Rare Archaeological Find from the History of Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s office in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem, announced that they will hold a press conference in order to:

“Present to the Media a Rare Archaeological Find from the History of Jerusalem.”

Interviews in English will be given tomorrow, October 21, 2014, between 10:30–12:30 at the offices of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem.

Wonder what that’ll be all about!

In addition, the annual conference on “Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Surroundings”, to be held this Thursday (23/10) on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University, which will deal at length with interesting finds and important archaeological issues in Jerusalem.

The conference will take place in Hebrew. Interviews can be conducted in English.

For further details, kindly contact Yoli Shwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority spokesperson, 052-5991888, dovrut@israntique.org.il.

 HT: Joe Lauer

Posted in Jerusalem | 1 Comment

Jerusalem – The Temple Mount – A Carta guide book

We promised to report on our new: “Jerusalem – The Temple Mount – A Carta Guide Book”.  Incredibly, this is the first true guide book to the Temple Mount to be published since 1925, when the Supreme Muslim Council published their 12-page Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif. In 2006 we published The Quest, Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is an academic work, but written and illustrated in such a way as to be accessible to scholars and laymen alike, detailing every nook and cranny of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Our new guide book is completely different from The Quest. It has many new evocative reconstructive illustrations and is designed to help visitors understand what they are looking at, but is also invaluable for the person who cannot visit the Temple Mount in the flesh, but whose spirit is very much there.

In the Preface we wrote:

It is the authors’ sincere hope that this profusely illustrated guide book to the Temple Mount will help you to fully savor the experience of visiting a site that is truly without parallel and be embraced by its aura of power and sanctity. It is the culmination of years of academic work distilled into a user-friendly manual whose aim is to make the dry facts and stones come alive. If it can help you make this complex site more accessible and find your own personal spots for reflection, it will have fulfilled our vision. Each of the six distinct areas connected to the Temple Mount is preceded by a “Useful Information” section. Each route has its own detailed tour map. Of course, the tours can be done in whatever order you choose to do them in, including or omitting as you like.

Map of the 6 color coded areas

1. The Western Wall – Experience the Wall at the heart of Jerusalem (blue)

2. The Western Wall Tunnels – Follow the wall hidden in darkness (red)

3. Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Walk in the Park around the Southern Wall (brown)

4. The Eastern Wall – Deciphering the Puzzle of the Oldest of the Temple Mount Walls (green)

5. The Northern wall – Discovering the Hidden Wall (purple)

6. Going up to the Mountain of the House of the Lord (white)

The specialised maps at the end of the book provide additional information if you wish to focus on a particular aspect of the Temple Mount. One unique never-before-published map gives New Testament references that will allow you to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples around the Temple. The plan of the cisterns and underground structures will give you an idea of the magnitude of the vast world that lies beneath the Temple platform. The map of the Islamic structures will acquaint you with the gems of Muslim architecture all over the platform.

Many pages have sidebars containing fascinating tidbits of information on topics such as “Who was Melchizedek”,  “What did the Queen of Sheba see?”, “What is the difference between a Menorah and a Hanukkiah?“, “What happens to the prayer notes left in the Western Wall?”? etc.

The book was due to have been published this month but is being delayed by the lack of tourists in Israel at the moment. Ironically, the fact that visitors are being deterred by the present situation and that when they do come, visiting hours are so restricted, makes the sort of virtual tour facilitated by this guide book all the more valuable.

As we wrote in our previous post, you can expedite the book’s speedy publication by using the online Contact Form to express interest to Carta.

Posted in History, Jerusalem, Products, Temple Mount | 6 Comments

Jerusalem – The Temple Mount

The Temple Mount has been in turmoil recently. Every day there is some news about violence between Jews and Muslims on the Holy Mount. And the tourists are caught in the middle.

Ynetnews published an article today called “Powder keg on Temple Mount” which includes a video made during a visit to the Temple Mount. The situation on the Temple Mount is summarised like this:

 While Muslim worshipers are allowed to enter the complex throughout the entire day, Jews are allowed entry as visitors (not worshipers) between 7:30 am and 11 am, only through the Mughrabi Bridge and under heavy police protection. Palestinians have grown aggrieved by the increasing number of visits to the site by Orthodox Jews, a program that is actively supported by Moshe Feiglin, an outspoken and far-right member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The sounds of Jews singing and praying a few meters below, at the Western Wall and adjoining tunnels, permeate the Dome of the Rock plaza. The choirs of bearded men and veiled women in black compete for dominance with shouts and screams in Arabic of “Jews out! This place belongs to Muslims!

But the last paragraph caught our particular attention:

“Suddenly the screaming starts again. This time a group of women in black hijabs rushes amid cries of “Allahu Akbar” to expel a group of frightened-looking Israelis in secular dress, who are accompanied by a licensed guide who had dared to open a guide book in Hebrew.“

This brings us to the reason why we haven’t blogged for a while. Kathleen and I have been very busy updating two of our previous books and also writing a new Guide Book to the Temple Mount, called “Jerusalem – The Temple Mount, A Carta Guide”. Over the coming days we will report on these books and especially on our new Guide Book. This latest book is completely ready for publication, but the publisher is holding back because there are so few tourists in the country! The first guide book to this unique site since 1925 is ready to roll off the printing press… if only the tourists will show up!

We have just been told that if Carta gets enough interest for our book, they will go to print!!

The publisher is awaiting expressions of interest, so, we’d appreciate it if you’d fill in the contact form, expressing interest in our book. Thank you!

Posted in History, Jerusalem, News, Products, Temple Mount | 14 Comments

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:

Posted in Excavations | 6 Comments

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

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | 7 Comments

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

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | Leave a comment

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:


Posted in History, Jerusalem, Temple Mount | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Jerusalem, News | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem | Leave a comment