We have just been informed of an online campaign to publish a new Jewish guidebook to the Temple Mount in Hebrew and English. The book, called: “Arise and Ascend: A guide to the Temple Mount”, has already been published in Russian. Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick, is leading the campaign. Yehudah’s promotional video can be seen here:

The guide was written by Dr. Meir Antopolsky, whose day job is Attending Physician in the Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Hadassah Medical Center on Mt. Scopus. He contacted me a while ago regarding illustrations for the original Russian publication by The Temple Mount Heritage Foundation.

This foundation seeks:

“to strengthen the connection between the people of Israel and the Temple Mount; increase awareness about the importance and centrality of the Temple Mount; encourage visits to the Temple Mount in a manner appropriate to Halacha (Jewish Law); and offer educational activities relating to the Temple Mount, including lectures, workshops, classes, and tours. Our overall goal is to increase recognition of the importance of the Temple Mount to Jews, to Israel, and to the world at large.”

Another website states:

“Sadly, visiting the Temple Mount today can be very frustrating. People arrive with great anticipation and excitement for a meaningful and spiritually-uplifting experience. But they are met with hostility and a total lack of information to help them understand the many facets of this holy site.”

How true that is, but then the site continues to claim that “there are no signs, no explanations, and no brochures to explain its significance and historical background.”

This, of course, is not true. Many books and articles have been written on the Temple Mount and Wikipedia has an extensive article on the subject. One does well to be informed about the Temple Mount before visiting it, as the Islamic Waqf who have custody of the site does not allow any books or other information to be consulted while on the platform.

Our own guide book is based on archaeological, historical and biblical information and is addressed to the interested visitor of all religions:

The proposed new guide book “Arise and Ascend” is based on Jewish Law (Halacha). After having read our guide book, Meir Antopolsky wrote to us: “your book is better from almost every point of view. But it doesn’t include information on Jewish law – where to go and where not, how to prepare etc, nor on the current political situation about the mountain. So there is still a reason for our short book to be translated into English as well.” We wrote back to him: “Good to hear that your Russian guide book is being published. I understand that your emphasis is on Jewish Law, while our focus is on history and archaeology and caters for people of different faiths. As no guide book to the Temple Mount has been available for a long time, it is good to have a choice.”

We are therefore glad to see that another guide book is being prepared that is addressed to the Jewish people in particular. As our own library shows, one can never have enough books on the Temple Mount.

HT: Joe Lauer

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 1 Comment

Ancient Mikveh With Rare Inscriptions Found in Jerusalem

Arutz Sheva reports the finding of a 2000 year old mikveh in Jerusalem. A mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath used for purification purposes. The newspaper article has a video and many photographs.

Many mikva’ot – Hebrew for ritual baths, mikveh in the singular, – have been excavated in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.
A mikveh usually takes the form of a stepped pool carved out of the rock with a small dividing wall built on the upper steps. The purpose of this was to allow users of the mikveh to descend on one side and, after immersion, ascend on the other side, thus preventing contact with those who were not yet purified. Most synagogues had ritual baths attached to them.
Washing and bathing are important parts of Jewish ritual and are referred to in the Gospels, e.g. Matthew 15.2 and John 9.7.

Among the many mikva’ot that have been found in Jerusalem, this one stands out as it features a unique inscription and other interesting decorations.

As was customary at the end of the Second Temple period when the Romans occupied the Jewish state of Israel, the writing was in Aramaic and written in cursive Hebrew script. The symbols drawn on the wall include a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and what looks to be a menorah.

The Aramaic inscription has not yet been deciphered. Photo: Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The inscriptions remain largely a mystery at this point, with some apparently indicating names. The drawing that might be a menorah is exceptional because in Second Temple days, Jews largely abstained from portraying the sacred object which was located in the Holy Temple.

A representation of a menorah, painted on one of the walls of the mikveh. Photo: Photo: Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The most well-known depiction of a menorah dating from the Second Temple period was found in the Jewish Quarter Excavations:

The menorah graffito was found in between two floors of a Herodian building that stood above the Broad Wall. This depiction of the Lampstand (menorah) probably decorated one of the walls of a priestly family home in Jerusalem. Apart from the Lampstand, it shows the Table of Shewbread (bottom right), the Altar of Incense (top right) and the three-stepped stone (bottom left) which the priest would stand on to light the lamps of the Lampstand in the Temple.

The wall paintings are so sensitive that air exposure damages them, and therefore the IAA started conservation measures as soon as they were found.

After initial treatment at the site, the images were removed in their entirety and transferred to the conservation laboratories of the IAA for further treatment and stabilization.

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem | 1 Comment

Secrets of the Temple Mount

Although visiting the Temple Mount is not always a pleasant experience these days, it is still worth the attempt. We have had good feedback from visitors who have used our guidebook to find things which otherwise they would have missed. One of the little known secrets described in our book (which can be purchased here) is a small window near the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Despite its apparent insignificance, it has a large story to tell.

The “Window of John of Gischala”

While walking on the Temple Mount platform, this opening, covered with a protective grille, can be found low down on the left-hand side, just before one reaches the northernmost gate in the Western Wall, the Bab el-Ghawanima Gate.

The “Window of John of Gischala” is located to the left (south) of the Bab el-Ghawanima gate at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Photo: © Leen Ritmeyer

This window was already noticed by Charles Warren in the 1860s. On the inside is a little room where this opening, flanked by two pilasters, which appear to be late Herodian in style, can be seen. From here, in the Second Temple period, one could have entered the Rock-hewn Aqueduct, which can now be seen at the end of the Western Wall Tunnel.

The Rock-hewn Aqueduct of the First Temple period can be seen at the end of the Western Wall Tunnel. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

This is what Charles Warren wrote about this discovery:

“Through the roof of the aqueduct Lieutenant Conder gained access into a small modern chamber, built against the Sanctuary wall, just north of the Bab es Serai; and here he found part of a wall of large drafted stones, with a plinth course and two pilasters, like those in the Haram Hebron. The space between the pilasters was occupied by a window, or opening into the Sanctuary, which seems to be ancient, as the lintel and jambs are of large ashlar – the former drafted.” Warren, Ch. and C. R. Conder (1884). Survey of Western Palestine: Jerusalem (London), p. 213.

Inside view of the “Window of John of Gischala”. Through the hole in the ground at bottom left, Charles Warren reached this room from inside the Rock-hewn Aqueduct. The small window that was made between the two pilasters is therefore the only place through which the Rock-hewn Aqueduct could have been reached from the Temple Mount platform.

In the halcyon days of the 1970’s, when archaeologists from the Temple Mount Excavations were allowed to explore the hidden recesses of the platform, I was able to visit this space which had been turned into a room and look for these pilasters and the window. (In contrast with Warren, I accessed the room via the Muslim Quarter.) Although the pilasters had been painted over by the residents, the window overlooking the Temple Mount was still visible.

According to Josephus, the Roman siege of the Antonia Fortress in 70 A.D. was protracted, because of the destruction of the Roman earthworks by the Jews, under leadership of John of Gischala, who had barricaded himself inside the Temple Mount.  He used an underground passage to get into the water reservoir (the Strouthion Pool) and undermine and set the earthworks that were built in this pool on fire (War5.466-472). This underground passage could only have been reached through this window that has the appearance of being hacked through in order to gain access to the area below the Antonia Fortress (normally you don’t build windows between pilasters at such a low level). For this reason we have dubbed this window the “Window of John of Gischala”.

This section shows the window, aqueduct and Strouthion Pool. It clarifies how John could have penetrated the Strouthion Pool and set fire to the Roman earthworks. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

The drawing below is a reconstruction drawing of the northwest corner of the Temple Mount and the Antonia Fortress with the location of the  ”Window of John of Gischala” indicated:

The Antonia Fortress that stood at the northwest corner of the Herodian Temple Mount had four towers, three of which were 50 cubits (86 ft./26.25 m) high and the fourth, the southeast tower, 70 cubits (120 ft./36.75 m) high. The view from this highest tower, that, according to Josephus “commanded a view of the whole area of the Temple” (War 5.242), must have been spectacular.
At the place where the northern and western porticoes met, there was a staircase leading up to the roof of the porticoes. At this place there was an entrance to the Antonia Fortress. The “Window of John of Gischala” is indicated at centre left.

It was because of such use of underground passageways by the Jews that Titus decided to build a siege wall around the city so that all communication with the country could be cut off and supplies interrupted. This resulted in a terrible famine and so the drama continued to its tragic end. This little window is one of those secret places on the Temple Mount where history echoes down the years.

 

Posted in History, Image Library, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 5 Comments

The Virtual Bible – a new visual resource

Accordance Blog announced  the release of:

The Virtual Bible, a new visual resource which offers three-dimensional reconstructions of the land of Israel, first-century Jerusalem, the Herodian Temple, and more. The visuals, which include still images and video fly-throughs, were developed by Dr. Daniel Warner of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. James Strange of the University of South Florida, in consultation with Leen Ritmeyer, an archaeological architect who is an expert on the Jerusalem Temple.

In the foreground is the Court of the Women and the Nicanor Gate stands infront of the Temple.

Here is a link to the introductory video. The purpose of this resource is to help students visualize more accurately the physical background of events mentioned in the Bible. Some of the original videos lacked explanatory notes and therefore Accordance “added narration and music to these videos to improve their teaching value for those of us who might need a tour guide. We also added detailed text descriptions for each still image and video.” Two samples can be viewed on their blog post.

HT: Daniel Wright

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Jerusalem in Rome

Jerusalem in Rome – Searching for the Dedicatory Inscription in the Colosseum

Last week, on a visit to Rome, we went in search of the Dedicatory Inscription in the Colosseum that I had blogged about in 2008. Walking down the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the wide avenue built by Mussolini  flanking the Forum and leading to the amphitheatre was a pleasure, as the Colosseum is no longer a crazy traffic circle. Cars are banned, with buses and taxis still allowed, but with strict speed restrictions. The scene that greets you at the piazza surrounding the Colosseum still resembles a funfair, with costumed “centurions” (some smoking cigarettes) and demanding exhorbitant prices from visitors to have their photo taken with them, hawkers selling everything from souvenirs to selfie sticks and horses waiting patiently beside their carriage for their next passengers. Meanwhile scaffolding snakes its way around the Colosseum in a $35 million renovation project due to be completed in 2016.

From what we had read in an excellent article on the inscription by Prof. Louis Feldman in BAR (July/August 2001), we expected to find it lying on the ground on the right-hand side of the main entrance passageway. We described the inscription to a guard and were directed to the medieval painting of Jerusalem high up in one of the arches. This is based on a well-known depiction of the city by the Dutch theologian Christiaan van Adrichem.

Medieval painting showing Jerusalem with the crucifixion near bottom left. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

After a fruitless search around the corridors, we tried asking at the office of the archaeological superintendent of the site, where the lady at the desk said that she didn’t  have a clue as to the whereabouts of the inscription. Put on to the phone to her boss, we were told that she thought it was on the second level. Climbing the steep travertine steps, we had views over the interior of the amphitheatre, including the  dark corridors of the hypogeum or underground area, from where caged animals and gladiators would be brought up for the entertainment of the Romans from every social class.

Approaching the area of the lift, one of the innovations designed to bring visitor facilities into the twenty-first century, but which was very difficult to find on the ground floor where it was needed, we saw two large groups of  visitors who looked spellbound. One of the groups was gathered round an exhibit showing recently discovered graffiti depicting a gladiator fight. Other graffiti showed gladiators fighting  wild beasts.

Graffiti of two gladiators, one at top left and another at bottom right, fighting two wild beasts portrayed between them. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

An even larger crowd was gathered round two astonishingly vivid reconstruction drawings that depicted spectators sitting in the amphitheatre.

Reconstruction drawings of the upper and lower parts of the Colosseum. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The top drawing showed fans of the gladiators drawing on the steps the very graffiti we had just seen in the exhibition. It also showed spectators brawling and grilling meat over a portable grill, upper class ladies having their hair done and children doing what children have always done, getting into things. The bottom drawing showed in glorious detail all the activities underground.

Then I spotted the large marble block, standing against the back wall, with its pattern of holes hinting at the original dedication on the stone.

Standing next to the Dedicatory Inscription. Photo: Kathleen Ritmeyer

The phantom letters on the fifth century Latin inscription which mentioned that the building had been repaired by one Lampadius were deciphered by Professor Géza Aföldy of the University of Heidelberg. During our visit to the Colosseum, nobody seemed interested in the inscription which had an explanatory plaque with a long description of the work done by Lampadius. Only a few lines of the explanation were devoted to the fact that the early inscription (originally made of metal letters fastened to small holes which allowed specialists to retrace them after they had been erased), attributed the construction of the Colosseum to Titus and explained that it was funded ex manubis (with the proceeds of spoils of war). We only need to look a couple of hundred metres along the Via Sacra to the Arch of Titus which portrays the spoils of the Jerusalem Temple being carried off.

In the centuries that followed, observant Jews refused to walk under the Arch of Titus. This was their protest against this insult to Jewish independence. It must have been a very moving experience in 1948, when, as a symbolic gesture, Roman Jews deliberately walked under the arch in the opposite direction to that of the conquering Roman army.

So, we had found the Dedicatory Inscription, with no help from either of our guidebooks, the official guides or the official Colosseum website and it was missing the section that had been restored as shown in Louis Feldman’s original BAR article. Today (2nd June), the Colosseum was draped with banners in the colours of the Italian flag as the country celebrated its Republic Day. During our visit, work was going on day and night to erect the grandstands on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, from which dignitaries would watch the grand military parade that commemorates the 1946 referendum in which Italians voted for their country to become a republic. In the Colosseum, near the Imperial Box used by the Emperor, is a cross set up to commemorate Christians who were believed to have been martyred here. Today however, few of the parade’s spectators will stop to think of where the money came from to build this, the most celebrated building in the Roman Empire. And who will spare a thought for the thousands of Hebrew slaves who labored in its construction, with the pre-cut travertine blocks hauled from Tibur (today Tivoli, about 20 km from Rome). ‘To the victor belong the spoils.”

 

 

 

 

 

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A second Arch of Titus found

The Arch of Titus which stands at the entrance to the Roman Forum draws huge crowds who want to see this well-known monument that was erected in memory of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple in 70 AD.

The Arch of Titus. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The interesting part is the scene portrayed on the southern intrados (inner curved side of an arch) that shows Roman soldiers carrying away the spoils of the Jerusalem Temple, i.e. the Lampstand (menorah), the Table of Shewbread and two trumpets.

The south panel showing the spoils taken from the Jerusalem Temple. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

Today it was reported in the Telegraph newspaper that another monumental arch dedicated to Titus was found in Rome at the southeast entrance to the Circus Maximus.

Although these remains have been known for some time, they have now been more fully excavated.

The Circus Maximus. The original ground level of  was 6 meters (20 feet) lower down. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

The remains of a triumphal arch built in honour of the Emperor Titus have been unearthed from underneath Rome’s Circus Maximus chariot-racing arena.

The arch, which was built immediately after the emperor’s death in 81AD, would have formed a magnificent entrance to the Circus Maximus, where charioteers competed against each other in races that were depicted in the 1959 Hollywood epic Ben Hur.

View of the Circus site from the south-east. The remains of a column base and parts of fluted columns that belonged to the Arch of Titus had been visible in the near foreground before the excavation took place. The tower in the foreground is part of a medieval fortification. Photo: Wikipedia

The bases of four giant columns were found underground in an area that is prone to flooding. This picture shows one of them:

The excavated remains of the great Arch built for Emperor Titus at the Circus Maximus. Photo: Handout

A CAD drawing of how the great Arch at Circo Massimo may have looked.

The excavation site is now covered up until funds can be raised to reconstruct this monumental marble arch.

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, News, Temple Mount | 7 Comments

The Treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem

A unique feature of our new guide book to the Temple Mount are two plans, one of the present-day Temple Mount and a corresponding map of the area in the first century, on which all the New Testament links are indicated. Comparing these two plans allows the visitor (or armchair traveler) to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples around the Temple.

This post also contains new images that have recently been added to our Image Library. Clicking on each of the watermarked images enables you to download a Powerpoint size copy (without the watermark, of course) for a small fee.

Most of the activities recorded in the New Testament took place in the Treasury, also known as the Court of the Women. When, for example, we read that Jesus taught in the Temple (Matthew 21.23; John 7.14,28; 8.2,20), he did not enter the Sanctuary itself because, as a non-Levite, he would not have been allowed inside this beautiful building which was reserved for priests only.

The Treasury was a court that was located to the east of the Temple itself, just below the Nicanor Gate.

This paved area looking out at the Mount of Olives was the place where the Treasury was located. It is an excellent place to meditate on the many events described in the New Testament that took place here.

This court is also called the Court of the Women, as that is as far as women were allowed to enter the Temple courts. It was in this court that the Presentation of Jesus and the meeting with Simeon and Anna the Prophetess (Luke 2.25–38) took place.

A view of the large Court of the Women, also known as the Treasury in the Gospels. This court was as far as women were allowed to proceed into the Temple. Four high towers, two of which we see here in this model, each carried four golden lamps which were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus may have referred to these lights in John 8.12.

In this reconstruction drawing, we see the Temple, viewed from the east. It was surrounded by a court, called the Temple Court or azarah in Hebrew. In front of the Temple stood the Altar, the Laver (Basin) and the pillars and tables that were used in the preparation of sacrifices. Several gates and other buildings stood to the north and south of the Temple.
To the east of the Temple stood the Court of the Women (centre front). The Nicanor Gate stood in front of Herod’s Temple. It gave access to the Temple Courts from the Court of the Women.

In Luke 21.1-4 it is recorded that Jesus contrasted the gifts that the rich people gave with the two mites (Greek: lepta, singular: lepton) of the widow. How did he know that this widow had cast in two little coins? Thirteen wooden boxes with trumpet-shaped bronze funnels to guide the coins into the box were placed under the colonnades of the Court of the Women. This area was the actual Treasury. The sound these coins made against the metal would have indicated how much people offered to the Temple.

Two of the thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles for monetary offerings placed under the colonnades that encircled the Court of the Women of Herod’s Temple Mount.

Another place shown on these maps of New Testament links in the guide book is the location of the Altar, which we commented on in a previous post. During the Feast of Tabernacles, a water-libation ceremony took place every evening, that was watched by many people standing in this Court of the Women.  When the water that was drawn from the Siloam Pool in a golden vessel was poured out on the Altar, Jesus said: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink”, pointing out that faith in him was foreshadowed by this ceremony (John 7.37-38).

After drawing water from the Pool of Siloam, a priest and his procession would return to the Temple Mount, crossing the courts and heading for the Water Gate. The priest would then be greeted by three trumpet blasts on his way to the Altar to complete the water libation ceremony.

Associated with the Feast of Tabernacles was a daily ceremonial of water-drawing. The priest (on the left) who carried the flagon of water from the Siloam Pool to the Temple was joined on the Altar by another priest who carried the wine of the drink-offering. There were two silver bowls there, one on the west side of the Altar for the water and one on the east for the wine. The bowls were perforated on the bottom to allow the liquid to flow (most probably through pipes) down the Kedron Valley, the bowl for the wine having a wider hole as wine flows more slowly than water.

Golden lampstands on high tower-like constructions were lit, casting light over the whole city. Again, Jesus used this ceremony in his teaching when he said “I am the light of the world: (John 8.12).

One of four lampstands, each of which had four golden lamps, that stood in the Court of the Women. During the Rejoicing over the Water-drawing ceremony, the golden lamps on top of these massive towers were lit. The model portrays a young priest climbing a ladder to reach the the lamps in order to fill them with oil.

It was also in this Court of the Women that during the Triumphal Entry the children cried out in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21.15).

Ater Judas had betrayed Jesus, knowing that he had condemned himself, he cast the thirty pieces of silver “in the Temple” (Mathhew 27.3-5). Again, that would not have happened in the Sanctuary itself, but in this court where the thirteen money boxes were located.

Continuing the tradition of Jesus’ teaching in the Treasury, the disciples taught here too on a daily basis. In Acts 5.20,42, we read that Peter and John were commanded to do so by an angel of the Lord.

The Temple, viewed from the east in this image, was surrounded by the Temple Court. On the east (centre front), was the large Court of the Women, also known in the Gospels as the Treasury, where both Jesus and the disciples used to teach.

Posted in Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 5 Comments

Sodom and Gomorrah

Many people in the UK saw the episode of “The Search for Sodom” (see previous post) and it was apparently well received (in the USA it was shown on AHC). The identification of Tall el-Hammam with Sodom was made by Dr. Steve Collins.

A view of Tall el-Hammam at the south-eastern end of the Jordan Valley with the Upper Tall on the right and the Lower Tall on the left of the centre in the picture. In the foreground, dolmens can be seen that belonged to a huge megalithic field. (Clicking on all of our images takes you to our Image Library where you can download Powerpoint size copies for a small fee).

As we have shown previously, the geographical data preserved in the Scriptures, especially in Gen. 13, strongly point to the eastern side of the circular alluvial plain north of the Dead Sea for the location of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim. Archaeological excavations have shown that the site of Tall el-Hammam was terminally destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, which was the time of Abraham.  As Tall el-Hammam is the largest site (62 acres) of the pentapolis, this makes it the best candidate for Sodom. In Gen. 14, the King of Sodom appears to be the spokesman of these cities, indicating its leading role. Additionally, Sodom is also the only kikkar city that has been mentioned in its own, for example in Ezek. 16 and in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

However, according to Gen. 19, Sodom was not the only city that was destroyed. If Tall el-Hammam is Sodom, then it is necessary to be able to identify the other cities of the Kikkar, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim (Gen. 10.19; Gen. 13, etc). Geographically these cities were named from south to north, i.e. Sodom is the southernmost and Zeboiim the northernmost of these cities. This is apparently reminiscent of ancient “Map lists”, especially those of ancient Egypt, where the direction of Transjordan routes are mentioned from south to north, i.e. viewed from Egypt. The names are also grouped in two doublets: “Sodom and Gomorrah” – “Admah and Zeboiim”.

The southern end of the Jordan Valley widens out into an almost circular area. This area is called in Gen.13 the Plain (Hebrew: Kikkar – circle or disk) of Jordan. The Kikkar ends where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. The Cities of theKkikkar, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim were located in the eastern part of the Kikkar, as that is the area that can be seen from Bethel/Ai.

One mile (1.6 km) northeast of Tall el-Hammam is a smaller tall,  (Tall Kafrein), which was the largest satellite city of Tall el-Hammam (there are other smaller sites in the vicinity of Tall el-Hammam, also belonging to this Canaanite city-state). Dr. Steve Collins identifies the site of Tall Kafrein with Gomorrah. This site was also destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age and has the same archaeological profile as Tall el-Hammam and Talls Nimrin, Bleibel and Mustah (see below).

The archaeological site of Tall Kafrein viewed from Tall el-Hammam. This site in the centre of the picture has been identified as Gomorrah, as it is the largest satellite city of Tall el-Hammam. The fertile area in front of the tall is part of the well-watered Plain (kikkar) of the Jordan.

Sodom and Gomorrah are usually mentioned together as, for example, Bethel and Ai are mostly mentioned together. As Bethel is larger than Ai (Joshua 7.3), it reasons that the first site mentioned should be the largest.  Tall el-Hammam is indeed much larger than Tall Kafrein.

There are three other sites a little further to the north, of which Tall Nimrin (identified by Steve Collins with Admah) is the second largest of the five cities of the kikkar and nearby are two smaller twin satellite talls, Tall Bleibel and Tall Mustah (Zeboiim). Admah was probably the capital of the second Canaanite city-state in this area. Zeboim means two gazelles and these two sites straddle a valley through which the road from the highlands to the Jordan Valley runs.

A view of the archaeological site of Tall Nimrin, which has been identified with Admah by Steve Collins. The modern road in the foreground has destroyed part of the archaeological site.

A view of the eastern part of the archaeological site of Tall Nimrin. The building of the road exposed remains of ancient walls and stratigraphic layers.

The two small talls of Bleibel and Mustah, which can be seen respectively to the left and right in the centre of the picture. They have been identified collectively with  Zeboiim. Tall Bleibel corresponds to Zeboiim north and Tall Mustah to Zeboiim south. The road that descends from the highlands plateau to the Jordan Valley runs in between these two sites. The artificial lake in the foreground was created by the modern Kafrein Dam.

A view of Tall Mustah, the southern of the two Zeboiim sites.  It is located on the south side of  the road that descends from the highland plateau. Even today, an army post is located at the site of Tall Mustah.

The small hill in the foreground is an archaeological site that has been identified with Zeboiim north.  It is located on the north side of  the road that descends to the Jordan Valley.

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The Search for Sodom

On Wednesday the 6th of May at 21.00pm, and Thursday the 7th of May at 13.00, an episode called “The Search for Sodom” in the series of “Secrets of the Bible” will be broadcast in the UK. This will be on Yesterday TV (Freeview Channel 19, Sky Channel 537), with the programme being available on UKTV Play service for the following week.

It tells the story of how Dr. Steven Collins found the location of the ancient city of Sodom. Steve Collins is dean of the College of Archaeology and Biblical History at TSW University, Albuquerque NM, USA.

Dr. Steven Collins pointing to the site of Tall el-Hammam on an aerial photograph displayed on Mount Nebo in 2009. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

I first met Steve in 1996 at the excavations of Kh. El-Maqatir, a site in Benjamin in the Land of Israel that the excavator, Dr. Bryant Wood, believes to be biblical Ai (Joshua 8). Steve has researched the geographical and archaeological evidence for the location of the biblical city of Sodom for almost two decades until he found the site of Tall el-Hammam, based on his reading of Genesis Ch. 13.

A view of Tall el-Hammam at the southern end of the Jordan Valley with the Upper Tall on the right and the Lower Tall on the left of the centre in the picture.

Genesis 13 contains many geographical pointers that tell us exactly where Sodom was located. This chapter tells us that Sodom was located east of Bethel/Ai (vs.11) and situated in the Plain of the River Jordan. The Hebrew word for “Plain” is kikkar- a flattish round area, geographically located at the southern end of the River Jordan. This round area can easily be seen on any map or satellite image of Israel.

The southern end of the Jordan Valley widens out into an almost circular area. This area is called in Gen.13 the Plain (kikkar – circle or disk) of Jordan. The Kikkar ends where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. The Cities of the Kikkar, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim were located in the eastern part of the Kikkar, as that is the area that can be seen from Bethel/Ai.

The view of the Kikkar from Bethel-Ai, looking east. Photo: Mike Luddeni

A reconstruction of Tall el-Hammam in the Middle Bronze Age. The excavator of the site, Dr. Steve Collins, has pointed out that the geographical data preserved in the Scriptures, especially in Gen. 13, strongly indicate the area northeast of the Dead Sea for the location of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim. Archaeologically speaking, Tall el-Hammam is also the best candidate, as its terminal destruction occurred in the Middle Bronze Age, which was the time of Abraham.

The TV program details one of the major finds in Tall el-Hammam, that being the gate mentioned in Genesis 19.1: “Lot sat in the gate”. The first evidence of the gate was found in 2012:

Steve (right) and I standing in the gate opening. Photo: Daniel Gallasini.

The remains of several towers, including a large flanking tower, made it possible to draw a preliminary reconstruction drawing of the facade of the gate of Sodom:

During the excavations of Tall el-Hammam in 2012, a large flanking tower (left) and entrance (centre) through the Middle Bronze Age city wall were found. The gatehouse behind the entrance was found the following year. This reconstruction drawing shows what the main gate of Tall el-Hammam would have looked like.

We expected to find a gatehouse with chambers during the digging season the following year. The gatehouse was indeed found, but instead of internal chambers, many column bases were discovered, giving this gatehouse an internal layout that was highly unusual in the Ancient Near East.

During the excavations of Tall el-Hammam in 2013, a large gatehouse with pillars was found behind the main entrance to the Middle Bronze Age city. This reconstruction drawing shows what the main gate of Tall el-Hammam would have looked like. The drawing shows a right angled pathway through the gatehouse with a space at the side where the elders and judges of the city would have congregated.

Many other exciting finds were made, such as melted potsherds and burnt skeletons, that testify to a terrible and fiery destruction, reminiscent of that described in Genesis 19. If you have the opportunity, “The Search for Sodom” is well worth watching!

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